One remarkable difference is my unique fraternity, my two brothers. My mother wanted a daughter, she never had one. She had three sons, me in the middle.
That position bothered me. In most Bengali novels, the second son was the crafty, scheming one, who cheated the otherworldly older one and outwitted the naïve younger brother, to get away with the family wealth. Our parents had no wealth to pilfer, but I still felt mistreated by the world of fiction.
I was close in age to Number One. Number Three came distinctly late, an afterthought when mother went back to work and the family strongbox became stronger. That became an easy way to pull his leg: we called him an Accident, the Latin word suggesting a freakish fall.
He was, however, a freakishly smart kid, quite capable of holding his own against overbearing elders. He was deceptively coy with uncles and aunts, gaining a reputation for being becomingly shy, only to slink away the next minute and make sly, derogatory remarks about them. That trait has lasted with him. One minute he can disarmingly dulcet with people, followed by an ingenious putdown nothing short of a nuclear blowout.
I held an oversize grudge against Number One. He had no business being so visibly superior. He was handsome, sociable, murderously intelligent – actually in the reverse order – and perceived in that order. When father’s guests came or, more annoyingly, when my friends came, he would stun them with his winsome smile and witty palaver, leaving me to seem awkward and lackluster in the wake.
But if I seemed the prosaic, well-balanced boy, I flattered myself that I was the closest to my mother. I admired her no end. It wasn’t just a child’s love for his mother. I was amazed and impressed by her balance and judgment. I could tell her of anything, a bullying teacher or a treacherous friend, and she would surprise me with a different view, a new aspect I hadn’t considered. I have little doubt that this made me the punctilious, perhaps plodding, analyst I am. I want to look at all sides, I want to give the devil his due.
The same bent might have helped mother cope with her three sons, so monstrously different. This showed up in the diverse paths we took.
That is how we began, though we all swerved soon and violently. Number One left the clinic and went to a research organization where he started writing, prolifically, heretically, with almost wicked originality. His scholarship grew, and so did his outpouring and fame. Number Three wrote poetry at a furious pace, two to three books each year, designed his books and even initiated his own publishing unit to turn out books of unusual presentability. To make ends meet, he also worked in publicity and was soon a high-end advertising wiz. Impatient and impetuous, he left that in a few years to become a muck-raking editor and publisher, and a thousand scandals and exploits later, left that to start his own company and become a major Bollywood producer.
My own path swerved too. My staggering discovery was that business was hardly businesslike, it was rather tribal in rites and ritual. My interest in organizational pathology took me from two corporations to an international development agency in Washington and then to diplomatic service. After a spell of consulting work, two years ago, to my surprise, I started writing – stories, essays, memoirs – in two languages, occasionally a third.
How could this happen? Number One has been writing virtually all his life. How come Number Three too, after all these years of hard journalism and harder film-making, has again started writing poetry? After the hundreds of reports and memoranda I have written on weighty themes all my life, how come I should be writing about loves and hates and all that lies between the two? What mysterious process of convergence has brought us all to the business of putting pen to paper and staking our life on it?
I don’t really know. I don’t even know what is the mystical link that binds this band of brothers across time and space. For decades we haven’t lived in the same continent, let alone the same city or same country. We had once ambitiously bought three contiguous apartments in a new construction in Kolkata, hoping to live within a shouting distance of each other, but work dispersed my two brothers to the north and west, before I too strayed even further to Washington.
But the longing endures – and the link. We are never far from each other. Loves and lusts have come and gone, but few have come as close to me as my two siblings. After some trifling difference of opinion on some occasion, I must have expressed my exasperation with them, only to draw a gentle but pointed response from our father, “Nobody is perfect, son. Yet you must love them.”
I do, dad, I do.