I wrote this on Raksha Bandhan a few weeks ago, but didn’t get around to sharing it. So I’m posting it today, on the occasion of my brother’s birthday, with a few timing tweaks of course. For another birthday post, read this.
The Parsi community I grew up in and around typically did not celebrate Raksha Bandhan. Seen as a Hindu custom not really applicable to ‘us’, I was looked at with mild amusement, an oddity for wrapping that rakhi around my brother’s wrist year after year. I did it because I liked the sentiment of sibling bonds. In return, I received an occasional cassette (remember those?) of whomever I was listening to back in the day. Frequently, I got nothing but an awkward hug. And it didn’t strike me as the least bit strange. Because the traditional notion of brother as Protector and Provider is, in our context, ridiculous.
Being five years older (and obviously wiser, more brilliant and all the good things that come with being born first), I rescued him from bullies, watched out for him, made up stories to scare the poop out of him, and will still gladly sit on anyone who is mean to the kid. (Note: ‘Kid’ is a 32-year-old married man.)
In my firmly feminist household, our mum didn’t wear the pants, she wore the whole suit. And our precious, gentle father’s ego wasn’t the least bit rattled by it. So nobody told me man = strong = protector, and to be honest, there was nothing much to protect me from in our relatively secure life in 1980s Bombay, where the most violence we saw was eccentric neighbors fighting over the last piece of pomfret in Moti’s basket. And so, imbuing Raksha Bandhan with no more meaning than sibling love, I continued to mail rakhis from wherever in the world I was.
“If anything, he should send you a rakhi,” pointed out the Boy this past Raksha Bandhan, because I am my brother’s protector, keeper of secrets, giver of unsolicited advice, and overall annoying big sister. My peaceful sage of a brother who can’t say boo to a goose isn’t going to rescue me from marauding hordes anytime soon. But he is the one–and very likely the only– person in the world who completely understands my uniquely South Bombay Parsi wear-your-slippers-or-we-can’t-take-you-to-the-Taj upbringing without judging it. He can give the most kickass financial advice, keep his trap shut when there’s something only he needs to know, stands up for me when our parents are being unreasonable pains, and we know we are each other’s family in a way even our parents can’t be.
As for the marauding hordes, they are welcome to try their luck. I foresee a whole bunch of men with excruciating hernias, begging the Boy to take me back.