Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another Moment Of Self-Appreciation

Growing Up- 5

I loved birthday parties as a kid. When you're young and have no idea that blossoming youth eventually makes way for wrinkles and arthirhitis, growing a year older seems like the best thing in the world. Older kids boss you around, and somehow, when you celebrate your birthday, you get one step closer to becoming one of the older kids.

I celebrated my birthday till I was eleven. I don't remember my first few birthdays because I was way too young. So, the first birthday I remember celebrating was probably my sixth or seventh. That year, for some reason, my birthday hadn't been pre-plannd. A week before my birthday, I wanted to invite all my friends in the neighborhood but there were no cards. So, I made my own cards. My father had got a print-out of ten thumbnail-sized Micky Mouse images and I cut out each one of them and stuck them on 5" by 5" pieces of ivory paper. With glitter pen, I wrote the time (some time in the evening), date (my DOB) and venue (my address). But I had forgotten one thing- my birthday party was a few days after my actual birthday because that was a Sunday, but I had still written the 16th January, my real birthday.

None of my friends liked the cards. They usually got one of those Archies or Hallmark cards with captions written by proffessionals and cute images. But their parents loved it. i was now the artist of my group.

Another birthday I remember was when nobody showed up. I had one 'friend' who didn't seem to like me much and never came to my birthday, btu I invited her anyways. As usual, she was a no-show. But the disappointing part was that none of my relatively closer friends came. Everyone had prior engagements. besides, I had stopped going out to play for a while now and I wasn't really on anybody's radar anymore. So, I celebrated my birthday that year with children who weren't really very good friends of mine. But I still thank God that someone showed up.

My most memorable birthday was nine. First, one of my friends' brothers leaned over the balcony railing and almost fell from my third floor apartment. Thankfully, my mother spotted him and brought him inside. Then, in a bizarre, unsupervised game of tug-o-war, somebody let go of the 'rope' and my neighbour fell down,. hit head hitting the nails poking out of the base of my living room sofa. He started bleeding and his parents had to be called to take him to the hospital. Even though it was supposed to be my birthday, everybody blamed me for the accident. These weren't my real friends. They were the kids who always dominated over me, and at that age, i had no problem with it. My mother was super embarassed at having an injured kid coming out of her house, but my injured friends' mother assured us this was his seventh head-bleeding accident. My mother oesn't have sons, so it was hard for her to even conceive the idea of one child having had his head banged up so many times.

I was always a supporter of the 'birthday parties at home' team. My friends, especially those who had working parents, had their birthdays in amusement parks and kids restaurants. It was practical I guess, since their parents couldn't give so much time to all the preparations that a birthday party demanded (invitations, decorations, food, cake, return gifts). Sometimes, I was jealous of how great these parties looked. But now I realize the amount of effort my parents and sister and housekeepers gave to celebrating my birthdays at home.

I don't remember exactly ehen it happened, but at some point, I stopped having these parties. So did the other kids, but for them, parties were now substituted by movies or a dinner/lunch/mall tour with friends. But that didn't happen for me. Maybe it was the fact that my friends slowly lessened in number till a point where I had none (Yes, that was the level of my social isolation. Looking back, I had some major issues back then.) but my best friends always wished me on the day and gave me gifts, something I did on their birthday too. We were going through some family problems at the time, and as a present from my family, I settled for nobody yell at me or lose their temper on my birthday.

I'm seventeen now and I already look at the institution of birthday celebrations cynically. If I'm under so much stress now, what will happen when a few years are added to my age? I see my childhood getting left behind. But if I let myself think clearly, I know I'm not even 'young' yet. So, I guess I still have a few good years on me. But no matter how much I try, I can't help but feel a passive sadness at being past the age of cake-cutting and invitations with Micky Mouse cut-outs and and birthday parties gone wrong.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Growing Up- 4

What's growing up without friends?

If you're reading this, there is a good chance you'll admit you've changed your frind circle several times in your life. If you're below twenty, you remember all those friends that came and went. Some stayed for a long time, some are still with you and some lasted around as long as the latest fad.

The first friends I remember are two girls from my school I met in nursery. We were nicknamed 'The Three Musketeers' by all the teachers. Frankly speaking, one of us was the leader (not me), and the other two just followed her around. She was a fair-skinned, adorable little girl whom everyone adored and me and the other girl were her complete opposite. I only have vague memories of this friendship, but one thing I remember clearly is playing in the sprinklers and getting wet. We did this in the school backyard everyday with some other children till the day we got caught by our teachers and were punished.

Two years later, my 'leader' friend left school and moved to America and the other two of us drifted apart.

