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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sister

I often have spoken about the influence my parents have had on my life.

What I tend not to share, as much, is my relationship with my siblings.

I am the youngest of five children in my family. In order, my siblings are named Kanchan (Sister), Himanshu (brother), Kusum (sister), Sudhanshu (brother - and yes my brothers names rhyme).

And then there is me.

Kiran.

I sometimes think I avoid writing about my siblings because on so many levels, the sibling relationship is often complex and full of ever changing dynamics. If you have a sibling, you know the powerful connections that bind you through a shared history.

A history that encompasses so, so much.

Each others dreams.

Seeing each other at our worst.

Seeing each other at our best.

We have been part of some of the biggest joys of each other's lives.

We have shared some of our most painful memories together.

We have also been the ones to sometimes inflict the most pain on each other.

And we never stop loving each other.

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When I was growing up, many of my memories are really about my sister Kusum (whom I call Munni Didi) and Sudhanshu (Sudhu Bhaiya). They were older than me - Munni Didi by 12 years and Sudhu Bhaiya by 10 years. In Indian culture, you attach the designation of "Didi" (older sister) and "Bhaiya" (older brother) to show respect for your elder siblings.

My other two siblings were not with me till much later in life. We were together for my first year of life - of which I have no memory. My Kanchan Didi had been married through an arranged marriage at a very young age and stayed in India with her husband from when I was 1 years old until I turned 16. Himanshu (or PhoolBhaiya) was also sent to India to do his studies there from when I was 1 till I was 15.

In many ways, we were a family divided. Not by love - but by circumstance.

And you know, like everything else, it's all very complicated.

So while my parents were lovely parents to me, I was raised a great deal by both my Munni Didi and my Sudhu Bhaiya. They played with me, spoiled me rotten and made me feel very loved.

But it was also different. While Sudhu Bhaiya was there for me a lot, he had found a love in cross-country running and spent hours on this new passion of his, making new friends and having as normal of a life as he could have had given the rules and regulations placed on us by strict Indian parents.

Munni Didi didn't really have that. She had friends and she was beautiful. But she didn't have the chance to do things that most teenagers her own age did. Her life, in many ways, was based around her being almost a surrogate mother to me, while my mom worked at our family business and my dad in NYC as an Engineer.

There wasn't really an option of after school activities or anything like that for her. After my afternoon kindergarten would disband, she would be there, waiting to get me, having walked the mile from our home - no matter what the weather.

She had my back. I had her's.

We were a great team. We had a pretty good system going down by the time I was 6. She would let me watch one episode of "Scooby Doo" and then we could watch "Guiding Light." It seemed like a fair trade, especially because I was starting to crush more on Philip Spaulding than Fred anyway.

We shared a room. I didn't know how to sleep on my own. We had always been in the same room. I had a small twin bed and she had a larger full bed on the other side of the room. It really didn't matter - I would always end up curled next to her - asking her to read me another story or sing to me - maybe the new song by the "Styx" or something.

She really couldn't do any wrong.

I remember one day, she didn't give me something I wanted. I cried and cried and pouted and shouted. Finally, I had enough.

"I'm running away!"

"Oh no!" she said. "I am going to miss you so much!"

Pause.

"Do you want me to help you pack?"

I was devastated. Did she really want me gone?

I sat there quietly as she painstakingly packed my suitcase for me. She made sure to include sweaters and lots of clean underwear, because those were important, she said. She also told me to make sure I changed my underwear every day. She snuck in a bag of Ruffles - "just in case."

I watched numbly and nodded my head in assent.

As she helped me bring my suitcase downstairs, I started to cry. I was trying to keep a brave face, but I hadn't expected her full cooperation in my running away "scam"

"Do you want me to make you a tuna sandwich for the road?" she asked.

"No," I said, though I was thinking that maybe it could buy me some time and she would realize what a mistake she was making.

I think she let me go halfway down the block, past the Yablonickys' house, when I finally turned around, snot and tears all over my face and I ran back and thew myself in her arms.

I couldn't imagine ever being without her.

***********************************************************

That same year, at the end of my kindergarten year and my sister's senior year of Madison Central High School, her arranged marriage was settled.

She was 18 years old.

My parents, my sister and I went to India and traveled through to the northern recesses of Bihar to the village my paternal grandparents lived in - Simrahi. My Sudhu Bhaiya could not go, because he had to stay home and take care of our family business - an Indian grocery store.

