Ours was a joint family and I, youngest of its three daughters-in-law, was never asked for opinion in any of its important matters. I had accepted my status and would never complain. It never even came to my mind that I was left out. Those days, elders took every decision and the rest of the family abided by it.
After 20 years of marriage, I moved into an independent house. While earlier I had one bedroom and an adjoining, small children’s room, which was common in joint families; now, I had four bedrooms and a drawing-dining area, which was a paradise for me. I had servants at my disposal along with the “head of the family” status. I loved ordering the servants around, telling them to cook, clean, wash etc., since I never had a chance to give instructions in a joint family. Perhaps, I took my job too seriously, because I’d lose my temper quickly, especially if they didn’t do things my way. I would yell at the part-time maids, if they took a day off or made even a small mistake.
One day, my husband checked me when my pitch had become loud. “All the time, you are shouting and screaming,” he said, “you were not like that.” My logic was that if I didn’t scream or shout, nobody would listen to me. So the household was run with servants wearing a long face and doing their jobs half-heartedly. One day, I thought maybe I didn’t know how to run a house indeed, so let me change my attitude and see.
Next day on, I tried to be polite, keep my tone low, and started to get things done. If a maid took a day off, I’d ask her the reason the next day, listen to her part of the story and accept it. Gradually, it became a habit to talk to them, ask them about their families, and share their sorrows and joys. They also opened up. “My son entered an English-medium school; my daughter has joined beautician’s course; I bought a new washing machine on instalments,” and so on would go their stories. One day, my gardener brought his son over and asked him to count to hundred in English for me. I applauded him and I saw his eyes light up with pride.
Now, it has become my tendency to treat plumbers, electricians, and cab drivers as equals in conversation when I come across them. “How many people do you have in your family? How much do you earn? I would ask them this and many other things, and everyone would have a story to tell. Now I have one big extended family, with so many people around whom I know at the personal level. My house is run like well-oiled machinery and everyone works with full sincerity.