When Sudha had been born, Nikesh loved her just as much as he loved her older brother, Akshay. He had even chosen the name for her: Sudha from the Sanskrit word for nectar. Nikesh had always wanted a daughter and he spoiled Sudha with his constant tender affection. The elders of the community often laughed at his doting parentage. After all, daughters are destined to be married off in the future. They declared that Nikesh was inevitably setting himself up for a heartbreak when the time would come for her to leave the nest. Nikesh would reserve his sharper comments and politely mention that such a departure was quite a while away.
Rohini however wished that Sudha was anything but a daughter. She had chosen to marry Nikesh because he was such a refreshing break with his liberal ways, but she knew that her choice was limited to the fact that their families had arranged their alliance first. She often feared that the liberalism would peel away to the years of tradition and conditioning, and that someday her beloved Sudha would find herself bearing the weight of conservatism just as she and all the generations behind her did. She could not predict when Nikesh would succumb to the pressure of their community to let Sudha be treated just as any other girl child in their community.
Rohini still remembered the night before Sudha’s third birthday. Nikesh had come to her room after ensuring that Akshay and his little sister were safely in bed. He held both of Rohini’s hands and led her to the edge of the bed.
“Listen, I want to talk to you about Sudha,” he began and Rohini suddenly began to feel alarmed from the serious tone in his voice. Nikesh instinctively sensed her fingers curl up and began to softly rub his thumbs across the back of her hand to calm her down.
“What is it?” Rohini was unable to mask the anxiety in her voice. The fear of bearing a daughter was catching up with her and she began to suspect the worst.
“Sudha is almost going to be three, and I was wondering how you would feel if I sent her to a school. An English school.”
“Send her to a school?!”
As the only daughter from her family, Rohini had bowed to the Draconian rules which had denied her an education. From the archives of her faded memory, she remembered a time of classrooms and slate-boards and homework. One day, when she was ten, she was forcibly withdrawn from the school by her family. Rohini had to then learn the exhaustive skills of being a good housekeeper so that she would have some claim to marriageability as she grew older. School ended with her childhood.
Nikesh felt the need to hurriedly explain himself to his wife and he was unsure of how she was processing the information. He did not want Sudha to grow up with the same deep gender bias which was so strongly rooted in their customs. He wanted Sudha to be as competent and capable as Akshay. He was willing to invest time, money and emotion into equating the gap. But he wasn’t going to proceed without his wife’s consent. She was after all more knowledgeable in how a woman would grow and he had come to respect her common sense, despite her lack of formal education.
“For how long?” asked Rohini tentatively after Nikesh finished his speech. Nikesh was caught unawares by the question. “For how long do you want to keep her in school?”
“Rohini, I think school is just going to be a start. I want her to be properly educated and accomplished. I want her to be a member of society who does more than just be a mother. I hope that’s what you want too. I am only one of her two parents.”
Years of suppressed feminism came to the fore and Rohini agreed. Of course I want my child to be educated. Of course I want her to succeed, to be just as good or as capable as any man. It sank into Rohini just what a marvel of a man her husband was. Even though he was the better educated of the two, he had asked her opinion. He had not mandated an order. At the back of her head, she could hear the sneers of her community. Educating a daughter? Completely? What a waste of time and money.
“What will the others say?” asked Rohini, drowning out the chastising whispers at the back of her head with her own voice.
“I don’t care,” said Nikesh almost nonchalantly. He did care somewhat, but only to the extent that it made him feel like a rebel, uprising against the treatment that his mother, his sisters and his wife received. He was not going to restrict her mind and opinions and thoughts and feelings. He could not bear the thought of raising his beloved adorable child like a ceremonial cow, to be disposed off with pomp when the occasion arrived. But he wasn’t going to show his fear to Rohini.
“…But they will ask…”
If they did, she would have to share the blame. The women would ask her why she dared to let her husband educate her daughter when she could be far more useful at home. The women would ask her why she didn’t influence his decision strongly enough. After all, he was a man. What did he know of growing up to be a woman in their society? The gossip would fly. The women would say, “Oh, they probably didn’t think their daughter was pretty enough or skilled enough to be married and keep a home, so they probably educated her in a desperate attempt to make her more desirable.”
“Their talking doesn’t change anything.”
Rohini felt his hands grow cold and she realized that she had to be strong for him and for the three year old toddler cuddled up with her brother in the next room. Some part of her mind despaired why she was going against the tide. Perhaps it would be easier for them as a family to go with the flow and manage their lives as the generations before them had. Then, she realized that being a part of Nikesh’s individual rebellion was a part of the struggle that she had endured all her life and she was no stranger to difficult circumstances. Sometimes, Rohini sought the comfort of religion to soothe her anxiety. She used to bristle at the fact that nowhere in the scriptures was it mentioned that the women should be denied an education. If anything, their numerous pantheon hosted some of the most powerful goddesses. Perhaps time, convenience and biased interpretations had eaten away at the legends like dust. She comforted herself knowing that she wasn’t doing anything sinful. If anything, educating her daughter could enlighten her about religion and perhaps bring her closer to spiritual service than Rohini herself could be.
But then another calamity befell. She remembered that he had insisted on an English school. What if Sudha grew up absorbing the Western culture? What if Sudha should completely forsake and abandon the social customs that had rigidly maintained their world for so many years? What if this education turned out to be their imminent downfall, and Sudha somehow brought disgrace to them and her ancestors by adopting the alien ways of the West?
