The Birthday

It’s that time of the year again.


Two candles, one flame. It's how I like to think of us!


My brother’s Birthday.

A day rendered forever bittersweet since he passed away last year.

Last year we had a small remembrance…cut a cake, lit a lamp and published a poem in the newspaper.

This year, I’m not sure what I want to do. Whether I want to do anything at all. I was thinking of getting the Colonel’s chicken home for the occasion. He loved it and was sorely disappointed when neither KFC nor McDonald’s came to town, before he left. He would be happy, now that KFC has finally arrived, and I for one will never be able to eat it or even pass it by without thinking of him. In a good way though…you understand…in the very best of ways 🙂

I know Mom will light a lamp…I like the thought. A tiny light from us for the one who lit up our lives with the brilliance of a thousand suns! He was like that…brilliant, radiating joy and wisdom. So wise…however did my little brother get to be so wise? When did that happen? And so patient! I wish had a fraction of his patience, I’d be a better person. And yet, unlike others, his condition (he had DMD) didn’t bring him all that close to God. Well, not in the conventional sense. Not that I knew of anyway. Although he never made a point of it, he was an atheist, not really a believer. He tolerated all the stuff my parents did, (staunch believers both), the worship of countless deities and every manner of ritual, with his characteristic quiet diffidence. He wasn’t one to rock the boat with passionate arguments. No, those were entirely my domain! He was like my mother in that way – acceptance, compromise and reserve, his mantras. He understood her too, something I struggle with everyday.

I remember as if it were yesterday, the day he was born. I was away in Bombay for the Diwali vacation. Before leaving I had made it clear to my Mom that the birth of a sister would be sacrilege and utterly unacceptable! I was 12! Ever since I longed for a sibling, I always imagined a brother. I had always wanted a brother, so I could celebrate ‘Raksha-Bandhan‘ and ‘Bhaubeez’, without having to rely on the charity of cousins. I wanted someone who was mine, rightfully and exclusively. I got him at 10.14 pm on the 24th of October 🙂 We were all fast asleep when the telephone rang, but the adults were obviously expecting news and so were alert. My great-aunt answered the phone and then woke me up to say I had a sibling. She said I had a little sister but for some reason I couldn’t believe her and I must have said so vehemently, ‘coz the next moment she was assuring me that my wish had come true and that I had a little brother. My brother – all mine. By rights. My Dad & I traveled back to Goa, a few days later, I think. I can’t remember all the details. What I do remember is my first sight of him. He was red, very red it seemed to me, except for his hands that seemed almost purple (I know now that he must have been polycythemic), wearing nothing but a cotton nappy, nestled in my Mom’s lap. He wasn’t crying. He was looking around with those shining, bright eyes in a most intelligent fashion. I can’t say it was love at first sight or even any sort of connection, ‘coz at 12 my knowledge and understanding of such things as emotions was negligible, but I remember thinking, ‘He’ll do.’ Just that, ‘He’ll do’, and it felt right, like it was meant to be. I probably said something to that effect to my Mom, although again I can’t remember. I was happy. I remember feeling pride too, although I have no clue why I should have felt that particular emotion, even before I had begun to know him properly! My wish had been granted, I had my brother, all was well with the world!

Now Diwali looms around the corner again and I’m alone. Or am I? I’m older and wiser (a little) and I choose to believe that my brother is always by my side. And I don’t mean that he’s in my heart in the conventional way (although he is). No, what I feel is more tangible (No! Not ghosts and spirits silly!), just a very strong presence, a real feeling of his being around me, protecting me from harm. Nothing scares me anymore, ‘coz he brings me strength and every time I feel bleak and hopeless, he brings me hope. Tangled problems have a way of sorting themselves out and solutions seem to suggest themselves. Perhaps, it’s coz I have conversations with him all the time. When I have a particularly irritable or sensitive problem, I always ask him what I should do and always, always, the answer comes to me 🙂 How lucky am I?

We bonded solidly as he grew older and the decade between us shrank to nothingness 🙂 Music, cricket, politics, Bollywood, Hollywood, God and Death; we discussed them all and then some with passion and abandon. I never treated him as a patient. I just couldn’t. I was always honest with him and I like to think compassionate, but never soft. It’s not my way. But he understood. He understood me with all my faults – my anger and impatience and stubbornness and that frightening need for constant change. He was the only one who did. It’s hard to write more…unexpected tears. I didn’t think I would cry. I didn’t want to. And yet the tears aren’t all in sadness for his loss. Not anymore. They are also for the joy of having known him and for having loved and been loved by him 🙂

I’m reading the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik (incidentally my brother adored the epic and watched the TV series based on it only a million times :)), and have been thinking about that most sacred of all Hindu scriptures, The Bhagvad Gita (loosely translated as The Song of God). I found a quote that resonated with me in particular at this time in my life, “There is neither this world nor the world beyond nor happiness for the one who doubts.” And so, with conviction, I choose Happiness and banish doubt. For what do I have to fear? I know this much is true, my brother is watching over me and will never let me come to harm. And that knowledge lets me move mountains 🙂

Happy Birthday B!

Love you hamesha, P.