Editor: Kavya Gupta
Rakshabandhan was around the corner. I was expected to send out rakhis in those sharp brown parcel covers with handwritten notes about how much I miss my brothers, even when my only connection with them were letters I wrote to them and the gifts they would send back. Being the enlightened Ashokan I had turned into over the past year, I decided to halt this seemingly misogynistic tradition. My mum, absolutely flummoxed, waved away my contestations as frivolous teenage whims. Bursting into my room with those colored cardstocks I once embellished so excitedly, she handed me a pen and insisted I write a letter despite my apprehensions. So, I wrote.
“Hello, I am not going to wish you Happy Rakshabandhan because it is an outdated tradition and ought to be expired”.
A bit cold.
“However, I do miss you very much and look forward to meeting you”, I conclude.
And I remember the notes I used to write. The notes, barely holding onto their lives, folding and twisting under the immense amounts of glue I would overload on them. Gaudily decorated letters, filled with stickers and drawn over with colored pens. I remember my attachment to that unknown relative just because he was my brother. There was no explanation or rationality involved. I did it because my mum told me to and he was my brother [and also for the gift I expectantly waited for in the next weeks].
As she recalled the hideously bedazzled cards I would make, my mum remarked on how much she missed the days when these festivals gave families an excuse to meet.
“If you ask me why we celebrate Rakshabandhan, I will not be able to tell you,” she says. “It was just something we did. The whole process of sending overpriced thread and beads seems banal,” she concedes. “It’s just a ritual. An excuse more than anything else”
Seems reasonable. But why go through this ritualized process?
“You should not need excuses to meet family,” I counter. “By this argument, anything could be excused under this notion of ‘familial bonding’”. She then asked me the last time I called my cousin. Frustrated, I muttered something about putting in more effort being different from the hogwash of these outdated practices.
I slid the cards into the packet. The cards definitely did not hold the grandiose my previous masterpieces did, but I was content with the message. Perhaps some part of me ached for hubbub and irritation that used to come during these occasions. The process of choosing personalized rakhis for my brothers and the negotiations we would have as we settled on what to gift each other. The calls I would make to my relatives living abroad as I shamelessly asked for candies in return for my effort. I ached for the bazaars Ma and I would go to, searching for gifts for my aunts, gossiping and giggling as we walked around. I missed the calls I would get from my aunts thanking me for their cards and gifts. I even missed their cheerful taunts about my broken Gujurati and their hilarious attempts to fit English words into their sentences.
Ma thanked me for writing the letters and for putting aside my beliefs momentarily. I nodded, feeling a tinge of guilt knowing she would definitely not be thankful if she knew the content of the notes. My fingers traced the shape of the rakhis, now all uniform in shape and color. And in that moment, I felt the burden of knowing. Nostalgia enveloped me, in all its childish ignorance, mindless beliefs, and futile anticipation. Holding on to the rakhis, I rolled my eyes at how sentimental I was becoming over these stupid threads and beads. But my eyes betrayed me as they well up. I stood in flux, with one hand holding onto my letters and the other clutching the rakhis.