I know…there’s no such word as ‘co-sister’. It is an Indianism… like ‘prepone’ is. Any way, I am not here to debate about Indianisms and Hinglish. The term is used to define the relationship between two women married to two brothers. The correct terminology would be sister- in- law…or… Oh, whatever! They say you can’t choose your relatives but you can choose your friends. This piece is all about a relative whom I chose to be my friend! A true friend, well wisher and confidante for the past decade, though we have been related for the past 16 years. She is ‘Mari’ or ‘Bibbi’ to her immediate family, but Mangala to the world in general. What can you write about a person whom you have been watching grow from a housewife to a 'homemaker with undying patience and a personality that is a combo of the flamboyant and the buoyant'! Bibbi, the youngest of the three daughters blazed a trail of her own, incurring her strict conservative family’s wrath when she abandoned a pursuit of M Phil and got married outside her community, to my brother in law. That’s how she entered our lives. What drew me to her was the way she tried to merge into a totally new, alien and demanding way of life. I won’t say, it has been easy for her… but she has shown the dexterity and tenacity of a professional athlete in overcoming those hurdles. My close liaison with her started a decade back. Till then, she was …well…like me, another ‘sose’ or ‘bahu’of the the family. I liked her those days because she adored my kids…and anyone who adored my kids were okay by me! (Talk about selfishness!) After the birth of her son we came closer to each other but a deeper level of closeness developed only after I joined my husband in the UAE…roughly 8 years ago. Well… Mangala as a person has a tremendous capacity to form and sustain friendships. Her sense of humour makes people step into her parlour and get caught in the web of friendship. She is one person who can if she wants to, camouflage her hurt and displeasure in a witty comment. I said, if she wants to…because she doesn’t baulk at speaking her mind if the occasion really demands it. She can really put a person in his or her place with sharp retort uttered in a no- nonsense tone. But one has to first succeed at goading her into it! Here is a woman who forms close friendship in the building where she lives. She has, in my knowledge, changed about 4 apartments during her stay in the UAE, and is in touch with all the friends she amassed in these places. Not surprising for a person, who, during her annual vacations to <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 /><ST1:COUNTRY-REGION><ST1LACE>India </ST1LACE></ST1:COUNTRY-REGION>spends time with 3 friends of her college-days. I am amazed by that! Every year, they make it a point to spend a couple of days together at least… amazing- as one of them is a professional in Baroda and the other, a housewife in Mangalore with a full- fledged joint- family to take care of. The best thing is that even the husbands have turned into good friends. The secret behind the success of such friendship, I suppose, is her nature. She gives a 100% to her friendship. Her 16 year old friendship with Raina is a standing testimony to this ( Of course, Raina is a sweetie pie whom anyone would covet to have for a friend…). She would go out of the way for any of her friends, whether it is Kanchana or Nafisa or Sreelatha. Well…this is not about her friends either. This is about Mangala’s zest for life. There was a time when I thought she’d just settle down to the life of a home maker, worried more about savings and a secure future…I must say Nokia has done a great job…connecting people… to Mangala. For she is the most ‘connected’ person in my knowledge. Her landline and her mobile keep ringing incessantly. I think people feel comforted after a chat with her. She has a fantastic taste for clothes and carries off those brilliantly shaded outfits that she picks while I cringe inside. And she is a very patient cook. Patient, because she has to cook two separate meals everyday. One for her vegetarian husband and the other for her non-vegetarian kids and herself… in two separate sets of utensils…twice a day…Now you know why the term ‘homemaker’ fits her to the boot! Ours is a very informal relationship. She calls me Manni, but therein stops the officiousness of our relationship. We are more like friends. We discuss everything…EVERYTHING. Many a time we keep secrets, not even sharing them with our husbands. We giggle together, we gossip, and even go on shopping together…though that has become rarer these days. She has been my most encouraging fan…reading all I write (though she admits sometimes what I write goes way above her head…) I have failed only in one thing. All these years I have tried to wean her into reading books, but gave it up as a dead cause after she finished a 300 - paged book in about 10 months’ time. She just can’t get interested in reading. Any day, she’d prefer watching a movie…in a theatre to being cooped up with a book. She is not addicted to television. In fact, she tells me her secret ambition is to swing a chair at the big plasma TV in her living room… Well…we won’t go into the reason for that today! The best tribute to our friendship was paid by my mother, 7 years back. My mother was on visit. Those days I was working. Everyday, before going to work, I’d call Rat, my sister who resided in <ST1:CITY><ST1LACE>Dubai </ST1LACE></ST1:CITY>at the time, and Mangala, in Sharjah. I’ll just say, am leaving. In the afternoon I’d call again…and we’d chat about everything that happened in our lives till that moment. My mother said, I envy you your relationship with Mangala. It is sad that I don’t have such camaraderie with mine. Well…Mangala and I don’t even talk to each other everyday now a days. Her kids are growing up. She’s busy being a mother. She also has a much wider friend circle than she used to 8 years back ie… when I landed here. While I was planning to settle down in Sharjah with my husband, the elders in our family suggested that perhaps we should stay together. Mangala immediately refused. I was rather piqued at the time by her refusal. I learnt the wisdom of her words later. For any relationship to blossom, you need space. And she was ensuring that ours would blossom. And blossom, it has…into a totally undemanding, yet intimate one! We are, I think, out to prove to the world that 'Orpadis' need not hate each other or need to just tolerate each other's presence in their lives... We share joys and sorrows... We know each other so well... Given a choice, I'd choose Mangala for my sister in law anytime... She sure has made a lot of difference in my life!