My Unusually Green Salamanders,
You are in WEEK THREE of my grand TELL MY LIFE STORY THROUGH THE ALPHABET series! (Weeks one and two here.) I was just about getting into my stride, when the letter “c” floored me. It’s not that I couldn’t think of any words beginning with “c” it’s that I could think of too many. Here are some discards:
C is for car: I’d tell you about my history with cars—the first one I drove, the first one I owned, my sudden, inexplicable driving anxiety, that came upon me “slowly, and then all at once.” I’d also tell you about road trips, about sitting on people’s laps in the backseat and the whole car smelling like Cool Water or Isseymiyaki, and the night being young like we were and all of us singing along to the music at the tops of our voices.
C is for cat: All my beloveds. Internet cats and my cats and the internet.
C is for clothes: Going from someone awkward to someone who tried to follow every trend no matter how unflattering and finally, someone who came to terms with their own style and how I love clothes, and putting them together sometimes is like an art project, and browsing shopping websites is sometimes what I do when I need to calm my mind, just browse and add to cart, very rarely buying anything. And my tailor down the road, and what having “personalised” clothes means to me.
C is for coronavirus: MY GOD, HOW MUCH MORE IS THERE TO SAY ABOUT THIS? I’m kinda done. Are you kinda done? I don’t even want to explain/not explain myself anymore, this is the way the world is right now, and this is how I live in it. THE END.
Instead, this week I’m going to talk about one summer when I was fourteen, when my friend and I decided to join a kid’s musical theatre workshop which would culminate in a play, and we spent all day rehearsing with other teenagers, and it was, perhaps, one of the funnest summer holidays I’ve ever had. What do teenagers need but a chance to be themselves around other teenagers? And unlike the S-word (School), everything we did was fun. It was extra-curricular! And there were very few adults: maybe three? or four? for all thirty or forty of us, so no one was breathing down our necks and yet, we didn’t “get up to anything” because we were trusted, and given responsibilities and if we broke the rules, whatever rules, the unspoken rules, we would be cut from the workshop and the play and that would be no fun. Yes, I believe even now, many years since I was last a teenager, that the best way to raise a teen is to give them clear consequences that they respect, and something you can stick to, and then let them loose with each other, and watch them blossom like so many flowers.
To get to my large C-is-for-Crush, I’m going to have to give you some background first. Because, while he was a Crush, he isn’t even the whole reason I remember that summer so vividly. I’d had crushes before—my first was on a classmate, at age 11, yes, I started young, but I had no other way to define the sudden flutter I felt in my stomach when he passed me, or the humiliation I felt for him whenever he got scolded by a teacher. He was an insouciant, sporty boy, with his floppy hair worn in a ‘90s do, that is, it was parted in the middle and fell on either side of his face like all the boys on our newly installed cable television had. Before that, or perhaps simultaneously, I had seen a young singer called Joey Lawrence on MTV, who sang what would be his only hit: Nothing My Love Can’t Fix For You, Baby. Joey Lawrence sang for me and me alone, he smiled at me from the television set, he pranced around with models on his music video, but his eyes made me a promise—I see beyond your buck teeth and your awkwardly cut hair and I’m waiting for you to grow up and come find me.
Oh, I had strange pop culture crushes. At one point I loved the villain from The Mask, I really literally cannot explain myself there. I just looked him up—I didn’t even know his name until right now, can you imagine? His name is Peter Greene, he’s a character actor known for playing villains, and this is what he looked like in that 1990s-Jim Carey starrer.
I liked this Peter fellow so much, I had this whole elaborate daydream of him coming to India and then going across schools to give talks about his craft and winding up at my school and noticing me, this discerning, precocious person who was the only one in her whole entire SCHOOL who appreciated him for who he was. (My dreams never went further than them singling me out, I was precocious but not that precocious.)
At fourteen, I looked twelve, twelve with a bosom that had suddenly rapidly developed overnight and did not at all match my round face and my earnest expression. (I was shortsighted, have been for most of my life, but I refused to wear my glasses regularly because of vanity. So I peered at people or looked dreamy, mainly because I couldn’t see what was going on.)
Kidsworld was a theatre programme set up by Lushin Dubey and Bubbles Sabharwal, and every year, they put up a big musical performance, usually something Andrew Lloyd Weber, at Delhi’s most famous auditorium: Kamani. These performances were large and big budget, I don’t want you to imagine just some kids with homemade costumes running around, nope, the music was live, the costumes were professional, the cast committed and talented. And everyone was between the ages of twelve to seventeen. I remember watching Jesus Christ Superstar and also Starlight Express. I auditioned for Cats, and either never got in or had to go somewhere. Oh yeah, not everyone got in to the auditions. They were professionally run, you had to sing and also say a piece. They tried to find everyone a space, but it wasn’t always possible. I was looking for some background on Kidsworld to write this and I came across an interview where Lushin says, “We took kids seriously when no one else did.” And they really did. Which is why—and I keep harping on about this, but seeing as I’m now closer to how old they were instead of how old I was—it all had such discipline. If you were late, you were late, no one waited for you. If you didn’t want to come, you didn’t, but it was impressed upon you that you were part of a team, and if you flaked, then you’d be letting everyone else down. Oh my god, is that what playing organised sports feels like? I just suddenly got it.
