The Diary of Queen S, age 16
Entry 21: Summer Holidays – Cousin Time
It’s summer holiday time again, meaning sleeping till late (or at least until Maasi yells at me to get up), reading and chilling all day, and most importantly, cousin time. Every summer, a bunch of cousins land on our doorstep, from Islamabad, Lahore, and from outside of Pakistan too.
The British and American cousins feel a little out of place in Karachi. They’re used to walking around on the streets waghaira, and I think this driver stuff makes them feel suffocated. But they like that it’s all so chilled and easy as well, and that there’s so much family around. We play board games and video games, and watch films, and a few days into their trips they get more comfortable but they always remain a bit mummy daddy. They want their hot chocolate and marshmallows and think it’s weird that I drink chai. In a way, they feel more childish than people here (awkward, easily scared and shocked, queasy), but in other ways more grown up (like they have boyfriends and walk to school and are home alone a lot). The security stuff freaks them out. They eat only ghar ka khaana and use mineral water even to brush their teeth. They teach us cool phrases and slang like ‘What’s Gucci?’ (meaning what’s going on) and ‘It’s been a minute’ (meaning it’s been a long time) and ‘She’s doing my head in’ (meaning she’s annoying). The American cousins have long and gangly arms and legs and they’re tanned and healthy. The British cousins are funnier, friendlier, more conservative and less uncomfortable in Pakistan. The American cousins are more impressed with the servant stuff; they love having people do the cooking and cleaning for them. The British cousins are kind of judgy about it; they insist on taking their own plate to the sink after eating, which just makes everyone including Muneer the cook super annoyed. But he indulges them and says it’s ok, they don’t get it.
As for the Pakistani cousins, they’re like, ‘oh wow, Karachi is so cool’. They want to go to all the malls and restaurants and shops. They tell us funny stories about Lahori uncles at dance parties and crazy teachers in their schools. These cousins come more often to visit, basically every summer, so we are closer to them. Especially my uncle’s kids. Every summer is a reunion where we basically forget that school even existed. I wish it could be like that all of the time.
It’s funny how school friendships take a back seat when cousins arrive. I guess it’s ‘cause summer holidays, everyone is busy with their family or they are away, so I’m just not much in touch with school friends. But also, I think there are basic differences in school friendships and cousin friendships:
1. They are forever
Cousin friendships don’t end. With my friends, even my bestie at school, I still have to be kind of nice, kind of polite. ‘Cause there’s always a chance I’ll piss her off and then she’ll want someone else for a bestie. With cousins, this can’t happen. They’ll always be your cousins whether you like it or not. You have fights and piss each other off, obviously. But you know you’re gonna have to make up eventually because you’re joined for life.
2. Fewer secrets
When Shazia from school’s parents were divorcing, I didn’t find out till years later. In retrospect, I saw things that seemed suspicious – like her parents yelling at each other all the time, and also her always staying in her room and pulling a face every time her mother asked her anything. But basically, I had no clue. And my school friends don’t really have a clue what’s going on in my home life. I haven’t told them Farhad came out to me or that Papa’s in Dubai. Bas, why would I? Our dramas stick to school dramas. But with my cousins, I know everything about them and they know everything about me. Sometimes I know things about them even before they know ‘cause I listen to our parents talking on the phone or I go to the number one gossip command centre, my nani. I sit with her when she’s knitting and I mention a name, and bas, there she goes, telling me her whole life story and the life stories of all the rishtidaar.
3. Shared loyalty
We’re all on team family. There are some cousins I don’t see that often, like the American ones, who only visit every five or six years. But still, when we do, we hang out and have fun, even if we barely know each other, because it’s just understood, we are from the same source. There’s never any snobbery like, ‘I won’t hang out with you,’ or ‘I don’t want to be your friend’. There can’t be; we are joined by blood. And when we move around in our little clan, we feel strong, undefeatable.
4. Shared past
I have photos of my friends and me all over my facebook, and some on my bedroom wall. But they’re carefully chosen. If there’s a photo someone doesn’t like, it’s instantly deleted, and if there’s a friendship breakup, then all their photos are removed. This can’t happen with family, because our past is curated by several people. There are photos of my cousins and me all over my Nani’s house, our house, my cousins’ and uncles’ and aunts’ houses. Some are really embarrassing too, like us in nappies etc. So in cousin friendships, you can’t pretend like something didn’t happen. There will always be someone to remind you that it did.
5. Unlimited time together
When my cousins come, it’s like a month-long sleepover. With friends, that would never be possible. One day, or two max, and then they have to go back to their homes. But with cousins, it’s like, my house is your house. A long party, all summer long.
Of course, there are dramas. Loads. Every summer. But they never last long. And they’re always forgotten by next summer. I hope when I’m older all of us cousins’ kids spend their summer times together, nurturing the bonds that nature makes.
This story is part of a series, which is updated weekly. You can read the previous entry here.