Summers bring with them memories of growing up in India. Summer vacation was a time to visit grandparents, celebrate Raksha Bandhan, eat lots of ice cream, gang up and form the 'fun clubs' or 'famous five', fly kites, create a 'jhanki' for Janmashtami and hang out with friends, who we only would meet during the summer break each year. Years later, as a grown up, as Indians the world over celebrate Raksha Bandhan, 'Chitthi ayi hai, watan se chitthi ayi hai' sung soulfully by Pankaj Udhas makes me well up.
As three sisters, not having a brother of our own meant that the several cousins were our bhai. Growing up I would, as the eldest sister, write to each one of my male first cousins along with a beautiful rakhi enclosed in the letter, sent weeks ahead to ensure they receive it well in time via the post. In response, a letter was due to arrive from at least a few of them and their families, thanking me for the rakhi but also sharing updates on their life and school.
Often this also meant it was time for those of us in the same city, Delhi in our case, would gather at my aunt's house and celebrate this festival together where us sisters would tie the rakhi on our brothers' wrists, both blessing each other and exchanging a promise to look after each other.
Traditionally, the festival was on account of brothers promising to protect their sisters, no matter what. For us as kids, this just meant making colourful rakhis, boasting who ate the most sweets and to be able to play with our cousins. Social get togethers over festivals were a tradition to look forward to.
Oh, and that reminds me of funny rakhi story too! I must have been 10 years old and at school there was a rakhi making competition. In excitement and to show off my newly acquired knitting skills, I decided to make a woollen rakhi. Now for the hot summer of Delhi, a woollen rakhi was a recipe for disaster for the one who may need to wear it. But my Sunny bhaiya, who wore that rakhi with pride for not just days but weeks on end, showing off to the world his sister had made it with her own hands, still remembers this episode fondly.
As I grew up, e-rakhis and e-cards took over, and now a short message on WhatsApp or a post on Facebook does the trick. For the diaspora overseas, festivals also come with a feeling of longing, as these aren't observed in the same fervour abroad as they are in India.
The pandemic has inflicted upon all of us a crisis, we are grappling with everyday survival, emotional upheaval and familial concern. For those whose family, particularly elderly parents, siblings are in the UK or even Europe, it is relatively comforting to be able to at least visit now. For those like myself, whose parents as also siblings are in India, this is a difficult phase spent worrying over the well-being and safety of loved ones and vice versa.
As first-generation immigrants, often high skilled workers, we unfortunately are unable to bring our dependent elderly parents to live with us despite being contributors to the economy and societal fabric of the country we live in. Petitions after petitions have been circulated seeking Home Office attention to providing some provision in the immigration policy for elderly dependents, without much luck.
A friend of mine, a senior doctor, Nishchint Warikoo tried to seek some help for bringing his elderly mum to live with him but ultimately with no such luck and he ultimately relocated to Australia. Funny that a few months later, the Home Secretary announced that the UK will follow the Australian-style points-based system!
At a casual conversation recently with a couple of friends, one mentioned how he receives a Good Morning message from his mother everyday that is followed by a quote of the day. She would time it to his schedule and waking up time to ensure that this is the first message he picked as he looked at the phone. He sometimes wouldn't be able to respond to the message and having done this a few times, he then realised that it was an important part of their day to communicate with their son, even if to hear a good morning back from him.
Earlier today, my father had to be taken to the hospital owing to a sudden episode of health scare, which fortunately is now under control and he is on the mend. The anxiety of not being near him at a time when he and my mother most need me, made my mind wander to the days when I had started working in India. I would receive a call from him at 9 am sharp on my desk to wish me a good morning and a happy day. Years went by and this habit remained.
I grew up, went onto have my own family and responsibilities and his messages would still appear in my phone, wishing me a happy day. We find these forwards annoying, these messages a bit much but in these are eyes searching and hearts pining for one message back from their children, as if to say: 'I love you too Dad-Mom and I am ok.'
Lakshmi Kaul is the London-based UK Head & Representative at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and an active Indian diaspora campaigner. In this regular Talking Point column for 'iGlobal', she will focus on issues that deserve spotlighting within the Global Indian community, referencing her personal experiences.