Oh, Brother!


The fragile thread of Rakhi is strongThe fragile thread of Rakhi is strong

Anyone who has ever had a brother, sister, cousin, or a sibling equivalent knows the trials and tribulations that accompany such unique relationships. They tend to make your life miserable, reveal your closely guarded, though foolishly-shared secrets, expose your weaknesses in public, and come to your rescue when you need it, defend your honor, and pick you up when you are down…all at the same time! They enrich our lives like no other.

Is blood thicker than water?
Sharing the DNA, childhood home, games, hiding places, secrets forges a special bond that no one else can relate to, or is privy to. Shared childhood memories persist years later, and in moments of adult distress draw us back to the safe haven of yester years. Selective amnesia plays a role in restoring only the good memories, reliving only the pleasurable experiences, thus everything about childhood becomes rosy!

Having grown up in a bustling and large household, with siblings, relatives and friends dropping by constantly, I have had my share of moments, so well depicted in a recent movie song: ‘I love you (like I hate you)”! I have been reduced to tears to find my precious doll “hanged” from the doorknob; embarrassed to beetroot redness to have my friend (who happened to be a boy), interrogated mercilessly by an outraged brother as to his intentions; frustrated to find myself losing at every card game, only to realize later that the siblings had “rigged” the outcome; shunned in the party as the siblings socialized with their friends and ignored the sister that tagged along because she had to be babysat.

And what about the time when my sister won’t let me in the room where she and her friends were dressing up in sarees for a wedding party, despite my copious tears and my mother’s requests? In retrospect why I would have wanted to watch this memorable event seems silly, but it was really important at the ripe old age of ten!

In the blink of an eye, I also remember playing “chor sipahi” (cops and robbers) from behind sofa “ships” and battling with wooden clothes hanger “guns”, and running around on, and sometimes falling from, the high boundary walls of the house as part of a sibling team. My brothers, on occasion indulged in playing house, and even constructed a prized dollhouse from cardboard boxes, with working internal lighting and hand crafted wooden furniture. When we tired of dolls and cooking, my brothers gamely played hopscotch in the front yard with me, in full view of passers by.

Years after the no entry to the saree dressing event, my sister surprised me with a hand stitched suit for my birthday, as part of her sewing class project. I loved the pink polka dot, double breasted suit with white satin pants, and the matching nail polish she added, maybe to erase her guilt! It is interesting to see the ease with which these relationships run the gamut.

Taking a page from the older generation, unconditional love compensates for a lot of other things. How they made you feel is what we remember the most in any human interaction. All things were shared…space, time, clothes, books, toys. The concept of privacy was non existent. The bathroom was the only undisputed place for private ablutions, thoughts and reflection.

Not only was your own family privy to your actions, pretty much the entire neighborhood was. More pairs of eyes on you meant more careful consideration of the consequences of your actions, as you were accountable also to the neighbor three houses down, and the “doodhwala” (milkman)!.

It does take a village!
Summer holidays saw the most bonding, maybe because of the sheer amount of time we were thrown in each others’ company. Along with the fun of playing concocted games, this time was also meant for preparing for the half yearly exams that followed right after the summer holidays.

I followed my brother’s diligent lead in setting aside a daily quota of study time, neatly chunked for morning and afternoon slots. Imagine my hardship in following the same pattern when he left to go to college and I had to find my own pattern of study time and play time. When he did come home from college during my exam time, we would try to stay up all night with a thermos of coffee, supposedly to study, but ended up with more bonding sessions than study sessions.

There was also the time when a bunch of us ten year old girls climbed up on an asbestos roof in a friend’s house which caved in…fortunately no one was hurt, just our pride. To my great surprise, that incident was never mentioned at the dining table, even though it had been witnessed by at least two brothers and their friends.

Every time it rains in my home in the Bay Area I am transported back to the giggling ritual of praying for more rain on Monday morning, as we got ready for bed on Sunday night, so the next day would be a “Rainy day holiday”. We would get dressed for school and wait for the school bus, praying even harder, and when our prayers were answered, change into home clothes with glee and sit on the window sill watching the rain run into rivulets from the rooftops and enter the swelling flood on the street below.

We would float paper boats in the flooded streets pretending it was in the midst of a raging sea, eat our lunches which had been packed for school as if it were the last ration of food in a shipwreck, and take turns watching to see how far the boat floated before being swept into a drain.

Years wear on…siblings leave the nest, and seek their fortunes in all corners of the globe. Some keep in close touch, others not so much. Family reunions are still spirited, recalling the past follies and foibles, solidifying those memories while making some more. Interactions change as spouses and children are added to the growing family circle…some become closer with friends of their choosing who they supplant as surrogate family, others add friends to the core family.

Adult sibling relationships become more complicated. Some fall prey to perceived wrong doings, imagined insults and conjured up slights, some are riddled with rivalries for inheritance, while others are a casualty of neglect and indifference. True, nothing is forever. There are also those that blossom despite separation of distance. Siblings and their families show up to celebrate your special occasions – weddings, birthdays, arrival of a new child, and hug you tight with their tears mingling with yours as we jointly mourn the loss of a parent.

The childhood is truly gone once the parents are, who are indeed the “keeper of the memories”. The passage of time teaches you the true value of mental health in the emotional bonds we make throughout our lives…the most important are the ones you are born with…you are stuck with them for life!

As parents today, we seek to make our children’s childhood memorable and unique and provide them with coping tools in the form of a strong family unit and extended family of relatives and close friends. When we hold our young ones in close embrace, our hearts beating as one, I hope they realize one day, how fearfully the parents navigate parenthood, trying to be perfect in the improbable task of turning this sweet young thing into a mature, productive and responsible adult. We proudly hand them our relationships and trust them to move them forward, as the love of those we love is a part of our children’s inheritance.

As we celebrate the occasion of Rakshabandhan, let us put our faith in the simple thread of Rakhi to keep the sibling relationships threaded together. The fragile thread of Rakhi is strong…leave this as a legacy for the next generation.

Archana Asthana