So well, Rakhi is happy. And happy Rakhi as well everyone. It's been ages since I've been with my brother on the festival. Most times I've forgotten to send him a rakhi, most times he has been upset; and yet this year, I miss him the most.
Over the years, the ethos of rakhsha bandhan (literally, the tie that protects) has been changing. And that Rakhi's not the only one. From a festival that celebrates the brother-sister relationship, it's morphed into something bizarre.
Rakhi is celebrated by a sister tying a holy thread around her brother's(s) wrist and the latter vowing to 'protect' her. If the sister is older, it is she who 'protects' the brother. Personally, I think it's one of the few Indian festivals that actually treats women as empowered beings. In what other festival/celebration/ritual in India do you have the man looking for protection from the woman? (For the origins of the festival, click here)
When we were children, the festival meant a really gaudy, the biggest possible, the most showy rakhi -- I don't mean Sawant -- for him and my favourite cassette for me. To avoid any fights on who got the better gift, Ma would buy us both a Cadbury Dairy Milk; it was a great equaliser. As I grew older -- I'm five years older to him -- I wanted cash instead of the 'gifts'. Ma wouldn't have any of it since that would have meant giving my bro cash as well, he was too young for it.
In school -- around 11-12 years-old-- boys used to dread this festival. No one wanted his crush to tie a rakhi on his wrist and over a single woven thread, change his status from possible suitor to adopted brother. While I've witnessed boys running away when a rather pretty girl approached them with a rakhi; I unfortunately, seemed to be everyone's favourite choice for an adopted 'sister'. Perhaps it was because I was good at academics, perhaps the wanting-to-be-adopted brothers thought I'd do their homework. Hah.
Yet, I didn't have as many 'rakhi brothers' in school as the other girls did. The reason was my dad. Pa firmly believed and firmly forbade me from adopting any new brothers because, "I know how these boys think; they try to get closer by 'becoming' brothers. You don't need anymore brothers." As I grew older I realised Pa was bloody right.
Rakhi became a convenient way of getting closer to the girl you liked. So boys and the object(s) of their desire would 'become' brother-sister, tied by a flimsy thread; she would expect a 'gift' from him and he would have wet dreams at night. Despite Pa's dire warnings, nothing much changed for me though. Boys still wanted to be my 'brother' -- now at 17 -- though this time it wasn't for academics alone. My chest size had changed.
I moved out of home at 19 and since then, Bhai and me have been together on rakhi only once or twice. I'm not too sure. While my cousin sister remembered to post him a rakhi, I forgot. Always. I stopped believing in rakhi...along with a lot of things. It all came down to either "It's all mythology" or "Hah, I know what s/he is thinking."
I've just sent a rakhi e-card to Bhai. Perhaps distance makes the heart grow fonder towards 'Indian culture' and ties that bind. It was a shocking experience. While I was expecting rakhi designs... I was definitely not expecting 'smileys' wearing rakhis...and even a chimpanzee on one card. As I said, rakhi has changed. (Please see this picture--->!)
I sent a rakhi to my brother as I wanted him to know I remembered. (Also because he emailed me two days back saying "Mom says rakhi is on 5th, don't forget). More than that, after a huge amount of struggle, my little brother is finally, slowly, on the path to a happier life. I just wanted him to know I love him and miss him; no matter how much the festival itself has been bastardised and commercialised. Or maybe they are both the same thing. Much like Rakhi Sawant's televised 'engagement' and forthcoming marriage.
PS: For the few fortunates who might not know, the chick in the pic (hah!) is a Bollywood dancer called Rakhi Sawant. Some in the media call her a "sex symbol"; they never specify for whom. Rakhi's been on an Indian reality TV show where she "selects" her husband from a number of aspirants. Apparently there was no cash involved and Rakhi was/is the prize. She got "engaged" on the show a couple of days back and apparently will get married on TV. In Australia, you have Farmer Wants A Wife, where 5-6 Aussie farmers are the catch -- and a million-dollar, all-expenses paid wedding -- and girls compete for their attention, and perhaps their hand. Without being judgemental about either Rakhi or the girls on Farmer, I just wonder... Are we all that lonely and desperate that we're willing to go on air with our courtship(s)?