The language of behenchara: Behnain/Behnas/Behens

Artwork Titled ‘Disco Deewanay’ by Fatima Gulrez 

By Minahil Hussain Malik

A timeline:

I’ve changed cities, rooms, traffic lights, mugs, jeans waghera waghera my whole life, lekin meri behnain kabhi nahi badli.

THE Behen

She followed me out of my mother’s womb, three years late, and then continued to follow me everywhere quite literally. Then one summer we grew up, got attitudes and mama learned that hating us was possible. Mai aur meri behn, two juxtapositions in a quadruple family. She is mirchion ka achaar and I’m plain pickled vegetables in vinegar. If I roll my r’s she lets hers sit on her tongue, sharp and clear, and in all my messes I reach for her clarity. When I’m homesick I let my earphones blare bole churiyaan so I can go back to our bachpan in the backseat of a bottle green santro where a small behen declared in giggles and gaatay huye bole churiyaan, bole kangana mera favit gaana hai.

behnas (a pair and plural)

Two and two made four but now the four is forgotten. We used to fit like four fingers coming together at the tips in twos Dosti! Inseparable until after every summer our parents bundled us into the backseat and drove us away, less tears more sniffling until those too became thoughts or afterthoughts. I still think of you, boht.

cousin sister behen

I’ve learned dilli khushi from her. To laugh a full laugh, dil se. She’s the life and laugh of the party.

the more than blood behn

Everytime I’ve had hollows in my heart, she has filled them. Usually I skip the stumbling and land straight into the fall, and she’s always there extending both hands and already rolling her eyes at my next fall.

barri behen

She’s breezy makes everything look so easy. We balance each other out, my brain in overdrive and her colossal calm.

behn af

We share a lot but most deeply it is the feeling of relating to each other’s trauma and here comes the personality clash. Uff we clash and clang, but we always come out the other side, holding each other and stronger.

non-biological biological choti behnas

I got these three for free! One showed me it’s okay to laugh on blue days and that a biker jacket is a whole outfit on its own. One knows how to look bomb in a blazer and showed me how to dance dil khol ke. Through one I saw wisdom and that there will always be times when a choti behen will know what to say.

vilaayat waali behen

When I went away to do my undergrad, I found home away from home and hummus in the shape of a behen. Snowy nights huddled next to the heater, sobbing to our show that we watched a week late every week because it made us sad and so it was decided that a week-long break was required for mental preparation. Turkish breakfast and all kinds of cheese, it became a ritual and we even picked a place where we ended up loyally, every other Sunday, soaking Ankara’s sun through the never-ending windows and cigarettes that were left unfinished or shared between quick laughs and hair powdered in bits of snow because her hair is always untied. I think about you when it snows in Edinburgh, when I’m leaning on the cold windowpanes under string lights, when I brew coffee in the mornings and let it warm my face and fingers bir fincan love, from me to you, hamesha.


Mina/Minahil Malik

To see more of Mina, follow her on her Instagram.



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