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Fun Within the Family

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Fun within the FamilyWhen her brother-in-law was getting married, Pratibha was justifiably anxious. What would her new sister in law be like? Would she be a sport, who understood and shared her husband’s attachment to his brother, bhabhi, and other family members? Or would she be a possessive dragon determined to drag her husband away from ties that distracted him from her?

“When Keerti came and almost immediately began playing pranks on us, began showing her affection in different ways, I cannot tell you how relieved I was,” she says. “We have always been a very informal family, with the typical chhed-chhad, you know, the teasing etc. that happens between my brother-in-law, my sisters-in-law and me. I was afraid that this happy setting may be disturbed by a person with the wrong attitude.”

Pratibha’s relationship with her husband’s younger brother Dhruv is a typical example of the ‘bhabhi-devar’ relationship in the traditional North Indian joint family, which has always been conducted with a lot of license for fun and frivolity. “Its really great for me. I enjoy on both sides,” says Pratibha. “My elder sister got married at a really young age, and she is seven years older than me. But my Jeejaji (brother-in-law) is really affectionate to me. How he pampers me whenever I go to visit them! He is in the Army, and lot of people think he is very reserved. But with me, he is always very open. Saali se kya chhupana (why should I hide anything from my wife’s sister?) he will ask.”

Just as a ‘Bhabhi-Devar’ relationship has scope for much hilarity and affection, so too does a ‘Jeeja-Sali’ bond allow for similar antics. All such ties come under the informal, extended family relationships within the Indian joint family that give the members space to express affection, be playful, help and support each other without treading on any toes. Pratibha is happy because both her sister-in-law Keerti and her elder sister are sporting about allowing such traditions to continue.

Tara really misses the fun she had in her parental home in Kanpur – a large joint family with lots of cousins, aunts and uncles. “Living in a joint family can be the best experience in one’s life, specially when you are a child. But what makes the family either happy or sad, warm or cold, welcoming or hostile is the women. If the women are large-hearted, everything is enjoyable. But the female ego can assume giant proportions and make people so petty, its unbelievable.”

Tara remembers a breakaway uncle who stayed within the family till his wife convinced him to leave it. “My chacha was a different man till he got married,” she remembers. “Even after marriage, he stayed with us for some years. My new aunt was so weird. I distinctly remember playing with her daughter one day. We were both running fast – I stumbled and fell, and she tripped on me and fell too. Both of us were crying – but my aunt came rushing out, grabbed her daughter, and took her away to clean her hurt with Dettol. She completely ignored me. My mother had gone out. I remember the incident so well – at the time I just couldn’t understand it.”

Point out to Tara that men have the responsibility to keep the peace and ‘fun’ alive within the joint family too, and she agrees. “But the women are crucial,” she maintains. “If they decide to take revenge on each other, all the fun goes out of the window.”

Perhaps one of the reason this happens is that family fun was expressed so much on festive occasions like Holi and Diwali, when sharing and community effort needed to be put in. Women play a large role in such festivals. Pettiness and small-mindedness would emerge quite clearly in such a situation, should some women resort to such tactics.

What is clear is that the Indian joint family as an institution provides ample scope for fun and informality in its extended relationships, but it is the generosity and willingness of each individual that takes it forward, or ends up destroying it.

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Responses to Fun Within the Family

  1. 1 Rehana Khan

    Yes I like reading it. I havent the experience of joint family. After marriage too, we would visit my inlaws only on special occasions.
    I am of the opinion that in a joint family since you are living with so many relations, your time is divided between them. To keep the peace in the house which falls mainly on women, your husband and children get neglected. You cannot develop that strong bond with ones husband and children.
    Hats off to those women who lead an amicable, tolarent life in a joint family. If its not for women, there wouldnt be a joint family system.

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