The Ties That Bind

There are some Indian festivals that I feel very fondly about. This is mostly because of childhood memories and family traditions associated with those festivals. Ganesh Chathurti and Diwali mornings hold a special place in my heart. Rakshabandhan was never one of those festivals. For the uninitiated, Rakshabandhan is an Indian festival, during which a sister ties a decorative thread (rakhi) over her brother’s wrist symbolizing a bond of love and kindness between them, and the brother promises to protect and watch out for the sister.  I had no brothers and none of my cousin brothers lived in India. So Rakshabandhan would come and go, and I would barely notice. I would mail rakhis to them some times, and some years, I would forget. And they would speak to me over the phone some years, while some years they would forget.

Now that we have a son and a daughter, Rakshabandhan has entered our home. Big brother and little sister participated in it very enthusiastically this year. The brother first learned about this festival from school and/ or friends, and came back home one day with great plans to protect his sister. The “protector” declared that he was going to save his sister from all kinds of bad guys with his special powers. This role was perfect for him because by day, the brother is a regular boy who goes to school and plays with his friends, but by night, he is Super Boy.  He can fly, is very strong, can shoot out webs from his wrists, has a watch that spews out aliens of various kinds…the list goes on. Hence obviously, the protector character did much for his ego.

His sister, however, was unaware that she needed any protection. The role that suits her best is of the tormentor. And she doesn’t moonlight as one. She basks in this role day in and day out. She pulls his hair, bites, yanks toys away from him, reprimands him if she doesn’t like what he is doing and much to his chagrin, copies everything he does. Just so you guys are clear, little sister is not even 2 years old. Big brother is well over 4. But that’s just how it rolls in our home- a well-meaning, but extremely tormented protector and his “protectee”, who just can’t help but not want to be helped in any way.

The lead up to Rakshabandhan was spectacular. The brother made a card to give to the sister, parents picked a rakhi for the brother (and 1 for the sister in case she tried to snatch the one on the protector’s hand), and the brother practised a speech about caring and kindness towards the sister. Then on the actual day, brother (and sister by contagion) woke up with great excitement. The brother plucked out the card from its hiding spot. Then came the tying of the rakhi. As predicted, the sister was unwilling to do this as she wanted to tie it on herself instead. The parents pulled out the backup rakhi. Brother and sister fought over who would get the backup rakhi even though both were exactly the same. The matter was settled with a push and a shove in return. The card was presented and promptly torn. The speech was forgotten. All was well. For all of 2 minutes, after which brother and sister fought over something inane and declared “katif”, which meant they would not talk to each other. Parents sighed, but were secretly happy for the silence that ensued for the next 5 minutes. Later in the day, brother and sister were found sharing toys and building towers with blocks.

So what is a protector to do? He offers his sister to other well-intentioned protectors for safeguarding. “You can use (!?!) my sister” he told one of his friends, who doesn’t have a sister and also wanted a rakhi. Whether he does it out of goodwill, or out of wanting to inflict the same torture on his peers, we do not know!

We will wait for you next year, Rakshabandhan!

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