• Chitra Gopalakrishnan

Our seven aunts and our eighth home

Our matrilineal joint family in New Delhi. Our peculiar, outlier lifestyle. Our voluble opening up.


These elements slipstream a curious Spanish news reporter into an understanding of why we are a special family.


“Seven sisters, seven families and seven fastened buildings that lead one into the other with the eighth building being the family home is how forty five of us – grandparents, parents, sisters, our husbands and a multitude of our children – get by,” says our eldest chachi Sanjana Khanna, to the Spanish inquisitor keen to understand how our family has forsaken personal freedoms to live by a female family constitution.


“We seven sisters decided to continue living with our parents and theirs, cajoling our spouses to join us in this adventure. Each of the seven buildings has the style of the sister who owns it and is tailored to her family needs but in the eighth home the “I’s” are overlaid by “Us”,” says Ragini chachi, the aunt next in line.


“The lives of men and women lead steadily, agreeably and continuously into each other’s here and we cannot relate to the idea of being strangers in one’s own home or leading fragmented, isolated lives,” says Brinda chachi, the third of our aunts.


Deepali chachi laughingly intrudes. ”Brinda is overlooking how our equations often get a little messy in our common home.”


Emboldened, Sona chachi, adds, “Many spoken and unspoken points of dissent dot our everyday lives here but we see these reciprocal differences as an affirmation of the equal dignity of each rather than discord.”


The unbelieving reporter turns to Disha chachi. “As we have shambled towards 2020, female-headed households seem absurd to many here and to people in the West, I presume, living in joint families comes across as unbelievable. Yet, strangely, just as the idea of India in the singular works, with a population of 1.37 billion and a staggeringly diverse citizenry and culture, I believe that our family with its many female energies does too.”


“It the eighth home that binds us and curbs our unruly inclinations towards selfish individual autonomy,” says our silver-haired grandmother, Savitri. This without being asked.


“Here, kitchen fires burn all day. A wall-to-wall dining table lovingly feeds hot, balanced meals to inmates and guests, no matter what their numbers. And the curtains of our family room quietly absorb all family interactions be it family fondness or tensions,” she explains.


“It is here when the family shares each other’s joys and setbacks, when they patiently allow older family members to live out their lives in dignity and security with no taboo, judgement or shame and when they enable their home-grown babies to step securely into adulthood nurtured and loved by a host of aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings that the true meaning of family comes alive. It tells us we are a force because of this. Because we have learnt to peaceably dissolve our differences and see ourselves as immediate family and not as extended kin,” says our youngest chachi, Meenal.


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