The other day I received in WhatsApp  a black and white photograph of a duo. It was of two brothers whose sibling rivalry gifted the international community with two famous brands of shoes – Adidas and Puma.

Fake news being almost equal to real news these days, I checked with my brother-in -law who was a top executive in Adidas at one time. “Yes Athimbar (Jijaji), this sibling rivalry is the folklore in the industry,” he confirmed.

In India, take the famous two brothers of the top industrial house. If reports are to be believed, upon the demise of their father who built the empire single-handed, the brothers did not part ways in the best of relationship. The younger even shifted his base to Delhi for a while, probably in protest against the allocation of assets – or sectors. Luckily, both were firmly rooted to Matru Devo Bhava. And  their mother’s final word settled every issue.

The entertainment industry has thrived no less on the sibling- rivalry theme. Deewar, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor, was a box office hit. Shashi Kapoor’s “Mere Paas Ma hai” still rings in everyone’s ears, next only to “Arey O Samba Kitne Aadmi The” of Sholay. The film Karan Arjun helped Shah Rukh Khan scale greater heights. Bharatam is one of the top 20 Malayalam movies where the younger brother, trying to help his noted-musician elder brother in a stage performance when his vocal cord disowned him, was mistaken by the elder to usurp his place. Apoorva Sagodarargal (Strange Brothers), a 1949 Tamil movie, was such an instant hit that Gemini remade it in Hindi and filled his coffers. Godfather II walked away with six Oscar awards. Lion King, Walt Disney’s animation film, minted millions. The list is endless.

From reel life to real life, there is hardly a village or household which doesn’t have a sibling-rivalry story. In my neighbouring village there were two brothers. The elder made a lot of money under the table. And the younger? Just his monthly pay packet – nothing more, nothing less. Later, the elder smelt a possible enquiry against him. He immediately registered in his younger brother’s name a house that he had bought with ill-gotten wealth, on the explicit understanding that the younger would return it when the dust settled down. Luckily, for years no enquiry took place. The elder asked for his house back. “Which house?’ quipped the younger. “This is mine only.”

In another, it was an ancestral property dispute. The elder showed the younger a cheque for Rs 5000 (a big sum in the 1950s) and told him that it would be his if he signed the property-transfer documents. The younger signed. The elder kept the documents safely in his bag, zipped it, tore the cheque leaf in his very presence, and offered him just five-hundred rupees: ‘take it or leave it’. Helpless, the poor younger brother took it.

In my house, my immediate brother is elder to me by just 18 or so months. Our childhood was thus one of blow hot blow cold. We would fight practically for every item – pencil, eraser, notebook, the solitary tennis ball, or snatching a seat closest to the lantern for dinner…

As we grew, it became a show of one-upmanship. We bought from the wholesale market a dozen briefs and vests so that we could have six each – we were of the same build. He suggested that in each garment we write with marker pen our initials to avoid mix up. I wrote S on all my pieces and gave him the pen to write R on all of his. “No need. Anything without a sign is mine,” he said, and got away with a clean set of hosieries. And mine?  With its tendency to expand territory at the slight contact with water, the ink spread across liberally depicting the maps of Africa, America…

Isn’t there a brighter side to all these? Yes. Why not? In the case of the industrial empire brothers, when the younger could not pay hundreds or thousands of crores that he owed to companies and faced possible imprisonment, the senior bailed him out, if newspaper reports are to be believed.

In the ill-gotten wealth case in the village, after both seniors passed away, the son of the younger brother offered to the senior’s son to take back the house. The other gracefully said, “No need, both our families are happy the way we are. Let bygones be bygones.”

In the cheque-tearing case, the villain brother succumbed to cancer two years later, not before seeking forgiveness from his younger brother’s son when he visited him at the hospital.

In my own case, both of us had registered with a house building society. When it was time to allot, the Secretary of the Society called my brother and told him that he could allot a plot to just one, not both.  “Allot it to my brother,” said my brother gracefully. He shared this information with me only years later as he knew I would have prevailed upon him to have it.

I would guess, sibling rivalry and bonding go hand in hand.

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Sundaram Venkatesh

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