“Remember, the family's been nucleated,” intoned my son Prayag. “I needn't do all that you did or still keep doing!”
He was responding to my idea of being in touch with his aunts, uncles, cousins, now that he is settled in a new job.
For him, as with most children of his generation, the family begins and ends with the nuclear family. Cousins are cousins — not their own siblings; the uncle-aunts are uncle-aunts — not like their parents; the grandparents too are grandparents — distant and remote, and, surely, not the elder father-mother figure they were for us. Their world encircles them, their siblings and their parents. It's a table-top, ending sharply at the family's edge.
How different our worlds were in the 1960s and 1970s! Our world was small, with big families. One's recognition was via the family; one's name was incidental and could and, indeed, was often forgotten. “He's the son of so and so, the grandson of so and so or the nephew of so and so.” That's how one was introduced. The ubiquity of the family couldn't be missed.
Family embraced cousins — close and many times removed — and relatives and friends, also cousins of cousins, relatives of relatives, and friends of friends! They're welcome any time of the day and night. There were no fixed visiting hours, no prior intimation. Prior knowledge of visit had an air of artificiality about it, a feeling of incipient urban dross enveloping the pristine rural-feudal mindsets of unspoilt values — the pleasant and pleasurable elements of thrill diminished, not to say that it negated the familiar ring of vasudhaiva kutumbakam — and sublime equations.
I still recall the string of people who visited us all day. If it was lunch time, they had lunch; if it was dinner time, they had dinner. Often relatives came and stayed with us — not exactly with a purpose or on a sundry assignment. They came and stayed because they liked to come and stay! This never forebode well for my brother and me for, we were the ones to first take the hit, and had to promptly make way for our visiting relatives to grace our beds! But we cheerfully ratcheted up and rehabbed ourselves with our makeshift floor-beds for the nights! And even felt bereft when they left after months of stay, so much had they become a part of the family's collective unconscious! No questions asked on the purpose or length of stay — that was apostasy and solecism that didn't behove of honourable families!
Of the many who came and stayed with us and who I addressed in familiar endearing terms, it came as a big surprise one day years later when I realised that the old couple who lived with us for months every year (and not with their only son and his family who lived in the same city), were in no way related to us but had lived close to my parent's house years ago in the 1940s and had grown mutually fond of one another, and adopted my mother as their daughter!
How the world has changed! The joint-and-nexus-family construct — that existed in the same space — alas, has crumbled inexorably in the face of modernity. The dispersal of family members across the earth's surface with putative clamours of a globalised world doesn't warm the cockles of my heart. Each sculpts out his mode of living in his habitat with its bespoke ecosystem, each with his own outlook and esoteric worldview humming along that admits of few common denominators running through as a strand. To my heart still dipped in nostalgia recalling my indelible childhood world, this is far from warming. I make memories and memorialise them — how families were tirelessly generous and entertaining, even exceptionally welcoming.
I know the world has changed, certainly not always for the good. My children would differ, consider me prickly, and argue vociferously, reminding me that I'm caught in a time-warp and that my go-go world has become passé and no amount of soulful nostalgia will get it back for me. They demand their independence, their private spaces denied to me in my growing-up years because it wasn't thought necessary, but which, as the world changed, I ungrudgingly granted them. I tell them about the value of family, the family values and honour but I sense they place more value not on my construct but on theirs — nucleated — that one day when they set up their own homes not too far-off I'll be pushed beyond the immediate concentric ring to the one next, as I grow old and decrepit with the Methuselah gene bump full up against my inability to accept the change and forlornly look upon them with wistful indulgent eyes.
The Indian family has changed. I continue, cast in past tense that touches on family lives, and continue being swept up in seemingly unending self-pity as my eyes sweep right, then sweep left, yet miss the entire point as thoughts I'd pushed out of my mind for years come rushing back constructing a Venn diagram of family. But I'm none too sure if it's for the good, this moral outrage, this doleful cocktail, that's taken the mickey out of me I think malicious.