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Of Kith and Kin... Kin mostly!

Discussion in 'Snippets of Life (Non-Fiction)' started by twinsmom, Sep 26, 2007.

  1. twinsmom

    twinsmom Silver IL'ite

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    I had an ordinary childhood. We were part of a joint family. The earliest I remember, there were 12 people at home. The big house built in bungalow style in Trichur had my grandparents, my grandpa’s youngest sister who had been widowed very early in her youth, my parents, my father’s younger brother, the five of us and one of the two dumb and deaf cousins of my father.

    My grandfather’s elder sister was a widow and lived in a very small excuse of a house in Trichur. It seems she refused to take shelter in my grandfather’s house. In spite of her tonsured head, colourless saree and horrifying (for us, those days) practice of eating off the floor, we loved her dearly. We were too young to understand that her eating habits were a part of the weird practices expected of widows in olden times! I have seen my grandma force her to eat off a banana leaf…but she would not… for reasons of self imposed ‘madi’ - the Brahmin notion of the state of being clean- she would refuse. We never would stay in that room where she’d eat because even we, ignorant as we were, could not accept such an atrocity. She normally would not eat in our house. She’d have finished her meal and would just visit us. Only on festivals or thithis ( death anniversaries when homage is paid to the deaprted)would she agree to eat at our place. She, with all her limited resources would bring us toffees for about 10 paise… 5 of them, wrapped up in crumbled pieces of newspaper…and we’d eagerly crowd around her with hands out-stretched to get our share… How tasty those toffees were…. Probably all her love for her brother’s grandchildren made them taste like heaven.

    Kunjaliyathai as she was called by us had had a very unfortunate life. Her husband had died when she was young and she had to raise 4 kids- three daughters and a son on almost nothing. I believe the son died young putting a full stop to their hopes and dreams for decent life. One daughter got married and is still around somewhere in <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 /><ST1:pLACE>Maharashtra</ST1:pLACE>. We have never seen her. Her other two daughters – Cheedu and Karunai- were both deaf and dumb. Cheedu was with us for along time, till she died…of some illness. Soon after, Kunjaliyathai also passed away and we inherited Karunai the other dumb and deaf cousin of my father’s.

    As a girl I used to wonder why my grandfather took Cheedu under his wing. Probably his sister could not handle both the handicapped daughters… and may be because Karunai, being stouter and of mean temper used to bully her sister. Maybe because since time immemorial, my grandfather’s home had sheltered many of his sisters and their children… may be it was the done thing those days…to take your not so well off kith and kin under your wing…

    No one ever behaved as though they were a burden. Of course, they used to pitch in with the household chores. All five of us have been rocked to sleep by Cheedu’s song which were just sounds from her voiceless throat…It used to go “ thwaa….thwaaa… thwaaa”…monotonously on and on…till the toddler concerned fell asleep…patted and thwaa-thwaaed to sleep. She would help make brooms from the coconut fronds felled for the purpose… She would help deseed the jackfruits, help make “ vadaams and appalaams” during the summer and be on the watch for foraging crows and birds. She would secretly let us help ourselves to the half sun – baked vadaams… a delicacy for us kids, or slip pieces of sweet jackfruit, while deseeding them, behind the admonishing adults’ back. On the days of shradham, once we come to know that the priests are eating we’d go around the house to the kitchen door and she’d slip hot appams and vadas and ellurundais with which we’d vanish before other stentorian adults appeared. When I was told by my mother that she was no more, I felt an ache somewhere inside me…and the feel of those wrinkled hands became mere memory.

    When Cheedu’s mother, Kunjaliyathai, died Karunai came to live with us. She was the most belligerent woman I have come across in life. She was a strapping woman and quite a contrast to her mother and sister who were frail and sparrow-like. She also had a wild temper. She would fight with everyone. If she drew water from the well, she wouldn’t let any of us drink it, wildly gesticulating that she had done the hard work while we were relaxing! If we went out she would sulk… We used to take her to all the temples, exhibitions and occasionally to movies… but she was never a cheerful woman. What irked us was that she would always pick a fight with our father’s aunt, who was like a grandma to us…and we would always support our “Achchu”( pet name for athai) against Karunai. Finally my grandfather or one of my parents would have to come down heavy on Karunai to quieten her down. In rage, she would cry herself to sleep and sulk for days together. Though we all got cross with her, we never considered not having her around!

    Interacting with them made us well-versed in sign language. All of us knew how to carry on long conversations with them using our hands and they could do a little bit of lip reading… I discovered that Karunai could lip read one summer when we kids were planning something secretly…and she looked at me and gesticulated that she’d tell Mom about what we were about to do. I was amazed… I was a teenager and had recently seen a Tamil movie in which a character pretends to be dumb till the very end of the movie…So for many weeks, like a sleuth, I kept watching her, trying to expose her till I felt convinced that it was all my fancy and she was truly dumb and deaf.

