Considering that I have no brother and the husband and son have no sister, Rakhi is a rather exciting time in our house. Or at least it was while the son was at school.
The first year was a quiet one. The school sent a request for rakhis from the girls and sweets from the boys. ‘Yuk!’ said the son. ‘Girls! What a waste of sweets!’
I prepared in style, keeping chocolate bars ready to send with the son on the big day. My little one, I vowed, should not feel deprived of siblings on a day when everyone went around flaunting their parents’ fertility.
But here was a googly. ‘Not chocolates, Mamma,’ explained the son patiently. (Those were the days – when we had not graduated to the execrably American Mom!) ‘My teacher said sweets, and only two each. Girls don’t need more than that.’
Sweets it was, and the chocs settled comfortably in yet another layer on my waist. The son came back with four rakhis. ‘Milind got fourteen,’ he told me excitedly.
‘It was because you didn’t take the chocolates,’ I scolded, And secretly despaired. Milind, at three plus, was already blossoming into the kind of chocolate box hero girls would slit their wrists for. What hopes did the son, who is a clone of me, have of getting more than a look-see?
The husband couldn’t see why I was worried. ‘Twelve years from now, he (and you) will be groaning that even four girls found him only brother material,’ he said with an amused leer at the son, who met it with the stolid look he keeps for just such occasions.
Some years later, the son’s naturally masterful personality asserted itself. And the result was there for all to see on his wrist. ‘Fifteen rakhis, see?’ He couldn’t even remember the names of all the girls who had tied him rakhis. The sweets had run out long before the rakhis stopped coming, and I had to pack an extra lot for him the next day.
This time, it was the husband who was in despair. ‘Can you believe it?’ he asked in visible consternation. ‘Fifteen of the twenty-three girls in his class consider him their brother. At this rate, who’ll he marry? What hope does he have of settling down?’
Well, if nothing else, the paediatrician was there, I consoled him. She’d been alternately cajoling and threatening to marry the son ever since he engagingly presented his posterior to her for an injection when he was one.
In any case, I reasoned with him, the rakhis will naturally disappear as they grow up. Right now, they were a symbol of his popularity. By the time he was twelve, the girls would be looking at him differently, and vice versa, I hoped. The lack of rakhis on his wrist would be a symbol of his popularity then. And if Milind’s parents got dissatisfied with the curriculum and decided to change schools for their still wondrously blossoming progeny, well, that would be the icing on the cake.
Well, the years went by, and the son turned twelve. He still got mistaken for me. And he still actively – and vocally – believed that girls were, well, ugh!
Far from being dissatisfied, Milind’s parents were still sending him to school. And he’d grown even more like a chocolate box hero, tall and tanned and handsome. The son looked like a baby beside him.
Looking at him, it was I who was beginning to grow doubtful now. For that year, once again, the son sprouted an arm full of rakhis. And he came home and told me Milind had had only two rakhis tied on his wrist.
The son tried to console me. ‘You know, Mom, Pooja told me the girls were checking on who had brought what for them before tying rakhis. And Milind’s mother was out of town, so he’d got nothing.’ But he was visibly smirking.
My antennae shot up. If Milind’s mother had forgotten the mandatory sweets, so had I. Rakhi had coincided with Independence Day that year, and the school had decided to make a long weekend of it. And like I said, with no sibling anywhere on the horizon, Rakhi occupies low priority in my mind – till the son came home from school on the day, that is. So I’d completely forgotten it was that time of the year once again, and that sweets were in order on the Saturday before.
Despite my oversight, the son had come home with a fistful of rakhis! There was something fishy here, and I was going to reel it in.
When I went to bed that night, my not so little bundle of joy trailed behind me in a sulk because he did not consider it time yet to go to bed – he did have a holiday the next day, he told me defiantly.
I was not fooled. Bedtime is that time of the day when my one and only confesses all his sins, and makes his peace with mother and God, in that order. I waited patiently. Sure enough, he piped up, ‘You know, Mom, I’ve been thinking. (When the son starts thinking, there’s usually trouble ahead.) We were discussing in class today – everyone has a collection of some kind. So I told them I did, too.’
‘You do?’ I tried not to sound too eager. His stamp collection had been relegated to a dusty cupboard years ago.
‘Well, yes, I told them I collect burps. (Burps? Burps??? For God’s sake, how did you collect burps?) I have twenty different ones, you know. And I showed them how I can burp forty times in a row, without stopping even once.’
I groaned and sat up. ‘Was this before or after the girls tied the rakhis on your wrist?’
‘Well, that was during assembly. The teacher asked them for their rakhis only in the English period.’
He did not need to say any more.
First published in The Financial Express on 20 August 2000.