I can’t leave India without writing about family. I am not just talking about nuclear family but aunties, uncles, cousins, and those people that I never fully figured out how they were related. One of my coworkers early on starting poking fun of me that I talked about my mom a lot. We laughed about it because I would be telling a story and he would interrupt me in a playful way and be like you are doing it again. This observation about how I constantly talked about my family and in particular my mom, was new but I caught myself doing it at least once a day. So what had changed? At first I thought it was maybe because I missed them. Though through deeper reflection, I began realizing it had to do with the importance that Indian culture places on family.
The first time I went and stayed out in the village in Harayana, I started introducing myself to community members and one of their first questions for me was the name of all my family members including my cousins, aunties and uncles. I initially thought it was just a different way of making small talk because they didn’t have much to say to me, kind of like how we talk about the weather in Canada. The thing that shocked me was days later they would ask me about certain family members referring to them by their name. Not only were they genuinely interested in how old they were, what they did for jobs, and if they were married. I soon realized that one of the easiest ways to build relationships with people in the community was to tell them lots about my family and genuinely inquire about their family and its well being.
It first felt uncomfortable being from an individualistic society and emerging myself into a collectivist culture, it took getting used to that people actually cared about if my brother was married, or what my sister did for a job. I also started using these questions as a small act of resistance, to subtly shake up some patriarchal ideas. People would always ask me what my father did for a job and I would always respond that he works in the trades, but my mom works at a college and actually is much more educated and makes more money than my dad.
Community members including children would remember stories I had told them months later, I started understanding how important this was so I would ask questions and write the answers in a journal so I could check up with them next time I saw them. This idea of family, more specifically collectivism is reflected in a greater readiness to cooperate with family members and extended family on decisions affecting most aspects of life, including career choices, financial decision, and marriage.
At first when I thought about that, my gut reaction is so your parents make all your life decisions for you (so individualistic of me) but it really is a holistic model. Children in a collectivist culture have much more buy in and say in family decisions. I had a friend share with me that when he was a about 10 years old, his family all gathered around and discussed if they should purchase a car. My friend explained to me that his opinion mattered just as much as other adults in the family and to this day all big financial purchases are discussed with the whole family.
Throughout history, India has adhered pretty strongly to the joint family model being the desired family situation. The joint family includes kinsmen, and generally includes three to four living generations, including uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and grandparents living together in the same household. It is a group composed of a number of family units living in separate rooms of the same house. These members cook and eat together, typically share a common income and common property. The family supports the old, takes care of widows, never-married adults, and the disabled. They also assist during periods of unemployment; and provide security and a sense of support and togetherness. Although this model historically has been embedded in Indian culture you are starting to see a shift to another form but the collectivist values still underlay it. This family model called the extended family model does not demand geographical proximity but still encourages frequent visits; financial assistance, support in childcare, household chores; and involvement in births, marriages, deaths, and festival celebrations. Through this the familial bonds are maintained and sustained.
This is a little piece that I want to take from India, I want to talk and share with my family members more. I want to genuinely care about the wellbeing of others families. I have made this my goal. I believe this way of connecting makes people feel warm, welcomed, and loved and you cant beat that.