Saturday, April 11, 2020

J is for Joint Families* and Jalebis #AtoZChallenge

I'm a product of a joint family. 

I was two days old when my mother and father brought me home from Doon Hospital. The welcome party waiting at home was made up of Papaji, Beji, my chacha and Bhim Singh, our family's man Friday. A cow and a bull were present too.

Three other members of Daddy's clan had to send their apologies instead: Bhuaji (my father's older sister) because she lived with her family in Vikasnagar and my other two chachas (uncles) who lived in Uttar Kashi at the time of my birth.

Soon after my arrival, a new cow will be bought by Papaji in my honour.

I was, after all, the first grandchild of his bloodline (my father is the eldest son). 

Bhuaji's children, his other grandchildren, had been born by the time I came into this world but their bloodline belongs to their father's family, not Papaji's. Such are the traditions of society. 

Not only was I the first one to call him Dadaji (Papaji actually, but play along please for dramatic effect), but I was also a daughter--Sakshaat Lakshmi.

The first girl child is considered auspicious in Hindu homes as it is believed that she brings good fortune like Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.

Those of you who've read my posts this month may have come to believe that I had a perfect childhood--an idyll. You won't be wrong but there's more.

A year after my birth, my sister, Seema, will be born and Mummy's postpartum depression will prise open her old demons of bi-polar disorder.

I will, however, thrive in bliss provided by my joint family of grandparents, uncles and aunties despite the vagaries of Mummy's health and moods. 

Papaji and Beji will continue to dote on me. And Seema? Well, she will end up becoming their favourite doti (granddaughter) on account of her fragile health during the first year of her life and Mummy's depression. 

Papaji's garden, Beji's kitchen, my chachas' and bhua's laad pyaar (love) painted rainbows over my mother's dark spells. When she was well and sunny, she was amazing. She was the best mother a child could want despite her short temper. She made me who I am today. But when the dark clouds of depression descended upon her, my joint family pulled us under their umbrella of unconditional love; holding it up without being asked and without any zikar (mention) of ehsaan (obligation). 

Don't get me wrong. We had our fair share of emotional dramas. Adults waged silent wars against each other, mistakenly believing that the children wouldn't notice. Sometimes, silences ripped open so ferociously that molten lava of unbridled anger singed tender yarns of relations; damaging them forever. But that was what adults did, and some still do.

No matter their differences with each other or their copious gille shikwe (complaints) against Papaji about how such and such decision of his wasn't good for one brother but better for the other, my chachas loved us like their own daughters.

Khem Chacha once bought two pieces of pineapple pastry because he wasn't working then and he had limited money. Seema and I were in our parents' room. It was coming up to our bed time. The adults of the house were still eating dinner. 

Chacha came in and whispered, "Look, what I got for you...don't tell anyone. I only got two." He stood there while we hoovered up the soft, fresh cream from top of the pastry before gobbling up the vanilla sponge layered with pieces of fresh pineapple, saving the red cherry and the little pineapple garnish (that sits on top of the cream) till the very end. We didn't even offer him a bite. He looked so happy.

Our childhood is full of sweet memories. 

Bejis' cool hands on my forehead when I ran high fever and Papaji's dhudh jalebi that cured our sore throats are Mary Poppins' spoon full of sugar in my world.

Joint families are like jalebis: complex and complete, crunchy and sweet.

And like the magic of jalebis dunked in hot milk, their love nourishes and heals and puts balm on little souls who grapple with the horrors of manic depression in their mother.

The scaffolding my chachas, chachis, bhuas, masis and cousins provided during my growing up years made me strong and soft: strong enough to live life on my terms and soft enough to cry happy tears of gratitude for this beautiful, wonderful life. 

Joint families are not so common any more. My children are not products of a joint family. 

We've bartered the joys of joint families for better paid jobs that buy us better looking houses with beautifully decorated and silent rooms.
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* In India, the term 'joint family' refers to extended family.

What are your earliest memories of your grandparents? Are they happy ones?

35 comments:

  1. Beautiful memories, and I love you way to write them. My grandparents are all passed away, but I have a lot of sweet memories with them, shared with my sisters. We used to spend the summer vacations all together, a lot of fun!
    J is for Jewelry

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    1. Thank you Frederique. Sweet memories are precious.

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  2. Hari OM
    My mother's parents were definitely the favoured grandparents. They provided the sort of home such as you describe - albeit we lived at distance and only were with them four weeks of the year. In the memory it could be four months, for the memories of them are all strong. With father's parents, not so much. Granny had a very critical streak to her and did not ever really accept mother as her daughter in law. Grandad died when we were still quite young so it was only her and the memories are more about being in fear of getting things wrong... YAM xx

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    1. Four weeks short but memories worth four months long. That's the kind of love I got from Papaji and Beji too.
      Thank you for sharing Yamini. xx

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    2. Four weeks short but memories worth four months long. That's the kind of love I got from Papaji and Beji too.
      Thank you for sharing Yamini. xx

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  3. I loved your sweet memories. Three out of four of my grandparents were wonderful but one of my grandfathers was not the most pleasant person you could wish to meet. As a child and even into my early teens I was terrified of him - and the cane he kept on top of his grandfather clock which he brandished and often used upon us if he felt we were being naughty, even if we weren't.

