He was the ‘Dennis the menace’ of our class. For he was not only up to practical jokes and pranks always, but he also had nicknames for all girls. Best friends Revathi and Uma were ridiculed as ‘Rava — Upma’, Santana was called ‘Santa Claus’ and so on. Every time a girl got up to answer a question or say something, he would squeak or mew and took immense joy in making all the girls cry.

He was our nightmare! There was little we could do to tame him as he excelled in studies, music, dramatics and sports. While we were on step 2 struggling to solve an algebra sum, he had already gone to step 6 and had the answer in a minute’s time. He was a pedagogue’s delight, the teacher’s pet and everybody’s blue-eyed boy, so any attempt to complain about him was met with, “Really? No, not possible, I think you girls are jealous of his success.” So it went on, day after day, prank after prank, until one day...

In North India, there are no dearth of festivals for gods and goddesses. In August, Raksha Bandhan (bond of protection) is celebrated as a felicitation of brothers by their sisters who pray for their immortality. A sacred thread decorated with embellishments, sequins and beads, called ‘rakhi’ is tied by sisters on the wrists of their brothers as a symbol of their love. Sweets are exchanged and the brother, besides giving his sister gifts in cash and kind, vows to love, protect and care for her as long as he lives.

Historians believe that the first Raksha Bandhan was observed by Rajput queens who sent rakhis to neighbouring kings who were a threat to their husband-kings and their kingdom. Having become brothers, these kings had to honour the relationship and could not attack the Rajputs. Though many a queen succeeded in her attempt to sustain peace, history books are also bookmarked with sad betrayals of the brother-sister bond, followed by heroism of Rajput queens like Rani Padmini who chose death to dishonour.

I shudder as I chronicle the very haunting account of Queen Karnavati (A.D 1535), who was widowed after Bahadur Shah of Gujarat invaded the kingdom of Chittoor. In a frantic, final attempt she sent a rakhi to Emperor Humayun for help and protection. Touched by her desperate yet noble gesture, he immediately dispatched troops in her defence. But, alas! even his efforts proved futile for, Chittoor had already fallen and Bahadur Shah had gained acquisition of the fortress. The common lore is that walls of the Chittoor fortress resound with the cries of the queen and her 13,000 women aides who immolated themselves to avoid dishonour.

Rakhi can be tied to “adopted” brothers as well, i.e., those not related by blood but who pledge life long protection to the requesting sister. But today the gesture is being misused by many youngsters. In south India, society considers it abominable and crime for a girl to have a boyfriend. To be ‘just friends’ is not criminal but is frowned upon. But once the ‘brother-sister’ relationship is established in a socially approved manner like tying a rakhi, nobody really bothers. So to avoid being scorned, followed or gossiped about, girls resort to the rakhi. It provides them the licence to do what you like with the boy you like, where you like, when you like. What happens sometimes is that many a brother and sister crosses that thin line, falls in love and the whole relationship changes eventually leading to marriage. That is when the Raksha Bandan tradition falls apart.

If I have left you in suspense about the abrupt ending of the first paragraph, here’s what happenned. We girls having had it, waited for Raksha Bandhan day. As our ‘Dennis’ entered the school premises, 23 of us pounced on him with rakhis and ‘tied our knots’! Completely taken by surprise, he did not know what to do, but being a north Indian he had to respect the rakhis we had tied. It was not a knot around his wrist, rather it was a noose around his neck! Ha! ha! ha! It sealed the end of his pranks and our troubles.

Not only did we rid ourselves of his menace, he also had to protect all the 23 of us from other bullies in the school! The following year, he took leave on Raksha Bandhan, not wanting to add any more sisters who wished to adopt him as their brother. I remember our teacher taking attendance that day and when she got no reply as she called out his name, looked up from behind her glasses and asked, “Does he have sisters? Is that why he is on leave today?” to which 23 of us broke into girlish giggles. Yes, he did!

To this day, I have no regrets about what we did for, we did convert a bother into a brother!

(The writer’s email: hemera@refiffmail.com)

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