On this latest trip to India, 9 years into being a part of my Big Fat South Indian family....I finally felt like I was an actual part of the family. Yes, it took me 9 years to get here. I felt like I was a respected and crucial member of this family who contributes in her own way. And this....this was ground-breaking for me. After so many years of feeling like an outsider, and many times feeling less than dirt on this golden brick Brahmin highway, I felt important and I felt valued.
There were a lot of little moments and big moments that made me feel like this. Here and there, it was a smile shared. A joke shared with me. Someone making the effort to speak to me. Complimenting me. A bond of inclusion. A sense that my opinion was respected. A feeling that they wanted me to be there - but not just be there - be really there and participate. A feeling of being wanted; and the start of being beloved.
One of those big moments came when I attended cousin-sister's engagement...
My MIL's younger sisters have always been quite conservative. They are very devout, very by-the-book, and generally strict with their children. The youngest two have been the hardest to bond with. Eight years ago, on my first trip to India, I remember visiting Chinnathha #3's house. I was not spoken to the entire time, except given a bad look when I refused ghee on my Aloo. Chinnattha's MIL refused to be in the same room as me, but instead she stared at me from behind the kitchen curtain like a crazy old ghost lady. I felt like the caste-less foreigner who polluted their space. I remember how I cried and cried after. How it stung for years after that. How I wondered why she did not even look at me; why she did not like me. What did I do to her? I thought. How I wished that my skin was brown, just so that she would acknowledge me.
A similar thing happened with my MIL's other younger sister as well. And as the years went on, there was virtually no improvement. I began to think that the mere concept of me - was just too different for them. Somewhere along the lines, I accepted this fate - if only to be at peace with myself.
So, when I saw Chinnattha #2 approaching me at the engagement, I thought she was coming to see Maya - my daughter being the connecting bridge between us. At least she is loved by them, I thought.
Instead, she came up to me and looked me dead in the eye, like the hawk she is. "You're enjoying the event?" she demanded. "Yes, I am. It's lovely and I'm glad we came to see it," I said quietly.
Then, she said, "I appreciate you. You co-operate with us. You are just like a daughter to me." It was so blunt. My jaw dropped. My eyes filled with tears of joy. I choked up a bit. I embraced her and whispered, "Thank you, thank you for letting me be a part of your family". She waddled off quickly, with that strange penguin-walk that aunty's-of-a-certain-age do, maybe embarrassed that I hugged her. I was left there standing like I just got hit by a rainbow. Like I starving roadside dog that had just been thrown a treat. Was that my initiation into this family? Did I finally make it into the inner circle?
That was a big turning point for me, and I still can't even believe it happened. To be appreciated. To be acknowledged for my efforts. To be told that I'm a part of this family, as if I was born into it. Maybe it was a one-time thing, but it really meant a lot to me and I'll never forget it.