Moments of Mirth - an Ode to my Siblings
Family , a single word, has acquired many different meanings as I have been moving up life’s ladder. The traditional family in the 20th century consisted of grandparents, parents, plenty of children, cousins and hordes of nonpaying guests but in the 21st century, with the DINK generation( Double Income No kids), family could be a group of friends, pets and the parents, connected with the ubiquitous Android phone. The important link that might go missing is that of siblings. Siblings are like oxygen, vital for our very existence. Our relationship with colleagues, mates and friends might be subject to change if there is a clash of interests: a lucrative promotion, a coveted transfer or even a love interest but siblings are beside us in every crisis. Thankfully, most of us were lucky enough to grow up with our siblings and cousins. In the mid of the 20th century, for most middle class Indians, siblings were synonymous with cousins. They served as tutors, counselors, psychiatrists, guides and very often as musclemen, hammering sense into youngsters like me. My sisters, cousin sisters and I, all would be dressed in similar print, looking like objects on an assembly line. Growing up with them meant pinching or spitting on each other with least provocation,
fist fights, hairpulling, tears, and black eyes. For other times, it was fun times with house-house, carrom board, ludo, snakes and ladders, gilli danda, marbles, Vish Amrit, I Spy, or just spending hours together in creative pursuits. As we grew older, education, marriage, employment took us away to distant locations; the bond remained undiluted. Unassisted by adults, around fifteen of us, cousins included, went to a barber for the mandatory crew cut for boys. He was curious to know whether we belonged to the same family. My elder brother, never having known the difference between siblings and cousins, innocently replied to his query in the affirmative. His shocked reaction was, “Well! I thought only us poor had so many?” Humor and rumor were the perfect adhesives to glue a large family together. In order to stick together through rough and dicey times, the ability to laugh helped, to let off the steam. Living in an argumentative family
could be stifling but with a regular dose of sparkling wit, obstacles were set aside in a jiffy. A dear cousin, deep in the throes of adolescent love, comes to my mind. He had been so much under the influence of Cupid that he had completely given up cleaning his room. Obviously consumed by love, he didn’t pay much attention to hygienic surroundings. He sat for hours, moping on his study table, with a book open for deception, his hormones gone for a toss. In a fit of anger at his lethargy and lack of basic cleanliness, his mother dusted and cleaned his room, while he was away to do what he did as a matter of routine, gape at his lady love secretly, hiding behind a tree. That spring cleaning session spelled doom for the poor guy.
The phone number of his heart throb had been erased, wiped out from the dusty desk. Poor chap could not throw a tantrum lest his love interest be revealed. Destiny had made a clean sweep in his case. Another errant cousin was madly in love with his vivacious classmate. Together the lovebirds plotted to fail in the exam so that they could remain intimate for another year. Sadly, the girl changed her plans, sailed through the exams with honours, married a rich, successful guy abroad, leaving behind the jilted Romeo who had to repeat the academic year, without the presence of his bubbly friend. My brothers and cousins had acquired a taste for late night movies. They dared to sneak out after dinner when the tired household called it a day. Everything went off smoothly. They were not missed by anyone for some months. One night, the jubilant group came back home delighted with some action packed movie. It was around midnight when they were climbing the drainpipe to enter inside the house, through the roof. Unfortunately, at the same time a thief was climbing down with the loot. The cousins met the thief half way. Holding on to the drain pipe, they clashed with the thief, inspired by the moves made by the action hero in the film they had seen. Mayhem ensued as the family members woke up. The thief was thrashed and so were the boys. The highlight was the loot left behind by the thief. It had more goodies in it than what was stolen from our house.
After that action packed night, nocturnal adventures of the boys were nipped in bud. The formula in Mathematics (bracket, of division, multiplication, addition, subtraction) we learnt during school days is
downright applicable in real time. In relationships we hold some dear siblings very close, bracketing them within our inner-most circle. As we move on the curve of life, the circle of family members keeps multiplying. It is during the time we spend together, we either bond or keeping spatial awareness in mind, we maintain a respectable distance, trying to keep the hedge green.
The addition of relatives in life helps in keeping the roots of the family tree strong. Those who create negativity in family ought to be given an extra dose of serotonin so that, with the happy hormones ,they are pacified. Once bad vibes are subtracted, peace reigns in the circle of love instead of letting it go into pieces.
As I type the ode to my siblings and dear cousins, I ruminate and smile because of their craziness. I laugh because there is nothing I can do except love them like they love me, with acne, warts and all quirks. I am enveloped by sadness also; having been on the cusp of a robust joint family earlier, now down to a whittled, ultra-thin, almost zero sized nuclear families (on a non-gluten diet) in present times. Life’s action is more on various
Whatsapp family groups exchanging hysterical Good Morning messages, envy inducing pictures of holidays, selfies which have predictable gushing reactions and family frames with grandchildren one is not likely to meet. However bizarre the siblings in the family may seem, one has to remember that the word ‘dysfunctional ‘ has ‘fun’ in it. The fudge like family, loaded with `nuts’, is indeed sugary; for a change, this sweetness is perfect for the wellness of all its members.
Mamta Joshi did her Masters in History from Allahabad University. Her poems, reflective essays, prose pieces and short stories have appeared in national dailies and international emagazines. A free spirit ,she works with equal ease in Hindi and English.