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As A Long Distance Sibling, Bhai Dooj Is So Poignant For Me Now

Posted: October 27, 2019

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The sibling bond is so precious – something we often realise only when we cannot meet our siblings everyday! A beautiful account of what Bhai Dooj means to this sister who lives away from her siblings.

I left home when I was seventeen. During the late night phone calls that I made home (at 1/4th rate) from the STD booth outside the college hostel, I often sensed that it wasn’t just me missing home or my parents beginning to feel the empty nest…I realised that my younger siblings (sister and brother) were feeling it too. Deeply.

It has now been two decades since then and my siblings and I have not been able to meet more than a few times a year. And in some unfortunate years, not even once. Though we were always only a call away.

In the initial years, the STD calls, letters and birthday cards kept us in an excited loop. There were some good years when we all got together at our parents’ for Diwali. Or at the family wedding that everyone made it to. But work and marriage had taken us across continents and time zones.

Staying in touch the way we liked became that much harder, even though the newly discovered internet and emails managed to keep the thrill levels high. The ‘constant’ for the three of us remained our parents, who kept us updated about each other if we missed speaking directly…which was now happening all too often.

Today all of us are grown up, independent. And yet, yet, whenever I think of ‘us’, the vision that comes to mind is of the 17 year old me, hugging and kissing my little siblings good bye, in our last home together; and of them standing in their school uniforms, waving good bye to me. Smiling in spite of their tears.

Sibling love is so little discussed, celebrated or acknowledged. If at all I have seen it portrayed, it is only as a relationship entailing trite and childish teasing. Or at best in some Raksha Bandhan gift advertisements once a year. But sibling relationships are far more precious and valuable. Perhaps that is why our ancestors dedicated not one, but two festivals to the bond; Raksha Bandhan and Bhai Dooj.

As a little girl, I remember thinking of Bhai Dooj as a poor cousin to the much more grander Rakhi festival. Often, I forgot all about it till reminded. Unlike Rakhi for which we waited a month in advance, wore new clothes and got lots of gifts from all the brothers, cousin and ‘real’, we couldn’t understand the point of Bhai Dooj.

Ma would explain to us its significance. She told us that not all siblings get to live together in the same city and meet as often as they like. To the three of us who were always together, going to school, returning together, going out to play in the evenings, the idea of not having the others around was unimaginable and so the sentiment didn’t connect with any of us then.

Ma would remind us, that once grown up, many siblings live far apart and crave for each other, just like Yamraj and his sister Yamuna, who were very close. Once Yamuna had moved into her married home and Yamraj took over Yam Lok as Lord of Death, the siblings wouldn’t be able to meet for years. Yamuna would lovingly call her brother over, ever so often, but he had not a second to spare, even to himself.

Finally one year, two days after Diwali (dooj), Yamraj agreed to visit his sister. He was never ‘invited’ to any home, but seeing his sister’s persistent and loving insistence he just had to give in.

She was overjoyed. Her palace was already set with Diwali diyas and she lit them all and made beautiful rangolis. She welcomed her beloved brother with aarti and tilak. She set up a room full of delicacies for him. Her husband too joined her in welcoming him.

Yamraj was moved beyond words. He was never welcomed or celebrated anywhere and here was his affectionate and doting sister, who without fear of death, made him spend the most warm and wonderful day at her home. Emotional, he said to her, what can I do for you to express my feelings sister? Ask me for anything. Yamuna smiled and replied, just meet me like this, every year on this day, bhai. Let all brothers meet their sisters on this day and celebrate it together as Bhai Dooj. Lovingly, Yamraj had agreed.

Years later, I couldn’t have related to this longing for siblings more. What I didn’t understand as a little girl, I understand now. Tied up around my children’s school timetables, exams and office deadlines – meeting up with a sibling who lives far away, is not that easy.

Now that I have understood the reason behind it, I value the festival much more. The beautiful sentiments that gave rise to it so many years ago, are still so deeply relevant today. No amount of WhatsApp and video calls can make up for the pure joy and thrill of having your siblings visit you in your home.

Nothing can make up for the simple joy of having breakfast together or of sitting and chatting together late into the night. Of watching your sibling bond with your children. Of your siblings finally being next to you after months and years of being apart.

Of reliving childhood memories and making new ones for years to come.

Image via Unsplash

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Former CEO and Editor of a web portal, Aarti is currently columnist at the esteemed

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