When ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’ released back in 2008, to me no other bollywood movie had ever better captured the essence of the modern/urban elder sister-younger brother relationship before. It resonated with almost all such combinations I have known in real life as every elder sister saw a bit of themselves in Aditi (Genelia D’souza)- the quintessential, extrovert elder sister, apple of the parents’ eye, a model to be followed by the reclusive, introverted (at least with the family) and rebel of a kid brother (the character so effortlessly played by Prateik Babbar).
While she kept busy being popular, winning friends, parents’ adoration, conquering the world outside, he receded in the background, fading away into a universe strictly his own. He loathed everything that took his mentor and friend so far away from him – her friends, ambition, or lovers. Aditi-Amit in their character sketches came very close to Neeti-Vibhu.
Most people remember very little of their younger siblings’ coming into the world since they are too young to remember or recall. But when you are a good six years apart in history, you remember every detail of the coming of the companion you had learned to live without. And since you had been so plagued with jealously over other children having siblings, you almost believed that it was your silent prayers that conjured his existence- pink little baby who you could complain to about the world, while he could only look away or smile. I dressed him up in girly costumes, just to make sure I wasn’t losing out on the experience of having a sister and he never complained. Other times I coldly let him know how I had wished I had an elder brother, to settle scores with every person who broke my heart and he believed me.
That was our relationship for the longest time – I instructed and he obeyed. I was stuck in the dual role of mother and sister, always confused whether I was suppose to guide/stop him from taking the wrong path like a parent or simply join him in the adventure like siblings do. I mostly failed at doing the latter. Thus our paths emerged separate – he withdrew into his own world, because clearly my book-ridden, preachy existence was not to his taste or style. We went from being playmates to being roommates, occasionally fighting for control over the remote or a place to eat on family outings. And like every temporarily dysfunctional relationship in the world, I tried to fix it with material. To fill the gaps in our sometime emotionally, sometime geographically distant relationship with a pair of shoes here or a laptop there.
Obviously when your little brother shoots some eight inches over you, grows a beard and sounds like a man, you know you will no longer be addressed as didi. What also followed was that we became friends- not the ones who confide in each other or keep each others’ secrets ( because of course that my brother would never trust me with given my candid relationship with my folks) but the ones who hung out together, party in the same company and took sides with friends in pulling each others leg. But even with our facade of friendship, the differences of our sibling relationship surface occasionally, reminding me sometimes that this is by far the most difficult relationship of my life. In the moment when I am unable to reach out to my kid brother with any amount of logic, tears or screams, I feel like a defeated parent who can’t with best intent at heart get their teenager to listen to them over the noise of their blaring headphones and their stubborn opinions.
I guess, all sibling relationships are complicated, all combinations (sister-sister, brother-brother, elder brother-younger sister) with some level of complexity, but to me no other combination quiet captures the wonders and the heartbreak, the connection and the disconnect, walls and bridges involved in a elder sister-younger brother duo. Because everything about this combination is so subtle, gestures of pure affection so easy to miss, to go unacknowledged. It lacks the advantage of open communication between sisters, the blatant protectiveness of having an elder brother and the promise of a constant companionship between brothers.
P.S: On that note kiddo- Happy 21st! Also know, I really only ever wanted a younger brother, no matter what I say during fights.