“Why English?” asked Rohini, hoping that she could find a loophole in his argument this time that her feminine charm could distort back to reality.
“I don’t intend to stay in this city forever, Rohini. If we are to go places and accomplish things, we have to speak the language that the others speak and English is the most common of them all. It’s not too hard to learn, don’t worry. My brother and I had to learn it, and it’s a part of Akshay’s curriculum from next year.”
“But…..do English schools teach our scriptures? Why can’t we send her to a local school? Surely they teach the same numbers and things?” she asked again.
“I don’t know, Rohini. I feel that an English education would be wholesome,” said Nikesh, sensing a real cause for concern. Rohini remained silent but Nikesh felt her fingers retract in the unmistakable way when she found her strength shaking, and his determination faltered.
“If you’re worried that she will grow up wrong in any way, she will still be housed under our roof.”
He felt empty saying it because he felt as though he did not have a strong argument to support him. Now it appeared that he was resorting to the value-system of the very same mechanism that he was rebelling against. Any culture that stagnates is eventually doomed to die. But Nikesh was unsure that Rohini would accept his abstract philosophy. Some part of him claimed that Rohini didn’t need to understand and she probably didn’t. Why should he bother with asking her opinion anyway? She was no more than a product of strict upbringing behind narrow walls and narrow minds.
Hypocrite. Nikesh banished the thought immediately, recognizing that he was giving in to the pressure. He would have to provide the safety net for Rohini and himself, and he wanted to treat her as an equal in this process, no matter how difficult it would be. It was easy to point out the flaws of the culture they lived in, but as parents he had now taken on the additional responsibility of filtering the better aspects of a cultural upbringing to their child.
“Rohini, I know this is difficult. But please trust me when I say that we are doing the right thing.”
“I’m not questioning that but…”
“I may not know all the pitfalls that come our way, but I need your support,” said Nikesh and he had never sounded so vulnerable.
“…We are bound together in this,” admitted Rohini rather lamely as she tried to rally all her strength.
“I’ll fill in the paperwork for Sudha’s school,” said Nikesh rather suddenly and he left the room. He wanted to distract his mind with action so that the deeper ramifications wouldn’t eat away at his conscience. He was also very suddenly alarmed that his guard dropped before his wife, and he needed some time alone to figure that out.
When Nikesh left, Sudha invoked the divine in the practiced Sanskrit whispers and prayed that the deities would protect and guide her family. As she chanted the names and legends, she felt that she would take Sudha’s religious education personally into her own hands if required. Let the schools teach her what they will. Sudha would not grow up to dishonor the universal force which kept Rohini’s world together, even though Nikesh was radically restructuring the methods behind it.
Wrap the first part around your waist. Remember as the silk eludes your fingers that this is the same token of feminine glory that your mother, her mother and all the mothers who came before her wore with dignity. This was what it meant to be a woman. No longer are you the small girl, or even the awkward adolescent.
Pleat by pleat, twist your fingers to capture the folds and then bunch them together to form the flowing folds that tucks in neatly at the front. When you walk, each fold expands to accommodate your stride. When you stand, they shall remain vertically undisturbed, tucked in after each other’s shadow, meek and respectful towards the ancient tradition.
Let your elegance cascade over your shoulder as you pull up the fabric diagonally across your chest. Watch how it nestles against your form and speaks of modesty, yet leaves the one side of your torso to feel the open air and rejoice in its sensuality. The sari will now either fall over your shoulders and protect your arm entirely hiding the soft strength of the same arms that build homes and lives. Or if you need to present yourself in a more formal occasion, it will remain neatly pinned to your shoulder, the folds falling behind in regulated order.
It is not just a garment. It is the heritage of an entire culture, whose patterns speak of the many hopes and dreams and scenes from home. It is a heritage woven by women and children of the past who are binding together the grand-daughters to their grandmothers, knowing that their work is for the worthy alone.
Now it has been done. The last pleats tucked in, the last folds straightened, the pins set. Another identity is born.
Image Credits: http://someone-here-and-there.tumblr.com/
Image Credits: Jealousy by chpsauce at http://chpsauce.deviantart.com/art/Jealousy-122103700
It was the same old day in school. She was radiant, brilliant and amazing. But I sat and sulked in the corner, because I thought nobody liked me because of her. It was childish in retrospect, but I wanted to be popular and loved. As the only child who never really had to compete for parental affection, it took me a long time to realize that there were only some people in the world who would accept me for me. For the rest, I had to either serve their needs to keep up an appearance of doing so. Even then, it didn’t quite help me get over being jealous.
Strangely enough, I think one of the reasons I liked her was also because she was funny and charming and so amiable. It was really impossible to hate her, but I did and yet she was one of the few people who still cares about me. Looking back at it, I park those days under the list of things I’m really ashamed of myself for. More than the sentiment, it was perhaps my methods of dealing with it which make me cringe even more so. One of the things that truly rankled me about her was how people let her get away with almost everything because she could be so charming. I felt it was unfair how the world expected me to be good and righteous and serious all the time, but she could goof off and nobody complained. In the beginning I used to preach to her, until one day she confessed to me that despite my earnest and “well-meaning” admonitions, she really couldn’t help being carefree. People accused me of being overbearing and attempting to change her into another version of me. I was appalled, because I self-righteously thought I was doing the right thing. But now I realize they were right. I was trying to pull her down into some level of being equated to me, even though we were two different people.
