Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 32, Tuesday August 19, 2008


With families breaking down into smaller and smaller segments, and family planning seeping into the populace, gone are those days when houses bustled with brothers and sisters. In this era of nuclear families, cousins- especially those of the same age range- are becoming our substitutes for siblings. And so this week, we pay tribute to that very bonding, the essence of surrogate siblings…

surrogate siblings

One of the greatest upsides of being born into a huge family is the gift of cousins. When you have more aunts and uncles than you can count with two hands, it is inevitable that the next generation would be prone to oddities and eccentricities- interestingly enough, the cousins start resembling the Gremlins. Of course, do not get me wrong- I am not even remotely hinting on facial resemblances (although, it does often seem that along the line, some may have lost their way in the time line of the evolutionary process, while the others may have over ripened to the status of a Victorian socialite).

That is the very magic of having cousins. Going back to the Gremlins analogy, simply put, in a large family, they appear to be crawling all over the place. And yes, they do come in all size and shape. With all that racket, you would think that the profusion of these so-called surrogate siblings would stop. But alas, some Aunt X or Uncle Y would soon announce that another is on the way which would lead to yet more racket and yet more enthusiastic baby-making.

Survival of the fittest:
“Live and let live” is not the motto when you have more cousins than you can count. From the very beginning, it becomes an essential survival skill to maneuver through those who would take the advantage of their age and bully you to polish their shoes, or those who would use you as a delivery boy for their love letters (aka, premature mush that could be better employed as a wad of toilet paper).

Anika Salauddin, the second youngest in the line of thirteen cousins, now seventeen, recollects: “My elder cousins were such pests. We used to live in this big house, and yeah, it was fun all the time. But yes, if you were me, you would literally have to fight back the miserable aspect of it. Sallu (my immediate elder cousin brother) used to make me sharpen his pencils before he sat for his homework; and that was not all, if he made a mistake, he would make me rub it out with my strawberry eraser.”

But being on the other end is not so easy either. With age comes responsibility. “Shoma 'Pu, my eldest cousin, was in charge of babysitting us whenever our parents either went out or were busy,” Anika says, “Guilty as I feel now, I remember how all of us little ones used to bug her by running up to the rooftop whenever she was not looking and hiding. But we had fun times too. She used to give us candies if we were good, and they were good enough incentives.”

United we stand…
An even greater blessing is to have cousins of the same age group. This makes it easier and much fun to share ideas (and secrets). And when “the going gets tough”, cousins are often the ones to come to the rescue. Of course, dealing with personal issues and the challenges of growing up are more often than not products of such camaraderie, but the bond is also evident in trifle day to day matters.

Rehnuma Rahman, twenty, says: “My elder cousin Nazia always was there to back me up, through both good times and the bad. I particularly remember this occasion where I did really bad in some subject back in middle school, and she defended me from my mother's consequent fit of hysteria (which, I admit, was justified).”

Get the party started…
These days, given that most people prefer nuclear lives rather than large joint families, it is rare for cousins to live together. Yet, many still find time to schedule day outs or make lunch dates. Arman Sultan, twenty eight years of age and a barrister by profession, says, “I have three cousins and we are all very close. But these days with everyone working full time, it is tough to find time to meet up. Still we try to make time here and there, you know, maybe go out for coffee or ice-cream.”

Fuad Sultan, Arman's cousin, is more enthusiastic: “There would be weekends when we get our respective families, and go out together on small picnics. Other times, we would have a simple “brothers day out” sort of a thing- you know, fishing or bowling. Some holiday afternoons, we even spend time at my place, playing on my son's Xbox.”

On the younger end of the spectrum, cousins usually make movie dates, hang out with common friends and even double date. But as evidenced by so many relationships, the fun is not only confined to the youngsters. In fact, it gets better with age and the grey hair.

Shireen Amin, forty three, says: “We have this small get-together once a month, where we cousins catch up on old amusing anecdotes and the latest gossips. The children are sent out, so that we have the house to ourselves. This runs on a rotational basis, so that one cousin or the other hosts the month's get-together. Food, drink and simply sitting back and reminiscing on old times… it's just amazing.”

Cousins, cousins, cousins. They are pains and blessings all wrapped in one package. Yet, in the end, you cannot help but be glad that your world is populated with Gremlins. So through the good times and the bad, the highs and the lows, hats off to cousin camaraderie…

By Shahmuddin Ahmed Siddiky
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Special thanks to Commodore M Farid Habib and Hafiza Habib
Models: Zaki, Faseeha, Sadia Siddiky, Sadia Shahid, Iftikhar, Ahsan, Tuhran, Sabreena


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