The Cousins

Over this weekend, I had the opportunity to spend time with two of my second cousins from my mother’s side. Most of the time I was with them, while playing with them and participating in everything they wanted to show me, I felt trapped in a bottle of nostalgia.

To understand this you have to understand my family, so I’m going to give you the lowdown. My grandmother is the eldest of four siblings. My mother, as a consequence, is the eldest of all the cousins. If I’m not wrong, there’s around a 15/16 year difference between my mom and her youngest cousin.

That carries through to me. I’m the eldest of my second cousins. I was born in 1998. The next of my second cousins was born in 2008. In those 10 years, I was the only “child” in the family. When I was younger, I used to take these trips to Bangalore for my summer breaks, and while I spent most of my time at my own grandparents’ house, I was essentially in community care: across all my uncles and aunts, and all the grandparents in the family.

However, there’s been a persistent nomenclature issue within the family – so my mom’s generation, for example, call some of their Uncles/Aunts by their first name. As a result, I didn’t append the usual “Tata/Ajji” to their names. Instead, I appended “Uncle”, or “Aunty”. So within the family, and I legitimately feel this happened purely on my mood, or what I heard around me:

  • I refer to some of my grandparents as Ajji, and Tata
  • Some of them I call Uncle and Aunty.
  • Everyone in my mom’s generation except my mom’s sister, I call by their first name
  • Everyone who married into the family before 2011 is called Uncle
  • Everyone after is called by their first name.

Are you with me? I feel like this would be easier to produce on a family tree/chart. If you’re not with me though, basically, I break convention when it comes to what I call people in the family.

Honestly though, this nomenclature thing? Not too much of an issue also. The only people who I remember complaining were the Uncles, rather, the people I called “Uncle”, pre-2011. Apparently, it made them feel old. For the rest, we’ve never discussed what I call them, why I call them that, although we’ve made fun of it a fair amount. The reason I think it’s a non-issue is that the respect is there. Just because I call them Uncle instead of Tata doesn’t mean I don’t respect their seniority within the family, or that I won’t listen to what they have to say with an open mind.

The reason all of this was important was that everyone in my mom’s generation was called by their first names, right? That’s also because when I was at my grandparents’ place, literally all the cousins would come and play with me, or hang out with me, entertain me, and indulge in every single activity I was indulging in. With the age gap at the time, even though I knew they were my mom’s cousins, I always felt like a younger sibling to them all. Before I went to meet my second cousins, I felt this sudden jolt of realization – that to my second cousins, the age gap is very similar. We’re in the same generation, but in essence, I’d be interacting with them with a similar age gap to when my mom’s cousins spent time with me.

So, of course, my first question was, what will they call me? Am I just Tejas or am I Tejas anna, or will I be called something else? My chikamma and I discussed this before I went there and we were both equally curious about this. This is because I’ve been away from Bangalore for 5 years, and prior to that, what with exams and all, I haven’t properly spent time with my second cousins. Never before have I had the opportunity to just go hang out with them and get to know them. While Zoom meet-ups have offered up the opportunity in the lockdown to interact with most of them, even those we’re far away from, nothing compares to meeting everyone face-to-face.

Turns out I’m Tejas anna.

We did a lot of fun things when I met them. We played a lot of Xbox, where they showed me their favourite games and how they played them (I was thrilled to be with a console again). I helped the younger of the two figure out how his elder brother was beating him on motorsport games (which basically involved picking the fastest car and the track he knew well – and not allowing them to play on any other track, hilarious!). We played a lot of Uno, where there was a lot of “rewinding” and reversal of moves. I lost nicely in chess. They showed me around where they hang out with their friends. Of all this, the bonding that happened over videogames, a hobby I’ve also only recently taken to, was the most enjoyable for us all. They play the same games I play with my friends, and they beat me at it too.

It was then that nostalgia hit the hardest. I discovered the wonderful world of computer games while sitting with one of my mom’s youngest cousins on his computer. He showed me Need for Speed, and at that time, burned me CD’s to take home, install the game on my grandfather’s laptop and play. I still have all those CD’s – every single one of them. He taught me the rules to Pool and Snooker through a game called Cue Club. He made me my first social media account – on Orkut, and him and his sister bought me a lot of Coca-Cola and Thums Up, and bakery snacks, while also showing me my first Kannada movie ever. During my teenage years I always wondered what 20-year olds took out of hanging out with people who were barely into their double digits. It’s now that I realize how much affection and love I was showered with when I was younger, and how, honestly – they could have pretty much chosen to do anything else with their time, but they hung out with me. I’m really hoping I get to recreate that with their children too. See, they’re cool enough to introduce them to all these games and everything anyway, so I need to figure out what “cool” thing I can bring to the table.

I also helped out with studies, if you would believe. Well, to be honest, of course I did. That sprung another round of nostalgia – for all the holiday homework I never did during my childhood, and how much all my mom’s cousins and my grandparents (all of them) had to try to get me to do bits and pieces of it before I went back home to Dubai. I was not half as cooperative as my second cousins, and I’d put everything off to “tomorrow”, which ended up being the last day of vacations. Procrastination is a key character trait, one that developed early, as you can see.

My greatest rediscovery of the weekend though was Lego. I missed Legos so much. I’ve written about Lego before, but it’s only when you play with it that you realize how much time you can just spend with Lego sets, and how creative you can get with them. We made a short stop-motion film with 10 photos of a whale, and messed around with Lego sets a lot. I think they must’ve built, from scratch, at least 6 things over the weekend.

All of this is about my cousins though. My mom’s cousins also “grew up”, right? As time’s passed by, naturally they’ve gotten busy with work and with their families, and I’ve been busy with things too, exams for the most part. The result of this is that after I moved to Bangalore, my contact time with them reduced significantly. I feel like I definitely saw them more – both frequency-wise and concentrated amount wise when I was on my summer breaks. So this gave me a chance to spend time with one of them once more.

That was nice. We recounted what has to be the most famous story within the family,  the “accelerator cut off” incident. This was the TVS Champ era, and in the electrical system gave way, leading to the bike stalling. My aunt carried me home in her arms, and went back to collect the bike from where it stalled. By that time, in my excitement, all I had managed to reveal to the public was “accelerator cut off”, complete with hand gestures. That’s remained an illustration of how articulate I can be when I want to. I learned so much more about them – questions I’ve never asked them about, about their hobbies, their interests. And of course, I got to meet my Uncle – someone again, I’ve met rarely. I rediscovered what an incredible cook he was and how much experimentation he did, effortlessly. That aside, I also learned about him and how good he is at videogames too. With adults whom I’ve only previously spent time with as a child, its the time now that I feel like I get to know who they are a little.

Too much nostalgia happened for one weekend. I also feel much older than I did before the weekend transpired. This elder brother/brother role, in general, is a new one for me. I’m curious to see how it develops. I don’t know who I’d be without my Bangalore trips, without all the time I spent with my extended family when I was younger. So many preferences were formed then: eating saaru, requesting for chitranna, gulab jamuns, and watching Test match cricket for the full day. I can’t forget some of the gifts I got at the time, including a chimpanzee that just hangs out with me in my room to this day. I’m so grateful, and it’s so nice we can all be a part of that, even if in a small way, for someone else.

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