Oct 28, 2011

Of Being Bullied...

I grew up around some of the meanest kids ever. Of course, not all of them were mean. I knew some really nice kids too. But a lot of them were, and I was weird. Invariably, I got bullied. Bad.

It’s funny what bullying can do to your personality. What I experienced was bullying bordering on abuse. Well ‘bordering’ is a mild term. But anyway, I don’t want to dwell on what has passed.

I want to talk about the path to recovery. More importantly, my path to recovery.

It’s hard to identify when a child is being bullied. More so, when you happen to be that child. At an early age, you believe that what goes on around you, is what life is. You really don’t know that things can be another way. So when someone told me I was stupid, I believed I was stupid. When someone told me I was ugly, I believed that too. When someone else told me that everybody hates me, and no one wants to be my friend, I believed that I was not worthy of having any friends. Someone told me that God hates people like me and I will burn in hell, I really thought I was going to hell.

Why bullying happens is something I am yet to comprehend. As innocent as they are, sometimes kids can be very mean. Probably without meaning to. Perhaps, the only way they can make sense of their own messed up surroundings is by making others feel as bad as they are feeling inside.

It’s sad but it's true, of almost everybody. Even me. We feel better about ourselves when the people around us look bad. Some of us are not vocal about this, and some are very. There are probably a handful who manage to rise above this state of mind.

I remember from my own experience that as a child, it is very difficult to talk to an adult about what you’re going through. Mainly because, an adult will either belittle everything you are saying and attribute it to your imagination, or go do something that will make you even more unpopular. Face it, not every adult is a Dumbledore. Most are just Umbridges, and a few rise to the level of a McGonagall or a Flitwick.

A lot of people assume that if you are a kid growing up with parents who are able to provide for you well, with a certain level of affluence, your life is made. You are a blessed child with nothing to worry about. Well sorry to burst your bubble, but ugly situations reside in every walk of life. With the rich and the poor and the middle class. Money really has very little to do with happiness. And that is the unfortunate truth. It is also a liberating truth, should you choose to embrace it.

When I got a little older, reading a few books and stuff, I was able to comprehend what really happened with me. Not just around me, but with me. I realized that I was a changed person. That I could no longer have a group of people near me laughing without being terrified that they were laughing at me. (I always check if there’s something wrong with my dress or something stuck in my teeth). I could no longer say things with the ease that I used to, I had to say everything in my head a dozen times, inspecting and weeding out everything that could be made fun of. This ultimately led to me becoming a very quiet person, from a non-stop chatterbox.

Childhood experiences affect different people in different ways. This is how it affected me. When I first realized it I cried a lot. I wallowed in self-pity. Until I got that out of my system.

I then started a whole journey of introspection that has lasted a good 12 to 15 years. The result of this journey? I have made my peace with who I am.

It’s a very difficult situation, not accepting yourself the way you are. Fortunately, varied circumstances have allowed me to come to this conclusion. Probably my own will has contributed to it more than anything else. I remember someone asking me once, what is the one thing I want in life. My answer was instantaneous. To be at peace with myself, is what I said.

So initially, I went about blaming myself for what happened. Many people told me that I did not handle teasing well. I thought that was it. I was too sensitive and I could not handle the people around me. I played the self-blame game for a long time.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I started watching the Oprah show a lot. There were some people on the show that she would interview, who have been in similar situations as I have. As I listened to them speak, and then a shrink speak, and then Oprah herself speak, I was exposed to the whole ‘victim’ attitude. These people spoke like victims. They did not hold themselves responsible for what happened at all. Neither did anyone else. It was like watching a concept totally alien to me until then.

I tried it too. To see that I was not responsible in anyway. Yes, it eased up the pain a lot. It was relieving to see that many others had been where I was, and that I was not to blame. But in the long run, I realized it made me too bitter. When I blamed the people around me, I did not become a better person in any way whatsoever.

A lot more reading and understanding later, I came to the realization that I was not responsible for what the people around me did, but I indeed was responsible for what that did to me, within me. Yeah, sounds simple, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it took me a long time to get there. I’ve been a slow learner in life.

After a considerable amount of yoga, spiritual seeking and guidance, I’ve been able to come terms with my past and be completely okay with it. The way it has become now, is that I can talk about my past, without batting an eyelid, without shedding a tear. Without remorse. With anyone.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming any greatness. I’m no saint, no angel. I feel bad for things that happen today too. But I’m able to wash it away with much ease. It doesn’t stick to me easy. Nothing does. It’s a good feeling.

