Have Courage And Be Kind

We are all our own shades of perfection – Shantel Vansanten <3

Raksha Bandhan – Rakhi Festival

The second in my documentation of festivals and holidays experienced on this extended stay in India is a very sweet and symbolic ritual: Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi.

Raksha Bandhan means bond of protection and that is what the custom is all about. The sacred thread around a man’s wrist is symbolic of the sworn protection of a girl by her Rakhi brother. In return he can count on her blessings and good wishes for him. The tradition is in fact rooted in the royal history of Rajput queens who sent Rakhis to neighbouring kings as tokens of peaceful brotherhood. Over the years it has evolved into a much more familiar and sweet custom.


Rakhi tying is no longer limited to blood relatives; of this I have personal experience. In India joint families give cousins the same value as brothers from the same parents; my example takes the power of the sacred bond one step further.

My Dad grew up with an older sister, who tragically died of meningitis when she was 17 years old. I’ve often been told I look just like her, a simultaneously flattering and saddening fact because I will never have more than stories of her. But her death also proved the power of Raksha Bandhan outside the immediate family.


The first time the holiday rolled around after her death, my Dad was understandably upset that he no longer had a sister. That was until her best friend stepped in with a promise to be his Rakhi sister from that day on. The bond formed by friendship and loyalty was solidified by the Rakhi custom and has tied our two families together for over fifty years. Today her two granddaughters call me and my sister Bhua, as we have called her for as long as I can remember. If that’s not proof of the strength of Raksha Bandhan, I don’t know what is.

I personally don’t have any Rakhi stories as touching as that one, because this is in fact the first time I was physically present on the actual Raksha Bandhan date. If anything it was a bonding experience because I tied four or five Rakhis on my cousin on behalf of all his absent sisters. For me it was a learning experience in the art of knot tying, a life-long weakness I might add. It was also a test of my Hindi recital skills as our family has a short prayer that goes with the tying of the knot. Over the years I’ve lost count of how much my sister and I fumbled and struggled over those lines with many hilarious results.

In spite of growing up so far apart, I like to think that tying these Rakhis has bonded me with my brothers across the miles. My sister’s kindergarten classmates certainly seemed to think so years ago. I may get in trouble with him for bringing this up but the funniest memory I have of Arjun is when he visited my family in Switzerland at the age of 16. Determined to drag him out of the house, my Mum took him to pick my sister up from kindergarten. The car was soon surrounded by a group of fascinated six year olds and they asked my sister quite seriously; “Is that your father?” And so Arjun Diwan became a teenage Dad and I never let him live it down. Memories like these are what make a family, Rakhi is just a symbolic representation of the bond between brothers and sisters, nowadays even between close friends.

My Dadi was telling me a story the other day about how her brother was so devoted that every year on Rakhi he would insist on spending the day with his two sisters, no in-laws allowed. The tradition clearly strengthens the basic bond between siblings but nowadays there is a lot more to it than that. In our times, the news channels are flooded with horrific treatment of women every other day, such as rape and acid dousing homicides. Under the circumstances I think it is really great to have a custom which is all about men vowing to protect a woman like a sister. The most common line in the protests against the ghastly treatment of women in this country is that they are probably someone’s wife, mother or sister. Personally I think that no one deserves such treatment because we are all human beings and should act more like it.

But at the end of the day I am very thankful for the love of all my brothers, no matter how far apart we live: family is forever. To end on a sappy note, this piece is dedicated to my Rakhi brothers Kanak and Arjun, all my amazing cousins and last but definitely not least my Dad and Manju Bhua, who have shown for over fifty years what the spirit of Rakhi is all about.


Independence Day

This article marks the debut of a series of documentations about the festivals and holidays experienced during my first extended trip here in India. The first is a single day which celebrates something considered both international and personal on many levels: independence.

India and Switzerland’s Independence Days are incidentally both in August, on the first and fifteenth of the month respectively. This is one of quite a few similarities tying my two homes on completely different continents together. India’s struggle for independence as a nation was of course much more brutal and nation-wide. Switzerland has a long history of neutrality when the rest of the world insisted on war, so their territorial squabbles remained local for the most part. India’s Independence Day is cause for much greater celebration, because so many people had to lose their lives for us to have freedom of expression, on the 15th of August and indeed always.

Democracy is something all countries strive for these days, which is what makes Independence Day so widely celebrated. It ensures freedom of speech and open expression of personal views. This freedom is important to entire nations but also on a much more personal level. Life is a story of growing independence for every single human being. As babies we are completely dependent on our parents for everything from food to shelter and most importantly love and protection. Everyone eventually gets the urge for their own personal independence day. Change can be a scary thing for a lot of people; others embrace and long for it. The attitude to independence is in that way a very individual thing, despite its value to the whole world in different ways.

I am definitely in the first category, terrified and intimidated by any major changes in my life. That’s why my time at Happy Days is a true blessing, a kind of safe haven allowing me to build my confidence and make experiences in teaching without straying from a home environment. Incidentally my first test of improved confidence came during the Independence Day celebrations at the school here, this past August 15th. I would not call myself a good public speaker by any stretch of imagination, simple fact. But somehow watching my Nani pull out an inspirational quotation on the spot gave me a burst of courage I still don’t fully understand. She might not be Umi Ma’am on a daily basis anymore but the nerve to get up and tell all those kids assembled from the hostel how their school is still helping me grow came from watching her.


I feel like living proof that self-confidence, however unfortunate the fact may be, must come from within. It can be boosted by others of course but ultimately the only way to be independent is to believe that it’s possible. My impromptu speech in front of the hostel assembly said simply “Happy Days has given me happy days”, cringe-worthy to me in hindsight but it also happens to be the truth. As a nation India has earned the right to freedom of speech after much difficulty and massive casualties. We as individuals can only truly pay respect to the sacrifices made by our people if we speak up with honesty and heart.

Independence is not easy to come by, for entire nations or any of us as individuals. Let it remain one of those things we appreciate all the more when at long last it is attained. And until then, here’s to 25 more years of Happy Days School, my safe haven and life-changing experience all in one.


Welcome To My World

I started this blog as a way to easily share in one place a range of personal and sentimental articles about my family home and my growth through experiences there. Hopefully I will be able to branch out from that baseline eventually, but for now I’m a heart girl, facing the immensity of life as best I can. And yes that was a One Tree Hill quote, be ready for plenty of those because there’s no crushing the fangirl heart completely.

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