Your Family (and Other Animals)

One of the earliest lessons my family taught me was not to exclude people on the basis of *their* families. We were never stopped from befriending the helps’ children (although we were made to give away some of our new toys to them), our poorer neighbours, the much-maligned divorcee’s two daughters, the young Muslim didi who brought scandal and violence upon herself in the form of a Sikh boyfriend, or the white-headed grass-cutter who got mildly drunk every evening and told us tall tales of Jharkhand.

Lately, however, I find myself failing this sterling lesson. It is easy for me not to hold people’s families or friends against them; after all, people can’t help being born where they were. But they can help who they associate with, once they grow up and expand their horizons beyond their immediate boundaries. And over the last few years, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to be convivial with people who admit – complain, even – to the many flaws of their social entourage, but say they’re helplessly bound to them by ties of affection.

Of course, I don’t delude myself that love is inspired solely by the loved-person’s merits; I am myself quite attached to several of my defaulting friends and family, and it’s frankly a miracle that people who know me well still find it in their hearts to love me. But I try hard not to let this affection – or for that matter a misplaced sense of loyalty or duty – morph into financial or emotional exploitation, going either way. And with age and an inherited sternness, I find I have very little respect for, or patience with, people who do.

People have said to me, of course, that standing up for what one really wants is not worth it if it costs one the support of one’s loved ones. Well. I’m too polite to say this to these people’s faces, but if your darling dear ones are holding your relationship at ransom to make you undermine your wishes to fulfil theirs, then isn’t the time to evaluate the value of that relationship well ripe?

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