Indian Family: a weird social contract

We are born into a family. We don’t have a choice. We’ll remain associated with it till our dying day whether we like it or not. We can either accept the quirks of its members and enjoy them or fight against them and live an unhappy existence.

I don’t know very much about non-Indian families and I won’t pretend to either. This post is about Indian families. And even if I talk only about Indian families, I have to respect the fact that what I am about to say is not going to be applicable to many of them. For within India itself, families with different religious, cultural, social, and geographical backgrounds can be as different as a pear is from a pineapple.

Despite their differences there are some features that are common to most of these diverse families. Firstly there are those common characters which I am going to boldly attempt to list:

  1. A loving grandma
  2. A kick-ass grandpa
  3. A successful cousin (not so good looking, mostly male)
  4. A good looking cousin (not so successful, mostly female)
  5. A tell-everyone aunty (gossip queen)
  6. A fashion conscious aunty
  7. A smart uncle
  8. A know-it-all uncle….

Of course, then there are some special characters (like the comedy uncle, the stupid cousin, the hot aunty, etc.) which make the whole experience with the other common characters completely unique (or completely weird).

Secondly, there is an untold rule that Indian families tend to follow – respect the elders. The hierarchy is set by age. Experience is the best teacher. Period. You do what you are told and the opportunities to question big decisions are rare. If someone starts selling a T-shirt which says on the front, ‘Listen to me, because…’ and on the back ‘I’m older than you’, I bet it’ll become a best seller among the adult population in India.

Thirdly, priority is given to the family. Whether it is for choosing which event to attend (a friend’s wedding < a cousin’s wedding) or it is for choosing an employee for the business (an MBA grad < a cousin without a degree). I am not sure this formula works that well but I don’t have an alternative model to look at and wonder about how things could be if family wasn’t a priority.

The funny thing is that you are bound by a social contract that you did not have a choice to decline, modify or destroy. It’s just there and it’s as weird as the name pomegranate.

Things in my family are as weird as any. Most of my Mum’s family is in Maharashtra, heavily concentrated in Nashik. They tend to be on the conservative side of things. The one question I tend to get asked the most when I visit them is ‘How much do you earn?’. Somehow the possibility that I could still be a student at the age of 24 does not cross their minds. Most of my cousins from Mum’s side by this age are either employed in their own family business and/or maybe about to have a kid.

My Dad’s family is originally from Jodhpur in Rajasthan. There are some of the members of the family still there but so many of them have moved to every imaginable (mostly English-speaking) corners of the world. They tend to be on the progressive side of things and the one question I tend to get asked the most when I visit them is ‘What are you doing next?’. I think if I said that I am moving to Australia that would be considered the most appropriate answer.

Right. Forgive the exaggerations in the previous paragraphs. This social contract that you sign by the fact of being born in a family is weird but also special. The experience of being at home is defined by a family and it is one of the most satisfying experiences anyone can ever have. You don’t have to worry about too many formalities, you can be yourself. The years that have gone by only tend to give you more fun memories to talk about. Things can be so good sometimes that family members can sometimes be better than your best friends.

OK, you got me. I miss my family and so I had to write something to keep me happy. Hope you enjoyed it anyway…

11 thoughts on “Indian Family: a weird social contract”

  1. awwww….really nice….although the characters can vary a lot from family to family….but I guess I can understand from where does this come and so will give that one to you!

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