Then came a long list of friends I don't ven remember. Somehow, I always had a huge amount of trouble being liked by the other girls (and boys too, but that didn't matter at that age). They left me out of everything and acted as if I didn't even exist. Sometimes, they said mean things to me. It was almost as if I was beneath them somehow. As a child, when you haven't yet developed a personality, it's hard to fight back against such things. You just want to make some friends, even if it is at the cost of basically being huimliated.

But the moment I began growing up, things changed. All of a sudden, I didn't want bad friends, I didn't need them. I started pursuing other interests and it was just a matter of time before I got over my desperate self. even then, it wasn't as if everybody was dying to be friends with me, but at the same time, I had developed a stange confidence which allowed me to just say, "You don't like me, but I won't change for you".

Now, this part is important- sometimes your friends change, but that doesn't mean you have to change with them. In fifthI was friends with the most popular girl in school. She was nice, until the day she became a total... I don't even want to even say the word. All of a sudden, it was all about making fun of people and throwing herself at guys and I didn't like her anymore. So, I stopped talking to her. Somehow, we became enemies after that. Neither of us said anything, but it was clear we hated each other. Because she was still the most popular girl in school, a majority of my classmates started hating me and even if they did like me, they wouldn't admit it. At times, it was hard being surrounded b so much of negativity, but the fact was, I didn't want to be a sell-out who acted like one of those It-Girls they show on TV.

All that being said, I have to admit I haven't alwas been perfect. I know I have been bossy with my friends at times. I have also killed a lot of fun for them becuase I didn't know how to have any. To be completely honest, when I saw all the girls who walked around school acting like they owned, I was so scared of turning into them that I forgot all about socializing. For me, talking to people who wanted to be with these girls was like giving in. I tried to be as different from them as possible and it made me come across as cold and standoffish.

I'm hoping to change all that now. It's not so hard for me to smile and say "Hi" to acquaintances anymore. I try to mingle with more people. And also, since I work a lot, I get to meet more people. I am pretty sure people still make fun of me behind my back, but at least I'm not being humiliated like I once used to me.

Now, let me tell you about my good friends. I had two good friends in Delhi. One was a Muslim girl who reas everything I wrote and another was a Bengali girl who argued with everything I said. I still love both of them, even though I know we won't be friends again. Time and distance make it hard to rekindle lost friendships.

Right now, I am friends with a few girls in school who are exactly the kind of girls I respect. They are above the whole 'popularity' thing, they don't try to get attention, they try and sometimes succeed at being good at things like academics and most of them are good at heart. And yes, they can be really, really, really boring sometimes, but that's a small price to pay for having friends who're not just your social circle. In particular, I have tow girls whom I hang out with the most and I really enjoy spending time with them. Now, as we all face the possibility of leaving each other behind and going to college, we're trying to stick close together. Some of us are thinking of joining Facebook. Me and my best friend are thinking of trying to get into the same college (she's a hell lot smarter than me, so that's not going to happen).

In conclusion, I would just like to say I'm happy with how far I've come in the 'friends', but I know it's still going to take a lot of hard work to keep the friends I have and make new ones.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Growing Up- 3

Probably the biggest part of growing up is deciding what you want to do with your life. What will be your hobbies? What about your interest? And most importantly, what will be your career?

In Eclipse, the third disaster of the Twilight movie series, there is a grand total of one funny scene in which Bella's friend, Jessica, delivers her speech as a valedictorian. She says throughout their lives, they have been questioned about what they want to be and her answer has gone from 'princess' at age five to 'astronaut' at age ten. But now as they were ready to graduate, the same question is being asked all over again and this time, a serious answer is expected. And the answer she gives is- "Well, who the hell knows?"

I didn't like the movie, but I loved the scene enough to want to turn the whole series around to make Jessica the proatogonist in place of Bella. This particular scene was not there in the books, but it is the only memorable one for me because it captures the dilemma of not being sure of one's goal in life and it being okay because everyone is going through the same thing.

The first thing I wanted to be was a dancer. A lady in my neighborhood who had done her PhD in classical dance had conducted a workshop for children below the age of eight and I was part of it. She was convinced I had the grace and skill to become a professional dancer and I believed her. Not once did it cross my mind that maybe she was just trying to make me and my parents happy. I danced around the house, in neighborhood programs, in events and festivals. And just as suddenly as it had come, the dancing fever wore away.

Then came the fashion designer phase. My father's company was working on a textile project and I drew some designs for the catalogue. But the fact was that fashion wasn't my passion. It was just that I had the talent for painting and drawing and that made drawing designs easy. But God-given talent doesn't always equate itself to interest.

