Thursday, June 23, 2011

Joint families - a few case studies.

I read with interest R’s mom’s post on joint families. The concept of joint families is dying a natural death. I would not know if it is good or bad but I see it happening. Like fashions that follow a cycle may be a few years from now the joint family concept may spring back in a different form. I may or may not live to see it but I can somehow sense it bouncing right back. Having said that I am not starting a new debate on whether the joint family of yesteryears was better or not. I am giving a few references and leaving it to my readers to arrive at an inference based on them.

Padmini (name changed) was not a newcomer in the Bhushan family. She had married the eldest son and was a great hit as a daughter in law. Her visits were eagerly anticipated and a whole lot of cousins in the joint family simply adored her. She was able to please grandmothers and grandfathers by abiding by rules laid down by them and would play ludo with school going youngsters, discuss romantic movies with the teen aged cousins and tease eligible brothers/sisters in law about their marriage prospects. She would fit into every group and her mother in law was proud of her. All went well till the grandparents were alive and uncles lived in the same house. Her parents in law were never free to visit her and all she had to do was to adjust for month in a whole year. However, after her grandparents in law’s death the family split and her own parents in law planned to move in with her since the ancestral house had been sold. Adjusting with them was not easy and differences cropped up. Both sides felt that the other was not adjusting well enough.

Rekha was given to understand that her husband being an only son would continue to live with them and she was the one who would have to adjust and she did. However, with time she began to resent their interference even those that were well meant. She hated to be pushed around as if she were a schoolgirl and urged her husband to accept a foreign assignment just to be allowed some freedom – so what if she had to wait for ten long years to obtain it. Parents tried everything in their means to stop them from going giving very valid reasons like children’s education and their own health issues. The assignment was for just a year and they relented agreeing to look after their school going grandchildren. When Rekha returned she was no longer the same person. She had tasted freedom and was not going to give it up at any cost.

Praveen had seen his parents caring for his grandparents. He told his girl friend that if and when they got married his parents would move in with them. His girl friend had seen her parents being pushed around by her dominating grandparents and thought otherwise. Parents could stay nearby but not with them she said. They broke up on the issue. Neither was wrong but they weren’t right either. Their view was heavily influenced by their personal experiences. However my own opinion is slightly tilted in the girl’s favor. There was nothing wrong in sharing an amicable relationship from a close enough distance and being there for each other when required.

Tricky situations isn’t it? In the present scenario it seems advisable for parents to live at a distance that allows regular interaction and for both groups to be available for each other when required without giving up their individual space.

I end with the example of a cousin of mine nearly 75 years old. He has two daughters. The older one stays in Chennai some 15 kilometers from where he stays. She visits them on alternate weekends and goes over to spend the interim weekends with her parents in law. Their second daughter lives in London and her husband is an only son. His mother is a widow. They’ve bought two adjacent flats in a locality that is close to local temples and offers good medical facility. The two sets of parents live in adjacent flats and are there for one another. When my cousin and his wife visit their daughter her mother in law takes care of the house, pays telephone bills receives mails etc. They do the same when she goes visiting. I am yet to see a happier set of parents. The second daughter checks on her sister’s MIL when her own parents are away. This speaks highly of the lady in question. Adjustment is the key. The message is clear. One needs to be happy with an arrangement that suits all concerned rather than settle for one that is suffocating in whatever manner.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The plight of a care giver.

I have often spoken highly of care givers who have taken care of mentally physically handicapped children/husbands etc. Several of my posts deal with the predicament of care givers and harped on the manner they deal with the challenges they face. However, care givers are humans too. It is not easy to be socially cut off from the world and pretend that all is well with them. One such person was Mrs. R S. I was a frequent visitor to their house till about 4 years back. My Husband and R S were colleagues and despite the difference in age their friendship continued after my husband’s retirement. The couple had a mentally retarded son. She would talk to me over the phone and would say that she would feel better after a chat session with me. It has all changed now. I am wary of a visit to their home. Reason?? I cannot pinpoint the cause but I get the feeling that all is not well in their family and Mr. R S perhaps thinks that I am not a good influence on his wife. No one has said it in words but there is something very wrong.

It all began when I invited the family for lunch. It was difficult to bring their son by scooter they said and I offered to pick them up and drop them back. I assured them that I had no problem if the son came along. I felt that Mrs. R S hardly went anywhere and this was perhaps the least she deserved. However, knowingly or unknowingly I had perhaps hurt Mr. R S by insisting that they all come over as a family. They had a college going daughter who offered to stay back and look after her brother.

“Mummy needs a change. So let her accompany papa. I'll stay back.” She had insisted.

I failed to take the hint and they came for lunch on a Sunday afternoon. I picked them up, dropped them back and on my way back told Mrs. R S that we could plan more such outings. She needed to go out once in a while.

