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Who is there in your Family?

Dr Navniit Gandhi Sunday, April 14, 2024
Who is there in your Family?

Well, all of it surely leaves me confused; actually bewildered!

At different stages in life, LIFE teaches us completely different and sometimes, even contradictory lessons.

This time, the confusion is over: Who ought to be included in our definition of Family? WHICH IS OUR REAL FAMILY? Do we get our Family only by birth?


At first, during our childhood that is, we were taught that our grandparents, parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, first and second cousins etc constituted our family. And we were also taught that family must stay together; stick together and it is therein, that one always gets unconditional love, bonding and support.


But with the dwindling sizes of families, gone are the days when one had a dozen or two 1st cousins and countless far-flung relatives. The other day, I read in an article that the writer’s father had 140 first cousins!!! And today, the state is that my own niece has just one sibling and a total of two first cousins!

A large number of those who are in their 20s now, barely have a sibling or two to have fun with; perhaps just one or two cousins and some have neither and none!

If it is not an issue of size, then certain compulsions, incidents and experiences are making our inherited families shrink or even crumble…

One crisis; the first one crisis is sometimes enough to teach some the lesson that lessons earlier taught to us such as: family comes first or blood is thicker than water… need to be unlearned. For some of us, the first death and that too, if it is of a parent; or the first monetary crisis or the first severe sickness of a family member is enough to teach the lesson that the family one is born into, is not always the family that sticks or stays together, or offers unconditional support!!


The first stage when uncles, aunts and cousins mean the world to us, sometimes lasts just till adolescence! Either there are just a few left who remain close-by, or they have disappointed or hurt us.

We begin to look outward. Knowingly or not, we begin to collect our chosen family, not bound by blood ties, but by genuine care and affection.

We observe that neighbors caremore and we begin to appreciate our bonds with them; we experience that many around us care more selflessly than our own relatives do; family-friends rush to our assistance in a crisis even as relatives debate amongst them as to who should help and how much! Friends seem a lot more trustworthy and better. We begin to invest heavily in our chosen family.

I felt I was blessed with a bonanza because in addition to a lovely set of parents and two siblings, my chosen family was large and equally lovely!

I was blessed to have gotten teachers who meant the world to me. Fortunate I was that, in my teachers, I found unparalleled love, friendship, support, motivation and guidance. They genuinely worked at my strengths and weaknesses and molded me as one would do one’s own! The experiences with relatives in the larger family that I was born into were bitter, but in the chosen family, the experiences were all mixed and largely very valuable!

This stage is beautiful, when we make our own family. Till date, I am proud of mine.

However, as years whiz past and seasons change, some of our precious ties, just like the once-green leaves, dry up, fall and get scattered by strong winds. As we grow old, teachers, family-friends, and neighbors grow older, and we lose them.

Whatever be the reason, distances weaken some friendships. Some dear friends marry and get busier in making their own newer families. Some settle far and wide in this globalized world and yes, despite all the technological breakthroughs, the bonds do not remain the same.


For us--the expats, particularly those living in the Gulf/Middle East, there comes a STAGE 3 too!

We come to work here in the Gulf and we happen to live here for anywhere between ten to forty years and more sometimes. And we make new families here…

Here, neighbors are a family; friends are just like family; members of regional, cultural or professional associations to which we may belong are a family of sorts; for women who belong to a kitty-club, the fellow members are another family; we make friends in the garden where we go to walk daily and they too become closer to us than our own cousins or other relatives. And then, colleagues and other family-friends also become family. The parents of kids with whom our kids play, also become family!

Thus, comes in our lives, a brand-new set of family for us.

And true to the term, in the event of any emergency or crisis situation in Kuwait, these families of ours stand with us, at any and every time, and not the blood-related family which is far away.

We talk almost daily or and meet at least on weekends; we go for long drives or barbecues in chalets or make merry at picnic spots or frequently meet just to eat out on weekends.

My chosen family expanded here tremendously. Have become an Aunty to more than two dozen lovely nieces and nephews, in whose lives (with all their ups and downs) I am involved. Newly-wed brides are given a welcome here, by friends and neighbors, as families would or would not do in India. Even during the pandemic, our family here, never did let us miss our families there. It is with our family here, that we all unwind and unburden ourselves; seek solace and shoulders even as we share tears, smiles, achievements, failures, birthdays, festivals, anniversaries, milestones in the lives of our kids and even gossip about relatives in India.

It is on our family here, that we depend to drop us off at or pick up from airport; to take care of kids of each other for a while or for hours; and to help us with grocery, medicines, visits to a clinic etc or even to send cooked meals if a spouse is unwell. For me, personally, in addition to some wonderful neighbors, and large number of friends here, everyone at the too has been a big, and a very dear family in Kuwait!

Our bonds thicken here, over the years and all seems to be fine UNTIL…

UNTIL, a job is lost or kids have completed Class XII or old parents beckon to return or one gets a better job in any other country or when some decide to immigrate to Canada or Australia…

Once again, precious friends who were just like family, vanish physically from our lives and can be heard and seen only in the virtual world.

Even if we happen to settle in the same city in India, we may be unable to visit each other or have precious hours together as we do here…


What will be Stage 4…???

Will we, in the 40s, 50s and 60s, and about to leave Kuwait in a few years or already leaving, get a new family in India?

After living here for decades, will we be able to connect again with our inherited family? Who and how many among parents & siblings; uncles & aunts, and cousins & friends are left… or will be accessible in India?

Or shall we get to choose and acquire a new family, yet again?

Am confused…

What do you say???


