Vivek Shraya

Blood Runs Dry

On the release of the “Water Runs Dry” teaser • 7 June 2014

My younger brother and I were born twenty-two months apart. When my mother brought Shamik home from the hospital, I would hover over him and stare blankly. This worried my mother and she avoided leaving him alone with me. “I was afraid you would step on him.” When she would shower, I would go into his room and sneak Cheezies into his crib, much to his delight, but only confirming her worry. “You could have choked him!”

This is the first memory I have of my brother—showing him love with snacks.

Baby Shamik standing up in his crib, grinning at the camera, while Vivek peers intently at him from a few inches away.

In the absence of a father figure, my brother often looked to me for care and I became a third parent to him, always holding his physical and metaphorical hand.

Shamik sitting in front of a birthday cake with four candles. Vivek is in the chair beside him, hands on his shoulders. Both children are smiling widely.

Even though my brother had his own bedroom, he always wanted to sleep in mine. Our parents even dressed us alike.

Vivek and Shamik, both several years older than the last picture, sitting on a daybed and dressed in similar Indian clothing.

Cute, right? Until it wasn’t. In Junior High, as I was fighting to establish my own sense of self, I grew frustrated with my brother, who seemed intent on doing everything exactly like me. If I had a shirt from Le Château, he needed a shirt from Le Château. If I was listening to a Salt-n-Pepa, so was he.

Eventually, out of a desperate desire to ensure I could be a separate, distinct person, I blackmailed him into going to a different high school (yes, I was a big tattletale, and yes, I often employed the well-worn “I am going to tell mom that you did such and such, unless you do what I tell you to do”). This ended up being a divisive move for our relationship, as I did not anticipate that by going to a different high school, a high school of his choosing, Shamik too would become a separate, distinct person. He began displaying behaviour that my parents and I did not recognize, as it was not behaviour I had previously exhibited (at his age), and none us knew how to digest this new, rebellious, inflamed version of my brother.

For most of our twenties, my brother continued to be mostly unrecognizable to me, and we couldn’t be in the same room without getting into a ferocious argument, often about old hurts, unforgiven failures and previously unmentioned fuckups. More specifically, our arguments eerily mirrored arguments we had overheard and digested our entire lives—those of our parents. He nailed the role of our “selfish” dad, and my performance as our “crazy” mom was remarkable. I often said these actual words: “You are just. Like. Dad.”

Living at opposite ends of the country only distanced us further. Over time I felt that I needed to make peace with the possibility that maybe we were just strangers with a blood connection.

We don’t even talk anymore
We don’t even know what we argue about
Don’t even say I love you no more
Cause sayin’ how we feel is no longer allowed
Some people work things out
And some just don’t know how to change

This past fall, I invited my brother to join my mom and me who were travelling to India to film a new short. The three of us had not been to India together since 1991, and I knew it would mean a lot to my mom to share this journey with both of her sons. The trip was not without our usual fights and in one tense moment my brother said to me: “V, I am really trying.”

My first response was defensive: “How are you trying?”

He went on to cite various examples. I was bewildered. He was right. How could I not see his efforts?

Why do we hurt each other?
Why do we push love away?

I started to understand that my attachment to seeing Shamik as my irresponsible, insensitive baby brother was preventing me from seeing the incredible, thoughtful, talented man he had grown into—and therefore was stunting our relationship. This (finally) led to the freeing realization that Shamik no longer needed a third parent, and hadn’t needed (or wanted) me in that role for a very long time—he just needed a brother.

During our last nights in Kolkata, my brother had my mom and I howling and crying with laughter until 2 a.m. Since our trip, I find myself recalling more gleeful memories from our childhood: the many other times (and inappropriate places) Shamik has made me laugh, the many times he has shared the food off his plate with me despite being hungry himself, the many times he has supported me—from holding all my gear at talent shows at West Edmonton Mall to being one of the first people I came out to. I am hoping with every joyful memory recalled, a painful memory is being put to rest.

I know that my brother and I still have work ahead of us. Family dynamics are perhaps the hardest to change. But I feel closer to my brother now in a way I didn’t imagine possible and I am committed to fighting against any historical idea I have of him so that I may hold him close for as long as I can.

Let’s don’t wait till the water runs dry
We might watch our whole lives pass us by
Let’s don’t wait till the water runs dry
We’ll make the biggest mistake of our lives…

(Lyrics from “Water Runs Dry” by Boyz II Men. Stream Vivek’s cover here.)

A recent photo of Vivek and Shamik standing face-to-face on the shore of a lake, smiling, both wearing baseball caps and white windbreakers.