When a woman is marrying into a joint family
Joint families are unexpected. For people who grew up in small nuclear families, the whole thing can be very confusing. However, at the root of every nuclear family is a joint family that got broken bit by bit. So, somehow joint families are these secure ancient places where “family” is still alive and well.
However, as is with everyone who is going into new territories, you’re always a little scared. So, what are the standard fears that a girl from a nuclear family has about joint families? We asked this question to some of my friends who were marrying into joint families, and these were the things they said.
1. What if they don’t like me
Remember “Two States”? You marry the family you’re marrying into, in India. For Sandhya, who was marrying her boyfriend of five years, her fear extended to the cousins and to the numerous aunts and uncles she’d have in the new house.
She smiled and told us that her boyfriend has peppered her with stories about how the family comes together during crises, but, she is afraid that she might not fit into the same mould. This is an old fear that the people in joint families know each other throughout their lives and you are basically this stranger coming in.
Not to worry though, the twenty or so odd times she visited his place in the past few months has left her happy. “They are friendly and welcoming, and even though I might not be automatically “One of them”, I feel like I am inching close.”
2. What do I learn
If you met Sandhya five years ago, you would not recognise the person she is now. She was this person who had grown up bashful and alone without caring for people around her. It was a given of course since she lived alone with her mother since the age of 10. Ever since, Abhishek walked into her life though, she became so much gentler.
We came into her home some months back and she was cooking one of the traditional Bengali dishes, singing along.
She tells me that she has been learning new things to impress her new family. However, she is understandably afraid of how it turns out at the end. We won’t say there’s no reason for it, because knowing her hubby’s family, they are pretty tightly knit and very sophisticated.
She wants to fit into the puzzle pieces, and if that means learning new things, she would. But, she does not know what to learn.
3. What about privacy
Sandhya has never once updated her relationship status on Facebook. Her last status was four years ago when she was looking for her boyfriend (now fiancé). So, she has been fiercely protective of her privacy.
The fact that privacy may not be the highest priority in a house which has more than ten people at all times, is still scary for her. So, she is trying to adjust to the idea that her towel might be used by someone else very casually, but, she finds that hard.
4. What if the romance doesn’t work out
One of my friends has been dating her boyfriend for a decade. One of her primary fears still is that after this phase of love is over, married life filled with all the people in his joint family might kill the romance.
“What if I step out of line and he falls out of love?” she laments often. We would put that up to simple obsession over Hindi serials, but, even Sandhya has the same fear. More people means more mistakes that you can make, and that is scary for any new bride.
5. Who do I call for help
Help in a two-person family is easy. You just call up the other person and get it done together. However, in joint families, it seems that everyone has their own roles. It took one of the people we interviewed, Riddhi, three years to figure out that all computer problems were not solved by the engineer cousin of her husband, but, the meek 25-year-old English graduate.
She laughs about it now, but, she was afraid about it going into married life. She tells us, “When I was getting married and he would tell me stories, I was totally clueless about the nuances, and that scared me”
6. How to cope up with all the family members
Riddhi also had a deep sated hatred for one of her in-laws. This loud boisterous uncle had made several comments about her dressing sense that did not work well for her.
She was a fierce working feminist in a relationship with a journalist boyfriend, so, for her taking an insult was a big deal. She tells us that what kept her up for nights in a row was this sinking feeling that she might not be the perfect bride in a family that has such an eclectic bunch of people.
7. What to cook
Sandhya has never cooked for more than two people in her life. So, it is hard for her to cook for a bunch of people without thinking about it for ages. She told us that cooking is one of the pleasures in her lives, but, wondering how it will turn out with so many people, is hard for her.
So, that is it. Joint families can be scary, but, every one of the women we got to told us this one thing, that there’s more happiness than doubts in a joint family and that’s one thought we could go to bed with.