My mother’s best friend is from Ajmer. The lady’s family had settled in southern Tamil Nadu, as my mother’s neighbor in her early childhood. The interesting stories of why they came so far from their native hometown (in search of greener pastures) kept me engaged all through my childhood mainly because I’d heard them firsthand from her. Perhaps some of the most fascinating memories of my childhood were watching her flatten tasty theplas and making clothes’ soap from ingredients she found at home.
Like all multicultural friendships, her children and I shared a mutual interest in learning about each other’s customs and traditions. The differences in the rituals are so marked, but the emotions are very similar. And one of the most interesting of their festivals was the Raksha Bandhan. For those who have little or no idea about this, Raksha Bandhan (the relationship that protects – loosely translated) celebrates the love between siblings, especially brothers and sisters. Not going way off the topic, ladies celebrate this festival by tying a decorative thread on the wrists of their brothers who, in turn, promise to protect and cherish them (and then there are the gifts).
I have always noticed all ladies of the household (and there were a considerable few) celebrating this with so much grandeur. They prepare for it at least from a week beforehand and make the whole day seem so special and important. And this, in some way, made me realise the significance of the festival. Maybe it was because I heard the sisters’ version of why Raksha Bandhan is about honoring the brothers’ sacrifice and love (or the brothers’ version of how the festival is about love and doting on their sisters)… I have a special respect for the festival.
The most important thing I take back, though, is the importance they give to the thread they tie on their brothers’ wrists. For someone who has grown up seeing the festival celebrated by those who knew its real value, it was a really strange, surprising thing to notice how men of various ages and cultures joked about that festival in general. I have actually seen scenes where men rushed away from girls on the day of the festival, and girls chasing some guys with the thread threateningly. Even comedy sequences in movies promote such a thought. Any man who is not ‘a woman’s object of romantic attraction’ immediately becomes ‘brozoned’ – called the brother, putting them in a safe zone. While most of this is done in good jest, I have never understood the logic behind demeaning a whole custom, and hiding something bigger under a seemingly joking gesture
In a country where everyone from the vegetable vendor to the auto wala and Uber Drivers are ‘Anna’ (Bhaiya / Brother) we have, as a nation, deemed it to safe to call random strangers as brothers. Far from being the relationship that protects us, the word ‘brother’ has been increasingly used towards strangers as an alternative, due to the lack of any other ‘acceptable’ term. It is considered a lot better than calling someone a friend.
Does the word make any actual difference? Is calling someone a brother going to make it all okay? Is calling someone a friend an opening for everyone to assume that there is something much deeper between the two? And is it really that much of a crime if two people share a platonic intimacy despite belonging to different genders? Is there a constant need women have to call random strangers as ‘Anna’ to prevent any potential mishaps? Is the word going to serve as the final shield if ever the ‘Anna’ feels like he can misbehave?
Since when did the word brother become a shield beyond which every woman aged twenty and above place all men aged older than them, until they’re old enough to be called ‘uncles’? What is the reason behind this nomenclature? And why has this become the convention? I do not have any brothers who are not related to me my blood. I have cousins, and some of my cousins I consider brothers. But never in my life will the local vegetable vendor become ‘Anna’. Nor will my male best friend become ‘Anna’.
The name shall remain the special honor I bestow upon people I feel are worthy of the kind of relationship defined by a brother and a sister. But that does not mean I value friendships any less! I realise that both friendship and a sense of siblinghood have different needs, different dynamics and different values. I just do not believe in using such a sacred relationship as a protective shield and diminish the worth of the word. Much like how any random man cannot be a father or a partner, a random man can also NOT be a brother. The word itself cannot become the alternative to be used because nothing else fits!
The differences of opinion on this subject can never be solved. But from my view point… My best friend? No, he’s not my brother! I have ‘brothers’ who’ll do what brothers are supposed to do and friends who shall remain friends! I just don’t confuse both 🙂
*Hagrid quill down*