“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy’s immortal classic Anna Karenina begins with these unforgettable words – words that ricochet in my mind whenever anyone talks of happy or unhappy families.
So what makes a happy family? A number of aspects but one feature that is common to all families that are happy, is the bonding between husband and wife. If the partners share a relationship of love, respect, trust and mutual concern the family unit is sure to be a contented one. On the other hand, if the home is a battleground of egos and mistrust you can be certain that the family is going to be unhappy and the children emotionally bruised.
I speak from personal experience.
My parents were very good looking (the ideal made-for-each-other types), highly educated and with a liberal outlook. My father was a professor and my mother, a talented writer. On the outside ours was a ‘happy family’. But in reality, every few days there were skirmishes and every few months, a full-scale war.
My sister and I would be either reading or chatting in our room at night when suddenly we would hear raised voices.
“I think they have started again,” my sister, who was older, would mumble. The slanging match would morph into screaming and yelling and breaking of stuff. This would continue late in the night as the two of us would sit huddled together, hoping and praying for a truce – since peace was an outlandish fantasy. These battles would be followed by a long period of silence where they would completely stop communicating with each other. Our house (I could never dare call it a home) would resemble a mausoleum. The eerie calm before the next storm, this cold and clammy conflict was as agonising as the full-scale war itself.
One evening I returned home and found my parents and my sister sitting in the garden joking and laughing, like ‘normal families’ – I just stood there, soaking in the scene, imploring the Almighty to freeze time. This scene remained etched in my memory for a long, long time and I would often revisit it in my reveries.
I remember my sister once telling my parents, “Both of you are charismatic and brilliant – my friend Beena envies me so much. Her father is a pot-bellied businessman who is not even a graduate and her mother is a housewife who can’t speak a word of English. Beena is even ashamed to call them for PTA meetings. However, I have great regard for them since they love and respect each other. Their house is like a home unlike our place which resembles a battle field.”
The impact of her words lasted a few days and then it went back to the usual. This went on till I was 14 and then my parents separated.
The wound is still festering in my mind, heart and soul and I knew that for as long as lived, the scars would not heal.
My wife Madhavi and I work for Rourkela Steel Plant. Our offices are in the same complex and we go to work and come back together. Whatever little socialising we do is almost always together. During my literary trysts, she accompanies me and when she goes to her parents’ place (my mum and dad are no more) I am with her.
Sometimes people ask us if we are bored living in each other’s pockets 24 x 7. Well, we never felt it. One reason being we have always lived like buddies. Yes, we have had our scuffles, clashes, combats and conflicts and continue to have them. But we have followed one cardinal principle – never, ever to stop communicating with each other – never to allow the violence of silence to blow us apart. The shards of my childhood memories still prick and continue to remind me that the key to an effective relationship is communication. The husband and wife have to keep talking to each other – any breakdown in communication is a sure shot recipe for disaster.
As Zig Ziglar, bestselling author and motivational speaker says, “There is no way I can oversell the importance of husbands and wives talking to each other…. There are many opportunities, even when both husbands and wives work, for them to engage in small talk, which is so important to the health of the relationship... The evening paper, the nightly news, the daily or nightly soap opera – you name it. None of them holds a candle to the importance of the husband and wife communicating with each other.”
To nurture a happy family, drop that ego, smother that pride, smudge that conceit and reach out to each other with cheer and camaraderie, trust and togetherness, care and concern, and love and respect.