Daily Archives: August 8, 2006
This is a blog about gender roles and male-female relationships. This time its going to be about a non-sexual (so it is hoped!) relationship.
I am an only child and probably am not really qualified to speak about sisters and brothers. On the other hand, I see and hear, I feel and I forge relationships. Hence I can and will speak. Solely for the benefit of any non-Indian readers that I have may have……India celebrates ‘Raksha Bandhan’ today. This festival honours the brother-sister relationship. While the orgins of this festival lie in the north-west states (where it is still a very prominent landmark day), the rest of the country has also adopted this custom.
Repulsed as I am by rituals, this day strikes me as particularly charming. It does have its roots in the archaic belief of it being the males’ responsibility to defend the honour of the women of their family. An older brother is specifically responsible to ensure the safety and well-being of his younger sister. Hence the name Raksha (protection) Bandhan (bond).
The actual ritual is pretty basic involving the usual hindu symbols of fire, rice and vermillion, occasionally flowers and sugar (in lieu of something sweet to celebrate). The rakhi itself may be a simple cotton thread tied on the brother’s wrist to remind him of the bond. The brother in return is supposed to give his sister a token of his love and appreciation of her.
Now to look at what this tradition actually is in today’s world…..from a woman’s perspective, it’s a great day to rake in the moolah. A self-respecting brother may not refuse any request on this day. And alternately, it is also a bloody good defense mechanism. Be it as it were, Indian men put up a very healthy “show of their appreciation for beauty“….perhaps men aren’t that different world-over but well, we have something to fight off the Indian men anyway. Because most Indian men also seem to accept the sanctity of the rakhi. Roadside romeo, college Casanova, leering letcher all alike will have to put an end to their erroneous ways if you can manage to tie them down with a rakhi.
Which reminds me, how come no one seems to see the wicked irony of a sex-symbol-starlet called Rakhi? It probably goes to prove my adage that men are highly visual creatures (well more visual than verbal anyway…..who gives a f$#% about the name?)
Yesterday a friend of mine remarked that women were corrupting men on this day. His logic is that what a person feels for you won’t end by tying a thread on his wrist. But, I argued back, it can certainly stop him from acting on those feelings (if you can call them that…moi, I have a better description, but that’s for another time).
I wonder sometimes about the strangeness of this bond. Even more than a father, a big brother seems to assume protection rights over his sister. The western concept of ‘Big Brother is watching you’ is stated with a level of fearful contempt while here ‘bade bhaiya’ is put on a pedestal second to none possibly. Big brothers take their roles very seriously and these old structures are still very much in place no matter how sophisticated the two people in question may be. Which isn’t an issue except for the fact that a lot of big brothers (even the so-called civilized ones) seem to turn into cavemen when it comes to their sisters.
A friend of mine (one of my super-intellectual, sophisticated-geek male pals) was once telling me about an incident involving an ardent admirer of his younger sister. My friend ‘took him aside for a long chat and made him see reason.” Yeah right, I scoffed. “Well….we were quite convincing.” “We???” I echoed, “How many people does it take to convey a NO?”. He shuffled his feet and said, “Ummm…we didn’t exactly talk, you know” Q.E.D.
And then there was the time the guy across the road decided to flash laser beams into my room. It annoyed me and I contemplated throwing my shoe at him, discarding the notion on the grounds that my aim could surpass a dizzy, cross-eyed rhino’s. My slightly older cousin interrupted my reverie to inquire why I was standing on the balcony contemplating a worn-out shoe. I told him and forgot about it. A few days later, I noticed that Mr.Laser Beam had taken to keeping his doors and windows locked at all hours. It was months before I wormed the truth out of my cousin. He’d turned up on their doorstep, had a ‘chat’ with the guy’s parents and casually remarked…”How’s your son? Keeping good health? I’m sure you want him to stay that way…”. And then he left. Or so he says.
So perhaps I’m just this annoying, annoyed woman who doesn’t like the thought of a man fighting her battles for her. It doesn’t have to stop me from having a brother…..ah, thanks to Raksha Bandhan it is possible to claim blood kinship with someone you barely know and what’s more extract some money from them as well….and its all legal!
My cynicism appears to know no bounds but I guess I’m thinking of my best friend telling me a few years back, “I don’t know how girls go and tie rakhis to just about any guy. I mean, do you just make anyone and everyone your brother? Doesn’t the relationship have any value for you?” I guess not for most people.
For my part, it has been a good few years since I performed the rakhi ritual. My mother’s best friend had two sons and thought of me as the daughter she never had, prompting her to encourage the rakhi-ritual. It did bring our families closer. Her elder son was my senior by about 6-7 years so I couldn’t really relate to him as a peer. But he bought me a pair of earrings from his first salary. He’s in his 30s now, divorced and restricted from meeting his kid. I feel for him, I do and I felt a sharp pang when I heard of the heart-attack he had. His younger brother, companion of my childhood years, was called my ‘little shadow’ as he’d follow me around everywhere as my junior assistant in all sorts of childish capers. He’s in Australia these days, working his way well up the corporate ladder. I’m ducking past the wicked jokes he keeps spewing but I’m so proud of him…my little shadow turned out great…he walks in no one’s shadow today.
It has been years since I saw either of them….we just sort of lost contact over the years. But the memory remains, the raksha-bandhan is very much intact. M and A, a very happy Raksha Bandhan!