The play we were doing, the one that me and my friend signed up for, was their version of Matilda by Roald Dahl. The same book, the same story, except the songs were in Hinglish, so “Yeh thi kahaani, chhoti Matilda ki, small though she looked, she turned out a star.” (This is the story of small Matilda etc etc). Unlike usually, this play had an option to just join the music section. This is because they were trying a little experiment, where the actors just acted, and the choir would perform the songs, sort of like a Bollywood movie. They’d have to lip-sync in time to our songs, but this meant Bubbles and Lushin were free to focus on the best range of actors, not just look for someone who could act and sing.
Later we were called “the Pit,” as in “stop all that giggling from the Pit!” because we’d have to sit on the floor in a little area beneath the stage at Kamani, the orchestral pit. The instruments were to our left, we were divided into altos and tenors and sopranos and based on our singing skills, either made to sing in chorus or on our own. My friend was a much better singer than me, so she got a solo or two, I think. I say “I think” because my eyes were only on the boy to the left of her, a lovely curly haired boy with brown eyes and a sudden sweet smile, and a voice that could melt chocolate. He sang for us sometimes: Unchained Melody or Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You, soft ‘90s anthems of yearning that seemed to sum up my feelings for him. Of course, he did not know I existed, I mean, he probably did, we were a very small group, but I never spoke a single word to him. Even when he was being kind, and for a sixteen-year-old boy I remember him as extraordinarily kind, he probably said, “Hi” and I grinned wildly, and blushed madly and stared down at my lap until the whole interaction was over, and my friend, not held back by unrequited love, had perfectly normal, friendly conversations with him, which I envied so much.
What else did I do that summer besides the play? I can’t remember very much. I do recall a few things, standing out in a starburst of memory. I remember our rehearsals were at a school, and we’d stand around outside, waiting for our rides. Not many kids smoked then, and so we stood around with nothing to do, almost. I don’t remember what we did with our hands, no cellphones, no cigarettes, isn’t that strange to imagine? What do you do when you’re standing around with nothing to do? I remember one boy gave as his audition piece, that bit from The Mill on the Floss where Maggie Tulliver cuts her hair. I hadn’t read it then, and five or six years later when it was a college text, I remembered him sitting on the floor and declaiming, “You’re going to catch it, Maggie.” I bought a t-shirt off him for 50 rupees, a soft forest green polo neck t-shirt. I had admired it, and he said, “Do you want to buy it?” and the next day he gave it to me, washed and in a bag. I had that t-shirt for years after.
One of the older boys in the group offered to go to the market next door for drinks and snacks and I said I’d come along to help. I said it boldly, and also a little shyly, because I didn’t talk to the boys, if I was a character in The Babysitter’s Club, I’d want to be Claudia, but I was probably Mary Anne. I want to be a Gryffindor but I am a Hufflepuff. I want my daemon to be a cat, but it’s probably a mouse. I thought we were going to walk and stopped short when he wheeled out his scooter. I’d never been on a SCOOTER with a BOY before. “Hop on, princess,” he said, grinning, and I didn’t hesitate a second, I jumped right on.
Later—much later—I kicked myself for not getting the phone number of my golden voiced crush. My friend had long ago returned to her life of school and friends and extra-curricular activities, I still waited for the cast party they promised we’d have. “Maybe she lost my number,” I said to my friend in August and in September, and by October, even I, incurable optimist, knew that cast party was never going to happen. Meanwhile, I had been busy, I had a phone book, and I had his first and last name, and I sat with my very patient friend and called up each LAST NAME in the book. It was a common one, think Singh, and think calling all the Singhs to ask for one particular boy. I even used an Ouija board to ask for the number, and wrote it down in my diary, dialling it with hot sweaty fingers, do you remember when we had to put one finger inside each number hole and turn it all the way round? Do you remember what the curled phone coil felt like, wrapped around your forefinger, as you twisted and untwisted, curled and uncurled, while you waited for the other person to pick up?
You know, as amazing as it is to have someone you like like you back, there’s something to be said about the Unrequited Crush. It’s just so pure. Most of the time you don’t want anything from the other person, just to be in their orbit. But the thought of them makes you smile, makes your heart beat a little faster, provides some nice figure for your daydreams. No real person actually lives up to all this, so the time you spend with your Unrequited is actually stronger than some of the men you’ve dated. You can project everything on to them—pretty stories, visions about the future, visions of a happier, more together you, just by virtue of them noticing you and falling equally wildly in love. It always seemed like my crushes went on forever and also for just one second. It’s never about them, really, is it? It never is.
Links I Liked On The Internet This Week:
Of course you have to read the rest of Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song that I used for the title of this post.
Who are the people marked as “Spam/Scam call” on your phone?
The unbreakable bond between humans and dogs.
I do a lot of crosswords (using the free Android app Shortyz, very basic but nice) so this set of tips on how to solve faster was very useful!
The morality play of pandemic shaming. (You know you’ve done one or the other.)
This is also a great time for me to (re)post an old drawing I did.
I am not reading much on the internet but I am re-reading (for the third time!) Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra (YES, I know, no, I haven’t watched it, I don’t know if I will) and trying to decide who is sexier in writing: Sartaj Singh or Ganesh Gaitonde. I think Gaitonde is just about scraping by into first place at this point.
Have a great week!
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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