Thursday, December 3, 2015

Anna Karenina Principle Revisited

ANNA KARENINA PRINCIPLE REVISITED
A Story
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Whenever I see “Happy Family” status uploads on Facebook – with pictures of happy families enjoying “Quality Time together, in “lovey-dovey poses, holidaying, doing exciting things – I feel envious.

I feel “depressed when I compare the exciting life of happy families in contrast to the rather staid, boring and prosaic life of our family – and  I recall the “Anna Karenina Principle

HAPPY FAMILIES ARE ALL ALIKE – EVERY UNHAPPY FAMILY IS UNHAPPY IN ITS OWN WAY 

But then – I think about – and – I remember this “Happy Family” story I wrote a few months ago...

THE “HAPPY” FAMILY
Short Fiction Story
By
VIKRAM KARVE


PROLOGUE

It is fascinating how you get ideas for stories.

Once – a few months ago  while walking on a road in Pune – I saw a hoarding with an advertisement for a residential housing scheme.

And – I got the idea for this story...


THE “HAPPY” FAMILY – a story by Vikram Karve

Every morning – on my way to work – I see a hoarding.

It is a huge hoarding – and the hoarding can be prominently seen from the road.

The hoarding has an advertisement for a posh luxury residential complex – a top class luxurious gated community – many of which are proliferating all over Pune – to cater for the increasing number of newly affluent upwardly mobile home-buyers.

On that hoarding is the picture of a happy family – a traditional ‘Indian Joint Family’.

It is a large picture.

In fact – the picture of the ‘happy family’ is the centerpiece of the advertisement.

In the picture – there is a smart good looking middle aged couple in their 30’s – a handsome husband and a beautiful wife.

From the way they are dressed – both husband and wife appear to be upwardly mobile professionals – both seem successful career-persons.

Maybe they are ‘IT Techies’ – or ‘investment bankers’ – or ‘corporate executives’ – or ‘entrepreneurs’ – or in some such ‘successful’ profession.

Along with the husband and wife – there are two adorable children – a boy – around 10 – and a girl – around 7 or 8.

The bright kids are obviously the smart children of the elegant couple.

Then – there is a distinguished looking ‘senior citizen’ couple – probably the parents of the husband – who look very healthy and happy.

And – of course – to complete the ‘perfect family’ picture – there is a happy well-groomed friendly looking dog – a handsome Labrador retriever.

Yes – it is a picture of a ‘perfect joint family’ – a ‘successful’ charming young couple – ‘cute’ gorgeous children – doting grandparents – and – their lovely dog.

In today’s trend of ‘nuclear families’ – where everyone lives separately – it is very rare to see a happy and harmonious ‘joint family’ like the one shown in the picture.

Everyone in the ‘picture-perfect joint family’ looks very happy.

There is a saying that the foundation of advertising is ‘happiness’.

And – the ‘USP’ of this advertisement is certainly ‘happiness’.

To recap – let us “look” at the picture of the ‘happy family’ once more:

1. A young charming upwardly-mobile career couple – maybe in their 30’s – a ‘metrosexual’ dapper man and a chic graceful woman.

2. The elegant ‘Senior Citizen’ Parents – probably the mother and father of the young man – happily retired – maybe in their 60’s – glowing with happiness and contentment.

3. Two smart bright kids – a boy and a girl – of school going age.

4. And – of course – the handsome Labrador Dog – to complete the picture of a “happy family”.

The advertisement seems to imply that if you purchased and moved into an apartment in this residential complex – your family will automatically become ‘happy’ too – like the ‘picture perfect happy family’ on the hoarding – since – this gated community is a place where ‘happiness’ is infectious – because only ‘happy’ families live there.

Surprisingly – instead of making me happy – this advertisement has the opposite effect on me.

Every morning – when I see that hoarding – I feel a tinge of regret.

In my heart  I wish  that I too had a ‘picture-perfect happy family’ – like the one in the picture.

Every morning – as I cross the hoarding – I have such depressing thoughts.

One morning – I ask my driver to stop the car near the hoarding.

On my ‘Smartphone’ – I take a photo of the hoarding.

