I’m excited to be part of Caterpillar Books blog tour for We Are Family.
We Are Family
Patricia Hegarty and Ryan Wheatcroft
This all-inclusive rhyming celebration of family life really does offer each and every child the possibility of seeing him or herself in a picture book: Ryan Wheacroft’s multitude of vignettes ensure that.
‘Whoever we are and whatever we do, / Our families hold us together like glue.’
These opening words of Patricia’s text caused me to reflect on my concept of family and I concluded that it means many things and includes many more people than those I’m related to by blood.
‘Our family comes / From round the world: / Our hair is straight / Our hair is curled, / Our eyes are brown, / Our eyes are blue, / Our skins are different/
So begins a poem by Mary Anne Hoberman that I included in my compilation, Family Album published some 20 years ago and it resonates with my own view of family. At that time, I’d been given a six-month sabbatical from my job as deputy head of an outer London Primary School. I was to look at primary education in India in order to try and understand why the parental expectations of the majority of families from the Indian subcontinent whose children were attending the school I worked in, and others in the borough, were so very different from those of our teachers.
I stayed in Udaipur, Rajasthan in a small hotel – owned and run by a Rajput Indian family I very soon felt I had become a part of. At the time there were two brothers – one managing the hotel, the other a tour guide, both residing in the haveli (large family home) with their parents and downstairs, grandparents as well as various other people employed to help with the latter.
From the outset, the grandmother would send to my room at suppertime, dishes she thought I’d enjoy. Soon though, I was invited to share evening meals in the haveli: “You’re family now” I was told.
During those months I went to Navratri celebratory Garba Dandiya dances with female members of the family and shared in the family celebrations of Diwali.
That was the start of a family bond that has deepened, although altered (the grandparents and father are dead now) over the subsequent 24 years. Both brothers, (one of whom, Ajay, now truly is like my blood brother), have children of their own, two apiece. I hesitate to say they have their own families as, like many Indian families, they tend to grow into a larger extended family, rather that separate ones. And that’s due in part the to the fact that they still live in the same complex.
I also feel very close to Anu. Ajay’s wife and in particular, their two daughters, whom I’ve watched grow up. I saw both of them as tiny babies and one is now at university and the other at school and training, she hopes, to become part of the Indian shooting team for the next Olympics.
We visit them at least once a year, usually during the Christmas holidays; it’s more tricky during the summer now as even the two girls’ holidays don’t coincide, let alone Indian school holidays and English ones. They have stayed with us in the UK several times too.
During that same period of time I became involved with another Indian family too, more by chance this time. It started with a visit to an art gallery run by one member of an artist family, also in Udaipur. This family too took me into their home and hearts and the bond is still very strong. I visit the galleries of both brothers frequently when staying in the city as well as sharing meals and much more. For instance, I tie a raki around the wrist of the brothers at the festival of Raksha Bandhan (a festival of brothers and sisters), as well as being a source of books for both Shariq and Shahid’s children.
‘Sometimes we go on holidays or happy fun days out,
Doing things together is what families are about.’
Both brothers have stayed at our home in the UK several times for recreation and more. One visit that sticks in my mind is when Shahid, (who was to have some of his paintings exhibited in the UK) his wife and young son came one Christmas time and we had frost and a scattering of snow. Their little boy was around 4 (he’s now 17) and had never experienced such cold. Stepping outside he said, “Papa, I’m smoking” as the freezing breath came from his mouth.
In addition to being an artist, Shariq, who while visiting us in UK, did some art workshops in my own school and several others I was connected with, is also a musician and has invented and crafted, an amazing instrument
and his two young sons are pretty awesome tabla players.
One thing that struck me almost immediately is the great respect accorded to older generations of a family in the Indian culture. Both Ajay’s and Shahid’s families found it strange that our parents did not live with us though my partner’s mother had her own house just ten minutes drive away. She invited them to tea and she shared meals with them at our home. On subsequent visits it was always obligatory for them to meet Marjorie to pay their respects. When, in her 80s, she accepted an invitation to Udaipur, she was treated like royalty with a party in her honour at Ajay’s hotel and requests to go for lunch, dinner and, in order to fit them all in, even breakfast at the homes of members of a cricket team Ajay had previously brought to play in the UK. All this very much echoes Patricia Hegarty’s final words of We Are Family:
‘Each family is different, it may be large or small.
We may look like each other – or not alike at all.
Money doesn’t matter, nor colour, creed, nor name –
In each and every family, the love we feel’s the same.’