When I was in school, I had one class mate in the whole class who was part of a joint family. It was a real joint family with lots of people - not the 'two brothers staying together with their families and parents' types. It seemed very different to me as joint families were unheard of in cities. I don't know if I liked it for the novelty of it. There was another joint family in my mother's town - it was my mother's cousin's family. Everyone stayed together in a huge house with a big kitchen, a big hall, a huge front yard and a backyard, a common bathroom where all the kids bathed together, a big well, a cow shed, etc.. There was a hierarchy that was understood and respected by everyone and work was shared without any visible hassles. There was something intriguing, almost mystical about the joint family. I liked spending time there, observing how things worked - my favorite place secured in front of the Ole (Chulha in Hindi), with a cat sleeping in my lap. Hmm.. those were the days..
Now, why am I suddenly reminded of a joint family? I think the power of joint families to bring people together comes out strongly during extremes - during good and bad times. The tragic loss of a neighbor would probably have been felt less by the near and dear ones, had they lived in a joint family. Things are definitely better in our locality with everyone supporting one another. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about the advantages of being in a joint family. Historically, joint families came to be joint families because of economic reasons, or occupational reasons to be precise. The whole family was into agriculture or some joint business. The ladies had lot of work on their hands as everything was made at home - from papads to sambar powder. And kids had the most fun. Sharing came naturally and this applied to both materialistic as well as non-materialistic things. Of course, there were disadvantages such as lack of privacy, or one member contributing less or more, but people were generally good and honest and the head of the family resolved the issues before it could spoil the harmony.
These days, with the society moving towards individualism, the closest we can get to a joint family is parents living together with their grown up kids. I do know of a joint family of a friend, but it is more of an exception than the rule. I would love to be proved otherwise though I myself am quite skeptical about families - joint families or otherwise - with generation gaps and the complicated lives that we lead.