Rakshabandhan, the festival that celebrates the brother-sister bond is almost here, and it’s time to discuss the relevance of the ‘bond’ in these times.

My twelve year old daughter tells me that the cute, lip-glossed, scrubbed and powdered brothers who wipe a tear from the side of their eye, while handing over a box of chocolates to their bratty sisters exist only in TV ads.

I hate it when she is right. But, really, those brothers are so pretty, so kind. Also, they almost always belong to royal families. They chase their sisters around in an ornate-looking palace, since ‘chasing around’ is the world’s accepted definition of ‘cute, innocent love’ and then whip out a surprise gift.

In sharp contrast, the ‘brothers’ I personally know of are smelly, sweaty, monotoned, and gruff. If at home, they are found on sofas lost in their own world of headphones, music, and bacteria. They postpone doing their homework. They drag their feet on errands. And on those rare occasions, when they are seen moving around, it is mostly towards where food it kept. According to one estimate, in households where these ‘brothers’ don’t exist, rations last longer by a good fifteen days.

So, on the face of it, it seems that this thread is no longer relevant – just as the festival was not quite relevant for me when I was growing up —

I do not have any brothers. I am the second born among three sisters. Of course, it was a cause of huge dismay to the family – there was no brother to ‘protect’ us. I did not feel any deprivation, though – I had a bad-ass older sister. She rode a moped as it were a truck, managed a rock band, and, without any hesitation, accosted boys, threatening to beat them up with my dad’s shoes. A tall man, my dad’s shoe size is 13 – and soon, most of the town knew that since the threat always included this careful detail.

Once when an amorous young man followed me around the college, she rolled up her sleeves and confronted him. I was petrified and hid behind the tachistoscope in the Psychology lab in A.U., as I overheard the rendition of the, by now, classic dialogue,

‘Do you know my dad’s shoe size?’

The guy ditched the red rose near the stairs and ran for his life, offering to be her brother –

‘Sorry Sishter!’

I felt relieved – a little sad for him though – he had worn a blazer for this special occasion.

So, irrespective of gender, siblings protect each other, get each others’ back and are always there to land a punch in your adversary’s face. And, that will stay relevant even when gender-identities and times change.

Perhaps the most popular of the Rakhi stories in our mythology is that of Lord Krishna and Draupadi — the wife of the five Pandavas.

They say that on a Sankranti day, Krishna cut his little finger while handling sugarcane. Rukmini, his queen immediately sent her help to get a bandage cloth while Sathyabama, his other consort rushed to bring some cloth herself.
Draupadi who was a bystander rather simply tore off a part of her sari and bandaged his finger.

In return for this deed, Krishna promised to protect her in time of distress.

The word he is said to have uttered is ‘Akshyam’ which was a boon: ‘May it be unending’.

And that was how Draupadi’s sari became endless and saved her embarrassment on the day she was disrobed in full public view in King Dhritarashtra’s court.

Another legend has it that when Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 BC, his wife, Roxana sent Porus, a sacred thread and asked him not to harm her husband on the battlefield.

Honouring the request, when he confronts Alexander, he refuses to kill him. Eventually, Porus would lose the battle of the Hydaspes River but would gain Alexander’s respect and honour.

Eventually, after his death, Porus would become a very loyal Macedonian protector of the dominion.

That was the potency of the thread. In today’s global village where ambition and achievements predominate, one ends up quite isolated. Parties, celebrations and wins abound, but there are increasing cases of depression. This thread is needed more now, than ever before.

A few days back, my eight-year old son mused,

‘If I am very good – like really good all my life, can I get to stay in the same room as you when we are all in heaven?’, he said suddenly, while we were driving back from dinner.

‘Why are you thinking about all this?’, my heart went out to him.

‘Because I feel very scared sometimes.’

‘Of what?’

‘What will happen when you take off?’

‘Take off?’

‘That’s my word for D-I-E. I don’t like saying that word because it scares me.’

‘You will have your sister and your cousins. They will be there for you!’

The thread will ensure that, I hope.