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Comparisons with a more successful sibling drive a man to despair and death.
I hate to remember him but it's not easy to forget either. I fondly addressed him as bhaiyya (elder brother) because he was older than me by about a decade. He was a frail young man who wore unfashionable Gandhian spectacles. And he was enviably brilliant. In fact, I had heard an uncle - and a man of literature himself - say that bhaiyya was the first young man he had met who could analyse Gunter Grass at the age of 18.
This was high praise since I, then a student of class I, wasn't capable of distinguishing between Grass and grass. But, even when bhaiyya discussed my homework with me, a kid in the neighbourhood, he dealt with my doubts with such confident fluency that I heard him out in hypnotised wonder.
Several years later, I had shifted base from Patna to New Delhi when a telephone call from my hometown left me numb. "Your bhaiyya has developed some grave mental problems, " the uncle's voice quivered, "He has been sent to an asylum. " What he said thereafter is lost in a haze.
Till then, my response to bhaiyya's talent oscillated between pure jealousy (since he was so much better than I was) and the desire to emulate him (as a struggling writer, I wanted to produce at least one sparkling sentence which could match up to his creative skills). But, during my saner moments, I always knew that all I wanted to do was understand and interpret literature the way he did.
When I left for Patna to be with my family a few days later, just one question occupied my mind. How did bhaiyya become mentally unstable? I asked around, but got evasive answers. "He was into drugs, it seems. " "He was reading too much, and talking to himself about what he read all the time. " "He wanted to become a world famous writer, but could not face the fact that he wasn't good enough. " None of the answers convinced me, till, one day, a distant cousin of his told me, "Bhaiyya went mad because he just could not handle comparisons with his bhaiyya, a scientist in England. He was subjected to taunts all day. He wasn't allowed to forget that his elder brother was a lot more accomplished than he was. "
Sibling rivalry is a fact of life most of us live with. What aggravates matters is when parents and relatives make comparisons. Why bhaiyya's kin needed to be so sadistic beats me. All I could do was hope that he would come back home one day. I prayed that it would happen soon.
Exactly one year later, when I went to Patna on my annual visit, I saw bhaiyya on the street. He looked shockingly untidy, knotted, thick wild hair falling to his shoulders. One lens of his Gandhian spectacles was broken and he wore a pair of torn shorts which seemed like they had not been washed in ages. He looked lost - till he saw me. I was wondering if he would even recognise me when he walked up to me and said: "Come on. It's been a long time. Let us discuss books. " That evening he told me a mix of stories: some from literature, and a few from his life including how he could never understand why he needed to be compared with his brother all the time. I sat quietly, hearing him out. For some strange reason, I could not help feeling that I was talking to my idol for the last time.
It was after I went back to New Delhi that I heard the inevitable. "Your bhaiyya passed away. His body was found on the balcony of his bungalow. " Uncle had delivered bad news again. Somehow, I was a lot less upset than I was when I had heard about his him being admitted to an asylum. I had always believed, and I still do, that bhaiyya could have given a lot to the world if comparisons hadn't killed him. By dying young (he was barely in his mid-30 s), however, he had finally found peace.
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