The Joint Family syndrome

by Asifur Rahman Khan

ali hossain mintu

ali hossain mintu

With beef priced at Tk 400 per kilogramme, it certainly pays to being a vegetarian. Not that I am a vegetarian, but contemplating on the switch. And it’s not just the price of beef. Last year, when I wanted to put my three year old daughter into a decent school, I was dumbfounded at the admission that these ‘decent’ schools charged. Apparently, decent English-medium schools taking Tk 80,000 to Tk 250,000 for admission is a piece of cake for the rising middle class segment of the society. Now that’s just the admission fee. One of the schools I looked into in Gulshan charged Tk. 17000 per month for a playgroup student. Tk. 17000! Just imagine the greed.
Of course, schools always defended their pricing strategy. It’s not just schools. The butcher I go to is complaining the supply from India has dried up, hence the rise in price. So when I get a text message from Agora on Thursday saying that their premium beef is priced at Tk 370, I am one of the first customers to arrive on Friday. In fact, with the rising cost, I have started doing my grocery shopping at the Gulshan 1 DCC market, where I can buy a can of mushroom for only Tk 90 whereas the same can is sold at Tk 130 at other supermarket chains. Good pricing strategy in the face of customer’s ignorance.
Speaking of ignorance, I had to digest a huge load of ignorance when my wife asked me, ‘Now that I will start working in the largest NGO of the world, who will take care of Raha during the day time?’ Raha is my three year old daughter who is the only non-earning member of my family. For obvious reasons, I still wanted beef, and for that, I needed my wife to work, and for her to work, I needed to find an answer to her question. When I looked around for a good day-care centre, I learned that I had to sell both my kidneys to finance my daughter’s residence at the day-care centers. The problem was, selling both the kidneys will only get me enough money to last a year. Then what? I only got two kidneys!
Hiring a nanny was the next option, but that too involved paying Tk. 15000-20000 with all the benefits that Grameenphone offered to its employees. Again, I want to eat beef, so that option was out. Keeping a full time maid was another option, but I heard horror stories about how kind maids treated children in the absence of the parents. Reminded me of Saw, the entire series!
That reminds me of the rent. If I was the director of Saw, I would have certainly kept a scene involving a middle class family chained in a room and a landlord demanding increasing rent from the family for staying in the room. My grandmother who lives in Kolkata has been paying Rs. 1200 for a 2000 square foot house since 1965 till now, courtesy of some obscure law where it prevents the landlord from ever increasing the rent. The same benefit does not exist for us, where I have to bow down to the demands of the landlord despite his bad breath and ever expanding bubble of greed.
All the above problems have been equated through a common denominator; money. Sounds shallow, but that’s what I have to deal with every month to raise a family of just two members, my wife and my daughter. Even then, even with a wife who insisted on working despite the chance to be a trophy wife or a fat housewife, raising a family in Dhaka city is mighty expensive. So expensive that I would have to forget about that annual trip to India, let alone dream about a Euro tour.
But with a father like mine, who is often used by Oxford Dictionary to define logical, I saw the practical side of life many months before I got married. Despite my playful attitude towards life, I knew what I had to do to keep having that playful attitude towards life. So before I got married, I told my soon-to-be wife that we will be living with my parents. At first there was heavy resistance with dialogues like ‘I want to have my own family’ and ‘What will happen to our privacy’ and ‘Can we party properly’, but I was rigid in my stance.
To be honest, of course there were problems. Problems in adjusting. Problems in maintaining. Problems in understanding. But the benefits were obvious; the rent and grocery expenses were shared between me and my dad, allowing me to save up for the annual trips to India and the decade-awaited Euro tour. Any problem that I faced was fought back with the ‘we’ stance. And the most important benefit was understood after having a child. You see, most pregnancies start off with the cute picture of a child sleeping on his/her stomach with the butt up, but they end with the delivery of a wailing lump of meat that requires constant attention. This attention, if derived from one or two people, can severely strain the sanity of two individuals, namely the wife and husband, or the mother and father. I guess that’s why my mother shrieked in shock when she heard that my wife was pregnant in the fourth month of our marriage. But in a joint family, I had my father, mother and my brother to help with the duties related to child care. The insane workload associated with taking care of a child was neutralised with the combined effort of everyone within our family.
Lately, my brother is also getting serious about ‘settling down’ with a girl who I still have not met. He is also thinking about going Chernobyl, i.e. nuclear family, but I am trying to convince him about the benefits of living in a joint family. I show him the scores of people belonging to my generation who are now living in a joint family. I show the plight of Chernobyl families. I show him how easy it is to raise a family when you have the support of your immediate family. Let’s see which way he moves.

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