The living room, which once brimmed with incessant chatter in the evenings with family members surrounding the television, has gone silent.
Resting in his armchair, an ageing Mr. Biswas, a South Delhi resident, reminisces, “Those days, evenings would be time for family reunion, my sons would come back from work, daughters would prepare tea and snacks and all of us would sit together in front of the television to watch Chitrahaar (a popular musical show in the 80s on national television). Now, my wife and I seldom visit our children settled in different parts of the country”.
A joint family is on a disintegrating path ever since society graduated into an age of technological advance, changing gender roles and better employment opportunities. Interdependence on each other in large families seems to have been replaced by independent living and self-sufficient attitude.
Living together under one roof which was once about shared values and harmonious co-existence, today raises questions on adjustment and compromise. Couples post weddings settle down away from their in-laws and relatives to avoid what they now call an ‘intrusion’ into their conjugal space that decades back did not mean the same.
When Meenu Mehrotra, writer and blogger, shifted into a nuclear setup in Dubaiafter spending years in a joint family, she found the transition to be a favourable one. “The decision to separate from family was not a conscious but circumstantial one. My mother-in-law passed away, brother(s)-in-law got married and I too started to discover the author in me. A joint family is a lot of fun but I’d had my fill and wanted space,” she asserts. However, the absence of the comforts of living together leaves her sad at times. “During my first pregnancy, I was pampered, spoilt for choice and had co-operative in-laws who put up with my mood swings. I missed that warmth the time when I was expecting my second child,” sighs Meenu.
Unlike her, Mrunalini Deshmukh, an endocrinologist in U.S.A took time to start an independent life with her husband. She attributes her 14 years of successful medical career to her joint family. “I grew up to be a compassionate and altruistic physician because of a culture fostered by my family,” she says. Mrunalini agrees to have experienced a liberating setting post marriage but soon wanted to move back. “During my training period, my family and in-laws’ involuntary decision to stay with my kids without hesitation helped me imagine a fulfilling career,” says Mrunalini. Medical research shows how more than diet, exercise, genes or location; a family-oriented lifestyle ensures a healthy life. Mrunalini informs, “As a physician, I have observed that patients, struggling with decision-making, conflict management or illness, recover better when they come from a joint family.”
It is often perceived that the percentage of couples that come to discuss their marriages on the brink of dissolution to psychologists and doctors seems to be more from nuclear than joint families. The reason being, as Dr. Kamal Khurana, marriage counsellor points out, “Couples part of joint families have seniors and elders to confide in as opposed to the ones coming from a single unit who find aid in us.” As a note of caution he adds, “It is important that elders in family respect the autonomy of the couple and not impose diktats that may impede the relationship. Dictatorship and mentorship are two separate things and should never be mixed.”
To believe that familial ties are unbreakable in cases where members are living together too can be bit of a misnomer.
TV actress, Simone Singh for instance who has always lived in a nuclear family, tells us why. For her, the effort put into a relationship precedes the setup. “Both institutions come with great values and responsibilities. One cannot be judged better than the other. It’s not just sharing the same land; there are people who live like strangers even within a joint family. More than structural proximity, it is how you conduct a relationship that matters most,” she avers.
Every social structure dissolves and takes a new shape. Families entering new systems indicate a sign of thinking and evolving culture. Explaining this emerging phenomenon, actor and film maker Sudeshna Roy feels, “Little condominiums are the new face of joint families wherein every family living in independent housing estates/flats contribute in the well-being of extended families.”
Staying away or close, the spirit of togetherness in a family should remain alive, forever!