The word ‘sister’ has only one definition. She is the one who is born of the same parents as yours. Of course, there can be a half-sister (referred to as step-sister in India) who shares only one parent with you.
But ’sister-in law’ ? There can be many definitions. It could be your brother’s wife or your husband’s sister or your brother-in law’s wife. And then these sister-in laws might have their own wide network of their own sisters and sisters-in law. With both my father and father-in law being prolific sires (as was the norm in the plentiful, prosperous 20th century) I have a whole lot of sisters and sisters-in law in India not to talk of those who have settled abroad.
During my teaching career, I would be commuting to the schools I served in by school buses or private ‘Matador’s. There not being a very big fleet of them, they would take a circuitous route all over Bangalore picking up the teachers and the students.
It so happened that wherever we went along the route there was bound to be a sister or sister-in law residing in that area and I couldn’t help pointing it to my co-passengers.
Once a North Indian colleague who was of the firm conviction that fair complexion was the monopoly of the North asked me incredulously, “Are you from Bangalore?” I replied, “Yes indeed, born, brought up, educated, married and hope to die in Bangalore.” One of my fellow commuters burst out with gusto, ”She is not only from Bangalore but anywhere you go in Bangalore you will find a sister or a sister-in law or sister’s sister-in law or sister-in law’s sister or sister-in law’s sister-in law of Vimala. I don’t think there is any place in any part of Bangalore where she doesn’t have a relative!”
But God bless them all. They are a sweet lot (unlike in the TV serials) and I cherish their company.
By the way, I forgot that in our Indian custom we call our cousins also brothers and sisters. So, it happens that the spouses of our male cousins and the husband’s cousins (female) and spouses of his male cousins also become our sisters-in law.
I think I better stop before the heads of my readers, specially of the modern generation believing in ‘We two, ours two’ go spinning beyond limits.