Last time, it was dry flowers and seashells, and this time it is leftover pieces of ribbons, pita shells and round beads. We've been adding to or collection steadily over the past few days in our own little corner of the world. That time is here...
"Look, this time, let's do things differently. Different in three ways. Shall we?" I say. "How?" asks my five-year-old, suspicious and sceptical.
The rakhi-making project at my daughter's school makes me more envious than nostalgic, though there is plenty of nostalgia too. But it's not because I miss my sibling and cousins... for that mush I have Bhai Dooj.
Rakshabandhan... well, if you ask me, it was more of a weapon for us, an instrument, back in school. Rakhi meant skipping school if you were a boy who was terrified his crush would "brother zone" him in one sparkly flourish. If you were a girl, Rakshabandhan or Rakhi was an opportunity to restore the spotlessness of your "character" by declaring sisterly feelings for that boy your friends were teasing you about.
But this post is not about the Rakshabandhan of adolescent game-playing. This post is also not about the myths and legends behind the festival, and nor is it about interpretations of brotherhood such as Tagore promoting the exchange of rakhis between Muslims and Hindus. Nope! This post is about twisting the rules even more fundamentally.
"OK, so what will you do with this rakhi?" I ask her, intently watching her squeezing out dollops of Fevicol from the tube on to the piece of paper that intends to serve as some kind of a base but fails, causing the white adhesive to puddle on the mosaic floor. She is too busy about the means to bother about the ends.
And so I ask again, "Darling, what will you do with this rakhi?"
"I'll tie it, maybe," she replies tentatively.
"Tie it on whom?"
"I need to find a brother."
As I search for a reply, she speaks again.
"I told you, Mum, make me a brother. Look now..."
Now, we don't even want to go there, do we? But then, she's incorrigible.
"Do you think you can try to make one before this Rakhi day, if you try hard?"
"Um, no," I assure her, and myself.
"Then I have to find some boy," she heaves a dramatic sigh and goes back to her task.
This is my opening to make my point.
"Why do you think you need a boy for Rakhi?"
"Because... come on, Mum! Rakhis are tied on boys!" She dismisses me. But I'm incorrigible too!
"Well, that's a rule!"
This is my chance to make a difference. I grab it!
"Listen, this Rakhi, let us try breaking a few rules, shall we?"
Now, talking to a five-year-old about breaking rules is a sure-shot way to grab their attention. It almost never fails!
"Break rules, how?"
"From this year, we'll go out in the road and tie rakhi to unknown people."
She holds up her gaze at me curiously, and with it her hands too. I watch the stream of white liquid flow down her arms, gather at the elbow, and form drops at the end of her sleeves. Of the new T-shirt that cost... forget it! Priorities... I remind myself, and continue.
"Look, this time, let's do things differently. Different in three ways. Shall we?"
"How?" she asks, suspicious and sceptical.
"First, we'll tie the rakhi on girls this time around."
She's clearly not convinced.
"You know what Rakhi stands for, right? It stands for a vow to protect each other. And this time, we'll promise that to a girlfriend, so that they won't need to wait for a boy to come and save them."
"Like Snow White?"
"Actually, unlike Snow White!"
"Second, we'll not look for returns."
"Well... say, you tie a rakhi on someone and she doesn't have one for you too, how will you feel?"
"Sad!" she says at once.
"And why so?"
"Because, if she doesn't protect me, I will not want to protect her either."
"Right! Now, the second rule we'll break is this. We'll tie a rakhi without bothering about whether they tie one back. Because, no matter what someone does, you must always want to protect them. All right?"
"OK... and number three?"
"How many rakhis are you making?"
She proudly shows off the thin ends of wet ribbons that should eventually look like rakhi bands if the stars align correctly. But never mind!
"Well, can you please make a few extra?"
"Sure, but why?"
"So, here's the third rule. From this year, we'll go out in the road and tie rakhi to unknown people."
"So that, we can protect each other. Those people on the road, and us!"
"But I won't know them the next time we meet."
Maybe we can take these extra responsibilities too -- to protect our sisters, to protect unconditionally, and to protect even if we do not know them.
"Right, that's the point. To keep the Rakhi promise, we'll protect everyone we meet on the road. And slowly, they'll also start feeling the same way and then they'll also stand up for us. We'll all protect each other on the road."
She gleefully goes back to her task, excited to have been given some extra responsibilities.
Actually, she probably too young to realize how big the extra responsibility is, but she will one day. As for the rest of us, maybe we can take these extra responsibilities too this time -- to protect our sisters, to protect unconditionally, and to protect even if we do not know them. Especially in times when we all need that extra bit of protection, that extra promise, that extra little care...
We can, can't we? If we try?
Let's twist the knots this Rakhi!