Massi and I climb up the stairs to Younger Massi’s flat. When I was younger I used to pitch a full on spoiled American brat fit when forced to come here. Younger Massi used to have an Indian toilet, which I referred to as a “squat pot” because instead of sitting on a seat, you had to squat. My extremely mild-mannered mother, the second oldest of four siblings, had no tolerance for my behavior and brought me here kicking and screaming. In retrospect, she was right in not indulging me. I am surprised she never planted one tight slap against my cheek. She would have been completely justified in knocking sense back into me.
We ring the bell and my 30 year cousin opens the door. “Dhabhi,” he says. Little Cousin has Down’s syndrome, and “dhabhi” is how he says “didi” (the Hindi word for sister). Because I am elder to him, he would never take my name. Despite being born disabled in a country that has no patience or need for the infirm, he is very smart and aware. He pulls me into a tight, bone-crushing hug. Not only is he affectionate, he has no appreciation of his brute strength and my pansy sorority girl avoidance for manual labor or physical pain. Emotional pain is another story - clearly I must enjoy that, why else do I keep forming attachments to all the wrong men, like Town and Country.
Little Cousin leads Massi and me to the living room where Younger Massi is reading a Hindi filmi magazine relaying all the Bollywood gossip and scandal. I embrace her and sit on the couch. Little Cousin explains using gestures and grunts that I have come from afar, on a plane. It is most unfortunate that he was born with this condition. He is the perfect combination of smart and loving, and would have made some girl incredibly happy. But love and marriage were not a part of God’s plan for Little Cousin.
The maid comes in with tea for my aunts and sodas for the “kids”. Like a true gentleman, Little Cousin stands up, takes the two Pepsis from the tray, serves me and sits down to my right, almost in my lap. He has no understanding of boundaries, which is okay. He drinks his cola in about 10 seconds flat, sets his empty glass on the coffee table and pats my arm. He is so sweet and innocent, with the gentlest soul. His presence allows you to release your worldly tensions and embrace peace. There is no judgment in his eyes, only the purest form of love and acceptance. He is not capable of understanding, much less forming prejudice.
He sits with us for a little while and then disappears into the other room to watch television. My aunts have been talking and I was half listening because Little Cousin was telling me stories that I didn’t understand. I take my last sip of soda and set the glass aside. Just then Younger Massi’s eyes well with tears and she says the most heartbreaking thing about Little Cousin, “I don’t know what will happen to him when I am gone. Who will take care of him? My husband doesn’t do anything now. My son has become too busy. My daughter has married into a new family. I can only hope that he dies before I do. There is no other way to be sure no harm will come to him.” I know I’m not a parent, but routinely in life and on television “they” say that a parent outliving a child is the worst kind of imaginable pain.
And there isn’t ANYTHING Younger Massi hasn’t done for Little Cousin. She has sent him to the best disabled programs in Delhi so he can have social interaction and some semblance to normalcy. She has bought him clothes and toys, everything she could afford on a middle-class teacher’s salary. So I can only deduce that she must love him more than her husband, or life itself, to wish for such an imaginable thing.