It is Bhai-Dooj. And my brother is far away from me. Yet in my thoughts, in my memories, he is just a touch away. This is for you, anna, the best brother any girl can ever have.
I hate sounds that burst unexpectedly. In my childhood, I would never pray before the Gods of the temples, preferring to cover my ears with my hands instead; and earn many mutterings that went unheard, literally.
” Fold your hands before the Devi,” mother would hiss, and try to pull mine down. One cracker would burst from the temple premises, and I would jump in terror, covering my ears again.I would curse the devotees who thought of paying hard earned money to shock the birds and the children, by paying for the cracker-rite.
It became a family lore- my fear of fire crackers. And when someone knows your weakness, the enemy plots his strategies around that. You don’t have to read Sun Tzu’s Art of War to realise that.
Every single penny my brother earned in pocket money,was offered for the cracker-rite. And he would warn me about Diwali, with an evil grin.
” Spent a couple of days and nights with ears covered, ok?”
And finally, evading all my desperate pleas for Diwali to avoid our neighbourhood, it would appear- regularly every year.
The Blair Witch of the next house, would light a lamp and announce to the world one eventide, ” Wind come hither, Rain come hither, Carry away all remnants of sorrow from this place.” We would hoot at her, seeing her wave the lamp around every coconut tree and mango tree in the neighbourhood. Diwali had arrived.
Small clay elephant lamps would be lighted up. Red seeds of the majestic Manjady tree woud decorate the lamps. Father would give pocket money to buy crackers and sparklers.
I remember the Pink Dot with the spot of brown in it. Potas, we called it: came in packets of ten and twenty, miniature crackers that had to be hammered to burst. The sophisticated guns to fire those came later. We were in the Stone Age, of course.
My brother delighted in cracking potas all over the place, hitting them with a fat shining stone. I would hide behind curtains, get under cots, cover my ears and pray that he would disappear along with those pink panthers who tore at my ear drums. He would discover me, patiently and gleefully, and would make sure that those exploded -right behind me.
” The best is yet to be,” he promised me with an evil grin, much before Robert Browning, as I screamed the house down.Yes, the grand night of crackers was yet to arrive- the Potas was just a prelude, playing its mellifluous tones.
The sparklers would be lighted up first. My brother would harrumph around like an impatient bull, and try to light up three or four at the same time, to proceed to the coveted cracker packet. I would again try my best to manipulate the environments, pleading for a snake pill, a fire-tree, anything that would only light up, and not shock. By that time, from the neighbour’s house, loud atom-bombs would burst and my brother would declare war.” The mala-padakkam,” he would announce the start of the ritual- and the chain crackers would start bursting merrily. By that time I would have disappeared, safe under the cot in the aunts’ room, cowering beneath, ears tightly shut. I would still jump as the tremors reached me. I must have fallen asleep a lot of times, in that dark hideout of mine.
Until one Diwali, my brother, you taught me to face my fear.
” What do you want to be when you grow up?”
You had used subtle psychological intervention, even without knowing it. We were children.
” An officer as Ship Uncle wants me to be,” I grinned. Ship Uncle was God. Even then, even now.
” Do officers cover their ears if someone fires a cracker? Would you not look silly?”
Question worth pondering about, deeply.
” Actually , yes!” I muttered, eyes widening at what he was hinting at.
I would not be able to make Ship Uncle happy, if I covered my ears.
And what is life, when God was not happy with you?
” What should I do?” I asked, steeling myself for the inevitable.
” Crush a potas with this rock,” said my brother.
It changed my life, that challenge of his.
” You will soon enjoy it. Come on..,” anna cajoled. ” Besides, I will give you that Tiger Sticker if you do that!”
Oh Lordie! The Tiger Sticker, which he guarded with his very life- and at the other end, a pink , evil bit of round cracker that waited to be burst.
Gathering all my courage, I picked up the stone.
The potas did not burst the first time. I shuddered in the anticipatory horror.
” I hate it when it does not burst when I strike,” tears started flowing down my cheeks.
” One more time,” said my brother, with a rare intensity. He was on a holy mission, I realise that now.
The potas burst when I hammered it a second time.
I jumped, but it was not that scary.
” Tiger sticker?”
” One more time,” anna grinned, moving another near me.
I ended up bursting twenty odd potas. With ears uncovered.
I still shudder when crackers burst, but I never covered my ears after that.
My brother had taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life: To face my fears and to handle them.And the promise that I could earn Tiger Stickers from life, if I overcame them. That one has served me well.
Brother mine, it will make you proud that I did not cover my ears, this Diwali too.
I also face my worst fears on the face, because of you.
Know that you are loved, very deeply.
Happy Bhai Dooj.