What makes a family?
We now know it isn't strings like last names or dividers like four walls that makes a family. So, what is it?
We've grown up to believe that there are two ways to grow your family. By adding to it via marriage or by bringing in a child. But I have a story – it's about the time my family grew bigger and richer even as neither of these two grand scenarios were involved.
It was a random day – my mum had put up an exhibition stall and I decided to go check it out. My cousin Ankita was also going to be there – her friends had also put up a stall there. I hadn't seen her in a while, so I was looking forward to it.
'I Know... It's Her'
I must have seen her for all of 10 minutes, but that's all it took. I knew. This girl is my sister by blood, soul, and cold coffee. All our lives, we have shared secrets both big and small. We have stayed up all night together exchanging… everything. Secrets and confessions, and from time to time, dreams.
At every family gathering, we have gone from coming in separately to exchanging looks from different corners and then quickly found ourselves whispering to each other in the same corner at some point. Because it has felt safe.
So, at that exhibition, when I saw them together – these two women – it felt like that safety net had just expanded. I can't explain it.
Kavita and I – we had some awkward talk about cushions, room décor and rugs. We looked at a few t-shirts together (bought matching ones, too) and spent a fair bit of time debating the colour of a particular quilt she wanted to buy. None of this screams "Hello, family," but I should have.
A few days later, she texted saying, "I have to talk to you." I think I texted back saying, "I know. It's her."
The rest of this story can't be captured here, for it goes back many, many years, and includes days and nights at their home when one of them would read my mind and mend my broken heart. Their home became an extension of mine. The quilt, whose colour we debated, lives there now.
They quickly became the keepers of my secrets. There are so many moments when they'd stand firm and root for me, forever ready to help me navigate whatever crisis I was dealing with, holding a map, some cold coffee, and at least three types of chutney.
So, this is how my family has grown. Our family.
For Ankita's Parents, Kavita Is Epitome of Support
Today, this big Punjabi unit of a family – the people of which, I admit, took varying levels of time and processing to get to where we are – finds in Kavita something that they deeply cherish.
For some, she is a doctor on call, for some, an expert psychiatrist. For Ankita's parents, she is the epitome of support that any parent would expect from their child's partner. But she's so much more. Some of the photos of my aunt with Kavita have her beaming with a pride – and it's infectious.
And that's Kavita. She disarms you instantly. For my husband, Arjun, she fast became a sounding board and child expert on speed dial as soon as we became parents.
It's true – if we ever have a debate on parenting approaches, the one thing we agree on is: "Let's check with Kavita. We'll do what she says."
For me, Kavita is the keeper of my sister's heart. Kavita is the sister who got to my nani in her last days, held her hand and stroked her hair as she breathed her last.
Kavita is the one whose voice my nani heard right at the very end, telling her that I love her, and that I'm on my way. I didn't make it in time to see my nani alive, but Kavita made sure that it hurt a little less.
And since we're on nani – let me also share how she took the news when she found out about them. Nani (then about 90 years old) had met them both together but we assumed she hadn't caught on. Ankita tried to explain, but Nani had mostly lost her hearing at this point. I think she wrote it out on paper.
That they're in love, that they now live together. She processed it.
The only thing she asked was: Is this what makes you both happy? They confirmed. And I believe her words were, "Chalo, yeh bhi theek hai." And that's that, right?
Want My Daughter To Say 'Masi & Masi Did That'
There are three random instances from our story together that have foreshadowed where we find ourselves today.
One of them is that my daughter Malhaar was born on the same day as Ankita. God, I wish she grows up to be more like you. I dream of a day in the near future where her history textbooks will talk about this landmark judgment, this new dawn for India – and she will be able to say:
"My masi and masi did that." They are the freedom fighters she'll read about. Her masi and masi. A family unit that she has known to be as acceptable as any other.
The second: Long before any of this even happened – I remember this one time when Ankita and I were hanging out at 3 am as per usual. We thought someone broke into the house, and her immediate reflex was to go hide in the closet. Little did we know. But God, I'm glad we got you out of there.
The third: That t-shirt I bought from Kavita's friend's stall that day? It said: "Indian and proud."
There was nothing to stop these two, a couple in love in every way, from leaving the country. For the longest time, I believed it didn't matter whether they were married or not.
I don't know who decides how I grow my family, and I don't think I cared to listen. But here's the thing – it does matter.
They parent their dog named Chidiya together. They raise their parents together. In your eyes and mine, they're a couple in every way, but in the eyes of the law, it's a different story.
So, here they are. Indian and proud. Of themselves. And of our Constitution, of our judiciary. Trying to bring equality right where they live instead of fleeing to where it's waiting for them, just because they can.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing "Dr Kavita Arora and Another versus The Union of India." This is funny because it isn't versus. It's "Dr Kavita Arora and Another FOR the Union of India."
I've already earned a family member, but we missed the wedding bells. And as the old playground rhyme goes – first comes love, then comes marriage. We'll even pop their four-legged Chidiya into a baby carriage.
Come on India, give me my sister...in-law.
(Akanksha Kapoor is a former journalist, now a public health professional. You can find her on Instagram @akkapoor and on Twitter @akankshakapoor.)