If there’s one thing Indians are great at, it’s creating and celebrating festivals. Once a year, we make it our duty to show Mother Nature the finger through something we call Diwali. We kept one day for men to violently massage women and legally get away with it in the form of Holi. My favourite, however, remains the annual Indian festival of friend zoning and shattered dreams – Raksha Bandhan.
Raksha Bandhan – or as Parsis call it, “It’s fine, you can still marry her tomorrow” – is a festival where women tie a sacred thread around a man’s wrist in exchange for a promise of lifelong protection. According to one legend, Raksha Bandhan was a ritual wherein the God of Death Yama was tied a rakhi by his sister Yamuna in order to make him immortal, which is ironic given that the only living thing in the Yamuna today is Sheila Dikshit’s tears.
Before one gets into the implications of this terrible arrangement, however, one must understand that each Indian man has to endure two kinds of rakhi as part of their childhood.
The first involves actual siblings, some of whom you hate and only see on that particular day. Here, there is competition between sisters on who has the fanciest rakhi. While nowhere near the ridiculousness of present day Angry Birds rakhis, some I got as a child included those with pieces of bubble gum, a pencil sharpener and my personal favourite is one that I’m sure Sharad Pawar invented: a five-rupee note. Because really, what better way to say “I love you and I want you to protect me” than a five-rupee bribe?
As a child, the last thing you want is to judge your sisters based on the quality of their rakhi, but you do that without realising that you’re at the core of this patriarchal exercise. The sister who gives you a simple thread falls lowest on your protection scale while the entire family stuffs your face with mithai and waves around envelopes of money that look like a coin stuck to Jazzy B’s face.
The second rakhi is the one a man has to endure in school. A week before the festival, most guys have the following conversation.
Sexyboy: Man I’m taking the day off before rakhi
Sexyboy: Arre I really like that chick. What if she ties a rakhi man? Whole scene will get screwed hahahaha
Snazzyboy: So what yaar? Din mein bhaiya raat mein saiyaan hahahaha
It is an automatic presumption that women everywhere are dying to tie rakhi to guys in school. While on one hand men feel the need to stay away from dying a slow death by becoming a girls “muuh bola bhai”, coming to school with at least some rakhi the day after is important to show a sense of responsibility. Showing up in school the day after rakhi without any threads is like showing up the day after Holi without a disgusting pink sheen of leftover colour all over your neck. Not cool.
Somewhere between managing these stages, men grow up and realise that rakhi is like Valentine’s Day for siblings. You don’t really need a day to tell someone that you love them, but is there a headier cocktail than one mixed with tradition and consumer capitalism? Or maybe we need it so women can try and gloss over something that most of them know but we don’t admit – that a lot of us men are cowards.
Now if you excuse me, I must go out and buy an expensive gift for my sister that shows the world I really love her. I'm thinking onions.
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