I was born in a family. I mean family in real Indian sense of the word. When I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by my Grand Father, Grand Mother, my Parents, one of my married chacha (uncle) and chachi (aunt), another of my unmarried chacha, third uncle – one and half year older than me, my father’s unmarried sister, a cousin sister and host of Maharaj (cooks), servants, maids and chowkidar (gate-keeper). All lived under one roof. My father had five brothers and seven sisters. The day I was born, by then six of his sisters were married and a brother as well.
When I started going to school, our family consisted of 16 members. We used to eat our meals in kitchen called Chowka. Eating elsewhere was not allowed, accept breakfast.
During mangoes season, fruit was divided into two, with one kid getting one half. We were never deprived, but were also never had abundance.
All festivals like Holi and Diwali were celebrated together with preparations starting a week ahead of the festival date.
In school, our bill was combined, having serial number one and the largest in school. We were seven uncles and nephews studying in St. Joseph’s High School, Allahabad, at any given moment. My sister and a cousin used to study in adjacent St. Mary’s. In the mornings, three cycle rickshaws used to line up to take us to school and then to bring us back in the evening. As we grew, every new teenager was bought a cycle. All rickshaws and cycles used to go together and back together in the evening, as mandated by the elders of the family. A great security strategy it was for sure.
Starting of each new session, we all used to go to Universal Book Company in Civil Lines along with our eldest uncle to buy books, copies, etc. We had a bargaining power because of numbers.
What fun it was! After coming back in the evening and before study and home work time we used to play cricket in our small courtyard. We did not need anything for entertainment. We were self-sufficient. Everybody had a favourite magazine which they bought, including Phantom Comic, Raja Bhaiya, Chanda Mama, Parag and of course Dharmayug, which was a family magazine and was primarily meant for elders. These were shared by all, turn by turn. Of course, the person who bought it had the power to decide the turns. Not a single page was left unread by any one.
When we fought, we fought like mad. Ladies of the house had to get involved to separate the fighting boys. There was a room which was like a class room. Each of us had our own table and chair. In front of us Masterji (teacher) used to sit, to help us do our homework and resolve problems we faced. Immaculately dressed in a Bengali dhoti and a shirt, I believe he used to work in the administration department of Allahabad University. Evening study session used to be serious and dedicated. Masterji was responsible for our performance at the school.
Such was our relationship with him, that on every Durga Puja we were invited to his house. We were offered Bengali delicacies prepared by his wife. This was the event we used to wait for. After seeing the Chowk Dusshera Chowkis, we all boys used to parade down to his house. I still miss it so much, that whenever I visit Allahabad I take a peak where his house was, behind our house. Sadly it is there no more.
During summer holidays, apart from doing homework, we were assigned to write two pages of Hindi and two pages of English text every day. This was to keep us partly busy and also to improve our hand writing. Not doing this was a punishable offence. We all boys used to cycle down to Yamuna bank in the evening. Our family boatman, Sangam, used to wait to take us on his boat to teach us swimming. In the mornings, turn by turn, on Sundays we used to go with our eldest Uncle to bathe in Gangaji. On return, we would to buy a large water melon. In evenings, the whole family used to assemble in the courtyard to have a slice or two of that melon.
During afternoon we use to shut ourselves in a room and read whatever comics, magazines and books, we could lay our hands on.
Our distant family used to love coming to our house during summer holidays. With cousins joining us, it used to be fun all the way.
Marriages in family, of which we had many, were most sought after events. Mostly, it was a week’s event. First to come were a team of Halwais who used to set up big chulahs on the roof. A store was prepared to store sweets and namkeens. Over the halwais were staff and over them a supervisor, who had deep knowledge of sweets and namkeens. We had free hand to pick and choose what we wanted to eat, twice a day. The house used to be full of relatives, who were all assigned tasks, from peeling of soaked almonds to peas.
Today when I look back, I analyse that whatever I am today, it has lot to do with the joint family. Having good habit of eating all kind of vegetables came from my eldest uncle, who taught us to eat everything. Flair for gardening came from my second uncle. From my father I learned to be system oriented. Joint family teaches you so much, to face the world and to evolve as a good person.
Sadly, the families are becoming nucleus, for now everybody wants space. In the process they fail to realise the benefits of getting born and growing in a Large Indian Joint Family.