Sisters…Not by Choice

Among the many relationships that a woman forges in her lifetime, the one that she has with her siblings has a deep and along-lasting impact on her life and on her persona.  These are relationships which are not by choice but by chance.

My protagonists this time are two sisters who though having got a similar kind of an upbringing in a similar kind of an environment turned out to be two completely different individuals with completely opposite personalities. But being sisters they had a deep impact on each other’s lives.

Reema and Rhea were born into an upper-middle-class family to parents who were highly educated and therefore valued education very highly. Both the sisters were almost six years apart and as a result, the elder sister was like a role model for the younger one, in the initial years. They also had a brother who was the eldest in the family. Since he was the eldest and considerably older than the sisters, the girls were not really close to him.

The two sisters were poles apart in terms of their personalities. The younger one was free-spirited, outgoing and vivacious whereas the elder one was more reserved and quiet. It was difficult for her to make friends easily because she always took time to open up in front of others. As a result from very early on in their lives, it was always the younger one who had more friends and was more popular. Even at home, she was like a live wire, ever witty and joyful. Initially, it was all good but gradually with time Reema, the elder one started resenting the popularity of her sister. As a child, she could not always comprehend the feeling she got when people praised Rhea or laughed at her jokes. She just knew that whenever something like that happened, it left her feeling uncomfortable and unwanted. It made her feel as if she had been pushed to a corner and no one wanted to acknowledge her presence. From resenting the people who did that, she slowly started begrudging the cause for this, and that was her sister.

Whether knowingly or unknowingly, she began to look for opportunities to put Rhea down. Since Rhea was a carefree person with a devil-may-care attitude it was quite often that either she would forget to do things that she was supposed to be doing or if she did them her approach was quite casual which had all the chances of her getting into trouble with their parents, in particular, their mother. Reema realised that she could take advantage of such instances by complaining to their parents which she promptly did. Many times the parents would get to know about incidents which had taken place while they were not at home. Living in a world of her own, Rhea could never connect the dots and would sometimes marvel at her mother’s ability or sources which enabled her to know about her actions. It never ever occurred to her that the source could be Reema, her sister. So this actually became a habit whereby whenever Reema felt left out or ignored, she would make up a story blaming Rhea for one thing or the other, complain to her mother who would console her, cajole her and scold Rhea who would be left in a state of complete bewilderment.

Whenever the sisters got into an argument or into a fight,Rhea’s reaction would be a little aggressive which would present Reema with yet another opportunity to put her down in front of their mother. She would play the card of the aggrieved and helpless person which would get her the mother’s sympathy and get Rhea into trouble. On many such occasions, Rhea could not understand how a situation, where actually she was the aggrieved one could completely reverse itself and put her in the position of the guilty party. The whole blame would land on her shoulders and she would end up bearing the brunt of her mother’s anger.It was always as though in front of the mother it was her word against her sister’s and there was no way that her word would be even considered. This would really upset her but there wasn’t much that she could do about it.

Now it wasn’t that the mother was completely oblivious to Reema’s machinations but sometimes due to lack of time, patience and sometimes out of sheer exasperation owing to Reema’s incessant complaining she would lose her temper and get upset with Rhea. She would regret it later but by then the damage would already have been done. Rhea would be left feeling cheated and betrayed and Reema would be all smiles and triumphed. But this only lasted till Rhea bounced back to her usual chirpy self.However, somewhere all this was sowing the seeds of a major discord between the two sisters which would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The mother could also somewhere get a sense of the actual reason behind Reema’s behavior and so she would try and counsel Reema, she would push her to express herself but obviously, she couldn’t change the basic nature of the two sisters. No matter what, Rhea always ended up being the center of attraction wherever she went and Reema would sulk and go into her shell. It would need a lot of patience and effort on their mother’s part to draw her out. Some of such attempts would involve taking Reema out and sometimes buying something nice for her, like a dress, a book or whatever she wanted, the idea being to cheer her up. But whenever Reema bought something she would never tell her sister about it and keep it as a secret between her and her mother. In a way, this assuaged her ego, cheered her up and so the mother would let her do it. Rhea may have been nonchalant about most things but she wasn’t a fool and most certainly not blind. She in time started noticing that Reema had many new things in her closet about which Rhea had no idea. And since they all shopped together as a family, she couldn’t understand how Reema had come by those things. And if she questioned her, Reema would dismiss her by saying that she had bought them with everyone else and Rhea must have forgotten about it. Many times this would lead to arguments and fights which at times would even get physical. Since Reema had her mother’s ear and sympathy, she would take full advantage of that and portray that she had been hit by Rhea or insulted by her and since she was the older one, Rhea had no business to do that to her. This would again get Rhea into trouble with her mother, to begin with, and then with the father as well. In this way, Reema started getting back at her sister.

