Desis call everyone in our culture who would be “Mr.” or “Ms” , uncle and auntie. The slightly older than us are bhai/baji (brother/sister). The blood auntie’s and uncle’s have further specific names like mamoo/mamee (maternal uncle/his wife).
Today I saw an uncle who lost his children. He had a bewildered expression. “school gayai thay… vapus nahin abhi ayain”. (They went to school.. they aren’t back yet).. It struck me how he was “Uncle”. If I saw him a stranger on the street here in America, I would call him Uncle. When my cousins first immigrated from Pakistan we got a kick out of hearing them call Americans Uncle/Auntie/Baji. My brothers would often say “Is Summer Baji, or Tiffany baji coming over?”
when I saw Uncle it felt like something holding me up collapsed…. I think its because I understood him. His inflection, his bewilderment. If his fortune was different I might have taught his students in Sunday School and seen him at dinner parties…. To call someone auntie, or uncle is a very close term…. Why shouldn’t it be? Arent they my uncle, auntie? What makes them not? They are a part of me and I am a part of them. They are my family. I am their family. We come from the same place. We believe in the same things.
It’s not all about race ofcourse. The pain of the people losing loved ones in Guatemala is devestating…. entire ancient cities covered in mud…. generations wiped out. We cant see ourselves in the little compartments based on skin color and religion that we shelve ourselves into and only care if it affects “us”. We are all part of one race. We are people. The only thing seperating me from “them” is the good fortune to not be where they are.
But can I say that the devestation of Pakistan haunts me particularly? The faces coming out of the rubble look eerily familar……They are my Uncles, Aunties, Baji’s, Bhai’s and I hate that I can’t be there for them like they need me. I want to go there. I want to dig through the cement. I want to hold the motherless children. I want to pass out water and food. There is nothing more helpless than sitting a world away just watching. I don’t want to watch the images on TV but then I feel I must. I owe it to them to care. So what if I cry. Maybe if I watch them I wont get desensetized. I will remember to think of them, and to pray for my uncles, aunties, baji’s and bhai jaans out there.
If you made it to the bottom of this incoherent ramble, thanks for listening. I just feel low, I needed an outlet to express it.