The last few days have been extremely chaotic for me. My brother was hospitalised following a happy family event - the rice ceremony of my niece.
Among Bengalis, the rice ceremony, or annaprashan, is a major ritual in the developmental journey of the child. The child is fed cooked grains and food for the first time. The event is auspicious and calls for feasting with family and friends. So, it goes without saying that I had to be part of the celebrations — a once-in-a-lifetime milestone for my brother and his daughter. Only that I decided not to be part of it. To his credit, after initial grumpiness and failed attempts to guilt-trip me, my brother understood why I had to skip the event.
Growing up, both of us associated family get-togethers on birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and festivals with arguments, fights, ego-tussles, and everything opposite of togetherness. My father, although quite fond of throwing parties, had an unpredictable temper and no one knew what would transpire at the end of it all. An unpleasant scene is what we remember was the outcome of most of our celebrations. Someone would certainly end up being hurt and walking out.
Once I gained more control over my decisions as an individual, I started to distance myself from family functions or any kind of token observation of anniversaries and birthdays. My brother, on the other hand, has taken after my father and continues the family tradition of throwing big parties at the drop of the hat, sometimes even ignoring financial and health constraints. Further, our unhealthy relationship with food, which runs deep in the family, adds another problematic dynamic to these celebrations making me dislike them even more.
My brother thinks I have over-learnt the lesson from our childhood trauma and that my strategy of complete abstinence is an act of self-punishment, which in turn is destroying our family ties. While I feel he simply continues a toxic family tradition to gain a false sense of comfort and validation from the elders in the family, causing him more harm than good.
I had no doubts that when it would come to his daughter’s rice ceremony, my brother would have big plans. Predictibly, he had big expectations from me as well. He wanted me to be there not just to mark my presence but also to help in the arrangements.
I knew he was banking on me. It is not easy to put together a grand event with no family support. But unfortunately like always I had to let him down. The childhood and teenage memories still act as triggers for me, I told him. I haven’t healed and my presence could, in fact, lead to unwanted explosions. I asked him to scale down the celebrations. Keep it intimate and hassle-free. But all in vain.
“If you can’t be of real help, please don’t kill the fun,” he snapped back at me.
I joined the celebrations over long video calls. It was a delight to watch my niece going through the ceremonial bath in a tiny saree, then dressing up in finery and relishing the magical taste of cooked food for the first time, while secretly praying that she doesn’t inherit our habit of binge eating. I also learnt that it is possible to love people from a distance. That healing takes time and one has to honour one’s trauma and resist being pushed around by societal norms and family obligations to participate in triggering events.
And just as I was doing ‘dugga dugga’ over the ceremony ending with no major hiccups and overall being a joyous experience for the family and the guests, I got a frantic call from my mother informing me that my brother had to be hospitalised. The reason? Overeating and bingeing on oily food through the week of the festivities worsened his already delicate digestive system. Thankfully, all his vitals were normalised and he was discharged quickly.
He has been given a strict diet regimen to follow. His worst nightmare has come true. As for me, I am booking tickets to go home. My brother thinks that I am the only person in the family who can cook “tasty healthy food” — a skill I am determined to teach him.
(The writer is a mental health and behavioural sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter)
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