Celebrating Sisters

            Today is rakshabandan. It is odd that I am writing about a holiday I have ignored all my life. Rakshabandhan is widely considered to be one of the sweetest Indian festivals celebrating the love between brothers and sisters where a sister ties rakhi thread on brother’s arm and showers her love and prayers on him and he promises her protection throughout life. 

            Being one of three sisters, it was always an irritating holiday for me. Having grown up with a chorus of, “So sorry you don’t have a brother. I guess you have no one to tie rakhi to.” “You can always tie rakhi to a cousin,” “What a pity, you don’t get any presents on rakshabandhan,” etc. etc. I was determined to ignore its existence while growing up.  The last straw was the day my beautiful baby sister was born (who instantly won my 9 year-old heart by grabbing my finger) and a neighbor said, “What a pity, your parents have a third daughter!  Wouldn’t you have liked having a brother? It would have been great for you to have a brother to whom you can tie a rakhi.”  My mutinous mind murmured, “No, I don’t need a brother and my parents don’t need a son. Rakhis are overrated; I am quite capable of looking after myself, I don’t need a brother for that.”  And so it was that I learnt to ignore the holiday. My middle sister had a lovely idea; she decided that she would tie rakhi to her sisters and our female cousins.

            It was not until I was speaking to a friend that I realized I was not alone in finding this festival annoying. My friend Mitali, one of three sisters, has similarly mixed feelings.  It is amazing how many subtle ways Indian society has to glorify brother-sister bonds and to make sisters without brothers feel inadequate. For example, several festivals are devoted to brother-sister relationship;  Guajarati weddings involve specific items like bangles coming from the maternal uncle; when a new bride visits her parental home for the first time after marriage, it is her brother who is supposed to bring her back.  In contrast, there are very few rituals that celebrate the bonds between sisters, possibly because they are seen as being “lost” after marriage. I still remember the time when my father's distant cousin,  asked if she could come to our home to deliver her first child. It is customary to return to the parental home for a first delivery and she would be taunted by her in-laws if she could not do that.  Her parents and brother had passed away and she did not feel that she could go to her married sister's home. Going to a distant cousin was fine since he was a male relative.

            So here is to my sister Parul and her rebellious celebration of sisterhood! 

2nd August, 2012

© Sonalde Desai 2012