Then, it came to a point where I had to learn to deal with being in the shadows. I didn’t mind it too much, I suppose, but I still couldn’t help begrudging her. Often, I would throw temper tantrums at her and walk away, but she, the amazing person that she is, would come back after me, apologize for some fault that wasn’t even hers and employ her charm in winning me back. True to its reputation, it worked. This left me feeling even more confused than ever How could she be so nice to me when I hated myself? I’m really glad that she chose to forgive me, and we are still good friends, albeit a lot far away than we used to be. Sometimes, it made me wonder why she chose to forgive me and I promised to be patient for her sake, in some sort of tribute to the beautiful person that she was.
Unfortunately, I wish I could say that my annoying propensity to be jealous had a short life-span. For almost years that nagging little voice kept complaining in my head, “Look at him/her. They’re so awesome / brilliant / accomplished / attractive. Look at your puny self. What are you?” Compelled by some self-fulfilling prophecy I would then despise myself and then attempt to resolve the cognitive dissonance by projecting my hate on them, citing them as the source of my weaknesses. Through the progression of time, it grew into a multifaceted mutant. It wasn’t just collective appreciation I was looking for. It was now appreciation from a very specific person that I was seeking and which I was denied. “What is it about her that makes her appealing?” was the fundamental premise of that argument. In my mind, I would try to reconstruct these people as objects of affection and then evaluate them against some set criteria dictated by society. There were times when I took a malicious delight in discovering their not-so-apparent flaws. But more so, I often discovered what made these people truly special. In being jealous, I had learned to appreciate them.
Another step in silencing that voice came from the idea of being myself. I was tired of being unique and different and being cast aside. But then, I realized that the very thing I was trying to push away was actually an integral part of my identity. I was not them. I was never going to be them. But hey, I was me, so I had to make the best of it since that was the only thing I could be. To my surprise, as I started wearing my own skin better, I realized that I had people who liked and admired me too. I didn’t have to force myself to be someone else, and in doing so I discovered my own potential to be something more. This may sound weird, but I’m grateful for all those times I forced myself to be someone else. It made me realize just how different other people and personas can be. More so, there is nothing as refreshing as rediscovering yourself.
This trailer is for a movie that is soon to be released. The description of the movie says that “Sixteen captures the life of these teens, as they go through their loves and heartaches, dreams and destruction in their school, home and the outside world. Sixteen is the story of their friendship and turbulent route it takes through the growing up years.” With such a noble theme, a close friend of mine (Gayathri Raj) and I were discussing what we think about the movie’s possible message. As people who have spent a large section of our teens in India, we have several mutual objections to the content portrayed in the movie. Here is an excerpt as follows:
Self: So, what did you think of the trailer? What specific aspects in terms of its message came across to you and why?
GR: To be very honest, I hate it. I don’t think it is a very admirable thing they are doing by targeting teen audiences with this sort of a message, which depicts the absolute bastardization of Indian culture. Man, I was 16 in Delhi, and fine I was always in control of my life unlike these characters and I was also “staid”, but seriously there is no need to glamorize this.
Self : But don’t you think their story deserves to be told?
GR: Definitely every story needs to be told, but since cinema in a country like India deeply affects society. I find that this sort of a story line which depicts the Indian bourgeoisie teenagers getting up to no good, does not give us (students who have not been astray) any credit.
Self: But surely, people will understand that the content is purely fictional? As former students of esteemed institutions, I don’t think we can deny that there is some truth to the elements depicted?
GR: This film seems to rightfully flaunt a glamorous unreal lifestyle for most of us, as if claiming some sort of social independence from what is right, for example, the “I want to sleep with you” coming from a 16 year old. Indeed there is some truth in the statement, because one look at the Youtube comments tells me that there is a lager subsection of the Indian population living a very “teenage” “I want to try this out” lifestyle and all of them nod affirmation at this trailer. But I find that if indeed this movie is a barometer for our social “teenage” life then it falls upon us to reflect on what kind of a life we are leading.
Self: However, as a society, we haven’t been very comfortable dealing with sexuality. Also, we cannot deny that most of us begin our first awareness of sexuality when we are 16. So are you saying that this is a wrong message to portray because of its dominant sexual themes? Wouldn’t that mean that we are still shying away from accepting the apparent?
GR: and what is the apparent here?
Self: that natural processes force us to come to terms with taboo topics at such an age because of curiosity?
GR: There are two-three factors here. One is that yes, puberty is wild wild west that needs careful navigation or can go wrong. Adolescence hits you and overwhelms you, but the thing is I feel that this entitled view of “I am just trying it out” is incorrect because while we might be curious as hell, we don’t necessarily have the liberty to act upon it. For one, we are not legal at 16, we live with our parents and they provide us with shelter food and comfort etc. So this blatant disregard for all our Indian filial/familial values is off-putting, because we tend to be a close knit society. And while I don’t strictly object to others having casual sex, I take an issue if you are going to get yourself knocked up, etc. Do what you want, but with a knowledge of the consequences would be my take. So, in this trailer when you see the young girl lying on a hospital bed, you know that she is getting an abortion or something, because she is the one who triumphantly claims “we did it” and then if this film is claiming the ultimate social liberation, it does not at all talk about alternate sexualities. Because if 16 is the age of everything hitting us biologically etc etc where is the sexuality confusion in this debate? This film toes a very safe line actually- it shows an indulgent hedonistic lifestyle without ever really asking the right questions about the teenage experience.
