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Sunday, September 21, 2003

Life Ties

Do genes matter?
Taru Bahl

MALINI was a "commoner," married into a well-connected political family with a royal lineage. Not once was she allowed to forget that she was untutored in social niceties befitting the Singh family status. It didnít matter that her father was a retired Brigadier and her schooling and background impeccable. She did not complain since she knew what she was getting into before marrying ĎSatí (Satinder).

Accommodating conflicting directives hoping to fit in, trying to smile through deliberately hurled barbs was not easy. The final severance from the past came when she was asked to quit her job as F & B manager in the cityís most prestigious five-star hotel. The family abhorred the idea of their bahu planning menus for the yuppies and puppies of the town, trying hard to please those who ranked way below their social standing.

How she wished she could, like the other women, spend her day gossiping, playing cards, making jewellery and talking about children, ayahs and drunken straying husbands. What made things bearable was Satís complete understanding of her predicament. He reassured her that this phase was temporary and if she could abide with him things would change. They took a joint decision to migrate to New Zealand and use their joint skills to set up a chain of specialised food eateries. After two recee trips, extensive discussions and finalising local partners, they were off to a land which signified freedom and happiness.

Initially, Maliniís role was consultative since the kids were small. As they got more entrenched and the business started flourishing, she turned active. Yearly visits back home were largely dutiful in nature.

Malini was relieved to be out of the family scene, especially since the atmosphere of affluence was beginning to tell on the next generation. A high rate of divorce, pending and unresolved criminal cases, illegitimate relationships and rumours of incest were doing the rounds. The senior lot was busy drinking, womanising and travelling overseas. The younger generation was in boarding schools with an unlimited pocket allowance and the license to do whatever they pleased. Their connections in high places enabled them to get away with atrocities, further fuelling irresponsible behaviour. Sat and Malini were aghast at how things were shaping and dreading the fall out. They had thankfully protected their kids from this kind of power play which would have enveloped them had they stayed on in India. Whoever said that Western influences spoilt impressionable Indian teenagers hadnít met kids from politically well-connected families. While the older generationís errant behaviour and debauchery were still hush-hush things, covered up with the protective layer of guilt and embarrassment, youngsters were unabashed and unrepentant about their waywardness.

The girls were getting pregnant while still in school, boys were constantly in trouble be it getting embroiled in drunken brawls, misappropriation of funds or girl mess-ups. They non-chalantly used the family name first to commit excesses and then to bail themselves out. Sitting in New Zealand, when they heard of these stories through the media or friends, they were relieved at being out of their direct circle of influence. Sat had never taken his royal status seriously, so much so, he had removed the title of "Kunwar" on his sonís passport. He wanted his children to grow up healthily with heads firmly planted on their shoulders, prepared to slog for their daily bread and be accountable for their decisions.

A cozy cocoon was created in which the Singh family thrived. Till the day Malini discovered, through a common friend, her daughterís intimate involvement with another boy in their community. She also learned that the affair had ended since the boy had dumped her for another girl and that Malini was seriously contemplating suicide. This came as a shocker because so far she had credited the girl with sane behaviour. The realisation that her children were going through so much agony, besides having strayed, while she was as blind as a bat to the goings-on dawned on her. Were these family traits which were finally showing up? Were genes ultimately weightier than upbringing and physical environment ? Did her and Satís relocation tantamount to nothing? Were more skeletons going to tumble out of their childrenís closets and/or future horrors unfold? Did their sonís insistence on opting for a softer combination of subjects, preferring to make money the easier way have anything to do with the familyís trait of "doing nothing" for a living? The more Malini allowed her mind to think, the more paranoid she became, fearing the worst. What added to her fears was the childrenís increasing bonding with cousins back home and growing physical resemblance to some aunts and uncles. While they most certainly did not want to isolate them from the family, at this point, these "discoveries" were frightening.

Utterly confused about their parenting style, seeing the chasm grow between them and the kids and experiencing a huge sense of loss, the Singhís consulted a family counsellor for unbiased professional advice. After nearly six months of extensive sessions, a clearer picture emerged. They were advised not to get hyper. They had provided a foundation based on their own code of honour and ethics. The children had imbibed what they could and had to branch out on their own. Shielding and protecting them by hiding them was not going to ensure their safety and "non-corruption". Rather, what was needed was to allow them to find their place under the sun and to gently watch and be there to hold their hand when they reached out. Without being intrusive or nagging, they had to be more in tune with their emotional, psychological and spiritual growth.

To some extent, the effect of their genes would show up in inexplicable ways, defying whatever they stood for. They would have to take this in their stride and hope that their upbringing would ultimately enable them to take the right path with their head held high. Malini decided to take a Sabbatical from work. It was important for her to be around for the children at this stage to ensure just one thingóa free flow of communication. If she could create a harmonious rhythm at home and if Sat could spend more time, being the firmer more authoritative parent, they could overcome these transitional glitches. Together, they could see the kids through this crucial stage, until they flew out of the nest.

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