Photograph by Prima Alam
(with special thanks to Juboraj Shamim)
My little brother Mohan has gone missing again. Haven't seen him around for an entire day now. Second time this week. I suppose as the wiser and more intelligent sibling I should be out looking for him. But this story isn't going to write itself! And I have tonnes of homework to do…
According to my best friend Ranu, kids in big cities aren't allowed out on their own. What a nightmare! How do you hang out with all your friends in the neighbourhood? How do you discover secret shortcuts and climb your favourite tree? How do you show up all of your friends by being the best at hide-and-seek? Or any other game for that matter. I've lost track of the number of times I've won the 'Biggest Star in the Area' annual talent competition. Since we all know each other really well, it's quite common for children to roam around freely and play in our neighbourhood.
Anyway, Mohan is becoming quite a nuisance if you ask me. Not that my mother notices much. Or at least she pretends not to.
"Where's Mohan today, Auntie?" a visitor asked Ma earlier.
"Oh I'm sure he's around here somewhere. Probably just playing outside."
That's a lie. We all know where he really is - next door with his other mother, Saira.
You're probably thinking, 'Two mothers! How progressive for a small town!' Well, let me give you some background before your imagination runs a marathon.
I was about eight when it all started, this other mother business, and it's pretty much been the same story for the past six years. Saira and her husband had moved in next door when Ma was still pregnant with Mohan.
As soon as Mohan was born, Saira was helping Ma look after him and all sorts. She and her husband own a shop down the road, so they were pretty much splashing some serious cash on fulfilling Mohan's every need. Not that I was jealous. Money can't buy talent and I'm priceless.
So my best friend Ranu said that her ma once heard Omar's ma talking about how Saira couldn't have children of her own and wanted to take Mohan away from us.
Once I even heard Saira introducing him as her own son! I didn't bother correcting her. She can have him if she wants. It's really my mother's fault, since 'Mohan' literally means bewitching. I think that's what he's done. He's bewitched poor Saira with his charms, or is it the other way around? Saira's cast a spell on him with the promise of an infinite supply of chocolates and toys.
Ma must have heard these rumours too, because things got a little heated at Mohan's fourth birthday party a couple of years ago. Brother dearest had started calling Saira 'Ma' and treating us like strangers. My mother was not pleased to say the least. A legendary showdown took place that day.
"I know what you're trying to do, Saira! Don't you dare try taking my son away from me! Just because you can't have your own!" Ma was literally screaming her lungs out. She was all red in the face with steam coming out of her ears and everything.
"Oh don't be ridiculous! I can't help it if Mohan loves me more than he loves you!" The Other Ma was being equally as loud, "And we all know that Maya is your preferred child and a girl genius!"
OK, I added that last bit myself. Although I am both the favourite child and a genius.
After this most eventful birthday party, Ma tried everything to keep those two apart. She was pretty harsh with Mohan at first, she even resorted to keeping him locked up at home like one of those city kids who don’t even know who their neighbours are. When severe discipline failed, she resorted to bribing him in order to keep him home. More sweets and toys for the bewitching Mohan!
In the meantime, Saira and her husband had adopted a cute little newborn of their own. Ma's worries seemed to magically evaporate as soon as this happened. Why would Saira want Mohan now that she had a baby to keep her busy? I mean, why would anyone want Mohan anyway? Spoilt brat that he is.
Nothing really changed though, despite the arrival of Saira's newborn. Saira and Mohan are still as inseparable, and insufferable, as ever. But Ma is no longer too concerned by any of it.
So now you can see why it's no surprise that my dearest little brother has gone missing again. I sometimes wonder what it's like for Mohan growing up with two families as well as having an incredibly inspiring and gifted older sister. Maybe I'll ask him, if he comes home today.