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Friday November 1, 2013 MYT 8:15:00 AM
Friday November 1, 2013 MYT 8:36:53 AM
by sheila sri priya
Ritual: Marapan (foreground, left) and Rajagopal (foreground, right) observing their wives Kandiyamah Sinnapan (second left) and Muthayee Muthusamy (second right) who are lighting up oil lamps. Watching on are their children, in-laws and grandchildren. Most of them live together as an extended family under one roof.
FORTY years ago, two brothers made a promise to their mother that they would stay together no matter what.
Today, the brothers and their families still live together as one big extended family, which is known as a kootu kudumbam in Tamil.
This is a rare sight these days because many extended families do not live under one roof due to lack of space and privacy.
However, this family enjoys the company of each other in their 11-room, eight-bathroom house in Malacca.
About 15 family members can be found in the house on any one day. Others do drop by frequently, especially during the festive season, when there could be up to 35 people living in the house.
Meet the family
Marapan Arumugam, 67, and his younger brother Rajagopal Arumugam, 58, were the ones who made the promise to their mother and kept to their word even after they were married.
Today, the family has grown to include their children, daughters-in-law and grandchildren.
Marapan has six children, who are all married, and 14 grandchildren while Rajagopal has two children and one granddaughter.
Both brothers worked for their father’s construction business, Arumugam & Sons, in Malacca.
The brothers said their father was strict but had instilled good family values in them.
“He led by example and we had a good role model,” said Marapan.
He added that both the brothers worked for their father and received a fixed monthly salary.
However, they were given only RM30 as pocket money and their father would bank in the rest of the money.
“Our father was good at managing finances and he took charge of the household needs.
“We had no problem with the arrangement as he did a good job.
“Our father treated us equally,” said Rajagopal.
Both the brother’s life partners were also chosen by their father.
“We married our cousins and it was an arranged marriage,” said Rajagopal.
Their father bought a large plot of land after they were married and made both the wives the land owners.
In 1992, the family home was built on the plot.
“Our father made both his daughters-in-law the land owners because he felt they were an important component of the family.
“It was also a gift to both women, who came to start a family. This was also to avoid any resentment among them,” Rajagopal said.
The family cited a Tamil saying — kudhi valuntha, kodi nanmai, which means living together and its thousands of benefits — as the family motto.
Rajagopal said living together had various benefits as they could experience happiness and sadness together.
“When we live together, we are not alone as we have each other for support,” he said.
He added that all the in-laws, nieces, nephews, children and the grandchildren had great respect for each other.
“We lead by example. We don’t raise our voices. If there is a disagreement, we will take some time to cool down and solve it together later.
“The key to living harmoniously in such a large household is to not allow outsiders to interfere in family matters,” Rajagopal said.
Their children and their spouses have adopted the same give-and-take attitude.
He said it was normal for younger children to get jealous at times, but the older ones would speak to them and resolve the matter.
“Usually, when we give a present to a child on his or her birthday, the other younger children will wonder why they are left out.
“We will explain to them that their turn will come when it is their birthday,” he said.
“Generally, the children are well-behaved and they get along well with each other. When the family environment is positive, the children are happy too.
“If someone misbehaves, we tell them off politely,” said Rajagopal.
He said Marapan was now the head of the household after their father, Arumugam, passed away.
A place for everything
All important family events take place in the family home.
Marapan represents the family and performs all the rituals at any religious ceremony concerning the family.
“When my daughter got married, my brother Marapan gave her away at the wedding ceremony. This was because my brother is an important person in the family and he is the father figure at home,” said Rajagopal.
He said that while his father had controlled the finances in the past, these days, the younger members of the family are allowed to handle their own money and even buy their own property.
Dr Subashini Ramani, 39, married Marapan’s eldest son, Jagajeevan, in an arranged marriage.
She was surprised at the extended family concept when she first got married.
“It took me awhile to adapt to the family as I come from a small family and have only two siblings.
“Having many family members living under one roof was not something I had experienced before. I was a little shocked at first, especially because of the laughter and the noise, but I soon got used to it,” Dr Subashini said.
She added that it was a close-knit family and everyone was willing to offer help when asked.
Marapan’s second son, Ashok Kumar, is married to Krishnaveni Ramachandran, 27, and this was also an arranged marriage.
Krishnaveni said the concept did not surprise her as she had known the family since she was young.
She likes the fact that there is always someone around when help is needed.
Marapan and Rajagopal said when they were younger, their father would have all their Deepavali clothes tailor-made.
“We did not get to choose what we wore. We just accepted his choices,” said Rajagopal.
Over the years, as the family grew bigger, they started buying ready-made attire.
The family would go in two separate groups for Deepavali shopping.
“We could not go shopping together because there were many children to look after,” he said.
In the past, Marapan and Rajagopal’s mother would prepare traditional savoury snacks from scratch.
Among the must-haves are muruku, ketti urundai, achumuruku and athirasam.
Rajagopal said savouries such as ghee balls, fancy biscuits and even jam tarts were not as popular when they were younger.
On the eve of Deepavali, the family would visit the temple for prayers and they would also make offerings to their ancestors at home.
“When we were younger, we did not have any images of our ancestors, so we would just place some food and clothes on the altar.
“Now, we have added portraits of our late mother and father when we make the offerings.
“On Deepavali morning, the older family members would wake up as early as 5.30am for the oil bath.
“When our mother was around, she would give us a head massage using sesame oil. Now, we do it on our own,” he said.
After the oil bath, everyone in the family would get dressed in their new clothes and seek blessings from Marapan and his wife.
Children will also receive Deepavali ang pow.
“In the past, we just handed over the money to the children, but these days we have fancy packets to choose from,” Rajagopal said.
In the past, the ladies of the household would cook a variety of dishes on Deepavali day.
In present times, the family engages caterers as it is easier.
The usual menu includes briyani and a variety of mutton and chicken dishes as well as some vegetarian dishes.
“Some of our family members opt to be vegetarians during the Deepavali season for religious reasons.
“However, we include non-vegetarian food for our guests and the children,” Rajagopal said.
The family welcomes guests to their house during the day, which usually ends with the children playing with sparklers.
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