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CONNECTIONS

Staying close to family, though continents apart

Nothing was as fun as when we were all together. I cried whenever we parted.

Gracia Lam

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After months of preparation, the time had come. We took the stage, 100 sets of eyes glued on us. The music played, and we danced. It was my cousin Sanjana’s wedding, and in keeping with our Indian heritage, the rest of us cousins had prepared a few dance performances for the bride. We definitely weren’t mistaken for Bollywood stars. But maybe, just maybe, we fooled the crowd into thinking we had practiced together before that day.

In fact, we hadn’t. We had all just arrived in Calcutta for the wedding, some of us meeting for the first time in years. My family is spread across four continents. We’re in India, the United States, England, Australia, and Singapore. But that’s just geography. I’m proud to say my cousins, even when they’re 10,000 miles away, are still my best friends.

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It helps that we all have roots in the same place, New Delhi, and it will always feel a little like home, even to those of us who moved away 25 years ago. I was born in that city and lived in a three-bedroom apartment my parents shared with my grandmother, my aunt and uncle, and their two children. We were close — literally — from my earliest days. My parents later brought me and my younger brother, Akshay, to live in Massachusetts, but that connection to my extended family never went away.

It’s also because of the culture we were born into. In India, nothing matters more than family. Grandparents command unwavering respect, aunts and uncles act as parents, and cousins are like brothers and sisters. In fact our native tongue, Hindi, doesn’t even have a word for cousin.

As I was growing up, my parents never let Akshay and me forget the importance of family. Instead of fancy vacations, they saved their money to take us to India every few years, so we wouldn’t lose touch with our roots. I always looked forward to those meetings: stepping off the plane and feeling the pungent wave of heat, dirt, and spices in the air; finding my aunts and uncles and cousins in the airport crowd; going home for late-night chats, drinking chai in our pajamas. Nothing was as fun as when we were all together. I cried whenever we parted.

From suburban Massachusetts, my mother sent copies of school pictures and reports to family members in Delhi. We exchanged cards and letters. We called each other on Saturday mornings, spending more than $2 for every minute of echoey “hello” and “I miss you.”

I used to wish for a place where we could live together, all the Dayals and their friends. But now I’ve come to appreciate the distance. If we sometimes don’t see one another for years, we can’t take one another for granted.

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Our far-flung family gives us a great excuse to travel. My wedding in 2012 gave relatives a reason to visit here. Thirty people came from overseas. My cousins danced for me when I was the bride, and we did the same for Sanjana a year later. I wouldn’t have seen the dungeons of the Tower of London or the soaring peaks of the Himalayas or the blue waters of the Southern Ocean if I didn’t have family living near those sights. I wouldn’t have learned about the laws and climates and cultures of different lands.

Technology helps us connect when we’re apart. To prepare for Sanjana’s wedding, we planned our dances in e-mails and sent practice videos on YouTube. Now we share messages on WhatsApp several times a week — birthday wishes, vacation pictures, videos of my baby niece’s first wobbly steps. We’re in touch more than ever before. I’m grateful for this. Still, I can’t wait for the next time we’re all together again.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey is a Boston Globe staff writer. Send comments to connections@globe.com.


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