Rashmi and Veer, the doting brother and the loving sister were ten years apart in age and the complete opposites of each other in terms of their looks and personalities. Veer was tall, well built and extremely good looking while Rashmi was reasonably good looking and not very tall. But she was a fun-loving person who loved meeting people and so had lots of friends. Veer, on the other hand, was quieter and quite an introvert. But both of them were incredibly close to each other and remained so all through their lives. Veer was the proverbial elder brother who took his responsibility towards his kid sister very seriously. It had been like that since the day just after his tenth birthday when he had dropped his school bag to rush to the hospital to see the baby. He had had a lonely life till that age because there was nobody else in the house other than him and his parents. His parents were doctors and had a hectic life. They were out most of the day and sometimes at night too, which made him very lonely. He longed for company, and though he had friends, they could not be there with him all the time.
Moreover, they all had siblings, and that made him quite jealous of them. This happened when they talked about the fights or the arguments they had with their siblings or about their time with them. He too wanted a brother or a sister, but of course, it wasn’t something he could get just like that. He would keep telling his parents about it and sometimes when his mother would get fed up with him she would ask him to pray to God who would listen to him provided he behaved like a good boy. So the poor kid would always try to be the good one, eating on time, sleeping on time, doing well at school, making sure he never did anything that could be considered bad or wrong. But he had to do this for ten long years before God paid heed to his wishes. So when finally he was told that his dream had come true, he was thrilled to bits. The little boy was absolutely sure that the little being in their lives was the result of all his hard work and his praying every single night. And since he believed that, he, therefore, thought that that baby was his and nobody else’s. And he became like a surrogate parent to her and stayed that way throughout his life.
The baby on her part not only loved but practically worshipped her brother. He was like God for her who could never do anything wrong. Right from the time, she became aware of his existence, she followed him everywhere and hung to every word of his. He could never do anything wrong in her eyes. This devotion continued all through their lives.
The parents, on their part, loved to see the love and affection between the two children. The age gap had bothered them initially, but over the years, they realised that the two cared for each other deeply and would always have each other’s back no matter what. That gave them a lot of joy and happiness.
Life moved on; the children grew up. Veer continued to be his serious and conscientious self while Rashmi continued to fun-loving and carefree. She was also quite a rebel who tended to ignore most of her parents’ do’s and don’t’s and got into trouble ever so often. At those times she would turn to the big brother who would listen to her, console her, talk to the parents for her and sometimes take the blame on himself. So she always had Veer’s unstinted support in whatever she did, and he meant the world to her. She could do without her parents but not without him. They were always as thick as thieves.
And then it was time for Veer to leave home to go to college. Though it had been on the cards for a while when it happened, Rashmi was devastated. Suddenly she was almost all alone in the house. Her parents continued to be their busy selves, and so when she came back from school, she was mostly on her own. She was a little girl who felt lost in the big house. There was no one to talk to her, listen to her, fool around with her. Ever since she had become conscious of her surroundings, Veer had always been there around her, with her. He had taken care of all her needs, her wants more than her parents and so naturally when he left a void got created in her world. There was no one who could fill it. Though Veer hadn’t gone very far and visited them pretty often, it wasn’t the same, and it wasn’t enough. In fact, for a few days after he left, the little girl just withdrew into her shell and refused to talk to anybody. She refused even to go out to play, something which she loved. It was only when Veer on his first visit from college sat her down and spoke to her did she understand and then accept the situation. Unlike their parents, Veer had a lot of patience where she was concerned and could go to any extent to explain things to her. To his credit, even while sitting away from home, he made sure that he stayed connected with his sister and never left her alone. By the time he finished college and started working, Rashmi was only thirteen years old. She loved the idea of her brother turning into this big, man, who would get her anything she wanted and whenever she wanted. Her wish was his command. He, on his part, spoiled her rotten. Their parents objected sometimes, but no one bothered about them.
Rashmi finished school and then it was time for Veer to get married. Everyone in the house was super excited. Rashmi especially was looking forward to having her sister-in-law who she believed would pamper her the same way as her brother did. Neera, the sister-in-law, worked with Veer and both of them after being together for a year and a half had decided to tie the knot. Since Neera had been with Veer for a considerable period, she was aware of his love and adoration for his sister. Many times she had heard him talk about his little sister and had seen the spark in his eyes when he took her name. She had, on various occasions, even helped him choose presents for her. And since she was an only child, she considered Rashmi to be like a younger sister, and so she too loved to indulge her. But though initially excited about the wedding, gradually Rashmi’s level of excitement started diminishing, and once it actually happened, she didn’t really feel the same.
