Friday, 21 October 2011

Those stately homes and I

You will see them wherever you go in this world be it in India, USA, UK, Russia or Malaysia. You can't help noticing them for they are imposing structures. They were, and still are,  men's way of announcing to the world at large,'I have made it!' These are the stately homes belonging to the rich and the maybe not so famous. We stare and gawk at them, 'ooh' and 'aah' should their owners allow us to enter them but generally I think we all baulk at the idea of managing these huge structures. In Margaret Mitchell's epic novel "Gone with the Wind" we learn how Ellen managed Tara, the sprawling majestic home she took over when she married her husband.

In Kuching, we have our fair share of such structures. I am particularly taken with those with some history behind them like the one above. Unfortunately these buildings especially the wooden ones do not last long. Many were taken down to make way for more modern ones, a few are dilapidated and a number have been converted into enterprises like the ones below.

Since young, I listened to the tales and intrigues that invariably come about when large families totaling 20 to 30 members try to stay together under one roof. Sometimes as many as five generations attempted to do that. The Chinese especially loved big families and considered it a badge of prosperity to be able to produce one. Needless to say it takes an imposing character, usually the patriarch or matriarch to keep the whole brood together. Either by nature or design, these characters had one trait in common - they were able to hold their families together through sheer strength of personality. They might look ancient, small in stature or gentle in manner but these alpha beings would not counter any resistance to their commands. Just take a look at the line-up in the first picture and I think you can easily pick out such a character.

As time goes by, living together under one roof becomes more of a hassle than a convenience. This is especially so when women folk start receiving proper education and working outside the family circle. Hence many of these big families break up to stay on their own. My story 'For Want of Better Things to come' deals with the the dying throes of one such family.

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