<%-- Page Title--%> Musings <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 112 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July 4, 2003

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Family Ties
Nadia Kabir Barb

Loneliness is probably something that most of us are afraid of. No one wants to feel alone or isolated and as they say, “No man is an island”. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves that we are self-sufficient, at the end of the day we need some sort of human interaction. Even though I may not live in Dhaka or live in an extended family, I am lucky enough to be part of a rather large, somewhat geographically spread out but extremely close knit family. As we often joke amongst ourselves, we have a family network that parallels any news network you can think of! One of us so much as sneezes in London and we are sure to get “bless you” messages from Bangladesh, Kenya, the U.S. or wherever my relatives happen to be living at the time. Although some people may find being part of such a large family a bit overwhelming and at times intrusive, it can also be a great blessing. Speaking from my personal experience, the pros outweigh the cons by a long stretch.
While we were growing up in Dhaka, despite the fact we had friends from school and from our neighbourhood, the truth of it was that there were so many cousins of the same age in our family that we never lacked for companionship. We were cousins but more than that we were friends. Even now when we all get together (not as often as we would like as we are unfortunately scattered around the world) it still feels like it used to when we were kids and to an onlooker, our behaviour may possibly show signs of mental regression. We still laugh at the same jokes we used to when we were about ten and have memories like elephants when it comes to remembering things like, “Do you remember the time when you did….!” The only difference now is that we are all a bit (okay a lot) older and most of us have our own kids in tow. As some people have commented we can be rather clannish and when we meet up, the rest of the world seems to fade into the background. That is an accusation I would find hard to deny. In fact a while ago one of my cousins came to London on a business trip and spent a few days with us. I have to confess that we were so wrapped up in reminiscing and taking trips down memory lane that on one occasion I completely forgot to take my son to a birthday party and my daughter for her riding lesson (oops).
I am not saying that all families are like this or that there aren't drawbacks to having a family that is so all encompassing. It can also be rather stressful at times. For example it is not always possible to please everyone. There will be disagreements and differences of opinion but that is par for the course. It happens in any family no matter how close you are. But the main thing is that if the foundations of the relationship between the individuals are strong, soon all is forgiven and forgotten. It is also not the case that having a large family necessarily equates to any kind of closeness or unity between the members. Cousin “X” may be a complete bore and Uncle “Y” may try and lecture you on everything under the sun every time you meet him! If you get down to basics you may just not like your relatives. That can make life very awkward when you are supposed to be one big happy family. This is where I thank my lucky stars that I have a family who genuinely do get on with each other. In fact some people think we are rather odd because we are so unashamedly fond of each other (well most of the time…). “Close knit” does not have to be synonymous to “interfering”, “meddlesome” or “we know what's best for you”. It should really be the case that no matter how geographically apart you may be there is still a strong bond between you and you are there for each other in good times and bad times.
If you have watched enough Star Trek episodes or films, you will be familiar with the species called the “Borg”. They are all interconnected with each other telepathically and are totally interdependent on one another. They try to incorporate any other species they come into contact with and are famous for their one liner “resistance is futile you will be assimilated.” I think that is exactly what happens when you marry someone from a large family! I know that being part of such an entity is wonderful if you are born into it but if you are marrying into it, it may feel like marrying into the mafia and must be rather daunting and a bit overwhelming! Okay, so we may not have the ring kissing sessions and talk in barely audible rasping voices, nor do we eliminate people who don't fit into the “family” but we do look after our own. If I was Al Pacino, I would be saying something along the lines of, “You mess with me, you mess with my whole family.” I am sure you get my drift. No matter where you are or whatever trouble you are in, the “family” is there to lend a helping hand.
Living in London, I sometimes wonder how people get by without the support system many of us are used to, especially having been brought up in the East. I have found out that being a parent you just cannot afford to be ill. Who will look after the children, do the cooking, cleaning etc.? These are problems that can feel insurmountable. But having the knowledge that you are never really on your own provides a sense of security that is hard to express. At least with this clan like mentality, you can rest assured that you will be looked after even if it means people having to fly out from the far corners of the globe to do it. When I visit hospitals in London I find it heartbreaking that so many of the patients just spend their entire time alone with no family by their side during their time of need. Occasionally you see a visitor or two arriving with a bunch of flowers. On the other end of the spectrum you find a lot of the Asian patients constantly surrounded by people (not that that is always a good thing) trying to make their relatives as comfortable as possible and yes going as far as telling the nurses and doctors how to do their job! I am sure no one will disagree with the comment that we all like to feel loved and cared for. Given a choice, I would definitely opt for the “bunch of relatives” rather than the “bunch of flowers”.
I can only extrapolate from my own experience and say that in the same way that all individuals are different, so are all families. I guess I would not trade my mob-like family in for a new set of relatives even if I were suddenly given the choice. That and the fact that if I were to say otherwise, they may indeed decide to put a reward on my head!


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