LOCATION – Somewhere in Trivandrum, Kerala.
OCCASION – a cousin’s wedding.
SCENE – everyone’s dressed up. Everyone’s busy discussing the next wedding in the family. There’s obviously a lot of inappropriate commentary being directed at the unmarried girls. There’s a lot of loud laughter from the girl’s side of the family. The boy’s side thinks they’re a bunch of hoydens. Only women form representation for the girl’s side. The boys in the family are busy looking very busy. Introductions are being made all around. Especially the out-of-Trivandrum ones. One such conversation…
“Chinks*, meet Sudha. She’s my cousin.”
“Hi, Sudha… (long pause)”
*we smile at each other and she walks away. I turn to my mother and ask*
“So, amma, how are you two related?”
“Well, she’s my cousin.”
“Ok, so what should I call her? Kunjama? Apachi? Valiama?”
“Not sure. Let’s see. She’s….”
And it went on. I stuck with Sudha aunty. Because it’s the safer option, until amma figured the relationship out! The last I met Sudha aunty was at my cousin’s wedding in July. We’re still figuring out what to call her.
The first time I ever saw Sudha aunty was in a 4X4 black and white picture. She’s sitting on my mother’s tricycle with this big grin on her face and my mother looking most morose. She and amma are a year apart in age. She grew up in Singapore and now lives in Trivandrum. She’s related to me twice over. Because, well, my grandparents are cousins. So, my mother is related to everyone in her family twice over. I’m related to my maternal family twice over! To make my life and memory retention an even more delightful place is designations. See, if you’re Indian – I can’t say Mal here because this is a common phenomenon in this country of mine – chances are that relatives on your maternal side have a different form of address from the relatives on your paternal side. There’s also names for the older relatives to consider.
I love the fact that my father’s side of the family is insanely huge. He has 8 siblings. I have 20 first cousins. My father’s parents also had many siblings. So on and so on!
I die. Slow, excruciating, nomenclature-filled death.
(*It's bad enough that I'm Chinku to my family. It's mental how Shruthi became Chinku. My mother's reason? "You were just a Chinku, so we called you that" uh, what?! Chinku is bad enough, my family's coolness compels it to make Chinku - chinks, chinka, chinkama. As stated above, I die. Slow, excruciatin, nomenclature-filled death.)
P.S: We don't say aunt sudha, unless we're Anglo-Indian. Sudha aunty. That's it.