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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Indian Joint Family System

I've spent 24 hours of the last 36 hours in a train travelling to and back from a small town (approx. 200,000 population size - thats small by indian standards) in the state of Gujarat.   A 16 year old cousin met with her death in a road accident - she was on a two-wheeler, swerved to avoid a cow in the middle of the road and was crushed by an oncoming truck.  Really sad.

On the way there, we had thoughts about how utterly broken the parents and grandparents must be.  And feelings of inadequacy in offering words of comfort to them.  When we got there, expecting an air of gloom, we were completely engulfed by the warmth of the family - the comforters became the comforted.  Two words that struck us immediately - dignified and brave. 

This is a classic Indian Joint Family - man and wife, three sons and their wives and children. Individual quarters built for each of the sons and their families - yet under one roof with common kitchen, dining and washing areas. Provisions made to partition the home in case of rifts.  Thats the structure - but what really struck us were the relationships and interactions.  The grandparents are old, have been really hit badly by this - yet were always encouraging the younger ones to get on with life.  The sons going off to work - but dropping in almost every hour - silent support.  The daughters-in-law (including the mother who had lost her child 4 days ago) working cohesively and harmoniously - looking after so many guests - food, laundry etc - yet spending time with us sharing stories about the young girl, breaking into tears sometimes, one taking over when the other was distraught, at other times smiling and enthusiastically showing us the house they had just moved into a year ago, and buying local goodies for us to sample from the hawkers that came by the door.  The children too - lovingly tending garlanded photos of their cousin, never once letting the insence sticks or lamps go out.

Difficult to tell which was the mother or the father.  Difficult to tell she was the only child.  Yet each person an individual in their own right - we met many of them for the first time - and i find i can recall all their names and little things about each of them that made them so different from the other.  And each a dignified member of the family.

Made me really think of the Indian Joint Family System.  The power and wisdom.  The courage and tremendous support that this cohesive unit can bring.  The warmth that it can envelope you in.  

As a student of sociology, i've studied 'merits and demerits' of the system.  Studied with greater attention, the tensions and conflicts that can arise.  As a researcher, i've often discussed it with housewives in group discussions - and have heard these comments : 

"its a tremendous support - when you are unwell or need to go out or even get a job - you don't worry about your children being alone.  You know they are safe and in good hands.  We couldn't be so tension-free at this discussion otherwise"

"children learn to share everything - their joys and sorrows, their triumphs and failures, their toys, chocolates, books"

and from those not living in a joint family :

"although you like your freedom - sometimes i feel there's more freedom within the joint family. Sometimes you really miss not having people around.  Elders you can turn to for advice, others for support."

Until now i had never really felt it or experienced it first-hand myself.  And I have been guilty of deriding this 'idealistic' system many times.  But i realise now that i've always placed much more emphasis on the structure - perhaps because its more overtly observable - rather than on other ways of studying the family. It is the quality of interactions among family members, so downplayed as a real unit of analysis. 

And it is this bond that grows from common shared family experiences that we were witness to.  That has much more depth and goes well beyond the tensions and conflicts in "mother-in-law vs daughter-in-law" or "sister-inlaw vs another sister-in-law" themes and tussles that our media reflects through cinema, advertising and television serials.  Nor is it the stereotype with images of benevolent parents, brothers and sisters and their spouses and children displaying cloying affection towards each other and willing to sacrifice their happiness for the sake of the family. 

8:12:53 PM    comment []  trackback []

Blogging for me - 2003

Its been a strange last quarter 2003 for me. 

On the personal front, first a holiday for a month - fun, moving home - chaos, a minor surgery my husband had to go through - anxiety, and just back this morning from attending a funeral for a 16 year-old cousin who was so tragically killed in an road accident - sadness.  

On the work front, there's been much churn and excitement.  Continuing to do what i call my 'bread and butter' work (qualitative research studies).  Exploring new avenues in the areas of KM, intranets, communications, collaborative technology and software.  Meetings with potential Clients resulting in proposals and prototyping demos as starters, to working out solutions for them, working with the Actionable Sense group, and working on joint projects with some others. 

