The Brothers: Bhai/ Bhaiyya/ Bhaiyyaji

Today is the festival of Raksha Bandhan in India, a festival where sisters tie Rakhi to their brothers and the brothers in turn shower them with gifts and, as the name of the festival suggests, promise to protect them. The patriarchal premise might be deplorable but the spirit of the festival where the relationship between siblings is celebrated is fun and as much as it doesn’t necessarily need to be celebrated there is no harm in it either. This led me to think about the different kinds of brothers we have in here.

First on my list is the ‘bhaizoned’ bhaiyya. It is similar to being friendzoned but more dangerous for unlike the latter there is no turning back from this one. A friendzoned friend still has some hopes for a better future but once a bhai is a bhai forever. If he ever tries to move out of the zone he runs a very real risk of becoming a social pariah- the chastisement for disrespecting the pure bond and jokes that never leave incest out of the equation. This, I first saw in school. One day in the whole year where girls ran after boys who liked them with the magic bands. It is the exact opposite of Valentine’s Day and every other day. Many of them would refuse to be bhaizoned by missing classes on that day while some would give in to the pressure and in one day drastically change the nature of their relationship.

In contrast to this forced bhaizoning is the eternal bhaiyya. He is just so sweet, so nice and so helpful that every girl wants to be with him. Somewhere along the line, however, he becomes desexualised and a rakhi becomes the perfect marker to turn it into a bond that lasts forever. He wears more rakhis on his wrist than a shop display and has all the other guys wondering how/why he does it. Soon, however, the mocking jibes coming his way turn into pleas for advice.

The third kind of bhaiyya I discovered when I first came to North India. Whether or not you know Hindi here, you have to know “bhaiyya chaloge?”, “bhaiyyaji kitna?”, “bhaiyya itna!” apart from the cuss words. Everyone from the rickshaw puller to the auto driver to vegetable vendor to the garbage collector to the butcher is a bhaiyya or a bhaiyyaji. In this case, none of the other connotations of the word bhaiyya apply. It’s a word whose signifier is no longer attached to the signified. You don’t know his name or care to know it, you might not even see him ever again and least of all want to tie a Rakhi to him. Oh, and if it’s a woman then she is a didi.

Another kind that has been popularized by Bollywood is the big boss/brother of the criminal world, respectably referred to as Bhai or Anna (the Tamil/Kannada equivalent of the Hindi bhai). He is either the Robinhood: a golden hearted goon with an elevated sense of honour to whom hundreds of girls go to tie Rakhi and there are idols in slums for him or he is an all black, no shades of grey, megalomaniac whose only pleasures in life comes from murder, rape and /or extortion and having a trademark demonic laughter to mark every bad deed. Here, Bhai literally means a goonda and no one wants to tie him a Rakhi.

And then we come to the brother-brothers. They can be really sweet and love you unconditionally or incredibly protective and suspicious or ready to fight with you over anything from leftover food in the refrigerator to the television remote or they can be all or some mixed into one. These are the bhais who don’t need to be tied a rakhi to stay brothers much like some never really become brothers even if you tie them one.

And last but not the least, something that the festival ignores, is the awesome bonding between siblings of the same gender. Happy Rakhi folks!

Rakhi

Photo © Meha Pande.

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