A 1973 novel by Sydney Sheldon, ‘The Other Side of Midnight’ narrates the trials and tribulations in the lives of two female protagonists, Catherine and Noelle. Noelle, in particular is an extremely beautiful girl, who realises rather bitterly early in her life, that her beauty can be utilised to manipulate powerful men to climb up the social ladder. She eventually does and becomes a world famous actress.
The plot is laced with enough suspense and filled with crimes of passion and deceit and ends with Noelle being accused of murdering Catherine and eventually executed. A must read novel, and in case you missed it do not be sorry, for a fortnight back, life did imitate art, when an Indian media tycoon’s family was caught unawares and found itself under the uncomfortable media’s glare.
Ex-CEO of Star channel network, Peter Mukherjee’s wife, Indrani was arrested for having allegedly killed her own daughter, Sheena. The incident occurred about 3 years back when Sheena was purportedly killed at her mother, Indrani Mukherjee’s behest, by one of her (Indrani’s) many ex-husbands, Sanjeev Khanna, at her Mumbai residence and later the body was packed into a suitcase and taken to a distant Raigarh jungle and burnt.
This whodunit mystery has gotten only murkier and intriguing with each passing day, when more and more startling revelations have been unearthed by the investigating officers and media alike. The many layered façade the Mukherjees had painstakingly built to show to the outside world that everything is fine, be it their finances or relationships, and has come apart with the investigators managing to peel it off like onion rind.
Apparently, the much married couple had managed to keep their dark secrets from one another and close to their own selves. For instance, Indrani had introduced her daughter, Sheena, from an earlier marriage (?) as her younger sister to her latest husband, Peter! And Peter’s son, Rahul from an earlier marriage, had a relationship with Sheena. The father and son were not on talking terms, while Indrani after allegedly killing Sheena and disposing off her body, told everybody that Sheena had gone to the United States for higher studies. And surprisingly, nobody in the family ever bothered to verify it. Agatha Christie would have loved the plot!
Tragic as it may sound, similar crimes within dys-functional families is rising at an alarming rate today in India. Similar incidents occurring in the western countries would only have resulted in our raising the eyebrows and wrinkling our noses in disdain at the audacity and nonchalantly shrugging our shoulders, taking it a done thing in their cultures. But when a similar crime happens in our own backyard, we do a double-take, sit up and discuss the whole thing threadbare! The media has gone about town, dissecting the characters of the players involved, with a fine toothcomb, and more often than not being judgmental to a fault. So what exactly has gone wrong within today’s families? There is no doubt that in the last few decades, family values have significantly changed along with the family structure and composition. While in the past, joint families used to live under one roof, coexisting in a sort of symbiotic relationship, with the elders like the grandparents, their children and the children’s’ families. Everybody’s work used to be clearly defined, wherein while the males of the household used to go out to work; the females were entrusted with running the household. And usually, the elders used to look after the children who in turn, would have their brothers, sisters and cousins to interact and play with. With such family units breaking up into nuclear families consisting of only the spouses and their children, life has become tougher to manage everything at the same time.
Moreover, stressful work regimes have only added to the woes of the couples, who often find little or no time to devote at home. As a result, children find them-selves alie-nated. With the inco-mes of families going up, the parents often overindulge their children pampering them with material comforts, like smart phones and other expensive electronic gadgets, in a probable attempt to cover their own guilt. This has resulted in today’s children turning into some kind of zombies who are hooked on to internet, with little or no emotion for familial ties, deriving comfort living in the virtual world. And suddenly, money has become the magic word, an elixir, if you will, for one’s very existence.
Another alarming trend in today’s times is the increa-sing rates of divorce; something that was alien to our culture. With the emergence of the modern working woman, however, marriage has taken a beating, and increasing intolerance and perhaps, impatience often leads to messy break-ups between the spouses, with either of them giving little thought to the aftermath. The pressures of living up to today’s society’s ‘standards’ too has taken its toll, with extramarital affairs, homosexuality, teenage pregnancies and premarital sex etc which were taboo just a few decades back, being accepted in today’s culture and  has been responsible for this downward spiraling of the morality index.
The decline in values has been linked to increased crime, violent anti-social behavior, addiction to drugs and alcohol.  Children and young adults from broken families have been shown to be more likely to lose virginity at an early age, drop out of school, and get involved in some crime. The family unit of the yore was an education in itself, with the elders like the grandparents passing on their wisdom and moral guidance to the younger generations.
Families of today are in fact caught in a ‘Catch 22’ situation! While everyone wants to live independently, enjoying privacy and freedom, increasing pressures, timelines and deadlines from all around them making them pay a heavy price for it all. One needs to pause and reflect on where this kind of lifestyle is leading to, before it is too late. Until then, one can expect more such extreme crimes to follow!


*By – Dr. Satish Kanath