India Debunked #3: A Family Affair

When I was growing up, my grandmother lived with us. This was very different to the nuclear arrangements that many of my friends grew up in. My grandmother was the only grandparent I’ve ever known. When I was little she would wake me up for school and cook for me. She taught me manners and life lessons and she carried herself with grace and elegance. She had had a hard life as a young woman and this made her extremely kind and generous to others. She passed away from cancer fifteen years ago and I still miss her today.

In India, most families live like we used to. Traditionally, a woman moves in with her husband and in-laws after marriage. In the past there was an expectation that the daughter-in-law would run the house in partnership with her mother-in law. This isn’t always the case nowadays but at the very least, the former is expected to master her mother-in-law’s culinary specialities to ensure her husband can continue enjoying these delicacies after a lifelong habit of eating them every day.

It makes for interesting family dynamics.

Most middle class homes are constructed with multiple storeys so each couple has a floor to themselves, effectively creating self sufficient apartments. When children come along, they are integrated into this arrangement. Sometimes three or four generations live under the same roof. This type of living arragement offers many benefits. Easy childcare, shared domestic help, financial support, home security and being able to spend quality time with your family are just some of them. So it is really important to get along and at least be able to live together. Here in India, marrying into a family and the notion that a marriage involves two families coming together is the accepted norm, a concept that is opposed to what many people are used to around the world.

In many cases, key decisions such as where and how they live, whether and when a couple will have children, what sort of upbringing the children will have, what sort of school they will attend, how a couple should conduct their marriage are sometimes made as a family unit. There is often pressure to do what the family wants, rather than what the couple wants. Decisions must take into account the entire family and everyone’s needs and wants, not just those of the young couple. Many families integrate into this arrangement very successfully. But for some, differences in personalities, values and behaviours cannot be reconciled and can lead to dire consequences.

Times seem to be changing slowly. Higher educational attainment and competition for jobs have led to increased mobility, with young, highly qualified professionals moving abroad or across India, without their parents. Some put down roots away from the familial home. Mindsets are changing with modernisation and globalisation. Young couples increasingly seem to be living in a more nuclear family-like configurations.

Families will continue to be close knit and everything to everyone here but in a few decades, families may just end up being less entwined.

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I had aimed to post every weekday for this series but due to my postgraduate research deadlines and mid-week travel, I haven’t been able to upload on time this week. So this weekend, I am going to try and catch up for the week. Thanks for reading!

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