Being a big sister is one of the most important roles that I play, although my “siblings” are my cousins, not my parents’ offspring…

11782456_10153046699686398_50742873555293889_oAs an only child, I always envied my parents their siblings. My mother is the eldest of three sisters and my father is the eldest of three brothers, and they always had company growing up. Although my mother and her sisters never fought, my father would tell me funny stories of the arguments he and his brothers would have, and I would write stories of characters with large families filled with squabbling siblings to quench my own thirst for one. My aunts and uncles, being younger than my parents, all got married after I was born and I was used to being the centre of everyone’s attention for the longest time. My grandparents, uncles, aunts, and older second cousins all doted on me and I reciprocated their love and attention, pleased to occupy my solitary throne. That all changed, however, when my first cousins were born.


dancing with Neeharika

My first little cousin who I doted upon was Neeharika, my mother’s cousin brother’s daughter. I had grown up with the affection of my mother’s older cousin sister’s daughters, who were eight and six years elder to me, and at eight years old, I was more than ready to shower little Neeharika with love and attention. One year later, my mother’s younger cousin sister had a daughter, and I was a big sister two times over. Anjali was the prettiest little baby, with surprisingly long silky hair and a round cherubic face, and I was there for her birth. This gave me an extreme sense of protectiveness for the little girl, and I would spend hours trying to feed her carrots and snacks while watching TV as she grew into a toddler. I could often be found trying to carry her around like a willing rag doll.

Anjali (left) with Meera (right)

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-06 at 12.32.48 AMThen, in October of the same year (I think it was 2001), Adithya was born. My dad’s brother’s son, the first of my first cousins. I remember Adi as a baby so clearly; I was a little past nine and Adi was my little duckling, following me around as soon as he could crawl. He was always smiling, a happy little baby, and he would obligingly eat whatever I fed him and laugh when I tried to make him smile. He was my little shadow, even sitting by the pool when I swam or trying to toddle after me when I ran IMG-20181118-WA0007around the park, my mother or grandfather rushing to grab him before he fell down. As Adi grew, it became obvious that he was extremely intelligent. He would bite into dosas and biscuits and tell us the country or state that the piece of food now resembled. A lot of mealtimes were spent in crafting the borders of complex nations out of tiny bites of dosas, no mean feat! He was also very adept with numbers and liked to read out the house numbers of each flat in the apartment building, never tiring of this (although we who accompanied him on these walks would be bored stiff). He also had an odd fondness for state capitals and country capitals and was a geography genius by the ripe old age of two, something that I regret not capitalizing on and making him into a famous baby. It would have been an easier claim to fame than research!

IMG-20170426-WA0032Life went on, the babies grew older and wiser, and suddenly, in December 2003, my mother’s youngest sister had her first son, Rohan. I was quite pleased with the balance – there were now two girl cousins and two boy cousins for me to play with. Rohan was curly-haired and round, always smiling with little dimpled cheeks. I would love dressing him up and watching him crawl around, smiling whenever he bumped into my legs. I was older then, nearly 12 by the time I saw him for the first time (although I was 11 and a half when he was born, technically), and I adopted a more mothering role IMG_20171222_094955_480towards him than towards the other three. I liked giving the little baby a bath and choosing what clothes he would wear, and feeding him spoonfuls of khichdi and dal rice. He was a picky eater, but otherwise an easy baby. As he grew, it was clear that he was very imaginative, and, like me, enjoyed pretend play. He had a special fondness for pressure cookers, and we all grew used to seeing him sitting on the floor in my grandparents’ living room playing with “chhota Hawkins,” “madhyam Hawkins,” and “mota Hawkins” (for the uninitiated, Hawkins is a brand of pressure cooker in India). The games were simple, and I was endlessly a guest at his rice-based restaurant or an angry homeowner with a toddler as my cook. Being older, and very into my books at the time, there were days when I would beg everyone, anyone, to take my place in those pretend games and let me sneak away to read, but Rohan always found me and hauled me back to the game.

379628_10151447588496398_1698554967_nBarely five months later, Adithya became an elder brother – to twin girls! I like to think that my real experience with babysitting started with these two nuggets, Ananya and Ahana. Small, red-faced, and always crying, these twins taught me the most about navigating the perilous route of raising kids. When one twin was quiet and laughing, the other was certain to be screaming herself hoarse. When one twin had a violent temper tantrum, the other would be eating like an angel. And it was ongoing; there was never a quiet moment with these

with the twins in 2019 at Mysore

girls. Not to mention I spent two years convinced that they had memory issues; each time I walked into the door they would rush for their parents screaming and crying as though I had arrived to kidnap them. This was a weekly experience, and one that particularly irritated me. I would grab Adithya and leave, preferring his amicable company to the two screaming devils indoors (side note: I love these kids more than I can say, but any sister would be frustrated at that noise). Two years passed with those girls acting like I was a serial kidnapper, but eventually they mellowed down. However, I had to deal with them acting oddly shy around me for the first half hour that I was in the house for the next 10 years. Now, however, they are nothing short of boisterous and there are no traces of that shyness at all.

