Family is the crucible where all action is set – real and reel. In life and in literature everything boils down to that crucial cast of people we meet at birth. That is where the drama of us begins. How we relate to them, how we don’t relate to them, what we learn, what we have to unlearn later, whom we love, whom we hate… much of that is what we are about.
‘I am not like my mother at all’ in time converts to ‘I am just like my mother’; because this resemblance in bone structure and basic character is a key feature of our identity. The family we are born into and then the family we go on to make, both merge into what we call kith and kin. Even a stranger nods understandingly if you mention a nagging mom or a sulky daughter, an eccentric dad or a non-communicative son. Everyone has one, a pesky family.
This same ‘pesky’ family by and by starts to make sense as life goes on. Relationships change, you change, others around you change, making the family an eternally adjusting model. From thinking them thoroughly dysfunctional to feeling that strong sense of belonging, relatives occupy different perches at different stages. The past is very much the present, the former curious alchemy of longing and nostalgia.
Writer Aruna Nambiar begins her new novel ‘Monsters Still Lurk’ thus: ‘Memories. Creatures of whimsy they are; fickle, mercurial creatures. Inclined towards intrigue and deception; coy and elusive when you try to pursue them, officious and intrusive when you want to hold them at bay.’ This story, which closely tracks a family through the eyes of its youngest son, begins childhoods in Mumbai and reaches middle age in Bengaluru.
From the meagre vocabulary of joint and nuclear, we now have blended, extended, step, single-parent and reconstituted, to name a few more. Children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson, hugely popular in India, acquaints readers with the newer types of familial ties – and the balancing acts that follow – in her stories with great empathy.
The inner family, of course, is at all times balanced out by the outer one. Friends make up the family we choose, as opposed to the one we are given. Peer approval and sharing laughs with non-family members make the world seem less strange, more accessible.
Writer Nandita Bose says: "The alternative family carefully constructed through friendship and love often represents and sustains more effectively than the birth family. The rock band Derozio Dreams in my new novel Everglow is a microcosm of this constructed family built out of a shared passion for music and deep investment in each other."
So hang out with your near and dear ones all you want but peer closely at people beyond chachaji and mamaji. When it comes to those who have your back, the more the merrier. Make time for friends, meet them for a drink now and then. Blood may be thicker than water, but it is not thicker than beer.
First Published: IST