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When The Great Indian Khandaan Goes Online, It Isn't Always Pretty

Rishtedaari in the age of WhatsApp.

12/12/2016 7:11 AM IST | Updated 14/12/2016 8:34 AM IST
Roy Scott

A big part of the Indian social fabric is the "rishtedaar"—the relative. In India, one grows up on an overdose of "relatives", and, they come in all shapes and sizes. There are the nice ones (the ones you spend your two-month summer vacations with) and the not-so-nice ones that you try to avoid but with little success; these are the ones who are obsessed with comparing your "exam marks" with those of other kids in the family. Their favourite question is "aapke bache ke jitne number aye (how much did your kid score)?" and behind their possibly sweet smile is a fierce competitive streak.

Family gatherings, birthdays and weddings have traditionally been the meeting grounds of the various strands of the great Indian family. It is during these occasions that all the relatives in the khandaan (clan) come together over a hearty mix of celebrations, feasting and gossip (in no particular order).

Family politics, gossip, jealousies, disputes and grudges—all seem to have adopted an online avatar.

However, with the advent of social media recently, the Indian rishtedaars have also moved online. Facebook and WhatsApp are their favourite social platforms and instead of concentrating their catch-up sessions to annual meetings, they now ping each other round the clock.

With this online migration of India's extended families, the rishtedaari etiquette too seems to have seamlessly transitioned into the social media world. Family politics, gossip, jealousies, disputes and grudges—all seem to have adopted an online avatar. While some exchanges are convivial, FB and WhatsApp are also potent tools to dish out concealed sarcasm and not-so-concealed outrage.

For the spies in the Indian extended family, there hasn't been a better time. Just "friend" the entire clan online and then peacefully sit back with a drink in hand, and scroll through their timelines to hunt for the dirty laundry they've been indiscreet enough to air online. In no time, you will have enough verifiable data to come up with educated conclusions about the break-ups, link-ups, factions, and frictions within your khandaan. The gossip and glory of the entire family at your fingertips, ready to be unleashed at the slightest trigger. The Wikileaks equivalent of the online desi family.

WhatsApp and Facebook also cater for those who fancy keeping a grudge within the family. Drop in a subtle hint of displeasure and "unfriend" a rishtedaar on Facebook, or, leave a family group on WhatsApp. This will get the entire family talking about what made you depart from online decorum. Group speculation will give way to one-on-one messages amongst each other, debating the cause of your discontent while soliciting ways to bring you back into the family fold. Some may even be courageous (or stupid) enough to message you directly—either to discreetly share their displeasure with the family as well, or, to try and plead a case for you to re-join the electronic parivar.

For the spies in the extended family, there hasn't been a better time. Just "friend" the entire clan and then peacefully sit back and scroll through their timelines...

For the spies in the Indian extended family, there hasn't been a better time. Just "friend" the entire clan online and then peacefully sit back with a drink in hand, and scroll through the dirty laundry they've been indiscreet enough to air online.

Then there are the online "passive-aggressive" relatives. Those who choose not be overt enough to abandon a relative or a family group. Usually, they resort to creative social media updates ("They say blood is thicker than water, but that is not what my experience tells me. Thanks for letting me down" etc) that don't quite give away identities and keep the rest of the clan guessing about who's the target of their rants. The ones in the family who are most boggled by such updates are bound to reach out and probe for further clarification (only to rule themselves out).

Last but not the least, if you claim to be a writer, you may end up getting yourself thrown out of the online family network for writing this piece.

"Khandaan ka naam badnaam karne ke liye," of course!

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