A few weeks ago, I chanced upon a Twitter thread, stitching together a sociological story on the Indian Male. It began with: “Why do most Indian men still live with their parents?”
A global debate ensued, some insisting it’s a good thing to do (taking care of family), others saying it’s a cop-out (not being able to shrug off parental control).
A more extended and better-rounded version of it would perhaps be: why do most — or at least some — Indian men live with parents even after they are married?
I mean, it really cannot be always hunky dory like they project in ‘Raj Shri Productions’ Hum Saath Saath Hain (We Are Together) where men make lots of money, air-brushed women serve food, everyone goes on picnics every other day, and the entire clan lives happily together forever.
This gig is passed off as “culture”.
Alas, it usually doesn’t play out in real life, where conventional flashpoints in the domestic opera are kitchen politics, property grabbing and abuse in all form.
In the “wicked” West, which has traditionally been sneered at by subcontinent dwellers, it is the most “normal” thing for kids to flee the nest when they turn 18, and strike it out on their own. Yes, they “visit” home for Easter and Thanksgiving, but that’s where they draw the line.
Most parents, while feeling sad at this cutting of the umbilical cord, rejoice at being able to reclaim their own lives. (In the post-recession era of 2008-09, there was suddenly an unusual spurt of adult children moving back with parent/parents, but that was put down to economics.)
When I lived in Dubai, I was used to my friends’ parents visiting them. There was a strange divide. The desi parents would arrive with some sort of proprietary hold whereas the “western” ones would come as tourists.
So, an Indian or Pakistani friend would say: “I’m taking off early from work because my father/mother expects me to have home-cooked food for dinner, which I will help them prepare”. A British friend would say: “I’m meeting mum/dad at this new bar for a pint.”
In 2005, Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai was a guest on The David Letterman Show where the host tossed her an awkward question: “Do you still stay with your parents and is it normal in India?”
She responded with: “It’s fine to live with your parents… it’s common in India. We don’t have to take appointments from the parents to meet for dinner.”
I thought that was as flimsily filmi as Hum Saath Saath Hain.
In the city of Kolkata in India, my brother and his family live within striking distance with our dad: it’s because of logistical convenience that they share a neighbourhood — my brother’s workplace is nearby.
There have been times without number when people have quizzed us — disapprovingly — about this arrangement. Why do they live separately? Why does my ageing father live all alone? Tsk tsk.
But I love how this “distance” helps them overcome dysfunctional dynamics.
Over-familiarity breeds contempt. It really does when it comes to interpersonal relationships within families.
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