The thing was that she had never had to share her brother with anyone else till that point and was used to treating him as being all hers. But as the day of the wedding started getting closer, she realised that now there was going to be someone else in her brother’s life who would be equally important if not more. That feeling unsettled her entirely and made her feel terribly insecure. She started resenting the presence of Neera in their lives though she understood that she was being stupid and irrational. But though she tried, she couldn’t shake off the feelings of jealousy and insecurity that seemed to be invading her being. Till the time the idea had been new, the relationship had been new, it had all been very nice and hunky-dory. But once the novelty wore off, she realised that her brother was now not only hers. The reality not only shocked her but in a way, it shattered her. She had never been close to her parents, and now she could feel her brother moving away from her, a feeling which made her feel angry, rudderless and clueless.
She felt it very strongly the day Veer and Neera left for their honeymoon. Though she had known about it all along, the day they went away, she got like a jolt. She had woken up early to say bye to them, but the sight of her brother holding his wife’s hand and walking out of the house unsettled her. She didn’t know what it was or why it was there, but somehow it didn’t feel nice. Since she didn’t want anyone to notice the tears in her eyes, she said a quick bye and ran to her room where she burst into tears. She knew that she was being stupid, but still couldn’t stop crying. Anyways soon it was time to leave for school which she did though she couldn’t push the feeling of having been abandoned all through the day. Her friends kept pestering her about how the wedding had gone, about what had she worn, but somehow Rashmi’s mind was elsewhere. And then when she came back from school, there was another shock in store. She got to know that Veer had moved back from Mumbai and was now going to live in Delhi, which is where they lived but in a separate apartment. She couldn’t understand why he would want to do that. It was so unlike him to live away from his family. She couldn’t understand why her brother, who was so close to her and knew how much she had missed him all the years that he had been away, would choose to do this to her. She knew him to be a caring and sensitive person, so how could he have just changed. It seemed pretty inexplicable to her. And as is bound to happen in such situations, she concluded that the blame lay squarely with the sister-in-law who wanted to separate him from the family and especially from her. She was hurt and angry. She couldn’t talk to anyone about this because she didn’t have anyone, so it all kept getting bottled up inside her. Her closest friend had always been her brother, but now he wasn’t there. And what hurt her, even more, was the fact that her brother had not told her about this decision of his. It was their parents who had done that. He who had always shared everything about his life with her from his escapades with his friends to his many girlfriends to his achievements at work. Why did he not share this with her? Why, why? There was no answer to all the million “whys” in her head.
So when Veer came back from a month-long honeymoon with lots of gifts for his sister, she wasn’t as welcoming as she would have been. She was nice, she spoke to them, but the warmth was missing. The thing was that along with everything else while Veer had been away, he hadn’t kept in touch with her. So for almost a month, the only channel of communication between the brother and sister had been a postcard here and there. This had never happened ever in their lives, and this somehow reinforced all the impressions and feelings that were swarming in Rashmi’s head.
Veer and Neera, of course, had been spending all that time getting to know each other, discovering each other without any intention of hurting Rashmi or anything like that. But somewhere they ended up doing precisely that though without realizing it. It wasn’t their fault, but maybe that was how it was meant to be. And so when they came back, Veer met a different Rashmi who was just a tad cold, just a little indifferent which was not really obvious to the others but definitely to the brother. He tried talking to her, being normal with her but somehow couldn’t reach out to her. He had a word with his wife about it who dismissed his concern by telling him that she must have missed him and therefore was upset. She suggested that he should just let her be.
So although they let her be nothing changed. Rashmi continued to be aloof and cold.
This change in her disturbed Veer a lot, but he couldn’t do anything about it. She just refused to be her usual self.
Though she was behaving like this, it wasn’t that Rashmi was okay being like this. She missed her brother, the camaraderie, the sharing, the joking but didn’t want to do anything about it. She had started believing that she was not really wanted in his life and so should not be forcing herself on him. That is why she just kept withdrawing. And although they now lived in the same city and met often enough she was not able to communicate her feelings to him. Her parents and especially her mother could sense her feelings, and although she too tried to explain things to her, she couldn’t do much. Things got so bad that even when Veer and Neera visited them, Rashmi chose to stay away. She would either make sure that she wasn’t in the house at that time or would sit with them for some time and then go back to her room.