Navniit Gandhi is an academic since 25+ years; a feature writer (300+ articles), and has authored 10 books. Her 10th and most recently authored, published and launched book is titled: NOT MUCH IS AS IT SEEMS Her write-ups can be read at
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Monday, April 22, 2024
Very well written Navneet.
Yes, the next-door neighbor, bakala owner, harris, shop keepers, garden friends, community members all become “a temporary family” and remain the closest family members. In time of emergencies, they are the first one who will come running to you.
Some faces you see everyday on streets, building become your family members even though you have never spoken to them. A long absence of such members is assumed that either the person has left Kuwait or shifted home to some other location in Kuwait.
A day comes, when we have to part away from the family members. In the last 2 years parting away has grown due to various reasons. For first few months, exchange of messages often followed by phone calls are common. As the time passes by, the left family members have settled in other bastions while you have used to their absence. Out of sight and out of mind is common. You visit India and if those family members are in the same town then we can meet them else just a phone call with assurance and promise “next time dear”.
Navneet, I am between stage 3 and 4 and one day I have to face this reality. But I will keep in contact with Kuwait family members, forever. I have stayed in other countries and still in contact with yesteryears family members.

Monday, April 15, 2024
A well written article Navniit..While reading your article Stage 3 it reminded me of my life here in Kuwait and how blessed I am to have a new family here who includes my friends, colleagues, neighbours. They''re not just friends; they''re my chosen family, and I''m endlessly grateful for each and every one of them. Stage 4 It will be a different experience..and will surely get connected with our inherited family.. and also I feel may make again a new family with new friends and neighbours ..

Monday, April 15, 2024
Absolutely.....I have kinda lost trust in family and so called''s just fantasy....the real family in today''s world is actually people who get connected heart to can be friends...or it can be someone you met just recently and you get connected. ..mostly it''s friends today who are actually there for you when u need them the most...often family or relatives refrain from helping or being a part of our sorrows...bitter truth...don''t know how far I''m correct....but to some extent I think it''s true...Actually I''m confused too😊...Don''t really know whom to trust....🤗

Heena Shukla
Monday, April 15, 2024
Dear Navniit,
The distinction and then, the fuzzy lines between family and friends, is a topic close to everyone''s hearts. And who doesn''t know how strangers in a foreign country can become closer to us than any inherited family member. That was a very authentic and touching description.
As you have rightly observed, it is in adolescence, when one is learning to assert their own identity, that one appreciates the role of friends in their life. Gradually, they assume greater importance as the influence of the ''inherited'' family wanes.
Subsequently, in every stage of life, one
meets new people who become family, from neighbours, colleagues, train buddies, hobby class pals, the maid or servant who may be someone''s only contact with the outside world, pets, street animals (as Alex above reminds us), et al.
Sure, in Stage 4 we may reconnect with our inherited family (people change), and there will be a new family too. In the evening of our lives, there may be a family of companions at the Seniors'' Club who will make our existence worthwhile. Likewise, in Stages 5 and 6, we may come across strangers whose unconditional love and care alone grants them the status of family .
In the end, it is important to note that a tree no matter its girth and span, can nourish only so many branches and leaves. So, just as it sheds leaves to make way for new buds, we too must learn at every Stage, to let go of those whom we may have outgrown, either mentally, emotionally or in other ways. That, Navniit dear, with every passing Stage is the true test.
Keep writing, and sharing.
Looking forward to your next.

Tej Pratap Singh
Monday, April 15, 2024
Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam. Once you accept and adopt this motto, the whole world becomes one family. All three stages are interesting as these stages are based on her experience but stage four is confusing as it is yet to come into her life. Like previous three, fourth one will also be beautiful. Good people always meet good people. Birds of the same feathers flock together.

Soja Banu
Monday, April 15, 2024
Life has taught me blood isn''t always thicker than water. I have experienced love,care and affection from known and unknown people who do not fall under the definition of a family. For me, family is a bond. A bond of love and care. It''s not just the people we are related by blood but anyone with whom we connect with our heart. Sometimes people come into our lives for fleeting moments and touch our hearts. A gesture of love, a reassuring smile or a warm hug when you are feeling low- I remember those faces, that I may not have met ever again, but yet they feel like family. In the past and present I have had people in my life who fall under this broader definition of family, some inherited, some acquired, for a longer stay or short. I know not where tomorrow''s roads will lead. Maybe more people will become family. I will welcome them with open arms and a warm smile. Maybe some of the members would prefer to leave. I will bid them farewell with a heart filled with gratitude for the beautiful moments I shared with them, for all the times they stood by me. Life is like a train ride. The mystery of not knowing who will join you in the ride makes it more interesting! I will just enjoy the ride taking life as it comes.

Monday, April 15, 2024
So well written. These thoughts may have struck so many of us but we couldn''t articulate them the way Navniit has!
About stage 4 I have a feeling that we may again share close bonds with some of our family members who may have disappeared for some time for some period for some reason or fourth stage will continue to take first stage of our reincarnated life and we can choose the friends again all over!

Monday, April 15, 2024
Nicely analysed, Navneet. Thought-provoking piece, as always. For me, today, even the dog in the street who knows me, acknowledges me, woofs at me and wags its tail at me is part of family. Often, I feel upset when I don''t spot my street dogs at the usual spot where I do। Have had a few heartaches when I learnt, a bit late, that my Kareena (a sweetheart of a street dog) had died in an accident because some heartless human decided to run her over and speed away like her life didn''t matter. Many such street dogs are now my close family. I mean that. Dog promise

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