Big Brother - Bade Bhai Sahib

Big Brother – Bade Bhai Sahib

My big brother was five years older than me but only three grades ahead. He'd begun his studies at the same age I had but he didn't I like the idea of moving hastily in an important matter like education.…

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My big brother was five years older than me but only three grades ahead.
He’d begun his studies at the same age I had but he didn’t I like the idea of
moving hastily in an important matter like education. He wanted to lay a
firm foundation for that great edifice, so he took two years to do one year’s
work; sometimes he even took three. If the foundations weren’t well-made,
how could the edifice endure?

I was nine, he was fourteen. He had full right by seniority to supervise and
instruct me. And I was expected to accept every order of his as law.

By nature he was very studious. He was always sitting with a book open.
And perhaps to rest his brain he would sometimes draw pictures of birds,
dogs and cats in the margin of his notebook. Occasionally he would write a
name, ? word or a sentence ten or twenty times. He might copy a couplet out
several times in beautiful letters or create new words which made no rhyme
or reason. I wasn’t really very keen about studying. To pick up a book and sit
with it for an hour was a tremendous effort. As soon as I found a chance I’d
leave the hostel and go to the field and play marbles or fly paper kites or
sometimes just meet a chum–what could be more fun? But as soon as I
came back into the room and saw my brother’s scowling face I was petrified.
His first question would be, ‘Where were you!’ Always this question, always
asked in the same tone and the only answer I had was silence. I don’t know
why I couldn’t manage to say that I’d just been outside playing. My silence
was an acknowledgement of guilt and my brother’s only remedy for this was
to greet me with indignant words.

‘If you study English this way you’ll be studying your whole life and you
won’t get one word right! Studying English is no laughing matter that
anyone who wants to can learn. You’ve got to wear out your eyes morning
and night and use every ounce of energy, then maybe you’ll master the
subject. And even then it’s just to say you have a smattering of it. Even great
scholars can’t write proper English, to say nothing of being able to speak it.
End I ask you, how much of a blockhead are you chat you can’t learn a
lesson from looking at me? You’ve seen with your own eyes how much I
grind. No matter how many shows and carnivals there may be have you ever
seen me going to watch them? Every day there are cricket and hockey
matches but I don’t go near them. I keep on studying all the time, and even
so it takes me two years or even three for one grade. So, how do you expect
to pass when you waste your time playing like this? Why waste our dad’s
hard-earned money?’

Hearing a dressing-down like this I’d start to cry. My brother was an expert
in the art of giving advice. He’d say such sarcastic words, overwhelm me
with such good counsel that my spirits would collapse, my courage
disappear. I’d think, ‘Why don’t I run away from school and go back home!
Why should I spoil my life fiddling with work that’s beyond my capacity?
‘But after an hour or two the cloud of despair would clear away and I’d
resolve to study with all my might. I’d draw up a schedule on the spot. How
could I start work without first making an outline, working out a plan! In my
timetable the heading of play was entirely absent. Get up at the crack of
dawn, wash hands and face at six, eat a snack, sit down and study. From six
to eight English eight to nine arithmetic, nine to nine-thirty history, then
meal-time and afterwards off to school. A half hour’s rest at 3.30 when I got
back from school, geography from four to five, grammar from five to six,
then a half hour’s wall; in front of the hostel, six-thirty to seven English
composition, then supper, translation from eight to nine, Hindi from nine to
ten, from ten to eleven miscellaneous, then to bed.

But it’s one thing to draw up a schedule, another to follow it. It began to be
neglected from the very first day. The inviting green expanse of the
playground, the balmy winds, the commotion on the football field, the
exciting stratagems of prisoner’s-base, the speed and flurries of volleyball
would all draw me mysteriously and irresistibly. As soon as I was there I
forgot everything: the life-destroying schedule, the books that strained your
eyes–I couldn’t remember them at all. And then my big brother would have
an occasion for sermons and scolding. I would stay well out of his way, try
to keep out of his sight, come into the room on tiptoe so he wouldn’t know.
But if he spotted me I’d just about die.