My sister's wedding took place over the course of several days. I sat there and enjoyed the time with my cousins. I laughed during the festivities. I sang songs and sat as close as I could to Munni Didi, nestling myself into her side. My other two siblings were there - Phoolbhaiya and Kanchan Didi - so this was a joyous time for me - getting those rare opportunities that I had to see them. My new Jeejajee (brother-in-law) seemed really nice and I was so excited to show him what life was like back home in America.

And then, the wedding was over.

Done.

I was so excited about going back home. I missed pizza. I missed doughnuts. I missed my friends and cousins back home. I missed Sudhu Bhaiya.

I didn't realize until then that my sister would not be coming back with me.

I still remember standing on the platform of the Simrahi train station, begging her to stay with me. She sat in the railcar with her new family. The open windows of the train were minimally protected by bars across the windows, which reminded me of a prison cell. I held on to the bars as my father tried to pull me away while my sister struggled with her own tears.

"Didi!!!! Don't leave me!!! Don't leave me!!!" I could not hardly get the words out. The tears and the force of the pain I was feeling wracked my small body, making my words sound useless.

My six year old heart burst as I sat there, helpless. I still was holding on to the bars as the train started to pull away from the platform, but I eventually had to let go.

I tried to run with the train as long as I could before one of my cousins stopped me.

And all I remember is curling up on the ground and crying like my six year old self had never cried before.

************************************************

Darkness. Nothingness.

************************************************

The next few weeks were a blur as we returned home. I was listless and unable to grasp this life without my sister. I tried, but I felt like a vital life force was missing from our home and nothing was the same.

*************************************************

My sister and brother-in-law came back from India about a year later. I got my groove back and managed to somehow survive as they started to build their own life in the United States.

There is a lot that happened on their journey. My sister, who only had a high school degree, first could only find a job at Wendy's. Ultimately, she found herself a great job at a bank, where she worked her butt off to get promoted multiple times.

She had two beautiful babies. One of those "babies" - is getting married this year at the age of 26.

She decided to go back to school and get her Bachelors Degree.

Then she decided to go back for her Masters, at Columbia.

She is currently the Assistant Superintendant for a prestigious school district in New York State.

And she is not far from completing her PhD.

"Dr. Didi," I joke. So proud that she is as successful as she is.

SO, SO proud.

****************************************************

My life with my siblings spans two continents. I think as I write some of my posts to introduce you to them, it will be clearer why my heritage plays such a big part of me.

It is present in virtually every memory, or tied to it in some way.

I am glad you got to meet one of my amazing siblings. I know this was a long post, but sometimes, there are some things that you just can't shorten.

Namaste,
Kiran

9 comments:

webb said...

What a wonderful, but wrenching story - and told so well. You are lucky to have such a large and loving family. Namaste.

grace kay said...

wow kiran, you told this story so well. it's so moving and am glad for the happy ending :) thanks for sharing
xoxo

Annie @ astonesthrowfrominsanity said...

First, let me say that I am loving getting to know this side of you! Your story of your sister is so powerful. I was in tears as I read about your 6year old self crying for your sister. So powerful, my friend. So powerful.

I am sure that she is just as proud of you.:)

I may not have commented on your last few posts, but that is only because they have caused me to think so deeply.

Thanks.

Namaste, friend.

foxy said...

What an emotional story. You should write a book about your family and experiences. I am always so intrigued by your stories.

anatlus said...

Lovely post... I wish i had a sister like yours... You have such a lovely family.. God Bless!!

Kathy's Klothesline said...

I could feel your six year old heart shatter!! Your sister sounds like an amazing person!

Snuggle Wasteland said...

This could be a book or even a television mini series. (Maybe HBO since you're classy like that.)

Fantastic read! I'm so glad Annie from A Stone's Throw sent me over here.

PS This is Tracie (formerly of Stir-Fry Awesomeness).

SaraPlaysHouse.com said...

Hi. Can you write a book please? Pretty please with a cherry on top? Because it would be a best seller. I LOVE hearing the stories about your family. Love love love.
Because YOU put so much love into them. And I just think the world needs to read them.
So get on that. I'll wait.

Ruth J said...

this is a great post (as always). you write so well! i'm sure your sister is very proud of you.

 

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