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The plight of the not so well off.

Summary: It cannot be easy being the little sister whose life has apparently maintained a steady line somewhere just below the 'normal'

Image Credit: By Fawaz Turki, Special to Gulf News,Thinker

It cannot be easy being the less-well-off sister in the family. Especially when you're stuck in still-developing India while your older sibling has not only made a smashing marriage (smashing, not in the sense of domestic violence, but that her Caucasian husband is a smashing looker) but also that she has 'made it' in Australia and has gone from riding a second-hand scooter to work in one of the well-known Indian cities (which must remain unnamed here for reasons of privacy) to driving a posh wine-red Holden in Perth where a lot of other siblings of other families have also found success and now call home.

It cannot be easy. Especially come 'visiting time' when older, newly married, sis is paying the old hometown a visit to show her hubby exactly where she came from (which was a bit of a risk, my friend Barney reckoned when I related this anecdote to him; brave girl, he said, with a chuckle.) And also, to show everyone what a catch she's made and how compatibly in love they are.

It cannot be easy being the little sister whose life and career graph has apparently maintained a steady line somewhere just below the 'normal' level of comfortable living without dipping too alarmingly. She's made a decent marriage by 1960s standards. Her husband, like my dad, is a railway man. Her two sons are my age and, ergo, my friends. Her three daughters are not my friends mainly because I am teased by two of the older girls who wish to pair me up -- at seven-and-a-half years -- with their youngest sister. I am having none of it because I like playing cricket.

Anyway, a few days before the Australian sister and her posh husband show up, I inadvertently become a fly on the wall. I am actually hiding under a bed from two of the older sisters when their mother and father walk into the room. Naturally all the talk is about the impending visit, and that is what this 'not-so-well-to-do' couple are discussing. Arrangements. And appearances. Who's going to sleep where. Who's going to give up their beds. Have they got enough pillows and bed linen and towels?

It is decided that they'll borrow whatever they are short of from my Peggy. My mother's name. I hear it! Peggy's got a cupboard full of stuff and it's all always nicely washed, folded and put away.

The Australian sister has, apparently, written a well-in-advance snail mail asking her less-well-to-do sibling to give her a list of all the things she'd like to have from Australia. Did you remember to mention corned beef, asks the husband. The wife acknowledges that she has and adds cheese and chocolates and condensed milk.

It's not the stay that's going to be awkward at all, she tells her husband, it's when it comes time for them to leave. Why? "Because Jessie (not her real name) will definitely press me to take some money. She'll want to pay. And I cannot take money from her." Why? "I just can't. It isn't right." But they could use the money, her husband reminds her. "I know. That's what makes it even more awkward." Then why the false pride? "It's not pride, for heaven's sake. We just don't want to look like beggars."

And so, after a prolonged discussion it is decided: When that moment arrives, she (the younger sis) is going to be adamant that she'll have none of it. Absolutely none of it. The older sister will press her. Once, twice, a third time. On the third time, the less-well-to-do husband, my dad's friend, will take a deep breath, intervene and say, "Just take it darling. If it makes Jessie happy." And that's exactly how it plays out three weeks later all of it mixed with the tears and laughter of parting and saying farewell and promising to keep in touch. It cannot be easy. It never was. We had well-to-do relatives abroad, too.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 29, 2018
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