The yearly exams came round: my brother failed, I passed and was first in
my class. Only two year’s difference was left between him and me. Now I
could be a little proud of myself and indeed my ego expanded. My brother’s
sway over me was over. I began to take part freely in the games, my spirits
were running high. One day when I’d spent the whole morning playing stickball
and came back exactly at meal-time, he said, with all the air of pulling out a
sword to rush at me:

‘I see you’ve passed this year and you’re first in your class, and you’ve got
stuck up about it. But my dear brother, even great men live to regret their
pride, and who are you compared to them? You must have read about what
happened to Ravan. Just to pass an exam isn’t anything, the real thing is to
develop your mind. Understand the significance of what you read. Ravan
was master of the earth. Such kings are called ‘Rulers of the World’. All the
kings of the earth paid taxes to him. Great divinities were his slaves, even
the gods of fire and water. But what happened to him in the end? Pride
completely finished him off, destroying even his name. There wasn’t
anybody left to perform all his funeral rites properly. A man can commit any
sin he wants but he’d better not be proud. When he turns proud he loses both
this world and the next. You’ve just been promoted one grade and your
head’s turned by it.

‘Don’t assume that because I failed I’m stupid and you’re smart. When you
reach my class you’ll sweat right through lour teeth when you have to bite
into algebra and geometry and study English history–it’s not easy to
memorize these king’s names. There were eight Henrys–do you think it’s
easy to remember all the things that happened in each Henry’s time? If you
write Henry the Eighth instead of Henry the Seventh you get a zero. There
were dozens of James, dozens of Williams and scores of Charles! You get
dizzy with them, your mind’s in a whirl. Those poor fellows didn’t have
names enough to go around. After every name they have to put second,
third, fourth and fifth. If anybody’d asked me I could have reeled off
thousands of names. And as for geometry, well God help you! If you write
a c b instead of a b c your whole answer is marked wrong. If you bring this
Perpendicular line down on that line it will be twice the base line. I ask you,
what’s the point of that! If it isn’t twice as long it’s four times as long or half
as long, what do I care! But you’ve got to pass so you’ve got to memorize all.

‘They say, “Write an essay on punctuality no less than four pages long.” So
now you open up your notebook in front of you, take your pen and [hate] the
whole business. Who doesn’t know that punctuality’s a very good thing! A
man’s life is organized according to it, others love him for it and his business
prospers from it. How can you write four pages on something so trifling! Do
I need four pages for what I can describe in one sentence! It’s not
economizing time, it’s wasting it. We want a man to say what he has to say
quickly and then get moving. It’s a contradiction for them to ask us to write
concisely. Write a concise essay on punctuality in no less than four pages.
All right! If four pages is concise then maybe otherwise they’d ask us to
write one or two hundred pages. Run fast and walk slow at the same time. Is
that all mixed up or isn’t it! When you get into my class, you’ll really take a
beating, and then you’ll find out what’s what. Just because you got a first
division this time you’re all puffed up–so pay attention to what I say. What
if I failed, I’m still older than you, I have more experience of the world. Take
what I say to heart or you’ll be sorry.

It was almost time for school, otherwise I don’t know when this medley of
sermons would have ended. I didn’t have much appetite that day. If I got a
scolding like this when I passed, maybe if I’d failed I would have had to pay
with my life. My brother’s terrible description of studying in the ninth grade
really scared me. I’m surprised I didn’t run away from school and go home.
But even a scolding like this didn’t change my distaste for books a bit, I
didn’t miss one chance to play. I also studied, but much less. Well, anyway,
just enough to complete the day’s assignment and not be disgraced in class.
But the confidence I’d gained in myself disappeared and then I began to lead
a life like a thief5. Then it was the yearly exams again and it so happened
that once more I passed and my brother failed again. I hadn’t done much
work; but somehow or other I was in the first division. I myself was
astonished. My brother had just about killed himself with work, memorizing
every word in the course, studying till ten at night and starting again at four
in the morning, and from six until 9.30 before going to school. He’d grown
pale. But the poor fellow failed again and I felt sorry for him. When he heard
the results he broke down and cried and so did I. My pleasure in passing was
cut by half. There was only one grade left between my brother and me. The
evil thought crossed my mind that if he failed just once more I’d be at the
same level as him and then what grounds would he have for lecturing me!
But I violently rejected this unworthy idea. After all, he’d scolded me only
with the intention of helping me. At the time it was really bad, but maybe it
was only as a result of his advice that I’d passed so easily and with such
good marks.

