Theory Of Relative-ity  

Theory Of Relative-ity  i’m smiling because you are my family. and there’s nothing you, my big extended family, can do about it.
  • Here is a guide to the various time-tested laws you must keep in mind when dealing with that Indian institution, the extended family.

You know what they say, “God couldn’t be everywhere so He created mothers.” Well, if we were to balance the rest of that expression (similar to balancing a chemical equation), it would go something like this: “The Devil couldn’t be everywhere, so he created…(drum roll please) “The Extended Family!”

So how important is the extended family in the Indian context? Consider this. While English has only a handful of terms for blood relatives (aunts, uncles, grandmother, grandfather, blah, blah, blah), the rich Indian language is replete with distinctive terms and terminologies for all individual relative breeds. We have nana/nani, dada/dadi, kaka/kaki, taya/tai, chacha/chachi, mausa/mausi, mama/mami, and bua/fufa (which rhymes with “loofah” but is not used for similar purposes).

In fact, once we move towards the extended family within our extended family, we are further blessed with a rich (albeit complex) permutation and combination of relationships. In fact, we don’t just hear complex terms like mami-dadi, these mixed-breed relatives would also include something like the quintessential chachiya-saas, which is chachi + saas (as if one mother-in-law wasn’t enough).

Of course, before all you Sooraj Barjatya and Karan Johar fans scoff at me and my brazen audacity to smear the good family name, remember that despite the cliché, every coin does have two sides. Hence, no matter how spectacular a family you “think” you have, the truth is simply this: “A relative’s love relatively depends upon your relative position to that particular relative.” What it basically means is that, if you’re superior, you’ll have “sycophants” for relatives; if you’re inferior, you’ll have “tyrants” for relatives (and just in case you’re equals and love each other unconditionally, well…give me a call, and we’ll break open the champagne)! And that— ladies and gentlemen—is the First and the Foremost Law of Indian Relative-ity.

Hence, without further ado, let us now move on to the other ludicrous laws of familiar familial relative-ity. However, before I commence the relational blasphemy, I do have a short message for my extended family:

“I’m smiling because you are my family. I’m laughing ‘coz there’s nothing you can do about it. After all, writers will happen even in the best of families. Hence, I’m sorry for doing this to you. Oh, wait a minute, you all won’t be reading this. Why? Because I’m family…That’s why!”

2nd Law: “You Tell, Me Hide” The 2nd law of relative-ity states: “For every secret one shares, the relatives will hide theirs.” Well, for some reason, members of the extended family assume that they have a God-given right to pry into your life.

Of course, when it comes to prying, it’s a one-way street only that allows “No Throughfare”. So, while these busybodied-kinsmen pry and meddle to their heart’s content into your personal life, they are seldom willing to extend the same courtesy to you. Of course, you can go ahead and hide those mark-sheets, love letters, salary slips, pregnancy tests, divorce papers, etc, but remember this, “No secret will ever be safe enough…even if you were to place it in an actual safe.”

But is there really no way to prevent these nosy parkers from parking their abnormally large noses in your private affair? Well, of course there is—the only way to secure and safeguard your secrets is to remember the simple equation: “Secrets untold = Secrets unknown”!

3rd Law: “My Child > Your Child” The 3rd law of relative-ity states: “In every ménage, one relative’s matric-fail monkey will always remain better/ greater/ superior than the other relative’s post-doc prodigy.” Well, this one’s so common, it’s not just a cliché…It’s Your Family!

This is because, in India, you don’t bear children, you rear competitors. Whether you’re a naked neonate or a menopausal manager, you never ever stop competing with your cousins. In fact, even when you want to walk out of the ring, the parents have just the right weapons in their arsenal to push you back in.

This is usually achieved either through conventionally attractive bribes, well-timed emotional blackmail or downright parental extortions. So, then, On your mark…Get Set…Go! Funnily enough though, it isn’t always the real-life real-time winner, who gets the bragging rights.

After all, it’s the empty vessels that make the most noise. Although, there’s still a rule to remember before you baboons can make braggarts out of your parents: Relocate to a land far far away! Then, it’s literally the tale of two cities: An “Actual” Loser in own city…A “Virtual” Winner in unknown city!

4th Law: “$ Gift by Relative = $ Salary of Relative” The 4th law of relative-ity simply states: “The price of the gift one receives is directly proportional to the pay cheque one receives.” In all my time on planet Earth, I have come to realize one universal constant to relative-ity: love and gifts are seldom uniform. When it comes to the ritual of gift-giving in India, the Indian family is adept at the mathematics of “the value of the valuables.”

Hence, a big bank balance attracts big presents and vice versa. Therefore, if you want to receive bigger and better gifts, always remember what Mark Twain once said: “The less a man knows, the bigger the noise he makes and the higher the salary he commands.” Hence, know less, shout more, earn more, get more. (If you still doubt Twain, go and check out Dilbert’s “Salary Theorem”…Go ahead, do the math.)

The Last Lost Law: “Your Child ≠ My Child” Last but certainly not the least, is the last law of relative-ity: “When it comes to children; Mine’s more precious than Thine’s.”

Actually, as you let your thoughts percolate on that one, let me recount a short story (mine, in fact). Many many years ago, when I was only six years old, my parents entrusted me to the care of my many maternal aunts, uncles and cousins. After all, it’s all about “trusting” your family too (and of course, my parents couldn’t have foreseen this article).

Anyway, as we drove to our destination in my extended family’s car—somewhere around a border town close to Nepal (I don’t really know where), I fell asleep. When I woke up, however, it was pitch black outside and I was all alone in the silent scary car.

To say that I was utterly terrified wouldn’t even cut close to what that six-year-old was feeling that night. (And to make matters worse, I was unable to find my sandals). Scared and alone, I climbed out of the car and started walking, barefoot and aimless. I don’t really remember how long I walked or how loudly I cried. What I do remember, however, was how a tea-drinking lone policeman (standing at a desolate betel-shop) came to my rescue. Sadly, I couldn’t tell him anything; neither my address nor my phone number (and weirdly enough, I could not even tell him about the abandoned car that I had alighted from).

The policeman took my dainty little hand in his…and…did what he was trained to do: create a roadblock. The man—singularly, all by himself—took me to every passing vehicle, enquiring from passengers if they knew who I was. After what seemed like an eternity, we came upon a World War II era jeep. I knew it wasn’t our car. However, as the policeman yet again turned to its passengers, I noticed a lone familiar face—it was my maternal grandmother! I remember screaming “Nani!” and flinging myself into her arms.

I almost remember how dumbstruck she was…after all, she probably wasn’t expecting to see her six-year-old sole granddaughter (yeah, I am the only daughter between the three sisters) roaming around the streets with a man of the uniform. I remember a lot of things about that night. What I don’t remember, sadly, is the name and face of the man who saved me that night! But to that man, wherever you are…“thank you”…you were and always will be more than family!

Mallika Nawal is a professor-cum-author, about to complete her doctorate in marketing from IIT Kharagpur. She is the author of three management books which serve as prescribed textbooks in several universities across India. She has taught at premier institutes like IIT Kharagpur, and S. P. Jain Centre of Management, Dubai.

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