My earliest memory of my brother was when he was 4 and I was 3 — and our grandmother was bathing us together. My brother had poked my belly, laughing at my baby fat but kissed my forehead, when he saw me go red in anger. He was always the only one, who ‘got’ me. He knew, even as a kid, how to press my buttons and yet mollycoddle me.
He essayed the role of playing the big brother to perfection. There never was a day, when he gave me a reason to grumble. To him, I was his ‘princess’ — the one who was faultless and put atop a pedestal, everyday.
My brother and I were always very close. I associate a peculiar smell to him today — the scent of his skin still lingers on. I had always marveled at how his hair stuck out — so unlike mine and most I knew.
Looking back down the memory tunnel, I remember him, as the most self-less person I had ever known. He had once been gifted a Jungle Commando rifle and a Hotwheel toy car — both of which I had wanted. Without any qualms, he had given them both to me. There was a sharp sense of maturity and empathy in him — even at 6 years.
I remember during Bhai-Phonta, my mother tried teaching me that if I burn my finger on the flame and then give “phonta” — that may carry more weight. My brother removed my finger from the flame — love does not know pain after all. That was him vs our family : the truth vs the show.
In the initial days of growing up, I had made the cardinal mistake of comparing him with my other so-called ‘masculine’ cousins. I often wondered, why my brother, was the way he is. It took me time till my teenage years, to fathom that my brother, evangelized a piquant definition of ‘masculinity’ that was all embracing. This shade of masculinity was not about showing the power of the testosterone — rather softer and more nurturing. My brother cared for all — and was unapologetic about it. Everyone loved my brother. That realization sealed in me, an iron-clad sense of pride for him — making me cut my bonds with the other (now very much superfluous and shallow) cousins.
What bonded us further, was the disturbed setting that we were forced to grow up in. For that reason, our steps never found our way home. In fact, we created our own home of hope and love between us.
Our social conditioning and embedded codes of patriarchy, makes us still believe, even subconsciously that somewhere men and women play specific roles. Specially when living together. When we lived together, across the multiple cities of the country, we always managed to be ‘us’ — me the more social / outgoing person while my brother preferred his time at home. Cooking and food were his biggest passions. One of his joys was to cook the healthiest of dishes for me — knowing my arbitrary food tastes — as well as concocting the fanciest of cocktails at home. While we created our own world of happiness, we also blossomed in our own separate identities.
As a brother, while he observed, he never intruded. He flowed in seamlessly, in all my social circles — befriending my boyfriends or helping me break-up with the ones I had lost interest in. We had developed our own lexicon of love and lessons from it.
We had always leaned on each other. From tales of the red-light area to his girlfriend cheating on him to his crush destabilizing him — these were stories to lean on me for. Yet, as school got over and we were adulting more everyday, he started choosing the tales to tell me. My brother was changing slowly — realizing the have and have-nots in life as also the topics of release vs joy. He chose joy. He wanted everyone happy around him — while he plastered a toothy grin to his face to hide all his fears, sorrows and the noir.
He and I come from “The Adam’s Family” — which I slowly distanced myself from. Drama is not something, we both dealt well with. He donned on the role of the family protector — shielding me too, from its onslaught. “One of us, needs to remain normal, sis. Let me handle it while you be happy. At least I will have you, as the normal one, to come back to humanity with!”
Since childhood, my brother craved for attention and affection. He was born with a pure and a simple heart — that got corroded along the way. As comparisons of qualifications, salaries, lifestyles and ‘success’ — became normative in our family, my brother fought to maintain the ‘human’ connect with me. Never did he ever, glower at me with jealousy. Instead, celebrated all my minor and bigger accomplishments in my life as his. Whilst he kept silent about everything related to him. He was breaking down slowly — yet there was no-one for him.
In 2018, he had asked me if I was proud of him. It seemed a strange question to pose — but I had realized the gravity of it. I assuaged the self-doubt that pride is not equated with money — but maybe it was too late. The cheat code of the journey from the black sheep to the golden boy of the golden hour, was already sedimented, deep within him.
I am guilty for this imbalance of emotional support vis-a-vis him. He was always there for me. I suffer from Anxiety and Depression — which he helped calm by just being a patient listener. There were times when I used to receive the 2 am or the 3 am drunken calls from him, where he rued the choices he had made. They were infrequent — my brother was always conscious of not burdening me with his share of the load.
In 2019, he had told me that when I get married, he will give me the most expensive gift that money could buy. Once again, the sharp discords between our worlds bared itself open — gifts treasured in my life are not measured in monetary terms. Whilst my life revolved around an obtuse happiness index — his was spinning on the axis of tangible currency : a force-fit on him.
I will never know what happened to my brother in his final moments. There is a guilt in me, that will never heal. As my brother sank, I was brimming with health and life. The see-saw of life never seemed to favor him — today, I bear the brunt of that.
If only I could turn back time and reached him at the right time, he would have been alive. If only, I had not told my strange family of ‘hospital’ as an option for treatment, during lockdown, he would have been alive. If only he had received my call, while on his way to the hospital, he would have been alive. The myriad “if-only”s will never die — yet he did.
It’s funny how people today, upload snaps of their multiple Zoom / Slack screen shots : of team-talks, seminars attended online, lectures given online — as a sign of the new-normalcy. But would these same people, ever know the pain of a similar but an alt. reality : where you cremate a loved one online? You have screens full of disbelief. My brother went away like that — alone. His last remnant of mortality died online. Ironic — how typically a smokescreen he longed to create around himself. His death and last rites were that — a smoke billowing through a screen.
And as I write this tonight, this could well be cathartic. But time will never heal the deep wound and the trauma left in his wake. For me the “new” is and never will be “normal.”
He would tell me — “whenever you feel low, look into the eyes of your babies and feel the love.” He always guided me to the better parts of life and living : yet there was no-one to guide him to the joy or beauty of life. I did fail in my role as a sister.
My brother always kept me in the loop for the major changes. His last message to me was — “I feel like I am dying.” And he did. Just like that. With that, a lot many other things. Mostly the unsaids.
Below excerpt has been taken from an article in The New Yorker by Chimananda Ngozi — who lost her father in the lockdown. Despite the distance of the countries, I do understand her language of grief.
Grief is a cruel kind of education. You learn how ungentle mourning can be, how full of anger. You learn how glib condolences can feel. You learn how much grief is about language, the failure of language and the grasping for language. Why are my sides so sore and achy? It’s from crying, I’m told. I did not know that we cry with our muscles. The pain is not surprising, but its physicality is, my tongue unbearably bitter, as though I ate a loathed meal and forgot to clean my teeth, on my chest a heavy, awful weight, and inside my body a sensation of eternal dissolving. My heart — my actual physical heart, nothing figurative here — is running away from me, has become its own separate thing, beating too fast, its rhythms at odds with mine.This is an affliction not merely of the spirit but of the body. Flesh, muscles, organs are all compromised. No physical position is comfortable. For weeks, my stomach is in turmoil, tense and tight with foreboding, the ever-present certainty that somebody else will die, that more will be lost. One morning, Okey calls me a little earlier than usual, and I think, Just tell me, tell me immediately, who has died now.