Most people thought I could be an artist and I think my parents really wanted me to be one. But drawing didn't stay with me. I could only work when inspired and not at other times. Looking back, I sometimes feel that prettiness is not my forte. I feel confined by it. I still continue with art, but more as a hobby than as a passion.

Then, I started writing and if you're reading this blog, you know what I'm talking about.

I was the only kid who was considering writing as a career. Nobody else seemed to get it. None of my friends could really appreciate it. At some points, I thought a lot of people in school thought they could do the same thing as me. Not to brag, but more amatuer novels came out of my class than anybody else's and incidentally, they were all written by my friends. It was irritating back then, but it's flattering now. SOme people believed having a good command over English is all you need to become a good writer. Command over language is important, but not all-important. I was expected to know the menaings of all the complicated words and the jealous kids got to make fun of me when I didn't know one meaning. The truth is, if you can write, you can write in any language. It's something which comes from your heart and brain and it doesn't matter what language it comes in.Also, people always expect me to want to become a jornalist, but I always say no. That's not the kind of writing I want to do.

So now that I had figured out what I loved doing, what happened next? Well, I grew up.

At some point, I realised writing couldn't be a full-time profession and I had to think of something else. So, I took up Science in school and am now trying to get into engineering because that's the safest, most common career ooption in India. I also have kept the option of doing something in psychology open because human behavior interests me. And I know how bad all this sounds. I know I sound like someone who killed her dreams, but that's not it. Life isn't just about dreams. There's a lot of other things to be worried about. Your parents will always want to see you doing something stable and secure. You yourself might end up in a very bad place if your dreams go unfulfilled, the chances of which are high. In areas such as art and entertainment, there is so much of competition that most careers get over before they even start, so why would you want to find yourself in that position?

I've realized you shouldn't be so quick to judge people. Don't say somebody didn't have the courage to follow their dreams without knowing their full story. For example, I know an engineer who is trying really hard to be an actor and scored himself a role on a TV show. He worked nine to five Monday through Friday and then travels to the opposite end of the city to attend castings. The bass guitarist and vocalist of Indian Ocean is a graduate from one of the world's most reputed universities (B.Tech from IIT, Kanpur and PhD in Environmental Engineering Cornell!!), which means he got himself a degree before he became a part of what is arguably the hottest band in India. Am I happy doing what everyone else is doing? The honest answer is no. But since I am fighting for a future in a country with a population of 1.2 billion people, I just decided to be practical. I still write a lot and aspire to be a writer, but I am also keeping in mind that having a stable career is important. Hopefully, I will be able to strike a good balance between dreams and reality.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Growing Up- 2

Boys. The word is relevant in every teenaged girl's life, whether she admits it or not. No matter how mature I pretend to be, if I'm being completely honest, I have had my moments too. The whole weak in the knees, butterflies in the stomach feeling isn't something I'm unfamiliar with. So today, I am letting you into my secret closet full of crushes and first loves. Yes, first loves is a plural.

My first crush was Shah Rukh Khan after 'Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge' came out. I don't really know what happened to me, but for all I understood as someone who was practically a toddler, I was in love. I didn't care he was married to a woman named Gauri. I didn't care I was his daughter's age. I just kept expressing my wish to marry Shah Rukh Khan. It's embarrassing now, but it was funny back then. People kept teasing me. They probably thought it was cute for a baby to want something so... grown up. Even today, Shah Rukh Khan is my favorite actor in the whole world.

Then came my first real crush when I was in pre-school. It was a boy in my class. I hadn't even learnt the alphabet, but something about playing in the sand pit with him melted away my heart. I knew he was the one. So, I asked him, "Will you marry me?" He said, "I'll ask my mom". The following day, he informed me his mother was against our matrimonial union and that was the end of the youngest love story of all time. What a tragedy! I don't even remember all this, but my parents do, and they keep reminding me of it every chance they get. If I saw that boy today, I wouldn't recognize him, but I know he was my first real live love.

Then came a string of crushes that last about a week. Every time, I thought I was in love and every time I fell out of love as easily as spitting out chewing gum. I used to be a tall kid, so the problem for most of them was that the guy would come up to my shoulder. Girl kids are mostly taller than boy kids as boys have their growth spurts much later. This simple truth of nature made it hard for me to be attracted to any boy for a long time because eventually, I would just start thinking of him as... short. I know that's shallow of me, but I had just started growing out of my baby phase and I was still allowed to think love was all about having a 'happily ever after' with a prince. I now understand how stupid I was back then.

