It’s coming up to Raksha Bandhan and, despite me being a lovely, only child, it’s got me cogitating on the chaps I’d like to form my fictitious family. It’s taken some time to compile my dream team, but now I feel you could confidently pronounce each and every one of these chaps as a thoroughly ‘good bhai’. I know I wouldn’t take any of them back for a refund.
But before I disclose details of the most upstanding males I know, let’s unravel Raksha Bandhan. This year, the festival falls on 21st August, during Shravan Maas – the holiest month in the Hindu calendar. Time to roll out the Motown, because this month you’ll be ‘celebrating good times’ almost every single day with a plethora of religious observances.
And, of course, that includes Raksha Bandhan, a day laden with symbolism for true siblings and surrogates both. Cast your squabbles aside, for this the time to celebrate the shaurya/shreya (brother/sister) bond. The relationship is recognised by the sister tying a rakhi – sacred thread – onto her bro’s wrist (rather than neck, which is handy should she ever be more inclined to strangle than honour him).
The thin string may be light, but carries weighty meaning for boy and girl both. The rakhi represents a sister’s love and prayers for her brother’s well-being. The brother, in turn, vows to protect her – and to provide a nice present. Although most brothers hate shopping, she does at least give him mithai for making the effort, which they feed each other to sweeten the deal further.
Shravan’s a rum old time, indeed…But don’t party too hard, ladies – because if you want to net a good husband, it’s considered essential to fast on Mondays. I’m not really after a hubby, and in fact I don’t think anyone would have me. But I wouldn’t be averse to a bit of no-strings attached, platonic brotherly love from a few ‘munh-bola bhai’ – adopted siblings.
You see, the rakhi ceremony can be conducted between two unrelated consenting individuals, and I couldn’t think of finer fellows to attach a string to than these marvellous males…
Kalyan Karmakar (@FinelyChopped) and Kaniska Chakraborty (@kaniskac) are such good pals that the Bengali boys are near enough each others’ brother anyway, so I’ll take ‘em as a pair. Anyone who’s been on one of Kalyan’s fine Finely Chopped food walks in Mumbai will understand just how covetable his companionship is – and how the convivial chap manages to find kinship with the even most diverse company.
Kalyan radiates warmth like the kindest kind of big bro. And, if you clocked his longtime friend Kaniska on the telly recently, sharing Calcutta food secrets with Rick Stein, you’ll no doubt have noticed he’s cut from the same cloth. This benevolent teddy bear of a bloke boasts insatiable love of food and lore that’s catchier than ‘flu. Indeed, it’s so infectious I frequently stream his rich Bengali burble over t’internet from a Bangla radio show just to feast on his enthusiasm, gobbling up whatever tasty morsel I can pick out – jhol, ilish, mishti doi, jhal muri…
Talking of that snack, Jhalmuri Express’ Angus Denoon is the naughty big bro who did all the things he wasn’t supposed to – including running away to India and hanging out with colourful culinary characters on Calcutta’s streets. When he finally returned from the impromptu and extended foodie gap year, all Angus needed to do was dish up the jaunty jhalmuri he’d learned, and all was forgiven. That super snackerel was enough to endear him to any number of surrogate sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers.
It seems strange to claim a sibling from an entirely different continent, and to never have met said ‘sibling’ – even if that brother is product of another mother. But I do feel such a particular familiar affinity with Chowder Singh (@ChowderSingh) that, had either of my parents been in India in the eighties, it might have me questioning my genetics. We’re bonded by an irrepressible urge to rootle out great Indian eats wherever we are, and derive a great joint pleasure from passing on the stories of such foodie finds. We might not share family history, but we can share the history of the cuisine we love so well.
I’ve got more of a literal – and literary – history with my faux-bro Ivor Peters, the dashing dude also known as the Urban Rajah. We both love clashing cultures and smashing stories. We love writing about food traditions, but we’re not too precious with proportions in our own kitchens. We’re rather good at putting our heads together to cook up a creative storm. And we share a slightly slanted, offbeat way of looking at the world. In short, we get each other.
Although, were we true siblings, it might have rather got my goat to spend significant sections of my formative years jostling Ivor for pole position in front of the mirror, putting the kaibosh on any kind of happy relationship as adults.
You might not be able to choose your true family ties, but you can choose the chaps whose wrist you’d tie a thread on. As Beyonce Knowles might well put it,’If you like it then you should have put a rakhi on it’. The chance to experience all the perks of having a bro without any of the aggro? I’ll snap it up. I better get my mithai in, because Raksha Bandhan’s looking pretty sweet.
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