International Day Of Families: The Manipuri Perspective

Maisnam Bomcha *

International Day Of Families: The Manipuri Perspective

Starting from the year 1995, the International Day of Families is celebrated each year on this day, 15 May throughout the world. To promote awareness of issues related to the family, this day was proclaimed in the UN General Assembly in 1993. This UN sponsored program highlights the importance of the family. Family being the basic unit of a society is hence the pillar of a nation. It has been given the importance it deserves by the UNO (United Nations Organization) and thus finds mention as an important aspect in many declarations such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Declaration of Social Progress and Development.

Family is the forum and medium through which we learn how to speak, eat, relate with others, emote; we begin our basic education of being a human being and a citizen in a family. Needless to emphasize that the value and character of a stranger is often gauged by the family the person belongs to. It is celebrated with much fervor in the western world and has a universal appeal.

Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the UN in a message, wrote, "This year's International Day of Family highlights the need for work family balance. The aim is to help workers everywhere provide for their families financially and emotionally, while also contributing to the socio-economic development of their societies". Since 1996 a theme is chosen by the UN every year. The theme of the day this year as mentioned above is 'Ensuring Work Family Balance'.

Before coming to the theme proper, we may consider the choice between the traditional joint family and the nuclear family. Except for the issue of possible neglect of the aged and disabled, the concept of a nuclear family appeals stronger than that of a joint family. In homes with aged or disabled members, they are looked after by a family unit of the extended family which it once had been a part of.

And the unit sharing the same roof in a single household with the aged or disabled has sound reasons, emotional and material for doing so. There may be sons or daughters who disown aged and disabled members of the family and leave them totally untended and uncared for. Well, those are no less than criminals and every society has criminals.

Reasonable material support and help continue to be extended amongst each other between the nuclear families. After considering the pros and cons of both; my vote is for the nuclear family. One alone can't possibly and fruitfully extol the virtues or discuss the negatives of both forms in this forum. Personal bias and beliefs also play a role in coming to conclusions.

First, my case for the nuclear family. For every society to progress it has to adopt and adapt to changes. The nuclear family has arrived. Even within a joint family we find existence of nuclear families, families within a family. The practice of nuclear family assumes even more importance in this era of sex equality and woman empowerment.

With the advent of the cell phone, internet and much improved connectivity and mobility, the advantages of a joint family are gradually losing relevance. Facilities and advancements of modernity are providing most of what a joint family offers, even from a distance. Also think of all those 'Saas Bahu' stories so popular on the idiot box. Mother- in- law, Daughter- in- law tussles and fall-outs in a family is not alien to Manipuri society too.

A good 'mou' does not go out from home, keeps her head covered in front of elders and how many elders are there is an average joint family? She can't be seen gossiping around, even with the husband. It is 'unbecoming' of a 'mou' even to hum a song in the house-hold. After all, as per strict anthropological definition a female ceases to be a member of a family once she marries. Let a 'she' human being be a respectable member of a family for once.

Emotional and economic support is at the core of the essence of a family. Unless the bigger joint family does not require continuous economic support and presence of particular members a nuclear family is a welcome change. Social policy related long maternity leave and Anganwadis are no substitute for kin care of the young but a welcome succor and alternatives for working females.

As always, compromises are to be made in the area of inculcation of values and cultural and traditional lessons. And who can be better teachers than the parents themselves. Also a nuclear family does not live on planet Mars; society is there to take care of the rest of education. The days may not be far when 'live in' relationships may also become an accepted norm in our society. Yes, at least movie aficionados and page 3 types of Manipur adore the Brad Pitts-Angelina Jollies of the world, if not, mercifully, the relation.

A friend once told me that he read an interesting line somewhere, 'I was a good father till I had my own children'. The most important aspect of the year's theme, the core of the issue is parenting. An emotional and biological need of husband-wife and physical, morale and financial support to the children comes later. In the context of Manipur, the question of whether parents are giving adequate time to the family has more relevance to the role of the father.

We are a patriarchal society and the oldest male member is the patriarch who takes decisions and is also the role model in most cases. At the core of the year's theme also is the question of a parents' emotional and economic support primarily to the children. Father and mother both live in the same household with their children and thus invariably give 'time' to their offspring. But it is 'quality time' we are talking about.

Coming back home, tired after a day hard work, indulging in own choice of reading, viewing or doing chores simply; food and going to bed is not quality time. What to talk about helping the children with their lesson, I even disturb my children with orders, so authoritatively given 'I am tired, I need your indulgence'. Growing up, I heard about 'man to man' talks, frank and fruitful dialogues between parents and their children.

What most of us do is; the children presenting the 'verbal cheque' to Papa Bank and our best avoidable berating and commiseration at their childlike failings. So much so for the parental anchor. And morning hour is stiff competition for Ima's attention between the children and the patriarch.

The demand and timings of work is not going to diminish in consideration of our failures. So the way; it is the million dollar question. Or it is very simple. Compromise and sacrifice is the key. Make a rule; come what may, I will keep a few hours aside for my family every holiday. This is in addition to those rare outings we plan for the family.

I know of a man who takes a single child out in turn, to someplace, speak, discuss and teach things. When they come back there is a gift for the child. Sibling rivalry and jealousy over the size and quality of the gift make his children vie with each other for a 'better performance'. Lest we forget, the occasional helping hand in tit bits like dusting, sweeping and changing the napkin do not make us any lesser man. Come out from that 'Nupa Mande' curse.

We may be the bread winners but the real providers are the wives. It is the mothers who sang that ' Tha Tha Thabungton', after all. And prolonged absences of those appreciative acknowledgements sometimes make the home-maker forget that she is great and a darling too. She is "the sensitive kind", yes, I hear you Santana.

Having said all these, let us not lose track of the fact that at the end of the day, it is the family which matters most, both ways. It is not for nothing that they say "Blood is thicker than water (originally a German proverb)". The institution had been there before man learnt how to speak.

And evolved over the ages - Stone, Neanderthal et al. The familial bond has proven so strong and beneficial that even animals have a family. Humans would do a service to themselves if we foster and strengthen it, than to live in that illusionary world of self containment.

* Maisnam Bomcha wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
This article was posted on May 18, 2012 .

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