Then – I tell my driver to take the car to the address of the Real Estate Firm mentioned in the hoarding.

On entering – at the reception – I show the picture of the hoarding on my ‘smartphone’ to the receptionist – who immediately calls a chic saleswoman.

The saleswoman – takes me inside her office.

She shows me a model of the residential project.

Then – she gives me a glossy brochure which has complete details of the project.

On the cover of the brochure – is the same picture of the ‘happy family’ – exactly the same picture which is there on the hoarding.

I give the saleswoman a patient hearing  as she explains the floor plans and costing details  and as she tells me the advantages of living in a gated community.

Then – I point to the picture of the ‘happy family’ on the brochure cover – and I say to the saleswoman: “I want to meet this family…”

The saleswoman looks bewildered.

It is evident  that no one has made this strange request before.

Everyone must have asked her various questions about the residential project.

But – I must be the first person asking to meet the family in the advertisement of the housing project.

Lest she think that I was flirting with her – I take out my wallet from my pocket.

I extract my visiting card – and I give it to her.

She looks at my visiting card.

Then – she looks at me with an expression of awe.

After looking at me for a moment – the saleswoman asks me to follow her.

She takes me to her Manager’s cabin.

The Sales Manager looks at my visiting card.

He motions for me to sit down – and he asks me what he could do for me.

I point to the picture of the ‘happy family’ on the top of the brochure  and I say to him: “I want to meet this family…”

“Sir – is there any trouble…?” the Sales Manager asks.

“No trouble – I just want to meet this family…” I say.

“Sir – I will have to check with the ‘ad agency’ that made this brochure…” he says.

“Okay – go ahead and check…” I say.

“Sir – please excuse me for a moment – I will check with the Marketing Head…” the Sales Manager says – and he leaves the room.

After a few minutes – the Sales Manager returns along with another Gentleman who introduces himself as the General Manager (Marketing) – and he says: “Sir – we got this brochure made from an advertising agency – so – most probably – the persons in the picture must be models…”

“Including the dog…?” I ask.

“Yes – Sir – many dog owners give their dogs for modelling assignments…” he says.

“So – you are saying that all these persons in the picture are strangers – and I thought it was one nice happy family…” I say.

“Ad agencies always use models. So – Yes – Sir – it is most likely that all the persons in this advertisement are models posing as a ‘happy family’ in this picture…” the General Manager Marketing says.

“It does not matter if they are models posing as a ‘happy family’ – I would like to meet them – I would like to meet all of them…” I say.

“Sir – normally we don’t…” the General Manager (Marketing) says – then he looks at my visiting card – and he seems to have changed his mind – and he says to me: “Okay – Sir – I will call the ‘ad agency’ and get the details of the models…”

“Including the dog…” I interrupt, “…you get me complete details of all the models – contact details – address – everything…”

“I will – Sir…” the General Manager Marketing says.

“Good – I will wait for your call…” I say.

On the way to my office – I look at the picture of the ‘happy family’.

Maybe I should buy an apartment in this complex.

Then – maybe  my scattered family will come together – and we will be one happy joint family like the ‘perfect family’ in the picture.

The General Manager (Marketing) of the Real Estate Firm calls me after 3 hours.

He seems quite excited  as he says to me: “Sir – you were right – the persons in the photo are not models – they all belong to one family – in fact it is a picture of a joint family…”

“Really…?” I say – this is getting interesting.

“Yes, Sir – all of them are one joint family – Sir – what happens is that the ‘ad agency’ hires a photographer for such work – and he had this picture in his stock – the ‘ad agency’ wanted the photo of a ‘happy joint family’ – they liked the photo – so they used it in the advertisement…” the General Manager says.

“What do you mean the photographer had this picture in his stock…?” I say.

“Sir – this family had their portrait taken a few years ago…” he says.

“Okay – give me the address of this family…” I say.

“Sir – we don’t have the address…” the General Manager (Marketing) says.

“What do you mean you don’t have the address…?” I say.

“Sir – I asked the photographer myself – he said that he did not have the address of the family…” the General Manager says.

