Time amplifies division; I fear that we’re never going to be a big family again, that my newborn son will never consider his cousins to be siblings like I did.
Malkit Singh echoes over the speakers. Today, we feel like dancing all night. The adults relish in the folk songs while kids awkwardly hop on the spot to the unfamiliar beats with their hands in the air. My dad, devoid of rhythm, claps awkwardly while circling the willing dancers. My mom is the life of the party, with her double-clutch elbow move and spin. Five-year-old me drags my drunk uncles to the middle of the room to complement my childish dancing and Ravishing Rick Rude’s pelvic swings and thrusts. This continues for hours and carries over to the second night, even though the family collectively has fewer dance moves than songs on cassette.
The family had arrived in the United States and conquered it in our respective suburban cul-de-sacs, but we never came together again the way we did in 1990. We were once happy together, a feeling that has since been disrupted by unforeseen family deaths and distance measured in decades. That was the last dance, the final time such familial sincerity was captured on tape. I relished in a celebration that was forgotten in the past. I became nostalgic for an era in which I barely lived and only recalled through the computer screen as a footnote in my family’s immigrant story.
The roots of my nostalgia are buried in the realization that it’s impossible to keep our familial culture from 1990 alive. It fissured over years as our collective immigration from India no longer exclusively defined us, when our diasporic journey became historic, rather than our only present. Time amplifies division; I fear that we’re never going to be a big family again, that my newborn son will never consider his cousins to be siblings like I did, and his summers will be spent alone, as isolation will be our final act of Western conformity.
Isolation will be our final act of Western conformity.
Still, my wife was delighted to see the home video. I laughed until I wept. Maybe the tears stemmed from the lonely holiday caused by viral distance from our families. But I don’t want to credit the pandemic for yet another breakdown; the nonnegotiable passage of time ultimately supersedes any temporary threat. It feels like something greater has been lost since the reunion, an unfettered and indescribable euphoria that exists only when the cameras are forgotten and the good life is just beginning in America.
How would the elders feel watching these simpler and more playful versions of themselves? Can innocence be restored, or is it lost forever? I still hope it can be rehabilitated by carelessly having one more drink, joyfully repeating a favorite song on the stereo—or in our case in 1990, doing one more lap around the crowded makeshift family room dance floor.
Pardeep Toor's writing has appeared in the Best Debut Short Stories 2021: The PEN America Dau Prize, Electric Literature, Midwest Review, and is forthcoming in the Southern Humanities Review, and Great River Review.