By Apoorva Singhal May. 11, 2018
Indian joint families and the Ekta Kapoor brand of TV serials are caught in an endless loop of art imitating life imitating art imitating life. The only difference is we don’t look as pretty as the characters on TV, and we can’t change the channel when we’ve had enough.
As it happened every sunny weekend, the shadow of conflict had befallen my household, once again. My mom stood on one side with a fierce look on her face, while my grandmother sat on the chair with tears in her eyes. My hapless dad and grandfather were stuck in the middle, pretending to watch TV but actually hoping to steer clear of the fireworks.
“But I didn’t remember that you had told me that the carrots were for gajar ka halwa,” said my poor grandmother, trying to clear the air over some missing groceries. “Pappu (aka my dad) hadn’t eaten gajar ki kheer in so long, so I thought I would make him some,” she continued to explain.
None of this dampened my mother’s fury. “I had this halwa planned since last week. Apoo had come home for the weekend, so it was supposed to be for her. But you can’t see anything beyond your son!” On that note, she stormed off, while dad and I nibbled at the offending kheer, trying to ignore the taste of guilt.
As the battle between Team Pappu and Team Apoo threatened to rend my family apart, I noticed my grandfather’s attention hadn’t wavered from the TV screen even when the histrionics reached their peak. On screen, the saas was screaming at the bahu for adding too much salt to the daal. I was starting to roll my eyes at the screenwriter for trying to create something out of nothing, but then realisation struck and I immediately shut up. What was unfolding on screen was eerily similar to what had just happened moments ago at home seconds.
Indian joint families and the Ekta Kapoor brand of saas-bahu serials that dominate television are caught in an endless loop of art imitating life imitating art imitating life. The only difference is we don’t look as pretty as the characters on TV, we don’t have a huge-ass house to sprawl about in, and have actual jobs to attend. But even the most absurd stories have a grain of truth. My nani may have never used black magic like the crones on TV, but after encountering her – just once – my brother’s Class XI girlfriend mysteriously stopped coming to our house.
Indian joint families and the Ekta Kapoor brand of saas-bahu serials that dominate television are caught in an endless loop of art imitating life imitating art imitating life.
Then there’s the obsession with invoking the ghosts of our dead relatives and believing in bizarre reincarnation (like Mihir Virani in Kyunki…) that we can’t get enough of. So when on a family trip, we were attacked by some monkeys who made short work of my brother’s ice cream, my aunt soothed him with, “It is your great grandfather enjoying an ice cream!” When asked how she was certain that it was him, my aunt pointed out a mole on the monkey’s hand that was similar to the one that my great grandfather had on his hand. In the next five minutes, she proceeded to find another long-lost aunt reincarnated as another monkey. We eventually had to forgo our bananas too, and offer prayers to these new-found “ancestors”.
At this point, the only difference between a reel and a real-life joint family is that we cannot change the channel when bored. The only way to tune out of an episode is to have a protagonist slam the door in your face, or storm out of the house yourself. Just like every crisis on our TV shows is neatly resolved by the end of the episode, our family problems also revert to normalcy after a few days of stony silence, broken only by the occasionally muttered, “Iss ghar mein meri kaun sunta hai?”
After surviving in a hostel for four years, I came to realise that I am not the only person living in a sitcom. Each household comes with its own drama. A Sindhi friend believes that the serial Buniyaad was inspired by the story of her grandparents. When I went to visit them, the elderly gent who looked scarily like Alok Nath asked for my permission to perform my kanyadaan when I grow up. I was 19.
But we’ve come a long way from DD National primetime shows. Just like television has evolved with the times, so have our families.
An acquaintance who lives with three uncles and eight cousins doesn’t like watching Bigg Boss. Her constant exposure to household politics has convinced her that she can easily win the Lok Sabha elections. (Unsurprisingly, she didn’t even win the college elections.) Another henpecked friend believes that his life is a copy of Sasural Simar Ka, the only difference is that his girlfriend takes the form of a housefly solely to spy on him.
Are these serials inspired by true lives or do we like to believe our lives are as interesting as the sitcoms we love? The answer may never be answered to our satisfaction, but the similarity is uncanny.
As my poor dad left for the market to buy more carrots and figure out the situation, I joined my granddad on the couch to watch the remainder of the episode with a heavy heart.
I always wanted to live in a fairytale. But a Hindi serial? I’m going to need a rebirth to get used to this.
Apoorva is an intern. She is also interning at adulthood. But wants to instantly run into loads of money and a mansion with a swimming pool. Yet, she still doesn't want to adult.