Upon my return, no one asks how my meeting with my elder cousin and his wife went. I find this ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING. Who doesn’t inquire about their own brother? I mean, sure who really cares about a third cousin twice removed or an over-perfumed grand-uncle’s second wife. But your own brother?
And for the life of me, I don’t understand what could have possibly caused a feud so powerful that it could divide brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts into camps. I suspect money, which begs the question, is that all people are in this family? Dollar signs? Or in this case, rupee notes? Things you own like slaves or dogs? Pens to keep in your pocket?
We pile into the car – Dad, Younger Bhaiya, Younger Bhabhi, me, Sweet and Feisty. We’re off to celebrate Younger Bhaiya and Bhabhi’s wedding anniversary with her brothers – Banta, Dimpy and Japoni (these are their pet names, I have no idea what their real names are) and their families.
I am hoping spending time with Younger Bhabhi’s family will help me understand her better. Maybe the death of her mother was too traumatic a thing to bear. Or maybe her brothers are pompous Punjabi pigs. Perhaps her dad screamed and shouted at her for not being a boy. Maybe her sister-in-laws are mean to her.
As soon as Sweet backs the car out of the drive and into the lane the real Indians, so everyone but me, start speaking in rapid fire Punjabi. I do okay in following, but a part of me doesn’t really care about what they are saying because I am getting home-sick for South Delhi and Massi’s sophistication. Spending time with Dad’s family is mentally draining. They bitch about everyone and the talk is so irrelevant and trite that I wonder why they don’t get bored. Don’t they run of things to complain about?
This is the first time in my life that I’m relieved I didn’t grow up in India. I used to think I missed out on so much by never celebrating Diwali, Dushera and Rakhi in India or in having relationships with my grandparents and cousins. And maybe I did. But I’m glad I was never subjected to what came before the factions. This type of disdain does not happen overnight, it has to be cultivated over decades.
While I have been deep in my thoughts Younger Bhabhi has made some comment in Punjabi about me that I didn’t completely follow. This prompts me to join the conversation as best I can, because my Punjabi is worse, and I mean WAY worse, than my Hindi. I struggle to follow. Then I suddenly realize she has asked what Elder Bhaiya and Bhabhi fed me. Another absolutely crazy thing to compete about and so I reply, “I wasn’t hungry.” “That doesn’t matter, what did they offer you?” This is what I dislike. I don’t want to lie and say they prepared a feast fit for a queen. But I don’t want to tell the truth. No matter what I say, when repacked and resold on the gossip trade, will be misquoted. My sodas and snacks will become dung patties and toilet water.
So I decide not to respond. This doesn’t work because she asks again, only loudly, as if the problem is my hearing. I sigh, punch Dad in the leg, his cue that I am not backing down and say, “I understand you don’t like them. But I wanted to meet them for one hour.” “We don’t like them,” she replies. Well no shit Sherlock, and out of respect to Younger Bhaiya I calmly reply, “I understand your feelings. But again, I like them. So I am glad I could go.” “Well they cause me too much stress and tension.” I could say the same thing about her, and again I repeat my position. Because the women in my family are strong willed, and in general Punjabi women are fierce, Younger Bhabhi doesn’t relent and I refuse to concede to her pointless point.
This goes on until finally Feisty says, “Mummy, enough!” And the car goes blessedly silent for the duration of the car ride.