Siblings in India are supposed to blow soap bubbles at each other forever and inhabit a sacred land no one else can enter. Brothers must protect, sisters must make kheer. Stretching across their respective marriages and parental deaths, this bond is an ode to blood.
As real life plays out in most homes, there is sibling rivalry, preference for boy child, parental partiality and property inheritance laws tilted towards male gender. There may even be incest, physical abuse, separations and boarding schools for either or both. Rarely do brothers and sisters feel equally wanted or prioritised while growing up. Any pent up resentment is fanned by sundry spouses when they come along for sport or for money. Soap operas are a regular feature in Indian homes, with injured parties taking the mike regularly.
One in ten homes will mount a lavish battle within its four walls on matters ranging from love marriages to ‘you gave me less money’, and go to court to sue each other’s pants off. Bitter words follow bitter words, till ties are snapped forever and an uneasy calm prevails down future generations.
If sisters are supposed to bring a gentle touch to proceedings, brothers have to do the macho thing and provide, to do their duty by making enough money so sisters can be married off grandly despite employment. Brotherhood is the bank sisters file for bankruptcy at. The comfort level between them is vulnerable to material concerns; one party has to give and give, one party only has to take. No wonder then brothers and sister kill each other now and then.
Despite the many wondrous things TV serials spew about family time, such closeness can easily turn claustrophobic. Then the neck of the main earning member is in a noose, and he is stuck in his role as Santa Claus. No one tells him he could do with a holiday.
In Anjali Menon’s latest Malayalam film
Koode, when the brother says through gritted teeth that he has sent enough money home working all his life and must he now sit down with parents and make small talk too, he speaks for all men who have done this duty thing to death and are too tired to add a grin. It is the sister who gently rebukes, saying if he only thought of ‘duty’ as ‘love’, his gloom may lift. The sister, played by Nazriya, tries to show her brother, played by Prithviraj, how to enjoy life despite being eyed as a milch cow. The fact that she is dead only adds to the urgency of her appeal. She wants him to live a little.
This expectation that they shoulder familial burdens solely because they are sons could wreak havoc with the male psyche, leading to feelings of inadequacy. The concept of a primary family – the one they form with wife and kids – is diluted. Parents feel neglected easily, sisters feel free to bring in their financial woes, and the little male heir slogs and slogs.
Perhaps this Rakshabandan day sisters should just let their big brothers be.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.