Emails and phone calls had happened a month earlier. While the summer furnace burnt up the plains, I was busy with the departure of my daughter from the cool hills. Just after her departure, my guest arrived.
She came alone, accompanied by my friend who was fortuitously returning to Ranikhet by the same train. The room was ready for her, and she entered home, full of happy sounds, and lots of descriptions about the journey, about my friend, about the pakodas at Kainchi, about the presents for the dogs, about the house….you get the picture? She was delighted to have finally made it to Ranikhet, and I was looking forward to spending a week with this cousin.
And this is where the past comes in…
Past years of childhood and young adulthood, when one was affected more by parents impressions and ideas about family members…
Past years of meeting at family occasions, when a few hours would be spent in catching up, posing for pictures, laughing at some classic family jokes, and returning home for the detailed “ postmortem” of the occasion.
My cousin is a decade older to me. Daughter of my eldest aunt, she has always been regarded as the eccentric one in family circles. An English professor at a reputed university, an edgy off-and-on marriage, late parenthood, a propensity to click pictures and post them with catchy titles, and never at a loss for the right phrase or quote. We had been meeting for years–at weddings, family gatherings, Durga Puja lunches and all the places where modern families meet.
A week long visit had the potential for disaster or serendipity. We could either get sick of each other, tire of family gossip and news, run out of wisecracks and, maybe, just sit quietly in front of a brainless TV program. There was a good degree of trepidation and tension within, as I gave her a tight welcome hug and made some tea.
One week later, it was time for her to leave and while we waited for the cab to arrive, I kept rewinding the last eight days and wondering how little I had known about my cousin, how much we had learnt about each other, how much we had understood about each other’s choices in life, and what a difference one week can make.
Here was this academician and administrator of one of the premier colleges of India,who had worked for gender issues, for riot victims and for victims of domestic abuse, who had a huge network of admiring friends and colleagues and students, who had taken up many a lost cause and not let it embitter her in any way. In that one week, I discovered a woman with a generous heart—generous in compliments, courage and cheer. I entered her circle of delightfully loyal and supportive friends. I listened to her chats with Hema, the knitters, the neighbours, friends and everyone else in between. I watched her admirable self control when it came to eating at the right time and the right portions. And I was glad to see that she needed her own space, as much as I needed mine.
The dogs adored her in their own individual ways, the knitters laughed and listened to her stories, Hema happily plied her with cups of ginger tea ( there was no self control for this item of the menu!) and we sisters spent the hours talking about our lives, walking the dogs, discussing friends and books and of course, taking pictures!
Mita didi has returned to her Delhi life and I have returned to my own schedule. Both of us will recall our week with a certain amount of satisfaction and joy.
It has been an important lesson of life for me.. I have learnt that there is so much substance in each of us, and how easy it is to look at some chosen aspects of a person and completely miss the rest! That a lifetime of casual meetings cannot even come close to a few days of living together and sharing a home. That genuine affection can smoothen out irritation and doubts.
I have also learnt that I am part of an amazing sisterhood made up of strong individuals who sometimes find it hard to live with not just others, but with themselves too!!