The changing parent trap

There’s this thing about being Indian and there’s this thing about family. And both these things are inexorably linked – bursting at the seams with emotion, commotion and intervention. It’s all about loving your parents. Welcome to the post-familial Indian family.

brunch Updated: Mar 30, 2013 19:44 IST
Saudamini Jain
Saudamini Jain
Hindustan Times

There’s this thing about being Indian and there’s this thing about family. And both these things are inexorably linked – bursting at the seams with emotion, commotion and intervention. It’s all about loving your parents (and living with them too). The latter, though, is negotiable. Welcome to the post-familial Indian family.

Devna Soni, a law student, decided to move closer to college after she got a part-time job. “You’ve been driving down for years,” argued her parents. But Soni says she couldn’t possibly spend “two hours of my time” on the road every day.

Besides, she always wanted to live on her own. But solo life is hard. It’s the middle of an exam week and “the motor is messed up! There’s NO water! And the maid is such a !@#$%^! You’ve got to be physically present to get her to do anything right.” Isn’t it easier to just live at home? “No way!” she exclaims. It’s a small price to pay for freedom.

It would have been cheaper for her parents to just buy her a new car and pay for the petrol. They’re now pitching in Rs 15,000 for her bills, every month. She covers the rest with her salary. It’s a small price to pay for freedom.

Living at home would be cheaper too. Her parents are paying the bills – Rs 15,000 a month. Devna covers the rest with her earnings, “It’s not like they’re paying for my extravagances. They’re covering the basics,” she says matter-of-factly.

Reasonable move?

Like Soni, many young people are moving out of their parents’ houses to live on their own – in the same city. They say they don’t just want their space anymore, they need their space – literally. Some of them are inspired by friends who have moved from small towns and merrily live the single, solo life in the big city. But the official reason they give their parents is usually the same: “I want to reduce the time and effort spent on travelling to work.” Another obvious inspiration for these young people is films, TV and books – all featuring young, working city boys or girls living in a matchbox, trying to make it big. Coming back home to mummy-daddy doesn’t really fit into this idea of cool.

But this really isn’t a Western phenomenon, says Delhi University professor Malashri Lal, who edited the anthology The Indian Family in Transition. "In small towns, young people always had to leave the family to make a living. Now it is happening within the city because the metropolis is becoming the megalopolis." Bigger city, newer rules.

Filmmaker Karan Johar, who works with a lot of young people, has noticed this new trend. In fact, he says, a lot of parents are choosing to move out. “Retired parents move to suburbs like Vashi while the young kids stay in the city – Bandra, Juhu. They meet on weekends,” he says. Family has always meant a great deal to Johar, so does he think this arrangement works? “I think it makes them grow closer and connect more emotionally,” he says. “But we’re so oversensitive as a community, we take this [moving out] as an emotional insult.” Still, Johar believes that we’re in the midst of great change. “It’s becoming ‘your money is your money, my money is my money’ between parents and kids. Teens today are very ambitious – which is a great thing!”

But is moving out the only way to secure one’s space and freedom? “Living with your parents won’t stop you from doing anything! Young people are forever lying to their parents!” says Manju Kapur, author of Home and Difficult Daughters, with a laugh. And Indian parents can never completely stop nagging even when their children move out. The real reason, she says is that, “there’s a great deal of unhappiness in families.” Simply put, “If you want your children to live with you, you’ve got to give them more freedom.”

Shawn Arranha.

A new nesting instinct
At 28, filmmaker Shawn Arranha (now 35) decided he no longer wanted to be questioned about his life. So he moved out of the family home in Bandra to settle in Andheri.

“Families don’t understand work pressure,” he explains. “They’ll call 10 times a day,” he says. “They worry about you eating the right food. But you’ve got deadlines and it’s very difficult to bridge the gap. So you either give in to your family or deal with your professional life, which inevitably goes down the drain.”

Arranha also claims his relationship with his parents has only improved since he moved. “Now when I go home, I get pampered a lot and it’s a great feeling,” he says.

There’s another, less acknowledged reason young people choose to move out. And it has to do with sex. Most Indian parents still don’t acknowledge the fact that their 20-something kids may be sexually active, which is another reason they desperately need their own space.