Self: You’re saying that we do not always have the liberty of experimentation, which is true. But then, without testing all possible alternatives, how can we expect these confused souls to find some direction in their life? You also speak about alternate sexualities, but at that age, can people really definitively decide how they express themselves?
GR: So you just asked me two contradictory questions- if indeed you are testing “possible alternatives”, why aren’t there sexual alternatives? And if one is unsure about their sexuality, how can one act confidently?
Self: My question was about testing to discover them, yes. Without testing, how can they know what works for them?
GR: But they don’t seem to be experimenting, which seems to be the film’s chief hypocrisy. They seem to be all “Okay, I am straight I need to shag someone, oh f*** I shagged someone now i am in deep shit.” Even though they are in a circle of hell, they seem to be evading the seventh circle of hell by making all the characters very sure of their sexuality. It is really a question of minor and major vices really.
Self: You’re right. They seem to be very decided about what they want to do with their lives. An example of the character Anu, who points to the magazine and says with complete certainty that “she wants to be there”. Since their decisions seem to be made, why is trying out not socially condoned? Do you think that these children, given their unique circumstances, could have come to their “coming of age” realizations through any other way than depicted in the story? I don’t mean that we compare them to us.
GR: I mean this is not the first movie we are seeing about the great Indian lonely teenage. We had Udaan which i think did a marvelous balancing act. Also one of the points that really rankled me, and I am sure you thought of this too is- 16 was shit and all that, but it was also a lot about discovering yourself rather than discovering others wasn’t it?
Self: You’re right about discovering ourselves. However, as most children (and even adolescents must be excused to some extent for being children) learn about themselves from trying to mimic outside behavior, right? How can we expect them to intrinsically know what works for themselves?
GR: Well this is where I turn the spotlight on us.
Self: Personally, I would say that the only “boldest” thing I did during my adolescence was talk back to my well-wishing parents. I realized my folly almost immediately. But I managed to figure out a way of dealing with my frustrations with humanity by myself, mostly through personal acceptance.
GR: I agree with you entirely and I think one of the chief points of disagreement I have with this film is it projects rampant stupidity and bad decision-making without any parental interference on all teenagers. I didn’t have a rosy teenage or anything, but I definitely didn’t f*** up. I was too busy worrying about “Ooh I like writing”, “Ooh why do I feel this strange rush when I see this guy in the next class”. I feel 16 is like 18, and a bit of 18 on steroids.
Self: But, as some other posters of this movie claim, aren’t there some lines we must cross in order to “grow up”? Do we really have to let go of “innocence” as our “first casualty”?
GR: What indeed is our innocence then? Our virginity is our innocence? Our first cigarette is our innocence? This is a wrong perception at work.
Self: I still don’t believe I’ve lost that innocence. It’s not about being naive. But I think, what childhood with all it’s fairy tales taught us, is to believe in happy endings. That optimism is our innocence. What about you?
GR: Yes, exactly. what is innocence but an absolute lack of self knowledge and optimism? So I think it is important to move away from innocence being linked to a girl’s hymen. Innocence is probably lost when you hear your first cuss word.
Self: Innocence is also probably lost when you take your first blow to your self-esteem and discover that it exists and it can be hurt.
GR: I mean at age 10 everyone hits the age of curiosity. But how we act upon it tends to define our life. At the risk of sounding too self-righteous or generalistic, most of us have better things to do.
Self: Also, given our hyper-competitive academic environment, it really seems a miracle to find time for anything else beyond that.
GR: Yes I mean aaj kal baap ka business sambhaalne ke liye bhi business degree chahiye hoti hai [In order to handle your father’s business, a business degree is mandatory]. So all those teenagers on the Youtube comment section saying “Yep, this is my life. It is so accurate”, I’d say instead of feeling like you have been accepted into some secret hedonism cult, think about where you are going with this.
Self: Clearly, they feel vindicated at having their story on the silver screen.
GR: Exactly. This film shouldn’t garner that sense of vindication, but rather a contemplation of actions. Which I dearly hope it will, because it apparently has a tragic ending with a few attempted suicides, teen pregnancy, and substance abuse gone wrong case.
Self: To some it’s a matter of pride, even, how fast can you grow up? But I think most of them fail to realize that their childhood is something they will never be able to get back.
Before I left Bangalore, I was swamped with friends from my school who insisted on meeting me. Out of courtesy, and also perhaps an abiding curiosity, I agreed. I had obviously expected that people would have changed. But what I realized most importantly, was that we had become what our conversations reflected. They were an odd mixture of the legacy of the nurturing of school combined with the opinions that we had formed on grater interaction with the outside world.
Most of my schooling happened on two sides of the same road. Crossing the huge main road that divided both campuses seemed like crossing the gulf to another world. Until tenth grade, I was in a school of very modest resources. The only thing it could boast of was a huge campus that was shared with a convent and a cathedral. An institution with paramount importance to discipline, this institution seem to engulf me in its own bubble of reality. This semi-isolation emphasized the focus of my interests to the people and ideas within the campus. When my life was so strictly organized, there was very little I had to worry about. It was only when I would leave school that it would strike me that there was very little beyond academic sustenance that my school had to interest me.
This internalization lead to a group-ism culture as we grew up and were trying to associate ourselves with our perceptions of the outside world. As one of the few who had evaded being tied down to any one specific group of classmates, I came to realize that there was a lot more to people than met the surface. For example, one of my most cheerful classmates had a job washing dishes so that she could afford the shoes that were a part of the school uniform. Not once did her hardships reflect in her demeanor, something which I admired her for.
