ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Changing Families

conditions in which creativity acts as a Changing Families form of social critique that opens up contrary possibilities.
Memoirs Durba Ghosh This aptly titled collection notes that the Indian family is in the middle of a radical transition. As India undergoes dramatic economic, political and cultural shifts, the perceived stability of the Indian joint family is evolving to meet new social conditions. While the editors note that the putatively

BOOK REVIEWoctober 25, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly30Changing FamiliesDurba GhoshThis aptly titled collection notes that the Indian family is in the middle of a radical transition. As India undergoes dramatic economic, political and cultural shifts, the perceived stability of the Indian joint family is evolving to meet new social conditions. While the editors note that the putatively “traditional” joint family is slowly being challenged by a host of factors – urban living, adult chil-dren seeking work away from “home”, and mothers working in the formal and infor-mal labour force – new forms of family bonding are emerging to address indi-viduals’ needs. As they write optimisti-cally in their introduction, “The ideal Indian family, which people feel will break with women’s economic independence is more imagined than real” (13). The editors note that nostalgia for the joint family ideal overlooks some of the costs borne by its members, in particular, the demands put on women to construct their subjectivities in the service of family, community and nation. Using historical, literary, anthro-pological and economic research, the con-tributors of this volume examine different representations of the Indian family. The contributors of these essays come from different disciplinary backgrounds, and from different generations, showing how varied feminist scholarship has be-come. There are 23 chapters, which means some chapters are too short to develop their arguments, while several might have been edited for more clarity. Family ReflectionsMuch of the volume is focused toward analysing literary and cultural represen-tations: yet there is a disagreement in methodology among the contributors. While the editors claim that fictional representations reflect the realities that might not be detected elsewhere, several of the contributors see literature and films as spaces from which different social imaginaries might be anticipated. Thus, chapters 8, 9, 11, and 14, which survey regional literature are informative for understanding how Marathi, Gujarati, and Telugu literature drew from public debates over social reform of women and repli-cated them in ways that reflect what was going on as these regions encountered various forms of colonial rule.Shoma Chatterji’s juxtaposition of an analysis of Rituparno Ghosh’s films against a summary of socio-economic conditions presumes a link between the two, although it is not clear what the “decimation” (as she calls it) of the Indian family has to do with Rituparno’s sympa-thetic characters. Power LayersIn contrast, rather than argue that fiction represents social realities, several of the contributors use literary analysis to show how hegemonic notions of the family are contested through fiction: Arpa Ghosh’s thoughtful article on Mahesh Dattani’s plays stands out as an exemplary essay. She carefully unpacks Dattani’s works to show how he exposes the layers of power within family formations. Rather than take his work as representative, she argues that Dattani’s corpus is better seen as a form of social critique and exposition that anticipates the kinds of changes that would make for more equitable family relationships.On a different tack, Meghna Gulzar’s cursory survey of TV serials is very sug-gestive for thinking through how popular serials are didactic in nature, often repro-ducing conservative mores to counteract societal changes. Pretense is a strong form of denial and as she notes, “as the rich Indian family becomes unbelievably super rich, they become more traditional instead of progressive and liberal” (290). Both of these essays do not presume that fictional representations are “true”, or represent reality, but rather examine the conditions in which creativity acts as a form of social critique that opens up con-trary possibilities.MemoirsThe most compelling essays are those that are memoirs, or expositions by authors of their own fiction. Thus, the final six chap-ters in Part Five are an important capstone for the volume, showing how family life as they lived through it changed through the course of several women’s lives. Jour-nalist Vidya Bal’s autobiographical essay paired with the essay in Part Three by Esha Dey’s literary autobiography shows how writing became a vehicle of social cri-tique for an earlier generation of feminist thinkers and activists in India. Uma Parameswaran’s essay on the growing Indian community in Winnipeg, Canada, shows how a family-like atmosphere de-veloped in a place far from “home”. If read alongside Sarah Lamb’s essay in Part Two on the changing nature of old age, in India and in the US, one can see how much the Indian family has changed both in India and abroad. Nonda Chatterjee’s and Shashi Deshpande’s essays stand out for how they lovingly describe family dis-locations and tensions that mark emotion-al negotiation as integral, rather than debilitating, for family life. Their depic-tion of the architectural space of the home is evocative of a certain kind of middle class privilege that needs questioning, something that they leave open to the reader to think through. This is a timely collection, pushing us to think about how Indians have already adapted to and will continue to accommo-date themselves to changing conceptions of familial affiliation and attachment. Email: dg256@cornell.eduThe Indian Family in Transition: Reading Literary and Cultural Texts edited by Sanjukta Dasgupta and Malashri Lal;Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2007; PP 384, $ 49.95.EPW Blog The new EPW blog feature on the web site facilitates quick comments by readers on a selection of the week's articles. Four topical articles from the current issue are posted on the EPW blog every week. All visitors to the site are encouraged to offer their comments and engage in a debate.Please visit the blog section on our web site (

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