Bhai didn’t speak to me for 11 years. From 1984 to 1995.
It was very hurtful but we got used to communicating by not communicating. We were in the same school, same bus-stand, school bus. Even when we went to college, the bus-stand and U-special was the same. We had common teachers in school. Very few people knew we were siblings, from the same family.
Now I feel it was such a smart thing to do. I think we got out of it alive because he decided to shut shop as far as the two of us were concerned.
So that in the small space in which we were temporarily stuck, we could be islands. We could go our own way, be our own selves, grow and explore without having to bite off chunks from each other’s territory.
We were both very troubled teenagers. We needed help. Mum and Dad needed help too. But we did not know how to reach out. There did not seem to be any time and space in which we could.
Between Bhai and me, it was a bloody mess. Neither of us had any grip on it….. we loved each other dearly and hurt each other deeply.
By the time I started college, I began to call him my other brother.
(in the context that Manu was my brother, the one all my friends knew and loved, and Bhai was the other brother. How hurtful that sounds. I made a joke of it. Black black humour.)
Bhai seemed to have the paranoid idea that I was always poking fun at him with my girlfriends. Always trying to get too close to him. Too interested in his friends.
Mum and Dad were out of their depth….. they had no clue about this sibling business. Maybe they did, perhaps there was nothing constructive to do about it at that time. Maybe it was good parenting to just let us be, I don’t know yet.
Everyone could see it, but only once Dadaji brought it up. ‘I never see the two of you talking, what is the matter?’ he asked.
Now Bhai has crossed 40. I am still 3 years younger. He calls me sometimes when he is on his way to work. We are good now, brother and sister, sharing stories, photos, being loving and encouraging to each other. Sometimes sharing our incredulousness at how life as a grown up is a bit of a shock. None of the movies we saw together, silently, prepared us for the confusing, complicated reality of marriage and parenthood.
One of my sharpest memory with him is in a dark room in the middle of the night. We used to quietly watch late night films together on Doordarshan on friday nights. Parents, Dadaji, Manu sleeping. The two of us sitting close to the TV on very low volume, lights off, reading subtitles off the Polish, Chinese, Russian and Indian film classics. This memory is from watching Meghe Dhaka Tara together, the scream in the end piercing through our hearts. Both of us crying in the dark. Separately. I986
How did he come back to being my Bhai?
He called me one day from NY. I was in a hotel room in Mumbai, at work. June1995, we were filming the pilot episodes of Chhupa Rustam.
He said he had met someone. Would I write to her and tell her what a good sort of a lad he was? He wanted her to know his family, where he was coming from.
I had sworn many times till then that when he was going to get ready to marry someone, I’d write to her and warn her off. His rejection of me hurt a lot and I masked my pain with smart alecky plans. And words.
And now this request from across the seas, after 11 years of silence.
I did write that letter, I’m sure my sister-in-law still has it somewhere. I took 3 days off from work and went to stay at an Aunt’s place. Her kids had grown up, the house was quiet and empty. There were lots of comics around. Asterix, Tintin, Mandrake, Archie, shared bits of our childhood together.
I wrote a testimonial for my silent brother from that space.
(that’s Bhai with Ananti, his 6 month old daughter. I look at this photo and the line in my head goes, that’s Bhai with a new Neeru in his arms)