I was six years old when we shifted to Bangalore. Education was a top priority for my mother, and even if we fell into debt, she wanted us to be educated at top institutions. We faced money shortages every month, I still wonder how my parents made ends meet, without disappointing us. Few months ago, my mother revealed that she would try not to pay the ticket price in the bus, so that she could save it for the next day. Yet she took me to Pizza Hut, and sat there while I ate away.
A school that follows ICSE syllabus is an expenditure that sucks your money throughout the year. You cannot just pay the fees and not look back. There are fests that are held every month. Even though I don’t remember this, my mom often narrates a tale of a fest the first year I joined school.
My mom who had left office early decided to look into the school on her way back home. As she stalled through the tents that were put up, she spotted me standing there, eyes wide open gazing at the food counter. She came up to me as fast as she could. I gave her a wide smile. She guided me inside the shop and I ordered a pink tub filled with cake.
The tight exchange of money was the one factor that my parents fought over and that would even come down to eight rupees that mom might have borrowed for the bus charges. Many of the school projects for eight- year- old me was a public humiliation. Once, we had to dress up as animals and say a few lines in the assembly. I was a kangaroo dressed in a pink chart, cut out in a particular shape to a lookalike of a kangaroo; it even had a pouch drawn to it with a black marker. Well the efforts were in vain, because it looked more like a pig or I looked like a piglet, is how I like to remember it.
It could be my lack of knowledge in language or my inability to strike back; I was the dumbest person in my bus. I was reminded of it every single day; the bus ride was a torture. “You touch one earring and do not touch the other earring, it would fall off”, I quoted this proverb wrong – using ear instead of earring in my excitement to add something to the conversation. This incident, the incident of the piglet, and many such factors made me a laughing stock. When you hear a word constantly, you start to believe it and you start to implement it. I had even started to state out loud very weird things, so that they would laugh, thinking it made me a funny person.
During this period, passing from seventh to eight, the school faced a major downfall in status and many of my friends changed school. A complex lifestyle had been built up in me and I had begun to hide my emotions. The ego of my age did not allow me to fall at my parents’ feet and scream “I give up please change my school”. Also my parents had enough pressure without having to handle my small-scale issues. I thought instead, of the money shortage my family was facing.
By then, my sister had joined a medical college and this really pulled the strings to fracture point. I managed it, trying to convince them with factors such as the decrease in students, the staff quality and the poor management of the school. This was a huge failure, since they convinced me stating that, the fewer students, the more attention per student and they will handle the money issue. Hence I continued my bus ride, accepting myself as I appeared to the others in the bus. It was as if they were forcibly making me accept a person that I was not, and did not want to be.
9th grade came with two-day trips. School trips were probably a nightmare to my parents. Fifteen years and shelled, that trip had new tackles. From clothes, to pocket money, it was a challenge. All of these were things my mind could not digest. Others probably didn’t see it that way, but it was a task for me. While all of them held touch phones, I very carefully pulled out my MTS handset and called my parents to inform them that I have reached safely.
But then my handset becomes the topic of discussion. In the absence of my friends from bus, this time I held my head high, talking about the fascinating features of the phone. I could throw the phone out of anger and it would still work. If the phone hangs, keeping it in the freezer would make wonders happen.
By then I had begun to learn the language to fill the gaps in life.
A boy who was my classmate and traveled in the same bus made me the joke of the day and yet I would let him use me. Now this is not because I was in love with him, but more of an acceptance into the cool gang, which he was a part of. I worked on his project of every subject in 10th. One day due to his absence in the bus, I handed it to him in class and he told his classmates in Telugu ‘She is my servant’.
My classmate translated it to me and I walked outside, shed a few tears and came back without ever raising my voice. This incident is something I often return to. I keep thinking of different ways I should have approached it.
My character has been termed to be the shape of water. I am starting to grow and reject people who use me, but insecurities over my looks, my character and money have implemented me to be the submissive person. Anyone asks me to perform an activity that they have the limbs to do own their own and people who do not spend a thought on me, I willingly do it, cursing them under my breath.
Another kid in the bus, younger to me, pulled out his penis and flashed us when I was in seventh. Worst part, my classmate cheered him on to touch me with it because I deserve it. I crouched at the corner throwing a jacket on top of me. I sat in that manner till he got down in his stop. I passed 10th, but had given up on me entirely; it was at this point my parents, yet unaware of my situation, but by God’s grace sent me to Kerala, for high school and coaching for medicine.
After eleven years in Bangalore, I was returning to my hometown. Kerala has many issues, my mother can never tolerate Kerala, especially after completing her Engineering in Bangalore, her return to Kerala, marriage, and thirteen years in her in-laws’ house had driven her out of this city of no sins. Her experiences and stories were my major source, other than that my very own summer vacation. My two months of summer in Kerala, were exhausting to me, the heat, the spiders and worms. I would have to check around the closet before I had to pee. I could not pluck a fruit from the tree without a worm crawling on to my skin, making me itch and scratch my skin. There was not even a shop nearby my home, from which I could treat myself with chocolate or a packet of hide and seek. I could not sit with my feet up on the sofa, and I could not even talk privately on the phone.
Coming down here, people loved to even speak in an itching manner. They would twist their tongues and speak sweetly of our character that has changed in Bangalore that we don’t care to come and talk to them anymore. They subtly comment about the lack of attention our parents have upon us, that we are just hens left to wander at night for every cock sitting on top of a tree.
The various stories of Kerala really left me with no choice but to decline this offer. Even though memories in Bangalore were words in a letter faded with tears, I still hung on to it afraid of the unknown. Crushed and left with no joy of life that childhood had deceived us, I boarded the train to Kerala from Mangalore after visiting my sister. Things started to change at that very point when I boarded the train.
Many characters I had met that day, reinstated confidence back in me. A man with a voice, but shirt unbuttoned and sitting with legs spread apart, gave him the outlook of a drunk, but he was not. He sang and won, but became humble once he left the steps of the stage. The army officer, sat there stern but with a smile. The mother and the two-year-old had a spark of innocence in their eyes. The two- year- old listened to me sing and sat there enjoying the sound of my voice.
Glance from a really good -looking guy shook my beliefs. From that journey to my long stay in Kerala, unlike my mother’s, made me live a day longer. You accept the views of the old and when you start to go with the flow you enjoy the culture built up behind the walls of the Western Ghats. It is not a specific situation; it is just the approach people have in this place. Everyone is keen to greet a stranger with a smile.
After years of neglect, the friends I made here and the strangers who became acquaintances were all curious characters with stories. My hometown made me feel beautiful, valued my character and it inspired me to write. The stories I heard from here, made me happy. I forgot my school days and lived the land of fantasy. Here my actions were loved and my voice became heard again. I might never take a drastic step to kill myself, but if at a point I decided not to, it would have been because of these memories I wanted to remember.