After this incidence Mr. R S cut himself off from us in a very subtle and polished manner. He shifted residence but did not give us the new address. We came to know of it through a common friend. His wife did not know of the change in her husband’s attitude and rang me up asking me why I hadn’t visited their new home. I had to tell her that I did not know her address and she was kind of surprised. Known for being frank I went to their house and jokingly told Mr. R S that he owed us a party. He simply smiled and gave no explanation. I continued to be in touch with his wife but kept wondering what went wrong. Was it something between the men folk? My husband insisted that he had given no reason for Mr. R S to distance himself. He was probably busy at his work. Finally, when Mrs. R S told me that she had asked her husband to look after the son while she accompanied me to the temple and her husband was sarcastic when he spoke of her having friends who could pick her up and drop her back, I decided that enough was enough. If my good will gesture was going to be misinterpreted I was not going to stretch myself and hold on to the friendship. I still respond when she calls up. I visited R S when he was in hospital but that’s it.

Till date I wonder if I over reacted. Mrs. R S really needs me. I certainly don’t intend to create a rift between them. I feel very angry that he should let her handle the boy all by herself and not let her have an hour’s outing even on Sundays saying that he had to rest. Was that the reason or does he want her to lead a cocooned life always? I suppose she repeats our conversations - that are mainly counseling sessions – to him. Does it make him insecure? I do feel bad but I cannot impose myself on them. To top it Mrs. R S does not realize or understand that I deliberately avoid visiting her. She puts my not visiting or calling her to my being busy. Cooped up in the house with the son, she is showing signs of mental instability. She once forgot to switch off the mobile and I could hear her screaming at the son who had perhaps soiled his pants. Can I not have a moment of relaxation? She had asked. Didn’t I just take you to the rest room? Why didn’t you relieve yourself then? Are you a dog – she had screamed. This was hardly the person she was a few years back. I really wish to be of help. How do I do it without compromising on my self respect??

Monday, June 13, 2011

‘The Palace of Illusions’

I have just finished reading ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee and I find myself viewing the well known epic Mahabharat from an entirely different angle. The authoress ought to be commended for approaching the epic from Draupadi’s angle. I would not say that I have never wondered how Draupadi felt on being married to five men or how she felt after the war was won. After all she was instrumental in pitching the Pandavas and Kauravas against each other and at the end of it just the five Pandav brothers remained. Draupadi lost her sons, brother, father and a whole lot of well wishers just because they chose to support her cause. Did she feel avenged or did she feel guilty? The book had answers to many questions that would often come to my mind. The concluding chapters were the best. Draupadi mellows down and realizes that the price paid to restore her honor was heavy and works towards counseling and rehabilitating war widows. She finally learns to let go. I would suggest book lovers to get hold of the book and enjoy it. It has a romantic side too harping on Draupadi’s unfulfilled love for Karna that remains buried in her heart till death. A review of the book is available here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Soul Mate or Sole Mate?

My 38th wedding anniversary is just round the corner and I wanted to put down what life has been to me after I got married. Did I feel more secure? Less secure?? Ours was an arranged marriage so till date my heart refuses to skip a beat when I think of him. I think I really don’t have a romantic bent of mind. Parents got us married and after the initial hiccups we simply adjusted. I care a lot for him and he too reciprocates in equal measure. There are times when I wonder what if it had been someone else whom I had married? I suppose I would have taken my responsibilities seriously irrespective of whom or what my husband happened to be. I suspect that it is the same with my husband. Now that brings up my next question. In an arranged marriage like ours is the spouse one’s soul mate or sole mate.

Long back when my children were in their high school classes my husband and I would have our chat sessions while getting ready for work. I’d make him help with dicing vegetables and scraping coconut and we would have something or the other to talk about. It would be Lalu Prasad Yadav’s fodder scam one day or Jayalalitha’s foster son’s lavish wedding on another day. By then the children would get ready for school on their own and pack their lunch boxes too. I remember a particular instance when my second daughter who is normally quiet said-

How much can the two of you talk, mummy? You go on and on and find new topics to discuss every other day.”

Does it bother you in any way?”

“No, it doesn’t except when it gets a little loud. I wonder how our neighbor’s don’t protest.”

Nearly 20 years have gone by and we still chatter like school children. To be correct, I must add that he talks and I listen. But the timings have changed. He has retired from work while I haven’t. I ought to have superannuated this January but our retirement age has been increased by 2 years and I continue to work. It is something like this nowadays.

I am up around 5:30 in the morning and by then my husband has had his morning coffee. I rub my eyes and pick up my tooth paste and brush and my soul mate gets going-

“Do you know Kalmadi ………………


“Ramdevbaba ……………….



I have to tell him that I need to freshen up. Could he please wait a few minutes till I get done?

Otherwise I have just managed to climb the 52 steps that lead to my flat and slid into the sofa after throwing my purse and bag aside.

