Growing up in the joint family

Ours was a lower middle class, joint family and I was the first child of the eldest son in the family.  As a child everyone in the family loved me whole-heartedly and profusely.  To this day I carry the impression that every antics of mine, all my smiles and laughter filled their hearts with immense pleasure and inner peace.  This was all that they expected from me and nothing else much. My debt to them, for all their love and affection, is incalculable, and therefore unrequitable.

In the joint family, I spent more time with my grandmother and uncle than everyone else. I listened to my grandmother’s stories with rapt attention.

My grandmother introduced me to Ramayana, Mahabharata, Nala-Damayanti, Bhageerath, and other stories from our epics and mythologies. My father introduced me to the tales of Robert Bruce, Androcles and the Lion, the brave boy who saved the city from flooding through the cracks in the dykes, the ignorant Paramartha guru and his mad sishyas (written by Veeramamunivar – the European Tamil scholar), Panchatantra, of Vikramaditya’s question answer sessions with his companion – the ghost, and Aesopian fairy tales, Robin Hood and the like. (to me there appears to be some sort of semblance between Vikramaditya and Sisyphus).  The oral recounting of these stories without any visual promptings left ample scope for my imagination to run wild; and my reactions as a child when I listened to these tales are etched deeply in my mind.

My mother’s parents passed away when she was quite small – before she got married.  My mother as well as her two brothers grew up in the care of her elder cousin sister. It was my mother’s cousin sister who arranged her marriage. My mother it appears nurtured no great ambitions or harboured any great expectations about the people around her; and this trait came to her naturally and wrapped her attitude.  Her life’s experience must surely have added more substance to this strain. The times were such and her gender, the general ambience of upbringing or rather growing up all contributed to towards this denouement. When life turned cruel towards me, at every turn I continued to remember her.

Only after the joint family split irrevocably, after the passing away of my grandfather, when I was around nine years of age; and I moved away with my parents to a separate house that I slowly came to realize in some measure the importance of my parents. I should say here that I have never fully realized the true value of my mother and her significance is only now beginning to dawn upon me some 45 years after her death – she passed away when I was around 19, before I was drawn into the communist movement.

By all accounts, I am sure, I had a very happy period of childhood, till I crossed the age of seven. A happy childhood should give anyone all the energy and the power of resilience to face all the problems in his/her life. As far I am concerned, I believe that this is one of the factors, which surely helped me to bounce back overcoming all hardships and setbacks, including some very catastrophic problems, as my life went through its numerous twists and turns in the subsequent years. The other most significant factor for this outcome being – my ideological orientation towards Marxism/ my efforts to understand the ideology of Marxism; or rather my attempts to comprehend my milieu, my circumstances, the world around in short, through the philosophy of Marxism.

The Communist Manifesto says:

 “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers. The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”

Life and events have repeatedly tried to prove to me the veracity of this statement and the message is just sinking more deeply now at this last phase of my life.

Some of the lasting memories of my childhood are:

  • the sounds and images of the old mad woman murmuring her prattles on the street,
  • the strolling violinist playing his tunes on the streets of our locality at night,
  • the railway parcel office clerk opposite to our house offering his morning prayers to the rising Sun with great aplomb and in high decibel,
  • the criminal lawyer shooing me and my friends away whenever we were playing in the vicinity or came anywhere near the compound wall of his house, which happened to be the first RCC two storey bungalow in our vicinity etc.


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