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Views On The Joint Family System English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4583 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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I shared her views on the joint family system. I had had first hand experience of living in a joint family. I could write a thesis on the subject.

In a joint family there is no generation gap because each generation is a clone of its predecessor. There is no new thinking because old thought are recycled; no heresy; only orthodoxies; no sprit of inquiry; only smug conformity. No fresh ground is broken because only the old one is trodden upon repeatedly. Time doesn’t move there. It stands still and frozen. It is a haven for the timid and the hesitant; a prison for the adventurous. It is an infirmary not a gymnasium. A joint family is a vast security system where no one is left behind because no race is allowed. No talent is nurtured because none is recognized. It is a sort of commune in which the ruling motto is: To each according to need – as determined by the patriarch. A joint family is a tyranny in its elemental form. It is a dictatorship in the basic cell of the social organism. Every thing is sacrificed at the altar of collective security. It is where minds choke in protective custody. It is paternalism from which statism takes root. It is a nursery in which grown up remain children. It stultifies initiative; it preserves traditions. Members of a joint family are not individuals; they are walking traditions.

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I know because we lived in a large house in the heart of the Delhi. The house was very old. No one knew when it was built. It was definitely more than a hundred years old. Everyone said that it was there when they were born. My father, my grandfather, and my great- grandfather, all said that. Of course I had not seen my great- grandfather, but my father said that he heard that from him. He had seen his grandfather preside over the household like a patriarch.

My great grandfather had two sons. He ran a business of selling coal. He did not handle coal himself. He had a wholesale agency from a company in Bihar and used to sell lots to retailers. He only did some paper work and gets his commission. He had a small office near the Kashmiri Gate where two office assistants used to work for him. His presence was not required in the office the whole day, but he preferred to be there than his home doing nothing. There he used to sit with his cronies, smoke hookah, play chess and exchange gossip. They were the mainly pursuits of those days. He came home only in time for dinner, which was at 7:30 pm. That was the time when every one was required to be present. A mental roll call of the inmates was taken. His wife, his two sons, their wives and their five children, boys and girls all came and touched his feet when he returned home from work. In turn, he blessed them in different ways. He put his hand on the head of every bowed head as it rose after touching his feet. He wished his sons happiness. Children were kissed on their heads and wished a long life. Daughters – in – law wished a long life for their husbands so that they would not become widows. That is because no hell is worse than being a widow in India. He often brought some sweets for the children and occasionally a gift for his sons or daughters-in-law. They were generally identical so as not to raise jealously amongst the recipients. What he brought for his wife, no body saw. But soon it was known since she herself would proudly show it to her daughters-in-law. Some time she would promise to bequeath it to one or the other daughter-in -law depending upon their behavior towards her.

After dinner, the old man would hold his court for a while. Any household problems needing his attention or approval were brought up to him either through is wife or his sons and he would then give his ruling. That was the end of the day after which everyone returned to their respective rooms. But outside in the courtyard there was curfew. My great grandfather was educated only up to the elementary stage. Besides his mother tongue, Punjabi he knew Urdu and had a smattering of Persian. He could sign his name in English. His sons were educated up to high school and their wives were practically illiterate.

Both his sons and their wives had a room each to themselves in which they and their families stayed. All the children slept together in the big hall. That was the only part of the haveli from which any noise emanated after dark. Often some one had to holler to them to keep quite and go to sleep.

The entire household shared a common kitchen. My great-grandmother decided the menu and distributed the cooking of dishes or making of rotis amongst her daughters-in -law. Her own specialty was making sweets. Besides that, her main job was to find fault with the dishes cooked by her daughters-in-law. The utensils were washed by the daughters-in-laws by turn. Each of the two sons got a fixed amount of expenses of their respective families. My great grandfather met the common expenses.