A few bad experiences also made their way into my life. First was a senior boy who had a weird thing for me. I was in eighth, he in twelfth. Can I call him a pedophile? Okay, maybe that's too extreme. But I didn't enjoy his attention. I had no interest in him. His friends kept making cheapo comments about me and I wasn't yet ready to deal with senior students. I was scared of the school bus because that's when I saw him. When I tried to tell my friends about this, they thought I was just trying to get attention. Having a senior guy crushing on you is quite cool, I discovered. They thought I was making up a story to look like the cool girl.

Then came the new boy who joined school and totally had a crush on me. He would go to all lengths just to sit next to me. That was all very flattering because I was not and still am not the girl guys want to be with, and having a marginally good-looking guy expressing interest in me was new and interesting and fun even though I never dared to admit it. But the flattery faded away the day he stopped liking me and fell for my friend.

Amidst all this, did I fall in love even once? At one point, I thought I did. I really cared about one particular guy and always wanted what was best for him. But he was still a child. He didn't deserve my care. I tried to be a good influence on him, but he didn't want to be as good as I thought he could be. Perhaps, I too wasn't ready for any relationship whatsoever. So, it was time for me to move on. I can be all feminist and say it was easy, but it was hard as hell. I couldn't focus on studies, I slept all day and the amount of energy that went into  pretending I was happy was enough to power five cities. But I am the bright girl. I should be more than just the girl who fell for a guy and lost her prospects in the process.

I must say that nobody is allowed to judge me for being attracted to guys. The independent girl is always shown to be the one who doesn't care about guys and 'focuses on her future'. I didn't fulfill both criteria. But I don't invite any judgement. I went through what most girls my age go through and I am not ashamed of that. I am not proud of a lot of things, but I am of some things. I am proud I never changed myself to become what any guy would want me to be like. I never tried to be the stereotypical It-Girl every guy chases after. I am proud I always placed my family and the people who really love me over some boy who probably didn't even care about me. I never lied to my parents or did anything wrong because of a stupid crush. I am proud I didn't become one of those girls who giggle around boys and are okay with being sidekicks to them. So, I forgive myself for my marquee of silly crushes. It's not always about getting it right. It's about not letting your infatuations overpower you and learning to do that is a part of growing up.

Growing Up- 1

One of the biggest parts in the life of any Indian student my age is exams. There's lots of them- hard ones, easy ones (those are rare), routine ones, class tests, first term, finals, semesters, boards, competitive exams- you name it, and there is an exam to fit the category.

I clearly remember the time when this wasn't the case for me. Before I moved to Mumbai, exams were never really important. My parents called me lazy, insincere and what not because they were worried I would never become serious. But I think I wasn't any of the things they said I was. I was just.... a kid. 

Till I was in fourth, I never opened my book. Studying was an alien concept. I admired and sometimes envied the kids who scored good marks and got good grades. All the teachers thought they were the cream of the school and paid extra attention to them. But still, I never made the effort to be like them myself. At the time, my painting and writing wasn't taken very seriously either, so I didn't have the excuse of being good at something else. 

Usually, teachers call parents on parent-teacher meetings to tell them their kid isn't doing enough academically. But in my case, it was quite different. My teachers didn't like my academic record, but my class teacher liked me for my behavior. She always took my side. On the day of the parent-teacher meeting, my mother asked me to wait outside the classroom while she talked to my teacher. I knew she wanted to complain about me not studying at home. But my teacher was shocked. She didn't even believe my mother and said there was nothing wrong with the way I was working. Looking back, I realize my mother was right and my teacher wrong. i had a good impression on my teacher and she believed in an image of me that wasn't realistic. But my mother knew  me better and was more concerned about my well-being. She was the one with the correct opinion.

Two years later, exams became a little more important. I started middle school and now got to see a lot of older kids who were serious about studies. So, I started studying before exams. All year, I would do nothing, but two days before the exam, I started learning notes. One of the biggest problems of the Indian education system is its emphasis on memorization of facts. But this flaw helped me during that time. In-depth study requires time and effort. But the time and effort I was giving was enough to mug up facts. So, I went from the bottom 25% of class to bottom 50% of class. It wasn't very good, but still, it was a climb up the ladder.

This went on for a long time. But my intelligence kept growing (even if I say so myself). I read a lot of books and learnt a lot of things by this habit. So, studies somehow became very simple for me. I had now started learning, not just from textbooks but from other sources as well. My favorite subject was human behavior, which didn't help me write tests, but gave me a better understanding of things.

