When I lived in Zambia my family celebrated Raksha Bandan, a North Indian festival that honours the love between sisters’ and brothers’. It falls on a full moon in August every year.
My parents, aunts and uncles took a day off work, we a day off school. We dressed in traditional Indian clothes and jewelery, and gathered at one of the family homes.
My mum, aunts and I picked out beautiful rakhi’s weeks in advance. There is a range of choice, from simple threads to more extravagant ones with mirrors and gold fringes. A few years ago there was one that even played a popular Bollywood song. This year the fashionable rakhi’s have green, red, and shiny diamond-like stones on them. I usually chose the simplest threads and tied one around each of my brother’s and “cousin-brother’s” wrists. This gesture was to symbolise my love for them. In return my brothers’ had the duty of protecting me. From what I wasn’t always sure!
After I tied the rakhi, we hugged each other. I always whispered an awkward, “What are we doing guys? Do we need this string to symbolise our feelings?” I was the pain-in-the-ass, no fun girl who wasn’t into rituals, or Bollywood kitsch for that matter because it was over-done and the dances were corrupted versions of classical dances. So after the hugging, we fed each other sweets that my mum and aunts had prepared over the last week or two. My brothers’ then proudly offered me envelopes packed with notes.
Then it was my mum and aunts’ turn. They would tie rakhi’s around their “cousin-brother’s” wrist. He was the only one in Lusaka. They sent the others to India by mail, without fail.
My dad received his two rakhi’s in the mail, usually in good time. Since his sisters lived elsewhere it was my job to tie them. I got two envelopes from him as well.
Once it was all done, we’d have a big meal together, and spend the rest of the day together.
When I left Z at 16, I forgot all about it. One July, my mum called to remind me about it. She asked if I’d sent all the boys a rakhi. I replied that I hadn’t so she quickly bought some on my behalf.
On the day, she called to say that my little brother refused to wear it since it was my mum’s choice, and not my initiative. I was taken-aback. I had no idea that this really meant anything to him, or to any of them.
I immediately apologised and ever since, I’ve made a special effort. I don’t always send them a rakhi in the mail, but I call or at least email.
This year, my mum only “reminded” me about it yesterday. There is no way I can get them rakhi’s in time. Phone calls will be in order, and a promise of more planning and organising for the years to come.
In my mum’s typically thoughtful and unimposing manner, she says “I’ve sent you a rakhi that L can tie around R’s wrist, if you guys want to do that of course.” I can’t wait to see the mini-rakhi!
My brothers, (cousins and brothers-in-law), are dearer to me than I can express. I do in fact feel safe, supported and strong when they are around. So why not have a special day that celebrates the bond between sisters and brothers?
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