I guess I’ve been incredibly lucky. For the number of years I’ve felt lost, I’ve been blessed with a good support system. I’ve had a strong family, my mom and dad, feeling their love and support throughout. Even if they never did fully comprehend what I was going through, the fact that they never broke down when life handed them lemons, did not allow me to break down completely. Looking at their resilience, I learnt never to give up on myself. Sometimes setting an example can go a long way, than just listening, understanding and talking.

No matter how much I got depressed, I always made it a point to bounce back. To try again, to try harder. To look in different places, to look deeper and deeper within myself.

In a way, I sometimes look at my childhood situations as a blessing. If I had not had a difficult time, where would I have gained this rich inner life from? How would I have learned to look at life so deeply? How could I have ever learnt the meaning of being calm, still, silent?

If my life was all a bed of roses, I would have been too arrogant to look within myself, let alone look at anyone else.

Perhaps, there really is a reason for the things that happen around us! J

P.S: What I would like to point out here is that child abuse is more real and more often than you think it is. If you observe a sudden, drastic change in the behaviour or mood of a child, more often than not they are victims of some sort of abuse. It may be verbal or physical. From adults or their playmates. Any form of abuse is bad. Children really do not know how to talk about it. It is up to us adults to understand what’s happening and take them out of abusive surroundings immediately. And also to coach them on how to deal with such situations.

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Oct 20, 2011

Star Gazing

I was around 9 when I saw a celebrity for the first time. Well, not much of a celebrity to be honest. Just Shakti Kapoor. A popular personifier of evil in the 80’s and 90’s. I was with my mother at the Bombay domestic airport waiting to board a plane, when a nice aunty spotted him lurking in a corner. No one approached the poor guy, really. The aunty was kind enough to point out that had this been Amitabh Bachhan, people would be flocking around him in huge numbers. Well, Duh!

Barring this minor incident, my life has always been rather celebrity-dry. The only other incident worth talking about is, well, the one I’m going to talk about now. :D

It was the last couple of days of my lovely honeymoon. After a blessed week of touring the heavenly lands of Kerala (Munnar, Thekkady, Kumarakom, etc.), we arrived at our final stop, a place called Athirapalli. This was a place that I had picked out specifically, after seeing some beautiful pictures of waterfalls. If Google images was to be trusted, and I did, I figured this absolutely gorgeous location was not a place to be missed.

The agent who took care of all the bookings for us suggested a lovely resort on top of a small hill. It looked perfect in the pictures too, and we reached there in the afternoon, after a morning of sightseeing in Cochin.

Our car drove up the hill, directly leading us to the restaurant in the resort. It was kind of open to air, and the view overlooked the waterfall. I must say that it was really nothing short of heavenly. The falls were huge, and the atmosphere was filled with the sound of water gushing at great force. We decided to have lunch before being shown to our room, so we were seated at an elegant table. Once we were handed our menus, the waiter left us and we were alone for a while. (Yes, playing footsies under the table :D)

Only to be interrupted soon by the resort manager. He came up to us with a few routine greetings. I did notice something funny though, he seemed to be bursting with excitement.. Like he wanted to badly tell us something but was restraining himself. It was odd, and I shot him a quizzical glance.

Unable to control himself any longer, I suppose, he blurted out in a heavy mallu accent, “Abishek and Aishwarrya Bechhan are staying in our resssort!”

He was positively beaming with pride at this point.

M and I didn’t comprehend at first. We looked at each other questioningly and looked back at Mr. Manager. He repeated himself, this time with more gusto.

I was in a kind of haze. He was saying the words, but I still wasn’t comprehending. I mean, I’m really your average citizen. Stars don’t stay in the same resorts as I do.

“Ah, how come?” M asked finally.

“They are shooting, saar. For Raavan. Everyvon is here, Abbishek, Aissswarrya, Vikkram, Meni Retnam Saar. Yvvvery-von.”

M was least interested by this information. I, on the other hand was a bit excited. Okay, very excited.Not at the prospect of meeting the stars, really, but at the thought of going back home and regaling people with stories of my beautiful, star-studded honeymoon. Yeah, I wouldn’t say no to a bit more of all the attention I was enjoying as a bride. This would be just perfect to keep people listening to me.

