The best thing about the far past is that it can be glorified without strong proof. I keep hearing that Indian families were such that we lived harmoniously in large joint families. Extended families were helpful and took in relatives who needed help. In marriages the whole community used to chip in to bear a little of the expenses. The current state of most urban families is so far away from this ideal that I wonder : Was the close knit Indian family a myth?
Certainly my own family in the last decade has been more of a bane than a boon. I did not attend my brother’s marriage as a property conflict came up with my father. The enmasse migration of the cousins to the USA brought with it annoying comparisons and further distancing between us. One cousin upon my telling her that I wish we were more in touch wrote back to say that she had no time for people in her city let alone someone thousands of miles away. Do Indians learn directness in America or just bad manners?
Anyways I oftentimes think that to be immigrants in a competitive country with no social protection cannot be easy however much my NRI cousins paint a rosy picture of their lives. And then there is the problem of their ageing parents who live here. The recent advertisements of old age homes in Chennai making them sound like vacation spots is a sad denial of the broken up family support systems.
Not all is good with the families that remain in town either. Going to my aunt’s house is a training in fasting for me. I was caught once “impurely” trying to get water from their kitchen and since then hold that kitchen in complete antipathy. The uncle doesn’t welcome me with even a hello, ignores me and looks mostly at the television screen. This social rudeness stands out starkly as I am friendly and I live in an extremely friendly country where I often share conversations with complete strangers. Thus the holier-than-thou attitude by the family elders would be more palatable if they forgive their errant children and made peace in conflicts.
The shining light to familial kindness is my late grandfather who welcomed such a feuding family with love and joy. Not that he got anything back from them in return other than more demands. However, he remains an inspiration to us and brings a hope that close knit families of the past were indeed possible. He taught by example that families need not be perfect entities but can still be held together by an active act of forgiveness. Our many festivals can be used to broker relationships and cement bonds in celebration. Love is possible and faith is a must.
In our urban centers which seem to be on an unthinking, relentless path to westernisation it is becoming popular to be individualistic and not put energy into the extended family. My french girlfriend said it best when I shared this situation with her. She said, “Why do Indians pick the bad parts of western culture and not the good ones?”