I am writing this article while in London. I am with a family of fifteen – five couples and five children – living together in a house with eight bedrooms and cooking in one kitchen. There is an attractive temple in the sitting room where everyone prays both before and after work or school. And regularly in the evening Hindu ritual of Aarti in which lamps are offered to the Gods accompanied by song is performed before dinner. By then the children have already eaten and are accustomed to going to sleep earlier.
Dharmista is the head of the family. Hardly 35, she looks after the house, the cooking, the children and any daytime guests. All the other adults go out to work. Dharmista is ‘aunty’ to other four couples and everyone in the house acknowledges her as a leader elder.
Hasmukh, her husband and the household’s senior adult, is very polite and never stops smiling. He also acts as a senior ‘father’ to two couples from his elder brother’s family and two from his younger brother’s and is respected as such. He never takes a decision on an issue that affects the household by himself, but seeks the views of all the adults in the house as and when required. No one younger than him will ever commit to anything without consulting him. The wives consult Dharmista over all family issues and she would never take an important decision without consulting them.
Each couple contributes a particular sum of money from their own joint accounts to cover household expenses. If any extra expenses occur, each couple is asked to make an appropriate contribution.
The house in London was bought by Hasmukh’s father who is based and lives in Kenya with his two brothers as an extended family. All their children were brought up to live together in a communal household while they were in Kenya. And even in London, the sons have seen the benefits of living together as a joint family.
In India, the father of Hasmukh is erecting an eight-roomed self-contained residential house for all the family members in Kenya and London. It consists of all facilities including children rooms and a reasonably spacious temple for the family.
Disagreements between the adult members of the household are rare. There is a monthly meeting of all family members where problems are resolved and new ideas discussed. Any decisions taken try to encompass all points of view.
The children play together, disagree, complain and sometimes quarrel, but all in a friendly and tolerant atmosphere. Dharmista is the “Ba” (Senior Indian mother) to all the children. She looks after their health by careful supervision of their diet, giving them medicines and taking them to the doctor when needed.
None of the family members eat outside the house, neither do they bring in take-away food – not even for the children. Everything they need is prepared at home. There are sufficient quantities of snacks in the kitchen that are prepared every weekend by the women in the house. All food is prepared according to the tastes and preferences of the majority of adults in the household. Children can choose their own food and snacks, subject to approval.
All the couples have their own TVs, cars and mobile phones and go out by themselves at weekends if they are free. Guests or relatives of any of the wives are treated with respect. Wives go to visit their paternal relatives as and when required. Most of the relatives are aware of the size of this “Patel Family”, and have to bear this in mind when writing wedding invitations!
In London among the joint family of the man I shall call “Mr.Patel”, I can testify to how hard he has worked to teach the younger generation the benefits of joint family life. In London a family group like this can not just live economically and cost-effectively, they can also form a strong and cohesive social unit that can achieve a great deal together while enjoying an assured social status and a good quality of life. They can as well achieve mass success in the business of their own like Patel group has done.
There are hardly any other cases of the type in London and it is very difficult to stay so in a good tune where even sons venture to stay separately from parents immediately after marriage.