Seeing all this, Veer decided one day that enough was enough and he couldn’t wait any longer for things to become normal; he had to do something about it. He decided to confront Rashmi and have a chat with her about what was bothering her. So, one day, when he knew that she was going to be alone in the house, he decided to pay a surprise visit. Since there wasn’t anyone else in the house when Veer came, Rashmi had no choice but to sit and talk to him. Veer got straight to the point and asked her what was bothering her. Though she wasn’t willing to say anything, to begin with, gradually his probing and prodding had the desired effect. She burst into tears, and in between all the sobbing, she managed to tell her brother what she was feeling. Veer though not completely surprised, was shocked to see how the happenings of the past few months had affected her. He consoled her, soothed her and explained to her that their relationship was incredibly special to him, and no one could ever come between them. At the same time, he told her that Neera was his wife and he had to spend the rest of his life with her. She was a part of the family and Rashmi would have to accept that. Moreover, he told her that Neera loved her as much as he did and would never try to come between them.
Maybe it was the tone, or it was the feeling with which he tried to explain that Rashmi understood that actually nothing had changed between them and he still loved her the way he did before. She realized that all the concerns, all the apprehensions were the result of her insecurities. She also realized that she could have spoken to him about it rather than withdrawing and not communicating at all. Anyways she was glad that her brother had seen through her stupidity and taken the initiative to resolve matters.
Everything became pretty normal after that. Veer and Neera continued to live on their own, but Veer made sure that he gave enough time to his sister and never made her feel left out.
Rashmi finished school and decided to go abroad to study. Veer was there to help her with the entire process and was the happiest when she managed to get into a top-notch school. Meanwhile, Neera gave birth to their daughter, which was an occasion for a big celebration in the house. Rashmi couldn’t be there, but she was over the moon on having become an aunt. Life moved on, and Rashmi finished college. She wanted to stay on in the US to work there, but her parents were not in favour of the idea. However, the big brother stepped in and convinced the parents to let her do that. The parents were getting old, and they wanted Rashmi to get married as soon as possible, but Rashmi was not at all keen to do that.
As luck would have it within a year of Rashmi deciding to stay on there, their father passed away. It was the result of a sudden heart attack. The entire family was devastated and couldn’t believe how it could have happened. Rashmi flew back to be with her family, but in a few days time, she had to go back. But her mother didn’t want her to do that. She wanted her to stay in India and get married. She had started feeling that now that her husband had gone and that too all of a sudden she couldn’t take a chance and not get her daughter married. She had this fear that if something happened to her, then there would be nobody to take care of Rashmi.
But Veer assured her that she had no reason to be fearful about anything. He was there and would be there for all of them no matter what. He told her to let Rashmi go. So although not entirely convinced their mother relented, and Rashmi went back. Rashmi was happy being on her own, living an independent life. It made her feel good to know that she had become self-reliant and didn’t need her family to help her in any way. And then during one of her office, offsites Rashmi met Greg and fell in love with him. Though they hadn’t known each other from before, when they met, they got talking, and then one thing led to the other. They found that they loved being with each other and wanted to spend as much time as possible with each other. It was like love at first sight for both of them. Rashmi had got attracted to his good looks on the first day when they had all been just intermingling with each other. She had seen him looking at her from across the room and had actually felt as though her heart had missed a beat. Then she had seen him walking up to her and introducing himself to her. Later she couldn’t even remember how she had behaved or what she had said to him. She just recalled that she had been too mesmerized by his persona, his looks, and somewhere her brain had stopped working.
The offsite got over, and they both went back, but of course, they were meant to keep in touch. Within a week, Greg was in New York to see Rashmi, and after that, there was no looking back for the two of them. The next six months were the most beautiful, the most romantic months of Rashmi’s life. Greg left no stone unturned to woo her, pamper her and make her feel special. He showered her with gifts, flowers and lots and lots of attention. And then on Valentine’s day, he proposed to her. Though expecting it and wanting it, Rashmi was caught by surprise when it happened. She was super thrilled as he was quite a catch!! And she was the envy of a lot of women. She accepted the proposal, but there was a problem. He was not an Indian and no way would her mother agree to the alliance. She had always warned her against marrying a ‘gora’, but this is what she was about to do. So now!!
