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My husband and I were talking about family values in today’s context. My husband is a very opinionated person and does not budge an inch from his perceived impression. I am the more flexible person. This morning he rued the fact that our domestic help Baby’s son had dropped out of school and had begun selling vegetables. I saw nothing wrong in it.
The boy was not inclined towards academics and did not expect to pass this year. He was in the 9th standard but could barely read Hindi of the basic level. I would not be surprised if he could not recognize – let alone read – English alphabets. But he had a good amount of business acumen when it came to selling vegetables. He would help out at his maternal uncle’s shop till about a month ago for a daily allowance of 50 rupees. When he demanded more money and the uncle refused to pay him, he decided to invest some money and sell vegetables on his own.
For an eighteen year old boy he is doing pretty well. He gives his mother 30 rupees every evening, re-invests part of his earnings and saves the rest to buy himself a two wheeler. His mother would have wanted him to study but she also realizes that there was no sense in spending Rs.200 per month towards his school fees if he was not interested in studying. To be fair to him, the boy is tight fisted and does not squander money. This is where my husband remarked that the boy was being irresponsible. According to him, the boy ought to give the entire amount to his mother who would decide what to do with it. A two wheeler could wait. I begged to differ.
A two wheeler would help him cart vegetables from a wholesaler to his shop. He would save time and energy. He was saving his own hard earned money for the vehicle. And if mother did not have a problem why should my husband worry?
“No”, said my husband. “His mother knows better. There may be other requirements for the house. The father is irresponsible a drinks away his hard earned money. The son ought to be more sensitive to her feelings”.
I could understand why he said so. He had been the ideal son some 45 years back and would hand over his entire salary to his mother and accept a daily allowance of Re. 1/- from her. His father had retired from service and his younger sister had to be married off. He had decided that his mother would decide on how the money may be spent or saved. This practice continued even after I got married. It was quite another matter that my mother in law welcomed and included me into the family fold and never gave me a chance to resent the arrangement.
I could not help remarking that what worked for his family 45 years back was an out dated concept these days. My own mother was widowed at the age of forty and had very limited resources to get her two daughters married and educate my younger brothers. She managed with what she had and never expected my brothers to hand over their salary covers to her when they started earning. It was possible only because she had something to fall back on while my mother in law had none. Did this make my brothers irresponsible? My son keeps asking me if I need money. I really don’t. Except perhaps for unforeseen medical expense beyond my budget and resources. He too knows that. When I know that he is quite capable of managing his funds, what difference does it make whether the money is in his account or mine? In these days of zero job security and lay offs becoming a regular thing is it not better to let children lead their lives without preaching to them about family values?
My husband had no answer. I know that he would be the last person to expect our children to offer us financial support. His concern for our maid was understandable. Her indifferent health, alcoholic husband and the amount of physical labor she subjected herself to, were reasons for his sympathy towards her. Had the son taken responsibility she may not have worked in so many houses (8 at the last count) to obtain an income of 5000/- rupees. I finally referred the matter to my maid without letting on that her son’s desire to purchase a two wheeler had been a topic of our discussion in the morning.
“Why don’t you ask him to contribute more?” I asked. “Can’t the two wheeler wait?”
Pat came her reply.
“Isn’t it better that he saves money and buys his own vehicle? I would not want him to take family responsibilities at such an early age and resent it for a life time. I may never be able to provide him with these little comforts but I cannot object to him saving money to buy a two wheeler. I’ve seen boys demand money for luxury items and making life hell for parents. I’ve also seen boys gambling and drinking in our slum. Isn’t my son better than them?
“Isn’t your health a cause for concern? If he took more responsibility at home you need not work so hard.”
“My health problems are going to last for ever. I cannot burden the boy with my problems. If he works hard and learns to save and/or spend wisely he will be the one to benefit. I can get on with my life and concentrate on my daughter. After all he is eighteen years old and needs to branch out”.
Her reply set me thinking. Who defines family values? Society or an individual? Which is the better arrangement? A relative of mine spent his entire settlement dues in constructing a three storied bungalow. He did not draw a pension. His wife wanted to live well and would not settle for anything but the best. For their own upkeep they depended on their only son who financed their requirements without any grudge. No immediate problems seem to worry them. However, if for some reason the son is unable to fund their expenses there is bound to be trouble.
Is it fair to take advantage of a son’s concern and force him to stretch beyond his capacity? But as far as I can see there seems little difference between families that squeeze their children dry to fulfill their need to keep up with their neighbors and relatives and those who prefer to manage on what they have. While the former group feels that it was perfectly alright to lead a comfortable life at the expense of their children, the latter are equally convinced that it is wrong to do so. Both groups have their own logic and explanation.
I feel that one ought to take a middle path. While it is good to resort to prudent spending and keep aside sufficient funds to take care of one’s twilight years, it is not necessary to consider it a sin to expect children to pitch in and help as and when required. I am sure children with the right kind of family values would be more than happy to help out and support their parents when required.
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