As a child, I was a great fan of Raksha Bandhan. It meant being with cousins, delicious food, and tons of gifts. A large part of Raksha bandhan was the process of making the rakhis. A month or more before raksha bandhan, the girls hostel where I studied would come alive. The softest silk threads in impossibly beautiful colors were bought. Rakhi cords were made with these. There were complex techniques and every year even more intricate designs were discovered. Everywhere one looked , girls braided and plaited the silken threads. They bought or exchanged embellishments to decorate the ‘Rakhis’ like Beads, dried leaves, feathers, shells, ribbons. Making ‘Rakhis’ was not only an art but a religion.
Instead of going to the market and purchasing the latest fad driven’ rakhi’ of “doremon” or some other similar Chinese cartoon. We get creative and make our own ‘ rakhis’. Sadly the silken threads are no longer available. Driven out from the market by (you guessed it) the plastic lit up ‘rakhis’ with ‘made in china’ tags. So we improvise. This year we used pop up stickers, satin ribbons, cut outs from old cards and beads etc. from old ‘rakhis’ to create our own ‘rakhis’. A little puppy ‘rakhi’ for the four year old brother who loves puppies, a beaded bracelet for the seven year cousin who loves dressing up. My daughter indulged her creativity and we got some beautiful personalized ‘rakhis’ and two proud kids.
Traditionally ‘Rakhi’ was tied by a sister to a brother seeking protection and care. The brother promised protection and also as the “giver” bestowed gifts on her. In changed circumstances of our home where we attempt to raise both our daughter and son similarly we have changed the rules. They both tie ‘rakhis’ to each other and they both give and receive gifts. I hope my daughter will grow up to be as able to look after her brother. And that they will both provide protection, love and care to each other.
This year we encouraged our children to fund their own gifts. M, our daughter has just turned eight and K our son is six. A good time we figured to teach the lesson of finance. The piggy bank was brought out and broken. Treasures divided equally so each child could buy the other a gift, with their own money. The kids were dazzled that all the coins they had carelessly flung into the piggy bank had accumulated into such a handsome sum and what’s more, it was theirs to spend.
We also let them decide what they would get for each other. They chose two toy shops they wished to go to, to pick their gifts. I ferried them around. And was pleasantly surprised with the remarkable thoughtfulness and restrain they displayed. For the first time, M didn’t head directly towards the dolls and K spent a respectably long time looking at ‘Meg cabot’ novels! That his sister simply adores. I was proud of the maturity with which they conducted themselves. Carefully checking labels for prices, doing the math. Trying to make up their minds what the other would enjoy more. When K came to me To ask for an extra thirty rupees so his sister could also have the skipping rope she wanted . I was only too ready to oblige my little ‘Magi’.
In our home My sister in laws had started this lovely practice of making the dessert for ‘rakhi’ themselves. No Indian festival is complete without a sweet. We’ve decided to adopt and continue this beautiful gesture. Today both K and M are cooking little surprises for each other. I hope to raise not only a daughter who can protect and provide but a son who can cook and feed. (Tall order that one! whew !!!)
Its easy to shun a festival for being steeped in chauvinism and smack of gender bias. But its infinitely more satisfying to adapt the festival to suit newer values , modern scenarios and create something awesome and new. So that while our children don’t miss out on all the fun of festivals they also don’t fall prey to old “messages” about gender rules and acceptable social roles
What is your favorite festival? Have you adapted any old customs to better suit your own modern views. What was your experience?