Society

Rakhi celebrations turn long-distance and online, due to COVID-19

Virtual bond Many see the festival as a reason for family reunions, but not this year

Virtual bond Many see the festival as a reason for family reunions, but not this year

“We are in the same city, but we won’t be celebrating Rakhi together,” says Shefali Gupta over phone from Delhi. Shefali, a programme administrator for an international NGO, is used to celebrating the festival of Rakshabandhan with her bustling family of over 20 cousins, aunts and uncles.

But this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, safety takes priority. “We are all well now, but a couple of people in different households tested positive recently, so we don’t want to take any chances,” she says.

So instead of prepping to host her extended family, she shifted her focus online, picking out just the right rakhis and presents for each of her little brothers, to be shipped beforehand. She is not alone: with travelling restrictions in place around the country and abroad, the number of siblings celebrating a long-distance Rakshabandhan is far higher this year. While some went the extra-careful route and decided to not even courier the sacred thread, others are relying on video calls to watch someone else complete the rituals on their behalf.

But long-distance Rakshabandhan is not new. Brothers and sisters have been moving to different cities and countries for years — for studies, career or marriage — and getting together on a particular date for a particular festival is not always an option. Some just take it in their stride more than others: like New York-based cyber security professional Rahul Kashyap (name changed). Rahul has been in the US, and his sister in Canada, for four years now. “So celebrating it apart this year is not a big change,” he says nonchalantly over the phone, “We’d be wishing each other over the phone, and I will be sending her a customary gift.”

For Rahul and his siblings, Rakshabandhan is a far less serious affair than it is for their parents. “Other festivals, like Diwali, are the ones we really look forward to, when the family comes together. But Rakhi is something I personally celebrate just to keep my parents happy. Which is why, even this year, I drove down to my cousin’s place in New Jersey for a 15-minute ritual last week. I was wearing a mask, but my cousin sister is a doctor, so she wasn’t too happy at being told to do the rituals that need physical contact.”

The fact that her concerns were those of safety is not ironic, considering that the ritual itself symbolises protection. Many siblings are opting out of physical contact particularly to keep each other safe, but that does not make the festival any less fun or loving. Shefali, for instance, is still hoping everyone will be free for a loud, happy Zoom call on the day of Rakshabandhan. In the meantime, she is having a blast picking out rakhis of different colours and patterns to each of her brothers’ likings even if the process is online. She adds happily, “One of them loves chocolate, but another enjoys fruits. So chocolate boxes and fruit baskets it is!”


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Printable version | May 27, 2022 5:05:08 am | https://www.thehindu.com/society/raksha-bandhan-during-coronavirus-goes-online-and-long-distance/article32247985.ece