Growing up, I realised at a very early age that I was never going to be stunning and superpopular and sought out for my charms. It wasn't a heartbreaking realisation, I mean, I was about 10 or 11 when I got pnuemonia and when I recovered, some four or five months later, I looked in the mirror and saw this skinny faced creature, all eyes and teeth staring back at me and well, that was that. I was never going to be like the swish set in school, all hair flapping and short skirted. Sure, I wore short skirts, but I looked gawky and uncared for, and they, even at twelve, looked sexy.
It wasn't always easy, knowing you were probably always going to be the one with the "nice personality". At 13 or 14, I rebelled against my body, hating it violently, refusing to look at myself naked, showering in the dark and then rapidly dressing. I developed around the same time as everyone else, I guess, but all at once, rather than gradually, so one minute I was as flat as an ironing board and the next it was like, hel-lo. It didn't help that one of my best friends at the time told me I looked stupid and vulgar and my breasts really WERE too big for my frame, and I should watch how I walked. I walked shoulders in for the longest time after that, crossing my arms over my chest, hunching, so I looked just like everyone else. She, this best friend of mine, also told me the way I danced was weird--"like a snake", I think were her exact words, but when she was being kind, she said anyone would fall for me--if they saw me from the back, that is.
Why was she my best friend, you may ask, gentle reader? Why? Well, because I adored her. She was everything I wasn't, smart and confident and attractive, with one dimple that danced in the centre of her cheek and long straight hair, that she wore with those flicks that were so popular then. I needed her, and sometimes, she needed me too. Of course she needed me, I say now at nearly 25. How could she not? I was her audience, her spectator, the one that told her she was beautiful and smart and very nice. We were friends from the time we were about 12 till we were 15. She entered the school I was in as a new girl and she lived right next door, so we struck up a walking to school and back friendship,
which continued well into our teens. But while, all this time, I didn't have very many friends, I was a member of many school clubs, like the Nature Club--where they taught you how to recycle envelopes--because of a letter to the editor I had written, The Asian Age, I think it was, protesting the fact that at the Trade Fair people were riding on tame bears. I think there was also other school activities I participated in, like the Elecution events, or recitation, stuff like that, things that didn't really toss me into the limelight, but in their own little ways, made me feel like I was a part of things, like a cog in the wheel or something. When my best friend joined, straight from a convent school, she leaned on me for the first few months, and I felt important and efficient, showing her around, introducing her to people and so on.
But she outgrew me soon. I saw her courting the popular set, people I barely spoke to, beyond just raising my eyebrows a little. They were the girls who rolled down their socks, and whispered in classes, the boys who actually spoke to the girls, and who were always in trouble, except when they were on the sports field. They knew all the teachers, and all the teachers knew them, for better or for worse. But I had a quiet little set of friends, boring, actually, but nice in their own way, who always carried washed and ironed hankies, and who gave me Tasleema Nasreen's Lajja for a birthday present. With the coming of my new friend, the old ones got forgotten, but I don't think they minded too much. I wasn't like them either, content in my anonymity. I wanted to shine, to know and be known, I wanted the world to acknowledge how fabulous I was. And if the world wouldn't? Then that fascinating set at school certainly would.
I have to hand it to her though. Singlehandedly, she dragged us both into popularity--and while hers was far above mine; being attractive and well,
not as weird as I was--I still lived in reflected glory. Now I had friends! People to go to the canteen with, share lunch boxes with, and as we got older, and eating was no longer cool, we went to the canteen together and bought orange or cola bars, which we sucked at till our lips and tongues were orange or purple, and all that was left was a stick of ice. Now, the phone rang at home too, and it was rather fun being yelled at by your parents for staying on the phone too long. Once we got the cordless, they never saw me anymore, because as soon as I got home, I took the phone off its charger and retired to my room, still in my uniform, chatting, legs up against the wall, head hanging off the bed, till finally I emerged, bleary eyed, for dinner.
When did things start to change? One minute, I was so surprised and happy with all this companionship. I was being invited to parties, quite a bit too, because, thanks to the fact that our "group" had about 20 people, everyone was always invited. Then, suddenly, in class 8 or 9, I think, the desperate games of catch up began, when suddenly I found myself, amazingly, out-of-the-blue, not quite as fantastic as I thought I was. Our group started splitting up, into mini-groups, or cliques, and really, I wasn't in any of them. This would not have bothered me, normally, because I still had someone to sit next to, or whisper to, but then, I wasn't first choice to be sat next to, or whispered at. One time, on a class trip to Jaipur, I felt my chin -- always the first giveaway for my tears --start to wobble dangerously, when I saw, as I entered, everyone already paired up on the bus, and only one double seater left, for me. I think the kinder girls of the lot noticed, and offered to switch seats with me, but I didn't want a pity seatmate. I wanted someone to WANT to sit next to me. And that wasn't happening. Not even my best friend, who was with her newly formed trio, two other girls, who seemed to somehow get her, way more than I ever had.
Kids can be cruel, but teenagers can be devastating. You can't be too different, unless you're really brave, which I wasn't. I wasn't brave, I just wanted friends. But more than I wanted friends, I wanted someone to be friends with me. And if that meant not talking about reading, or writing, or how I felt when I met my grandmother that year, or the soft feel of my new puppy, then that was what I was going to do.
I shifted schools when I was about 14, moved to a new place, where even if I wasn't as fantastic as I was when I was 10, even, they still thought I was pretty cool. And slowly, in a couple of years, I started believing that. Well, almost. I still don't dance though.