Shruti, my kid sister, well not so kid anymore, but still…… she is fourteen years younger than me, so kid holds.
The day before yesterday was August 2 or as people from India would remember, Rakshabandhan. Literally translated “Raksha=Protection”, and “Bandhan=Ties”, or in terms of significance “Protective Tie”.
I was out that night with clients in from Nigeria, and over dinner at Mainland China, the talk turned to Rakshabandhan.
What is this Ra….sha… something, said the client, not quite able to pronounce the word! Is it some kind of holiday?
My heart stopped for a moment or two on account of the deep pain I felt, my eyes welled up, and I hastily excused myself to go to the washroom. So you’re probably going, what gives! Allow me to come back to that please.
Back from the “washroom”, I attempted to explain to my guests something about Indian culture which can be a mite difficult at times. “Ra….sha….” or Rakshabandhan, I explained was an ago old tradition, steeped in deep symbolism, sentiment, and a very practical custom.
In Indian culture, religion, and in general in our way of life, a woman needs to be supported and protected all her life, right from the time she comes into this world. As a child she is under the protection of her father and brother. The “Kanyadaan” or “gift of the daughter“ ceremony during her wedding, is the time that the mantle of protection transfers from the father to the husband. When the husband is no more, the role passes to her son.
But even when she is married checks and balances have been built into the social fabric, where an “inspection”, is carried out by the girl child’s parents, and brother via several sociocultural, and religious festivals each year, where the girl’s parents and family are provided the opportunity to check on the now married girl’s life, and her situation post marriage.
The brother is given pride of place, and twice a year, the brother and sister are drawn together under the old traditions, to validate and ensure that the sister is happily married, that she is being taken care of, that she is not in some financial, or social or physical disadvantage.
Rakshabandhan, usually comes around the month of August and at this time, brothers visit the home of their sisters to renew their ties. This is symbolized by the sister tying a silken thread, on the right wrist of her brother, and in return the brother renews his vow of taking care of his beloved sister.
The selection of the thread is not without meaning, it is silk whose fibers are strong. The ceremony is sanctified by a sacred fire, vermillion powder “kumkuma”, and a few grains of rice, an age-old Indian tradition. She feeds the brother sweets, and the brother usually gives her some gifts, which could be jewelry and cash. If during the “visit” to the sister’s home the brother finds that the sister is unhappy, or is facing some financial impediment, or is not appropriately treated, the brother “intervenes” to set things right.
The in-laws and the husband are sent a message in this fashion, that they need to beware, this is my sister, she is under my protection, don’t mess…..
As I narrated the significance of this “Ra….sha….” to my client, he was amazed, and said with immediate effect he was going to adopt this tradition into his family back home in Nigeria! Talk about cultural inclusion across boundaries.
The tears in my eyes were not without reason.
Shruti, my kid sister (all of fourteen years younger), is happily married to Dhiraj, a really great guy, has two kids, Pralhad and Dhruv (lovely boys), and is settled in America.
I traveled to the US of company business frequently, and visited their home as often as possible, and it was always a great couple of days with Shriti and her family.
We were later estranged due to some indiscretions on my part, and several years ago, I walked out of her home in America after a massive argument and we were barely on talking terms.
I just felt so hurt when we argued, that my kid sister, who was hardly in a position to comment or for that matter pass judgement about my character, not being privy to the reasons behind my indiscretions, was making pronouncements and passing judgement. The hurt was not really because of her reaction, or her comments, but had more to do with the fact that in one fell swoop, I was the bad guy. I was thinking, that I have brought her up, I have changed her diapers, I have bathed her, I have picked her up and dropped her to school, and now suddenly I am a bad guy? Whatever happened to all that?
With the several years of hindsight from the time of that incident, I can understand that she was suffering as well. She worshipped me, her brother was someone she really looked up to, and someone she thought could do no wrong. She must have struggled with the fact that her brother was human too, and it was possible for him to make mistakes. I think, added to the fact is that Shruti, is really close to my kids, especially Krishanu, my eldest, who she’s spent quality time with, and my indiscretions had impacted my family quite adversely.
