Cousins, Balance, and Life

GRAPHIC BY MILLY TEJEDA/GRAPHICS CENTER

Growing up, the most difficult task in our household was getting six children to go to bed by 10 p.m. While one escaped to the kitchen, another would run upstairs; two would hide behind curtains and the rest just ran from one room to another. They all had one demand: six bedtime stories before closing their eyes. Did any adult in my family have enough patience to narrate six stories everyday? Certainly not. But the children refused to understand. Storytime gave us an opportunity to tease each other, make faces if the adult was dozing off, and laugh until all were tired enough and started yawning. This nightly routine was just a glimpse of life with my cousins.

Having lived in a joint family throughout my childhood, cousins occupy a large chunk of my life and childhood memories. We are a noisy bunch — teasing and criticizing each other for every little thing. Today, even though our educational and professional obligations have scattered us across the world, our cousin bonds and rituals remain the same, thanks to social media. 

Now, all of us are living in different countries for various academic and professional responsibilities. Seldom do our schedules match well enough that all of us can meet in person, maybe once or twice. But be it crossword sessions, or video calls; we make sure to talk at least four to five times every week. 

On some days, all of us are just online, absorbing each other’s comforting presence, in silence. The silence has allowed me to express unspoken emotions, or just open up about loneliness. And then someone cracks a ruthless joke, lightening the mood. The bedtime story tradition has now changed, with each of us narrating incidents from our daily lives during video calls. These opportunities have been extremely therapeutic and reflective, helping me to revisit incidents and observe them from a different perspective, through my cousins’ feedback. 

According to a study conducted by researchers Ping Chen and Kathleen Harris, people who have  deep, positive family relationships have significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms than those who have less positive adolescent family relationships. For me, my relationship with cousins gives me a sense of deep-rootedness and sense of belonging even when I am several thousand miles away from home. It  gives me the strength to find familiarity in the unfamiliar and take up new challenges as I move towards a new future. 

Work, education, responsibilities, and commitments drive us at maddening speed. Oftentimes, I am caught up in coursework so much that I forget to catch up on my favorite books, doodle, or just listen to music. However, on these very hard days, during cousin chat sessions, I return to my eased self and my cousins remind me why balance is important. 

“Did you read the fifth chapter of ‘The God of Small Things?’ It broke my heart,” my elder cousin starts without waiting for anyone to rant or get gloomy. “None of you read anything this week? Nonsense! How I wish I could punch your faces through the screen!” 

Social and emotional bonds help us to ease up and slow down. My strong bond with my cousins is an important testimony to that and I am extremely grateful for it. In a recent chat session, one of my cousins reflected: “No matter how much we fight, I think we will continue chasing each other even after passing away, fighting and pulling each other’s leg in the Land of the Dead!” 

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