Breaking free! Bye bye family

STAYING AWAY

Breaking free! Bye bye family

Some years ago, a powerful NGO of Mumbai conducted an essay contest among young people to check out whether Indian sons/daughters grow up best in a family environment or as independent individuals living separately and away from their families.

While the writers admitted to the influence of the family system on their personalities, most said that the family was more of an obstacle, rather than a helping agency to propel their growth. Most contestants expressed the view that old traditions, obscurantist values and burdensome relationships need to be thrown in the dustbin for an individual to realise his/her dreams of freedom and progress.

The NGO workers who scripted this contest say those essays were written when Indian urban and small town youth was experiencing its most exciting, revolutionary years of change in their material ambitions. The IT industry, computer engineering, media and entertainment, banking and finance, travel and tourism and several other businesses were booming and young people could dig into the gold mine of sudden high incomes with perks to suit their salaries. Most of the jobs came from MNCs, banks and call centres whose head offices were in the US, Australia, Canada or the UK and included foreign trips and assignments for short or long terms.

“At that point of time,” says Taruna Sahi, head of the NGO, “India’s new youth suddenly discovered the Western lifestyle which included personal freedom and choice to buy whatever they wanted by way of luxuries, gizmos and designer or branded goods from a market overflowing with attractive bargains. Indian employees living in the West began to believe that like their counterparts in the countries of their work, they should also keep just formal relationships with their parents, siblings and extended family and spend more time and money with like-minded friends of both sexes to have ‘a blast’ with parties and weekend holidays. This obsession of having a good time became so all-pervasive that many young people began to think that even marriage or commitment to one person for a lifetime was a burden. Live-in relationships became acceptable to this generation of Indians.”

“Reading the essays, I believe that it is natural for young people with money to rebel against authority and live life on their own terms. But seeing the stressful lives of young people and their own mental agony resulting from their lifestyle of irresponsibility, we believe it is time to check out exactly what personal space or freedom is all about. Our NGO found that among such young people, fractured marriages, families, and friendships were common; so was abuse of drugs, smoking and alcohol. While some young people took advantage of their new prosperity to build lives of success and achievement, many drowned in the murky pool of greed and excesses to lose their families and their careers.

Such disasters not only affect the individual but also his/her family and society in general. Insecurity, mental illnesses like depression, ill health and loss of confidence — these result from a disconnect from family and society. Add to this the grave repercussions of global recession and widespread terrorism and you have a situation where survival becomes the primary concern in every society. The huge stress of living through difficult times is resulting in introspection among young people and they are checking out whether their choice of values were correct to start with.”

Sticking together

The visible signs of this rethink of values is the super-success of the Obama family as an ideal to lead the US. In India too the mass of young people have shown more loyalty to couples and families who have stuck together in good times and bad. For example, though the gossip press is full of the shenanigans of stars like Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan, the most respected couples in Bollywood are Shah Rukh Khan-Gouri, Ajay Devgan-Kajol and others. They are specially respecting the maturity of women like Hillary Clinton, who stuck by her husband in his worst times and came up a winner as the Secretary of State in the Obama regime.

Sarod artist Amjad Ali Khan says, “Togetherness in a family has two advantages. First, a man or woman can achieve a balance and remain grounded when at the acme of success because of the family. Secondly, a strong family can tide over bad times and failures with more strength and tenacity. Only the support of a family and friends can one be stable, contented and prosperous in every way — financially and culturally.”

Swami Parthasarathy gives a four-way path to assuring that a family, a couple, friends and siblings stay together. “Today, with the number of divorces and fractured families on the rise, intelligent, educated people must search within themselves for a solution,” he says.

Four-point agenda

“I would say a four-point view of life helps to build lasting and healthy relationships: These are: 1. Think more about your duties rather than rights. 2. Be consistently in a giving mode rather than in a grabbing mode. This does not mean you give away all your wealth or time or opportunities. Graciousness in behaviour creates happiness and confidence. 3. Assess the person you are related to and accept as much as possible that he/she is built the way he/she is. Try to find good points rather than bad ones. 4. Be unconditional in giving love. Love, but not with possessiveness… let go and leave people alone to find their values and happiness. Do not force your way of life or your views on others.”

If only to heal broken hearts and fractured relationships — and the loneliness they bring into our lives — it is worth it to introspect and be determined to make a new beginning. As Amitha Negi, a top economist says, “India is going to become an economic giant in the decades to come. But only when she is also culturally rich, will we be truly prosperous. Our way of life in the past was gracious, full of celebrations and joy. Parivar is a favourite word in our films and television serials. It connotes that if you are happily ensconced in your family, you have excellent chances of being a happy, well-adjusted person.”

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