Our dear friend and contributor Havovi Govadia gives us something to think about…
Some old photographs landed in my WA messages. My Sister-in-law wrote that she couldn’t recognize some faces so would I be kind enough to enlighten her? I labeled the old long forgotten familiar faces and sent them back to her.
This simple task got me thinking. This generation would probably recognize their own aunts, uncles and cousins but would they have any rapport? Parents seem to have no time for this important duty of acquainting the younger generation of their kin. In this fast moving digital age, priorities seemed to have changed. The world has shrunk but distances have increased between families and friends.
But then I thought, Humans are inherently social creatures with a biological need for connection. This need for bonding with family, is unlikely to disappear entirely due to technology. While communication methods may evolve, the fundamental desire for connection with loved ones is likely to remain a constant.
That got me thinking further about connection and contact. Contact is important for keeping lines of communication open, staying informed, and maintaining a superficial level of connection. While personal connection fosters a sense of belonging and involves a deeper level of shared experiences and emotional support.
My mother greatly believed in “keeping in touch”. When we were young, we had to go along with her to visit various relatives – her sister, cousins who were settled in Bombay and other sundry aunts and uncles. We tagged along reluctantly, missing out on that evening’s play with our friends. No excuses were allowed.
At least once a month, we would visit my Mum’s youngest sister who lived in the suburbs. We had to change 2 buses to reach my aunt’s house but neither of us minded that. The trip itself was a kaleidoscope of different scenes and we would each try and grab a window seat. After the bright lights and hullaballoo of the city, going overnight to Malcolm Baug in the suburbs was akin to going out of Bombay on a short holiday. The greenery, the old bungalows, the chirping birds and of course the inevitable mosquitoes was a different scene altogether. It was also fun to meet our cousins, fly kites from the first floor open terrace, and have dinner in the lawns of the bungalow. The weekend would be over in no time and we would sadly head back home, changing two buses.
I specially remember visits to my Mum’s cousin who lived on Lamington Road very close to a movie theatre. After meeting her and her inevitable comments on how big we had grown since she last saw us, Goolanfui would shuffle out on the balcony and shout out at the hawker frying bhajias to send 3 plates over to her house. Happily anticipating and seeing our bhajias being fried we would also observe the goings on at the theatre. The romantic couples, families with many children, the lone Romeo eyeing the beauties, long queues at the booking office, the pushing, shoving and fights for the tickets before the windows closed and a “house full” board was displayed, were all a big source of entertainment for us. My brothers and I when reminiscing, feel amazed how we are spoilt for entertainment options today, when in those days going to cinema halls, was a highlight for any middle class family. After gorging on the bhajias and drinking Dukes lemonade or raspberry we would head back home with scenes of the cinema hall still swimming before our eyes.
One particular visit, left a deep impact on me. That visit was to meet my grandmother’s sister who was spending her sunset days at the geriatric Parsi ward at J.J. Hospital. Even today, the Parsi ward at J.J. hospital provides free services to bed-ridden, old and poor or physically and mentally disabled community members. These unfortunate seniors, whose families were unable to take care of them, were accepted and taken care of till they passed away. Mum would carry extra goodies for Ambaimasi. Her eyes would sparkle and face light up whenever she would see us obediently trooping in behind our Mum. We had been given instructions beforehand to refrain from being noisy and disturbing all the seniors there. After some time, feeling restricted, we would wander around and were usually offered toffees or biscuits by the inmates. As I grew older, I realized what old age entails. Along with your failing physical and mental well-being, it can be a period of acute stress if your children or close family are not there with you. Seniors are a treasure to be cherished and kept close to your heart. A life spent in service to others, deserves a better deal when they need it most.
Once in 3 or 4 months was the turn to meet my Dad’s uncle and aunt who were childless. They were serious people and asked us questions about our school progress, which my younger brother was loathe to answer. They would order for chips and cupcakes and once we had finished that treat, we would pester our parents to take us home. Then Uncle came in his element. To divert our minds, he started telling us tales about his adventures as an Engine Driver, which really fascinated us. Listening to stories and tales in person is so different from reading the same on Google. The animated facial expressions, the vivid hand gestures and the imagery it would conjure, all make story listening much more fun and impactful. We would listen goggle eyed to all that he had to relate. Alas this art also seems to be disappearing.
With our annual visits to meet our grandparents in the village, my mother made sure that a rapport was created and maintained between generations. My mother’s elder sister would also come with my cousins from Navsari. After spending 11 months in peaceful routine, my grandparents were probably rattled with a horde of descending grandchildren. We would pester our grandmother for snacks all the time. Endless chapattis were made which we would relish with desi ghee and jaggery. Jam, butter, cheese or other ready to eat snacks were a rarity in those days, so my poor grandmother was harried and compelled to make snacks for a perpetually hungry army of grandchildren. In hindsight now, I think we were like locusts devouring anything, even the salted tamarind preserved in huge ceramic jars. This was also the time when we met and renewed acquaintance with Mum’s various cousins and their families who would also be there for the summer vacation. It was indeed a time for families and generations to connect and get to know each other.
So through the year either we met some relatives or someone would drop by to meet us. The stream of visitors would especially be endless when my grandparents came visiting. This was the time when I got familiar with more relatives, distant and close. The house would ring out with a lot of laughter, cheer and happiness with these renewal of ties and reliving of old memories. I did not realize it at that time but a lot of those tales and faces were permanently etched in my memory bank.
It’s true that the digital age has undoubtedly changed the way we interact with others, especially compared to past days. While in-person visits with relatives were the norm, today video calls and online engagement often take their place. This shift comes with both advantages and disadvantages. For relatives living far apart, video calls offer a convenient way to stay connected and bridging the geographical distance. Sharing information and special moments with photos and videos become easy. But video calls, while helpful, cannot fully replace the intimacy and warmth of in-person visits. Real-life interactions, family traditions, shared meals, and physical touch all contribute to building strong family bonds.
Strong family relationships have a multifaceted importance. Familial ties foster emotional support and well-being, help in shaping moral values and communication skills and preserve cultural heritage and traditions. Through family interactions, individuals cultivate empathy, compassion and responsible behavior. Wisdom, experience and life lessons are shared between generations.
While video calls are convenient, parents should aim for in-person visits whenever possible. Schedule regular trips or weekend getaways to strengthen family bonds and create lasting memories. This is especially true of parents who are first generation migrants and are raising children away from home turf. Research shows that children who have a strong family narrative, enjoy better emotional health. Being in touch with their roots gives them a connection to their ancestry and instils in them a sense of history. In order to acquaint their children of their roots, regular visits to meet grandparents and other relatives back home is important.
In conclusion, while technology will undoubtedly continue to shape family dynamics, it’s important to remember that humans are hardwired for connection. By embracing technology responsibly and prioritizing real-world interactions, we can ensure that future generations still cherish their families and find joy in connecting with close relatives, whether in person or through technologically facilitated avenues.