She knew the only people who would and could come to her rescue were her brother and sister-in-law. So quick calls were made, lengthy explanations were given, and then the brother was bullied into coming to the US to meet and spend time with the groom to be. The brother, dear once again jumped to the sister’s rescue. He met Greg and other than his non-Indian roots had nothing else to object about. So one more time he had to convince their mother which he as always managed successfully. The only condition was that the wedding would have to take place in India as per the Indian customs. Greg and his family happily agreed, and the wedding took place in all its glory and splendour. Rashmi’s mother also liked Greg and his family, so everything went off well, and everyone was happy.
On getting married Rashmi settled in San Francisco with Greg and was very happy. Greg was a loving and caring husband who took good care of her. She continued to work and gave birth to two children, a son and a daughter in quick succession. She visited India once a year, especially after her mother became too old to travel to be with her daughter. Veer and Neera were doing well for themselves. Though Rashmi and Veer were not able to meet very often, they made it a point to be a part of each other’s lives. They spoke to each other almost every day, and Veer made sure that whenever he travelled for work to the US, he visited his sister and made sure that he stayed with her. Rashmi’s children also shared a special bond with him, which became even stronger with time.
Everything was fine till one day when Rashmi saw Neera’s name flash on her phone screen. It seemed a bit odd because Neera generally didn’t do that. It was only when there was something special or out of the ordinary that she called. It was always Veer who called. So her name on the screen was a bit of a shocker. She couldn’t think of any reason for her sister-in-law to call. Was everything alright? Was her mother alright? With all these questions in mind, she took the call. And as she had dreaded, all was not well. But it wasn’t her mother; it was Veer, her brother who was the reason for the call.
Though it was Neera who had called, she could barely utter a word. She was trying but was incoherent, was sobbing and Rashmi couldn’t understand a word. Finally, her niece, Rashi, took the phone from her mother and explained everything. Apparently, Veer had gone for a regular medical checkup and the tests had revealed that he had a tumour in his leg which had been further tested and found to be malignant. The doctors had not been able to come out with a precise diagnosis, but the situation was grim. Everyone at home was in a state of complete shock and disbelief and were finding it impossible to come to terms with the situation. Rashi told Rashmi that both her mother and grandmother were in a state of panic and helplessness and though Veer was trying to put up a brave front, he wasn’t being able to.
Rashmi couldn’t believe her ears. It was as though someone had punched her and really hard. She had been standing but had to sit down to be able to process the information. She couldn’t believe that Rashi was talking about Veer!! It couldn’t be true!! She almost shouted at her for saying all this . Greg also rushed into the room on hearing her scream. He took the phone from Rashmi’s hand to understand what was happening. He finished the call and pulling his wife into his arms told her that she needed to collect herself together and calm down. She needed to be strong and to be with her family in this dark hour.
While he got busy working out the details of their trip to India, Rashmi just collapsed on the floor of her kitchen and started howling. The tears kept coming along with feelings of injustice, anger, dread and an incredible amount of sadness. It was heartbreaking for her to know that her darling brother, her heartbeat, her rock-solid support was now in this state where his life was in danger. She couldn’t understand how God could have been so unfair and so unkind. Veer, who had been such a wonderful son, brother, husband and a father how could he be dealt with such a blow?? She couldn’t accept this. It was not fair!!
But along with all getting all these feelings, she was beginning to understand that there was no point in questioning any of that. She needed to rush to India and be of help and support to everyone there.
Greg managed to book them on the first available flight, and both husband and wife flew to India to be with the family. All through the journey, Rashmi was restless, nervous and jittery. She was finding it difficult to come to terms with her brother’s state. She was angry with the powers that be for having done that to him, and she also did not know how she would be able to face him. But then she decided that she would put up a brave front and not let him feel worse than he already was. She knew she had to be a source of support to him and everyone else. Greg could sense her state and tried telling her to relax, but of course, she couldn’t do that. The journey got over, and they landed with a heavy heart. Rashmi wanted to rush straight to the hospital from the airport, but of course, that wasn’t possible. She had to wait until the morning to do that. Neera and Rashi were there at the airport to receive them. They all burst into tears when they saw each other and Greg had a hard time trying to calm them. On reaching home, Rashmi rushed to meet her mother, who was also in bad shape. She kept saying that it was someone’s evil eye that had caused this to happen.
