Our distant grandmother used to tell us both that the festival of Rakhi will be tough when we’re away–when I won’t be able to fly back home, or you wouldn’t get the time to reach where I would stay.
Listening to this, we would look at each other, and giggle among ourselves, because somehow we knew that missing each other would only be a distant dream.
Being the brother that you were, I was always confused, thinking if an elder sister would have been any better?
Girls at school would say that of course, elder sisters were a treat to have.
Only some would say, “I think an elder brother is okay too”.
I couldn’t ever make a judgment of it – while you were definitely great at having charming boys all over our house, you lacked in helping me set-up my cupboard.
You were definitely nice when it came to cooking Maggi for both of us, but you were horribly bad when you would trick me while playing Who-Finishes-The-Maggi-First-And-Wins-The-Game.
What a fool I was, to stupidly finish it all in one go, only to see you victoriously tease me by having yours slowly – and slowly.
You didn’t collect the milk packets from Pal uncle’s shop, and I had to carry almost three litres of milk back home. I felt so exhausted – climbing the hill, with a bag full of books, and an empty water bottle.
Dear Brother, I sometimes wonder if you had second thoughts of me as a sister too- did you?
I remember having read your personal diary once. That one that had a lock and key? Its lock could be opened easily with a knife, I don’t know if you had tried that?
It was a rainy Monday afternoon – the usual afternoons in Shimla – I was still in my school dress, grey pleated skirt, and knee length socks, off white shirt loosely hanging from the waist (that was the trend those days).
I must have thrown my school shoes somewhere in the drawing room; I hated them for all the sores they caused every year – each year- new sore.
You were not at home; I’m assuming you would be playing cricket at Sheeshe wali kothi – the huge ground just adjacent to our house.
So, yes, you weren’t home, Mum was at work, Dad was not in town, and Dadi thought I was studying religiously.
I was any way upset with her- she hadn’t made kheere wala raita that day!
She had defended herself by saying that it was too cold to have had that – but you remember, Dadi’s kheere wala raita, right?
I had told her that you would too get upset on this – she said you didn’t quite enjoy it.
Wow, I thought.
My elder brother didn’t enjoy kheere wala raita.
An elder sister would have definitely loved it, I’d think, and that’s how you would continue to lose points.
I saw your small blue diary, protected with a rectangular baby-lock. It was lying temptingly on our study table as if waiting for me all these days.
You bought it from our maternal grandma’s hometown –Chamba. She’d even paid for it, I recollect.
I sprinted towards the kitchen, sneaked a knife in my pocket, and ran to the table – I then picked the diary and put the knife’s pointed edge inside the lock’s opening and rotated it a couple of times- clockwise, anti clockwise – till it opened.
A triumphant smile dawned on my otherwise tanned face.
I sat comfortably on our rust computer chair, crossed legged on the study table, and touched every page of it, inaudibly celebrating my success.
Dear Brother, I must tell you that your handwriting was great – cursive – it made reading so much easier.
The first page was on your recent argument with Mum – she’d cancelled one of your school trips, and you thought she didn’t love you enough.
I nodded in agreement to that.
When Mum had done that to me, I was quite of the same opinion – obviously, she didn’t love me at all.
Well, I flipped through the pages, to understand if you’d have shared any of your deep dark secrets.
I mean, if there was a lock, there had to be nothing less than gold inside, right?
The second page was a boring conversation of school, then your fascinating friends, then school again, then about Dad, and again about an argument with Mum.
Where was the page where you would disclose your secrets – liking a girl, or having a girlfriend, or liking a girl and not having told her, or maybe slowly beginning to hate your girlfriend – anything that could perhaps be shared with Mom?
My inner self would tell me that there might be things she needed to know, and I evidently liked being the agent. She could possibly help you, isn’t that what she would tell us? Share your secrets and all?
I turned overleaf only to find a blank page, turned next and it was blank too. I kept turning, and turning, and turning and all were blank – wait, what?
You hadn’t written after page seven?
Then why did you have to lock it?
I felt miserably cheated.
I wanted to hit you, or maybe throw your diary away.
Who writes seven pages of a secret diary and locks it?
I felt so hollow from the inside like I didn’t know what to do when you don’t get what you want – I felt helpless.
With a great amount of displeasure, I decided to put the lock in place and keep the diary where it had to be.
Only when I was about to close it, I read my nickname.
So you had written about me? About me too?
Tani is the sweetest but the most irritating sister.
A stupid smile ran all over my face. I felt warm and cold at the same time.
Days later, when I was climbing back home, drenched in rain – Shimla rains. I had no umbrella, my ponytails were dripping wet, and water leaked out of my shoes as I took every step ahead – strangely tickling at the bottom of my foot.
As soon as I reached Pal Uncle’s shop, he called my name. “Tani.. milk?”
Ah! You hadn’t carried it home that day too.
I hated you too much.
I took the packets, kept them in my bag and made a move, grumbling about how an elder sister would have been just perfect.
The rain started pouring intensely, and hail hit my scalp hard.
As I reached the sheeshe wali kothi, I thought I heard your voice. Were you playing cricket in midst of the heavy hailstorm, that day?
I reached home, tired and wet.
As I opened the fridge to keep the milk inside, I suddenly remembered your diary entry.
Well, was I this important in your life to be on the third page of your diary?
Stupid smile again.
When you came home that day, I didn’t crib about the milk. I was so mesmerized to be on the third page of your diary that I forgave you for all your follies.
Dear Brother, as I sip some hot lemongrass water in the dead of the night, thinking of you, and me and us growing up rather too soon, I’m severely hit by nostalgia.
I write this on the day of Raksha Bandhan because as I opened my eyes today morning, I could hear our distant aunt crying out loud – “We all miss our brothers on Rakhi,” she’d repetitively say as I tied Rakhi to you.
It’s only now I realize, indeed we all do.