I would be tongue-tied and even failed to say my name when my parents introduced me to their ever-flowing stream of friends. In contrast, my brother would announce his name clearly, with a confident smile, and add that he was a student in the school next door. I remember guests would turn to my parents and say how bright their eldest son was. Then, realizing that I was within earshot, added, “Your other son is charming too.”
We were avid sportsmen too. Whatever he played, cricket, soccer, badminton or table tennis, I wanted to play too. He excelled in table tennis; I was relieved to find that I was adept in badminton. We loved cricket and wanted to be like Don Bradman or Mushtaq Ali, having been taken by father to see the latter in Eden Gardens. I wasn’t a great batsman, but bowled competently and fielded diligently. But I noticed our friends always chose my brother to be the captain of a side, never me.
This was understandable, because he was highly sociable. He talked, he laughed, he could easily start a conversation with a total stranger. I could at best join a group and be congenial.
I could see how smart he was. Though Bengali was our mother tongue, we learned to speak English early, because several of our parents’ colleagues were English and we played with their children on social occasions. We had barely learned English before my brother started reading Aldous Huxley and Bertrand Russell. He talked excitedly about the ideas he had picked up from new authors. I listened open-mouthed and tried hard to keep up. I admired his acumen, particularly as I saw nothing comparable in other young people I met, and I felt like a plodder next to him.
My brother had a simple solution. He went to visit my aunt in a distant town and decided not to come back. He stayed with her, went to a different college and attended a different course.
He did not realize the magnitude of the shock he had administered to our parents. And to me. We were such a close-knit family and so constantly together that his absence felt like an enormous physical void. Mother’s eyes seemed to mist every time she looked at the vacant chair at our dinner table.
Our paths diverged from that point. To our surprise, he forged a successful academic track, gained a doctorate, worked at a clinical institute, and eventually joined the country’s most creative social science think tank. He pioneered research in new areas and wrote a series of seminal books. One thing never changed. He remained steadfastly his own person. He stayed disorganized and idiosyncratic, resolutely original and invariably controversial.
The curious truth is I feel I have become more articulate and less asocial, while my brother has turned more inward. Even curiouser is the truth that, though we have lived in different continents for thirty years, our links were never stronger.
I still admire him, but I flatter myself I understand him better. I know he understands me better than anyone else. We could indeed be twins.