After his death, my grandfather inherited his mantle since he was the elder brother. His own children and his young brother’s children added to the member of the inhabitants in the house. Some more rooms were added to the haveli to accommodate them. The same system continued under the benevolent dictatorship of my grandfather. As a child I once counted eighteen persons in the large haveli. Another hall was added for the children. Boys and girls slept in different halls after the age of five or six. But we all played together in the central court. In summer, we all slept in the open under the starry sky. The eldest child acted as the monitor. He saw to it that other children brought out the cots and made beds in the courtyard. In the morning they rolled up the beds and shifted the cots back to the hall.

My grandfather was keen that every one should be educated. My father graduated with distinction. Another brother also secured a degree. The third brother was not keen on studying. But he also had to go to the college. When finally he dropped out, my grandfather was very upset. My mother too was educated and could manage a conversation in English.

I was nine when my grandfather died. Suddenly, hordes of relatives started descending on the house from all parts of the city and even far away towns for the mourning. We knew about their arrival from their loud crying in groups as soon as they entered our street. They stayed with us for two weeks. Every morning women used to sit in a large circle to wail and to beat their breasts in unison. The drill was lead by a professional mourner. Women from the neighbourhood would also drop in for a while and join in the drill. No cooking was done in the house for seven days. Meals came from some neighbour or the other. The children enjoyed the arrival of mourners. They made friends with their children and would go out in the field to play. For them it was fun.

After seven days the house was washed thoroughly. It was then considered purified. The deceased was deemed to have reached heaven safely. Normal activity was then resumed in the house. Men folk returned their work. The general atmosphere in the house remained somewhat subdued. Children were sharply rebuked if they indulged in their pranks and laughed aloud. No festival was celebrated for a year after the death. Only after one year did the household emerge from mourning. It was then as if my grandfather had never existed except for one day when during the shradh period a prayer was held and some Brahmins were fed with elaborate meals in his – indeed in all ancestors’ memory.

After my grandfather’s death my father, being the eldest became the head of the household. He was a gentle soul but had to discharge the traditional functions of the patriarch of a joint family of twenty-five members. He had seven children of his own and there were an equal number from his brothers. So there were six adult women, headed by my grandmother who was like a queen mother, without real authority but still commanding formal obeisance from every one. The first thing my father and his two brothers did on return from their work every evening was to go straight to her room and chat with her. That included listening to her complaints about the alleged misdemeanors of their wives and children. The subsequent mood in each room was determined by her briefing. So, in their own interest, the daughters-in -law tried to keep her in good humor.

Like his father and grandfather before him, my father gave names to every newborn and decides what subject they would study and what profession they would follow.

The girls in the family were married early whereupon they moved to the families of their in-laws which were a replica of the set up from which they had gone. Moving from one collective to another, they had few problems of adjustment.

Every first of the month when my father brought the earning from his business, he took the whole amount to my grandmother. She would touch the bag by way of benediction, bless my father for a long life, take a small wad of notes and return the rest to him. Children knew about this monthly ritual. On that day they used to hang around the grandmother. She would give each of them a small coin. They would touch her feet by way of thanks and scamper out holding the coins tight in their fists. Some time the children would pool their earning and have a party in one of the halls.

My father gave his other brothers a fixed allowance for the expenses of their families. One of the brother was slightly retarded and so did not do any work. But he and his family got an equal amount of allowance. He or his wife never felt that they were inferior and any child who referred to his handicap was pulled up. They were made to treat him as a normal person. Actually, he was popular with the children because he played with them without in hesitation. Some time later, one of the brother move out to another town. His wife had arranged with her father to make him a partner in his work. His share of the immovable property was then determined and he was given cash in lieu of that. That reduced the congestion in the old house. It was widely believed that my aunt felt suffocated in the joint family and was always trying to break loose from it. After some years of her severance from our family, she became well- known as a social worker and then as a political leader. She became a minister in Punjab later and we used to boast about our relationship with her. As I grew older, I perceived an atmosphere of tension in the haveli. I began to understand that the small casual remarks made by women in the household were actually backbiting. Some women made them in the hope that they would be carried to the intended quarters. Some times there were somewhat heated exchange between women. Two or three times I heard one or the other uncles wear a grumpy look and talk to my father about their grievances. If any children wee around at that time, they were shooed away and asked to go and study in their rooms. But we all listened to the exchanges and even see the drama through the cracks in door or windows.