Later that afternoon, our driver-cum-guide took us out to see the falls. Shooting was going on, and the area was cordoned off, so we couldn’t go close beyond a point. There were a lot of people watching from a distance, and we did too. A stunt-double lady wearing a safety harness was jumping off the falls and being pulled up again. This was going on forever and got boring after a while. So we decided to return before it got dark.

Once again our car pulled up to the restaurant. This time, the excited manager jumped forward the moment we got out. Running up to us he said, “Saar, Maam, Abishek and Aisswarrya jess left saar, jess now! They are going to the shewting, jess now saar!”

He looked frantic at this point, wildly dissappointed that we did not get to see them, missing them by just a few seconds. We ourselves were hardly worried, but greatly amused to see this jolly man in such a fever.

Just to humour him, I played along, acting thorougly dissappointed and asked him to tell me all the details, which he gladly did.

Dinner was a treat. They arranged a special table for us at the far corner of the restaurant garden, the one that had the best view. There was candle-light and everything. Very romantic. So we were having a good time, when a couple of men came down for their dinner. From a distance, it was hard to tell who they were, but M figured out one of them was Mani Ratnam “saar” himself.

We didn’t go up to him, for two reasons. One, we were really enjoying ourselves too much to be bothered getting up, and second, we didn’t want to disturb the guy, who obviously had a hard day of work at the falls. So we left it at that.

We were leaving the next morning after breakfast. All packed and ready, we came down to the restaurant to eat. I was really beginning to wonder if I was going to get to meet any of these celebrities to tell people back home. And who should we find standing right at the entrance, but the man from the night before, Mr. Mani Ratnam. Up close. Like, just any other person.

M nudged me. I nudged him back.

“You talk,” he said

You talk,” I said.

Mr. Ratnam glanced at us briefly and started to walk towards his car. At this point, I nudged M real hard. He ran. I ran too. We reached the car.

“Sir, could we get a photograph?” said M

“Sure,” said the man, smiling.

So I posed, smiling even wider, while M took the pic. And then we said our thank yous  and good byes. When we came back to eat, the manager dude was beaming once again. He seemed happy to have supplied us with at least one of the celebrity sightings he had promised us.

“What happened to Abhishek and Aishwarya?” I asked him.

“Maam, they are haaving oll their meals in the room vonly. Waat to do.” he replied, smiling apologetically.

So that was the last morning of our honeymoon. Not a bad way to end it, I thought.

Here is the pic!

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Oct 13, 2011

The Cold and the Cow

I woke up this morning to a drizzle and a dull sky. 8:00 am looked like 6.00 pm. Even for Bangalore standards, this was pretty unusual. At least, unusual from what I’ve seen in the past 6 months.

Although this weather is romantic and beautiful, I would never disagree with that, it makes me feel like I’m slowly dying. I love staring at the rain through my window, but unfortunately, my body feels otherwise. More specifically, my lungs and the entire area around my nose start to have their own responses to the weather. As I slowly breathe in and savor the smells of the rain, my nostrils insist on filling up completely, blocking themselves out from the rest of the world, until all I can do is breathe through my mouth.

Yes, this has been the story of my life. Constant sneezes, one nostril blocked (rather, paralyzed with fear of God knows what), the other running away (to God knows where), and terrible colds, have been my constant companions, since before I even learned the meaning of the word companion.

So this morning, as you can now imagine, I woke up with a terrible nose condition that perfectly matched the weather conditions outside. My nose was raining snot and I also couldn’t breathe. (Ah, I paint quite the picture, don’t I?) This has been a regular feature since I’ve come to this blessed city. Only today, I couldn’t take it anymore.

I’ve seen worse days. Sometimes I muddle through, sometimes I rest and let M take care of me. Today was a muddling-through day. I did my chores the best I could, had my hot bath and sat down in a corner. I still couldn’t breathe. The traffic jam of sorts just wouldn’t let up. And my spirits were totally let down.

I’ve always been a rather hopeful sort of person. I’m hopeful that someday things will get better. That all the things I’ve tried and will try will find me a way out of this. And they have, actually. I’m a lot better than I used to be. It’s just the rains that make everything worse. And in this city, it rains all the time. Even in the summer.

It’s funny how it’s always true with the saying about the green grass and the other side. In Hyderabad, where I lived for around 10 years, a day such as this would be considered beautiful. A cloudy, cool day with the sun away on his sick-leave is a wonderful event; it inspires some great ideas such as bunking (college/office) and going out on a drive. In Bangalore, however, I find myself parched for a bit of sun. I lounge about my balcony waiting for that little strip of sunlight to find its way onto the tiles. When it shows up, I cram my feet on to it and look up eagerly at the sun, like a little girl waiting for her candy. Around here, a warm sunny day is a good day. At least, for me it is.

