Celebrations and Family: Is Generational Isolation A Good Thing?

Pepsi adverts are usually the pits, stupid writing and empty glitz, but this little short film on the importance of homecoming, family, and celebrations – with the barest glimmer of product placement – is touching, and rather sweet. Here it is.

The film is appealing on many levels apart from the sentimental. One of them is focusing on the social changes that economic modernity has brought to the status quo of Indian familial structure.

Unlike previous generations of Indian children – most of whom settled close to the son’s parents (if not in the same house) – large chunks of the current young professional population are setting up away from their hometowns, leaving elderly parents to tend empty nests often without – as this advert shows – any real sense of fulfilment.

The situation is further complicated by the practice of urban middle-class parents of the previous generation to marry, on an average, just once, and have one child, or maybe two children, within that marriage. If the child (or those children) are daughters, then the chance that her parents will lead this sort of lonely and/or independent life goes up exponentially. Which is not to imply that all married men of today still make their homes with their parents, but in our patrilocal society, there’s at least the expectation they might; parents of married women are denied even that.

Of course, as the film shows, technology – not too long ago limited to shoddy overhead lines and whirly-disc phones – has seeped into most nooks of of our human living, simplifying it enormously. But banalisation of human interaction is often the flip side of that. It’s great to video-chat with one’s parents several times a week, but precisely because the technology of virtual nearness is present, distance might no longer makes the heart fonder, and regular family-time may begin to feel forced, banal and tedious. There is of course the convenience of shutting Skype off or hanging up the phone on one’s relatives, but the discontent that sort of thing produces tends to ferment rather than blow away, and is either carried over into future conversations, or, as in the film, into deliberate silence.

On the other hand, in a country where intergenerational households are common, Indians are all too used to the multiple small and large conflicts of interest, lack of personal space and freedom (especially for women), and constraints on the development of individual tastes. Of course, each marital unit within a large intergenerational family saves more individually, and bringing up children becomes easier in a house full of other children and many supervising adults. But most people – again, especially women – who have grown up in the relatively restricted environment of a joint family in post-liberalisation India are prepared to forgo these benefits for greater freedom of individual expression. Celebratory reunions, in such contexts, are sweetened by the small guilt of living apart (against social expectations), and also by the assurance that these reunions are fleeting, and the relative peace and freedom of living apart will soon commence again. It makes one more open to compromises, sacrifices, and greater generosity of spirit. Unless the holiday reunions happen under duress, or the family has a troubled dynamic, I’d say this is what makes holidays in contemporary India happier for the ‘separated’ family.

I’m sure if a group of youngish urban middle-class Indians – towards whom these adverts are mostly targeted – sat down and exchanged notes, several variations on this theme of Happily Independent or Miserably Missing You will emerge. But the reason I like this film especially is because it depicts the elderly parents as agentive: not whiny, not aggressive, not guilt-tripping. Missing their child and her family a great deal, but standing firm nonetheless and demanding their problems be acknowledged. Such a refreshing break from the Indian cinematic tradition of the weepy, self-effacing, ever-sacrificing parenthood.

For that stroke of realism or encouragement – depending on your own relationship to your parents and offsprings – I shall keep recommending this film every year around holiday time… till a better something comes along.

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6 comments

    • Personally, I agree. Which is why I say celebrations are more fun when families live separately. Unless there’s active quarrels, the coming together overshadows other problems, and people part before anything untoward can happen.

  1. I am all for nuclear families.. For me joint families come handy in case of emergencies specially medical emergencies..But even that might vary from family to family.
    Enjoyed reading the post..

    • Thanks for dropping by 🙂 I don’t think I would be able to fit into a joint family either, unless the family home was spread over a lot of space to ensure privacy and centralised control.

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