“How is that possible…? Hasn’t he kept a record of his customers…? Also – he must have taken their consent before using their photo in an advertisement – isn’t it…? Tell me – can you use anyone’s photo in an advertisement without even bothering to ask them…?” I say angrily.

“Sir – I don’t know – the photographer is not…” the General Manager stutters nervously.

“Okay – just give me the photographer’s address…” I say to the General Manager (Marketing) of the Real Estate Firm.

“Sir – I will SMS you the contact details of the photographer…” he says.

The SMS arrives within a minute.

The address of the photo studio is near my office.

I call my deputy to my office – I ask her to sit down – and I explain to her in detail  what I want done urgently.

“Sir – you want me to go to the photographer and get the address of this family in the picture. Then you want me to go to the address – meet the family – and give you a call…?” my deputy confirms with me.

“That’s right…” I say to her, “…and you better take someone along – if the photographer acts funny and hesitates to give the address – you know what to do…”

“Yes, Sir – I will complete the job today itself,” she says.

Then – my deputy gets up from the chair – she salutes me – and she smartly walks out my office.

30 minutes later my deputy calls me on my mobile phone.

“Sir – the family portrait was taken 3 years ago – I have got details of the family and their address – it is a bungalow on Prabhat Road – I am proceeding there now…” my deputy says.

“Very Good…” I say, “I will wait for your call…”

One hour later – my deputy calls me on my mobile phone again.

“Sir – the bungalow has been demolished for redevelopment – there is construction work going on here – a multistoried high-rise residential building is coming up…” she says.

“But what about the family…?” I ask.

“Sir – I am trying to find out – do you want to come here…?”

“No – I have to go for an important meeting – you find out all the details and give me a detailed report in the evening…” I say.

“Yes, Sir – I will have all details for you by evening…” my deputy says.

I switch off my mobile phone  and I proceed for the official meeting.

As usual – the meeting lasts more than 3 hours.

I return to my office – switch on my mobile phone – and I send an SMS to my deputy that I am back in my office.

My deputy acknowledges my SMS – and she replies that she is on the job – and that she will personally report to me in the evening.

I get busy with my work.

It is 7 o’clock – most of the staff has gone home – but I decide to wait for some more time – and I try to finish off some pending work.

Suddenly – there is a knock on the door – and my deputy comes into my office.

I ask her to sit down – I offer her a glass of water.

She sips some water – and then she says: “Sir – it is a very sad story…”

“Sad story…? Tell me everything…” I say.

“Sir – the ‘happy family’ in the picture was a joint family – all of them lived in the bungalow till around 2 years ago…” she says.

“What happened…?” I ask.

“The old man suddenly died of a heart attack…”

“The young man’s father…?”

“Yes.”

“The bungalow was ancestral property – and the old man’s daughter staked her claim  and she wanted her share of the property…”

“The old man’s daughter…? That means the young man’s sister…? She is not in this picture…?”

“Yes Sir – the old man’s daughter is not in this family picture – she is an NRI – she lives in America…”

“If she lives in America – then why did she want a share of the property here in Pune…?”

“Sir – who does not want a house in a prime locality like Prabhat Road…?”

“I see – but what about the mother – I mean – the old man’s wife – the old woman in the picture…?”

“The NRI daughter convinced her mother that it would be best to demolish the old bungalow and get it redeveloped – since all of them would get one spacious 3 BHK flat each – the mother – the son – and the daughter…”

“And the son agreed to this…?”

“Yes – the son agreed with his mother and sister to redevelop the bungalow – but this infuriated his wife – well  the young man’s wife wanted to live in the bungalow – and she was totally against demolishing the bungalow for making flats…”

“Oh – so the old man’s daughter-in-law wanted the bungalow for herself…”

“I believe that the old man had promised the daughter-in-law that he would be giving the entire bungalow to them – his son and her – after his death – since it was they who were looking after him and his wife in their old age…”

I look at my deputy  and I ask her, “By the way – how do you know all this…?”

“Sir – do you think I am making up this story – you know me for so many years – I have conducted a proper investigation – I have spoken to everyone personally – the mother – the son – the daughter-in-law…”

“Okay – okay – I am sorry – please continue…” I say to her – feeling contrite.

