The Extended Family Of India.

Barath’s comment – “Funny thing is Annie now states that she can never come to terms with my relatives as all nieces and nephews get referred to as my kids and she gets really worried about the number of children I have in India!!!” in my post, “Ramana Sir”, has inspired this post.

Family ties in India traditionally have been very strong. I distinctly remember from our childhood, our home being forever filled with visiting uncles, aunts, cousins, grand parents, family friends and some of them staying on for long periods of time going to college, taking medical treatments etc. In return, we used to go off to small towns and villages where our relatives were located for vacations. In all such situations, we never felt as though anyone was intruding into the privacy of the host. Our home was in a city and was used by our relatives from villages and small towns as a place to stay. It was taken for granted that such hospitality will be extended.

Things have changed now. Most of my generation cousins and relatives stay in cities and are spread all over the world though, the strongest concentration is in Chennai in South India. Each of my father’s siblings set up his/her own unitary family as did my parents. Within each such unitary family, the ties are extremely strong with the exception of two drop outs from among perhaps a hundred or so members.

In my immediate family, presently consisting of my father, we four siblings and our children and grand children, the ties are very strong and we still follow the old fashioned tradition of treating our children as being from a common pool. This is what has puzzled Annie, a Southern Belle from Louisiana. For all of us siblings, all our children are “my kids”.

With increasing dispersal of families, this tradition is on the wane. Sad but, I suppose, inevitable. With modern telephony, the internet and FaceBook, perhaps some bonds are getting stronger, but nowhere near what I believe was the case when we were growing up.

In the Northern parts of India, this tradition takes some odd hues. Let me share you a story to illustrate.

In 1980, I was posted as the Regional Manager for the Northern Region. As was the tradition, I had to go to many farewell and welcome parties with my predecessor Jagdish, who had held fort there for ten years. There was one particular party which has become company lore and is still talked about. It loses quite a bit of flavour due to translation from Punjabi but, is worth sharing nevertheless.

Jagdish and his wife Asha are Punjabis, as was the host for the evening. When, Jagdish, Asha, Urmeela and I landed up at the host’s traditional home with a very large courtyard, we found two parallel rows of our host’s family waiting to receive us with garlands. This is traditional and every thing went off well. Jagdish turned to our host and requested him to introduce all the waiting sons, daughters, daughters in law etc to me, no doubt due to not knowing all the names. Our host, in typical Punjabi, declined to and requested Jagdish to do the honours. Jagdish, being well versed in these politese, said -“They are your children, you should introduce them.” Much to my amusement, our host said – “How are they my children? They are your children. You introduce them.” I am not one to let opportunities to pass by. In an aside to Jagdish I said – “Part of the perquisites of being RM North? No wonder you stuck on for ten years!”

Unfortunately, our local Manager, standing just behind me over heard this and the story went all over the world.

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