Friday, Oct 31, 2014

From the discomfort zone: Family jhanjat (mess)

Reuters Photo This stereotype social context cannot be handled with a statistical Excel sheet data. (Reuters)
Written by Shombit Sengupta | Posted: April 6, 2014 12:16 am | Updated: April 6, 2014 4:07 am

“Jhanjat!” is how Akash, a 35-year-old living in Delhi, described his family living composition. He was narrating his rigmarole family life — from his joint family to nuclear family and back to the joint family which broke up eventually to become a neo-joint family with his brother’s home then turned into an extended nuclear family.

Akash’s father was in the Railways. His mother joined government service in Delhi where Akash grew up with his younger sister, brother and grandparents. Ten years ago, they arranged his marriage to Sunita, who was from a large joint family. She fitted in like a glove with his family, managing the home under directions from her mother-in-law. His sister subsequently got married and left home, while Akash’s unmarried brother started to earn. That’s when Akash’s office transferred him to Mumbai.

Initially, Sunita was extremely hesitant. Who will cook, clean and look after the joint family she was managing? Moreover, she was nervous about moving to unknown Mumbai — she had never lived alone before. What would she do when Akash travelled for work, as he frequently does? She procrastinated for a year and then joined him. Within eight months, she started enjoying her nuclear living style.

A son was born and she passed four happy years in Mumbai. When Akash was transferred back to Delhi, it was somehow obvious that they would return to Akash’s family home. In the meantime, Akash’s brother had married and his wife worked for a travel company. Akash’s father asked his first floor tenant to leave so that Akash could move in. In a few years, Akash’s brother was blessed with two children.

So theirs became a big joint family, two married brothers with wives, children, parents and grandparents all under one roof with one kitchen. Having lived independently for a while, Akash and Sunita had become used to the Mumbai lifestyle with late nights. Sunita was now pre-occupied with her child’s welfare and meeting her friends at daytime kitty parties. This seemed to upset Akash’s mother who expected the same docile service from her older, non-working daughter-in-law. The younger daughter-in-law evoked different expectations as she was career-oriented. Moreover, she had entered their home when the parents had become used to managing it without Sunita. So the younger couple lived resourcefully and displayed no untoward ways that the parents found unacceptable.

Returning home at untimely hours was starting to become the loosened hinge, especially as Akash’s brother’s wife was continuously reporting their late hours to the in-laws. A cold war developed between the two bahus (daughters-in-law), one a Mumbaiwaali with new attitude and the other exhibiting unstated superiority because of her earning ability, which put her in her in-laws’ good books. Sunita fell from grace because of her independent outlook. The two brothers were compatible, but Akash being the elder had to play the prophet’s role even though continued…

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