I looked it up in the medical dictionary. It's called Agoraphobia. It's a fear of crowds, of feeling safe only at home. The book described my stress when taking the children anywhere these days. I cannot deny them their little excursions, but I avoid crowd pullers. And I find increasingly, other mothers unwilling to make plans for anything that involves going too far and too long from home.
The kids had a blast last Sunday. We had taken them to the new mall, which has a play area. While climbing, sliding and jumping, they could forget it took us 45 minutes to get to the parking area- their parents couldn't. We were tired after going through the security checks, the car was checked inside, under and the boot. As we watched their mad antics in the jungle gym, we could not help worrying about the amount of glass surrounding us. For the kids, their treats started in the queue waiting to go inside. But for us, it was yet another reminder that our city is under threat.
We took them on a ganapati darshan. All dressed up and excited about the festivities. They did not realize it, but their parents instinctively avoided the better reported and more popular places. We found ourselves driving away from the exciting lights in the heart of marathi Mumbai where we live. We did our darshan in quieter suburbs where the fairy lights were as bright but the crowds thinner. We deprived the children of the mela outside a pandal, but I guess we can make it up to them another year. The school has a trip planned next week to the Ganesh temple that attracts devotees all through the year- I am not sure I want them to go this season.
Friends went for a movie leaving their kids behind. During the interval, there was a commotion and what turned out to be a bomb hoax. Their first thought was for their children left at home, and they have not been out without them since. They have curtailed their activities and social life, and I realize my nervousness is not unique.
I guess, like all others in our city, I am learning to adapt. I have learnt to carry only basics in my bag. I have been though an embarrassing check where a soiled diaper bag, two sets of childrens' underwear and dozens of empty sweet wrappers were displayed in public. I prefer not carrying what I used to consider essentials, I prefer the security of the checks when the children are with me.
I now leave twenty minutes before its time to drop my toddler off to his play school. Earlier ten minutes would do- I now factor in the nakabandis and police checks I have to go through. It used to be fun to drive to the other end of the city on a weekend and meet up with friends. The kids used to enjoy having a sandwich picnic in the car so I don't have to start the feeding ritual the moment we reach. But now it takes twice as long to reach anywhere. There are checks on the road, there are traffic jams because of the checks and there is a husband tired of moving around in this city.
Yet, I am adapting. Adapting to my city being on high alert all the time, accepting the slow traffic, accepting the reassurance of seeing khaki the predominant color at the entrance to any public place. Accepting the police waiting, watching, checking. Feeling reassured the headlines and news reports are not anything more ridiculous than planes being turned around because of the exuberance of few innocent passengers. Accepting the status quo of being in a city held to ransom, a change is too dreadful to contemplate. We continue living, we continue our small joys and outings, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and festivals that make our lives. We keep our joie de vivre in this city that used to burst with life. But I'd rather, these days, have my family home.