World Policy Journal begins each issue with the Big Question, where we ask a panel of experts to provide insight into the cover theme. The question for the fall 2017 Constructing Family issue is: What values from your parents’ generation would you preserve in a changing world? Below, Arya Rajam describes the importance of respecting elders and cherishing relatives, even as families become separated across continents.
By Arya Rajam
As today’s high-tech world whizzes by I am conscious of how old beliefs are fading away. Mindsets are changing and family values are being forgotten, discarded like dry leaves lost to a gust of wind. Yet we younger generations should remember the values our grandparents instilled in us. As a woman who grew up in a family in India with many traditionally Indian values, I speak honestly when I say that I live by a number of such values, and I do so while still being fiercely modern.
One of the most important values I was taught was to learn from and respect my elders. After stumbling at a young age, I learned that older generations possess a great deal of knowledge about life. Not listening to them when I was younger often made things more difficult for me. I still argue with my mother, but I’ve also realized that her experience as an artist has made her the best source of advice for me as a novelist. While younger generations may think that their parents seem to have archaic views, younger people would do well to realize that listening to them and respecting their opinions can lead to wisdom that will help them succeed.
A second value I hold dear is being close to siblings and cousins. Family is a rare gift that nothing else can replace. My brother and I were raised by a single mother in a joint family. My grandparents and great-grandmother played parental roles in our lives, and always emphasized the fundamental Indian value of being close to family. I am happy to still be close to my wonderful younger brother and I will always nurture that strong bond. In a world where issues like money can break up families, being genuinely close to your sibling is crucial, and this companionship is central to overcoming loss and navigating dark times. Having strong friendships with close cousins is just as important. My first cousins and I were raised as if we were siblings and we remain close. I still enjoy hearing colorful updates from my mother after her annual getaway with her own cousins.
Caring for elders in their old age also strikes a meaningful chord with me. It is painful and heartbreaking to see people abandon their parents to old age homes. Our duty as children is to care for our parents when they need us, since they spent their lives nurturing us with love. Looking after them when they are ill and giving them the care that they gave us will in turn give us their good blessings.
I believe that wherever Indians choose to make their homes, these are the values they should always retain. Even if they move around the world or change accents and styles, maintaining strong family ties and respecting older generations can help them live emotionally rich lives.
Arya Rajam was born in New York City and grew up in a multi-generational home in Chennai, India. Her first novel was Blood, Sweat and Tears. Her second novel, A Dual-Dragoned Throne, will be released soon.
[Photo courtesy of Balu Velachery]