Joint Families – An Introspection On Their Dying Out

Posted: October 4, 2010

banyanleaf.jpgLong back my mother expressed her desire to have both my brothers, then unmarried, living under the same roof post marriage. It was a known fact that my brothers were quite close to each other and my mother was confident that their bonding would not take a beating even if they continued to live together after marriage. I was however skeptical. I felt that allowing them to lead independent lives would be more effective in helping them maintain a cordial, lasting relationship. After all their wives would expect a certain amount of freedom in running their homes and a clash between the ladies in the family may ultimately result in souring of relationship between brothers. Finally, things worked out the way I expected it to.

Today they live close by and the families share a bond that may not have been possible if they had opted for a joint family arrangement. Their wives are intelligent and mature. They are close but also maintain a distance. Their children enjoy the benefits that a joint family would allow without actually stepping on the other s toe. My mother passed on with the satisfaction of seeing her sons not only well settled but also complimenting each other s needs, be it emotional support, care or concern.

I have often wondered why the joint family arrangement that worked well when I was growing up has lost its charm and allowing a certain degree of freedom not only to brothers but to one s own children has become accepted these days. It is not uncommon for elderly parents to rent a flat close enough to allow interaction on a daily basis with their children and grandchildren. Ask them to move in with their son/daughter and they politely decline quoting their need for individual space.

When negotiations were going on for my marriage it was an understood thing that ageing parents, unmarried brothers and sisters in law would continue to stay with my future husband. Parents too felt that it was their duty to initiate the daughter in law into the customs and traditions of the family and to get the extended family to accept her as a family member. My mother went to the extent of telling my future mother-in-law that having spent more than 8 years in two different hostels I would require her guidance in house keeping. Needless to say that my MIL was so impressed with my mother s frank declaration that she felt responsible for my welfare at every step. No, I had no problem except when she would begin every instruction with – having been in hostels all your life you may not know this or that custom . and end it with – your mother told me so .

Those days were different. Parents exhausted their resources in getting their children settled and had no ego issues when they had to be dependent on them for sustenance. They never felt that they were burdening their children by their presence. In fact the house was very much theirs, run on their line, no questions asked or answered. Even when I tried asking my mother how a dish had to be prepared she would instantly say ask your mother-in-law. The slightest variation in proportion or the sequence that was followed while serving food had to be strictly followed and it differed from family to family.

It is not the same anymore. With my children opting to take up jobs outside the country, I wonder if I would feel comfortable spending my post retirement days with them in an alien atmosphere? We are not great socializers but our niche seems important to us. Why talk of relocating to foreign shores? Moving out of Jamshedpur seems to be a daunting proposal. Frankly speaking there is nothing to look forward to in this place. It is not well connected and as my children say, it is easier to reach Kolkata by air but to wait for a connecting train and get to our place is more strenuous. Medical facility is not great and the Naxal menace is another cause for anxiety. Any one in my shoes would have planned to move out. But to my mind, any other place is as good or bad as Jamshedpur when we have to manage on our own. Why am I not able to think that I can blend with my children s household and accept it as mine the way my parents-in-law did. Why am I not concerned about initiating my daughter in law into the customs and traditions of my family?  Or insist on a  dress code/meal timing for that matter. Am I being liberal? Or is it fear of annoying the next generation? In an effort to be civil, am I perhaps compromising on a lot of other aspects?

A look around me tells me that it is the same with most retired couples. Children have flown the nest and a week s annual visit to their parent s place is all they can manage. Parents visit them but as a friend said, after the first week they start counting days and cannot wait to return home. With both children and their spouses working they feel bored. Festivals, celebrations and other gatherings are postponed to weekends. Home made items are rejected in preference to having pizza, pasta and ready to eat packed food. More than other things, neither group feels the need to adjust. Parents have probably put away enough money to manage an independent existence and naturally do not wish to live with their children. Children on the other hand are exposed to a harsh competitive world and in their mad rush to stay ahead have very little time to spare and if at all they have it, they need to devote it to their own children.

A little less money made it easier for my parent s generation to adjust. They did not aspire to see their children reach dizzy heights. We did and when our children have reached the goal set for them by us, we are unable to keep pace. Paradoxical it may sound, but it is the bitter truth.

The Hip Grandma lives in a small industrial town called Jamshedpur and despite all its

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