Ujwal Srivastava is the winner in the 11-18 category of the KitaabWorld and Masalamommas' Summer Writing Competition. Read his essay on Raksha Bandhan "The Family Thread - Woven through the Generations
The Family Thread- Woven through the Generations
“Suraj shakhan chhodian, mooli chhodia beej. Behen lage teeka bhai tu chiranjeev”
This incantation has been in our family for generations. My great grandmother taught it to my grandmother and now my mother murmurs it in the background as my sister carefully completes the Raksha Bandhan rituals. Raksha Bandhan, commonly known as Rakhi, has always been my most favorite and dearest South Asian festival, probably because I have a lot of sisters - two arms full in fact! My earliest memory of Rakhi is from India, when I was five years old. On the day of the festivities, by noon, both my forearms would be covered in colorful, dazzling rakhis from my wrists to my elbows.
Growing up in India, signs of Raksha Bandhan would appear just as the monsoon clouds were looming over the eastern sky. Numerous temporary outdoor stalls would pop up with their unending spread of sparkling rakhis resembling the twinkling ocean under the sun. I remember being drawn to enticing stores brimming with fancy boxes of Cadbury chocolates, ladoos and barfis. To me, as a five-year-old, Rakhi seemed like an awesome festival.
But the real fun would start on the day of Raksha Bandhan festival. Being the baby of the family, the youngest of all my siblings and cousins, I would be the center of attention, and what could be better than that? Everyone from my mom’s side of the family would flock to my great uncle’s house, dressed up in fancy Indian clothes, where three generations of brother-sister relationships would be celebrated - my nani with her brother, my mom with her brother and cousins, and my sister with me and our cousins.
The entire family would spend the joyous day together, filling the home with laughter, fun, and games; followed by a grand lunch of pooris, chhole, dahi vadaas, and gulab jamuns. I would stuff myself till my tummy was full! These loving memories are one of the fondest for me and as vivid today as they were ten years ago.
Over the years as I have grown older, my perception of Raksha Bandhan has changed from a day of fun and attention to a day of promises and responsibilities. The significance of the day and my love for the occasion has deepened and multiplied. Ten years later, matured and living in the US, Rakhi has come to signify something more than just a shiny thread on my wrist, a teeka on my forehead and a mouthful of sweets. The thread is a powerful symbolic bond between my older sister and I - a reminder that no matter how much we fight and tease each other, we’ll always be there for one another. It’s my promise to her that I will always protect and respect her.
My dad’s sister and her family are also in the US, and we try to meet every Raksha Bandhan. Several other cousin sisters scattered around the globe send their best wishes on Raksha Bandhan that serve as an invaluable connection to all of them. Each year, I eagerly wait for the glittering rakhis to arrive in the mail, sometimes from sisters whom I haven’t seen for years. No matter where we are in the world, Rakhi is a lifelong bond that keeps us close and connected to each other.
Last week, my family celebrated Rakhsha Bandhan with great enthusiasm and joy. Despite the fact that it was a rushed school morning, my sister and I got up early to complete the rituals and spend some time together. We even called my uncle and his family in India to thank them for the Rakhi they sent and to convey our warmest regards. But the cheerfulness did not stop there. Throughout the day, I was flooded with WhatsApp messages from family members, exchanging thoughtful notes and loving wishes.
Rakhi is a unique festival cutting across religious lines. It is a secular occasion that celebrates the strength of siblings and is associated with many mythological legends and historical tales. Rakhi is a day that features prominently in poetry, songs, literature, and movies from the sub-continent. It is a day that helps solidify the bond between brothers and sisters. Most importantly, it honors girls and women in a country where they are often neglected and considered less accomplished than their male siblings. We must work hard to preserve the dignity and respect of our sisters and women. The recent Rio Olympics where the only two medals won by India were by women is illustrative of the glory and achievements that women can achieve given the right encouragement and resources. This feat needs to be recognized and highlighted in every household.
I am sure other families may celebrate Raksha Bandhan a little differently, but our traditions of Rakhi have been passed down in my family from generation to generation. They establish our family thread, and make our connections stronger - one rakhi at a time. My arms have now grown, but that doesn’t mean my love for Rakhsha Bandhan has shrunk. The excitement and importance of this tradition for me is as much today as it was when I was a young boy in India. Together, the uniqueness of Raksha Bandhan, in its captivating displays of rakhis, the mouth watering sweets and savories, our family traditions, and all the special moments I share with my sisters make Rakhi my favorite South Asian festival.
Ujwal is a sophomore at Palo Alto High School. His interests include playing tabla, debate, cricket, reading and writing. He also enjoys Bollywood movies and songs.