As the self-established misfit, I was perhaps not as teary-eyed as some of my other classmates when I graduated from this institution. My curiosity was raring and I thought I was ready to go out into the world. My academic performance allowed me to enroll in the one of the best schools in the city, right across the road.
I don’t think I can capture just how vast the difference between the two environments was. Literally, I experienced a culture shock my first few days there. For a school that was “affluent”, there was an increasingly marked exposure to other schools and other academic environments. The sheer resources available to me were obviously so much more. But what really struck me was the people, the social culture of this new school.
Discipline was one of the first casualties of the moral curriculum. The school offered so many extra-curricular activities and so many brilliant opportunities, that it was simply impossible for everyone to adhere to the schedule. A social life was a sort of mandate among most of the people. I opened up to be a completely new person here. I learned how to manage people, and for the first time in my life, made to the coveted student council. There was a lot of infighting between students and the prefect body, and everyone who was anyone had a world just beyond the academic demands of school, which made schedules rather spontaneous.
I felt the increased expectations that come with a student of some authority over my peers. My friends expected me to treat them as before, to extend my privileges over them enabling them to get away with what they shouldn’t be able to by virtue of our affiliation. My teachers expected me to set an example for them by establishing the difference very firmly. As someone who had been an outcast for quite a while, I wasn’t quite so willing to let go of my large, nascent friend-base.
But it wasn’t as rosy as it appeared. I had been in the school for one year and I made it to the student council, bypassing all the other people who wanted to hold that position and had attended the school all their life. Quite understandably, they were not too pleased with my nomination. I began to lose some friends. In order to contain this attrition, I treated them as equals. I even let them get away with several violations just so I could get back their trust and their supposed company. I was too immature and too poor a judge of human character to know that some people should just be left alone. People were envious of me for wielding some elitist privileges, but I would have gladly swapped the stress of the responsibilities with anyone else. As unpleasant at it may sound, it was still a very formative experience and I am immensely grateful to the school for letting me discover the managerial side of myself.
What struck me as odd was that this school, with all of its purported reputation, had very few students who were truly driven to do something. It seemed as though they were merely drifting through life, not knowing what to choose from the vast array of options available to them. This was such a contrast to my previous school, where discipline had channeled me. Instead of being focused, my energy was now being dispersed over a wide array of possibilities. Luckily for me, I knew exactly which one of them was going to work out for me. But there were several people, who came from families that were in the upper socioeconomic bracket of society, who were lost. Besides doing well on some class tests and networking with as many people of the opposite sex, they really did not know what else there was to their life. Yet, they claimed they had more “exposure” to the world.
I will always cherish the people from this school who inspired me to take pride in my difference. Even in this mass of aimless people, there were still a few whose enthusiasm served as a wake up call. I had enough of running after people who claimed to be my friends and desperately trying to forge new contacts with people who were clearly indifferent. I had to appreciate the ones who were still with me and I am unbelievably thankful to them. These people allowed me to let my weak side show and still encouraged me to think of the bigger picture.
I felt very strongly sometimes about how the people in this school seemed to take so many things for granted. They expected honor and privilege and the “good things of life” to come to them on a silver platter, all dressed up in pretty packaging. Even then, they would simply sit in class, trying to be rebellious, perpetually petulant. So different from the girl in my old school, who struggled for the basics of her education through hard circumstances and still turned up with the brightest smile I’d ever seen. Some of these people taught me that education, in itself, is a privilege. Others taught me how to not treat the people and institutions who formed the fundamentals of my exposure to this world.
One of my reunions with the people of the new school turned out to be very boring. While they were still beyond the confines of school, all they wanted to do was just gossip. It seemed as though their lives revolved around pop culture and stereotypes and boys. I had flown in from New York, and from all the different experiences they could have asked about it, they just wanted to know what the pop-culture/stereotypes/boys were “really” like. For two hours, they compared my narratives with their preconceptions and then moved on to discuss the equivalent of other people’s lives. There were two other friends there who had more pertinent (and less annoying, I might add) questions to ask, but their queries were brutally cut short by the deluge of useless data.
I understand that I might have come off as rather judgmental in this piece, but it strikes me as rather arrogant of people to assume that only these facets of a person’s life can be interesting. It surprises me even more that this sort of conversation annoys me now, when I had survived two years of listening to it. I guess I’ve just crossed another gulf to another world, while they’re still firmly rooted where they are.
We have never lived in a house of our own. I have never known what it means to actually live in the same place for all my life. I actually find the change rather comforting. I see home as a sort of constant environment that we grow in, so that we can deal with our internal changes without having to worry about external adaptability. This theory is easily refuted by the fact that most of the changes we do undergo happen once we are beyond the comfort of home. Managing our personal space and time, for example. With frequently traveling parents, I have come to find that home is not a structure that houses my favorite relatives. There has to be something relevant to home which makes us so averse to leaving it.
Most of my memories of moving out of homes involves reliving the specifics of the location. I could remember the views from the windows, the people whom I would meet, how the plants were arranged, what the weather what be like. I tend to remember the memories associated with the place, as I suppose most people do. Surely travel locations also hold the same place in our heart. I don’t really care about the geographical location of the place. It’s what happened when I was there and how that counts. So, it can’t be the memories either.
