That is Anasuya Devi .... birthday girl! Already clicking away!
This appeared in Sunday Times today.....
‘The Family’ matters….
We Indians are very family minded. The whole world knows that. We love our families. Karan Johar told us to. And made a fortune based on that sweet and simple emotion. Others have also realized the value of family ties in the lives of desis. They too want to make a fortune out of them. What’s wrong with that? The Great Indian Family represents many things to many people. Understanding how it works is the key to prospering in this great and good land of ours. Whether we are selling movies to the masses or helicopters to the armed forces, it is important to keep ‘The Family’ happy. In Asian societies, it’s a little tricky, though. Where does ‘The Family’ begin and end? Does it include the in-laws? Does the ‘Damaadji’ count as family?Foreigners dealing with our complex family maze don’t always get it. That makes it easier for us. We can fool them aaram se, by talking about our complicated joint family system and the power of mighty ‘parivaar’ that dominates our society. Where does the joint family stop? Don’t ask. For those who cannot figure it out, we must be considerate and show them a few family soaps on television. Those are an education in themselves. With a cast of hundreds,everybody is related to everybody else.And everybody is out to get everybody else. If we need to access the head of the clan, we have to negotiate our way past dozens of middle men. Each step requires secrecy and skill.And lots of spare cash. There are tacticians for hire, who can point in the right direction, provided they are given a baksheesh for their efforts. The head of the family can be the Tauji or Badi Maaji. These days, it’s generally the all-powerful Daadisa who rules with an iron hand. She is also referred to simply as ‘Madam’ by underlings. Going straight to ‘Madam’ is next to impossible. But there are ways. Madam prefers to leave complicated decisions to her trusted few. These include smart, sharp in-laws, who can be in residence within the sprawling family bungalow or staying overseas. And that’s when the plot gets interesting.
‘The Family’ in India holds a position of enormous privilege and power. In fact, so potent is its position, that rivals refuse to name family members when a scandal breaks out. Actually, this suits everyone splendidly. Indians are used to covering up for the many sins of family members. Elders point out it is this marvelous trait that has kept us together for centuries. They scoff at the way the West deals with the issue. Family has little meaning there, except in Italy, where, like in India, ‘The Family’ rules. In fact, the similarities between India and Italy on the domestic front are incredible indeed. Which is precisely what makes it easy for us to interact with Italians and understand family dynamics there. Mere pass Mamma Mia hai, is the way it works. Like us, they also support worthless family members, emotionally, financially, legally. They cover up for the naughty ones who break rules and get caught. They reward those who also break rules but succeed. There is an unwritten code of honour in both countries. Outsiders are expected to respect that and keep mum. Anybody who challenges ‘The Family’ has to pay the price for the betrayal. This is what protects ‘The Family’. And seals mouths. Enemies who threaten to break up families are dealt with firmly and permanently. A deal is a deal. Whether it involves ten bucks or 3000 crores. We are so lucky, here in India, and there in Italy. We know in our hearts and minds that so long as we protect ‘The Family’ we are protected. The minute ‘The Family’ goes, so many heads start to roll. This can lead to anarchy, chaos, instability, insecurity, confusion. People can feel let down and demoralized, particularly those who have stuck to ‘The Family’ through thick and thin and supported rogue relatives during turbulent times. Funny, how crises can lead to long term change. We are at that crossroad right now. The biggest dilemma facing us is what to do with ‘The Family’? Will we be reckless enough to go after the greedy ones who have received hefty kickbacks over the years and are sitting on piles of slush funds? Will it be seen as a witch hunt? Will the designated heir suffer for the sins of others? Can we afford to abandon those we love and worship? If that happens, as Gabbar Singh would ask, ‘ Phir hamara kya hoga,Kaliya?