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A precious brother-sister bond that stays unbroken; a sister reflects on the relationship she shared.
By Meenakshi M Singh
My mother wept a lot when I was born; a pretty and healthy baby but that was not enough to earn her a good reputation among her orthodox in-laws, since I was a girl. An unwelcome guest who had arrived despite trying weird superstitions such as swallowing gold and peacock feathers. The frugal in-laws needed only a son who could bring money home through sweat or dowry.
Mummy’s prayers got answered 6 years later. “Your brother has arrived,” Naani came announcing. We walked fast with irresistible excitement, ignoring the heavy rain and entering Mummy’s room drenched. You, in the crib, draped in sky-blue soft linen, the fairest, softest baby, I’d ever seen, with almost no eyebrows, blonde hair, seemed an Angrez. We overloaded your tiny wrists with huge rakhis, as you came just in time, 2 days before the Raksha-Bandhan. I remember how Mom used to mark your forehead with kajal after bath to save you from the evil eye, Yashoda’s little Krishna.
You weren’t growing normally and developed droopy eyelids but the elders fabricated this, “Even Guru Nanak possessed such eyes”. Every year, on your birthday, our house was full of pomp and show with elaborate functions. Besotted, celebrating your existence aloud, our parents didn’t acknowledge your feebleness, increasing every birthday. Ignorance couldn’t be bliss always. You looked handsome but struggled amongst your mates with frail muscles and an inability to run. A strong brain in a weak body. You knew your limitations, and gradually Mummy and Papa realized that too.
Local doctors failed to diagnose the root cause and you were admitted to a specialized hospital which resolved advanced medical problems. A biopsy test was done, a graft sent abroad for advanced diagnosis. Your words on that chit are still etched in my heart “Di, I don’t feel like painting here, it is dull being around patients. Don’t send more coloured pens, why you looked sad to see me today, I’ll come back soon, love you”. I couldn’t understand what you were going through. The results demonstrated that you had mitochondrial myopathy; for us, an uncommon, unheard of muscular problem.
You felt embarrassed amongst schoolmates oozing stamina. I watched you outdoors struggling while playing cricket and getting beaten up. Our parents surrendered and let you study from home. You felt bored losing most of your friends. The PC, your birthday gift turned into a wonderland substituting for friends.
We both loved to talk, recording duets, sharing an ineffable bonding. I took our understanding for granted. I treated you as a fixity, and never took you out avoiding hassles. Still you never complained for anything, not even to God. How was it possible for a teenager to stay so cheerful with so many limitations?
In 2000, we celebrated your birthday exuberantly one month before the actual date since everybody had their summer vacations. The monsoon dawned in July and we both caught the seasonal fever and followed the same prescription. “I have recovered, I wonder why Kishu is still unwell,” I shared with Mummy. You still suffered with fever and headaches even after 3 weeks.
We were watching a movie that night after I returned from office, Tum Bin, a girl missing her boyfriend. Mummy was massaging your swollen feet, comforting you to sleep. The dogs cried at high pitch late at night, piercing my ears.
Next morning, feeling uneasy, I asked, “Kishu, how are you feeling now? I don’t feel like going to office today.” You insisted. “What you need to do? Please go. It’s just a headache”. I massaged your forehead briefly. Mummy assured me that they would take you to the hospital for a checkup. I headed outside. “Di, come back, wear your office sandals first, take off my slippers”. I looked down realizing and changed, patting your cheek. Chal Bye.
I was unusually silent and uneasy that day, so my colleagues planned a lunch outing to pep me up. Three of us were walking on the road ahead, two of us behind. A crow flying speedily came out of nowhere and pierced my scalp with its sharp beak and disappeared. I stood bewildered; my 6 ft. tall colleague should’ve been an easier target than me.
On reaching home, you were not back from the hospital as yet, only a call came from Mamaji that you were fine and would be back soon. I was praying before dinner for your well being. The phone rang twice; I picked up the receiver. “Your brother has left us”, Papa said crying.
I felt too lonely to bear the anguish, desperate to be with Mummy assuring me of your well being as always. People told me that they were bringing your body in an hour. I was demented, violent, pushing back people who stopped me when I headed towards the road to receive you, ordering all of them to leave.
After experiencing ages of traumatic loneliness, you came clad in white clothes. You were wrapped like a newborn again, but kept on the floor. I saw you still, a cold lifeless body. I poured kisses on your face, held in my lap, pleading with you, scolding you to open your eyes. I shook you hard; people asked me not to hurt your soul but I didn’t obey. I understood what helplessness is about. An intense pain and inconsolable loss felt within. The biopsy also revealed that your myopathy wasn’t curable; results kept confidential from you and me.
We had a large gathering wishing peace to your soul, where I was to offer petals to your photo. I tried but couldn’t as you still exist within my heart, alive and vibrant, with your touch, voice and purest soul.
I find it difficult to answer today when people ask me whether I have a brother.
*Photo credit: Will Graham (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)