Perils of large families

She said that her father-in-law was my mother-in-law's elder sister's father-in-law's brother.

I was always a bit embarrassed that I came from a large family of six child­ren. None of my friends in school had as many siblings as I did. But of course, a large family means more of everything — more chatter, more noise, more fun, more fights and more love! And as the humourist Sam Levenson once said about his large family: “We shared everything — from clothes to colds!”

We stayed in Kolkata, far away from our native place in southern Karnataka. During vacations, we hardly ever visited our extended family in our native; instead, we went to various places of tourist interest. As a result, I am very badly informed about my relatives. Their names, occupations, their family members etc are a closed book to me.

The other day, I accompanied my mother-in-law to a function in the local temple. There, we met an interesting lady who came from a large family and unlike me, she was aware of every member in it and knew everything about them. Immediately after sitting down next to us, she started a conversation.

She was thrilled to discover that we were related. She told us that her father-in-law was my mother-in-law’s elder sister’s father-in-law’s brother. Seeing the question marks on my head, she asked, “Confused?” “You know Santosh?” she continued. “Oh, yes!” I said, pleased that I knew my husband’s first cousin. “Well, I am Santosh’s mother’s sister-in-law’s daughter-in-law... Santosh’s cousin’s wife,” she simplified further.

“Oh,” I said, my fuddled brain becoming clear. I smiled happily as I finally understood. I was as bad at understanding tangled relations as I was at maths.

The lady was not done yet. This was only her introduction. She informed us that she came from a very large family; it seems her father-in-law had 12 children. She then proceeded to provide us with a list of all the latest deaths in the family. Apparently, several octogenarians and nonagenarians had kicked the bucket lately and she was determined to make us understand exactly who they were in relation to herself.

She spoke fluently about uncles, aunts, great aunts, first, second and third cousins. Data about various relatives and their occupations and how many children each had, all slid effortlessly from her tongue. I was swept away in the deluge of information she provided, not only about her family but practically about everyone in her town! As she kept talking, I looked more and more mystified.

There was a gentleman standing nearby who was smiling at my predicament. The lady turned to me and asked, “Who is that man and why is he smiling at you?”  I wondered now which cousin or uncle I would have to identify but when I glanced at the man, I recognised him immediately! I couldn’t believe that for once, she couldn’t place somebody! I actually knew something she didn’t! I savoured the new feeling for a while. Then, I told her triumphantly with a big grin, “He’s my husband!”

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