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Fri Apr 18 05:03:29 SAST 2014

We need to preserve our family ties

Nikita Ramkissoon | 17 May, 2012 13:57
To match Reuters Life! INDIA-MONKEY/WEDDING
Women dance at a temple during a pre-wedding function.
Image by: DANISH SIDDIQUI / REUTERS

An elder in my family passed away this week, and my parents immediately made the trip to Durban for the funeral, not only to mourn her death, but to be there for the rest of the family.

A cousin of mine pointed out that these days, we generally only see each other at funerals. We laughed at the irony, but it got me thinking – what is happening to our relationships with our extended families?

I can only really speak for the Indian community here, but we are really losing touch with one of the major things that made us a ‘community’. I remember as a kid, my grandparents’ home was always full of people. Their children, siblings, grandchildren, second cousins, their spouses and their nephew’s half-sister’s uncle came along for every single event.

There was always noise, conversation, food and high spirits. There was a sense of kinship and loyalty, even if there was no blood relation. There were huge pots of briyani, all sorts of cool drinks – ‘red Coke’ and ‘green Coke’ – and many hands making light work.

We didn’t need caterers. We didn’t have to make a single arrangement for anything – everyone knew someone who knew someone who could do it in a jiffy. And they did.

Weddings were always chaotic, but always a success, because there was always someone to make a plan. The lady in the green sari whose name I could never remember had an endless supply of pins to hold up a loose-fitting sari blouse. That cousin with the Volvo with the big boot – yes, he’s the one who can take all the gifts back to the groom’s house after the wedding.

Funerals were never an issue. My uncles and cousins’ husbands in particular would have everything sorted, as the neighbours brought over food and drink so that the family would not have to worry about those trivial things. There was always a cup of tea ready as soon as you wanted or needed one. There was always someone to share the load.

Regardless of the event, every single function was filled with love and support from the community. There was never a moment where we were left wanting or needing. It was all there, provided by the entire family. Everyone was ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’. You were always discovering people you never knew you were related to. And everyone was family.

Now, with relatives scattered across the globe, it’s understandable that this way of living is unreliable – the demands of our everyday lives makes it difficult. But does it mean that just because times are changing we should discard these traditions entirely?

I’ve seen it happen with families where feuds get in the way of the strong ties that were there in the days when everyone stayed over and shared mattresses on the lounge floor. Pride and disinterest replaces the closeness from the time we climbed the guava tree and stayed up until 4am talking about anything and everything. We substitute love and closeness with money, business and random friends we probably won’t be in touch with in ten year’s time.

We lose our families to frivolity.

And yet we are so surprised when the only time we see them is at a crematorium just in time for the grandparent we haven’t seen in six years is being laid to rest.

We have cellphones, Skype and Facebook, yet that close cousin with whom you used to steal Chomp from the bread van is so far away, you forget her birthday and don’t see her son until he’s a year old. And then wonder why the kid recoils when you try greet him with a big hug saying:  ‘Hi! I’m your aunt!’

We are losing that sense of community that once made us strong. We are slowly losing touch with the support system we had so that life would be that much easier. We are squandering that great supply of love and care that lay in the unity of our kin. What for? For the BMW in the garage and the ability to say; ‘I send my son to Redhill. Yes. The fees cost more than your house’?

What are we achieving by doing that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s a losing game for everyone.

We need our families, especially in times of grief. In order to have that, we need to have them around any time. Be it meeting for coffee during a lunch break, a short phone call to say hi or dinner at each others' houses every now and then.

It’s a pity that it takes a funeral to unite a family, when we should be taking every opportunity to get together and keep the bonds close – even if you don’t really like Aunty Kamla who leaves a bright pink lipstick mark on your cheek after greeting you.

Family is family for a reason. We should not waste that. When we lose it, we will never get it back, and the next funeral may just be spent with nobody but the priest and the undertaker.

Friends, jobs, cars and parties come and go, but family remains family.

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Fri Apr 18 05:03:29 SAST 2014 ::