Whenever my parents speak of my childhood, they start with this one particular story. I was barely three, and they’d taken me to a wedding where we scarcely knew anyone. They took their eyes off me for a few minutes, and I disappeared. After searching for me frantically and nearly giving my grandma (who was at home) a heart attack, they found me in the midst of a group of kids almost thrice my age. They’d all gathered around me, patiently listening to some grand story I was telling them in baby-talk. All of them came to wave me goodbye when it was my time to leave.
And then they turn to the present me with a sigh, and remark “Where has that little girl gone now?”
I dont know. I like to think that she’s still hiding inside me somewhere– that little enchantress. But she is hidden deep within, smothered by layers of fear, guilt, insecurity and all that other crap growing up seems to bless everyone with.
My cousins once used to call me Nadia, because I was fearless. The little girl who played Angel Gabriel perfectly in preschool, mouthing latin phrases she hadn’t heard before. The youngest girl to say the pledge in front of the whole school at an assembly, barely reaching the mike even standing on a stool. The girl who beat people twice her age in speaking contests, who the judges sometimes asked to see later in private and even feed toffees to (like a little animal). Someone who had her arangettam (first song performance) in Attukal temple.They’d made no effort to hide their disappointment when I turned into this recluse that could not speak, act or sing.
If people prod for reasons, I can name many. Like a parrot taught well, I can recite the various ways in which the world fucked me up. But to be honest, I also know that the biggest thing holding me back is myself.
Why do my legs shiver so when I get onstage? Why do I fumble for words that come to me so easily by pen? Why does my voice quiver and shake when I sing in public? All because I think too much.
I think about how I’ll be ridiculed. I think about being made the butt of the joke. When asked to sing, I purposefully sing badly, because then people would be laughing at me because I want them to. I worry that my friends tell me I’m good just because they’re my friends- that’s probably why I’m honest to the point of cruelty when they ask for my opinions. Being told that you suck by your friends is way better than making a fool out of yourself in front of strangers.
After being bullied into being alone in sixth and seventh, it was me myself who decided to put up a front. I changed myself into this diva who was close to everyone but never really knew anyone. I was extremely popular, never alone. Had juniors dropping me gifts of admiration and even had the chance to be one of the few with an unofficial ‘fan club’. Knew all the latest gossip and was elected a school group leader thrice- a brilliant record, as a beloved teacher once put it. But all the achievements, all that admiration, and I still felt so empty. Even with so many admiring gazes aimed at me, I couldn’t love myself.
In plus two, I decided a different approach. I focused only on studies, because I had accepted what then seemed to me a fact- relationships, no matter how strong, are temporary. They just leave you feeling drained and empty. I stopped even trying to love myself. It was an endless cycle of waking up and going through all the necessary motions until I fell into a dreamless sleep. Halfway through, I stopped caring about anything. One day a ‘friend’ pulled me away from a busy road, saving me from stepping into the path of a rushing car. She screamed at me, asking me why I didn’t bother to look both ways. Asking if I wanted to die.
Then it hit me. I did want to die.
I’d really stopped caring. I was skipping meals. Rushing into heavy traffic. Sometimes taking more medicine than was necessary. Cutting myself here and there on purpose, because pain was the only thing that I could feel. Cliche and dumb, yes, but at that point it proved that I was still alive. I was doing extremely well at classes though, so no one suspected a thing. Even to those close to me, I put across my problems disguised as little jokes, and everytime they laughed at them my heart broke a little more. I was a walking contradiction. Always laughing, making jokes and being a straight A student. I can’t blame anyone for not seeing the pain I myself desperately tried to hide. Its my fault.
What made it stop? Here’s the funny part. Something people would dismiss as trivial brought me back to my senses. A TV show. More specifically an anime. Gintama.
I’d seen and dropped it once before, but for some reason I decided to give it another watch. It struck twelve, but I was still awake, hiding under the blanket and watching ‘just one more episode’, laughing till my sides hurt. Then for no particular reason I started crying. I laughed and I cried, full of emotion, for the first time in almost two years. I lied that I wasn’t feeling well, skipped school, sat at home and spent the whole day finishing Gintama. And there was my reason to live- If I died, how can I watch the new episodes coming out soon?
I’ve come a long way since then. I was made fun of (even chastised) for being too emotional. But I choose going mad with emotions over going mad with having none. The latter is more terrifying; less human. Got dumped for being boring and moped around a bit, but instead of going the same way as I did in twelth, I decided to challenge myself so that no one would have that sort of complaint again. I’m happy with the way I look, extremely happy in fact! I have wonderful, wonderful friends. I’m happy with who I am as a person. But I also know that I’m a work in progress, a masterpiece in the working. Experiencing depression once has made me more open minded. People can be saved by the smallest things- a kind word, a smile. So I seldom hold back on compliments now. It’s a two way street, isn’t it? Both the giver and the receiver become happy. Of course, people call me a flirt (mostly jokingly) but when I think about how maybe, just maybe it was my smile that gave someone that slight push they needed, I’m okay with being whatever people label me as. People wear masks to hide their selves. People are going through things probably ten times worse than my lowest point. So rather than hold back, why not go all out? Compliment shamelessly- don’t give a fuck about gender. Dress the way you want. Love fearlessly. Go onstage and give it your all. Who knows, even if you get booed at, your grace in accepting defeat might inspire a few others. That’s the kind of person I want to be.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be that little girl yet again.