But no matter how hard she tried, Reema could never hold Rhea back for too long. Rhea was a bright student, who performed exceptionally well in school, was a good singer, was in the school basketball team and a star debater too. Owing to all these reasons, she would win prizes, accolades and so the parents would be invited to the school to witness her achievements. This would again make Reema extremely jealous and then she would devise newer ways to get back at her.Meanwhile, the father oblivious to the undercurrents encouraged Rhea to participate in as many activities as possible and then when she did well, he would, giving her example tell Reema to try and be like her sister. This would obviously add fuel to the fire.

Gradually because she had her mother’s ear, Reema in a subtle way started controlling Rhea’s life. For instance, since Rhea was an outgoing person, she was her usual self even with boys, that is carefree and open. As she approached adolescence, Reema started objecting to her behavior and when Rhea wouldn’t listen to her, Reema would complain to their mother. She would never miss an opportunity to prove that Rhea was immature, irresponsible and naive and therefore someone had to monitor her. So if Rhea wanted to start going to the parlor to get her threading done, Reema would make sure that she couldn’t by saying that she was far too young for that. What is more, the mother would agree with her frustrating Rhea no end.

Since Rhea now could not do a lot of things that her friends were doing like going out or dressing up well, she started feeling a tad under confident which was a completely new feeling for her. She didn’t know how to handle it. Her academics, her social skills started getting affected.

Her teachers also began to notice the change in her. She started doing things that were totally uncharacteristic of her like refusing to take part in school activities, lagging behind in her academics and basically not being her usual self. Initially, her teachers tried talking to her in order to get to the bottom of things, tried counselling her but nothing seemed to work. Before things could get worse they called her parents to discuss the situation and understand the reason behind it. The parents could not help much as they were as clueless as the next person and in fact, it was quite a shock for them to be told all this. The father, in particular, could not believe how his girl who had so much spunk and who was so spirited could take a back seat in life.

He decided to take her out of the home environment to a place where he could have a heart to heart chat with her. The idea to do this was his son’s who had been a mute spectator to the changing dynamics at home. Since he studied in a different city he was absent from home for long duration’s but he could sense the change in his younger sister’s behavior which he did not like. He was quite concerned about it and therefore wanted their father to intervene and take some action. Thus the idea to go out of town.

The trip was quite a revelation for the father who had never ever felt that there was anything wrong with anyone at home. He figured that he needed to pay more attention to his daughters and warn his wife about the injustice being meted out to Rhea. He understood that most of the times Rhea was not being allowed to do things her way and at certain times not allowed to do them at all. As a result, she was getting left out by her friends which she could not accept. So, therefore, she had herself decided to take a backseat. Having understood the situation they went back home where the parents had a long discussion and the father told the mother that rather than curbing Rhea she should have encouraged Reema to become more friendly and outgoing.

Thereafter the parents became more alert and tried to be there for both the girls though they could not control Reema’s feelings of insecurity and jealousy which had become a part of her personality. Even If she tried Reema could not help feeling unwanted or not being wanted enough whenever her sister was around. With time Reema completed her education and started working. Soon it was time for her to get married and so began the hunt for a suitable boy for her. Since it was going to be the first wedding in the family everyone was extremely excited and looking forward to it.Whenever a proposal came, they would all sit down and discuss the pros and cons very enthusiastically. For once the spotlight was on Reema and she loved it. She loved the fact take everyone from their friends to family wanted to discuss her and not her sister or her achievements.Now it wasn’t that Reema did not love her sister, but it was her own lack of confidence, her doubt in her own self that made the love get pushed back and the jealousy take over. And so she wanted to keep Rhea away from all those occasions where she could take away even a little bit of attention from her. Therefore Rhea would not be included whenever they went to meet a boy or the boy’s family came over.Once the wedding got fixed, Rhea could not be a part of most shopping trips. Reema would make sure that she would go shopping with her mother when Rhea was not around. She ended up picking up clothes for her as well which obviously were quite plain and not as fancy as they could have been.

Finally, Reema got married and moved out. The biggest consequence of this was that now Rhea got to be with her mother more than ever before, something which was badly needed to cement their relationship. All that which Reema used to do with the mother, like going shopping, going for movies or for walks now Rhea started doing. And they both loved their time together.

Reema was also very happy in her new life, yet she could not stop herself from feeling jealous and unsure whenever her sister visited her. Therefore on all such occasions, she would tell her to keep a low profile, not speak too much, not interact with too many people, all under the garb of the excuse that her in-laws wouldn’t like it!! Keeping that in mind Rhea would stay quiet but the spark of her personality could not be contained for too long and it would make an appearance sooner or later. She would give a witty answer to some query or crack a joke which would get people to pay attention to her much to Reema’s chagrin. She would get mad and then make up a story and complain to their mother who would then tell Rhea off. Rhea would be left flummoxed. Gradually she stopped going to her sister’s place. Even if she was invited she would find a reason to refuse.

With time her sister’s children came along and Rhea simply doted on them. She was always ready to see them, take care of them, just about anything. Many times when Reema had to travel with her husband, she would leave her children with her parents with the understanding that Rhea would help with the looking after.So although she was insecure about her own self when Rhea was around, where her own children were concerned she felt secure leaving them in her sister’s care!!

