Thinking about siblings made me think about cousins, especially since we got into a discussion about the cousinly relationship when my sister was visiting. My brother-in-law never had much of a relationship with his extended family and he doesn’t quite get how we can describe ourselves as “close” to people we’re not really in frequent touch with anymore.

After some deliberation, we concurred that maybe “close” is the wrong word. There are a couple of cousins who we are each in regular contact with and/or who we had fairly recent adult bonding experiences with, but for the majority of them, our relationship is based on shared experiences stemming from childhood and belonging to the same family. My sister pointed out that although, even as children, we saw each other sometimes only once every couple of years and more infrequently as we grew older and school and activity schedules differed and intervened, the times we spent together were intense, we even bathed together as kids, the male cousins included, we have witnessed our uncles fighting in the living room, we were together when we received news that our aunt had died in a train accident.

So maybe the relationship is more “special” than close: it grew from being thrown together, even though infrequently, as children and having fun and formative experiences together that still give us the fuzzies when we look back, it grew from being privy to the same family background, warts and all, and in that sense having no choice, it means that even if we’re not in touch, we make contact or even try to be present at big life events, like graduation and weddings and babies, and it means that if anyone reaches out for a favour, you will try to oblige in a way you wouldn’t for friends you haven’t spoken to for years.

To some extent, Facebook has revived the cousinly bond, making it easier to have some sense of what is going on in each other’s lives, without necessarily being in conversation. And weddings are seen in our family as the opportunity for a reunion. The first batch of weddings of the older cousins set the trend, making it almost mandatory to get married in the Christmas week of December to make it easier for relatives around the world to take advantage of the holidays and come down.

I have a good number of cousins – my mum has six siblings and the average number of kids each sibling had is three, with some more productive ones topping off at five. We are 19 cousins on that side in all, an almost even split between girls and boys. On my dad’s side, they are 3 siblings, and each of them stuck to a steady two kids each. So we’re six cousins on that side. The two boy cousins on my dad’s side are the ones I feel least close to, but even with them, I feel a sense of obligation.

I began to think about some of my favourite bonding memories with my cousins:

The five sisters, jumping across beds in their grandparents house in Byculla, learning games on the terrace of their apartment building in Dubai , watching videos of the soap Paper Dolls and then donning bedsheets and exchanging clothes for a fashion show.

Bonding over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the three brothers and promising to write but never getting down to it.

A trip to Warangal when we were two to stay with cousins there, my sister and I being adopted by one older cousin each and fuelling the rivalry between them.

Our littlest cousins, adopted when we were grown up enough to consider her the apple of our eyes.

Our oldest boy cousins, the only ones on our mum’s side based in Bombay, who we really got to know when we were old enough for age not to matter although there had been right there all our lives. Taking to their wives like they were family too, being spoiled by them with the trendiest jeans for our birthdays.

And Pri, my favourite cousin of all, with whom I formed a twosome that annoyed the hell out of everyone because we excluded everyone else at any gathering. Dreaming up stories that we would co-write that never got written, confessing our crushes through the night, and finally living together for two whole years, two years in which we grew closer and also further apart.

On my dad’s side, Binx is just a year younger than me. We had a tumultuous start with her being a terrible bully, but later we found common ground and spent many days during the summer vacations over at each other’s houses in addition to the usual family gatherings. We invented all sorts of games, from pretend marriage ceremonies making use of other mothers’ silk slips to bizarre Barbie games to watching completely inappropriate Police Academy and Madonna videos  to poring over fragrant issues of Vogue. We bonded over her dislike of her late-arrived sibling Jay, until we all decided Jay was a cutie. One of my favourite memories ever is visiting Binx in New York and how she knew exactly which parts of the city I would love and directed me there expertly.

For the boy cousins on my dad’s side, the memories are more related to visiting Pune and their quaint wooden-floored house there, complete with an attic bedroom and a ground floor room where my aunt, a teacher, had a blackboard.

We were spread all over the world before based on where our parents decided to settle and we are even more spread out now based on where we have chosen to make our own lives. There have been skirmishes over the years and as we’ve grown up, there are some we’ve decided we like less than others. But the memories are enough to bridge the gap and make the relationships count.

Do you have a favourite cousin? And do you consider your cousins “close”?

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