As a child most of my birthday parties had two cakes instead of one. Surrounded by friends, as I smiled into the camera, trying to occupy centre stage, he would stand beside me, stealing my thunder, insisting on cutting a cake though he had celebrated his own birthday six months earlier. Dad’s suggestion to ignore him and ‘his cake’ didn’t pacify me one bit.
He could constantly rile me and get on my wrong side . He hid my things and broke my toys. He tore my books and ruined school projects. He spoiled family pictures by making sad faces. He would pretend to be asleep when he wanted to be carried and fake retching when he was full. He nearly got lost in a shopping centre and locked himself in our bathroom. He would escape from his classroom and insist on sitting in mine. He was the devil!
It’s not that I was totally defenceless. I had my ways and means of getting back at him. I was not above the occasional pinch or jab when no one was watching. Also since I was nearly four years older, I was entrusted with the job of teaching him. How I would make him pay for his misdeeds. Making him redo assignments and unnecessarily memorise difficult words. Carefully timing his study sessions to coincide with his favourite TV shows. I was equally evil!
On that particular day, he had spent the entire morning with his arm raised over his head, showing off his Helium balloon, something I found mildly irritating. Later on as we stood on top of the Skylon Tower overlooking the Niagara Falls he asked me to hold him up so that he could get an unobstructed view . I told him to look through the grill. As he continued to pester me I lifted him and a deadly thought flashed through my mind. I wondered if I could hoist him high enough and throw him over the railing. Forty five years later, I am glad that I couldn’t !
As my brother ushers in the year leading to his fiftieth birthday I am thankful that railings are high and seven year olds have fleeting homicidal intent and little muscular strength. The focus of my fury miraculously grew from a trouble making brat to a friend, confidant and co- conspirator. He then outraced me to adulthood and has ended up becoming my ‘mature’ trouble shooting big brother. One who takes care of things unobtrusively and wisely. He is also my self appointed counsellor, defence attorney and personal press agent. I feel honoured to be the sister of the man he has become. It is comforting to know that should catastrophe strike he will be at my side. That he will fight for me with the same vigour as he fought with me in the past. But more than that I feel grateful to have someone in my life who can read a smile in my voice and detect hesitation in my manner. No one will ever know me as he does for not only do we share a common past but also the dreams we had for our future. And although leg pulling remains our favourite sport, I know that we have something much more meaningful that will survive the business of living.
On his birthday, at the risk of ruining my diet I baked myself a cake. It was not as much to celebrate the event as it was to settle an old score. It’s never too late to get even!
( published in the Hindustan Times on 19/6/2018 with birthday wishes from the editor)