Raksha Bandhan

It is Raksha Bandhan tomorrow. The pretty festival which every advertiser is cashing in on – from chocolate manufacturers to insurance companies. Of course, every culture in India has its own version of it – South India has Nagapanchami, Marathis have Bhai Dooj and I just learnt that Bengal has Bhai Phota. And several other such versions which all relate to the sister tying a version of Rakhi to the brother in exchange for protection. Some cultures also say that we pray for the long lives of the brothers, and then there are the gifts.

It is the only festival I guess I find sort of sweet… I perhaps never prayed for the ‘long life’ for any brother but it is wishing them luck and them wishing me luck. Every other festival is about the whole family and it is sort of sweet to celebrate a relationship which largely gets ignored – fraternal.

So I went to pick up a rakhi today during my lunch break. There aren’t too many shops around here but every store – even if it is like a stationery store or a medial shop has a stock of rakhis. Everything I saw this time was bling… shiny red stones, pink stones, blue stones and sequins, shimmery gold material with purple stones. You get the picture. No?

That should give you some idea.

Of course, this is a cartoon but image something a lot more real.

I could imagine my brothers’ reactions to each one of those… so I rejected tray by tray till we reached the last one and looked up in desperation.

Kuch simple sa nahi hai kya?” (Don’t you have anything simple?) I asked the guy.

After indicating thread-like structures hanging out there, he pulled out another box, claiming most people didn’t like such rachis. They were plain, made of velvet, without the “Om” symbols or other gods and all that jazz. The kind that they advertise on TV but so hard to find in real life (in little by-the-road shops).

While I was picking through the boxes, a school girl walked up to pick up some. She was a lot faster than me… given her limited budget too. She picked a slim one, suitable for a 12-year old’s wrist, which cost barely 10 bucks. Her hands hovered at a slightly more elaborate one and I wondered if I should offer to buy it for her.

And then I remembered the other part of the festival – being able to buy it for your brother. Sometimes we ask money from parents. Sometimes from the aforementioned brother itself. But sometimes, we save up… not having that ice-cream for a day. True… most of that occurs when you aren’t old enough to earn, but it is the fun part. And finding a rakhi that fits your budget and your taste is the challenge.

When I was growing up, the local shopping complex would string out boards and boards of rakhis outside the stores. Several sizes and several price ranges… women of all ages would come to bargain.

As the festival is mainly North Indian, you’d seen hordes of women in colorful, thin saris with the loose end half draped over their heads arguing with the vendor over the prices. They would buy these in packs… every cousin would get one, and then there were family friends who were also considered brothers. They celebrated it the traditional way… with the plate filled with sweets, a little lamp, and the multi-colored threads. I never had the patience for such rituals. Nor did my brothers I guess. If he did, he never asked for all the rituals… we were a little embarrassed about all that fuss.

As we grew older, the fact remained that I would remember, even when I wasn’t around or he wasn’t around and he’d get that colorful piece of thread.

And then there were the gifts. Yes. The important part of the festival when we were kids. The ritual from the guy… he would save up and buy something little… unless you had an older brother who was working who was expected to shell out enough money for something pretty.

Funnily enough my brothers were always around except for this festival… “It isn’t our festival” they would claim… so I began calling them up on the nagapanchami day and asking if they would like to celebrate it today. That solved the issue. How does the date matter as long as the thought’s there, right?

I can’t remember when it changed from being a matter of pride of having so many rakhis on your hand in school to “man I hope she doesn’t come at me with a rakhi.”

Those were the fun days. And material for gossip when someone who would’ve probably tied a rakhi a year ago would ‘sort of’ start dating the next year. Or vice versa. Always thought that was a little incestuous but it is what you believe that matters, I guess.

I don’t know how the festival is going now. I am stuck here at office, without those twinkling, sparkling rows of threads. I haven’t seen those women in colorful ghunghats bargaining with the shopkeepers. I haven’t seen them buy the rakhis with their daughters, while the men wait outside. I haven’t seen school girls choose the prettiest ones.

Come to think of it, I missed all of that child-like excitement even on Friendship’s Day, which is probably the only other day when you see all this fuss… got to do something with the bands and the fact that we youngsters can celebrate it too.

I miss those colorful bands around my wrist. Once I was out of school, hence the band-phase, the kids around my house always had some for me. They would ambush me as I stepped out of the house… reminding me a little of the “who will bell the cat” story. The first kid would approach and wish me “happy friendship’s day” and would want to tie a band, usually made of colorful threads knotted together at home. It was prettier and more touching than a store-bought band.

By the time that one finished knotting it around my hand, there would be a bunch of other kids wanting to do the same. I never took off those bands, till they eventually wore off. It was a symbol of innocence we were fast losing.

Many of them still exist in that little box under my bed and surprisingly, I can recall who gave me each of one of those bands – be it those kids or my friends.

Have those bands lost the value now? Do kids celebrate it the same way? There expensive ones out in the market now… the sort I would hesitate to buy, particularly when I had over 10 people as ‘close friends.’ But many don’t hesitate now… or perhaps it is a peer pressure thing. They whine and moan and want the best looking one out there.

Do kids still choose the prettiest and slightly pricey one for the best friend and the rest for the others?

What is it about those bands that band us together – be it rakhi or a friendship band?

Happy Raksha Bandhan.

Link of the day: The people in 20s (this actually should be photo of the day… but hey! bunch of images, can’t be posted. Enjoy the photos and the story that goes with it!)

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