    After the death of my grandparents, my own parents just continued to care for Achchu and Karunai- one aunt and the other cousin.
    Another generation of kids were born when all of us one by one got married and Karunai now rocked my twins, my brothers’ and sister’s kids in her lap. I was surprised by the way our kids interacted with her, using sign language… Age had started to mellow her down…though the fiery spirit was always there. She would try to play my sisters in law against each other telling each one that the other had given her new saree or blouse piece, but, such things never created any rift among them. Karunai was with us till about 12 years back, when she died of cervical cancer. My own sisters in law….my brothers’s wives…took care of the ailing relative with patience and sincerity till she breathed her last. They never complained, never once asked my parents why they had to put up with those two old ladies, God bless them. They were never pronounced nuisances… I suppose this is where our culture comes in.

    We, Indians knitted and purled in our family values, would think twice before abandoning someone in an old age home or an orphanage. My grandparents and parents taught us all such valuable lesson by taking care of these three relatives. We feel enriched to have been in their presence. Even from them we have learnt a lot… how to be…sometimes, how not to be. We learnt about sharing and caring, about tolerating those not as endowed as we are and above all the lesson that families should stick together. It is indeed a blessing that my sister in law also feel the same way!

    Today, I suppose the scene is changing. The western concept of senior citizens’ homes and abandoned parents are more common even in <ST1:COUNTRY-REGION><ST1:pLACE>India</ST1:pLACE></ST1:COUNTRY-REGION>, these days… Nuclear family system is here to stay. Joint families are becoming rarer. A sad and stark portrait of the changing times. Families cocoon themselves and children grow up without tasting the love and care of grandparents, aunts and uncles. Children don’t get much chance to share or care…they hardly know even their cousins … they lose out on learning life skills, though they cover a lot of syllabus these days.

    It is said one can’t choose one’s relatives. True…but one can always learn to adjust and accommodate, to sympathize and empathize, to accept fate gracefully, given such circumstances. Both my sister and I have married into families with strong familial ties. Both our in laws’ homes have extended families… but we just slipped into our new life snugly… We were well trained at home…
     
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  2. Meeta

    Meeta Bronze IL'ite

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    Dear TM,
    Wonderful article. Yeah, after reading your article, I started thinking about our grannys and others, who were staying in my grandpa and Nana's house. In fact, I had never seen nobody complaining about them and they were like other elders, their interference was never taken wrongly by others.
    My Granny had died when my father was in high school and he has another 4 more siblings, so my grandpa's cousin sister who was a widowed that time with only a daughter came for their rescue and took over all the charge of kitchen and baby sitting. She was very tough but used to love all the kids, I was her favourite (after her daughter) and always she used to care for me the most as I was the first kid in our family.
    She is no more but my aunt (her daughter), still loves us.......used to come to our place on vaccations/functions and I never saw anybody treating her differently, she is treated as the eldest daughter in our house (as my father has only brothers and no sister).
    But coming to the new generation,we can't imagine somebody coming and staying over our place for years together. We have always lived outside as parents had transferable jobs and used to visit all relatives during summer vacation only. So, our attitude was totally different from others, we have become less tolerant, too much fragile in terms of emotions as small things can hurt us badly......too much self centered.....always me, my family (hubby included but sometimes In-laws are side tracked).
    Money has become the prime requirement, those days, we don't have too much luxuries but we never felt the requirement of those even. But now, our requirement of things become more for a life where time is most valuable, so buy gadgets-save time is the logo of new generation. We have no time to think for ourselves/our kids, so we often loose temper over petty things and always complains that we are always on our toes from morning to evening.......
    So, where is the time to take care of another responsibility (kith & kins are now referred as so)........I had lost my words so many instances while replying, so do bear with it.
    Regards.
     
  3. Blondie

    Blondie Bronze IL'ite

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    Good Post TM....

    First few paragraphs brought to mind the movie 'Water'.

    Yes joint family , tightlyknit extended families are becoming extinct now.
    Growing up always 'WE' & 'OURS' was drilled into us never 'Me' and 'Mine'. Being so far from motherland is not helping my kids though however often we have our get togethers its not the same as living together day in and day out.
     
  4. Anandchitra

    Anandchitra IL Hall of Fame

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    dear tm
    very good thread topic and ofcourse brings back memories you are very right about the extended family situation and you have so nicely described todays life too.
     
  5. Shanvy

    Shanvy IL Hall of Fame

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    hi TM,

    You have brought a very clear picture of how things were those days..and the bonding of kith and kin...but today it is not so...there are cases where the children dont want to keep thier own parents with them....
     
  6. Vysan

    Vysan Gold IL'ite

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    Dear TM,

    Great article depicting the relations, bondage, caring etc in joint families.... I agree with you... Gone are those days.... In todays world the kids dont want to keep their own parents... The parents since both are working, dont have time for their kids... Also GP's are not around... where will they learn culture...

    All our TV serials ... U know.... So they will learn only what they see....

    So, they never learn and never adjust....

    Veda
     
  7. krish22

    krish22 Senior IL'ite

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    Hi Twinsmom,

    How truly said.People are not willing to t adjust or compramise in fulfiling their wishes.That's where it starts the seperation from parents even from spouses too.
     

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