My elder sister returned from the States with her husband and two kids after spending many years there. Though we had spoke to each other frequently during that time, we didn’t know each other very well. We shared casual laughs out loud and some of the down-in-the-dumps moments in our wifely and motherly lives. However, our conversations barely touched a chord in either of us.
She arrived on October 7th 2010, a good six weeks later than planned- with gifts for everyone and two cute kids who instantly took a fondness to me. When she set up house she called me over. I remember visiting her apartment and then recklessly commenting to my mother, "We have a bigger, independent house," referring to my husband’s home in the heart of the city. My insecurities at that time were overwhelming because during my teenage years I had always been put down for being a nerd. I didn't look good. There was a constant comparison between us siblings. I was brown-skinned to her fairness which seemed to dazzle others. I was short to her tall, thin to her well-endowed looks. My sister never stood up for me when I was the butt of jokes from my aunts and cousins.
In the time my sister had left and made a life in the U.S., I had managed to come to a good place in my life. Now I was worried that my sister's return was going to unsettle me; my Indian ways of conducting my life was going to be judged and trivialized with her immigrant American wisdom.
So was this sisterhood all about jealousy and rivalry?
I accompanied her on shopping jaunts. There was a certain warmth and familiarity in our talks. Though we didn’t go beyond the surface, there wasn’t anything to limit me from pushing our relationship deeper. She gave no signs of superiority.
Meanwhile, the chatter around us had picked up. Now, to our family, I appeared fat to her flyweight figure. I looked like the elder sister. This time, as adults, she didn't defend me openly. This time, I didn’t run off to take solace in my books. I wanted my sister’s light attitude and witticisms. I wanted her style to be my own.
Unpacking these emotions wasn’t easy. Trying to discern what our sisterhood meant to me; what we meant to each other, felt like sprinting at high speed, out of breath and depth. My inner voice kept raising questions. I kept stripping layer after flaky layer of misconception only to understand that there was no solid core of me that could remain above all this, unscathed. I had simply been a mirror; my nature could be summed up to all my reactions to others, including my sister.
But I was evolving. I had quite a lot of growing up to do. Eventually, I found a different way to be, without allowing myself to be compared. I learned how to have a good time with my sister. I began to understand that she wasn't the antagonist in my story.
Since she was young, stories--both the telling of and the listening to--have been part of Vijayalakshmi Sridhar's world. Mostly she writes about people and their relationship angst.