Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Tie That Binds

We never celebrated Raksha Bandhan when we were little. Once when I was around 8-10 years of age, I suggested to my brother that we should, but he quickly shot down the idea. I suspected then that it was the gift he was afraid of. To be fair to him, I must add that the gift alone was the incentive which had motivated me to proffer the suggestion.

Even though we never actually marked Raksha Bandhan in our childhood home, I always remained solidly conscious of my brother’s love for me.

I still recall how he returned home triumphantly, his first career bonus in his pocket, only to find that celebrations were not the mood of the season as I was burning with a hot fever, while shivering with malaria. He quickly said that I should be rushed to a hospital, brushing aside the funds issue. Eventually he ended up spending almost all his bonus money on me.

As children, we were as close as twins. We used to read, study and play together. We could finish each other’s sentences, knowing with an unerring instinct what the other was thinking. We’ve laughed without stopping at the most trivial and nonsensical things as if we were both struck by laughing gas.

And we shared. It was a habit inculcated by our mother. She would break up anything that we both enjoyed eating and divide it equally between us. Whether it was chocolate or cake, it would be broken up into two and given to both of us. So well was this concept of sharing ingrained in our minds that even if a friend’s mother offered me something to eat, I would ask her, “Has A eaten?” and he would ask the same question with reference to me.

Once a neighbour answered my question with a No, and I staunchly refused to take whatever she was offering. Helpless in the face of my stubbornness, the poor lady responded that she would make sure that A got his equal share.

Sometimes, of course, I would try to irritate him by calling him Bhaiyya or I would sing one of the Hindi film rakhi songs. These songs are very cheesy expressions of brother-sister love. Taken out of the context of the accompanying visuals, and sometimes within them too, they have the gift of sounding totally inane.

Mercifully, he didn’t hold these cheesy songs against me. In spite of those songs, and in spite of the lack of a rakhi to bind us together, we remained bound up in each other.

Today decades later, I have the comfort of knowing that even though other relationships now make greater demands on us, and in some ways, have taken precedence, we remain conscious of and deeply grateful for each other. His phone calls home are always punctuated by questions on how my family and I are doing.

While Hindi film songs spoke of how the hero-brother would go to any lengths to help his supporting actress of a little sister, including devoting the rest of his life to restoring her honour or avenging it, she too would often come racing into the path of a speeding bullet meant for him. Real life, however, doesn’t work that way. Over the years, I have had my illusions destroyed.

I have seen brothers and sisters cut off the bonds of the rakhi themselves, and fight fiercely and deviously over money and property matters. In an infamous case that hit the headlines many decades ago, three sisters got together to hire an assassin to shoot their brother in order to wrest control of a family-owned restaurant in downtown Bombay.

That case and many other instances of sibling love gone sour are a reminder that a rakhi’s threads are delicate indeed, powerless on their own, and thoroughly incapable of holding two people with different personalities and opposing interests together. Shared histories can hold people together, but only if we adorn those histories, and the people who shared those histories with us, with significance.

Today El Niño and La Niña celebrated Raksha Bandhan together. It is a happy time for them. The spotlight was on them. There were fun things to eat, and the Husband bought gifts for them. They are, of course, much too young to understand the meaning of the ritual they will undertake.

I watch them, and think how sweet they are to each other. They are just beginning to understand the concept of a family, of parents and how they are both equally important in the scheme of things. I hope that at some point, they begin to see the festival of Raksha Bandhan as something that goes beyond the ritual of gifting and tying rakhis.

I hope that their relationship grows stronger as the years go by and that they realise that the rakhi is a slender thread, but they must make sure that it is tied well. 

They must be the glue that holds it together.

This post was originally written for Parentous.com, an online community for parenting related issues.


  1. Lovely write up Cynthia I remember rakhsa bandhan as a kid, it was all very noble the idea of brothers looking after their sisters. Today hopefully we look out for and look after each other.
    It's love that truly binds.

  2. That's right, Mignonne, today we all need to help each other.

  3. Beautiful Cynthia, your expressions are superb, just loved this post, as a child I remember tying rakhi to one of my brother too, as the others were not really open to it.

    Now no rakhi's its just love and care that matters, as you rightly put it money, property and things that can be bought influences relationships. I am so happy to hear about your experience ! Thanks for sharing ..

  4. Your post reminded me of my sis. I was more close to her than my bro. Anyway, a great write-up as usual.

  5. I hope that their relationship grows stronger as the years go by and that they realise that the rakhi is a slender thread, but they must make sure that it is tied well.

    They must be the glue that holds it together.

    This is so true

  6. Wonderful Cynthia...all the while I was reading this post, I was reminded of the special bond that I and my brother have. Even though we live oceans apart now, we are bound by our emotions, for life. I see both of our kids bond in the same way. Hope this continues :)

  7. What a lovely bond ! My brother and I have 8 years between us and although there is loads of love and affection, the camaraderie is missing !

  8. Wow... need I tell you how much I loved this post? Hope you know the love for my brother I nurture in my heart.. you spoke right into my soul Cynthia :) :)

  9. This is such an affectionate and heart felt post Cynthia :) Hope your brother read it and resonated with it as much as we are doing at the moment :)

  10. Belated rakhi wishes and am sure both the kids will grow and realise the importance of bro sis bond more



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