It has taken the entire car ride across Delhi to mentally prepare for Dad’s family. This is unfortunate – expending preparatory efforts to spend time with my relatives, people who I share blood, history and DNA with. But 98% of these people don’t get me, but worse that than, they don’t try. And the most annoying people in Dad’s family, aren’t actually the “real” members – it the ones who married in.
My nieces, Sweet and Feisty, instruct the servant to take my bag upstairs and we head to the master bedroom. This is actually a funny phenomenon. I don't know if it's a desi thing, a Punjabi thing (both sides of my family do this), or what, but whenever we gather casually as a family, we do it in the bedroom. We have tea and snacks brought to us, we sit on the bed and "gup-shup" (Punjabi for chit-chat) for hours on end.
Inside the bedroom we find my cousin, his wife and Dad. I hug them all and as I draw away from Dad I cannot help but notice that something doesn’t look and feel right about him. Dad, when he was young, was a slim and VERY, VERY, VERY handsome man, with a handlebar mustache to boot. I realize he is my dad and I am biased, but I think he was attractive enough for Bollywood. Forty years later, Dad has become portly – which is not completely his fault. Nor is it Mom’s as she is a sensational cook. Dad simply has some fat genes in his family tree and he has the tendency to put on weight. So now that his clothes hang on him, and look two sizes too big, I’m worried.
“What will you have to drink and eat?” my cousin’s wife asks. I call her Bhabhi, which is the Hindi word for sister-in-law, and I call my cousin, Bhaiya, means brother. Because they are quite elder, into their 50s, to utter their names in their presence is so disrespectful it borders on desi sin. “Just a Coke or tea is fine. I am not hungry,” I reply. She does the desi head bob forward, a gesture that would seem to imply she didn’t hear me. But I suspect she doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I know she is literate in English, so I don’t know if it is the speed of my talk or my Midwestern accent. “What will you have?” she asks again. This time I smile and say, “Tea is fine.” Again the head bob. Silence (very unusual when more than two people in Dad's family gather, usually it is a fight to speak) fills the space until my younger niece, Feisty, tosses her IPhone aside, shakes her head and goes into the hallway. At the top of her lungs she yells to the servant, “Make tea please. Six cups!"
“Feisty and Sweet have IPhones,” Dad announces like he had declared a race for a US Senate seat. “Yes, Dad I can see that,” I reply. Now if I am lean on my tech skills, Dad is obsolete. He can work his prehistoric brick cell phone, barely. And my brother and I think he can turn on the computer, but not much more than that. I mean, really, Dad can’t run the damn washing machine at home. “You know how much they cost in India? 8,000 rupees,” he says. Yea and? $200 US sounds about right for an IPhone. “That is a lot of money,” Dad says. I want to say, “Well it helps when your dad is rich,” – because my cousin is. He owns this house in Punjabi Bagh were land is scarce and houses are expensive. I think there are perhaps two or three empty plots remaining in the Punjabi Bagh area. Or at least that is what it sounds like. My Hindi is bad, but I can work with it. My Punjabi is so bad I cannot believe I have not be asked to return my heritage to someone more deserving of the title.
But anyway, based on the size of this house it must have cost 4 crores rupees and is valued at 6-8 crores. To fully appreciate this house’s value, it helps to know that 1 crore of rupees is ten million rupees or about $220,000. This means this house cost about $880,000 to build and is now valued at about $1.3 to $1.6 million. In India, where most people live on a $1 a day, this is some serious cash. I mean shit, $1 million US is a boat load of money, in Indian terms it is mind-blowing to me.
“Bhaiya, do you think tomorrow night your driver can take me to see your brother?” While my cousin does not get along with his brother and their “break-up” has divided the family into two camps, I don’t subscribe to the nonsense, nor am I interested in picking a side. I live 10,000 miles away I don't have time for other people's shit, I can barely deal with mine. “We don’t talk to him,” Bhabhi reminds. That is fine, she can do what she likes. And I will do the same - which is see my other cousin. Bhaiya nods and says, “We’ll figure something out tomorrow.”
Bhabhi sighs loudly and makes a face. She is CLEARLY not happy with the conversation's current, but cannot say anything to me in front of her husband and my father. While she might be the elder, I, the original family member trump her. For I am an insider, and in this instance, she is the outsider.