Recently my brother in law was with us for a couple of days. And he mentioned that he felt one must always be around "friends" at every life-stage. At that my husband remarked that in my case, I always stuck to my family. I then told them that for me, my family members are my friends. Not so in my husband's case - evidently.
Mine is a large family they say. We've been in Bangalore since the 1950s when my grandparents moved to this beautiful city. And we've always frequented one of the Malayali Syrian Christian churches [MSCC]. My grandmother's several siblings and cousins also frequented the same church in Bangalore with their families. With time, the 'C' family grew ['C' representing the family name from my grandmother's side]. I hear from my parents and other relatives that it was customary that after church service every Sunday, the entire "synyam" ["crowd" in Malayalam] went to one of the family homes for Sunday lunch. Organising family weddings combined with the barely-in-existence Bangalore public transport in the 1970s meant several days, if not weeks, of all the families staying together at the wedding home - planning, talking, cooking, eating and sleeping together.
I thus grew up in a household where family was always visiting. And this in the true Indian sense of the word "visit" which meant "impromptu/unannounced visits". My parents stayed with my grandparents and therefore there was always a visitor at home either from within Bangalore or many a time - cousins, uncles, aunts, somebody's somebody from outside of Bangalore, who knew no one else during their visit to this city and hence stayed with us. Staying in a hotel in those days - unheard of! Money was little, space even lesser, but (surprisingly) happiness abounded in the home.
My first-ever friend is my second cousin - she remains my best friend to this day. If it weren't for our tightly bonded families, she and I would have never been able to meet as much as we did as children, for after all we weren't sisters or even kids of siblings. We were grandkids of siblings. Yet the MSC Church that she and I attended and all those extended Sunday lunches and family visits helped grow such a strong tie of friendship between us that she ended up being the one to even introduce me to my future husband!
Just like our home had visitors, we in turn visited our relatives in Bangalore - some more often, some less frequently. As teenagers my brother and I resented being dragged to the lesser-known relatives' homes. So boring, we'd think (and say). But my parents would have none of that and didn't give us a choice. Today we are much better people for that. Those relatives are now our "friends". Their kids (our cousins) are grown up now and they help us personally and professionally. When my husband and I bought a home, we consulted my lawyer-cousin if the papers of the house were in order. In fact he helped us right through the process until the owner handed us the keys. Who better could we trust than our own family, in this matter?
Christmas in our family did not mean exchange of gifts. It did not even mean buying of new clothes or toys. But it did mean making lots of goodies for the family and a big-fat-family-lunch on Christmas day! The same at Easter. Just last Christmas we attended the customary family lunch at Mum's. Then dinner with more family - and we even partly missed a friends' get-together-dinner as we had to attend the family dinner. My colleague asked me, why not skip the family-dinner and go straight to the friends' get-together? I couldn't see the difference in being a part of either - after all, I would be amongst friends anyway.