- Natasha Badhwar
- for BBC Hindi
I have two brothers. I say big brother. Our relationship is complex and interesting, like a good novel.
My younger brother Manu, as witty as he is serious. We are both like a collection of stories.
The two brothers are part of my life, they are stories. A few days ago it was Raksha Bandhan. This occasion reminds us every year of the special relationship we have between us.
When we were growing up, I always felt that the Rakhi tradition set me apart from my siblings. The memories of those days are running like a movie in my mind. The three of us wrestled, played and rode bikes with each other.
Apart from that, there was also recording of songs, writing slogans for TV contests, writing figures in test books, telling ghost stories to scare each other. Sometimes we used to tell jokes about yawning and farting to tease each other.
The brother was our leader. He was also a little scientist. He had a great love for playing trivia and general knowledge books. He also entertained and informed us by reciting his magic shows, science projects, bowling imitations of Abdul Qadir and plays of Shakespeare on his way there from the Mother Dairy stand.
Manu was always full of boundless energy. On a hot summer afternoon, he made countless laps around the house on his blue skateboard. He taught me to play football and hockey on the terrace of the DDA flat, so he could get along with someone. However, when I broke my elbow, he played badminton with me for physical therapy. He was playing very well and he didn’t like my slow playing but seeing my pain, he kept playing.
Tradition influences us
On the morning of Rakshabandhan, we suddenly became brothers and sisters. I have always felt that the tradition of Rakhi sets me apart from my siblings. Boy and Girl Family, culture and society suddenly enter our relationship. We were told that sisters tie rakhis to brothers to protect them. Sisters were said to be weak, helpless and dependent on brothers for protection.
While the brothers presented themselves as strong and warriors. His role was to save the shame of the sisters. This narrative reinforces the brothers’ generosity and the sisters’ gratitude towards them. Every year on Raksha Bandhan we were reminded that brothers are strong and sisters are weak.
As we became adults, my enthusiasm continued. I didn’t need Rakshabandhan to have a beautiful and spontaneous relationship with my siblings.
When Manu finished his studies, he went to Jamshedpur to study in an engineering college. I didn’t want to be an engineer. But he was given no choice. My parents had decided to make a son a doctor and an engineer. Bhai was studying medicine at Delhi Medical College.
when the brother was in trouble
Two months later, when Manu came home from college for the first time, he had swollen lips, slap marks on his face, all because of the college routine. He was trapped in an environment of aggressive, violent and caste-dominated oppression. I was very afraid.
I didn’t want to go back. But he had no choice. He had to endure all this. They told him not to be weak, things will get better soon.
The next time he came home from college, I sat next to him late into the night, listening to the horrifying experience. He was telling stories related to sexual harassment of women, caste politics and student violence. I tried to comfort him as best I could.
When he returned home from college for the third time that same year, Manu was determined not to return. Due to violence between caste groups on the college campus, the college administration had closed the college and sent the hostel occupants home.
I explained to him: “These are initial problems, you will find your way out.” In fact, we were both afraid of my father’s reaction.
Then Manu said, “You don’t know anything, the way the boys talk about the girls there, the way they tease them in the markets and cinemas, I can’t stay away from studying in that place. I’m mad” . .”
It was Rakshabandhan time among us. I knew I would have to side with my brother. He needed me to protect me. As a sister, I had to help him so he could protect himself.
We talked to the parents. We explained everything to them peacefully. Manu requested that he would work harder to clear the IIT or Delhi College of Engineering entrance exam. The parents listened to us and agreed.
Manu did not go back to that engineering college. At the age of 18, in a very short time, Manu had learned a lot about Jivaka’s toughness.
A few years later, I was in a hotel room in Kemps Corner, Mumbai, when my landline rang. He then worked as a video journalist and also used to travel for work. By then, the brother had become a medical specialist in New York and was continuing his studies at medical school. He had called Bombay from America.
He had met a very special person in his life and he was in love with her. I wanted to tell him about his family. He said, “Will you write to her about us? She wants to know where I’m from.”
Those whom I had not met until now, the brothers asked them to write letters. He asked me to play a role in his love story. That day was also Rakshabandhan day for both of them.
I respect the intertwined traditions. Do these traditions say how we are the same even after so much difference? But I do not respect the conventions that impose roles and choices on us, which seem clearly false and do not match the realities of our lives.
I have the most sacred relationship of my life with my siblings. We will always be there for each other. Whether the online store has sent rakhi to brother on time or not, whether I reach Manu’s office lobby and tie rakhi to him or not.
Whenever we take time to call each other, that occasion is Rakshabandhan for us. Every time we see each other’s children and hug them tightly because they remind us of our childhood, that occasion is Rakhi. Every time we don’t bother buying each other gifts because we want love, not things money can buy.
All sisters have an exceptionally protective attitude towards their brothers. We need a festival that also honors this feeling. When I take three grains of rice coated with red kumkum powder and apply this tilak on my brother’s forehead, the thought comes to my mind, “Go brother, be your best self, I am here to protect you.” there to do it, I’m there to take care of you.”
(Natasha Badhwar is the author of ‘My Daughter’s Mom’ and ‘Immortal for a Moment’. She is a filmmaker, teacher and mother of three daughters.)