….all that we shared — most of all the love, as children, as adults. It makes me smile, even if my eyes mist over as I remember….
…you and our brother were known as Ram-Lakshman in Nagpur, since you were inseparable, with perfect co-ordination of thoughts and actions. It helped that your name was Ram. You were serenity and patience personified and stood for values that we imbibed from you – dutifulness, humility and hard work among others. But if I were to think of the qualities that defined you, the foremost that come to mind are kindness, gentleness and above all, your wonky sense of humour. Your PJs were world famous in the family and you had us holding our sides over funny anecdotes, which you pantomimed with elan.
…the silly things you fought over with our brother — the water fights you had inside the house which you hastily mopped up before mother scolded you; fighting for the exact number of arbi roast, and when you found that you both had the exact numbers, wangling over the size of each arbi; the winter forays into the jungle to pick ber (Indian berry), coming home victoriously like soldiers bearing not just the huge bags of ber, but also weals and welts earned while plucking them from the thorny bushes and trees…. and all this when you both were in your late teens!
…you couldn’t see a sad face in your vicinity nor could you disappoint anyone, even a little child. When our little nephew cooked some pretend upma with bits of paper, you dutifully put it in your mouth and chewed them to a pulp. ‘But you can always pretend to eat it; he wouldn’t even know,’ I said and you replied, ‘But I know I am not eating it!’ Not for you any pretence, even with a child. Going that extra mile to make someone happy was always in your blood.
….how in class three, I once lost the grey and silver fountain pen you had bought for me. I was afraid to tell you because I knew we couldn’t afford to buy another one with budgets being so tight. But I had to eventually tell because I couldn’t borrow pens forever, could I? I remember even the place where I made the confession to you – on the stairs leading up to the terrace. You looked at me with those large kind eyes that now bore hurt – ‘Do you know how much a pen costs? Shouldn’t you have been more careful?’ you asked me simply. I began crying, not because you scolded me – you could never – but because I had let you down by my carelessness. Having begun working at the tender age of 15, you knew the value of money and you wanted me to learn it too.
…giving the measurement of my right foot for you to buy slippers for me. You reasoned that taking a young girl to a shop with so many choices, some of which might be beyond our budget would be an unkind thing to do. But when you saw me admiring the new all-weather slip-ons that Bata had launched, you decided to break the rule. It was a red-letter day in my life when you took me by bicycle to the shoe shop and let me try on the new slippers. I remember how I carefully washed and guarded the elegant blue slippers with my life, lifting and placing my feet gingerly as I walked, to prevent wearing them out.
….your love for music, especially bhajans. Your unique voice that had a soft tone to it, was a pleasure to listen to, all without any formal training. There was this beggar who sang abhangs on his daily rounds and you loved his singing. So once when he came down our street on a holiday, you invited him home, sat him down and made him sing some abhangs. And after that, you fed him a sumptuous meal, serving him yourself lovingly before sending him on his way with some coins pressed into his palms. Didn’t I say that you had a gentle and large heart?
…..the first big gift of my life which I got from you when I was 14 and studying in Tiruchi – a cute little HMV transistor radio with the curious name of Nipper. The happy hours I spent with my ears glued to it, listening to Hindi film songs and programmes are countless. When buying batteries for it became a point of contention between father and me, you sent money to buy a battery eliminator (you were living in Nagpur then). It was much later that I came to know from our sister that you were a great fan of the film songs of the 50s and that Kishore was one of your favourites.
…that without your help I couldn’t have graduated, for despite getting a merit scholarship, mother was not keen on sending me to college as she felt it was a waste for girls. While I fretted and fumed, you talked her into agreeing. The catch was that I could not go to any co-ed college. I rebelled, as the subjects I wanted to study were available only in those. With the same persuasive powers that you convinced mother, you convinced me that getting a college education in subjects that were not my favourites, was better than no college degree. But then you made up to me by buying me a stylish sports bicycle to commute to college and my veena class. And every day thereafter, you carried it up to the first floor house to prevent theft.
….the ‘pocket money’ which you gave me when I started college. A princely sum of Rs.15 bought me many cups of tea, samosas and cutlets at my college canteen and even allowed me to watch a couple of noon shows of old movies at Re 1, in Saroj theatre! Not just that, but you raised it by Rs5 every year till I left college, to make up for ‘ínflation’.
…of the four girls in my group in college, I was considered the luckiest, since I had not one but two elder brothers, one of whom lived with me. We didn’t celebrate Rakhi at home, but they insisted on coming home to tie rakhi on you and make you their brother. I agreed magnanimously. And you? Though amused, you were as loving as you were with me, making me go green with envy.
