I was watching a rerun of New Girl on TV and there was a scene where one of the characters, Schmidt, thinks he may be becoming a father and he and his friend, Nick, are freaking out.
Nick: I’m not ready to be an uncle!
Schmidt: You’re not my brother, don’t worry.
Huh, I thought. In America, brothers and sisters, along with other relations, are only if you’re related by blood.
Not so in India. A single child in an Indian family still claims to have volumes of brothers and sisters. This is because the relationship stretches to first cousins, second cousins and beyond. At first, newly returned from the US, I stumbled when I heard people talking like this.
“Oh, you were in the US? I have a sister there,” one person said.
“That’s nice. Is she the firstborn or you?” I enquired.
“Oh no, she’s my mother’s brother’s daughter,” he said.
“So, she’s your cousin?”
“Yeah, I guess,” he replied, looking at me strangely, as if to say, why would you put such a cold, distant label to this relationship?
I like this sense of family, it stretches it to a wide canvas, showing an inclusiveness and sense of filial bonding to people however remotely related. The responsibility and accountability to a wider group of people is apparent, it is to the same degree as is demonstrated to one’s immediate and direct siblings.
And then you have the African-American sense of brotherhood when they refer to perfect strangers as “my brother.” I always felt the warmth and inclusion of this way of referring to each other when I heard it. It reminded me of India in the days when I lived abroad. In our daily language, everyone is a mother, brother, sister, uncle, grandpa. We make everyone our own.
As we become more detached and disconnected with our immediate families in this age of high technology and mobility, I feel a greater need to adopt this view of the world, where everyone is my brother and sister. As we get more and more isolated and lonely, the human need for bonding and connectedness becomes ever more urgent.
When asked if he ever feels alone, the Dalai Lama likes to say, “if I think about where are the other Dalai Lamas, then yes, I’m the only one. But, if I think of humanity, then I am not alone. I have 7 billion brothers and sisters, so how can I feel alone?”