My sister turns 36 today. She’s ooooooooooooold! Or, to put it another way, she is a multiple of 3 which is her favorite number, so that’s a good year (she’s a math teacher).
My sister and I always do the same things, like if she gets a haircut, I will get a haircut also. Not because we coordinate but because it just happens. So unsurprisingly, we separately got into Hindi film at the same time. I saw DDLJ at an art theater, she took an Indian film class for fun. By Christmas break that year, we were both 100% into the movies. Luckily a tiny Indian grocery had just opened in our home town and they rented DVDs. We spent all of Christmas break driving over to the store and checking out movie after movie. And on the drive over we listened over and over again to this, which somehow became “our song”.
The summer after that, my grandmother had a major heart incident. The whole family ended up camping out in her house for days, running back and forth to the hospital. My sister and I wanted to be there, but also didn’t really have anything to do (our Mom and uncle were the ones talking to doctors and making medical decisions and things). One day, out of boredom and desire for a distraction, we got out her phone book and looked up Indian groceries. And then cross-referenced them until we found a block of them on the same street, and figured that must be the Indian neighborhood for her city. We drove over together and sure enough, a whole block of stores and restaurants and so on. We found a DVD rental place and rented the only SRK movies we hadn’t yet seen (Koyla and English Babu Desi Mem) and I impulse bought a CD because it had one song I knew and liked. The CD was the Lakshya soundtrack, we put it on in the car and were blown away by how good it was. This was the song that kept us chugging along through that whole awful time.
Next year we went back to college, separate colleges (although in the same city. Like I said, we always end up doing the same thing without meaning to). But we got together for an adventure, our first Indian film in theaters, way out in the suburbs. It was a hassle to get there, we had to take the bus to a train and then wait an hour before the movie started. But then we saw the film, and loved it. We went back home for summer break soon after and the opening song became the song we blasted in the car while running errands for Mom, or just driving around together for the fun of it.
My sister went to grad school after that, far far away. We stayed in touch by memorizing each other’s class schedules and calling during our breaks, and we still saw each other every few months. She did an internship in India during her first summer, and I flew out to be with her for her birthday. The whole time we were there, everywhere we kept hearing this new hit song. We were desperate to see the movie it came from, but it was sold out always. Finally we ended up at a scuzzy no a/c single screen and bought floor seats for the film (not even balcony). It was worth it, the movie started and a few minutes later this song came on and the theater exploded.
She finished grad school and started teaching and I started grad school. She was in New Jersey now, the Heartland of Indian filmdom in the US. Literally every theater played Indian movies, and Movie Time Video was only 40 minutes away from her house. It was amazing. At the same time, the downtown Chicago theater started playing all the big Hindi releases and I was able to see them, even without a car. I saw one movie in theaters and immediately called her up and said, “you MUST see this movie, the lead actor is so handsome!” She went to watch it the very next day and called me at 10 at night on the drive home to say “He’s not handsome, he’s FREAKIN’ HOT!!!!”
She went from New Jersey, to Boston, to Rhode Island, to Maine, and back to Boston over the last few years. And we started a tradition of a road trip together every summer. Our first one was when she was in Maine, we drove from her place up to Canada and Prince Edward Island. And I introduced her to a song I had just heard AR Rahman play live in concert right before we left, which became our song of that trip.
The next year we started at my side of things, in Chicago, and did a road trip down to Memphis, through the southern states of the US. Appropriately for traveling through the south, I introduced her to a southern song.
Last year we stayed close to her home, just a couple hours outside of Boston in Newport. She rented us a fancy hotel room that had a little kitchen and sofa area along with a bed, and after being tourists all day, we came home and sat on the sofa and watched movies. And I introduced her to this movie and this song which quickly became our favorite, because we could yell out the English chorus even if we didn’t know the rest of the words.
This is just a handful of the songs I could put up, we have spent our whole life (modulo the 23 months before I was born when she was alone) doing everything together and there is everything from “You’re the Top” to “The Telephone Song” to “Without Love” that we sang together. Music and movies is what we always shared, separate from our parents and our friends and everyone else in our lives, jointly between the two of us.
Since there is a shocking lack of sister songs in India, to close I will fall back on the most famous one.