28 February 2000. I was informed I have a little sister.
29 February 2000. I saw the forty-five centimetre little human being that was my sister in a little cradle for the first time, with only one thought in mind: she is so tiny.
28 February 2013. I wrote a list: 13 things you should know about being thirteen (Buzzfeed should employ me for this). It was her first birthday without me and I sent her an intricate video with “Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behna Hai” playing in the background.
28 February 2016. Away from home for the first time on her birthday, my sister hits Sweet Sixteen. I don’t have a list of sixteen things that she should know about being sixteen. But I do have much to say about the sixteen years that she’s been in my life.
So, dear old-head-on-young-shoulders, this one is for you.
I don’t know where to begin. Could it be the day you got your head stuck in a chair? Could it be the day I took you to the slide for the first time and you fell off the top while peering down at me, instead of sliding down like normal children? Could it be the day you told me you were going home and then went to the neighbour’s house instead and gave everybody a heart attack?
But I know what I want to talk about today. And it’s none of these notorious things that you’ve done. It’s something else entirely, something that is far more important to me. It’s about how you are, in so many ways, a part of me.
When I was about five years old, I came home late after playing and Ma locked me out of the house. You were too young to remember this but I do. You were on the other end of the door, banging and crying and trying to force open a lock you didn’t know how to operate.
When I was about six years old, I was walking on a freshly cleaned floor and I slipped and fell. You were at the door, and you saw me as I got up quickly and sat on the couch, trying to figure out if I’d hurt myself. You burst into tears and toddled towards me on your pudgy legs, wailing about how I had hurt myself.
When I was about ten years old, you quickly cleaned up after all my messes so that Ma wouldn’t get the chance to scold me.
When I was thirteen years old, you would be my alarm clock in the mornings, wake me up, and make sure the bus waited for me while I attempted to hold shoes, socks, a tiffin box, and a comb in my two hands.
When I was fifteen years old, you would pack my bag for me while I announced my timetable from the bathroom while bathing to the point that you knew my timetable better than I did. I’ll never get over you asking me if I have my lab coat with me while I entirely forgot about lab-days.
When I was seventeen years old and in boarding school, you sent me cute songs that you would record so I could listen to them and then show off my talented sister to the entire dorm.
A few months back, at nineteen, I was upset and crying because of horrible things that people spoke about me behind my back and you picked up the phone and gave them a piece of your mind. But when you called me, you cried more than I did because you were in boarding school, while I was here, in college, and you couldn’t be with me.
You’ve been my constant for all of the sixteen years you’ve been around: right from the day you lay fast asleep in your cradle in Duliajan till right now, as you read this from your dorm in school. In this world, there is never any guarantee for who will stay and who will leave, but you, I know, are well and truly forever. People might think that that’s because we are sisters and related by blood, so we have no choice. But there’s a saying on the wonderful Internet that says: chance made us sisters, choice made us friends. And in that context, you are my best friend for a lifetime, right since you were in your diapers.
Our friends and random strangers who have seen us together know that together, we indulge in more public displays of affection than any love-struck couple does. Hugs and kisses, tickling, giggling together – people are always confused by how two sisters can get along this well all the time.
It’s not like we haven’t argued. I can’t even count the number of times I threatened to fill your schoolbag with rocks while you slept. The gullible little child that you were, you diligently checked your bag in the mornings to make sure that your books hadn’t been replaced by rocks. We tossed things at each other (I did the tossing) and shouted and cried (you cried more). But these things couldn’t last. One of us would always relent quickly and we would be back in action: choreographing intricate dances together, playing games in our made up worlds, and faking loud fights to confuse Ma.
I know I am the elder sister, and I am supposed to look out for you and be your source of advice. I always feel like Google to you: the first thing you look at for the answers to all the questions in the world. But what is more important is that you being younger hasn’t made you any less responsible for who I am today. You held me through nights of tears, you listened to me plan elaborate lies about my marks when I messed up, and you took my side even when Ma and Baba picked on me. You helped me make good decisions, and you let me make my own share of bad ones but stood by me for their consequences, never once saying ‘I told you so’. You wrapped yourself around me and slept, making me feel like I was in the safest place in the world. You listened to my ridiculously long stories and didn’t get mad at me for dominating conversation shamelessly like the talkative person that I am. You were patient with my faults and encouraging about my strengths. Nobody has ever motivated me like you have. Because you may be only sixteen, but your mind is filled with insight that I can only hope to have someday.
So, this birthday, I don’t have advice to give you. I have only love, appreciation, and gratitude. With each passing birthday, I am becoming more and more painfully aware that my role as a caretaker has diminished. But that’s okay. I know that I don’t have to follow you around to ensure that every step you take is the right one. I am here, and that is enough. I am proud of who you have become in all these years and I am proud to say I was there to see it happen, and that I will have the good fortune to see you change and grow more each and every day. I told you when you turned thirteen, and I’ll tell you again: life’s a car and you’re at the wheel, steering. But if you ever get lost, I am sitting shotgun to give you directions. All you have to do is ask.
Dear Babli, happy birthday. Celebrate your existence today because I know I will. 28th February is the most cherished date of my life because it marks the occurrence of the best thing that has ever happened in my life: your birth. I may not be next to you (especially because I have class from 1PM to 6PM on a Sunday; can you believe it?) but I am always right there, party hat on my head, ready to dance with you endlessly to all the Bollywood songs you can think of.
When I asked you on the phone what you wanted for your birthday, you said you wanted my happiness. You said me being happy was all you wanted. Here’s your gift then. I am happy. Every single day that I wake up and know I have a sister as wonderful as you, I am happy. Every single day that I know that I have a little ball of joy excitedly looking forward to the details of all of my follies, I am happy. And most importantly, every single day that I know that you are happy, I am happy.
Remember when we were little and I was mad at you and made a list of all the things and people I loved more than you? I said you came way after tenth (or was it fiftieth? Hundredth?) on the list of people and things I loved. But I love you more than I love my pillow cover, phone, laptop, and every other human being on the planet. On that list, baby, you’re always going to be number one.