“It’s a girl.”
24 years ago, when my mother heard these words, she was so thrilled that she forgot all about the pains of her pregnancy. Her pregnancy had been taking a toll on her lately with the weight increasing too much in the past two months – she had known ever since that it was going to be a big baby and a difficult one at that, given all the kicking it had been doing. Moving around also had not been so easy since her feet always hurt and she wanted to sit down anywhere she could. It was one such occasion that led to the events of her getting the news, which came as a welcome relief from the pain she had been handling in the past nine months. To top it all, she had always wanted a girl. So, in a way, her prayers were coming true.
Mummy arranged for someone to call a rickshaw so she could go meet her kid sister at the Red Cross Hospital who had just delivered on the little girl. Meanwhile, she tried to put on her sari as well as she could around the nine-month pregnant tummy, inside which I was boiling with rage. This little girl, who is forever going to be my biggest sibling rival after my elder brother, had decided to compete with me even from the womb by coming out a month before she was expected. I had promised myself that day with one big kick to mummy’s tummy that this was the last time I was going to let this sister of mine get ahead of me in anything. (I have failed in this promise miserably, though.) For all I knew, she had cheated. How could she? I was supposed to be the elder one. And so, I learned the first lesson of life: everything is unfair.
I was jealous. My mother seemed to love this little girl so much that she had suddenly forgotten all about me. I wanted to come out right then and there and claim my share of attention, but apparently it doesn’t work like that – the gates don’t open simply because you want them to. Some elaborate biochemical serendipity was needed for me to sound the open sesame. I wondered how my sister had managed it. That was when I learned my second lesson: women know how to get their way. It was only much later that I understood that the case is so because they don’t feel entitled the way we men feel about things and so they actually hustle towards getting what they want. But, I am digressing.
Four days and three hours later, it happened again in that very hospital, when Mummy was playing with my sister. Once more, Mummy heard the three words she had been dying to hear from the nurse’s mouth: “It’s a girl.” My father looked confused at the nurse, who had clearly mixed me up with some other baby of the opposite sex. (I must tell you here that my name has contributed towards many such confusions in my life. So, this particular confusion doesn’t really bother me much. It was only a precursor for things to come.) He tried to look at me again, this time with a specific intent. Yes, it was there, all right. And that’s when he got it. My mother wasn’t particularly sad, though, that it was all a joke. That’s how mothers are – no matter how much you disappoint them, they love you all the same. She liked that I was pink and plump and had a lot of hair on my head that she could run her fingers through. Well, I liked that too. (I still like it when she runs her fingers through my hair.)
That night I was at peace with myself. My sister and I were kept next to each other and together we basked in the glory of everyone’s attention. I was definitely getting the better part of the attention, but still I was ok letting her have some. I am generous that way. She has since then been overly generous with me about many things in life, to be honest. That’s how we have been rolling these last 24 years. We didn’t meet much for a major part of our lives, but when we did we were at each other’s throats all the time. She was usually the one who made peace, while I acted like the moody, entitled little brother and she won me over again and again.
And so, this piece is for her. I shared my day of birth with her and today when she is taking me out for dinner 24 years later on my birthday, I see how much the two of us have grown – I, physically and she, emotionally. She always seems to get simple solutions out of complex emotional problems that leave me baffled for a long long time without even a hint of disentanglement. For example, she knows just the right shade of red, which means love and not affection. She has mastered the mysterious art of messaging, always complaining that I am nothing short of a douche when it comes to replying to texts. She knows exactly how much sentimentality needs to go into a request for you to feel too guilty to ignore her. I simply can’t make the head or tail of these things and she aces them. I hope she teaches me some of the tricks of the trade. Even now, I know of no other way of giving her a birthday gift except for this short piece that comes directly from within me. I couldn’t even come up with a poem as I thought that would be an embellishment on the basic emotion and would defeat the purpose of being direct with her. I hope this is OK.
Happy Birthday, Bayani.
Bayani means “pagli” or “crazy girl”. In real life, she signs her name as Shalini Mahapatra. If you stalk her on Facebook or Instagram, I feel obliged to tell you that she can throw a nasty punch. Don’t test her.
My sister’s agreed to give immunity against her nasty right hook to whoever may choose to hit the Follow button in the bottom right corner of your screen. If your browser is retarded and the button doesn’t appear there, go hit the menu button in the top right corner of the page and you would know what to do next.