Life is weird.

I don’t think a wedding proves this to be truer.

Our house – the one that I’ve lived in for close to two years now – is eerie. It contains three people instead of four, and all four are supposed to be happy wherever they are - but the house is eerie.

I don’t really know how to flesh out what I want to say, so I’m going to do it by narrating a series of events.

It all started with a wedding. Not on the actual day of the wedding though, I was too busy with preparations to notice anything then. But it all started because of the wedding. A wedding that would lead to LAN – life after nannd. Three days after the last ceremony was done and dusted I was on a formal courtesy phone call with a cousin I rarely speak to, when the conversation turned to LAN.

Nannd utar li sir se tumne? Hahaha you sound so happy,” she chimed on the phone. All in good humour. Nothing seriously wrong meant. Hatred or ill-wish automatically assumed to be in existence on my part.

I balked. My partner saw the recoil, didn’t understand it, and thankfully hadn’t heard the quip at the other end.

“Of course not. She’s happy and I’m happy all was managed well, and the house is so empty now…” I offered. The desperation to validate my bond with my ‘nannd’ who I have seldom referred to with the title confounded my cousin. “Allah khush rakhey,” she offered, almost as though it was a question.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. Part of my brain was angry at my own response, the other part was trying to figure out how it could have been less of a disaster. It reminded me of an exchange between my darzi, my nannd and myself (yes, really). When we were trying to get some of her clothes stitched I offered to take her to the only man in Lahore I’d trust with a complicated kurta.

“She needs excellent work done, don’t disappoint me – she’s my nannd,” I joked after we had handed over all the fabric and designs to him.

Nannd?” he looked at me with a peculiar expression. “Baji ye tou saheli hai, ap discount ke liye nannd kyun bana rahi hain?” [she’s your friend, why are you turning her into your sister-in-law (SIL) for a discount?] he half joked. We spent a good few minutes trying to convince him she really was my SIL and till date I’m not sure that we did. We interacted with him together for some 20 minutes as we handed over the clothes, our friendship was obvious, our buffoonery together even more so. We couldn’t possibly be in-laws – there was too much of a cordial air about us. At first I found this exchange funny, when this became a regular occurrence all it did was irk me.

My LAN was thrown in my face as something to look forward to, something of great peace, freedom and joy. When in reality all it is, is me sitting here writing this frustrating piece still unsure of how to tell people to reign it in when they assume she’s horrible.

If it hasn’t become obvious yet, I do not hate my nannd. And it may seem like an anomaly to some: but she doesn’t hate me either. What’s even more of an irregularity is that we’re fairly decent friends, she’s one of my closest.

Sometime before I met her, I was introduced to the idea of her. My partner described her like she was two years old, although she’s just a year younger than him. Their difference in height helps egg the idea along, at times hilariously. If this were some movie she’d be one of those aggressively sunshine-induced happy girls who help the world turn round. N was not that. Everything about her was quiet and subtle. Her smile could make the room warmer, but not in a Kajol spinning around in a Karan Johar movie way. This one time she had her ear cleaned and began speaking in a much lower volume than usual – but that’s just one of the crazy stories I have running through my brain right now.

Our conversations were filled with old Bollywood references, my disdain and her love for sports, our mutual annoyances with my partner, food, more food, all sweet foods, and all sorts of other nonsensical things. From the moment I met her I had decided we would be friends, whether she liked it or not (which is a successful strategy I’ve followed with almost every single good friend I’ve got; at some point Stockholm syndrome kicks in and they’re stuck for life).

A few weeks before her wedding I remember punching my partner. “You couldn’t have made her get married before us? She’s moving cities, what the hell should I do now?” I mean sure, he was losing a sister to another city but the last time I met someone I cared about this much was 10 years ago. I’m 30 now, I’ve gotten worse at making friends with time. More importantly, who do I share KFC with now?

Some weeks down the line from this conversation, as my best friend was getting married (yup, we’re intertwining other weddings into this story) and moving cities, her bhabhi told me she was glad she didn’t get married before and they ended up spending time together. More like long lost sisters they were. And in that moment it clicked that this was also how I felt about my own SIL.