Occasionally, a brother or his wife would not be present at the dinner because they were sulking about something or the other. Something done or some remark made by the patriarch, his wife or one of his children was the cause and that was the only way of registering the protest. The matter was then brought up and thrashed out. The patriarch brought about peace or at least a truce either by pointing out the ludicrousness of the point or by pulling up the errant party suitably. Sometime the peace parleys wee extended and occasionally some heat was generated. The children would eavesdrop to catch juicy snippets of the discussions. But the system never broke down. Bruised egos were massaged, hurts were treated and normalcy was restored. Once one of my uncles threatened to set up a separate establishment, but my father said he would not allow it unless he moved out of town. The matter ended there. Soon the feelings seeped down to our generation. The cousins squabbled over small matters, about sharing a desk, a bicycle, and a book. If someone scored more marks in an examination than the other cousin in the same class, snide remarks were made not only about the child but her parents. The resentment then traveled up to the parents and it got compounded. My father was always fire fighting here and there. When he raised his voice, every one else cowered.

Our generation as it grew felt uncomfortable under the pressure to conform. Boys must do that, girls should not do that. Outside we saw boys and girls of our generating doing all sorts of things. They broke new grounds, went beyond the established courses of study. They went into sports. They spent longer hours outside their houses. Some went into the forbidden domains and boasted about their adventures.

In comparison, our life was very restricted. We lived under a tyranny. We began to understand the meaning of generation gap slowly. The centre of gravity in our haveli was in the past. Mother knew best, and father knew even better. That was the ruling dogma. We lived and studied according to father’s decision.

So I graduated in engineering although I wanted to become a singer. A singer! My father was horrified. No, that was for those good – for – nothing fellows. ‘You will sing before gathering who will through coins at you. No that is not something anyone from our family will stoop to’. He was set on making me an engineer. ‘You have to study engineering. Even if you want to go to England to do higher studies, I shall send you there. Learn from these Englishmen. After all they have ruled over us for two centuries. That is because they knew better’.

I submitted. After I graduated with distinction, my father wanted me to start a business of spare parts for automobiles. He could get me an agency for that. Luckily, when he broached the subject with an influential friend of his, the latter suggested that I get some hang of the job and then set up a factory of my own. Agency was a business for the uneducated. I applied and got the job of an executive in a British firm. It was an occasion for rejoicing.

And now that I had arrived, the subject of my marriage came up. Actually, the exercise had already begun quite some time ago without my knowledge. Offers had been coming from the parents of nubile girls from our caste and even from outside. Those liberal ones who advertised in the matrimonial columns of newspaper boldly proclaiming that caste was no bar.

I had found a girl already but I dared not mention it to my father. Seeing that thing were moving fast in the direction of matrimony, I got alarmed and broached the topic with my mother. She mentioned it to my father and suggested that there was no harm in seeing the girl. My father blew up. ‘Leave it to me. He has grown wings. I shall clip them.’

One evening, as I returned home my father called me.

“What do I hear?’ he asked

‘About what, Papa?’ I asked innocently.

“Your mother says you want to marry a girl.”

I kept quiet.

‘Why?’ he asked.

I don’t know how but I blurted out,’ I love her’.

‘Love’, he laughed like a villain in films. And then he added as if in betrayal, ‘so, after all you were not as innocent as we believed’.

I kept quiet, standing there my dead lowered in an admission of guilt.

He asked jeeringly, .’What is this love shove. What do you know about love?’

I could not reply to the question, which was really not a question. Frankly I really knew noting about it except that liked Kamala, for that was her name. I liked even her name .It sounded so good .It meant a lotus. I counted all the virtues of lotus. I thought she was the most beautiful, most intelligent, wittiest girl in the world

‘Son’, he said, ‘we will find a good girl of a good family for you. It is our job. You don’t worry.

‘But dad…’I tried to say something.

‘Go and have a wash. I shall show you some photographs tomorrow.

