Raksha Bandhan is around the corner and for the first time ever, Neha will not be able to do what she has always done. Long before this time, she would have asked me ‘when is Rakhi mom? I have to buy and post it in time so it reaches Akshay’. Neha started tying Rakhi to Akshay since our Gorakhpur days in 1987 and a few years later, to her cousins in Bangalore/Mysore as well. Since being separated from Akshay at age 17, she would post the Rakhi’s. For her twin, she would choose a ‘classy yet showy Rakhi’– just as Akshay liked it, and write him a long, funny ‘love letter’ with it. Akshay always waited eagerly to wear the Rakhi, flaunting it even among the soldiers in his unit! Since their wedding, first Sangeeta and then Naina have ‘tied’ Neha and Mini’s Rakhis on Akshay’s wrist. And Akshay would call me days in advance to ask stuff like ‘Ma kya gift loon Neha ke liye?’ If I suggested something like a book (Neha loves books), he would say ‘book nahin ma…something bigger and better…… surprise karoon, ya usiko choose karne doon?’
As I write, wherever Akshay is now, he seems to be reminding me of another conversation we had way back in 2010. I had written real life stories on him (Colour of the Uniform) and on nephew Satwik (When a Teenager Taught us Lessons) for a ‘Chicken Soup For The Teenage Soul book’. Akshay was thrilled with his story and I could picture him blushing as he thanked me for writing it. Then he added ‘Next story Neha par likho ma. Please.’
It has been seven years since but the voice urging me to write on his sister is back. No longer can I ignore Akshay because now, his wish is my command. I know that unlike Akshay, you Neha, have always chosen to be ‘private’ in terms of sharing emotions, pictures and stories and so far we have respected that. But this time, Akshay wins. ‘This one is for you Neha Sweetie’, as Akshay would have said. I promise to try and keep it short! This, through me, is Akshay’s parting gift to a sister he clearly adored.
As always, it is hard for me to know what I am going to write until I actually start. Then the words flow and letting them flow has brought me this far- connecting and bonding with so many of you. So here I go again.
Even as tiny babies, your bonding was obvious when you communicated in a language we didn’t understand- looking and smiling at each other, reaching out to touch each other’s faces and crawling at full speed as you played your shared version of ‘hide-and –seek’, behind curtains, under beds and bed-covers. When you held your own milk bottle so I could hold Akshay in my arms and feed him, held his hand on the school bus when he cried while starting school, and jumped in to save Akshay when a group of boys were beating him up in the playground, you instinctively took on the role of protecting Akshay. Maybe because then, he was smaller and ill so often or maybe because, being considerate and kind is how you were made to be.
You shared a million secrets in the growing years and hid your fights from me and dad. Once when I noticed nail marks on your face and asked, you said Akshay and you had had a fight but when I yelled at Akshay and gave him a whack, you were in tears. Angry with me you said ‘I told you because you asked. That does not mean you should yell at Akshay’. I have never forgotten that reaction and lesson from an 8 year old.
He shared all his crushes with you and wrote you the sweetest letters. They usually started with ‘Hey Sweetie’ or ‘Hey Honey’ didn’t they?! And you called him your ‘best brother ever’, even sending him a ‘Valentine’ card?! And before he left for NDA, he gave you a tiny bound book with a note that said:
I love the fact that as siblings, you re-wrote some gender stereotypes – he was better at Languages and you at Math. You had a large group of common ‘buddies’- both girls and boys. You took turns to ride and sit pillion on the scooter, went for treks, movies and even to pubs together! You supported each other a hundred per cent. He made it a point to travel to Manipal when you no longer had common vacation breaks and you made it to NDA, thus extending your circle of friends. It was his turn to become protective of you when you went to college. In responding to Akshay’s concerns on a college trip to Goa, you wrote, ‘Don’t worry, I promise to not swim in the sea…. will only step in to wet my feet’!
When Sangy became his love, you were Akshay’s confidant and although you were studying in the USA, your communication remained just as close. He was thrilled when you chose to come back after a year and half of working abroad. He wrote to me on your 25th birthday saying:
‘This birthday…. and also on regular days… it often troubles me that we are all not in the same country… missing Neha ever so much and not being able to do anything about it… thinking of her and just wondering how she is and of all the beautiful times we have spent together.. cherishing every moment of what we have….. I reallyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy miss her… and I want the best for her and want her to achieve everything she wants to in life… Im sooooooo happy that she has taken the decision to come back.. and that we can get back to planning life more easily… and that I can just fly and see her at the drop of a hat…..’
Thank you for everything mumma and papa…. thank you for Neha too…. she’s perfect..
That Sangeeta and you have bonded so easily from the first meeting gave papa and me so much joy! You became such a happy threesome- enjoying long chats, outings and vacations and much later, a foursome when Pradish entered your life. Akshay was the happiest and the most emotional during your wedding. I can’t help but feel so sad that Akshay and Pradish did not get enough time to cement what was the start of a wonderful brotherhood. Here is Akshay’s loving post the morning after your wedding.