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    1. Glad you had at least three wonderful grandparents Keith. That cane sounds ominious. That cane sounds ominious. It reminds me of a character in Ruskin Bond's book, 'Room on the Roof. And the sad part is that after all these years, those cruelties stay with us. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. This is so beautiful, Arti. I've always been art of a nuclear family. And considering my relatives, I'm glad about how things turned out. I've got the love of my mom's parents and that makes me happy. :)

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    1. Happy to know about your mom's parents Srivalli. And thank you for visiting.

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  5. What a wonderful post down the memory lane. Have never had a taste of joint but lucky to have stories of grandparents just like you to cherish our life. I fondly remember having ‘Revadi and patashe’ just like your jalebis...those were the days indeed! Can’t thank you enough for sharing these heartfelt stories and brightening our otherwise dull days.

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    1. And you brighten up my day by reading these posts dear Pinkz. Thank you.
      Got me thinking about revadi and batashe. We used to eat revadi and gajak around Lohri and batashe were given as prasad in the local mandir. We also use kheel batashe during weddings. Sweet things bind us all together. No? I love this memory-sharing month:)

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  6. Your Jalebi flavored joint family was indeed a tasty read Arti. Its an art to describe emotions so crystal clear that just by reading your stories I end up swinging high and low, playing hide and seek with my childhood memories.
    I have a very bleak memory of my maternal grandpa & didnt get to know him very well. As we were made to fit into the patriarchal family type. And paternal grandpa...better not spoken about.
    My Amuma needs no introduction anymore. She stayed with us almost all her time. Both my parents were working & I can almost say we were brought up by my Amuma, surely my Amma will be hurt to hear this. And yes we were products of a nuclear family but my dad's personality was that of a Joint family,so despite being the 2nd son,he insisted on his Amma staying with us.Because she stayed with us,there was no function that we celebrated alone. Every occasion the entire paternal family would gather at our place. We were very famous for Amuma's rasam & Appa's Aviyal. Our house was as spacious as any studio apartments of today but there was always room for a battalion of Kauravas if visited us.If not relatives, neighbours or family friends kept visiting us.My mom during her pms days would angrily call our house an ashram.We were guided by Amuma's household rule,'A house should always have one extra pillow and an extra plate of food' for any surprise guests.
    In her 60's she hiked the entire Tirupati seven hills in ease.She washed her sarees herself till her last day.
    Imagine someone with big bindi,spotless makhmali grey hair,wearing amazing chungdi 9yards sarees,2shining solitaire nose rings,standing tall holding a warm heart. She was made of Self Respect,Will power,Anger,Meticulous work & Unconditional love. Iam fortunate that she held my daughter, played with her,fed her & me like she used to in our childhood.
    One mid night of Aug 2005,she wokeup,visited the washroom, washed her hands and feet,came back to her cozy bed, said a short prayer and with her folded namaskaram hands bid goodbye to all of us.

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    1. Words fall short today Vidya. I'm struggling to find the right ones to express my gratitude to you for taking the time to write about your Amuma and in doing so giving me the honour of getting to know someone so wonderful. Thank you darling friend.
      I love everything you've shared about her so far. Such a blessing to call such a soul your Amuma. Hugs. xx

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  7. Extended families do sadly play less of a role in today's society. I have many wonderful memories of my grandparents from when I was growing up. I spent a lot of time with them and they were an important part of my childhood. Weekends In Maine

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    1. So lovely to have those wonderful memories of times gone by. Thank you for sharing.

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  8. Oh! I so loved reading this post! I am glad you had such a loving umbrella to protect and cherish you.

    I loved reading the way you use the word "hoovered" there. I have become more observant of beautiful words and beautiful ways in which words are used for selfish reasons. I like to note them down and use them in my poetry.

    My dad lived in one of the biggest joint families known to mankind and they have the greatest stories, which they will tell everyone and anyone, in their loudest voices. One of the weirdest consequences of their family bonding was that around 30 people met my husband on the day when he came to meet me in my home with his family for the first time! (Though it was an arranged marriage, we met a couple of time by ourselves and chatted on the phone for a month, and by the time he came home with his family, we had kinda decided to get married)! I think I should write about that somewhere.

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    1. Cheers Namratha.

      I'm curious to see how 'hoovered' is strung by you in your poetry garland. Do share, when you do.

      As children, we did just that to the fluffy fresh cream on top of pineapple pastries--in one go:)

      Your father's family sounds wonderful. And when I read about those 30 people, that scene from Tanu weds Manu flashed in my mind's eye--the one which starts with a little nangu-pangu boy shouting to the rest of the family," Jijaji aa gaye!"

