South Asian Uncles by Sarosh Nandwani

I spend so much time with uncles, the ones who call me
sweetheart, who pull me in for hugs even if I know
they can feel me pull away. They put one hand on my shoulder, my back,
grab the hand I reach out to shake theirs with, and pull my small frame
into their bellies until I can feel their breath on my ear
and feel their face rustle my curls. I wonder if they can feel me

I shake all their padded hands — hands that may not be respectful
when they need to be. I always wonder, when I meet one, Have you touched
your wife without permission? Conversely, do you pleasure her?

I speak until I am spoken over, and then
usually not at all. Would you like to sit? I ask them,
gesture to where my body had been moments before. I make

They complain about their wives, their daughters, their sons, and I
listen, because who else is supposed to do the emotional labor? A breath
later, they brag about their accomplishments, their lives, their children,
and I tell them they are amazing. I tell them we are lucky to have them as role models. How difficult it must be, to be groomed into entitlement.

Every gathering plucks me from the couch and drops me
unceremoniously back down into the kitchen. My father, my uncle,
an uncle, the male host welcomes in the guests, and leads the men to the
couches. They sit, and they talk, one ankle crossed onto the opposite knee, arms
spilling across the back of the couch. My mother, my aunt,
an aunty, is puppeteered around the kitchen island by the same
strings that placed me there. Were we created for this? The young
daughters are watching.

The men wait with their keen hands, and the women ask me, Can you please
bring them some chai? and I say yes, because what else is a woman
good for than to bring the uncles chai? Did you bring them the snacks too?
they ask. No, I will go do that now. Each time I pass an uncle, I hold back
from an accidental spill.

I grimace politely. I glare delicately. I retreat with my tray.
I know these uncles.


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