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From a guide to lifelong friend: Here’s what sibling love is all about

While there is a lot of responsibility that comes with a differently-abled sibling, the bond that such siblings share remains unique.

Written by Jayashree Narayanan | New Delhi | Updated: August 15, 2019 4:55:12 pm
Happy Raksha Bandhan 2019, happy rakhi, nipun malhotra, smriti nagpal, People with disabilities, PwDs, inclusive rakhi, sibling love, indianexpress.com, indianexpress, Non-disabled siblings learn so much from their siblings with disabilities. (Source: Taare Zameen Par/Facebook)

As one’s first friend and guide, siblings play a huge role in our lives. The bond between them is heartwarming and unique, more so if one of them is differently-abled. This Raksha Bandhan, here are some of them speaking to indianexpress.com on their sibling/s, the bond they share and why they are each other’s lifelong friends.

‘From driving to travelling solo, I learnt it all from them’

Happy Raksha Bandhan 2019, happy rakhi, nipun malhotra, smriti nagpal, People with disabilities, PwDs, inclusive rakhi, sibling love, indianexpress.com, indianexpress Smriti Nagpal ( centre) with her elder siblings Kapil and Mamta. (Source: Smriti Nagpal)

For Delhi-based social entrepreneur Smriti Nagpal who runs Atulyakala India, a lifestyle brand, her brother Kapil Nagpal and her sister Mamta Nagpal who are both deaf and mute, are her first “guide to a million things”.

Can you describe the relationship you share with your siblings?

Honestly, words cannot do justice to how I feel about both of them. It’s more like I don’t think I can feel complete without them. I recently got married and on the sangeet night, I sang a song for both of them (it was a surprise). Of course, we all were in tears but beyond that, I don’t think any other song has ever made me feel like that.

How do you celebrate Raksha Bandhan?

Being the youngest and clearly the spoilt kid in the family, Raksha Bandhan holds a very special place in my life. It is a beautiful feeling when I see both of them showering their love on me.

What has been your learning from your siblings?

There are endless instances (where I have learnt from them). From braiding my hair to matching my outfits; from learning to drive to travelling solo, they have taught me all. My brother and my sister both are around 10 years elder to me, which indirectly made them my guide to a million things. The greatest thing which I have learnt from them is confidence and compassion. They’ve helped me in shaping who I am today.

People often associate a ‘disabled’ sibling as a liability or a burden for the non-disabled one. What are your thoughts?

Having siblings with any form of disability certainly calls for extra care and effort but calling them as a burden would be a completely wrong notion. The relationship is similar to any sibling relationship (disabled or not). To make it work, you have to include love, care and time.

‘A real friend and personal bodyguard’

Happy Raksha Bandhan 2019, happy rakhi, nipun malhotra, smriti nagpal, People with disabilities, PwDs, inclusive rakhi, sibling love, indianexpress.com, indianexpress, Nipun Malhotra (left) with his younger brother, Manek. (Source: Nipun Malhotra)

For 31-year-old disability rights activist Nipun Malhotra, who suffers from a rare congenital disorder called arthrogryposis (leading to lack of muscle strength in arms and legs), his brother Manek Malhotra, four years younger, is the first “real friend” who he can always count on.

How would you describe your brother Manek?

My parents challenged society by sending me to a normal school. At school, I was socially isolated as the children didn’t really know how to interact with a wheelchair user. I would be sitting alone in class during sports breaks, not invited to birthday parties and shunned from class gossip. I started focusing on academics, lost myself in books and became a news junkie.

My brother became my first real friend. Someone I practiced by debating arguments with by showing off my grasp of current affairs; we fought over the TV remote and bragged about defeating each other in video games. By the time he was a teenager, he became my personal bodyguard. The overwhelming feeling I always get with my brother is of safety — perhaps because he is a Taekwondo black belt. From crowded markets to when students tried ragging me in school, my brother would firmly stand next to me, protecting me from the outside world. I felt loved. Perhaps, for the first time in my life.

What was that one instance which you fondly remember where he has been there for you?

One specific example is my JNU MA entrance in 2010 where my earlier approved writer was arbitrarily disqualified at the last minute and my school-going brother who had just gone to drop me for the exam had to fill in. My brother was a little kid who had just tagged along on his break from boarding school. He sat hungry to write a four-hour long exam. Not once did he complain, say that he was hungry or say that he was home just for a few days. He was there. And in him, I knew I had someone I could count on for life.

What’s your take on sibling love?

It’s unique with shared experiences starting from childhood. It is a privilege to get along with a sibling as that involves experiences not shared in any other relationship.

‘We are like Tom and Jerry’

Happy Raksha Bandhan 2019, happy rakhi, nipun malhotra, smriti nagpal, People with disabilities, PwDs, inclusive rakhi, sibling love, indianexpress.com, indianexpress, Siddharth Rampelli (Left) with his younger brother Saurabh. (Source: Siddharth Rampelli)

Sharing an age gap of six years, for 27-year-old Siddharth Rampelli who is currently pursuing MBA, his 21-year-old autistic brother Saurabh is his “Jerry” for life as they share a relationship of iconic cartoon characters Tom and Jerry. From calling him the “most pampered kid in the family of four” to sharing why his brother remains “possessive” about him, Siddharth says he is constantly learning the value of happiness from his brother.

Can you describe the relationship you share with your sibling?

Since most of the time, I have spent my days at hostels, we bonded whenever I went back home. We share a bond similar to Tom and Jerry where Jerry gets away with everything. I tease him and he retreats by playing the victim card in front of my parents. I have always been protective of him. He is a very simple boy who doesn’t even understand the difference between good and bad people.

What has been your learning from your sibling?

There was this one incident where I took him to a market in Delhi and got him to eat pani puri which is his favorite. There was this guy who was already impatient about something and vented it out on my brother. I told him to mind his own business and not take out his frustration on my brother. This led to another argument and eventually that guy left the spot. My brother’s reaction to such instances is always laughter, and that’s something I really admire.

You have mentioned about Saurabh being possessive about you. Does it bother you?

In Hyderabad, we visited our parents’ friends, who had two daughters. He got so possessive when the girls spoke to me that he was literally pulling me away. It looked awkward but it moved me immensely. I would always want my future partner to understand him more than me. I would go to any lengths to make those two happy and make them smile.

People often associate a ‘disabled’ sibling as a liability or a burden for the non-disabled one. What are your thoughts?

My parents luckily have always kept everything in their lives Saurabh-centric. They never saw him as a burden and accepted him as he was. My dad did send him out to learn some vocational skills. He socialised, but learnt little. He was also enrolled for dancing classes as a hobby as he enjoys music. Since he has no friends in our neighborhood, my dad got him a dog 10 years ago. They are inseparable and get up to mischief together; they are solely responsible for eatables missing from the kitchen.

What’s your take on sibling love?

The bond shared between such siblings is always special. In a way, one adopts parenthood at a young age, understanding their different perspective and learning many things. We are ‘normally abnormal’ and these kids are ‘abnormally normal’. They are always happy and are never worried about what their future holds for them. We on other hand, hold so many degrees and knowledge but cannot even get up with a smiling face in the morning.

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