So coming back to today, in my little corner, I found my hope slipping away. What I was feeling instead, was defeat. Total and utter defeat. Against the constant war I wage against my body, forcing it to function day in and day out. Today I felt like letting go.

I tried meditation. The feelings stayed away and I was empty for a while. Just like the sea shore when the waves begin to wane. I held the tide of my feelings back too long I suppose, for when I opened my eyes, they came gushing in, stronger than before. Heck, even meditation wasn’t working.

Today, for the first time, I contemplated what it would be like if I never got better. If this silly, horrible ailment stayed with me for the rest of my life. If it prevented me from doing all the things I was hoping to do, when it went away. Like trek without gasping. Learning to swim without my ears hurting. Cooking without the smell of smoking oil making me sneeze a couple of dozen times.  I did not like these thoughts.

I wondered if it was worth living this way anymore. I wondered, if life was ever going to be more interesting than sitting in a corner, trying to breathe. I looked at M. I wondered who he was. I looked at myself, like from above. I wondered who I was, this piece of life, struggling, hanging on, struggling some more. It all seemed so pointless, so hopeless.

The tears came eventually. There had to be some sort of release. M did not say a word. He came and held me close.

Later today, the sun made its appearance and I went out for a short stroll. I stopped at a kirana store. I picked out something, but they didn’t have change and neither did I. As I turned to walk away, I saw that a cow had made its way to the rice grains. The shop owner promptly shooed at her. She began to walk, quite gracefully. The cow and I were now walking alongside each other. It was all I could do not to look at her.

She was huge and brown, with white spots. Her tail swished the flies away as she meandered along. After a while, I suspect the cow noticed me. She momentarily stopped, her head turned slightly and I almost felt her gentle eyes upon me. I tensed a little, stopped in my tracks, unsure of what to do. We were at a turning.

What happened next was one of the sweetest things I have ever witnessed. A homeless man who lives in that corner of the street, jumped up excitedly. He extended his arm towards the cow, a small banana in his hand. The cow accepted it quite naturally. As she ate, the man prostrated before her, stroked her nose and prayed to her for quite some time.

To me, the sight was both amusing and deeply touching. To think that just a couple of days ago, when I extended a 10 rupee note to the same thin, starving old man, he jumped up excitedly to receive it. That he showed the same joy in giving as in receiving was beautiful to witness. My downtrodden spirits lifted instantly.

He sat in a corner too. Perhaps he couldn’t breathe on cold nights, just like me. I could learn a thing or two from this man. Perhaps, there are things far more interesting and joyful to do in life, than a trek or a swim.

Oct 5, 2011

This and That...

It's been two weeks since I blogged last. Not due to lack of inspiration. Just lack of internet. Stupid BSNL didn't work for a week. After repeated complaints and finally getting our asses to the office, they fixed it.

Well anyway, now that everything's back in order, here I am. One really nice thing that's happened to me in the past few weeks in JustBooks. I was looking for a good library near my place, because temporarily I'm living in this tiny apartment and there's just no place to put any books. (I've been buying almost a book every week on average, since the awesomeness that is Flipkart came into being). So yeah, I was looking for a library and I came across the JustBooks website. And I found out they have a library very close by where I live. So I was there the very next day.

I must say their collection of books is really not bad. There was the regular stuff that people read - Mills and Boons, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, Perry Mason, etc., etc. But there were also some really nice rare books on Indian history, world history, and I found this really thick book on the works of Khalil Gibran, that made me whoop with joy! It's also nice that if they don't have a book you want to read, they'll get it for you. And you can borrow a book in one library and return it at any other branch. In any other city. So nice.

So I had a membership taken out in no time at all, but the tough part is, with so many books you just don't know what to take home. But I'm slowly working my way through the lot, let's see how that goes.

In other significant events, I finally took M to see the ashram in Coimbatore. We were there over the weekend. I am happy to report that he loves the place as much as I do. Well, what's not to love. The place is so beautiful. So it was a lovely, calming weekend we had over there.

Inspired by a lot of blogs and others I've decided to try my hand at some sort of fiction. I'm trying to write a bit of this and that, trying to figure out what kind of writing I can do best. Hopefully if something good emerges, I'll share over here. But anyway, let's see where that goes too.