So dinner over, I dropped the guests to a cab, and as I strolled along the promenade I saw a very strange SMS from my dad. It said something like, “I have been thinking about him since morning”, “I tried to call him”, “I’m going to the hospital to see a friend”. On seeing such a SMS would you blame me for being a bit confused? I called my dad and asked him what that SMS was all about, who was in the hospital, etc. He then told me that is was an SMS that he received from Shruti my sister, and that she had been trying to call me! That SMS was about me!
Maybe I should skip over the eyes welling up again bit, but you know what? I’m not ashamed. I love my sister dearly and I have really missed her sorely these past few years. So I tried calling her but wasn’t able to get through. Instead sent her a SMS letting her know that I had fond memories of the happier times we had together when she was a kid (still is for me).
Almost instantly comes her reply, saying that time and distance have separated us long enough, and she wanted to talk to me. I tried calling her again, but to my dismay no one answered. I guess I will have to wait to talk to her some other time, but I’m hoping that the bridges can be mended.
Today is Sunday, the only day really that I get a chance to reminisce, and today all I’m thinking is of Shruti, my little sister, who is not so little anymore.
I’m thinking about the time I crashed my car in the great hurry to get her to school on time. I’m thinking about the time when I almost ran over the marching contingent from her school that was marching on the road as I came tearing around the corner. I’m thinking about the time when I ran over a hen as I made that daily dash to get her to school on time, and how I had to contend with a mob who was looking to lynch me. I’m thinking about the time when I was in Abu Dhabi and got a call from her telling me that she had delivered her first child, and decided to name him Dhruv, knowing that I would just love the name, it being from scripture. The second boy Pralhad, was also named based on scripture. I’m thinking about her wedding, and the fact that I had so much professional adversity at the time, that I couldn’t spend those last few days with her before she went away.
I remember clearly, when one Saturday afternoon Shruti and Bhavna asked me out to lunch, and Bhavna tells me that Shruti wants to tell me something. I can still remember the look on her face, when the first thing I asked her is “so who is the boy”, without even knowing that she was seeing someone! So I got the low down, and I ask that the boy is summoned to see “The Bhai”. The boy presents himself, and is to be confronted in a rather hostile interview. This is my baby sister for cryin’ out loud. The hostile plan was a damp squib, and was no fun at all. I instantly liked this guy, and so my approval is readily given.
See I follow this five second rule, and if someone doesn’t cut it in the first five seconds, that person won’t ever make it at all.
She was engaged in a ceremony at our home, and a few months later she was married, and a few months later she was gone. Gone to live with her lovely husband Dhiraj. I don’t think I have ever told her this, but I really missed her.
I remember that when I was much younger and Shruti was not yet born, each Rakshabandhan day I would be most upset because there was nobody to tie me Rakhi, except my dad’s sister, which wasn’t really the same as having a real sister. And then fourteen years after me there was Shruti!
I can remember the day she was born like it was yesterday! It was in my last year in high school, and it was exam-time. I woke up and my grandmother told me that mom and dad had gone to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning. I was so excited that I could barely write my exam! I finished my paper about half an hour early, ran to the principal’s office and told him I wanted to leave. Good old Father Aleu, it happened to be his birthday too, and he let me go. So my best friend Darryl and I get on to our bicycles and rushed to the hospital. Shruti had not yet popped out, and so I was allowed briefly to see my mom who was undergoing a C Section. And in just a little bit, out came Shruti. I spent days at the hospital, gazing upon this little creature that I had waited so many years for.
I so distinctly remember all her friends, and to all of them I was also Bhai, or big brother. Hell, I’m Bhai even to my parents and my kids, and their friends as well.
She and her family visit every couple of years and the house is full of activity and laughter for a few days. The boys are so loving and well-mannered, and its no real wonder. Dhiraj and Shruti are wonderful parents.
This year as I turn fifty I know that over half my life has passed me by. I’ve seen some amazing times, and then I have seen adversity. At such times, I’m ever so grateful, that I can fall back on memories of a time when life was less complicated, I wasn’t married, there was just my kid sister and me! Memories of Happier times.
I have three lovely kids, the KKK as we sometimes call them, Krishanu, Keertana and Kartikeya. I really want them to realize that they need to make the most of the time they have together right now, before they get responsibilities thrust upon them, and at a time when they are free to enjoy each other’s company without the overheads that a family life brings.
And then when they all go their own separate ways, as is bound to happen soon enough, they too will be able to look back on simpler times and cherish the memories of happier times.