At a time when the joint family tradition has become a thing of the past and where nuclear families thrive, the 180-member Narasinganavar clan in northern Karnataka is an exception in modern India.
As one of the largest joint families in Asia, with its lineage dating back to the 16th century, the Narasinganavar clan has defied all odds to live as a contented lot under one roof at Lokur, a placid hamlet about 20 km from Dharwad and 400 km from here.
Ace lensman K. Venkatesh recently held a photo gallery on the joint family titled "Banyan Clan" in Bangalore. The rustic lifestyle of his protagonists stands out in stark contrast to the ostentatious life of their urban counterparts.
"Though the Narasinganavars are modern in their outlook, the continuity in their way of life over the generations represents the glorious tradition of the joint family and its values rooted in Indian ethos," Venkatesh told IANS, pointing to the photo frames portraying the various facets of their daily grind.
The photo expo, shot in classical black and white, depicts the warp and weft of a clan in their natural settings.
The family's ancestors hail from Hatkal Angada village near Miraj in Maharashtra. However, legend has it that a wrestler named Narasinganavar visited the temple of goddess Durga Devi at Lokur in the 16th century.
During his stay, the goddess instructed him in a dream to make the temple village his new abode.
Bowing to divine command, he bought a small property, settled down to farming and married a local woman, who bore him seven children. Narasinganavar's descendants are now the keepers of a hoary tradition that has almost disappeared from the subcontinent.
For generations, even as sons married, settled in the ancestral home and daughters moved out with spouses, the family flourished much like a large banyan, leading a spartan life in a 22-room sprawling mansion, with a courtyard for livestock.
Lack of space has compelled some of its members to shift into eight family-owned houses in the neighbourhood of the village, which boasts of just 100 dwellings in all.
At 90, Tammanna Jinappa is the oldest, while his brother Bhimanna, 75, is the patriarch, presiding over the fortunes of the grand family comprising 60 children, 50 women and 70 men.
During the last five years, the clan became smaller by two members following the death of the second brother Lokappa (82) and the youngest brother Narasingamappa (36).
As in any family, there are misunderstandings or differences but not serious enough to cause discord. Adjustment and sacrifice come naturally to them, as is evident from the fact that there has not been a single dispute over property valued at a couple of billions of rupees.
Rooted to the soil, with farming as its main occupation, the clan is self-reliant and self-sufficient in meeting its needs by harvesting grains such as wheat, maize and corn for consumption and generating income. Besides cultivating cotton, sugarcane and oilseeds, the men are involved in growing a variety of vegetables, including potatoes and onions on their 280 acres of farmland.
Living a frugal life, the joint family is financially sound and debt free, with an annual income of Rs.0.8-Rs.1.2 million depending on the monsoon and the market rate for the farm produce. The annual expenditure, largely on farm labour and machinery, is judiciously limited to Rs.1 million.
In crunch times, the earning members contribute to the common kitty and patriarch Bhimanna maintains the transactions meticulously. In the years of bumper harvest, the family ploughs back the profit it rakes in from bigger stock into buying farm equipment and creating assets in the form of lands.
While the men toil in the fields, their women run the household with clockwork precision, taking turns with the domestic chores. The kitchen fires burn through the day, with 1,200 rotis (maize/wheat bread) prepared every day to feed the entire clan.
From dawn to dusk, in batches of two-three, the women knead the maize and wheat flour to make hundreds of rotis on small ovens lit by firewood. As staple diet of the jumbo family, the rotis are served with curry, pickle and curds.
Devout Jains, the family consumes daily about 50 kg of maize, 20 kg of wheat flour and 40 litres of milk, drawn from its huge dairy. Though individual families share different rooms with porticos, all the members converge on the spacious dining hall for meals. Many of them also gather in the common hall upstairs to watch television.
The family spends about Rs.40,000 on clothing alone every year. On special occasions or festivals, the budget for clothes swells to Rs.250,000. The clothes are transported on a tractor to tailors, who take a year to stitch them for the entire family.
For healthcare, a small pharmacy is tucked in a corner of the palatial house with essential medicines. The elders share the workload in an organised manner, with some handling repairs of farm equipment and others looking after tractors and livestock.
The grand family has about 100 votes. In the gram panchayat polls, the family calls the shots in choosing the candidate.
The 35-year-old stone mansion is a treasure-trove of antiques, artefacts and collectors' items left behind by successive generations over the last four to five centuries.
(Fakir Balaji can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)