If anything has changed rapidly in the last few years, it is the concept of a Family in the Indian Society. The “family” now revolves around the individual, the spouse, and the children. Maybe, in some cases the parents. Although “Parents” are on a precarious footing-more in the endangered species list. In the recent few years, it has become a two-way outlook. Parents themselves are giving up on their children for their freedom and lifestyle. I predict this trend to further accelerate with people of my generation…who would simply opt-out and live separately from their children, a carefree life that they were always entitled to!!
Traveling back. My generation was witness to Joint families. Families in which many generations lived together. It was not uncommon to see brothers living under the same roof taking care of their parents and welcoming their sisters with open arms whenever they visited. This was pre-1990s, pre- liberalization, and opening of the Indian Economy. Private jobs were far and few. Definitely not a preference. Mobility was low. People ended up living in the same cities for generations and sometimes in the same house. Generally, people in business, in particular the family business.
I belong to one such business family. A family that shared everything, had a joint kitchen, celebrated all the festivals with one another, went to movies in several groups (one was too big), went overboard in marriages, and generally lived a good life…I would even venture to say a king-size life by today’s standard !! If you consider factors like support (emotional and otherwise), care, psychological safety, sense of security, and people connect, it was a life of loyalty, concern, and protection that simply no longer exists. It vanished with the arrival of the nuclear family system. Huge ancestral properties gave way to Small houses and apartments. Joint kitchen closed shops and in due course magnanimity of soul, sense of duty and sacrifice gave way to extreme personal interest and self-preservation. Core Family members became extended family and extended family vanished…almost overnight!!
Why and how were Joint families so special? Among other benefits, the support system was multi-layered and robust. There were more people in one’s family-the core family was bigger!!
My father used to travel a lot for business purposes. My uncle was there to look after me not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. I was pampered just the same. He was not only there to pamper me but also to ensure that I was doing the right thing and if course correction was required, it was properly doled out. The sense of belonging was absolute. The concern was genuine, the authority, unchallenged!!
I will narrate simple episodes from my childhood that will give you an idea.
When I was around 7 years old, I did not like going to school and always looked for opportunities to skip it. Not that I was always successful but that did not prevent me from trying… continuously. I woke up on a beautifully cool summer day and decided that the day was meant to be enjoyed in the comfort of my home amidst total idleness. The age-old excuse of stomach-ache was the first and only thing I could think of…so I tried. With a little luck and I guess some good acting, I convinced everyone that I was really suffering and in no condition to go to school. For a little while, some deliberation as to what we had to eat the previous night that could affect my system and similar such ponderings took place. General rest was thought prudent and to my surprise and joy, I pulled off the stunt, reclaiming a day of my life from the drudgery of schoolwork!!
The next day happened to be an equally cool and pleasant one. So, I thought it my duty to give another try. Being creative, I came out with the excuse of severe head-ache. My Chacha did not fall for this and yanked me out of the bed (which I had returned to in the hope of skipping school again) and sat me on the stairs. I continued with my drama for a little while but soon realized the futility of the exercise and got ready for school…super reluctantly!! I went to the bus stand, a bit later than my scheduled time and to my joy, I found none of the students there. I had missed my school bus. With my soul dancing, I came home with a straight face and informed everyone that the school bus came early and had missed me. My school was 10 km from my place and on rare occasions when I missed the bus, it was a holiday for me. Chacha got furious. He decided to take the matters into his own hands. He got dressed and asked me to sit in the car and off we went. I could not believe my bad luck!!
Well, when we reached the school, the morning chaos accompanying any school zone was missing and a solitary guard was there on the gate, that was half-closed. He informed us that it was a holiday. I was not aware because I had missed school, the previous day. Those were the days when mobile phones were only made available to the crews of “USS Enterprise of Star Trek” and the internet was not popular…in fact, not even heard of. That benevolent guard advised us to return home. My joy knew no bound and by this time, Chacha could also see the humour. The car journey that had seemed like a punishment suddenly turned into a joy ride in the cool hours of the morning. We decided to make it a day by visiting one of the mango gardens at “Digha” and bought a big basket of the famous and super delicious “Digha Malda Mangoes” on our way home. I was literally jumping with joy. I do not recollect ever eating a mango that even remotely compares to the taste of the mangoes I had that day!!
This was one of the many instances of my childhood. Most of the Parent-teacher meeting was attended by my Chacha as all my schoolwork was completed under his supervision until the time I became independent and studied on my own.
Because we lived at a time when we lived, I ended up with two sets of parents in addition to other elders in the family who cared deeply for me. The situation might be applicable today as well but the difference is that we rarely live together under one roof or in such proximity as described. We live miles and sometimes countries apart doing things not possible some years back, successfully chasing our dreams… in the process, depriving our children of the sense of security and host of other benefits that comes simply by living close to other family members. Things that we once experienced.
The “Nuclear family paradox”: the disadvantage of the advantages of the modern age !!