IMG-20170426-WA0033In March 2006, Anjali became a big sister, and Amrita beamed her way into our hearts. A round, cuddly baby, she was very sweet and barely cried (a blessed relief after Ananya and Ahana!). However, when she was a baby, I remember spending a lot of time with Anjali, then a chubby four year old, taking her around to the park and playing dollhouse with her. Baby Amrita was a toy to be cuddled and adored, but my attention in those summer vacationsIMG-20170312-WA0002 would focus on Anjali, who was suddenly thrown into the position of older sibling from being the apple of the family’s eye. Amrita was always, and still is today, a happy, smiling girl, ever ready to help and always willing to chat with anyone who needed company. As a baby, she never protested when people picked her up for hugs and kisses on her cheeks. Even today, Amri is always ready to hug or kiss me, and she is probably one of the best examples of a happy optimist that I know today.

IMG-20170426-WA0033 - CopyFast-forward to 2007, when I was about to enter ninth standard, and Meera graced our lives. Rohan was finally a big brother, and I was now wholly experienced with kids. From nappy changing to bottle feeding to picking her up, I was finally allowed to interact with Meera like one of the adults. It definitely shaped our relationship; I still find myself slipping into that no-man’s land between sister and aunt when I am with Meera, sometimes chatting with her like a sister and sometimes advising her and looking after her like a doting aunt. I used to drop Meera to Kathak classes and music classes, and pick her and Rohan up from school; there were many times when I occupied the role of responsible adult and I loved it. Meera had a penchant for dressing up and SBTa_22.12.2015 (160)selecting her own outfits as a toddler, and I used to get multiple headaches from trying to convince her that wearing a party frock to play in the building compound was a terrible idea. But she was adamant, and we would end up with her crying and me calling my aunt in frustration. Now Meera is a lively, sensible, sweet 13 year old, the complete antithesis of a teenager, and while I miss that tiny baby with the firm opinions, I am also glad that she has blossomed into the person she is today!

IMG_20180128_171256_856Finally, my youngest uncle (dad’s youngest brother) had his children – twins again, but boy-girl this time – when I was nearly 17 years old. By that point, I was used to managing children, and thankfully, Ananya and Ahana had given me ample practice at handling twins. But Surya and Sahana, unlike their elder twin cousins, were very fond of each other and always played together (it is a massive struggle to even get Ananya and Ahana to acknowledge that they are related, let alone spend time together). But perhaps it was written in my destiny that I would have a lot of trouble with twins, because these twins too gave me lots of practice with IMG_20191102_222756being the disciplinarian. Surya, especially, was stubborn, and I spend hours shouting at him to accomplish one small task. IMG_20160207_232151These twins, more so than my other cousins, view me as more of an aunt figure than a sister, given the age gap and the large role I play in their disciplining. Whenever I am in Chennai, I seem to spend inordinate amounts of time teaching them their studies, dropping them and picking them up from school, giving them meals, scolding them, and dropping them to classes. It is a neverending cycle, but one that I cherish. Being a part of these kids’ lives is a huge part of my identity, and something that will always travel with me, no matter how old the kids become.


IMG_20181126_103741960Today was the best day to write this post since Ananya and Ahana turn 15 today. I really can’t believe that my crying babies are actually this big, that they will have to tackle board exams this year. Over the past three years in particular, I have played a larger role in their lives, tutoring them in difficult school subjects, spending weekends at their home in Bangalore, and having them confide in me now that they are in high school. Yes, they still don’t get along and treat each other like mildly-annoying intruders, or prefer to ignore each other rather thanIMG_20190512_134717827 engage in conversation. Yes, they are completely different in personality – Ananya loves to interact and is always ready to help while Ahana prefers her books for company and, nowadays, spending time with her friends. Their social lives have blossomed, and I struggle sometimes to see them as teenagers instead of the tiny babies who I used to carry around the house. But no matter how old they get, they will always be my little kiddos, all of them, and they occupy a large part of my heart. It truly is one of the biggest blessings to be able to play a role in their lives, and honestly, seeing them grow and evolve over the years is my definition of happiness.

Happy birthday, twins! Lots of love!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s