Friday, September 14, 2007

My Family and Other Animals

O yes…even beyond those fancy looking musicals of Karan Johar ….its all about loving your family. I started reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul where he is recalling his childhood amidst a pair of fighting parents and an affluent joint family -full of uncles and aunts, nannies and maids, grandmother’s discipline and weird cousins, pianos which were never played and family heirlooms in the showcases . I was surprised by the detached way he has been able to tell about his parents and their relation.
Though as a writer if you choose to write about yourself …I guess, it is fair to expect an honest account of things from you and I do believe Pamuk is giving just that…yet somehow , I find it strange that one can write about one’s own family in this way. No, it’s not being malicious or washing the dirty linen in public, its just that he is not trying to hide things which may not be so comfortable to write about. A writer, I read somewhere ,should act like a mirror which reflects how things are or were – even if the details are unpleasant or uncomfortable. I have no problem agreeing with all this in theory…but in actual life it is difficult to write so dispassionately about people you are close to. People with whom your best memories are associated with. People who are your FAMILY.
So what is a family? Long back I read a very apt definition of Family in Readers’ Digest . It says- Family is a group of people who eat different breakfasts every morning on the same dining table . Jokes apart, families are a very important part of each one of us. Even those parts of extended families who are physically apart play a role in shaping our character and perhaps our destiny too. I was just wondering what I would like to remember about my family? What is my family? Why would like to remember or tell anyone about my family …and here is what I gathered after much thought on the very own Three theories about families.
My first theory says that every family history as known by a member of the family has two distinct sources. Things and incidents which were “told” to him or her and things and incidents he/she witnessed. Both parts together complete the story . Now the first part necessarily has the narrator’s bias inbuilt in it and the second has the bias which we all have if we are part of the happenings. So the family history …as told or as remembered , is neither factually perfect nor emotionally stable. However, the things which make a deep impression on us – true or not so true- are what we choose to remember and relate to. Talking about the content of the family history , each family has its own share of sorrows, achievements, mistakes,clashes, heroes, scandals and embarrassments , things to boast about and things to edit for subsequent generations. So a normal family, has all the ingredients of life - pleasant and unpleasant.

Now the second theory says that every (extended) family has by the same law of normal distribution , has some characters of specific types. These include-
Ø People who are an embarrassment to talk about before friends/in-laws/spouses
Ø People who were mean and opportunistic, selfish and cunning. ( they are accused of taking advantage of other relations but are always made part of family gatherings for courtesy sake
Ø People who are kind and good hearted but plain and simply- unlucky
Ø People who crib about everybody and everything
Ø People who are rich, successful and/or stylish and look down upon other relatives( In their parties/gatherings everybody tries to be upto their standard and later disowns them as artificial and shallow. They are also the people we like to mention about before friends and colleagues.)
Ø People who are considered worldly wise
Ø People who are fun to be with – they also double as best family historians, always ready with censored part of stories about family elders
Ø People (including servants, nannies, drivers) who were “almost like family”
Ø People who like to keep in touch with everybody and everything in the family but are absent on the times of crises.
Ø Uncles who have funny habits
Ø Aunts who are critical of the family (they always marry the most favorite uncles )
Ø Cousins who ignore all communications
Ø Sisters who marry the most hopeless blokes
Ø Brothers who are henpecked
Ø Nephews who are oddballs
Ø Nieces who are unruly and stupid
……and so on. Its irritating and overwhelming at the same time to be associated with such a group. And that is why …we all tend to be Family people .

So back to my original question what would I like to remember about my family?

My answer is I would like to remember everything – all bitter and sweet incidents, all discomfiture and disappointments too…but to be honest I don’t think I would like to tell others/write about all of it. In the end perhaps the feel good moments will dominate my memory. I would like to be thankful for all those people whose presence ( even though physically they were not always near) made me feel secure and gave me a sense of belonging. I may not be keeping touch with many of them, may not even have met with some even once in my life but consciously or unconsciously they and their lives were part of mine too.
But , I will be failing if I don’t give my third theory of family (like Newton’s third law) which says that it is interesting to observe how our definition of family changes as we move along the life. Perhaps in our childhood our family was the group among which we were born …in adolescent some friends and neighbours joined in and as adults spouse, in laws, colleagues , activity partners become part of it too. Today I feel much more close to many friends than most of my cousins .Some other seniors /friends I met in the world outside the family bond are as respected as some of my blood relations. Well, I read somewhere that the bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof…..

So here is to all those who gave me strength and pride in my family name…and also to those who felt equally elated on my smallest achievements and as concerned on my tiniest sorrow as my so called "real" family. Yes, I agree with Karan Johar…its indeed -all about loving your family.

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