Thinking of how blogging fits into all this.  I started my blog in March this year - and i know it has grown.  I generally like my blog, I feel like blogging, blog what i feel, enjoy the community its built around, and go with the flow.  Yet there are times that i think about blogging and how and what i blog.  Especially like now - when i'm not really happy with my blog - in the last two months or so i've been linking stuff, but not really adding much value or sharing too many of my own thoughts on the topics i've blogged.  

Sharing more of my thoughts here in a ramble :

When i started blogging, i'd carefully and closely monitor hits, rankings, who's reading my blog etc.  And that was motivation to blog better.  Today i find that the hits and rankings while motivating for sure - aren't enough to make me really happy about the quality of my posts - a small example here - in the last couple of months i've seen my hits and rankings grow - yet i'm not happy about the fact that it perhaps has more to do with people/sources/articles i've been linking to rather than a reflection of my own value additions or analyses or thoughts. 

When i think of what i've gained from blogging, i've made some great friends with whom i can share many parts of my life with.  I've also been stunned sometimes at the personal discoveries i've made through the act of blogging - about my own dreams, persuasions and passions, some of which i talk about more openly, others that make me see with new eyes, still others that i maynot be able to consciously pinpoint but that have allowed me to grow as a person.   And on the work-front, or professional front - today i have so many options that i could never have dreamt possible before i started blogging and interacting with this community - there's many loose-ends still, yet some clear directions too.

There are some blogs that are personal and some that are more professional or work-related.  And some that straddle both so neatly.  I'm not sure what mine is - or what i want it to be - or what my readers like to read / see.  Or that it should matter at all.   But it niggles at me. 

What i am going to do for starters is : 

- a small study of blog posts i have made - those that are my personal favourites, those that i'm proud of, those that i'd rather hide away.

- identify some 'threshold' posts, examine those that got maximum feedback by way of trackbacks and comments or picked up by Google/Feedster, those that made more 'noise' reflecting back on my hits, ratings and rankings vs those that got picked up more for original thought.

- re-examine categories and rebuild them. 

Perhaps things will be clearer then ......   

3:01:33 PM    comment []  trackback []

Forecasts for Year 2004

Marketing communications agency Euro RSCG Worldwide has released forecasts for year 2004, drawing insights from ongoing research by the agency's S.T.A.R. (Strategic Trendspotting and Research) team and from a global panel of colleagues in 75 countries who report in regularly on local trends and information.

Nice to see Blogging mentioned as one of the key trends - and the hope that marketers realise its potential as a powerful medium of communication !

And if you look beneath the 'jargon' and advertising lingo - its neat to observe that many of these trends can be spotted here in India - especially among youth, and a growing segment of young adults. 

The following is a sample of trendsightings contained within Euro RSCG's latest white paper: "Year in Prospect: 2004":

- Going Local: 2004 will be the year when neighbors entertain neighbors with a home-cooked (or at least reheated ... ) stew at the kitchen table, informality being the subtheme, genuine bonding being the real theme. We'll also put more emphasis on socializing in the neighborhood, at the very local restaurants, with extended tribes of families and friends. No age barriers, just the desire for comfort food with an urbane twist and real conversation versus the kissy-kissy greetings and superficiality of life before the New Normal.

- Us vs. Them: The flip side of going local is a greater sensitivity to what's not local -- in other words, a stronger sense of Us and Them. Globalization and interactive technologies have brought a lot of people around the world closer together and furthered international trade, but, contrary to hopes and expectations, greater exposure has come to mean more scope for negative perceptions to develop. In some parts of the world, the coming year is likely to see deeper divisions across existing fault lines-Muslim/non-Muslim, conservative/liberal, urban/rural, pro-life/pro-choice, pro-gay/anti-gay.

- Rise of the Singletons: In the Old Normal, modern Western societies were based on marriage and the nuclear family. In fact, nearly 80% of households in the U.S. in 1950 were made up of married couples, with or without children. Today, that number is 50.7%, and unmarried men and women will soon be the majority. That is the New Normal.  Despite the numbers, married couples are still considered the "norm." That will slowly change as marrieds become more of a minority and as unmarrieds band together to make their weight felt in matters pertaining to such things as taxation, insurance, and employee benefits. Already, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's newest numbers, unmarrieds make up 42% of the U.S. workforce, 40% of homebuyers, and 35% of voters. That spells serious clout.