“Well – as I said – the old man had promised his son and daughter-in-law the bungalow – and the daughter-in-law felt that it was the right thing for him to do – since it was they – her husband and she – who lived here in Pune and looked after the old parents. Now – she would have to look after her husband’s widowed mother here in Pune. So the daughter-in-law felt that her sister-in-law – who lives in America – did not deserve a share in the property…”

“Quite right – only those children who look after their parents must get a share in their property…”

“Yes Sir – that is what the daughter-in-law felt. So the daughter-in-law told her mother-in-law not to re-develop the bungalow – but instead – she told her mother-in-law to give the entire bungalow on the son – her husband – as the old man had promised…”

“And…?”

“As is usual with mothers – the old woman had a soft corner for her own daughter…”

“So the mother wanted to give a share in the property to her NRI daughter…?”

“Yes – and – of course – her NRI daughter’s shrewd husband had already done the necessary homework – he had already talked to a builder to redevelop the bungalow…”

“But  what about the son – he could have objected…”

“Sir – I told you before – the son is a ‘Momma’s Boy’ – so he meekly agreed to whatever his mother said – and so – when the agreement for re-development was put before him – he signed on the dotted line …”

“And this infuriated his wife…?”

“Yes Sir – in fact – the daughter-in-law had a big fight with her mother-in-law – and she told her mother-in-law that her own darling daughter could look after her from now on…”

“So – the old woman went to America with her NRI daughter…?”

“No Sir – after the deal was done – the shrewd NRI daughter went back to America with her husband – and the old woman shifted to a flat nearby that the builder had given them temporarily till the re-development work was over…”

“And – what about the son – and his wife…?”

“At first – they too moved in with the old woman – but then the already bitter relationship between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law got worse day by day – and – one day the daughter-in-law told her husband that they should live separately…”

“So – the young couple moved out…?”

“Sir – I told you that the man was a ‘Momma’s Boy’ – so he wanted to live with his mother. Now – the son’s preference for his mother infuriated his wife – so she walked out of the house along with the two children and went to her parents’ place…”

“This sounds like a fiction story…”

“Sir – sometimes – truth is stranger than fiction…”

“It seems so – and the way you are narrating this story – I am convinced that you would have been better off as a creative writer – I wonder why you became a cop…?”

“Please Sir – you always joke. You told me to investigate – so I did a thorough job…”

“I am sorry – I did not mean to hurt you…”

“It’s okay Sir – if you want – I will skip all the details and get to the end…”

“Yes – I think that is a good idea – just tell me what the status of the family is right now…”

“Sir – the old woman is in an ‘old age home’ – and – the son is in ‘rehab’…”

“The young man is in ‘rehab’…?”

“Yes Sir – the young man in your ‘picture-perfect family’ is in ‘rehab’ getting treated for alcohol dependence…”

“Alcohol dependence…?”

“Sir – I told you that his wife left him taking away the children – and she went off to her parents’ place. Later – she gave him an ultimatum to shift out of his mother’s flat – take his share of money from the builder instead of the flat – and buy a house for them to live separately. But – since he was a ‘Momma’s Boy’ – he refused – so she gave him a divorce notice…”

“What…? She slapped him with a Divorce Notice ...?”

“Yes Sir. Well – all this was too much for the young man to bear – so he took solace in alcohol – and he started drinking heavily – and his alcoholism became so bad – that doctors advised ‘rehab’…”

“Bloody hell…! And why did the old woman go to an ‘old age home’…?”

“Sir – I really don’t know – but the people at the ‘old age home’ said that her NRI daughter had come down from America and got her mother admitted in the ‘old age home’…”

“This is getting crazy – just 3 years ago – when this picture was taken – this ‘happy joint family’ was living harmoniously together in a bungalow – and now – the old man is dead – the old woman is in an ‘old age home’ – their son has become an alcoholic and is in ‘rehab’ undergoing treatment – and their daughter-in-law has got estranged bitterly and she is seeking divorce…”

“Sir – you won’t believe what I am going to tell you next…”

“What more now…?”

The ‘cute’ children have been sent to a boarding school…”

“Boarding school…? Why…?”

