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Society

My parents' place or yours?

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Indian parents are now letting their kids bring their significant others for sleep overs...

Indian parents are no longer shying away from letting their kids bring their significant others for sleep overs... in the same bedroom

Yeah, I thought my mom would never let a guy spend the night but she was perfectly fine with it. Oh well, she didn't quite say that she was, but neither did she say she wasn't. So I assume... she was?" Now, how would a chest-thumping khap panchayat react to this post by a young adult on an online forum? And it's not even a one-off. There are urban pockets in this subcontinent - a riot of contradictions - where parents actually look on fondly as their grown-up children's significant others, at the end of a social visit, bid their goodnights and instead of walking out of the door, enter a bedroom. Evidently, sleepovers have acquired an entirely different connotation in these homes.

Tanuja Srivastava, a 26-yearold television journalist, and her finance executive boyfriend Sudhir Israni are so busy through the week that they get to hook up only over the weekend. They catch a movie or hang out with friends and then head to his family home for a nightcap (like most men from 'good families', he continues to live with his doting parents ). His linguist father and homemaker mother were "very welcoming from the very beginning", says Tanuja, with a laugh. They were, in fact, even cool about the two sharing a room. "We pull out the extra bed, though," she says, suddenly coy.

Social observers and relationship counsellors agree that there is a discernible trend of "enlightened" parents encouraging an open attitude to sexuality in their homes. "The average age at which parents allow their children's boyfriends and girlfriends to enter their rooms during daytime is 14," says Dr Shamsah Sonawalla, associate director of psychiatry research and consultant psychiatrist at Mumbai's Jaslok Hospital. The early 20s is when they finally let their voter id-bearing kids call their partners over for a sleepover.

Sonawalla says these parents would rather have their children do whatever they must do under their own roof than indulge in risky behaviour outside, over which they would have little control. "I think it's a positive trend, as a teenager feels more comfortable discussing problems which are bound to occur while growing up," she says. "Sharing space is not a big deal anymore. Teenagers are anyway exposed to sexuality from a young age these days."

So, while there are still many families who would rather snap shut a chastity belt on their grown-up children or worry about the neighbours' and extended families' approval, there is an ongoing cultural shift towards permissiveness. Not pronounced yet, but it's happening. In certain circles, at least. "They would be mostly professional, well-educated families," offers sociologist Shiv Vishwanathan, who says this change has two fallouts: one, it allows two generations to understand each other, and two, it develops trust. Tanuja and Sudhir's mom have got really close through the course of their approximately year-old relationship. No saas-bahu capers here, for sure.

Sheryl D'Mello, 54, agrees. She says she got "a golden opportunity" to interact with Aranya, her son Mike's girlfriend, during their five-year-long courtship. She learnt about her now daughter-inlaw's taste, attitudes and habits over the years. "She would routinely stay over at our house," says Sheryl, "because you must first and foremost understand that transport is a big problem in the city. How are children expected to go back home alone late at night?" (It's a different matter that the children are in their mid-twenties ).

There's another twist to this developing story. If daughters- and sons-in-law traditionally go out of their way to accommodate in-laws, here the parents are making sure that they put out their best. And the kids may not even end up married. Evon Rathnam, a 27-year-old executive, remembers how her Omanbased former boyfriend's "sweet mom" arranged for her "visa and everything" so that she could come over during his vacation. "I consulted my mother, father and elder brother and was sure they wouldn't agree, but I was stumped when I saw that my father and brother were chilled out and my mother encouraged me to go visit." What awaited Evon at Oman blew her away. "She'd done up my entire room in peach and pink because I'm a girl. She had found out from my mother the shampoo and moisturiser brands I used and placed them in my bathroom. She even knew my food preferences and served steak with mashed potatoes and fries for dinner."

The mother of Roshan Abraham, a 27-year-old photographer, bought her son's girlfriend, Arti Gopal, a 26-year-old psychologist, a make-up kit the first time she stayed over. "That's because she couldn't give it to her two sons," recalls Arti, smiling at the memory. But, as in every fairytale, there was a hitch. "We were not allowed to sleep together in the same room," says Arti. This is where several parents aren't as laissez faire as Sudhir's. Although as Dr Ashit Sheth, consultant psychiatrist at Bombay Hospital points out, in this day and age, it is bound to happen at some point. "What people can do at night, they can do in the day as well," he says. "In small families, children dominate. They turn around and say 'Why can't I?' Parents have no choice then." It is a democracy, after all.

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