Now my brother had become much gentler toward me. Several times when
he found occasion to scold me he did it without losing his temper. Perhaps
he himself was beginning to understand that he no longer had the right to tell
me o~-or at least not so much as before. My independence grew. I began to
take unfair advantage of his toleration, I half started to imagine that I’d pass
next time whether I studied or not, my luck was high. As a result, the little
I’d studied before because of my brother, even that ceased. I found a new
pleasure in flying kites and now I spent all my time at the sport. Still, I
minded my manners with my brother and concealed my kite-flying from
him. In preparation for the kite tournament I was secretly busy solving such
problems as how best to secure the string and how to apply the paste mixed
with ground glass in it to cut the other fellows’ kites off their strings. I didn’t
want to let my brother suspect that my respect for him had in any way
diminished.

One day, far from the hostel, I was running along like mad trying to grab
hold of a kite. A whole army of boys came racing out to welcome it with
long, thick bamboo rods. Nobody was aware who was in front or in back of
him. Suddenly I collided with my brother, who was probably coming back
from the market. He grabbed my hand and said angrily, ‘Aren’t you ashamed
to be running with these ragamuffins after a one-paisa kite;’ Have you
forgotten that you’re not in a low grade any more! You’re in the eighth now,
one behind me. A man’s got to have some regard for his position, after all.

‘I’m sorry to see you have so little sense. You’re smart, there’s no doubt of
that, but what use is it if it destroys your self-respect? You must have
assumed, ‘I’m just one grade behind my brother so now he doesn’t have any
right to say anything to me.” But you’re mistaken. I’m five years older than
you and even if you come into my grade today that difference of five years
between us not even God–to say nothing of you–can remove. I’m five years
older than you and always will be. The experience I have of life and the
world you can never catch up with even if you get an M.A. and a D.Litt. and
even a Ph.D. Understanding doesn’t come from reading books. Our mother
never passed any grade and Dad probably never went beyond the fifth, but
even if we studied the wisdom of the whole world mother and father would
always have the right to explain to us and to correct us. Not just because
they’re our parents but because they’ll always have more experience of the
world. Maybe they don’t know what kind of government they’ve got in
America or how many constellations there are in the sky, but there are a
thousand things they know more about than you or me. God forbid, but if I
should fall sick today then you’d be [at your wit’s end].You wouldn’t be able
to think of anything except sending a telegram to Dad. But in your place he
wouldn’t send anybody a telegram or get upset or be all flustered. First of all
he’d diagnose the disease himself and try the remedy; then if it didn’t work
he’d call some doctor. But you and I don’t even know how to make our
allowance last through the month. We spend what father sends us and then
we’re penniless again. But as much as you and I spend today, Dad’s
maintained himself honourably and in good reputation the greater part of his
life and brought up a family on half of it. So brother, don’t be so proud of
having almost caught up with me and being independent now. I’ll see that
you don’t go off the track. If you don’t mind, then (showing me his fist) I can
use this too. I know you don’t like hearing all this.

I was thoroughly shamed by this new approach of his. I had truly come to
know my own insignificance and a new respect for my brother was born in
my heart. With tears in my eyes, I said, ‘No, no, what you say is completely
true and you have the right to say it.’ My brother embraced me and said, ‘I
don’t forbid you to fly kites. I’d like to too. But what can I do? If I go off- the
track myself then how can I watch out for you! That’s my responsibility.’
Just then by chance a kite that had been cut loose passed over us with its
string dangling down. A crowd of boys were chasing after it. My brother is
very tall and leaping up he caught hold of the string and ran at top speed
toward the hostel and I ran close behind him.

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