“Well – that daughter-in-law fought with her sister-in-law – not her husband’s sister – but the other sister-in-law – her brother’s wife – who did not appreciate her sudden intrusion along with the children…”

“Okay – so this young woman in the picture who left her husband and went to live with her parents – her own brother and his wife were living as a joint family with her parents – and they threw her out…”

“Yes – so now the woman in the picture  she lives in a working women’s hostel where she got a job as warden – and the children have been packed off to boarding school…”

“I cannot believe it – just look at this portrait of the ‘picture-perfect happy family’ so happy together – and now – old man is dead and in heaven – old woman in ‘old age home’ – young man in ‘rehab’ – young woman in a working women’s hostel – and the kids in boarding school…”

“Sir – you forgot the dog in the photo…” my deputy says.

“The dog…? Oh yes – what happened to their lovely Labrador dog…?”

“Sir – they do not allow dogs in the ‘old age home’ – or in ‘rehab’ – or in the ‘working women’s hostel’ – and – obviously  the dog could not go with the children to the boarding school. So  they abandoned the dog – and they sent the dog to the animal rescue home – so now  the handsome labrador dog lives in the dog care shelter where they keep abandoned dogs…”

“That handsome dog was sent to the dog pound…? That is sad – very sad  poor dog – I feel so sorry for the dog – he became an innocent victim for no fault of his…”

“Yes Sir – I too felt very bad when I heard that the adorable dog had been abandoned – so I went to the animal rescue shelter – and when I saw how miserable the dog was feeling – I felt great pity for him – I could not bear to see him in so much distress – so I brought the dog here…”

“You brought the Labrador dog here…?”

“Yes Sir – the dog is sitting outside your office – with your orderly…”

“The dog is sitting outside…?”

“Yes Sir – I thought the dog will be a good companion for you...”

“For me…?”

“Yes Sir – you are so lonely – you live all alone in that big bungalow – and you have so many people – your orderly, your staff, your servants – to look after the dog…”

My deputy gets up – she walks to my office door – opens the door – and she tells my orderly to bring the dog inside.

It is the same handsome Labrador dog in the picture – no doubt about it.

The dog comes running to me – and I pat him. 

The Labrador dog seems to be very friendly.

“See Sir...” my deputy says, “…the dog likes you…”

In the evening – I pour a drink – and I relax in the verandah of my bungalow.

The Labrador dog is exploring the lawn.

Suddenly – the dog comes running to me  and sits at my feet – and snuggles against my legs – wanting to be fondled.

I lovingly stroke the dog – play with his ears.

I always envied the ‘happy family’ on the hoarding advertisement.

But now – I realize  that  I am much better off than that picture-perfect happy family – who I always envied

So what  if my wife works in Mumbai.

At least – we have a ‘weekend marriage’ – when she comes over to Pune every weekend – or I go across to Mumbai to spend the weekend with her.

So what  if my son is in the Army.

At least – he comes home on leave twice a year to meet us.

So what  if my daughter is abroad in the US.

At least – she comes to meet us once a year during her vacation.

I realize that our family is much happier than the “happy family” in the picture.

Yes – we may not be a “picture-perfect” family – but we are certainly a happy family.

And now  I have a delightful new addition to my family – this lovely Labrador dog – as my constant companion.


EPILOGUE

At the beginning of this post I told you about the “Anna Karenina Principle

Happy Families are all alike – Every Unhappy Family is Unhappy in its own Way.

After writing this story – I feel like paraphrasing the Anna Karenina Principle:

“Like each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way  each happy family is happy in its own way.”

Or – maybe  it will be better if I say:

Happy Families are Not All Alike – Each Happy Family is Happy in its Own Way

VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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Disclaimer:
This story is a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright Notice:
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.
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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
 

Revised and Abridged Version of my story THE “PICTURE PERFECT” HAPPY FAMILY posted online earlier in this Blog Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve’ on 19 June 2015 and 08 Aug 2015 and 17 Oct 2015 at urls: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2015/06/the-picture-perfect-happy-family.html  and  http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2015/08/the-happy-family-story.html  and http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2015/10/the-happy-family.html 
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