“Can you believe it? The spectrum scam …………”

I feel like asking him if it cannot wait till I have a wash and make myself a cup of tea? But I don’t. We are not only soul mates but sole mates as well. He is otherwise a very quiet person and takes time to make friends. He gets invited by other senior citizen to join their group but I am the only senior citizen he feels inclined to interact with. Like children that expect the mother to give them her attention once they return from school my husband too would like me to give him my time and attention. He has been alone all day and this is one thing he expects of me. Very early in our marriage we had mutually agreed that we would not discuss each other’s family. All families had a good side and a bad side in their set up. So it has to be national and international news that we discuss. And what do I get in return?

I am dragged for my morning walks since it benefits my health. Were it not for him I would sleep till seven in the morning. May be I wouldn’t but I would not religiously go for my walk.

He religiously wipes my car each morning. When I ask him to get someone to do it he refuses saying that they don’t do a good job of it. True, but prying eyes and wagging tongues do not keep quiet. Mr. Cha, the short one mentioned in an earlier post got into my car one morning asking to be dropped off at the market. For the favor I do to him he gets started-

“R does a good job of wiping the car each morning. He does it with a lot of care and concern”.

I wondered if he was being sarcastic. He then continued-

“He doesn’t drive does he?”

“No” I replied.

“Happy to be escorted by you, ha, ha!”

I felt like dumping him midway. When I reported this conversation to my husband he laughed it off saying-

“He is plain jealous that you can drive while his wife and daughter in law cannot. He has to wait for his son to take him anywhere in town. Poor man you should understand his predicament”. He is otherwise a sensitive person but when I am in the picture he has no complex and I love him for his simplicity.

Apart from this there are a hundred ways in which he makes himself useful and I do the same. He is technophobic and cannot handle ATM cards, internet booking/banking or even the mobile phone. And I’ve stopped making beds ever since I started working. I think that is what marriage does to one. A sole mate becomes a soul mate or is it the other way round? The two seem interchangeable. These days he takes up for my brothers and sisters while I defend his. The distinction has blurred and ours is one big family. We are planning a visit to Chennai and he has started accumulating ghee for my niece (sister’s daughter) who is expecting a baby!

I suppose arranged marriage is as good as love marriage if ‘soul’ and ‘sole’ become complementary as it does in most.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

In continuation.........

In continuation with my previous post I wish to add an observation made by me in the past couple of days. A family friend let me call him Mr. T, came over to our place saying that he wanted to consult my husband and me on an important matter. We knew that he had shortlisted a few houses to be taken on rent and guessed that he was unable to decide on the one that would be appropriate to house him and his ailing wife for the next year or so. His wife is on dialysis following kidney failure and the two of them were staying with their daughter in Chennai since her residence was at walking distance from a well equipped hospital. The couples are now in a dilemma. The daughter is expecting a foreign assignment and is likely to take it up. It would be selfish of them to expect her to let the offer go. But finding a house in Jamshedpur in a week’s time is also a difficult proposition. They have three other children but none of them is able to take charge. The older son is in America and is funding the treatment. The younger son is posted in rural Tamilnadu and has a touring job. Medical facility is not the best in the area he lives. The second daughter living in Mumbai is willing to take responsibility but her house if very far from the hospital and commuting in a metro would be hard on the ailing wife. And to top it Mr. T is the main care giver since he is the only one free to attend to her with both daughters working. He naturally feels that Jamshedpur being a known town this would be the best place for him to shift.

It is really no one’s fault as one can see. The children have been doing their best for the past two years. With time a certain amount of frustration tends to set in. The older daughter feels that she is taking on more than her share of responsibility. But apart from letting them stay at her place she does little else. No, there is no cause for complaint. the demand of her job is such that she has very little time to spare. Her mother walks to the hospital on her own for her dialysis and it is only when she returns after 4 hours that she feels weak and needs to hire an auto-rickshaw and it is Mr. T that escorts her to the hospital and back. Whenever Mr. T comes over to Jamshedpur the younger daughter takes over. But he is expected to return within 10 days because she has to return to work.

But to manage a patient all by himself would not be easy at the age of 68 I said. I mean there could be an emergency and as mentioned in my last post connectivity to our town is not the best. He is looking for accommodation close to the hospital that his wife would check into for her tri weekly dialysis. That part of the town is not the very best since the national highway is part of the route they need to take to reach hospital. Apart from being very far from our house it is accident prone and driving two /three wheelers in the area is risky. I remembered the time when these children were studying and Mr. T was forced to retire by the organization he worked for. His wife stood in support by his side and saw to it that their education did not suffer. I only regret that now that the financially difficult phase of their lives has been eased out health problems have crept in The relaxation that one looks forward to in the twilight of his/her life was perhaps not in their destiny. If this is the situation when children are caring and concerned I dread to think of a situation when finance is a problem and children bicker on who the care giver ought to be.