It has been 30 years since Ashutosh moved to the United States. Seasons gave way to months, which turned to years and the number of gray hair behind his ears grew and covered his entire head. His eyesight fails a bit which his wife, Gertrude, keeps pointing out every morning as he stumbles around to find his reading glasses. Much of life feels tiresome to him, except the months of July and August.
July is his birthday month, which generally means that his wife cooks him whatever he wants to eat (just for a day, each year) and in August, his didi (sister), who lives in Delhi’s Rajouri Garden, unfailingly sends him a container full of homemade achaar (pickle) and a rakhi – that sacred thread that ties the two, even though they are separated by thousands of kilometers.
Raksha Bandhan is a popular Hindu annual ceremony during which sisters tie a talisman, amulet, or ceremonial string around the wrists of their brothers, symbolically protecting them from ill omens and praying for their long life. The brothers, in turn, vow to protect their sisters from all obstacles in life.
It has been a few years since Ashutosh met his Rani didi – two decades to be precise. And while he has retired and has all the time on hands, Rani, a good 15 years older to him (she practically raised him) is too old to travel anymore, or so she says.
Ashutosh believes she is just too rooted to their ancestral property to move. So all that ties their bond as siblings is that one piece of thread that Rani keeps on sending, year after year, without fail. Ashutosh ties it on his hand, after paying the usual obeisance to Lord Ganpati, placed right beside the Cross in their small puja room in South Carolina.
The last time Ashutosh had been to their quaint little house in Rajouri Garden was when it was overflowing with an endless number of relatives and guests for Rakhi; it was after Rani didi had insisted he visit her. He still remembers the look of happiness on her face as she tied the red string with a silver talisman (Om) adorned on it, and had blessed him with long health and prosperity. Gertrude, though not averse to his relatives, had found the Delhi weather bothersome, and that was the end of the prodigal son’s return home.
However, that one moment had brought back years of memories. He remembered Rani tying the sacred thread on his hand and he, in turn, promising to stand by her unwaveringly against all odds. He recalled saving his tiffin money to buy his lone sibling sweets for the special occasion and once, even stealing Rs. 5 from his father’s wallet to buy Rani didi a Cadbury chocolate (that was the fad that year).
The ritual did not end even after Rani was wed to a successful businessman in Lucknow, or when she returned home two years later, recently widowed and without any children of her own.
But even after Ashutosh stopped going to India, the Rakhis never stopped arriving at his residence in South Carolina. Earlier, it would appear in his mailbox a month or two later than the designated holiday in India, but nowadays, thanks to young neighbors who often pitch in helping the octogenarian Dadi (grandmother) in Rajouri Garden, the Rakhi usually arrives on time.
Over the years, Ashutosh has often found himself reading about the significance of Rakhi. The once religious festival took a socio-political turn when the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore made women tie the sacred thread on the men who were going to war. Ashutosh cannot help but feel that the simple thread is symbolic of something significantly bigger.
He wishes to make one last trip back to his house in Delhi and meet his Rani didi, so she can tie the sacred thread and they can promise to unwaveringly stand by each other in another life.
Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.