I got up to go in suppressed rage as he shot at my back. ‘And forget about that girl. All this love-shove is all balderdash!’

Next day I had to go out of town an official tour for a week. On my return, my parents showed me a number of photographs and mentioned the special merits of each, which they had gleaned from a close scrutiny of the C.V.’s of the candidates. of each girl sent with the photograph, ‘in confidence’. . They were all graduates. Some wee double graduates. They all belonged to well-off families. They were all reasonably good looking.

I pretended not to show any interest. My mother then selected three and said she thought they were the best.

My father picked up one and said, ‘Out of all these, I think this is the best’. He had already checked her antecedents.

‘She is a post-graduate. Her father is an affluent businessman who has built his business from scratch after Partition. Her two brothers are also working with the father. It looks a family like ours. We seem to be at the same level of financial comfort. I think this alliance will suit our business too’.

The girl, Shanti, looked good. A bit too sure of herself. There was a hint of smile in the corner of her lips.

We went to their house. I liked the air of nonchalance about her.

Her family made a return call to our house. A week later we were engaged. The marriage was fixed three months hence.

Again, as at the time of my grandfather’s death, relations started pouring in from all sides a week before the event. We took a large wedding party dancing to their house all the way. Our wedding was quite lavish by the standards of the time and there were numerous celebrations and ceremonials for a week. The house remained illuminated with string of coloured bulbs. Songs form popular films glorifying union of young hearts and their aspirations kept on blasting at all times of day and night. No neighbor complained because that would be an un-neighbourly act. A wedding is a community affair in India and the whole neighbourhood must join in the ball.

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After a few days of the wedding, when the guest had departed, we were packed off for honeymoon to Kashmir. We enjoyed that very much. I found that Shanti was a healthy outgoing type, though a trifle too self-willed. She asked me whether we would continue to stay in the haveli or set up our own house. I told her that we had to stay with the family for the time being. I would see how to make out a case for breaking out into a nuclear unit without creating heartaches or a scandal.

Tension surfaced within a week of our return to the old house.

Shanti did not find suitable company in the haveli. Throughout the day she had nothing to do. She did not like having session of gossips with my mother or my aunts. She found fault with the upbringing of my nephews and nieces who were noisy and nosy. She resented their friendly gestures as intrusion into her privacy. She said she felt suffocated in that large house.

She did not introduce her friends who came to visit her to the ladies of the house. My parents, aunts and even children did not like her stand-offish attitude toward the household. My parents often hinted to me about that. I would laugh off and tell them she was their choice, not mine.

One day Shanti told me excitedly that she had an offer of a job in a new school. I had no objection to that but I said it would have to be approved by my parents. No woman of the house had ever gone out for work. Men folk earned enough money for the women to live comfortably. Women who went out tended to go out of control. They would have to work with men. And that carried its own risks. They also became independent. Shanti already had enough of that in her character.

Surprisingly, my parents did not raise any objection to the proposal. However, the aunts murmured that that was Shanti’s clever way of avoiding having to attend to her share of the chores in the house.

In a way it was good. She remained away most of the day. In the evening she brought home some work. It seemed to be a good arrangement. But I had to hear snide remarks from my cousin’s wife and other that she was a guest in the house, not a member of the household.

A year after that, my father died suddenly of heart attack. This time the mourning ceremonies were not on the elaborate scale as in the case of my grandfather. My mother was not in favour of that. The whole thing was over in a week. My father, the patriarch of the family, became a memory.

My mother remained remarkably composed in her bereavement. But she craved company, sympathy and attention. She had stories to tell of her younger days, of her marriage and of our childhood. That was her way of reliving her good old days. She wanted an audience. In the beginning we heard her, but she became repetitive and we had other things to do. Within a year, one of my brothers broke away from the joint family. He asked of his share in the property so that he could set up his own establishment. He was the one whose wife was considered ‘good’ because she was the adjusting type.

My uncle who succeeded my father as the head of the household suggested that times had changed and that my father’s family should live separately. He said he would appoint an arbitrator to make a fair distribution of the property.

