Lali looked like a little angel. Her mother Roopa had spent a significant amount of time getting her dressed up in a traditional lehanga-odhni. This time of the year everyone wore the lehariya odhni, which was adorned with bursts of several bright colours in stripes. But the beautiful outfit did nothing to lift Lali’s spirits.
Just a few months ago, Lali’s older brother Gopal married her new Bhabhi Sa Shikha. Lali was very close to her Gopal Bhaiya and at an age where she couldn’t understand how suddenly Shikha grew in importance in her Bhaiya’s life over everything else. Lali was much younger to Gopal and still too small to navigate her way through this new relationship.
In a few short months, Shikha had won over the hearts of the entire household. Like many Rajasthani families, they too were part of a joint family where everyone lived under the same roof. While this came with its own set of challenges, there was no other place one would rather to than home when the entire family got together and celebrated festivals with pomp and splendour.
Today was one of those days. It was Raksha Bandhan, that special day reserved for brothers and sisters. On this day, sisters would tie the decorative Rakhi on their brothers’ wrist, binding each other into a bond of love and protection. Lali adored her Gopal Bhaiya and looked forward to this day every year eagerly.
Today however, Lali was unsure how to react, how to feel. Lali’s mother had told her of a new tradition that would begin today. From this year onwards, tying the Rakhi would include tying a Lumba Rakhi on her Bhabhi Sa’s wrist too. It was a way to make her new sister-in-law feel welcome, feel a part of the family and include her in the bond that Lali and Gopal shared.
Lali had listened quietly, then walked out of the house and settled herself into a corner in the back seat of the family car, under a shawl, where no one would look for her. She looked forward to this day every year as a day to celebrate the special bond that existed between her and her doting brother Gopal Bhaiya. To add her new Bhabhi Sa to the mix was something that she could not accept.
While Lali mulled over her predicament, Roopa escorted the newest member of the family down the stairs to the family room where everyone gathered to tie Rakhis to their brothers and sisters-in-law. Roopa recalled the first time she celebrated Rakhi with her in-laws and how welcoming her husband’s sister had been. She knew how important it was to form these lasting bonds, nurture and develop them over time. It was the cornerstone of a joint family. Rituals like these helped in times of misunderstood situations or arguments to see past the pettiness and bring everyone back together into the fold.
Roopa wanted Lali and Shikha to develop that same bond and was looking forward to a beautiful beginning today. Her eyes searched for her little daughter, but Lali was nowhere to be seen. She watched Shikha’s eyes eagerly searching high and low for her little sister-in-law as well. But neither of them could spot her anywhere.
Roopa forced herself to smile brightly and turned to Shikha, “Don’t worry my dear. Festivals are an exciting time for Lali, she must be running all around the house. I’ll go look for her. Why don’t you go to your parents’ house in the meantime and celebrate Rakhi with your brothers. By the time you’re back I’ll have found Lali.”
Shikha felt an unease that she could not explain, but agreed to Roopa’s suggestion. Gopal and Shikha walked out to the car and settled into the front seats. Gopal filled up the silence between them with stories of past Raksha Bandhan celebrations and shared how fond he was of his little sister.
Shikha decided to open up to the one person who might be able to offer some advise. She looked intensely at Gopal who fell silent and said, “I may be wrong but I think your little sister doesn’t like me.”
Gopal stopped the car to one side of the road and looked at Shikha, alarmed. “Why Shikha? Why would you think that? My sister is still a child and she can be a handful but she loves me, and by extension she loves you!”
Shikha looked up at Gopal, tears brimming in her eyes. “Didn’t you notice today? She went missing just at the time everyone gathered to tie the Rakhi. I got the distinct feeling she didn’t want to tie the Lumba Rakhi on my wrist. I’m sorry, I think I have not been a good sister-in-law. What other reason could there be for your little sister to disappear today of all days? I was really looking forward to celebrating Raksha Bandhan with both of you today. I’m sorry, I have let you down.”
Gopal held Shikha’s hand in his own and gently wiped away her tears. “Shikha, in the few months we’ve known each other, I’ve come to rely on you in ways I never thought possible. We were practically strangers a few months ago. Now I cannot even remember how life was before you. You’ve had to adjust to so many things, make so many changes, get comfortable with my enormous family and cater to all their demands. You are a part of me now. We are one. We will always be one. You can never let me down, ever.”
Their conversation was interrupted by a call from Roopa. She sounded frantic. “Gopal, I cannot find Lali anywhere! Can you both come back immediately please, I am very worried now.”
Gopal calmed his mother down and hung up. “Shikha, Lali is nowhere to be found. That was Maa Sa calling us back home immediately. Do you mind? I know you must be eager to meet your family.”
Shikha looked at Gopal, eyes blazing, “How can you even think that? Please turn around and go back home right now. Nothing is more important right now than finding your little sister!”
Neither Gopal nor Shikha knew it. But right in that moment, a new and unbreakable bond was formed.
Under the cover of the shawl though, Lali felt the air around her shift as the universe tied the three of them in a strong bond.
She had welcomed her Bhabhi Sa into their home a few months back. But that’s all she had done.
All she wanted to do now was to welcome her Bhabhi Sa into her heart. Still hidden under the shawl, she clutched the Rakhis in her hand while Gopal made his way back home. She would spring out of her hiding place and surprise them as soon as they reached home.
It was going to be a Raksha Bandhan to remember after all!
Author’s Note: A big thank you to Kavita and Kuku, my friends since childhood who helped with the Rajasthani terms and helped me to stay true to the spirit of the Lumba Rakhi. You ladies rock!