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Relatively Speaking July 7, 2008

Posted by KG in Family, Language, Mumbai.

The wife is regularly amused by the Indian/South Asian/whatever concept of the cousin-brother, that is, the cousin someone grew up with who is close enough to be considered a brother. It makes a lot of sense to me. There’s no actual word in the Indian languages I know for “cousin.” They all translate into “brother/sister who’s uncle’s/aunt’s child.” And it gets infinite degrees more complex than that. The English word for “uncle” is simultaneously more rigidly and loosely defined than its Indian equivalent(s). Thinking about how to explain it without the benefit of a chart gives me a headache. Basically, we’re in a country where family relations run (or, if you believe the local media, ran) broad and deep. Imagine if everyone had a living lineage as complex and well known as European royalty. It’s kind of like that.

Cutting to the chase, yesterday my wife met some of my Indian relatives for the first time. The older one calls me nephew, his daughter calls me “dada” — the word for older brother. We’ve known each other for years, and though I can’t say we’re close, they’re definitely close to my parents and my father’s immediate family. We also met my newest relative…

If you want to get specific about it, this is my great-grandfather’s brother’s son’s son’s daughter’s daughter. The closest relative we share is my (and her mom’s) great-great-grandfather, who was living around the time of the US Civil War. I’m not exactly sure what I’d call her by Western reckoning*, but that hardly matters. She’s cute as can be, and her parents will have her call me uncle and my wife aunty (when she’s verbal).

*My know-it-all wife says “third cousin once removed.” I say “whatever.”



1. sister - July 10, 2008

Oh myyyyyyyy lord, I hope she stays that little till I come to visit!!

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