Today, I will narrate a personal experience that forced me to reflect how distant I had grown from my life during childhood days and maybe some of you will relate.
To give a background, I was born in a joint business family….a large joint business family. As was the norm in those days, my grandfather had eight children, three boys and five girls. Add to that my grandfather’s younger brother (who was in service) had six children of his own. My house was the meeting point of all our relatives. The concept of travelling during that period was limited to visiting ones’ mother’s childhood home, wherever it was. So during summer holidays, all my aunts used to visit and live with us for two months and it was party time for all !! All the children, including myself, enjoyed the time thoroughly, did crazy stuffs during those two months (sometime longer as missing school for a few days was permissible as long as you pass in all the subjects).
Like others, I also used to visit my mother’s childhood home- a contrast to my father’s side. My mother had two brothers, one in India and one abroad. We used to visit our maternal grandmother who was living with my maternal uncle and his family. My maternal uncle was a professor in Lucknow University, a scholar, very learned man, who emphasized a lot on education. Both his sons were doctors (elder one into medicine and the younger one, a PHD holder- a scientist) and 15 years elder to me. My mother was his only sister so he took upon himself, the job of a guardian, not only to my mother (whom he had personally tutored in her Post Graduation) but by extension to her children as well. Our conversation, as far as I remember, was always related to what I was doing in school, which somehow made me very uncomfortable and increased my longing to get back to my home…filled with umpteen number of people… having fun – with education as the last thing on their mind; and enjoying life, without a care in the world !!
Somehow, I spent my days at my mother’s place and got back to my home-but not without witnessing the ceremonial weeping of my mother, her mother and almost the entire family during our departure!! I could not comprehend, why everyone was crying (we used to live in Patna which was only 8 hours by train) !!
Back home, I had a lot of fun with all my cousins playing games, reading comics (Indrajal Comics, Diamond Comics, Amar Chitra katha, Asterix, Tintin) fighting in gangs, getting scolded, playing again, going for picnics, fighting again, and so on. When the holidays ended and it was time to go, again I was witness to a lot of crying from my aunts and my grandmother and other family members – the children just looked at each other, unable to follow what was going on !! Although, mind you, we also felt quite miserable…after all, we now, had to resume our schooling !!
India, in general, and small places in particular changed a lot in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Globalization affected the economy. Jobs in private sector became lucrative. People became ambitious. Mobility increased. Technology advanced. People started moving out of their town for education and jobs. Communication became faster and easier – the art of writing long and beautiful letters became redundant and vanished overnight. Middle class India took to air travel. Connectivity improved. Families started going for vacations at places other than their relatives. Joint family started breaking up. Joint kitchens closed shop. Homemade savories were replaced by packaged snacks. Concept of extended family vanished and along with it the support system of the extended family members. Distant relatives disappeared. Big houses made ways for small and compact abode and apartments. Nuclear family and urbanization finally became a reality for India.
Somewhere in between all this, people like us were left thinking- which was better – an old India that celebrated small occasions (informally, together and with unbridled enthusiasm -the meeting of people was THE occasion) in a big way or the New Urban India which is struggling for ways and people to share their joys/big milestones in life, with !!
I too, was a part of this great Indian success. I moved out from my home and home town some 2000 kms to pursue my management studies and then some 2500 kms again for a job in a metro city (Bangalore) – then my own house and a family !! In short, like many others of my generation – a success (or the victim of urbanization !!). In all this progress, visit to my native place was restricted to once or twice a year. With the advent of technology, I started connecting digitally to some of my relatives and maintained occasional digital touch with most, who also had became a part of the great Indian success story –and were away from home in some big cities !!
Some days back, my cousin sister visited me for getting her son admitted in one of the colleges in Bangalore. For the past twenty or so years, she was occupied with her life and I, with mine. Our lives hardly crossed. But there was a time in my childhood, when I used to idolize her as a mother figure and had she told me that the sun rises from the west, I would have no problem in believing that !! In due course, she got married and moved out to a different city and from my space. I got busy with my studies and with my job !!
As warranted, I did my duty as a younger brother and was with her most of the time – 3 or 4 days- while visiting college or finding a suitable accommodation near the college for her son or taking her around in the city etc. Things went smoothly…her son got settled in the new environment. It was time for her to leave. And then it happened-when she was about to leave- she started crying !! And I was transported back some 20-25 odd years when, like now, I simply did not know how to react. I said all the usual things -no need to worry about her son etc. etc. but the fact was that – I was caught totally unprepared and off-guard !! Whatever, I was expecting, I was certainly not expecting this strong person to break down during a goodbye !! Anyway, we said our goodbyes and she continued on her journey !!
I really got thinking that why she had cried while parting from us !! The truth was, after living for 20 or so years, on my own, I had forgotten that there was a time when people depended on and trusted each other with everything – and that trust was seldom broken !! There was a time when people got attached without any thought of gain or end objective. There was a time when the tears signified trust, love and dependence. There was a time when relationships were less complicated, people more accommodating, earnings limited, spirits generous, hearts bigger, guests were welcome, friendship was cherished, hospitality was a way of life, people were at a premium, affection for cousins, aunts and uncles ran deep, joy was real and life was simpler !!
There was a time when there was great wisdom in tears !!