Then I moved to Mumbai and something inside me changed. I started taking my education seriously. I wanted to be a good student, a sincere schoolgirl who did her best, but at the same time I didn't want to become a bookworm. Exams became serious business. I actually prepared for them. I used reference books, things I had never even looked at before. I started getting up early in the morning so I would have time to study without giving up on other things like writing.  Exams are still a struggle for me. I may still not be able to get into one of the best colleges. But I am trying now.

It's not just about reading. It's about realizing it's important to take responsibility for my life. I am a privileged girl from a good family. My parents take care of everything for me. But I want to do something for myself. I want to give my education due importance. I want to continue doing the things I love, not letting exams and books overshadow my other interests. I am a student, learning is my job, so why not do it? You could ask me if I'm happy. Well, frankly, the ten-year-old girl who slacked her way through school and was still adored by her class teacher had more fun than I ever do, but I can't go back to being that even when I see a light shadow of that version of me in my friends' faces. Being a child is good, but growing up is something to be proud of and growing backwards is just frightening.


The Growing Up Series

I am suffering from the disease I dread the most- writer's block. Symptoms include lack of time for writing, nail-biting, creative frustration and nightmares about losing one's writing talents forever. But I can't just stop writing because I don't have any new ideas right now. Writing is a bit like sports- you have to keep exercising your muscles even after you've been injured or have gone into retirement. It's a part of you, a channel for your thoughts. The written word means to be what the spoken word could never be and I must keep doing it.

So, I have now decided to do a series. It's called the 'Growing Up' series. It is not a new idea for me. It's something I've wanted to write for a long time but never really got to it. 

An introduction- We grow up in different ways, but we never realize it when its happening. It's only when we look back that we see how much we've changed. In my series, I will trace the different parts of me that have grown up in the seventeen years of my existence. Hopefully, all my friends and followers will leave their comments and share their comments too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How To Make Friends Without Alienating People

Popularity really is something, isn't it? The guy all the girls chased after in high school might remain your abject of envy or admiration even after you grow up and have a job that Mr. Popular can only dream about. The prettiest, most fun girl who became College Queen can go on to become a housewife with naggiong kids, but in your memories of her, she will always be who she once was- effortless in mingling, charming, smiling all the time.... Some people have the privilege of getting a lot of attention, and no matter how good you become, you will never be considered as great as them by your peers. You may be beautiful, but people will always find them attractive. You may be intelligent, but they will be the clever ones. That's just how it is.

But what exactly makes people popular?

I probably spent the whole of my teenaged life being the one that got left out. Now that I'm about to graduate from school, every memory involving school events seems to have me in it. That it, working in it. I am always either writing speeches (for myself or for other people), delivering speeches, doing debates, helping in the decoration commitee, participating in writing contests (and winning them) and even going to the extent of singing on stage when nobody else is willing to (trust me, singing is not my strong suit). My parents think I must be the girl everyone looks up to in school, but quite frankly, that's not the case. There is a separate group of kids that everyone wants to be with or be like, and that group doesn't include me. This simple truth has never bothered me much. I have always felt more at home with my friends, regardless of the fact that a lot of people don't even know our names.

But it can be a struggle sometimes. Being part of so many extra-curricular activities requires me to interact with students who are not my friends and I always end up feeling lonely in such situations. I have never been good at making friends because I need to work with someone because it feels forced and superficial, and a lot of school events in the last two years have been complete and utter nightmares for me.

So what is it that makes some people popular and the others not? I have noticed some traits in all popular people and following is a list-

a) Conformity: Most popular people are good at changing themselves as per company. I have never been good at that and neither have my friends, but it is a skill which can put you to a great social advantage. When you're with the smart kids act like Einstein is your idol. When you're with the bimbos, act as if your make-up and clothes are the centre of the universe. When you're with the other popular kids, act like you're friends with them even if you think of them as competition. So, rule number one in the great struggle to popularity- learn to conform.

b) Be Seen With The Right People: Some people have an undying thirst to get noticed. So, they attach themselves to people who themselves get noticed. They arrange people in order of priority. The may be having a good conversation with you, but the moment someone more popular comes along, they scoot over to siply walk away from you without remorse.

c) Remember the Beaming Smile: Is it normal to smile and say an enthusiastic 'hi' to everybody, even when you don't actually care about them? Well, some people are capable of doing that and it's not really a bad thing. It is a little superficial, but it makes people feel special. Practicing a range of expressions to show excitement, joy, admiration and so on is very imprtant if you want to be popular.

But a lot of really nice people are popular too. Sometimes, being helpful can make everyone like you and this is one method which involves no fakeness. So if you're interested in being liked by everyone, try this route. It will be the most rewarding in the long run.

A Moment Of Self- Appreciation