It was a Saturday afternoon. Dressed in my shorts and a royal blue t-shirt, I ran down the stairs. My daily evening ritual would begin around 5 pm when my friends from the colony would ring my door bell, inviting me to join them in loitering around the colony, sometimes on foot and sometimes on our bicycles.
Play time in the evening was the most awaited time of our day. After spending six hours that felt like years at our respective schools followed by the torture called ‘tuition’, evenings were our time. The streets belonged to us and we were free to do whatever we liked.
From climbing up the cement mountains near construction sites, to running after and then away from dogs. We could play hide and seek, fly kites, race towards the slope-like road on our bicycles or just sit on the grass contemplating if the abandoned old house in the last block was really haunted.
It was also in this space that we had claimed for ourselves that each of us was being judged by the people around us. As we leaned on cars for support and chatted about our class, maths and boys, we were coming under the radar of those ‘sweet’ aunties and uncles whose part time job was to spot potential bigde hue ladkas and ladkis (spoilt boys and girls).
They would pass us by giving us a smile or a mean look and we would be immediately blacklisted if we forgot to greet them or did not notice their intrusive presence around us.
Almost all the residents knew each other, the children and their parents. After finishing their household chores, women would come out in the evening to get some fresh air and discuss a thing or two. In this group of women, there would always be a few to spot the ‘bigde hue‘ (spoilt) children, who would patiently wait and veer the discussion towards her topic and then reveal her newest ‘spoilt kid’ discoveries.
Then, after a ‘Mrs Sharma’ had left the daily gathering at the park, the spoilt kid spotter would casually comment on how Mrs. Sharma’s son was roaming with a girl or how the guard had often seen him entering home way past midnight.
She would then go on to become an astrologer, revealing the future of Mrs Sharma’s son. How he didn’t study, how he was a distracted person who wouldn’t even help his parents in their old age and eventually bring disgrace to his family.
As a young girl with a strong sense of right and wrong, I was always ready to speak my thoughts and strongly expressed my views irrespective of the age and position of the person in front of me.
Easily irritated by the wrongdoings of others, I used to be very vocal about my dislike of certain people and on several occasions, I answered back to people older than me in the colony.
Saying what we had in mind and being straightforward equates to being impolite, ill-mannered and spoilt, as I learned later. My young self had no clue that raising your voice against people who say and do wrong things is also wrong.
Children while playing often tend to get into small fights. We too, while playing, got into little fights with a few children who said we could not cycle in front of their house. Now this house wasn’t some isolated property at the countryside where we were trespassing, it was a part of a colony where all the children cycled.
When I refused to stop cycling, these children got their parents involved who stopped my cycle, held it by the hand breaks and threatened to slap me if they saw me cycling near their house again. I told them that if they dared slap me, I would call the police and get them in jail. Quite a few nonsensical statements followed from their side where they just tried to bad mouth me because I refused to get scared. I was the stubborn ill-mannered child, who went around fighting in the colony.
Almost 10 years later, I was driving back home one day. When I entered the colony, a taxi came right in front of me from the left which was a blind spot for me since I was on the middle road. Without honking, it came speeding right in front of me and despite me quickly hitting the brakes, our vehicles banged into each other.
Fortunately, since I had hit the brakes in time, hardly any noticeable damage was done to the car and the passengers were all fine. I stayed in the car, calm and ready to sort things amicably. But the lady in the taxi came out angry spitting abuses from her mouth and shouting at me to come out of the car. She banged my window, tried to open my car and gathered a crowd. I was aware that I had done nothing wrong. I tried to call my parents to sort things out.
The woman said that I was a spoilt girl who was given a car by her parents and would have almost killed her and her family together. Appalled by such unnecessary allegations, I could not control my anger and burst out, finally talking to her in her language. Even though I was right on that day and was standing up for myself, since I was a young looking girl, it was easier for everyone to believe that I’m indeed a spoilt kid with a car, who drives rashly and doesn’t know how to talk to elders. So automatically, it was my fault.
As bad as I felt that day, I also realised that the judgement that people pass on you holds no merit in your life. People have created labels and stereotypes which will always try to pull you down, cage you, suffocate you and discourage you from being yourself and speaking your mind. But giving in to these labels is not the answer. Living in the same society we, too, have grown up with several stereotypes and labels. Be it at a market place, inside the metro or at a restaurant, we, too, have judged people with our friends and have had a laugh.
It’s time we unlearn these labels and let everyone just be. It is time to be carefree, it is time to fly.