The misery of my impending LAN became more and more obvious to me as the big day inched closer. I truly understood the meaning of bittersweet. When you love someone like a little sister all you see is the good things that are heading their way – but there you are sitting alone wondering how the hell the TV remote works, because hell if I ever had to work the damn thing when she was around.

This sounds like one of those clichéd horrible arguments, but I’ll have one anyway: why do we demonise in-laws so much? What is the big bloody deal with your partner’s family. Why do you assume that they are evil. I don’t remember ever having a conversation with my cousin about my SIL. We barely talk! I’ve never even jokingly implied that my SIL is someone I need to ‘sar se utarofy’. Then what gives?

Sure I’ve had arguments with her, sure we’ve had our issues, but those are because we’re human and we have different personalities. At the end of the day, there was nothing a cup of coffee and a slice of shared cake couldn’t fix. And truth be told – and I really do swear on this – we along so fabulously I would have married the girl if we weren’t both straight women. Sometimes she understood me better than my partner – she was there when I felt hopeless and she was there when I was elated; and she continues to be a part of everything even though she’s miles and miles away.

She was always always there to share a blanket as we settled into our couch to start a movie marathon. She was at once my library and my shopping buddy – she drove me crazy with her daraz.pk addiction and I drove her crazy by talking incessantly when she was trying to finish her office work.

When we began working towards her wedding I knew I was going to make sure everything was perfect for her. She had other people helping, but I pride myself on being one of the people she counted on the most. I don’t know if people realise how much it hurts to have them diminish all my hard work by saying it was done to rid my life of her.

I did what I did so that I could be free of what? What I’ve gained in her happiness cannot be measured against what I’ve lost in her company. But really? Sleepless nights, anxiety, the right colour of dye for clothes, a dhol, flowers and literal blood sweat and tears later my most obvious motivation is not love but want for her absence? Who goes to such lengths for people they don’t like? Who are these people? How waila are they, for lack of a better word?

It is said that women have the most amazing love stories – stories of sisterhood, comradery, and more. We too have a similar love story. As I write this I don’t know what to have for dinner, and she’s not there to decide for me. But a few minutes before I angrily began penning this down it wasn’t food on my mind, but makeup. Someone who I was showing wedding pictures to told me I looked prettier than the bride. I did not. And if I did it has to be a huge failure on my part because I helped her figure out where to get her makeup done two of her three events. Why is putting her down supposed to be a compliment for me? For the record, she literally looked like a super model while I looked like the chubby cute friend (ala Amy Schumer in most of her comedy sketches). But that’s not even the point. No one would have told me I looked prettier than her if they didn’t think there was a competition at play, some cattiness in the mix, some stupid satisfaction to be had upon hearing the petty comparison.

There is little I can do to truly outline how significantly my everyday has changed. My weekends no longer have a random coffee run (where it is also ensured that I consume none because I can’t sleep for three days); I no longer look forward to buying 15 different movies altogether to consume over the course of two days; there’s no random invitation to green tea; no joke about the recurring cat outside our door waiting for milk; silence where our day used to be punctuated with jokes targeting my partner – her brother. It is the little things that I’ve lost on, and lost happily because of how happy she is where she is.

Can’t attend a reunion because it’s your nannd’s birthday? Oh poor you we understand. What? No one is forcing me, I like my nannd, I paid for the fancy awesome cake! Can’t attend a random lunch invite because you’re shopping with the nannd? Oh poor you we understand. What! Shopping where she isn’t ordering something online and is in the real markets of the world? Do I even need to address this? Planning a family vacay so that you’re able to spend time together with the in-laws, oh poor you we understand. What. All my favourite people on the same trip. What are you pitying me for, it’s not my fault that society has made you mess up your families so much you can’t enjoy anything with them.

We as people need to address this bullsh*t in our culture. Stop making people who you are literally related to automatically evil. It’s not okay to celebrate devars and ostracize nannds. It’s not okay to jokingly tell someone – who has never spoken to you about their in-laws or any other relation for that matter – that they’re related to is evil. 

Mostly, stop talking to me with the assumption that my nannd’s absence is great or that any effort I make is forced because of some weird law that says you must suffer to make your in-laws happy.

I love my nannd, and my LAN sucks but in a completely satisfying way.