      Thank you for sharing and please pen down stories your father and his family share with you. Stories are the only real legacy we can pass on to our children.

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  9. I am a product of nuclear family... Out and out nuclear with no relatives too around as my dad because of his job posting had to move to a different state altogether. The only memories of joint get togethers are of weddings and once in a year Dussehra festival which the whole family on both sides of my parents used to make it a point to celebrate it together. And those are the best memories of my childhood :)! Even I sometimes wonder if our kids will ever get to see and relish such days... Whatever little we did... Now that we all cousins and siblings are not even in the same countries!!

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    1. Festivals and weddings celebrated with all the dhamaal of cousins and relatives are such minefields of memories.
      As for our children, I'm sure like the food and music dear to us, they'll relish 'such days' via our stories. Maybe not while they're busy with the business of growing up but when they are our age and they look back, perhaps. Like I'm doing, now.
      Ours is to tell those stories.

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  10. I think I'd describe myself as being from a bit of a mix between nuclear and extended. (Is that allowed?)
    No other relatives lived with us, but my dad's parents were right across the street from my school and I spent every afternoon with them until Mom came home from work. I had an uncle living across the street, cousins living 3 houses down the road, and 95% of our vacation expeditions took place with my Mom's sister and some of her 7 children. I was certainly used to spending a lot of time with my relatives...

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    1. It looks like you got the best of both the worlds Jz. That mix is perfect. You got to spend all that time with them and yet you got your privacy in your home.
      Lack of privacy is the only downside of living with extended families, methinks.

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  11. I'm sorry for the hard of your mother's illness, but it warms my heart that the love and support of your joint family kept you feeling safe and cherished, and that you have all these wonderful memories filling your heart. I grew up with my maternal grandparents part of our household so I know the joys (and sometimes dramas) of joint family. One of the things I've been thinking about during this time of global sequestering is if we'll move more in the direction now of returning to extended family living, or what the new configurations of our lives will look like in the future.

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    1. Thank you for your love Deborah.
      The idea for this post came to be because of the 'isolation' and 'social distancing' that is the norm for all of us at this time.
      We hardly ever stepped outside our neighbourhood as children. In fact, most of our time was spent playing in the garden. There was an annual picnic/ a couple of trips to the cinema and that was plenty.
      There was so much to keep us happy and busy inside our little worlds.
      I hope that these slower times will help us learn from the past so we may reflect and explore the 'new configurations of our lives.'

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  12. How we all can relate to parts of this. Sadly, with smaller families, joint family system is totally gone and so is the fun of being continuously doted by people other than your parents.

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  13. I wasn't part of a joint family but our schools closed for three months in the winter chill. I'm talking about Shimla. And we visited my grandparents who lived in the plains with my chacha and his family. They were the best three months in the entire year. And I have such vivid memories of those times. So even while we lived in a nuclear set up visiting relatives was part of life. Now those visits have gradually declined and a nuclear set up is more closed than before.

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    1. Your winter holidays at your chacha's place sound idyllic Sonia. Happy to know you have fond memories of those days.

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  14. I am not a product of a joint family. The only exposure to joint family when I used to go to my father's ancestral home for brief visits on holiday, during my childhood back in the 1970s. And we used to have lots of fun with my cousins.

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    1. Fun with cousins was the best thing about our holidays too.

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  15. My grandparents both had extended households with children, grandchildren, aunts and sisters. We always lived close to family - lots of cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. We saw them a lot but didn't share a joint household.

    Since my children have grown we have off and on had children and grandchildren who lived with us for varying lengths of time. I expect it will happen again.

    Finding Eliza

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    1. I expect so Kristin.
      Reading about your family's history on your blog, I can picture a loving and warm tribe of aunts and uncles and cousins.

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  16. Read your post with mixed emotions, I am thoroughly enjoying, in knowing the little you in each of your post, would love to see your childhood pictures, do share.

    My baba (grandpa) used to shuffle his stay, few months he would stay with us in Kota, and few months with chachaji in Mathura. I have very fond memories of playing carrom board and Ludo with him; all these games would finish with little fight between two of us, as I would do little cheating to win my otherwise losing game.
    Well, I was just eleven when my baba passed away, his wish was to have his last breath in Mathura, in his homeland, but alas he took his last breath in Kota. It was indeed a very uncomfortable sight and a difficult reality to absorb for me in that tender age.

    Thank you once again for giving me opportunity to visit yours and also my childhood. Love Nisha.

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    1. Losing your baba at the tender age of eleven must've been hard on you Nisha.
      I can't imagine you cheating --ever!
      As for the pictures, life threw many curve balls at me when I was a teenager so I don't have any of my childhood pics on me. But, hopefully, I'll get to them one of these days and then perhaps, I can share:)
      Love the fact that we are visiting our memories side by side.
      Thank you Nisha.

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  17. Joint families must be such a experience. I'm a product of nuclear family. I saw my extended family a lot but we didn't live together. Sorry that your mother had to go through so much but I'm glad that you and your sister were well lokked after.

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