In the morning, Rashmi went to the hospital, and as she had decided, she walked into her brother’s room in a cheerful mood. She wanted him to remain positive under all circumstances because she believed that if there was something that could beat this disease, then it was only a positive frame of mind. She told her brother to face the situation head-on and not buckle under any pressure. In the meanwhile at home also she took to taking care of everyone , pushing them, encouraging them to stay calm and positive. Her coming home did bring a little bit of cheer into the house though the doctors did not give them any reason to cheer. By now they were sure that cancer had spread to almost all parts of Veer’s body and his days were numbered.
In spite of being fully aware that nothing could save him, the family decided that they needed to take all chances and so they decided to opt for the treatment which involved various sessions of chemotherapy, among other things.
Meanwhile, Greg had to go back, but Rashmi decided to stay on. She could not even bear the thought of leaving her brother in this situation and go back. She was this rock-solid presence who was always smiling, encouraging and supporting her brother and everyone else though, in her heart, she was going to pieces. She cried when she was alone but not once did she show her tears to anyone. It broke her heart to see her brother lose his hair, become frail and weak, but she never let him feel it. She sat with him, she read to him, watched movies with him and reminisced about their times together. She wanted him to remain cheerful all the time. But one day when they were talking, he just broke down. He held her hand and told her that he could see through all her attempts at trying to make everything seem normal. He said to her that he was aware of his fate and had now decided to discontinue all further treatment. He felt that there was no point in wasting any more money on him when the future was inevitable. He thought he would much rather leave the money for his family. Rashmi, of course, was in no mood to listen to him but he insisted that not only was it necessary for her to listen to him, but she had to convince Neera, Rashi and their mother too.
Rashmi decided to consult the doctors before arriving at any decision. The doctors also said pretty much the same thing. They told her that there was no point of continuing with the treatment. One of them who was a family friend advised her to let Veer spend the rest of his days at home with his family and friends and not undergo any suffering as a result of the chemotherapy.
Though initially totally against the idea gradually, Rashmi began to understand what Veer and the doctors were trying to say. She realized that rather than cause him more physical pain, it was better to let his last days be pain-free and happy. She felt it was better to let Veer do what he wanted rather than forcing him through a treatment that was more for their satisfaction than anything else. It took her a while to convince the mother, the wife and the daughter, but she managed. Neera felt that as long as the treatment continued, there was hope, but Rashmi told her that that wasn’t the case. She had also believed this to be so, but after consulting the doctors, she had realized that now nothing could be done. They had to accept the inevitability of the situation.
By now, it had been three months since Rashmi had come to India. She knew that though her children missed her terribly, they understood her situation. She had had to resign from her job as well as she had exhausted all her leave. But for her, all this was immaterial. Her brother needed her, and that was what mattered the most.
In her way, she tried to convince her mother also to accept the situation. She also tried to make sure that whatever help her sister-in-law needed to streamline her life after her husband had gone away was there for her. Suddenly from being someone who always asked for her brother’s help, she had become someone who was helping his family see through the difficult times and how she wished that the circumstances were different. But unfortunately, they weren’t.
And then one morning, the expected happened. Neera woke up at the usual time, but when she went to wake up Veer, she did not get any response. She screamed, and everyone rushed into the room. Rashmi felt for the pulse and found there was none. Still, she called for the doctor who came and pronounced Veer dead. Though they had all been expecting it when it happened, they were too stunned to react. No one knew what to do. Once again, Rashmi braced herself to take charge of the situation and organize everything for her beloved brother’s last rites.
She started by informing all their relatives and friends about what had happened. Then she made arrangements for all the religious and other ceremonies. In between, she kept consoling and comforting her mother, sister-in-law and niece. Though during the day time she kept busy and tried to avoid thinking about what had happened, she couldn’t do that at night. Her brother’s face as it had been before the illness kept coming in front of her eyes. All the times that they had spent together, all the memories kept coming back. But then something in her made her pull herself up and get ready for the next day. But her resolve to stay strong and calm broke when she bid farewell to her brother as Rashi lit the funeral pyre. Rashmi was reminded of that one instance when she, as a little girl, had fallen and bruised her knee. Veer had picked her up and wiping off her tears had told her that as long as he was there, she had no reason to cry. And today, the tears were flowing, and there was no Veer to wipe them off.