I think that one of the reasons why home matters so much is because of the routine we subconsciously associate with it. When at home, we are at a state of being in which we have certain things planned out for us in a predefined way. No matter what that routine is, if its pleasant and if we are habituated to it, we call that home. Some people find this solace at their workplace, where the constant drive of work keeps them rigidly bound to a series of events. For most people, me included, its hard to move out of a specific routine. That’s perhaps why most people are averse to sudden disruptions or changes in their routine. We don’t like to leave home because we are abandoning the routine that comes with it.
This time my home is not an apartment, it is not my alma mater. It is a country: India. I’m going to be leaving this beautiful place behind for my beloved New York. Throughout my childhood, I’ve come to personify cities as people and as someone who has grown up in a few Indian cities, and now studies in the US, I have quite a geographical family.
Mumbai, where I was born, comes back to me as the young rainy, impulsive baby-sitter that watched me grow from an infant to an eight year old. All I can remember about that city is the rain. It poured torrentially during the monsoon seasons and some of my fondest memories have been in that bone-drenching rain.
The last few days of the Ganesh Chaturthi celebration: Ganesha, the deity of prosperity and good luck, is submerged into the waters as a ceremonial departure to mark the end of the festival.
My first discovery of mushrooms, snails and earthworms, the long walks I would take with my grandfather during which time he would tell me stories of the plants and trees that grew in the nearby park. It was an hour’s walk from my house to the point where the school bus would pick students up. I can remember my uncle insisting that I finish my lunch in school. The traffic, the sights and sounds of the city (especially during Ganesh Chaturthi) gave Mumbai this lasting impression of driving energy. As the center of national financial activity and home to the entertainment industry, Mumbai’s stereotypical citizens also embody that can-do attitude.
When my family moved to Bangalore, it was still a sleepy town. As I learned later, the IT boom that made it a notable hub was brought by the immigration of IT-qualified people like my parents and many others. With the sudden rush of people, this laid-back, pleasant retirement destination was transformed into a city with as much life as any other metropolis. Since I lived in Bangalore until I was nineteen, I have many more memories associated with this place. In the beginning, the charming weather always made me feel lethargic. It was perpetually cloudy, even though it rained sparsely. But it was never uncomfortable. Learning the local language helped me cross the rather large cultural divide that exists between one region from India to another.
The Bangalore skyline
I can remember learning to adapt to the soft, passive-aggressive ways of the city. The city has grown with me, losing some of its cherished greenery to make way for taller glass and metal structures and bigger names. Oracle, Accenture, Wipro, Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Infosys and Cognizant became household names. Computer programming was integrated into my school syllabus from 8th grade. Everyone and anyone worked either in IT, or in some other branch of these large magnates. Call centers sprung up all over the city, expanding its boundaries, much as I was learning to expand my own horizons.
The Bangalore skyline at night
With time, there was a huge influx of expatriates back into the city, which forced another population boom. The city’s cultural profile began to now span across several nations, if not states. What I find most endearing about the spirit of the city is how we learn to accommodate everything. It is a statement that is jokingly referred to as the Bangalore slogan. “Swalpa adjust maadi” which means “Adjust a little” in Kannada. It’s an effective rephrasing of “grin and bear it”. There are a million reasons to complain everyday about many things. But at the end of the day, you become what you work yourself into. Due to the call centers and the IT industry firmly establishing base, this sleepy little town had to work across multiple time zones. Despite the lack of infrastructure to be able to host such growth, the city grows while its inhabitants grin and bear it. I too began to stay up late at night discovering more about my growing passion in Computer Science. One of the first things that came to my mind when I landed was that if Bangalore was a person, I would be hugging it so hard.
I used to think these two places were the most important cities in my life. I honestly can’t compare both of them. One has been an elder sister, who is growing everyday, expanding and making new advances, like me. The other has been a forgotten baby-sitter. She did her duty, and while I may not remember the most important lessons I’ve learned from her, its the fact that she still taught me well what counts.
Then entered a new person in my life: New York. Famous, glamorous, classy, desirable and yet with its own flavor of underground, New York is somewhere I’m going to spending the rest of my years in college. I used to think that I wouldn’t need any adjustment moments, since I was coming from one of the most diverse countries in the world. But then I was put right. This wasn’t just a language or a cultural difference, it was an entire nation apart. I honestly haven’t lived in new York long enough to write more inspiring literature about it, though there’s no dearth of that all over the internet. I think I know where they found their inspiration, though. Its New York. ‘Nuff said.
The New York skyline
I’m in Bangalore now, soaking back into a much-needed dose of home. However, with an established routine at New York, that city has become my home as well, even though I am still its foreigner. I simply do not have the capacity to describe what I will miss about Bangalore when I’m in New York. Strangely enough, through my summer break here, I’ve been trying to capture what it is that I miss about New York when I’m in Bangalore. It’s probably the transition between two routines: one of a schoolgirl in a family with doting grandparents and loving parents and one of a strong, independent young woman who is managing her own show in the capital of the Empire State. It feels a bit unusual to adjust to both these routines, but now I realize that I have now grown to fill both these requirements.
I’m leaving Bangalore soon. I’m trying to console myself that this beautiful city will always be there for me, waiting with her metaphorical arms open wide. But while she has come to represent comfort, my best friend 8299.57 miles away wants to expose me to the rest of the world with her. I don’t understand why I should feel so torn between two of my most favorite places in the world. But while they may be cities, I am a human. I am allowed to feel nostalgic and hold on to sentiment. I can never compare between any of them.
