The term "soul mate" is often understood in a very limited context. It is nearly always linked to one's lover or partner or spouse. So we have these endless quotes, thoughts, theories, advice on one's soul mate, all in the romantic realm. I have this weird theory. To me, the man I love can never really be my soul mate for the reason that I would always want him to know me, see me at my best. I don't want him to see me floundering, or with my inner light dimmed, just as I can never allow him to see me with a mud mask or egg pack in my hair. When I am with my guy, I should look, smell, be fabulous . He is the love of my life. The one who unhinges me. But he is not my soul mate.
Do I have a soul mate then? The one who sees me/has seen me/will see me at my best and my worst? And will never bat an eyelid at my transgressions? Will rejoice in my happiness?
Yes, absolutely. My big sister is my soul mate.
Hers is the voice that I hear first thing in the morning, seconds before my mobile alarm goes off, with Robert Plant shrieking divinely 'Aaanh aaa aaah" in Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song". She is the one that I still want to be talking to, right up to the last minute before I go to sleep.
"I owe everything I am today to my sister. That voice which I hear in the morning and before I sleep has kept me young, fragile and obstinate."
Madonna apparently said," Your soul mate is the person that pushes all your buttons, pisses you off on a regular basis, and makes you face your shit."
That's what my sister does too. She makes sure that I am at my best at whatever I do, standing rock solid and unwavering beside me. Never behind me. She drives me nuts perhaps every single day with her totalitarian advice, delivered in dulcet tones. And yes, she never lets me get away with any kind of banality which according to her erodes the "me" in me.
Why do I listen to her? Why do I have this complete faith in her? Because she is the one who practically mothered me.
Rising against great personal adversity, my breathtakingly beautiful sister leads an immensely successful professional life. Her intelligence and drive is balanced out with her concern and compassion for those marginalised by society. A doctor turned businesswoman, she has not lost the healing touch which made her choose medicine in the first place. I wish I could have seen her when she took the Hippocratic Oath. She would have spoken the words with her lips, her eyes and her heart.
I had once diffidently asked her, troubled by my inability to conform to hypocritical societal norms and standards, that if not wanting "a house with a white picket fence", makes me a terrible person. She had smiled and quoted Cummings to me : "May your heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living...may your mind stroll about hungry and fearless and thirsty and supple."
This attachment between her and me is a huge joke in the family and among close friends. I have to hear snide comments from her son, my utterly beloved nephew, which go somewhat like this: "Get a life! Can you even breathe without your sis?" My infuriatingly adorable Dad, waited with unholy glee once, to see whether a little argument between us, would erupt into a full-blown Mahabharata. My Ma asks me sarcastically "Has your Gurudev okayed this?" when I get around to doing what she asks me to, after asking my sister about it naturally! The beloved makes sure he speaks to her at least once in a day, many times forgetting me .
I owe everything I am today to my sister. That voice which I hear in the morning and before I sleep has kept me young, fragile and obstinate.
This is her and me:
"There were once two sisters
who were not afraid of the dark
because the dark was full of the other's voice
across the room,
because even when the night was thick
they walked home together from the river
seeing who could last the longest
without turning on her flashlight,
because sometimes in the pitch of night
they'd lie on their backs
in the middle of the path
and look up until the stars came back
and when they did,
they'd reach their arms up to touch them
and did." -
- Jandy Nelsen, The Sky Is Everywhere
Nani ( that is how we refer to elder sisters in Odisha), you are my soul mate, you are my hero. You are the wind beneath my wings.
This is a photograph of me and my elder sister Gayatri in the mid 1970s, in Keonjhar, Odisha. Years later, today too, I am still stuck to her like this. My nephew, says tongue-in-cheek, that it is me who is actually the originator of the Chipko Movement.
A version of this post appeared on The Accidental Sufi.