The uniquely Indian institution of the joint family was a famed bedrock for values and ethics. In recent decades, due to larger societal factors, the nuclear family has taken over with its own set of benefits and disclaimers. But then, strangely enough, the enforced house arrest of 2020 is making us behave like traditional joint families.
My motherâ€™s family in Calcutta was a flowering joint family and thus a prototype for this venerable institution. My insights are thus based on first-hand observations and a bustling stream of stories about its many protagonists. Quite like a cruise ship, it was a self-sufficient geography with every form of sustenance and entertainment, nurtured organically with much care. Accomplishments or the lack of them belonged strictly to the external world and the only hierarchy which mattered was demographic and that too only for crucial family decisions. Truthfully, it was also a natural universe of conformance and this extended to a community dining culture, where the routine was as delightful as the indulgence. But above all, it was an unconditional environment of affection and truly a well-oiled unit setting exemplary standards in teamwork and empathy.
The nuclear family was designed to differ and it was in many ways, a liberal expression of the structured past. Where the values remained intact but far greater leeway was granted for dilettante attitudes and actions, as a more creative society gradually evolved. Its physical presence was meant to be a safe hub from where ambitions could safely take wings and millennial India got shaped from its small yet unlimited confines. Interestingly, unlike its predecessor, not much of real physical time was spent in its cosy confines as middle-class India became systematically extroverted in its outlook. The kitchen lost its noble sanctity and was often a heating point for external goodies, no longer the unquestioned provider, and the refrigerator took pole position as the digestive integrator. Over time, further boundaries were demolished, be it drinking or entertaining girlfriends, and with increased standards of living, home entertainment became digital and not conversational.
In the lockdown, though, the wings of the urban Indian have been ruthlessly clipped and families are being forced to stay at home. Eating out is under the scanner and thus for months, even experimental palates have been restrained. Entire families have been physically unified like never before and possibly never again and thus the daily conversations have significantly increased. Working mothers on Zoom have become de facto housewives and dads have spare time as pub crawls are now rendered non grata. The success of Ludo King proves that board games are back with a bang and closet singers are reaching peak performance output, courtesy incessant rigour and demonstration. Hierarchies have been demolished inÂ a new-age way, with the CXO cadre having to exhibit their efficiencies in the bathroom and kitchen while sustainable values like sharing and caring are being suitably enforced. The scarcity regime had temporarily re-entered our lives and a rather spoilt generation had to forego indulgences in every form â€” be it eating, entertainment or holidays.
All of the above arguably become a refresher course for value systems, which include family, self and the universe at large. Equally all of the above, point to a right-sizing of relationships, internally and externally, and they can frankly lead to either direction. But most definitely, the present circumstances resemble the inclusive captivity of the joint family system as opposed to the liberal springboard of the nuclear family. This includes conversations, cuisine, engagements, responsibilities and gratification â€” this period has brought us closer together as opposed to giving us wings to fly. Even students at a university level are now operating from home and this gives them an additional timespan with their parents as opposed to terminal separation at 18, quite like western culture. While the electronic options are formidable, conversations around the dining table are once again centre stage and human interactivity is surely more overpowering.
As mentioned earlier, how this will transpire may not quite conform to a goody-goody formulaic level but a clear path will be crafted. Which may well be intense positivity in most cases as bonds get warmly cemented but in other cases, it may well be decisive separation as folks go their own ways once the vaccine is implemented. But undoubtedly, there will be a key point of inflexion as this entrenched adhesion will significantly eliminate demonstrative allegiances. As the iterative dimensions of the joint family narrative get expressed as the honest outpouring of a free world, whose masks have been figuratively shattered by the covid dilemma.
Quite inadvertently we have been living in rewind mode for much of 2020 and this will be a key input for how we wish to move forward. But most certainly, we are entering a period of unprecedented honesty and realness where the traditional equations will soon be re-crafted.
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