October 31, 2006

Mega-family household, dates back to Shivaji

Two is company; three, a crowd. When the number goes up to 180, it becomes a TV story. Deccan Herald correspondent Shyam Sundar Vattam wrote about a 180-member family in rural Dharwad that was featured in a BBC documentary. As Mr Vattam put it, the telecast has led to a steady flow of visitors to Lokur, a village 15 km from Dharwad. Lokur (which means people’s place) is home to the Narsinganavar family that has 180 members living under the same roof.
At an age when an increasing number of young couple are constrained by circumstances or contrive to live away from parents the Lokur family represents social anachronism. The mega-family phenomenon, I presume, is something peculiar to remote rural locations that are remote in more than a geographical sense. The BBC crew that went to film the Lokur family found they didn’t even have television. The crew donated a TV set so that the family could watch the BBC documentary on them.
I know of a mega-family at Avlegaon, Maharashtra, that is not accessible by road. An unmade cart-path stops a mile short of the Fauzdar household that had some 150 members when I visited them during Ganesh festival some 10 years back. It was a mansion-like house in the middle of a paddy field. It belonged to a fauzdar, who was the village land-record keeper and he registered births and deaths in the village, in Sindudurg district of Maharashtra.
I went to Avlegaon with Mr R S Sawant, a Chennai-based company CEO whose wife belonged to this village. Mrs Sawant traced back the Avlegaon settlement to the days of Shivaji. The villagers shared their surname with the Maratha ruler - Bhonsle. The fauzdar’s forefathers were in Shivaji’s army. When their menfolk went out to fight battles the women and children of the basti came to stay in the fauzdar’s house, which was built 300 years ago. The fauzdar family owns half the village land. According to Mr Sawant, they are self-sufficient in terms of their needs of rice, cereal, fruits, vegetables and milk.
The core strength of the household is around 80, mostly middle-aged people and young children of those employed in towns. Those of the employable age in the family have gone out of the village, to towns and cities such as Mumbai for employment. They make it back to Avlegaon for holidays and festivals. The house strength was 150 when Mr Sawant and I visited the village. We were there on a Ganesh chaturthi day.

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