20 November 2010

Formality in relationships - is it so bad?

Indian upbringing has very little respect for formality. True, we are brought up to respect our elders and to do their bidding unquestioningly. We are expected to touch their feet everytime we meet them. But other than this, formality in relationships is usually absent. When you move to a new neighborhood, a nosy neighbor drops in with a piping dish and does not hesitate to ask every last detail about your family. Are you married? How many kids? Normal delivery or Caesarian?! When a girl is first introduced to her husband's family, she is interrogated about her life so far. If she fails to respond warmly to this kind of informality, she is immediately branded as aloof or snooty. This works the other way too. If there is an older parent living with you - you want to know where he/she went, whom they met, are they dressed appropriately? You basically forget that these are the folks who toilet-trained you, taught you how to tie your shoelaces. And suddenly, you treat them like another child.

Basically there is no room for privacy or 'space' in our culture. And cultures that have it in abundance viz. America - well, we look down upon the family structure they have. "The children out of the house by age 18! Not staying with or supporting old parents! Old age homes! In our country, we have mother's day and father's day everyday of the year..." These are the judgemental cracks you get to hear regarding the Americans - this includes NRIs. Divorce used to be an ugly word. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to express an opinion on your marriage. Whereas in the States, no one thinks to question your marital status unless he is intending to propose/date you.

Indians pride themselves on their informality. When they travel abroad, they sing praises of the natural and man-made beauty there but at the same time they wonder at the 'cold and distant' behavior by the natives. Reserve and shyness are negative traits as far as Indians are concerned. Any relationship that does not have passionate outbursts is alien and suspicious to us.

Yes, US. For I too belong to the category that abhorred reserve and formality. I have always found it hard to put my faith in people who cannot or will not express their emotions openly. But over the years I've learned that there is no correct way to demonstrate one's feelings. Some people are good at it, some try to be, and others suck at it or just won't try. It doesn't mean that they do not feel anything. Of course, anyone who has heard of emotional intelligence knows that its good for your relationships, and your health, to be able to communicate your thoughts and emotions effectively. We Indians set a lot of store by intelligence quotient (IQ),  but unfortunately, very few of us understand the importance of emotional intelligence quotient (EQ). Those who have high EQ have mastered the art of LIFE.

There are various factors at play here. No two fingers of your palm are alike. In the same way, every member in the family is different and has been through different experiences. If people accept these differences and learn to live with them, there would be very little friction in families. Besides, its more peaceful when various members in serious disagreement voice their opinions in a more civil, if cold, manner than resorting to harsh, unforgiving words or violence. As long as the invisible line of civility is not crossed, relationships can survive a lot of strain. However, when the basic civilities are forgotten, then in the long run resentment and bitterness set in. What is the point is carrying on such relationships even if you share the same roof as family? It is better to part and be civil than stay and hate each other everyday. There is a certain grace in formality and giving each other space. There are some decisions that need to be taken as a family and some that are very personal. The trick is knowing which is which.

1 comment:

Shruti said...

Very well thought out post, Neel. I feel though that there are two kinds of families in India - the polite ones and the somewhat 'raucous' ones. My family falls into the latter category and my husband's into the former. I agree that a shouting match is the not the best way to settle disputes but often I have seen that very polite families have cracks in their social relationships that run so deep, they manifest themselves after years and years in drastic steps such as suicide. I suppose as with anything else, the 'middle path' is always the best one.

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