But in every other respect, she continued to be quite mean and selfish. For instance, whenever she got back from her trips abroad, she would come loaded with things for herself, for her in-laws but never anything for her sister. Sometimes it was her husband who would insist on carrying something back for Rhea which then she would do reluctantly. It would not only hurt Rhea but would leave her quite bewildered. Their mother would also find Reema’s behavior pretty odd. Whenever she asked Reema for the reason she would say that she was doing all that to make sure that Rhea did not get spoilt, an explanation that their mother could not accept but she couldn’t do much about it. However, her heart would go out to Rhea when she would see her looking longingly at some of Reema’s things.

With time Rhea having finished her education also started working and now it was her turn to get married though there was no great rush for that. Rhea enjoyed her work immensely, spent a lot of time with her parents, friends and with her brother too. She wanted to do the same with her sister but never ended up doing that because Reema would always find fault with her, her clothes, her behavior and with just about everything about her. Rhea had by now figured that all this stemmed from a feeling of jealousy and self-doubt and so she chose to ignore it and get on with her own life.

It wasn’t long before she met this boy and decided to get married to him. Her parents too liked him and so they decided to go ahead and tie the knot. Here also Reema could not help but voice her disapproval as it was difficult for her to accept that her sister had managed to find her life partner on her own whereas she had had to go through the drama of an arranged marriage. But by now her repeated objections, disapproval of everything that Rhea did, made no difference to anyone except a little to her mother. The mother still wanted to get her opinion on most things even though she also did not always go by her suggestions/ advice. Once Rhea got married she had to go through her set of teething issues and to deal with those she would seek advice from her mother. Many times she would seek out her sister too as she felt that she would be able to help her. But whenever she did that, her sister would make her believe that whatever she was going through wasn’t something unusual and everyone had to go through it. So if her in-laws or her husband were being unfair to her, she had to live with it as it was the done thing and what is more, she somehow managed to convince Rhea not to share any of her problems with their parents. Being a caring girl, Rhea also did not want to bother her parents with her issues and wanted to sort them out on her own.

In the early days of her marriage, both Rhea and her husband did not have a lot of money to spare and so many times Rhea had to let go of things that she wanted. There was this one time when she had to go for a wedding and wanted to wear a new saree. She found that Reema had something similar but when she asked her to lend it to her, her sister flatly refused saying that it was too expensive to be given to anyone. Though somewhere Rhea had expected a No but the manner in which it was said left her feeling very small and inferior. She, in fact, wanted to kick herself for having thought of asking Reema for it. This kind of a behavior whereby Reema could flaunt her superiority was not something rare. Since she was financially better off than her sister she never missed an opportunity to put her down. Somewhere It did seem as if she was trying to be one up on her sister, a long-standing wish.

Time went by, the parents became old and needed looking after. Though Reema had always wanted her mother’s support in her growing up years, now that the mother needed her, she didn’t really have time for her. She managed to wriggle out of most of such situations on some pretext or the other leaving her brother or sister to manage. They never ever complained but also could not help seeing through her tactics. The one person who was really disappointed was, of course, the mother. It wasn’t as if Reema never visited her parents but she chose to do so only when the going was good or when her mother wanted to give her something. Even when their father passed away it was Rhea and her husband who stepped in to take care of the mother. As was obvious the mother started depending more and more on Rhea and became really close to her. She regretted the way she had treated her earlier and expressed her feelings to her daughter who, the large-hearted person that she was told her to forget about it.

Reema was in fact never there for anyone. When Rhea had her children and needed support in the initial days, Reema was never free and it was left to the mother to step in. At times like these Rhea would wonder how she had always been there for her sister and how her sister could just conveniently forget all that and live her life. Whenever she met them it was always about how busy she was and how much money she had spent.She somewhere felt that she could grab people’s attention by flaunting her lifestyle and her money which much to her dismay still didn’t happen. It, in fact, had the opposite effect of turning people away from her.

And with time Rhea and her husband having done very well for themselves could lead a lifestyle that was comparable to Reema’s if not a better one.But they were not the kinds to flaunt it or talk about it. They loved travelling, meeting people and also spending time with each other. Rhea’s husband was very supportive of her career which enabled her to do extremely well professionally. Her life with her family and her mother was just the way she had wanted it to be, full of happiness and contentment.

And as for her relationship with her sister, it was just a working kind of one. Rhea didn’t need her and neither did her mother. They were happy to just meet her once in a while.

It did bother Rhea initially but gradually she got used to it. She accepted the fact that there was no need for them to be close just because they were related. They would remain sisters but that would be because they were destined to be and not because they had chosen to be. They were sisters but not by choice.

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  • Yasmin
    January 14, 2019

    Sibling relationships are not always cordial . Unapologetically real stuff!

  • Rajesh
    January 14, 2019

    Very realistic piece Sangeeta (again)!!
    Your closing sentence really hits the hammer on the head of the nail – too often we all are living many relationships solely for the reason that they’re part of our destiny, our compulsion, not our choices.
    But thankfully the opposite is true as well…
    Thank God for relationships that we may not be born with but we choose…