Friday 27 June 2008

My Crazy Family

Today I am going to write about the crazy assortment that is my family. I belong to an upper (relatively…mmm I don’t really know, since Bongs don’t like to specify their economic status, it is considered impolite and show offy) middle class Bengali family. Both my parents hail from West Bengal. Out of 100 Bongs you meet, 95 would be from East Bengal claiming to have been zamindars there (landlords) and leaving everything and coming to West at the time of partition. My family or me, we have no such tall claims. Basically my family is from the Birbhum district of West Bengal, my great, great grandfather (I am sure I got the sequence wrong) after leaving the ancestral village Nopara settled in Shantiniketan and was involved with Tagore in building the Viswa Bharati University. My grandfather was one of the five students with whom Tagore started Pathabhavan or the children’s school. My grandfather had four younger brothers and they all had to shift from Shantiniketan because of the untimely demise of their father.
Four of the five grandfathers were settled in Kolkata and lived in the same house. The fifth brother was a teacher in Shantiniketan but he and his family would come to Kolkata for every vacation.
Now back to my life. My six years younger brother, and me, we were born and brought up in Kolkata, same as our parents. Let me talk about my father’s side today, mother’s side some other time. Two sides are too much to handle in one day for a frail soul like mine!
I grew up in a crazy joint family. If you have seen ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ my family is a bit like that sans the restaurant and obviously you will have to replace the Greeks with Indian Bengalis. Our house in Kolkata, built around 1960s, is a three storied building and at varying times used to home ten to thirty people. My brother and me, henceforth just we, grew up amidst a motley assortment of grandparents (including our grandfather and his brothers and their wives), aunts, uncles and of course cousins. So there was never any lonely moment, or lack of entertainment while growing up.
Our house was arranged in a crazy way—all the kitchens and a huge hall type sitting room (ideal for big family parties) were in the ground floor, while the bedrooms were in the first and second floor. Yes you heard it right. It was hugely impractical but there you go. We had a lovely roof, where we grew up playing hide & seek and so many other games. During summer holidays we would sit in the roof for hours chatting and singing songs. Next to the roof is our home’s prayer room. But it is a prayer room built keeping 1 or barely 2 people. So during pujos when the whole family used to assemble, we would all spill all over the roof, cracking jokes and laughing. The roof was also the place to play holi and burst crackers during kali pujo/ diwali.
There was always something or the other happening in the house—good ones like birthday parties, anniversaries, engagements, and religious celebrations (bijoya, kojaguri lakshmi pujo, christmas, saraswati pujo, holi, janmasthami ) and bad ones like illness, fights etc. And as kids it was always good enough excuse not to do home work. We grew up not knowing what individual space was all about. It was/is the most normal thing in the world for a cousin to drop in for a chat, for relatives to come visiting even if I had an exam the next day.
But it was not always all fun. I don’t want to romanticize great Indian joint family system that people keep harping about. There were lots of problems—space problems, huge nasty fights, meanness, and selfishness… but thankfully those were temporary things, come a festival, people would forget all acrimony and get together to have fun.
As families go, my family is a very cultural one—we are totally into music, singing, dancing, and


this was christmas celebration 2007. there was a fancy dress party of family members. sadly i wasnt there.

dramatics. Almost everyone in the family can do his/her share of caricature and story telling. Whenever we get together there are lots of singing, we have some family favourities, which even the tone deaf like me know. I remember, while in school during the summer vacations, the entire family would get together and perform a play. What fun it used to be. We would be rehearsing for a month or so. Almost the entire family would be cast and we would go on the stage making crazy stupid mistakes like forgetting the dialogues, missing or picking up wrong cues, making wrong entrances…you name it, we did it. The shy ones would prompt from backstage and help in the dressing and make-up. We would invite the elders to come and see the show. And their reactions would be part of family folklore. Like there was a play where one of my uncles played the role of a Casanova. His dad i.e. one of my grandfather’s saw it and said; “Hmmm this role suits his character to the T”. This has become lingering story in the family, oft repeated, much to the chagrin of the uncle for whom it was made.
Over the years elders realized living in that huge, disorderly house was becoming tough so the house got organized along modern lines and was converted into flats/apartments. And I love this system. For the first time in my 21 years I got my own room during college! Now all the cousins are there, though not breathing down your back, but downstairs, all you need to do is go down and meet them.

1 comment:

  1. suchi this article reminded me of my 'Nani ghar' where we used to visit in vacation times.The house(bangla) always used to have at least 25-30 inhabitants of three brothers and it was a fun greeting them when we reach there. i liked raoming around and chaging hen and her kids!!!NIce article. keep it up.

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