I was 15 when my brother left home to join the Indian Army. My only brother.
He was 18. I still remember the day he was taking a train to Dehradun. My mother, my father, my brother and I stood on the railway station, waiting for his train to take him away. My mother’s eyes were brimming with tears, which she kept wiping like she was trying to suppress a really strong emotion. It wasn’t easy on her to see her only son leave to serve the country. This might sound cliched but one has to have a gigantic heart to let go of a son to train for war.
My dad was smiling, distressed in parts. My brother looked excited like he hasn’t been more ready to just leave.
I was happy. I was very very happy because now, I had the entire room to myself which I earlier shared with him. We were too young to like each other but I was excited for him. I hadn’t envisioned my life without my brother around but an impending sorrow was crawling under my skin.
As seasons after seasons went past, my brother grew and I did too. I grew used to the idea of not having him around during rakhi, birthdays, and other special days. Sometimes, he wasn’t even present on the other side of a phone call. But he would tell us stories when he came on breaks. Stories about the hockey stick marks on his back and about drinking lots and lots of water, puking it out and rolling in the puke on cold winter nights, naked. “That’s how they train us to be stronger”, he’d say, when he saw my dropped jaw that didn’t seem to shut at any point.
“What does it feel like to have your brother serving the Army,” a friend once asked.
Proud. I feel proud of him. I feel like he is doing something that not every person is capable of doing. When I see him, I see how he has evolved over the years. He still speaks with a child's honesty and doesn't shy away from expressing exactly how he feels, whether good or bad. At the same time, he has the courage of a lion. If you ever ask him for advice, he will teach you to be fearless with such beautiful articulation that you wouldn't want to believe anything else but his words. His idea of growth has changed tremendously for he has seen and lived through things that no normal person does.
They say, you know the importance of a person best when they go away from you.
I realised it much later in my life.
On a particularly dark night, inside and out, I was drowning deep in the adversities that life was throwing at me. I was miserable. I felt like I could really use a friend I can trust but as I went through my contact list, there was just no one I could talk to. You know how adult life is, everyone is drowning in their own miseries and no one really has the time or the capacity to take you out of your own. And then, my phone rang. It was 12:41 am on a Monday night. My brother was calling. I picked up.
“Are you at home?”
“Yes.” I said, confused.
“I am reaching in 15. Don’t sleep”, he said.
The last time I had talked to my brother, he was in Assam. “How was it even possible that he is in Delhi at this point?” I asked myself.
But, then he turned up.
I hadn’t felt that sort of a joy to see anybody in my life before. It was as if he picked me up from a hole that was consuming me whole. If angels were people, my brother would walk around with a halo on his head.
From being absolutely monstrous to each other, we have now transformed into the best of friends who talk for hours in the wee hours of the night (whenever there is a signal in the deserted hills near the border of India and Pakistan) about love, life, death and everything in between. I, sometimes, feel how beautiful it would have been had he not joined the forces but our relationship wouldn’t have bloomed the way it did had he been in my vicinity.
I cherish every moment I spend with him. I don’t take life for granted anymore.
He tells me,
I have seen people die. And I have seen people kill themselves. I have seen people depressed and running away. I have felt not being in control of my life decisions. My job is my life and that is what it literally is. But I don’t think I would have enjoyed anything better than I enjoy this.
It, indeed, isn’t easy to watch him leave to stay in a war zone. I now know exactly how my mother felt that day when my brother left to train for a war for the very first time and every time afterward. Her tears make sense because I feel them on my cheeks sometimes when my brother leaves.
But I know, I will always find peace in his shadow.
My brother, my banyan tree.