Happy Raksha Bandhan to those of you who celebrate it, from one who does not. Our family tried to introduce the custom once, when my sister was three, and there are some great photos of her crying and desperately holding on to the rakhi for dear life. There was no way she was going to give the sparkly object and mithai to her brother in return for a promise, merely oral, not even signed and notarized.
I imagine she also thought “I’ll fork over the tinsel you promise to protect me from you, you big bully! You got to stop bossing me around if you want the sweets. You’re not even big enough to protect me from anybody else, that’s mom and dad’s job.” And so the tradition never took hold.
When I got older, and my offer of protection was more credible, I realized that my sisters-at-large would be likely to take offense at my mafia-like offer of protection in return for tribute. After all, these were not simpering ladies, these were girls and women more than capable of kicking my kundi. If one of these women were ever to need protection, the best course would be to buy them a firearm and some range time and get out of their way.
The holiday also came across as both sexist and unfair. Why can’t I be weak and helpless and trade a trinket in return for protection? It seems like men are getting the worst deal since Indians sold Manhattan for a bunch of beads.
So why does the holiday continue? My best guess is that it provides a neat social excuse for girls to politely defect male attention without anybody having to lose face. Now a woman no longer needs to say “I like you, but I don’t like you like you”, she can smile and let India’s version of Hallmark do the talking. After all, we don’t feel sorry for the guy walking around looking like an escapee from a Kabbalah party with 30 rakhis on his arm because he has so many women to protect, we feel sorry for him because he’s just been castrated as surely as if these women had used the scissors which snip-snip-snipped the thread.
So until rakhis start to fly equally in both directions, I leave you with this parting thought: