Dear Sid

How my friendship with my older brother shaped me into who I am today

Gauri Manoj

Dear Sid, 

Every time I’ve told someone that my brother is 10 years older than me, I’ve always been met with questions like, “Are you guys even close?” or “Do you guys ever talk?” I’ll admit, I can’t recall any memories of us doing typical sibling activities that I watched others do: wrestling on the living room floor, racing to call shotgun on road trips or tattle-taling on each other to our parents. 

Instead, you spent time teaching me how to throw my first football and win my first game of chess, because you chose to spend our time together introducing me to your favorite parts of life. You were always so mature, undoubtedly because you had a 10 year head start on me. Here is a collection of the most invaluable lessons that you’ve taught me. 

My first breaths

When you were 4 years old, you, Amma and Acha made the life-changing decision to cross the Atlantic ocean to America. It was a difficult adjustment for you, moving to a country that was devoid of the bustling streets of Chennai, India, and full of people who spoke English when you had only ever heard the world in Malayalam. Even then, you were the most compassionate and altruistic little boy — one that would faint at the sight of slaughtered animals at butcheries in Chennai and steal coins from our grandfather’s tin can to offer to the homeless. 

My brother posing for a photo in Chennai, India. Photo by Manoj Jayadevan | Used with Permission

No one ever thought our parents would have another child after you, not after Amma suffered from medical issues that prevented them from having a child for years. But I was born on June 17, 2005, alongside other miracles in our family, like Amma getting a job and all four of us moving to a new single-family apartment in Saratoga. Amma says you had the most beautiful smile on your face when you first saw me, but unfortunately, I apparently didn’t reciprocate this feeling. I cried the most ear-piercing cry in response, one that Amma describes as sounding like “a distressed sheep” (sorry about that). 

Simply put, I was a tough baby. I didn’t drink milk properly and I cried 90% of the time, but as a 10-year-old, you didn’t have much of a choice but to look after me. The days when Amma forced you to be my babysitter but you desperately wanted to play soccer with your friends, you’d put on the theme song of “Blue’s Clues” for me and leave me forgotten in the house while you played in the backyard. Despite your seemingly nonchalant behavior towards me, Amma tells me that you never missed a single one of my birthdays, and having no money in your bank account, you’d craft me a handmade gift every June 17. 

Those first few years, you taught me that I would be unconditionally loved by you and my family, no matter what happened. 

My first smiles

My brother and I sitting on our couch in our old home in Saratoga. Photo by Manoj Jayadevan | Used with Permission

When I was six, you forced me to remove the training wheels on my first Barbie bicycle, and my four-foot tall self burst into tears trying to maneuver the unstable vehicle myself. I’ve always been one to play it safe. I’d ride a bike with four wheels instead of two, stay on the sidewalk instead of the busy road and pedal at a slower speed than the pedestrians passing by me in fear of going too fast. I dreaded pushing off the cement floor of our driveway because I knew that the second my feet were no longer on the ground supporting my weight, the bike would topple over.

Every day, you’d force me to throw on my two-sizes-too-big helmet and my Hello Kitty elbow pads. Despite my protests, I’d always find myself back on the driveway, with one leg on the pedal and the other resting on the ground. I remember you held my hand as I pedaled my first few feet, which slowly grew to 20 feet, to 50 feet, and gradually all the way around our large neighborhood. I loved biking with you, and eventually, I no longer needed your hand to guide me through the streets. When I flew down my first hill, hands clenching my bike handles and wind roaring in my ears, I could hear your claps and cheers from behind me as I finally found the courage to take control of my bike. 

That day, you taught me that I can’t always ride through life with my training wheels on and even when it seems impossible to remove my safety net, there will always be someone there to help me keep balance. 

My first fears

After living in California for my whole life, it’s almost ironic that my first time visiting a beach was in 2012. I had never gotten to see the raging blue waters of the Pacific Ocean outside of the photos I saw on Google. I was beyond excited for my first beach day, even putting on a dorky tank top with the hot pink words “Time for the Beach!” plastered on the front. I remember running across the expanse of sand to get my first glimpse of the ocean, and I fell in love with the glittering sunlight that bounced on the surface of the water. 

My other friend and I entertained ourselves by poking into the water with our toes, teasing the small waves and running away as the tide chased us back to shore. When the water ran by my feet, they created tiny imprints in the soft, wet sand. As the waves grew in height and began forming faster, it soon became difficult to remove our feet from the wet sand quickly enough to escape the engulfing waves. 

At some point, my foot became entrapped in the muddy sand and I tripped over myself, falling straight into the dark blue water. For what seemed like forever, all I saw around me was the black of the ocean, and fear and hopelessness plagued my mind since I barely knew how to swim. I was so relieved when I felt your arms around my shoulders as you carried me out of the ocean and back onto the shore, finally able to breathe again. I know, it’s rather cheesy for me to say you were my hero, but I can’t think of anything else that could describe how I felt about you in that moment.

The love and fascination I had for the beach quickly dissipated once I discovered that the water had a mind of its own. Unfortunately, that day at the beach fostered one of my greatest fears that I’ve never managed to get over — the ocean. 

Yet, that day, you still taught me that even in the scariest of moments, there was always someone I could count on to rescue me.  

My first goodbyes

My brother and I at a cruise ship photoshoot in 2009. Photo courtesy of Gauri Manoj | Used with Permission

I never quite understood the concept of college during my early childhood and constantly brushed off the remarks I’d get from other parents like, “Are you going to be sad when Sid leaves?” To me, all I understood about your routine was that you’d leave for MVHS every day and return back home every night to play chess with me (which you’d always let me win, but I didn’t realize at the time). Words and phrases like “S.A.T.,” “campus tour” and “Where did you commit?” were sprinkled into every conversation I heard, yet my ignorant third-grade self never bothered to think much of it. 

Needless to say, the day you left for Los Angeles was surreal. Etched in my mind is the moment I stumbled upon the Google search, “How to deal with your child leaving for college,” on Amma’s laptop days before your flight. You said you “left something in your room” just as you were about to shut the front door, but you came back with tears in your eyes, crying about leaving me and our parents. That was the moment when I finally understood that “college” meant you’d be faraway from me. 

That day, you taught me that there were going to be rough days, and you weren’t always going to be there to help me through them. 

My next steps

About a week before you left, you gave me a copy of what would become the book I adored the most — “Old Yeller” by Fred Gipson. “Old Yeller” follows the relationship between a young boy, Travis, and the mischievous Old Yeller, a golden retriever with a loud, obnoxious bark. Travis initially despised the burden of taking care of yet another member of his family, yet eventually, the pair became inseparable, with Old Yeller perfectly embodying the character of “a man’s best friend.” As I flipped through the end of the book, my third-grade heart shattered as Travis was forced to put Old Yeller down after he contracts rabies while saving Travis from a wolf.  

Despite the tragic ending that I’ve shed countless tears over, I could always see you and me in the pages of “Old Yeller.” I was a burden to take care of and I cried obnoxiously every night as you tried to finish your homework at the dinner table. I know that it wasn’t always easy to sacrifice parts of your childhood to watch and guide me. 

My brother and I smiling for a photo in 2020. Photo by Manoj Jayadevan | Used with Permission

However, I think as our own story progressed, I proved to be a pretty funny girl and you started to become more fond of me (who wouldn’t?). As I grew old enough to think for myself, we became inseparable and you shared with me some of the treasures of life that I never would have discovered on my own. 

At 15 years old, I still have so many “firsts” left to experience in life and if I could choose, I would choose to experience all of them with you. We may not see each other as often anymore, but every day I look forward to late-night drives with you to In-N-Out, or hunting for the new Steph Curry 8’s at every shoe store within a 15 mile radius. Still, I’m working on navigating my own life without training wheels and rescuing myself from my own waves, but I’ll always remember that if I need anything, I can give my big brother a call. 

Thank you for everything that you’ve taught me,