There are a lot of theories on why people grow up to be the way they are, with candidates like nature or nurture in the running. In my case the single most important factor has been my elder brother.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee happens to be one of my favorite novels, not for its story line or the subject matter but for the treatment of Scout and her relationship with her brother Jem and father Atticus. Scout’s refusal to accept societal expectations at face value and Jem’s perpetual reminder that she was not like other girls or was not expected to be like them had been my brother’s trick of getting his way our entire childhood. When we went out to play, he would join his bunch for cricket and since I was the only female on the field my brother would ask me to climb onto a boundary wall of one of the adjoining Quarters and become the third umpire (of all the blessed things that were there to become!) and in addition get the ball from people’s quarters. If I protested, he would promptly admonish me with “don’t behave like a girl”. His trick would work and I would stand on the boundary as third umpire not once asking myself what was wrong in “behaving like a girl” when I was indeed one!
Looking at kids today I sometimes wonder what is it they fight about. With personal smart phones and other luxuries their reasons to fight elude me because the most epic sibling wars were fought for the blessed remote. A stupid test match versus Disney Hour meant that house was Sparta, although both of us equally enthusiastically watched WWF, him supporting Heart Break Kid and I an ardent Undertaker fan. That RAW or Smackdown was followed by practice sessions on the bed was a source of immense dismay for my mother who very often (and till date) felt that her daughter’s Convent education was being undone by all this. God forbid but if she ever gets to know that the two of us had a competition regarding who would watch more movies in a given year, which led to me watching movies like “Prem Aggan”, “Chandaal” and other B-grade Mithun movies, she would probably go on one of her lectures on the difficulty of bringing up two kids such as us single-handedly!
But it did not matter. Whatever my brother did, I had to do it. If he was bursting crackers on Diwali, then I had to. If he went out on holi like a human and returned like a savage then I needed to get myself dirty as well. If Papa was giving us some sweet tasting liver tonic and if he was getting 2 spoons then I needed my two spoons as well (that Dad gave me two half spoons after hearing my demands was revealed to me much later). If he was learning how to drive a Qualis, then I needed my driving lessons as well and on that same car. That my brother was 5 years elder to me and we both belonged to the opposite sex were issues completely lost on me. And a doting father made matters worse, from the perspective of my mother!
My teachers in school often highlighted that I walked like a boy, that I had to work on my gait. Little did they realize that not only did I walk like one, I abused like one, I laughed like one (though somewhere down the line it became like a hyena’s!), fought like one and may be even thought like that stereotypical “one”. That I followed my brother everywhere like a shadow must have been a source of immense irritation to him (apart from my habit of treating his wardrobe like my own). But there was nothing else I could do. I could step out of our government quarter only when escorted by an elder or by him. When I went out to play with other girls, their games did not seem fun. I could not make sense of those doll games. I’m not belittling the game but rather my inability to fit there. This meant that evenings were spent with my brother either cycling or playing pitto, kabaddi or relay with “our” friends.
That despite our best intentions most of our noble enterprises ended up in a fight is epitomised by our games of Contra and Tank. I doted on his Mario playing skills (with him reaching stage 99 and I not going beyond 5 ever!) and played with him the two games of Contra and Tank. We would always start the session with a lot of camaraderie with a well defined role for me: “just provide cover to me from any rear attack” used to be the command I was to follow. If my brother would use my life to make a come back in Contra or if I was not allowed to do anything in Tank then after a few levels the game was paused and Sparta was on! That most of our noble undertakings ended in a fight has been an enigma all these years.
Yet we are inseparable. We have had quite a few pets, from rabbits to dogs (via cows and cats). When it came to the welfare of these pets and taking responsibility for them, we were always together. When mother transforms into Mother India we always try to find the best way out. From learning to climb trees to climbing a building with the aid of its plumbing are life lessons I learnt while roaming around with my brother during many a hot summer afternoon that happened to be mom and dad’s siesta time. Being the younger one with good academic credentials (which atones you of almost all your sins in an Indian society!) and my daddy’s little girl also meant that I was often spared when the two of us were being admonished by our parents for being difficult. When new demands are made (for instance for a new car), I always (till date) hide behind my brother. He is the one who tables the proposal, gets all the shouting and then gets the bill approved and ratified while I drive the new car home! That is the liberty I have for all the extra mangoes and additional Rasna glasses whacked all those years ago!
Growing up our fights have become a rarity. Today, our conversation hovers around Mumma’s antics, my nephew’s update, our tryst with the opposite sex in our respective lives and on what I plan to do with my life. He has always been way more concerned about my achievements and decisions than his own. While it used to annoy as a kid, today it makes me feel loved and cared for. My mother feels concerned that may be someday someone might create differences between the two of us: little does she realise that whenever people have tried to do that, well we did fight and not talk, for say two days; but after that, we altered relations with that third person and became inseparable as before. It simply is not easy to create differences between two people when one owes its personality, its character to the other.