Whenever my mother started in this manner, “My mother’s father had seven siblings and my mother’s mother had seven siblings,” I fled from the place. Just a few days ago my uncle, my mother’s younger brother, said that when they were children every other day several first and second cousins of his mother with their families dropped in at their Pelathope residence in Mylapore. My grandmother had many half brothers whom she called as her brothers, cousins whom she called brothers; ironically she did not have a single straight brother or sister whom she shared her mother’s womb with. I thought being a single child makes life simple, but certainly not in the case of my grandmother as my mother and uncle had me understand!
My uncle recalled how he and his siblings constantly asked my grandmother to help them understand how the uncles, aunts, cousins were related. At a simplistic level that the children naively initially mistook as the end all of cognition, she traced the straight forward and immediate way in which she was related to all the people who dropped in with their families; at a tormenting level she explained how the cousin’s/ uncle’s wife was related in other ways as well. No relationship ran a single way, there were crisscrosses – an aunt was related to an uncle even before marriage through a brother’s wife or a sister’s husband or an aunt’s sister-in-law. Or she teased her children’s young and tender brains further by adding how the cousin’s wife was also her sister’s sister-in-law’s husband’s uncle’s daughter.
To understand theses labyrinthine pathways of blood and relationships called for an alert mind that processed the data and assigned it to slots, the slots that were permeable and punctured several times with conduits of alliances to such an extent that these slots were defined not by its exclusiveness but by these jabs that rerouted blood pathways.
I presume there was not a dull moment in the lives of my mother and her siblings with the constant influx of brothers (?!), aunts and uncles into their Mylapore home that served as a hub for all those people coming from Mayavaram, Edakudi, Kumbakonam, Karur and several other places in Thanjavur jilla where an uncle was a mirajdar, an aunt had been taken as a bride from or where a cousin had been married into.