Family jhanjat

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Apr 6 2014, 07:55am hrs
Jhanjat (mess)! is how Akash, a 35-year-old Delhiite, described his family-living composition. He was narrating his rigmarole family life, which went from being a joint family to a nuclear family, then back to a joint family, which broke up to become a neo-joint family; his brothers home then turned into an extended nuclear family.

Akashs father was in the railways. His mother joined government service in Delhi where Akash grew up with his younger sister, brother and grandparents. Ten years ago, they arranged his marriage to Sunita, who was from a large joint family. She fitted in like a glove in his family, managing the home under directions from her mother-in-law. His sister subsequently got married and left the home, while Akashs unmarried brother started to earn. Thats when Akashs office transferred him to Mumbai.

Initially, Sunita was extremely hesitant. Who will cook, clean and look after the joint family she was managing Moreover, she was nervous about the unknown Mumbai city; she had never lived alone before. What would she do when Akash would travel for work, as he frequently does She procrastinated for a year and then joined him.Within eight months, she started enjoying her nuclear living style. A son was born and she passed four happy years in Mumbai. When Akash was transferred back to Delhi, it was somehow obvious that they would return to Akashs joint family home. In the meantime, Akashs brother had married; his wife worked in a travel company. Akashs father asked his first-floor tenant to leave, so that Akash could move in. In a few years, Akashs brother was blessed with two children.

So theirs became a big joint family, two married brothers with wives, children, parents and grandparents under one roof, one kitchen. Having lived independently for a while, Akash and Sunita had become used to Mumbais lifestyle with late-night outings. Sunita was now pre-occupied with her childs welfare and meeting her friends at daytime kitty parties. This seemed to upset Akashs mother, who expected the same docile service from her older, non-working daughter-in-law.The younger daughter-in-law evoked different expectations, as she was career-oriented. Moreover, she had entered their home when the parents had become used to managing the home without Sunita. So the younger couple lived resourcefully and displayed no untoward ways that his parents found unacceptable.

Returning home at untimely hours was starting to become a loosened hinge, especially as Akashs brothers wife was continuously reporting their late hours to the in-laws. A cold war developed between the two bahus (daughters-in-law), a Mumbai-waali (from Mumbai) with new attitude and the other exhibiting unstated superiority of her money-earning ability, which put her in her in-laws good books. Sunita fell from grace because of her independent outlook. The two brothers were compatible, but Akash, being the elder, had to play the prophets role although the cold war made him uneasy. The axis finally unhinged when Sunita ordered a refrigerator for their room, not the common kitchen, and she took no ones permission to do so.

Within a few days, Akashs parents, wounded by the broken protocol, asked them to run their own kitchen. This severance started the neo-joint family: same roof, separate kitchen. Leaving the joint family house is unimaginable, but a separate kitchen is accepted nowadays. When I asked Akash why he did not move out totally, he paused, then frankly admitted that he wanted his disposable income. Saving on house rent was a great advantage; even Sunita did not want to quit the in-laws house.

Later, Akashs brothers wife bought a personal room refrigerator too. She cleverly bought the smallest one, justifying that she needed it to keep the childrens milk, so faced no adverse situation with her in-laws. Her money-saving strategy was clear: share the in-laws kitchen, get them as trusted babysitters for her children and enjoy a high disposable income. Ten years of this arrangement changed when she changed jobs to a far-away office. She convinced her husband to buy an apartment near her workplace; they had enough savings to do so. She got her in-laws empathy by explaining the sad necessity to move out. That started another nuclear family with both husband and wife working. So the two children alone at home would get extra pampering of material goods from guilty parents who could not spend quality time with them. Soon, Akashs brothers wife brought her aged parents to stay with them. As per Akash, it was her intention to bring her parents to stay with them, which is why she shifted her workplace and moved far away from her husbands joint family home.This converted theirs into an extended nuclear family. That means, the house is run solely by the couple, where her parents have come to stay.

No marketing book in the world has written about factoring in this kind of Indian social jhanjat for companies to get better business revenue. The bone of contention in Akashs joint family, the refrigerator, multiplied into three units.So its clear that identifying the fluidity in family structures and connecting to their new needs is imperative for FMCG, white and brown goods, consumer electronics, real estate and kitchenware companies, among others. Indias changing family compositions are not fiction; a family splitting from spats or otherwise is the way our society moves. These are the real pockets of consumption.

Just consider the immense scope for a product development concept to marketing: a joint family has one TV set, a neo-joint family will have more, depending on the number of brothers with independent kitchens; a nuclear or extended nuclear family can have TV sets even in different bedrooms. This totally non-stereotype social context cannot be handled with statistical Excel sheet data. To get unending business growth, you, as the marketer, require a disruptive approach; you have to sleep amidst the markets social breath.

Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top

management on differentiating business strategy with execution

excellence. Reach him at