Thursday, November 24, 2011


While most Indian communities celebrate Rakshabandhan, Bengalis usually prefer to celebrate the brother-sister bond on Bhai-Phonta, which comes a day or two after Diwali.

There are certain disadvantages. Rakhis for Rakshabandan can be couriered, and there are even virtual Rakhis that can be e-mailed. But Bhai-Phonta is when the sister has to touch her brother's forehead to apply tika three times, and it cannot be done long-distance.

With brothers and cousins staying in different cities and countries now, the bhai-phonta is a more a memory than an occasion for many of us. This year, I did manage to have one at my Ma's home, where some of my cousin brothers were present. But not my Bhai (brother).

When we were young, Bhai-Phonta was a much-anticipated event, full of promise of exciting gifts and being the centre of attention.

Mornings would begin very early, to try and catch the shishir (autumn dew) that had fallen on the grass overnight. We would usually leave out thin squares of muslin cloth on the grass the night before, and would collect these before sunrise and wring them out to fill up a small brass bowl with dew.

Then we would be made to rub the sandalwood stick over stone to get chandan (sandalwood paste). And then put it in another brass bowl. After that we would make kajal, by rubbbing ghee (butter) on a leaf and blackening it over a 'pradiper shikha' (flame). We would also take dhaan (unhusked rice grains) and dubbo (trident-shaped grass stalks).

Arranged on a thali (platter), it all looked so good and festive. Proud of our handiwork, we would dress up in gaudy finery (from our recently-received Durga Pujo stock of new clothes). Ma and the aunts would be in charge of the food arrangements - which would be quite formidable but the end results would be totally mouth-watering and worth-the-wait.

Bhai (my brother) was the youngest of the cousins, he would be at home. But the other cousins would arrive, along with uncles (my mother's and my barama's brothers) and granduncles (my grandmother's brothers). Throughout the day, the house would be a-bustle with guests, and full of laughter and happy talk, and the smell of luchi-mangsho (puris and mutton-curry) would linger in the air along with the incense-stick fragrances.

The brother would sit, self-important and cross-legged, on the ason (carpet) laid on the floor. The sister would put dip her finger into the dew-then-sandalwood-then-kajal and each time she would put a mark on the brother's forehead, muttering rapidly the prayer which roughly translated into a wish for a long, long life for her dear brother. The elder sibling would then take the rice-and-grass and bless the younger one who would touch the other's feet.

And then came the nicest part. The brother, especially if he was employed, would put his hand in his pocket, take out his wallet and ruefully shell out some money as a gift to his sister. Of course, many sisters, like my mother would received elaborate gifts of crockery. Grandmother would usually receive saris from her brothers. Grown-up sisters would give gifts to their brothers as well, a shirt-piece, a watch...

But for us kids, it would be cash. And we would count out blessings, and our stash, at the end of the day, happy with love and flush with cash. Who said Money can't buy you Love???



Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

This brought back some beautiful memories. My sister, who is only one and a half years older than me, would look forward to this day because on this day alone, she could browbeat me into touching her feet with the threat of not handing over the gift.

Also, having been brought up in a city with little open space, I didn't know about dew being collected for the purpose of putting the tilak. It is so poetic and touching ... like a sister's love for her brother.

Thankfully, a few things don't change!

Lazyani said...

Yes, Sucharita, this continues to be a high point in my life even today.

The joy of having your sister praying for your long life and the feeling of handing over to her a most awaited item as gift cannot be described.

Marcheline said...

It's my birthday! You are invited to the party at my blog.... bring some of that delicious food! 8-)

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