Goodbye, Garden city. I will miss you terribly
One of the hardest things I had to deal with was my self-image. Since I was an extrovert, constantly seeking the opinions and validations of others, it was hard for me to have a constant opinion about myself. In the quest for an identity, I was looking to be part of a larger, more well-known group. In a nutshell, I wanted to be popular, and recognized and have lots of friends and be admired. It’s a human need, so I didn’t think it was unfair of me to ask for it. However, my definitions of what it means to be admired and popular and respected changed with maturity and time.
To be honest, there was a while when I was scared of being alone. I just did not want to be left out of anything. This anxiety translated itself into a supremely inconvenient habit of being too curious, asking too many questions and not being discrete/tactful enough. In the process of wanting to be included so badly, I was alienating people away from me and thus left with deep insecurities about whether I would belong anywhere. I was trying too hard to belong. Of course, they would try to be as nice to me as they could, but I could see them slowly backing away from me. To my face they told me I was “unique”. It took some level of cringe-worthy snooping to realize that behind my back I popularly known as a “weird freak”.
It was a devastating discovery, and my parents still remember all those days I would come back from school crying and wondering what I wasn’t doing right. Self-delusional, I thought that if I walked away from them, pretended that I didn’t need them, they would probably come for me. I was the only one who was further hurt by the discovery that they didn’t. Nobody seemed to need me as much as I seemed to need them. Again, I was alone and anxious.
Between my transitions from groups, I slowly learned that adjusting into some groups was easier than others. In my school, this group sub-culture was the norm. Everyone was identified as part of a network, and without that you were literally nobody. As the cliched stereotype of high school dramas have established, they were undoubtedly pretty and/or affluent and/or seemed to know everyone. Clearly, as I was still a loner, they didn’t know me. So, I had to publicize myself by displaying behavior that would make them take note of me. I carefully observed the mannerisms and behavior of the cool girls’ gang in my school. It wasn’t too hard to locate the common factors that endeared them all to each other. The only problem was that I didn’t seem to have some of the native attributes to belong to that group. If I tried hard enough, I could replicate the same behavior and belong with them. Maybe they would even appreciate my effort.
I used to get sad and angry over the fact that reality continued to prove me wrong. I had the arrogance to assume that I knew enough about human behavior to be able to safely tell how a group of adjusting teenagers would behave. Strangely enough, I was actually an integral part of this group for a while. I cannot tell you how happy the fourteen/fifteen year old me was to actually find people whom I could talk to, who trusted me, who confided in me. However, my behavior had changed. Within the group I was trying to be the nicest person possible to everyone else. But beyond that, I had acquired a snooty attitude (a symbol of my new social status?) that served to only repel more people away from me than before. It dawned on me that the people who were nice to me even when I was a loner now avoided me. I tried to justify their behavior as jealousy. They weren’t part of the cool gang and I was. I tried to pretend that I didn’t care. But instinctively, I knew that something was not right.
That’s when our differences began to show, and I began to grow increasingly disillusioned with my new status. Maintaining it seemed to involve telling many lies, being two-faced and more so, keeping up a physical appearance that had to meet some expected standards, all of which I was terrible at. It was too much effort to keep up so many concurrent charades. I longed for the quiet of having my own thoughts for company. I longed for a conversation that did not involve demeaning someone else for no fault of theirs, or for something that did not involve the opposite sex, or something that wasn’t even emotionally demanding. It was a huge transformation that I was now actually running back to the solitude and silence which I had so abhorred. With a pang of regret, I chose to leave.
Back in my self-imposed exile, I welcomed the emptiness at first. I told myself that I was better off and I even tried very hard to believe it. But I still felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, that I was an outcast and maybe I just didn’t have what was necessary to belong to any group. I managed to make new friends, find some old ones, but even then it wasn’t a group. It was more like a community of misfits who hadn’t been completely accepted anywhere, each one scared of being hurt again by another, reserved and guarded and sort of unfriendly.
I grew to learn to respect this community. They were friendly enough for the short duration we spent together, which was a very pleasant replacement for adhering to a group protocol. They kept their conversation to non-private topics, so I didn’t have to be emotionally burdened with anyone’s secrets. I learned what it meant to respect someone’s space, what the difference was between being eager and being too eager, what it meant to not fit a generic mold. I was influenced by their fierce pride in their diversity. So I was weird, according to those not in the group. By categorizing me, they made their labels their problem. Not mine. I was still me.
A year or so later, everyone was suddenly filled with affection as we would be graduating from school. All these petty groups would now be dispersed into the big wide world, where we wouldn’t be sheltered any more. More so, all these differences and squabbles seemed so much smaller in light of what awaited us beyond the school’s comforting archways. As a final form of seeking redemption, I tried one last time to look actively for friends. To my immense surprise, people had evolved to a level of greater tolerance. The very distinct boundaries between groups blurred as graduation approached nearer. “Everyone is my friend now, because these are the people I grew up with” was the general slogan. I was relatively more social once again.
In retrospect, I remain close friends with those other misfits who endured me for the longest. They were the few who didn’t chose to categorize me as weird. They didn’t even call themselves as outcasts. Admission into this group was much more easier and welcoming. But the learning experience left some lasting memories. I had learned to become comfortable with myself. The solitude forced me to forge my own identity. While the experience was rough, I remain sincerely grateful to them. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be unique and proud of it.