To my darling sis Neha Girish
From when u used to push my pram, allow me to be seated next to u in class, share your laddoos or even gave me a hand when I was in a fight.. U helped me grow better….
U helped me study, came to my rescue in school, showed me glimpses of the college life I never had and even made me a party to the amazing group of friends u have.. Helped me grow better…
U went on to do big things, did them rather well.. Became a scientist ( now a senior one, I love it when u say ” senior scientist “).. U made me proud and that U r doing so well pushes me hard too.. U still help me grow better…
On this wonderful day when you are a WIFE.. Ur gonna be the reason another man, Sripradish Kapikad is good too and you’ll help him also grow better.. and to take this beautiful journey ahead, let’s do it with a family selfie… Cheers 🍻 to u my darling sis.. And to Sripradish … Ur in amazing company and hands Bro..
Coming back to the present, when I expressed how sad this Raksha Bandhan is going to make you feel, Sangy immediately said ‘Neha will now tie Akshay’s Rakhi to her Bhabhi’. Bless you Rani. You have shown your strength and your love. And you know you have another brother in Pradish. That Neha and Pradish locked up their home to move in with us for two whole months during our darkest hours, means we truly share tremendous emotional and physical support. Akshay must be the happiest to see us all so bonded, stronger than ever. Now, with a caring extended family across India and beyond, you have a much bigger band of brothers and sisters also there for you.
I look up the net on how Raksha Bandhan originated and am happy to see it isn’t just about a sister tying Rakhi to her brother and he promising to protect her.
Raksha Bandhan is an Indian festival that celebrates the bonding between brothers and sisters, even if they are not biologically related. Though it is primarily a Hindu festival, it has long surpassed communal borders and is celebrated by many across the country and abroad, regardless of religion. Mythology depicts several episodes that refer to the ceremony and historical references – ancient, medieval and modern, and strengthened the humane faith that promotes its universality.
The origin of Raksha Bandhan refers to the time when Indrani tied a thread given to her by Lord Vishnu around her husband Indra Dev’s wrist, to protect him during the war between the Gods and demons. According to another version on a Sankranti day, Krishna managed to cut his little finger while handling sugarcane. Rukmini, his wife, rushed to bring some cloth immediately while Sathyabama sent her help to get a bandage. Draupadi, who wasn’t related to Krishna, was watching all of this and simply tore off a part of her sari and bandaged his finger. In return for this deed, Krishna promised to protect her in time of distress.
In Historical references, widowed Rani Karnavati who ruled Mewar once asked Emperor Humayun for his help. Mewar had been attacked twice by Bahadur Shah and as a ray of hope she sent a letter to Humayun with a Rakhi. The emperor who was in the midst of another military campaign then left everything to go and protect her. Unfortunately he did not make it in time to save her, but he did help restore Mewar to her son.
In 1905, Tagore urged Hindus and Muslims to tie Rakhi on each other’s wrist to express solidarity with one another. The call of Tagore was adhered to by members of both the community. Hundreds of Hindus and Muslims in Kolkata, Dhaka, Sylhet came out on the streets and tied the knot of unity with one another. However, Tagore’s vision of a unified Bengal was short-lived. Three decades later, the venom spread by communal elements was strong enough to permanently dent the pluralism of Bengal.
It becomes obvious now that Raksha Bandhan isn’t just about tying a Rakhi and getting a gift, nor is it restricted to siblings. It is about promoting a brotherhood which can extend from within the family to across the country and the world. If only we can expand our minds and hearts. I hope that we as a people can look beyond ourselves this Raksha Bandhan and take from an ancient practice to support and protect each other, by taking sides with what is good and right, irrespective of religion, region and social status.
It continues to be a turbulent year, not just for us as family, but also for our country. So many internal issues and threat of aggression from the enemy across our borders are undermining our democracy. I hope we will move ahead of symbolism in becoming much more united and determined for Bharat Raksha. Our brave soldiers cannot be supported enough for doing the toughest job of protecting our nation, so often shedding blood, and sacrificing their lives in doing so.
Coming back to Akshay and Neha, isn’t it incredibly amazing that when Akshay sent us his last whatsapp from the firefight, the only one that fateful day of 29th November 2016, the instantaneous response was from Neha? Considering she is not usually neither so communicative nor so prompt, I as their mother cannot put it down to mere co-incidence. Was it the ‘twin sense’ that made her see and reply to his message, at that very second when he communicated that he was in danger?
The other day, Mini (Akshay’s other sister) told me that she is also missing him more than ever but feels that his unseen energy somehow protecting her. Maybe he is closer to her now, because she is all set to be a mother soon? Sangeeta’s sister Vineeta also felt that way while she was expecting her second baby. I really hope that is true- that he is around loved ones.
I take this opportunity to wish my brother Hari, all cousins and also each one of you, a very happy Raksha Bandhan. The nostalgic old numbers ‘Phoolon Ka Taroon Ka…..’ and ‘Mere Bhaiya, Mere Chanda, Mere Anmol Ratan…..’ will for sure move you beyond mere words. Please click on the links below and enjoy the emotions and bonding.
Thank you for staying connected.
May God Bless Us All.