Rashi Ben and the myth of 'simple' family
I remembered this uneasiness as the phrase 'simple family' was repeatedly bandied in responses to the ongoing televised hunt of Rhea Chakraborty
Recently, I—and I'm sure many of you—have been cracking up over the viral mashup, Rasode Mein Kaun Tha, a scene from the TV show Saath Nibhana Sathiya, featuring its characters Kokilaben, Gopi and Rashi, set to music. The clip made me laugh. But, it also made me uneasy.
I remembered this uneasiness as the phrase 'simple family' was repeatedly bandied in responses to the ongoing televised hunt of Rhea Chakraborty.
What is simple about Indian families? As Kokilaben made Kathakali eyes, threat levels rising in her voice, many youthful terrors shivered into remembrance. I remembered an older relative, who, as I scrubbed my sheets stained overnight during a heavy period, would carry out a dramatic elocution—supposedly talking to someone else, but intended for my ears—'thinks she's very smart, but can't even control this'—as if something I couldn't control, was proof of my degraded nature. My degraded nature, which wanted to speak its mind, be free and do its own thing.
I remembered my hostel matron, who would enter a room, flooding it with terror, asking, not rasode mein, but bathroom/common room mein kaun tha? Kaun tha! The strangled hush in the room, the craven fear as your mind raced to scrutinise your every action, in case you were the one who had made a mistake. Hostel wardens still 'look after' students with these behaviours modelled on family dynamics of control and terror. Indians hate to say sorry, because it invites not acceptance, or simple penalties, but punitive mean-ness.
A friend wryly described another simple truth about simple families. "All those families with two sisters and a brother, usually the youngest." Son preference embodied as a daily truth. We will be free with our daughers, but beta toh beta hota hai. Save the chicken leg for 'chhota' – yaniki beta, no TV for anyone if bhaiya is studying. But beta better be straight, successful and marry whom parents choose. And if she's not 'simple' yaniki obsequious, we will turn on the dream daughter-in-law for 'taking our son away to her side.' Ever heard anyone say the mean son-in-law took the daughter away to 'his side'? I didn't think so.
"Simple" is an infantilising word used to maintain age-old hierarchies. Poor people are called "simple", yaniki their anger, pain, struggle erased so elites don't feel complicated feelings about privilege. Simple dark-skinned girls, simple people with disabilities—everyone we treat as burdens, not equals, is "simple".
Simple is a word families use to breed distrust not only of the world, but of yourself. Your personal desires, friendships, interests, timepass, career preferences—everything that make you an autonomous adult—are seen as betrayals, met with tears, threats and drama. You can exist only through splitting yourself—playing a role, while hiding your individual self. Feeling guilt or shame when this self emerges, in love, sex or intimacies with others, you will lash out at people, who 'pressured' you into those glimpses of freedom. No mystery about the emotional unavailability and inexplicable harshness of men in relationships—it comes from that "simple" upbringing.
Families, who learn to embrace what's complicated - negotiations of individuality and togetherness —have some hope of simplicity. But, so dyed is our society in the complicated dynamics of simple (patriarchal) families, this difference only calls up fear and loathing-crushing the world with a violent loneliness.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at email@example.com
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