Of Family tree and Quality time

My daughter & her little son were on a short holiday for 10 days in Bombay recently. Thanks to my grandson there was not a single dull moment. Ten days that she spent with us felt like 10 minutes and before we realized, it was time to leave for the US. I told my daughter: It looks like we did not spend much quality time together since I was all along playing with my grandson. She disagreed and said: No, how can you forget about the story sessions we had about our ancestors? I nodded in agreement.

We, indeed, had a couple of great sessions recollecting a few old stories of the family. When she first suggested that we draw up our family tree, I was reluctant saying it would be a boring exercise to dwell into the past. But she prevailed upon me to go through with the sessions. To my surprise, it proved to be an invaluable experience in several ways. For one thing, we did not limit ourselves to merely drawing up a family tree. We literally relived the past with a number of interesting stories. There are stories within stories, histories within histories, plots and counter plots. There were stories of love, passion, happy marriages, unhappy marriages, anger, jealousy, joy, misery, brilliant achievements, stories of vagabonds – you name it and you have it! It’s up to the narrator to make the narrative interesting and spicy.

Normally such narrative sessions get more interesting if one of our siblings is present to add or subtract to our stories. In my case I missed the presence of my sister who is definitely better informed in these matters.

Family history and stories are always fascinating. I’m reminded of what Salman Rushdie says in his book Midnight’s children: Memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.” He adds further:”partial nature of these memories, their fragmentation that make them so evocative for me. The shards of memory acquired greater status, greater resonance because they were remains. Fragmentation made trivial things seem like symbols, and the mundane acquired numinous qualities.”

One specific story, I particularly relished telling my daughter was about my grand father’s brother-in-law. He fought court battles throughout his life trying to recover his huge landed property he lost to an unscrupulous distant relative. During his visits to our place in our village, he used to spend several hours every night after dinner narrating the story of Mahabharata. Narration of stories from Mahabharata was just an excuse for him to tell his personal stories of how he lost his property. Comparisons with real life characters were inevitable as he used to compare himself with Yudhishtira and the guy who usurped his property with Duryodhana.

I happened to listen to stories from my wife’s side next as my daughter wanted to draw up the family tree from her mother’s side. Amazingly, I found that the stories are more or less similar. One will find similar emotions and passions on display. The variations may be only in degree but in essence they are all alike.It’s perhaps in this sense that J Krishnamurthy said: You are the world and the world is you! How true. I also found in these stories a full endorsement of insights of Leo Tolstoy. He observed famously in his novel Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I think the curiosity to know about one’s roots is innate to all human beings. In the West one hears stories of people using DNA fingerprinting to establish roots and understand their old cultural heritage dating back to several hundreds of years.

Published in: on June 27, 2015 at 9:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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