Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
Size Doesn't Matter

Size Doesn't Matter

Author: Mridula Chettri Singh
Publication: India Today
Date: September 16, 2002

Introduction: 70 people live, pray, celebrate together, and they're not even crabby

Sundays at the Jhalani House in Delhi's Civil Lines are reserved for cricket. And, no, they don't have to look yonder to put together a Cricket XI. Their in-house team is already spilling over with sporty men-not necessarily 20-somethings-who take fielding positions on the 30 ft by 50 ft concrete surface (it's used as a parking lot otherwise for 20-odd "family" cars). At their Lord's, as the sun filters through the labyrinthine, creeper-covered trellis, the batsman takes position, ready to face a bowler who relies more on intimidation than sheer pace. The line is good, so is the responding stroke. But there is no running between the wicket. That's rule No. 1 of the game. There are no LBWs either, no stumpings, no over-arm bowling and no running late on coughing up the monthly subscription of Rs 100 that is used to buy cricket paraphernalia. And all contentious issues are to be argued with the highest authority, quite literally: the umpire who looks more like a hunter in khakis and sports shoes and is lodged on a machaan on a strategically branched neem tree. But this is serious business, as serious as the family business that binds the 70-odd Jhalani household members, part of a breed whose days are numbered-the Great Indian Joint Family.

Five generations of the Jhalanis-21 family units in all-live together, play together, pray together, celebrate together, make money together and they're not even crabby-an aberration in the time of dink living. For them nuclear just means having a blast. Perhaps, even Lala Banarasi Das-he established the famous Chawri Bazar in Old Delhi when he set up engineering workshops there-did not foresee generations of his progeny getting entrenched in the 2,900 sq yard of prime land and the colonial bungalow he bought for his 10-member family in 1942. In the 1960s, the bungalow was demolished and his seven sons built a seven-apartment block with seven kitchens, connected by bricks and business.

"Our forefathers started selling steel nails in 1857," says Rajesh, 49, one of Das' 13 grandsons. That laid the foundation for a flourishing foray into business-the most successful of them being manufacturing hand tools-and the raison d'etre of their bonding. "As long as the business is intact or the importance of the Jhalani house location is not diluted, we will continue to live as a unit," says Rajesh matter-of-factly. Perhaps this pragmatic approach to co-existence is the reason why family members have withstood the lure of venturing out on their own. Even those like Amit, 35, another third generation inhabitant of Jhalani House, who chose to shift to Gurgaon when he set up a furniture business there, returned like the prodigal son nine months later, wife and child in tow. "Here, there is always someone to look after the child," says Amit's wife Leena.

So under one roof a photographer, painter, interior decorator, trader, exporter continue to find their muse, and convenience. And also not miss out on children's melas at any of the three manicured lawns, rangoli competitions during Diwali, the ritualistic cricket matches and the Jhalani ladies' kitty parties. Children, in all 11 boys and eight girls, don't look beyond their boundary wall for company-never mind that four-year-old Vinayak is "relatively speaking" an uncle of Navya, his senior by a year. The Indian tradition of respect for elders also ensures they have company in old age. Kailash, Das' eldest son is the oldest at 74; the youngest is seven months old-and there's no dearth of caretakers for both of them.

"The best times we had were when Doordarshan ruled the tube. The tv room was like a theatre with rows of seats," reminiscences Shalini, 45, wife of Rajesh. Now the infusion of cable channels has made their pursuit redundant; everyone has a TV set in their bedroom. So there's no sitting together to watch even Ekta Kapoor's twisty family dramas of spiteful mothers-in-law and scheming daughters-in-law.

For a family that only married within their caste, intercommunity marriages are no longer a taboo. But perhaps, in the six decades of staying together, nothing has changed more than the lifestyle of the women in the Jhalani household-apart from the fact that any new bride takes up to six months to identify family members and start calling them by their monikers. Shalini's mother-in-law never walked around without the ghunghat. But she lets her 20-year-old daughter, Smriti, don peasant top with flares and organise dance parties, replete with disco lights and DJs. A few of them are building careers for themselves too. Leena, 31, was the first women in the family to work outside home. "You can come to learn about changing lifestyle trends," says Rajesh. "Take a peep into the 19th century and slowly get back to the 21st." The Jhalanis themselves do that occasionally through slide shows, family albums or in conversation. It lights the hearth in their metaphorical house.

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements