Strong family bondage is an inherent feature of Indian culture and tradition and to a very large extent, it continues to exist in India, despite the onslaught of westernization and globalization. Despite the burgeoning population, love and attraction for children are very basic in Indian psyche.
As a person nearing 60, I have been a keen observer of relationship equations between parents and children across 3 generations, particularly amidst middle class/ affordable class, educated families. It is quite interesting to see how the relationships are undergoing metamorphosis over these generations, with the fundamental family bondage remaining intact.
Two generations ago
There was virtually no family planning. 4 to 6 surviving children in a family were quite common. (A close relative of mine had 11 surviving children out of the 14 born!). One or two miscarriages or child deaths were quite common. It appeared as though the untimely death of a child was not a too emotionally devastating occurrence for parents, as perhaps the ‘supply of children was more than demand’!
Parent’s attention and care on their own children were rather limited. Joint families were still widely present and grand parents’ role in child rearing was very much strong; many children got their much needed love and cuddling more from grandparents than from own parents in several families.
As there were more children and the resources were limited, too much of pampering of children was nonexistent. A dress for Deepavali or Pongal or on birthday (if remembered!) would be the only new dress that many children got in a year and that indeed brought lots of joy to the children. Eating or munching invariably meant eating homemade foodstuff only. Sweets, snacks and oil rich tiffin had great attraction for children as they were not made too frequently. Naturally, festivals did bring joy to the children. Even death in families brought joy to children as there will be special food and snacks (and at times new dress too) made as part of the death ceremonies!
Toys were in short supply and consequently, whatever little and limited toys the children got had a larger span of life, attention and utility for the children! In some over-populated families, the new born baby would virtually become the only toy for the grown up first daughter, whose role would double as the care taker of the baby!
Domestic chores were taxing and never ending; mother in laws were running their autocratic rule of the family; mothers battered by repeated child bearing and miscarriages were frequently irritable, moody and angry and they never hesitated to vent out their anger on their children.
In many families, parents were more of “respectable” figures than lovable figures for the children. Many fathers were less communicative with children; many fathers were proud men, who carried an air of superiority, deservingly or undeservedly. Father-daughter communication was very sparse. When families went out, I had seen typical father walking briskly ahead alone, while the mother followed a few yards behind, carrying a baby in her arms, with another one walking tucking to her saree and the elder children walking together with hand in hand, supporting each other.
Entertainment was limited to a very occasional visit to cinema theatres. In some families, it will be further restricted to movies of purana/ Godly stories only! In most families, All India Radio and Radio Cylon were the source of entertainment for listening to cine music.
Children had far less pressure in education. Not everybody could afford to dream of becoming a doctor or an engineer. A clerical job in Government or bank was more than good enough and consequently, there was no tension or competition to excel in studies! Daughters were meant to be married off and a school final or at the best an arts degree was good enough.
Children had lots of free time. Rural children had lots of space around to play open doors. Urban children too could play a lot out doors as the road traffic was far less. Children had numerous games to play – tops, marbles, ‘gilli dhandu’, kabaddi, flying kites, hide and seek paandi and so on. Playing outdoors gave lots of joy to the children and they got good exercise too as a consequence.
Children were not rushed to doctors for minor ailments. Running nose or a stray loose motion in children was never an ailment! Grandparents would give home remedies to most minor ailments of children.
In the next part of this article, let us see how the parent – children relationship changed in the next generation.