- Self-Gifting: Gifts used to be something one gave to others -- and anticipated receiving in return. This holiday season we're seeing more people cut out the middleman -- a survey by American Express found that one in five adults admit to "almost always" buying something for themselves when they're out shopping for gifts for others -- and that's a trend that will only grow stronger in 2004. The trend toward "less is more" and "simplicity" has been pushed aside by "Why wait?" and "I'm worth it."

So what will people be buying for themselves in 2004? We'll see a pushback against overly opulent or ostentatious self-purchases, with more value given to objects with a sense of nostalgia, history, and "old money." Rather than designer clothes and one-off wants, we'll see purchases of more longstanding value. We'll want to reward ourselves with items that connect us to simpler, less hurried times. Little luxuries rather than over-the-top indulgences.

- Catering to Metrosexuals: We'll see more pandering in 2004 to the metrosexual population, including publication of gentlemen's guides, more spa facilities at high-end sports clubs, and richer, more luxurious fabrics and bedding aimed at the male market. Metrosexual dads will be presented with baby product lines that let them be hands-on fathers while still remaining stylish. Among the options currently available: the Jack Spade Dad Bag, complete with leather trim and an inside pocket for a baby pad (US$250 at Neiman Marcus).

- Anti-Globesity Campaigns: As the world struggles with the global rise in obesity, we'll see many new products and practices come to the fore. Dean Rotbart, editor of LowCarbiz, expects low-carb product sales to exceed US$15 billion in 2003 and possibly reach US$30 billion in 2004. We'll also see a rise in "alternative" forms of exercise for children, including yoga and salsa dancing. And don't think Fifi and Fido are off the hook: According to the U.S. National Research Council, approximately a quarter of dogs and cats in the Western world are overweight, resulting in higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases. Expect to see increased focus on pets' diets and physical fitness (Atkins for Animals, anyone?).

- Blogging: 2003 was the year in which weblogging -- a.k.a. blogging -- really took hold, with an estimated 3 million sites worldwide. In 2004, we'll see more buzz marketing via blogs, as marketers figure out ways to use this new medium for their own means.

- Google Bombing and Further Politicization of the Internet: In 2004, we'll see greater politicization of the Internet as more people take advantage of its ability to apply concentrated "people power," whether by organizing volunteers for a political candidate, raising funds, or starting a boycott. One thing we'll be keeping our eye on: Google bombing. Popular search engine Google works by picking up on associations between websites and particular words and phrases. Earlier this month, anyone who typed in the words "miserable failure" on Google was directed to the official White House biography of President George W. Bush. The prank was the brainchild of a computer programmer who e-mailed blogs with an anti-Bush stance and urged them to link the phrase to the biography site. We can expect plenty more of this tactic during the upcoming election year-including a likely counter-offense from pro-Bush bloggers.

- Hot Spots and E-Wear: The wireless revolution will expand further in 2004 thanks to the growth of "hot spots," or public spaces in which wireless Internet connections are available. Technology research company Gartner estimates that the 29,000 hot spots in North America today will leap to more than 50,000 by the end of 2004. We'll also see technology integrated into our wardrobes, with pockets designed to transport our portable gadgets. So-called "e-Wear" already on the market include the Levi's Dockers Mobile Pant.

- Executive Coaches: The latest must-have status symbol in the upper echelons of business: the personal executive coach, tasked with time-efficient "high- potential grooming" and "performance enhancement" of up-and-coming talent. This is a shift from the trend toward executive coaches in the 1990s, which were primarily used by individuals to assist in their own career advancement. The burgeoning coaching market is worth an estimated US$1 billion worldwide, a figure that Harvard Business School expects to double in the next two years as corporations work to get higher levels of performance from their staffs without burning them out.


8:18:56 AM    comment []  trackback []