By Karima Khan Aug. 15, 2019
With two sisters and no brothers, my FOMO would peak annually during Raksha Bandhan season. Older and wiser, I don’t believe the rakhi is exclusively meant only for male siblings and cousins, but every one who protects us, showers us with love and wisdom, and makes life a little more playful and colourful.
My sisters might want to disown (or at least diss) me for this confession, but while growing up, I was always jealous of my girlfriends who had brothers. It was no fault of my sisters, only that the younger me was taking cues from classic TV shows like Dekh Bhai Dekh, Lizzie McGuire, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, all of which presented to the audience a brother and sister who share a love-hate relationship. During lunch hour in school, my friends would always swap stories of the latest shenanigans their brothers pulled off and got away with, and I would listen mutely, eager to join in the conversation but bereft of anything to contribute.
Despite the fact that I have no brothers, I never went wanting for sibling love thanks to my two older sisters. We’d braid each other’s hair and they would tell me about boys and relationships. Those are all cherished memories now, but were deathly boring to a restless youngster. I wanted spice, and I thought the only way to get it was if I had a brother. I knew it wasn’t something I could ask my parents. I had tried and was instead told, “But you have cousins, it’s the same!” so I knew better than to ask again.
All this brotherly love FOMO would peak annually during Raksha Bandhan season. I can’t even tell you how much I hated sitting through Cadbury Celebrations commercials. Where were the Skip Ads buttons when you really needed them?
Even though this was a time before Instagram, I knew what gifts everyone had received from their brothers almost as soon as they got them. I tried to spare myself from the worst of it by claiming I suddenly had too much homework to do, and spending time in the library rather than sitting with my friends for lunch during Rakhi week. But floating gossip that Rashmi got the new Barbie watch, Priya got that huge teddy bear from Archies, and Ashwini got a Nokia mobile phone always found a way to reach my reluctant eardrums. I remember going home, sinking deep into a sajdah , and praying to Allah to give me a brother, or make another holiday for me, someone with no brothers but two loving sisters.
Despite the fact that I have no brothers, I never went wanting for sibling love thanks to my two older sisters.
As time passed, I grew wiser. Raksha Bandhan went from being a festival where my friends got gifts, to me finally understanding that the festival’s name literally means “a protective bond” between siblings who couldn’t be more different from each other.
Alongside this realisation, I watched my sisters grow into these badass ladies. They quickly went from being my family to being my heroes. I borrowed their pens for luck in exams, I sobbed in their arms as I went through heartbreak, and I panic-dialled them when the time came to file taxes. They protected me from my parents on the odd days I got yelled at, and always diffused fires for me to the best of their ability. If I had to pay them for every time they saved me from our mother’s flying chappal, my grandchildren would be in debt to theirs.
My sisters have been my halo of love and security for over two and a half decades. When I think about it, I feel they have fulfilled a rakhi ka bandhan without me having tied it on them even once. And this only makes me realise that Raksha Bandhan is a symbol between siblings, and people who are like siblings to us. They try to protect us from anything that might hurt us, they shower us with love and wisdom, they make life a little more playful and colourful. And I want to tie a rakhi on all of them, and have one tied on my wrist in return.
I don’t believe the rakhi is exclusively meant only for male siblings and cousins. At work, I have a colleague who stays back with me on nights I’m working late, just so I won’t be the last one in office, and have to go home alone. I think I owe her a rakhi this year. I also owe one to my senior who always makes sure my voice is heard in during meetings. She’s my teacher and a shining mentor who showed me how to navigate a career in a male-dominated field, and I’m just as grateful for her protection and advice as I would have been for my nonexistent brother’s.
My sisters have been my halo of love and security for over two and a half decades.
I’m picking out a rakhi for my house-help, who keeps my house spotless, keeps me fed, and forces haldi doodh down my throat when I’m sick (but she does it out of love). One for my lady doctors who root for me and approach my problems with love and concern. Another one in spirit and prayer for all the feminists who exist now, and those who came before me. It is because of them that I can enjoy a free life.
And maybe one last rakhi for me, because you’ve got to have your own back. To protect yourself. While everyone else will, you also have to stand up for yourself. And may all of us continue to protect each other and ourselves, physically and in spirit. Thinking about it this way, I’m no longer jealous of my friends just because I don’t have a brother. Raksha Bandhan is now my favourite holiday – a chance for me to show my gratitude for everyone who empowers me in any way and makes this dull and difficult life worth living.
Karima is a writer and a standup comedian from Mumbai. Her blood tests have revealed that she's mostly made of shawarma. She enjoys back scratches and writing in third person because that's how you feel #official. Hit the girl up on Twitter @karimasanela.