Last week the Mehtas were invited to the Khanna wedding. There was nothing unusual in that because the Khannas had invited the entire neighbourhood and the Mehtas were dear friends of the Khannas. And it was expected that the Mehtas would not only be invited to all the functions but also attend all of them. So when Mr. and Mrs. Khanna received Mr. Mehta at the reception line, they were a bit surprised to see Mr. Mehta all alone…well not exactly alone but accompanied by his two daughters.
“Where’s Mrs. Mehta?” Mr. Khanna inquired, “All well with her na?”
“Yes of course!” replied Mr. Mehta in his usual way, “She’s coming with Susheel,” he said referring to his son, “I decided to come with the girls instead!”
“No problem at all,” said Mr. Khanna, frankly expecting this behavior from the Mehtas and patting old Mr. Mehta’s back, introduced his new daughter-in-law’s parents to his old friend. “Meet Mr. Mehta, an old friend from our building,” he said, “We’ve been neighbours forever and these are his daughters, Naina and Roma, they’ve all played with Rakesh as children.”
“Hello Uncle,” piped up Rakesh, happy to see Mr. Mehta. “I hope Pappu and aunty are also coming,” he said with a wink, familiar with the Mehta’s peculiarity of travelling separately to the same destination. In fact the whole building knew that the Mehtas preferred living independent lives under the same roof and didn’t even travel down in the same lift! They always wondered why Mr. Mehta preferred to take a lift with his daughters who lived away rather than come with his son who stayed together with him! Mr. Mehta and his wife lived with their son and his family and on the face of it, seemed like one big happy family where three generations lived in peace and harmony.
But, things are not always what they seem. Underneath the calm and happy façade was a series of ripples of discontent because Mr. Mehta was one of those people who liked to polarize his family by fostering and encouraging sibling rivalry. In the Mehta household, the battle lines were simply drawn – Mr. Mehta and the daughters on one side and Mrs. Mehta and their son on the other side.
Fathers are equally responsible
Sadly there are increasing numbers of parents like the Mehtas who like to play ‘Divide and rule’ and actually encourage siblings to be rivals rather than friends. It was sad really because the daughters were married and living separately while Mr. and Mrs. Mehta lived with their son and his family, all under one roof. As is the case with every family, there were occasional words that were exchanged or even unsaid slights and misunderstandings.
Equally naturally, old Mr. Mehta used to feed his daughters with his daily dose of complaints but unfortunately, the daughters refused to be mere onlookers but actually took sides against their brother and mother. Mr. Mehta particularly exploited the situation to his advantage and made sure that he got his children to do his bidding. For instance, ever since he retired, he never kept a car but would make sure he always got a chauffeur driven car from his children; he’d complain to this daughters that he never got to use his son’s car so they made sure to give him a car when they could and his son would give him a car out of fear of being labeled a bad son!
And this was his strategy in getting freebies from his children – plane tickets, doctors’ fees, even clothes and his favourite food! Thus in a very cunning and devious manner, the old man thrived in keeping his children ‘apart’ so that he could benefit from this mutual dislike he had bred in them.
Now everyone naturally assumes that mothers are solely responsible for building happy families but it fathers are equally responsible for the happiness quotient in families as proven by Mr. Mehta.
Be the Glue
Sadly, the Mehtas aren’t the only family afflicted by this disease. There are several families that are split down the centre by parents, who instead of setting an example of unity, actually encourage sibling rivalry just so that their own egos are fanned.
Happy families are not accidental; like every tree that grows tall and strong, they require a lot of work. And unlike the belief that it is the mother who sets the tone, I feel it is equally up to the father to determine the outcome of the family structure and dynamics. Each parent will have a favourite child but a responsible and mature parent will not let his/her personal bias affect the family. Competition among siblings should be encouraged within reason and siblings should be encouraged to love each other rather than be pitted against each other for their parents’ attention.
As a mother of two thirty-year old daughters and a grandmother of a nineteen week old grandson, Sunita Rajwade has been there and done that. A hands on mom, she has seen two girls grow successfully through babyhood, toddler hood, adolescence and adulthood; solving their maths problems and contributing to their angst of growing up with a mom “who doesn’t understand”. But now as a grandmother, she’s being appreciated for her “wisdom” and “understanding” and would like to share her experiences of this wonderful journey from motherhood to grand-motherhood.