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We are twenty-three cousins on my maternal side, and what’s unique about us is that all our names start with the letter ‘S’. Quite a feat to pull off between 6 siblings consisting of four brothers and two sisters, don’t you think? I mean think of the different personalities (twelve in all) involved and the likely ego clashes that could have erupted. And yet there it was, all of us S-es from start to finish while they ‘wisely’ reserved their ego-clashes for ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ things.

Family lore has it that the first of us wasn’t given an S-name. But the subsequent few (4 or 5) of us ended up getting names that started with ‘S’, without any prior planning, that the siblings decided to make that the de facto alphabet for naming all their future children. Family lore also states, though I am not sure if that is truly so, that at this point the first of us was re-named with a ‘Sri’ at the beginning of her name so she could lead from the top the S-es already on the scene, and those that were soon to follow. But the really interesting and dubious claim of the lore is one that stated that children not named with an S met an untimely demise. I did believe that for a long time, though. Yes, there ought to have been 26 (Egad, we could have been the A-to-Zeders!) of us, but I am sure the letter ‘S’ had nothing to do with the three lives lost.

Set in the wall of the dining area of our ancestral home was a wooden cupboard. On its inside panel was written the names of all of us who belonged to this S Battalion. As children we often opened the cupboard to look at the names, as if assuring ourselves of the order of things, the eldest right on top followed by those that came later. We were taught to set great store by treating elders with respect and addressing them with appropriate titles too. So what if we were younger or older by only a few months or sometimes a mere week?! In such a scenario, the list was an invaluable and easy reference to settle disputes of seniority.

I myself was nearer the top (not that it did me any good not being the bossy kind), being 7th on the list, coming just after my cousin Sushma and right above Shyam. Nevertheless, it was a nice place to be in for someone with a secret crush on the number ‘7’ and not because it is my birth number or any such thing. It was the only number that could be written with a flourish, an added stroke across it to make it look stylish.

The ancestral home no longer stands in its original form, having been demolished and a new one built in its place. The list of names and birth-dates was copied onto paper, but I heard that it has been misplaced. Of course, we don’t need it now. For people like my sis and I, the order is engraved inside us and can be rattled off with ease even in our sleep.  As for the exact date of birth of each, we have Facebook to tell us that, since now almost all of us have been washed up onto its shore to be connected once again.