So my mother, my brother who was still with us and I with Shanti constituted one unit. We took a modern house in the South Extension Area of Delhi and started living there.

I thought matters would improve for Shanti now that we had a smaller family-though still joint and there were only two women in the house. Curiously, it worked the other way. I found that it was easier for four women to live under the same roof than two.

Every evening when I returned from office, I would go first to my mother and spend some time with her. Shanti did not like that. She too was waiting in her lair. Often, I asked Shanti to bring tea to that room. She preferred to have it in her room, but joined with unconcealed lack of enthusiasm. I seldom succeeded in stoking up a conversation between the two in my mother’s room. Shanti came there reluctantly like a goat that had to be dragged from her stake. Only she did not bleat – at least not audibly. At the slightest excuse, she would break loose and not return.

My mother would ask only me to get whatever she needed. Shanti resented that. ‘Why doesn’t she ask me?’ she would complain.

She doesn’t brother, was my mother’s counter justification when I suggested that she ask her.

I could do nothing.

Differences also erupted on how to brig up our son, Rana. My mother did not like him to be entrusted to the care of an ayah. ‘He will imbibe her character’; she used to warn us.

‘All my friends do that’, Shanti would say nonchalantly. ‘What is wrong into her, any way?’ she would challenge my mother.

I had a catalogue of complaints to sort out on both sides whenever I returned form tour.

I felt irritated, exhausted, angry, frustrated.

‘You can’t have any self-development here’, Shanti complained. “You have to conform, or be condemned. A joint family is a cloning factory.’ I liked that term when cloning had not yet been done anywhere. She was good in the use of words. ‘There is no generation gap in a joint family because it is perpetuation of one generation’; I head her remark to a friend of ours. It was insightful but I could not support it because it was subversive of the system that we were living in.

‘Why do we have to eat at a fixed time which is laid down by the Grande Dame?’, she would ask sarcastically.

Six years passed like that. My mother would some time go to my brother’s house and stay there for a few weeks. But my brother’s wife would bluntly ask us when we were sending for her.

Though things wee said at her back, she could sense the she was unwanted. She felt humiliated by a quiet exclusion from decision-making.

On the other hand, Shanti felt persecuted by what she called ‘nagging’ which in fact was well-meaning advice from my mother. For me there was no escape from the cold war and its invisible cross-fire.

One day the chairman of my company called me and said that in view of my good work, I would be posted to London. For about six months it would be a peripatetic arrangement, which would take me to different places with London as my base. It would be a non-family station, my boss who was an ex-army officer told me mischievously. But you will be compensated for keeping family here. After that you can all be together.

Shanti was excited when I told her about it. Her face fell when she heard about the prospect of her having to stay in Delhi for six months without me – and with my mother. But she could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

My mother was depressed. ‘What will happen to me? She asked.

‘You will also join us after some time’, I consoled her. Shanti kept quiet

What will I do in London? She asked in despair. Shanti agreed with her but did not express her opinion.

Separately, I worked out a deal with my brother. I said I would give him one thousand rupees per month if he would keep her till I was able to settle down in London. His wife told him it was not a fair deal. No exchange involving her mother-in-law was a fair deal for her. Then she thought of her son. The extra money would pay for his expenses in the Doon School. That was her dream to have her son educated in that famous school. But on his own my brother could not quite afford that. So they agreed to keep my mother for up to one year. After that she expected some share of property from her widowed mother to come to her.

My brother and I however thought that the arrangement would not last that long. Don’t let your wife poison her’ I warned my brother in jest and both of us laughed.

It was on the basis of that patchy agreement that I left for England , not quire sure how things would work out. But absence from the place of action is a great relief. It is as if nothing happening. Not seeing is not believing.

Old people, and the very young like to live in a joint family. That provides a support for them. But people in their youth do not like it. It constrains them. It prevents their growth. It cramps their style. It is an irony that parents who bring up children by making so many sacrifices, become unwanted for those very children when they grow old. Was it the Buddha who said that the love of parents for their children was natural; that for the children for their parents was not?


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