After getting four rakhis on your wrist, you gave us Rs.5 each and then took us out on a treat to India Coffee House near our house, bought us cutlets and then ice cream from the Blue Bell cart outside. We felt like princesses that day and I was the happiest since I had you for the whole year to myself! You were the universal elder brother. Did you know that?
…that being the last, the biggest disadvantage is that one took life for granted and didn’t even learn basic skills like plaiting one’s hair. So after our last sister got married and left home, I had to cope with tresses several feet long, without a clue as to how to do it. I couldn’t adjust to mother’s timings even if I overlooked the way she plaited my hair and was often reduced to tears. And you would quietly pick up the comb and do the plait. It wasn’t as perfect as I would have liked, but the love and care that your fingers lavished, more than made up for the lack.
…during the rebellious years of my teens when I scorned all rituals including the bhajans that you sang at home with parents and some close friends, I would stubbornly sit in my room, listening to film songs. And you’d wager a bet with the others that you could make me join them before starting the abhang ‘Trividha papanchi haaraka he gurupaya…’ at a high octave. I bet the worst agnostic would have come running to be close to the voice that dripped such devotion. Even after I came to know of your ploy, I didn’t let my pride stop me, as my feet involuntarily made their way to the puja roomtha, as if in a trance.
…in later years when I ranted about our ritualistic and orthodox parents, you gently chided me saying that their devotion and prayers were what kept us all in such comfort.….
…the subtle change that had come into our relationship – from an elder brother-kid sister one to that of friends, I was delighted to have you goof around and do adventurous stuff with me, much as our brother had been a partner in crime when we were younger. And the centre of most of it was your aged Lamby. One of the games we played was speeding — I peeped over your shoulder at the speedometer urging you to go faster and faster still. You’d stick to the limit till we turned the far corner since mother would be watching us and then would shoot forward. How we laughed our heads off in exhilaration as we roared down the roads! Thankfully in those days the roads of Nagpur were still fairly empty and safe for such stunts. Who would have thought that we were ten years apart?
….when I wanted to ride the Lamby. After all, I was equal to any male and could do anything they did, couldn’t I? You didn’t discourage me but took me down and asked me to take it off the stand, which I did easily. He made me push it for a distance which was easy. I was elated. ‘Now, put it back on its stand,’ you said simply. I looked at you entreatingly to help, but you stood your ground. You had a way of saying things without actually uttering a word. Needless to say, I gave up the idea of riding the scooter since it was too heavy for me to handle.
…how we once raced the clouds from Sadar to reach home before the summer storm hit. The sky had darkened ominously and without warning. Not willing to get drenched in the downpour, you boasted that we could easily beat the clouds, which were speeding in the same direction. You rode like the devil as I looked up at the clouds and gave a running commentary on their position — and did we just beat them! Our parents were suspicious at our laughing and triumphant faces, remember? In later years, the burden of work and raising a family might have made you a little sombre, but bubbling mirth and uncontrollable laughter were always just under the surface, waiting to get out at the slightest provocation.
…learning that books were a treasure over which we could spend money without any qualms. You had introduced books in my life – A.J.Cronin, Alistair Maclean, Leon Uris, Dominique Lapierre….It was this lesson I recalled when I had chosen a set of World Book Encyclopedia over a colour TV when the children were growing up.
….my militant feministic arguments over concessions made to boys/men and how you gently gave in. I acted cussed though I knew you were never the chauvinist. From helping in household work to accepting working women, who were a novelty and an irritant to many males at that time, you set an example in equality in the real sense. I remember the rotis you made, the precise way you cut the vegetables and more, without turning a hair. Men today can take several leaves from your life in this respect.
….you had infinite endurance to pain, hardship and advertisities. You bore them all silently and strove to overcome them. As I said earlier, you were patience embodied. And yet you would come rushing to hold my head when I retched with nausea during a bout of migraine.
….you charmed everyone whom you touched. Some people are liked by many, but only a rare few are liked and admired by all they come in contact with. You were that rare one. I feel proud to be your sister, who remained the apple of your eye till the end – the eyes that filled up that day as we hugged and cried together when I left for Chandigarh from Delhi. Did you know that we would never live in the same city again?
….And today I have just teary eyes without you to hug and console me. But I am sure you have charmed the wings off quite a few angels already with your bhajans and your PJs, maybe even making the devil have a change of heart!
And that makes me smile……
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