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No regrets about my child-free years

Updated on: 10 November,2023 07:19 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

I had a moment of solitude in Ljubljana where I felt grateful to myself for having lived with abandon and audacity. Now, I have no second thoughts about foraying through these years of co-dependency

No regrets about my child-free years

The famous triple bridge on the river Ljubljanica at Ljubljana in Slovenia. Representation pic

Rosalyn D’MelloI’m writing this dispatch from my hotel room in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia (keep the ‘j’ silent to pronounce it right). Despite its proximity to Italy, or perhaps on account of it, the easiest way to get in is by road. This was our longest road trip, totalling about five hours with two brief breaks for sandwiches and coffee. We were feeling quite chuffed with ourselves after arriving, given how cooperative our toddler was. We planned our journey to accommodate his 1.5-2-hour nap that would offer us quiet time. We mainly vibed to Punjabi beats. I had been looking forward to this trip ever since I was invited some eight months ago by Suzana Milevska, a curator who was my peer at the Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen fellowship in Innsbruck. She had been researching the ethics and aesthetics of apology. She was curating an exhibition in the Slovenian capital and was co-organising a parallel one-day seminar at which she hoped I would speak. I eagerly said yes. My partner was able to take time off too, which afforded us a total of three nights.

I spent most of Wednesday nursing an anxious bubbling in the pit of my belly. It began when I arrived at the seminar and felt so astonished at the quality of the discourse and the clarity of all the speakers’ stand in relation to the ongoing genocide in Palestine. The purpose of the gathering felt urgent… to understand the relevance of notions of apology, conciliation, and what it may mean to make amends, and to study examples of how this had unfolded in various parts of the world. Though I had to miss the second session because I wanted to see the exhibition which was a ten-minute cab ride away from the old town, I felt quite humbled by the earnestness of each of the presentations which examined a wide range of subjects, from Slovenian history to examples of memorials in former Yugoslavia, manifestations of settler colonialism and its violent and oppressive structural systems to the idea of ‘apologisability’. I’m usually the killjoy feminist at seminars in Europe. I’m the one raising my hand pointing out instances of omission and western exceptionalism or even orientalist biases. For the first time in a very long time, I felt content to participate solely by listening, because I was learning so much from each interrogator and respondent. I felt a sense of awe at the breadth of individual scholarship and the interdisciplinary, intersectional nature of the discourse.

I suppose that’s why I had this bubbling sensation in my belly, because I felt so nervous about my own presentation which was around the idea of ‘belatedness’ or ‘lateness of arrival’, how it feels to be told you are ‘late to the party’ because you couldn’t access the resources required to be mainstream. It was a tribute to the scholarship of Black and third-world feminists of colour and how they were able to transform the margins into a site of power. I made my presentation standing, because my ass was still reeling from the impact of sitting continuously for five hours. Once I began, I could already feel the stress leave my body because I found, in the audience, so many eager and attentive ears. I got excellent feedback. One researcher called my presentation ‘more literary than scholarly’ and it made my day.

This was one of those trips where I felt a little haunted by the ghost of my former life. I had a consciousness of what it would have been like if I had been child-free. I would have had more time, energy and attention span to network and make connections. I would have also experienced the city differently. I did have about 40 minutes on our second day when our child was asleep with my partner. I had extended his nap and knew he could now manage without me. I got dressed, told my partner I was heading out, and I walked along the river Ljubljanica alone, taking in the romantic setting—for romantic is perhaps the best term one can use to describe the old town. The famous ‘triple bridge’ is this climactic point where you suddenly experience the force of the river, its tide and its gushing soundtrack. It was beginning to clear after a rainy morning and there was the scent of roasting chestnuts pervading the air. I windowshopped a bit and even visited two thrift shops. Nothing called out to me, but I won’t minimise how much I savoured the experience of being alone in a new city.

It was one of those moments when I felt so grateful to myself for having lived my child-free years with so much abandon and audacity, for having solo travelled as much as I did. It means I have no regrets as I foray through these years of co-dependency. My reverie was interrupted when my partner called to tell me our child had woken up. By then I was happy and excited to spend the rest of the day with them. There’s a reason, I guess, why I now only travel for events that are accommodating of my partner and my child. It’s my way of getting the art world to truly commit to enabling women to have post-partum careers.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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