My first, best friend.
I was nine. It was 1981. There was an elocution competition in school. My teachers encouraged me to take part: Topic – “Should women work?” I came back from school and handed over a note from my teacher to my mother. My mother saw the note addressed to her, from my class teacher — I do want Atul to participate; please do convince him. (I had refused, when my teacher asked me to take part). My mother asked me if I want to take part. I said, I didn’t want to.
No need to participate, if you don’t want to, she said. But why do you refuse? I told her I don’t agree with the topic. My sister is having lunch with me. She gets upset, says a few words. I ignore her. Mother asks her to keep quiet.
Then, my mother asks me, “You don’t think women should work?”
“No,” I said, “I think they should go out and get jobs.”
“You idiot,” my sister shouted, from that far side of the dining table. She always sat at the right end of the dining table, with her back to the window, the afternoon sun shining through. Always a silhouette.
My mother calmly asked my sister to eat her lunch, and asked me what I meant.
My class teacher was one of my favourite creatures during those years. I adored her, and I had great respect for her. Even if, I didn’t understand respect at that age. I was upset at her, because she asked me to speak about something I didn’t believe in. It wasn’t as clear, then. I do, however, distinctly remember, I was confused. My mother asked me again, what I meant.
Women should not work. They should go out and take jobs, if they want. My teacher had a job. All women should be like my teacher. They should have a job.
My sister continued to be frustrated, throughout her lunch. She tried many times, during the course of the lunch, to voice her frustrating concerns about the degree of my idiocy. My mother didn’t allow an argument to take birth. We soon established that I had wrongly interpreted what work meant. Needless to say I was confused about work and job. Lunch was over, my mother hurried off to finish her work for the rest of the day, and my sister continued to lecture me about the nuances between work, job, career, profession etc. I don’t remember the exact words. (My vocabulary is better now, and I have my sister to thank for it)
So you will participate, she asked, finally. Yes, I said, but I don’t know what I should speak about, for 15 minutes.
The script of my first ever public speaking event was crafted by my sister. She was twelve, then. Two days later, I read the script with my classmates and my class teacher in attendance. My teacher was more than impressed. Since she knew me (and my sister) very well, she called my sister, and congratulated her on a wonderful and a powerful script. (we studied in the same school) Then, the unthinkable (for me) happened. My teacher warned me (in very polite and decent words) not to screw up this wonderful speech. In less than a week the speech was by-heart. In the presence of of my teachers (in school) and my family (at home) I waxed eloquently.
After about seven sentences in the speech, on that stage, I froze. I cried. I uttered all the keywords I could remember. Disconnected words were rambled. There were unknown people staring at me. I could see all their faces. A nine-year old does not need to see the intimidation of an audience. It was an afternoon; and a well-lit place. Then, I literally ran away. I let down everyone, I thought. My class teacher. My mother. Most of all, my sister.
Most people aren’t aware, but I have a bagged many awards and certificates since that day, that relate to performing on a stage. Twelve, to be precise. Since that day, I never left the stage before the curtains fell. Presentations, debates, elocution, and acting (drama). I am 43 now; 34 years since that day, my legs still shake and I break into a sweat when I speak to an audience of more than seven. Yet, I do it. I have not conquered stage fright, I have learnt to manage it. I have learnt, not to leave the stage. And I owe it to one person: my sister. She put me there.
Today is Raksha Bandhan: A festival, traditionally, celebrated when brothers vowed to protect their sisters. Surely there’s some logic behind it. Women of yore did not have the means to take care of themselves, mostly, because men didn’t allow women to take care of themselves. In these days and times it does not apply. But that should not stop us from celebrating a festival. (In any case, mostly, folks in the Indian subcontinent celebrate festivals just because of the food) We can always redefine the purpose of that festival. There is no more a need for brothers to protect their sisters. I am fortunate to have grown amidst strong-willed women. My sister is undoubtedly, one of them. My first best friend, my teacher, my guide, my guardian, my confidante; to this day.
Raksha (Protection) Bandhan (Bond) is no more about protection from conventional harm.
I have to only protect, if at all, what she wants. I have to only protect, if at all, her sense, that she is alone. I have to only protect, if at all, her beliefs.