Psychoanalyst Dr Vinita Kshetrapal, associate professor at Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University, says that young people opt to move out "in search of an identity which includes sexual exploration." Mark Mathews (24, but name changed because his parents don’t know he’s sexually active), admits that if he had still been living with his parents, he’d probably "crash at other people’s houses all the time". Luckily, his parents are in Delhi and he works in Gurgaon. So his girlfriend can come over whenever she wants.

Apron-string theory
Parents are also going through a prolonged midlife crisis of their own. They have devoted their life to their children and so don’t understand this defiant need for individualism. But it passes, says Dr Sameer Malhotra, who heads the department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Max Hospital, Saket. “Parents usually go through a phase of depression but are comforted by the fact that their child is learning to be independent,” he says.

Ironically, it’s not independence at all. Jasmine Kaur (name changed), 24, who works at a consulting firm says that with domestic help, keeping house isn’t as hard. “There is the odd time when you Google ‘how to make khichdi’, but whenever I want pampering, I just go back home!” Journalist Shibani Bedi, 26, lugs laundry home every weekend – “Bedsheets, jeans, you know, all the bigger clothes” – and returns with tonnes of food.

Look closely, and most solo dwellers don’t seem like such heroes. Their new little rentals are little more than a halfway home. But that’s all right, says psychoanalyst Kshetrapal. “Complete independence is a myth. One will always be dependent on some human beings.” And it gives parents a sense of purpose. Everybody’s happy.

(Don't) Look to Bollywood
In Hindi films, there are only about three reasons for somebody to move out of their parents’ house Pyaar/bhaag ke shaadi A la Bobby, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak or even Ishaqzaade (they move into a brothel!) You’ve got to be young and in love. And very, very stupid “Mujhe aapki daulat, shauhrat, aisho-aaraam ki zindagi nahi chahiye

This is usually combined with the pyaar. Rich boy meets poor girl, gets disillusioned with papa ke paise. Remember Sharaabi? Maine Pyar Kiya? Saathiya? The ideological fight with the parental units We really, really liked Wake up Sid. But then, Ranbir moves right back in.

We really need new movies! Is Bollywood listening?

Step-by-step guide to moving out

1. Find a house (make sure the landlords don’t impose curfew), find a responsible roommate.

2. Drop a hint to the parents. Complain about the traffic, the distance to work and the long hours

3. Wait a week. Drop another hint. This time, make it about learning to manage your own affairs.

4. Always break it to them gently with the prefix: "I don’t know if I’ll be able to manage on my own but..." Parents love it when their kids take up a challenge.

5. Make sure you have enough cash for rent, getting around, utilities, groceries, clothes, enough to splurge on occasional wild nights and also find money to save.

6. Don’t let your friends crash over all the time or you’ll be the idiot cleaning up the mess.

7. Remember, laundry takes time! All the best!Tips on going solo? turn to tv

The best lessons are on television. Not Hindi shows, please – nobody wants THAT kind of drama in their family. Here’s what you should watch:

Four 20-something-year-old girls trying to make it in New York City. Hannah (Lena Dunham) is a jobless writer, Marnie is an art-gallery assistant-turned-hostess, Jessa is a free spirit and Shoshanna is a prudist student with daddy’s money. The show is halfway through its second season, but it only takes the first episode to realise how difficult it is to survive on your own in the big, bad city (and how much fun). Take cues from Hannah, no salary, no handouts from Papa. That’s a hard life.Your living at home can be pretty darn awful for the parental units too! Oh, the drama! But just like this Australian show, living at home has its sweet moments.

Julie and Dave Rafter were going to finally have the house to themselves, except the family starts trickling back in. Nathan and his wife Sammy are trying to save money by moving back in.

Rachel’s boyfriend is an abusive junkie. She’s a mess and back home.

And Ben? Well. He only moved next door.

There’s oodles of drama. It’s an Indian situation by default. You’ll realise your family isn’t the only oddball.

From HT Brunch, March 31

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First Published: Mar 29, 2013 15:39 IST