I was reading this when my eyes misted up. Bro and I have our stories too. Many, too many of them. We loved and hated each other with such fierce passion that often it scared Ma. One morning, I was dragged from my kindergarden to look at a pink baby wriggling in the hospital crib sucking his thumb and my entire family fussing over it. It appeared impossible to me that this thing would now be my brother. I was awe struck and jealous as hell. It never ceased to amaze me how that wriggling mass of cuteness became the only person I ever connected truly to. We sulked, argued and fought but we stuck by each other like two parts of a genetic jigsaw that our parents couldn’t figure out. As we grew up, the close bond tightened till there were no secrets or insecurities kept from each other including our obsessive belief that our parents loved the other more. Sometimes we had wondered if we were really twins who just got separated by a time warp. My parents had turned to me on critical occasions to convince him, when they thought he chose foolishly. I never took their side, firmly believing that he needs to make those choices himself. For that he was always grateful because he knew I was the only person who could talk him out of anything. Now that he is gone, a part of my parents will never forgive me for not coming through at those times. They worry too that I do not have bro, to be there for me when they are gone.
My earliest memory of our fight was when he drove a sharpened pencil point into my thigh till the lead broke and stuck inside the flesh and I ran to Ma with the oozing blood making a crazy pattern on the white skirt. I howled and brought the roof down till justice was meted out. I was eight and he five. I don’t now remember what we fought over but I remember preening around like peacock showing off my bandaged leg like a trophy and narrating with glee, the circumstances of the injury and the thrashing he got because of it. It was with same ardour that I would, some years later, narrate how he punched a boy four years older to him, when that fellow teased me about my glasses. I felt strangely reassured and proud that here was someone I could always depend on. My brother.
It was he who had sneaked in a half-burnt candle and a matchbox in his pocket when Ma banished both of us to the dark portico one evening after none of us owed up to a mischief. He knew that I would be afraid of the dark and when Baba came home, he saw us busy making shadow puppets in candlelight and heard us saying how lucky we were that Ma threw us out since it meant no homework. Thereon, we always shared the punishment and he never forgot to share his candy. We drove Ma nuts when we invented a code language for ourselves and used it to chatter at home. Then we had this crazy game when he would make a sound and I would repeat the same at a higher note and he would follow with an even higher note till we both were screaming and it would end with a sharp slap from Ma. The slap left us giggled till we were rolling on the floor. Ma never understood what we found so amusing. This is a madhouse and someday soon the neighbours will ask us to leave, she used to say.
The neighbours never asked us to leave but we grew up and moved cities. We didn’t talk as often as we did when we were kids, but that bond got stronger. When I was studying in Delhi he used to write these funny letters (back in late 90s there weren’t any email) in his still childlike handwriting about aliens landing on our terrace and how the neighbourhood street dog had a pretty litter. He found humour in most things grown ups ignored. He found wonder in the most mundane of things. It is his innocence that I miss the most.