I usually tend to remember anything that has been spoken or read aloud to me. When I try to remember something, it comes back to me almost as if I’m watching the video footage my eyes recorded during the time of the memory. The advantage of remembering something at that level of detail is that I can jump to my favorite parts, pause, annotate, add little reminders to myself, comments about my own behavior, observations about others’ and then continue. My brain allows me to edit these videos in a fashion where I can even mix these up by categorizing them under certain emotions. I went on to sort them under people, events, occasions, emotions and reactions. As a rather lonely child, I would mentally store many of the conversations I had with people around me. The larger the repository of life experiences I had, the easier it would be for me to know what kind of a response would be appropriate in multiple situations. It was likely that I could even find trends in the behavior of other people that would help me to predict their behavior to some extent and so, model my own.
Some of the disadvantages of having a memory that let me preserve an almost infinite capacity of history is that it took me some time to realize exactly what I wanted to populate the space between my head with. There seemed to be two main partitions. The academic one was clean and well-maintained. Information input into it was a routine and fairly smooth procedure. But the other section was devoted to the more “problem” aspects of my life, namely, what comprised of social skills and being accepted into a larger collective.
Initially, I did not use any content filters. Anything and everything that people around me said or did or indicated would simmer in my head while I pondered on how to process them. I was perhaps too young to differentiate between what was appropriate or inappropriate then, so I didn’t know how to tune the noise out. Perhaps another reason why I couldn’t ignore people so easily was because it conflicted with this innate need for social company. I wanted to be talked to. I wanted to talk to other people. It was only years later I realized that different people prefer different conversations. But when I was at a stage of still looking for what the suitable criteria would be for a friend, I was accepting everyone and anyone into my life. Nobody had set me out into the world with an instruction manual clearly delineating what I would like and what I wouldn’t. While playing back those memories, I realize that several of the ones that affected me very deeply should be promptly transferred to the recycle bin. It was then that I learned to forget, and more importantly create a defensive mechanism that would prevent similar from being stored into my memory again.
Even while remembering, it seemed easier to recall the situations and people who affected me negatively stronger than those who had a positive impact. Instead of letting these go, I stored them as future references of how mean people could be, as a lesson to myself. Effectively, I was telling myself, “Look, Person A did this to you. This is what he/she is truly capable of.” If their behavior did not seem to comply with their usual state, or if my perception of that person had somehow been colored before I met them (Yes, I was terribly impressionable then), then this wouldn’t surprise me. Otherwise, I would try to convince myself that their misbehavior was probably unintentional, or maybe they weren’t talking about me or maybe they just had really poor communication skills and I was misinterpreting. Yet, the memory never really faded away, or better, erased itself.
As a self-conscious teenager, my perception of self amplified. I don’t mean that it gave me a huge ego boost. I mean it literally made me scrutinize my every movement like some internal paparazzi. For some reason, known only to my past self, I managed to conclude that in order to be socially acceptable I was going to have to analyze my own behavior to a greater degree than I scrutinized others. They could do as they please, they weren’t subject to my power of mutability. But I was. Eventually, it morphed to a situation where I would over-analyze my public behavior and begin to store a growing series of memories dominantly comprising of my unacceptably bad behavior and my mistakes. I could let others off the hook. However, I couldn’t extend that same courtesy to myself. Worse, when I was in a foul mood, I would masochistically play back these memories to myself and punish myself for not having “done the right thing” (kept my mouth shut/ thought twice/ calmed down/ taken action, etc.). In a nutshell, processing this much bad data was wearing away at my fragile self-esteem.
Internally, I justified the self-abnegation by claiming that I was allegedly guiding my own character to some ideal of “being a good person”, something which seemed to be the largest common factor of all the people around me who were socially popular. But what defined being a good person changed with time, attitudes and people. I could not possibly try to disperse myself over such a large, diverse, albeit conflicting, pool of attributes without having some semblance of independent choice. It started with parents and my family. Their ideals took priority and as I interacted more with the outside world, I began to know what I liked and what I didn’t and whether my preferences in themselves were all right. I was not going to let that annoying sneering voice inside my head question my worth.
Some of the tactics that helped me get rid of the excess junk was to allow more of my work/academics/hobbies to infiltrate my mind. This way I was too busy focused on doing something productive than nitpicking myself. There was always writing, which helped me clear out my system to a large extent. Whatever it is, I think that’s a unique discovery cycle for each person. There is no sweeping general solution, unfortunately.
One of the biggest cleanup tools that helped me excuse, if not completely forget about, those awful memories was accepting the fact that they were mistakes. Surely, if I had reasoned enough with myself to learn to forgive other people for making their mistakes, I could do the same too. I was not going to treat myself any differently than how I treated them, or how I wanted to be treated by them. More so, I had learned to laugh at myself. Looking back at myself, there have been some pretty comical incidents which felt anything but from a first-person perspective.By forgiving myself, I was minimizing the importance of negative memories inside my head. I wasn’t blaming anyone for anything. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t that of someone else’s either. Circumstances would happen. Without remembering them as mistakes or unfortunate incidents, to be more precise, I would be disrespecting the gravity of the situation without making myself wallow in guilt about it. It was okay to make those mistakes, at least for the first time. It was okay to be me.
In fact, it was one of those realizations that prompted the creation of this blog. I can now safely look back at my thirteen/fourteen year old self and not cringe at myself. I was naive, I was silly, I was mistaken, I was young, I was many things back then. But today I have grown up (or at least, I’d like to think so). I have to be many more things now. I am many more things now and that’s what matters.