The rumble of ridicule grew louder as she entered the class. Carrying a glare which meant business and indifference, a gait which could invite the world’s hate, she moved towards her desk. There was a bitter air of suspense all around, and finally, it broke through her friend’s words: ‘they are not letting her change the section’. The attention that everyone had to offer was like that of a bunch of fans towards a celebrity, but the difference lied in the hate, hate and hate it carried. “where have I come” she thought to herself. She felt a lot of things but resorted to silence. People didn’t always understand what she meant.
As she walked homewards, she felt like a tired warrior. Both these words contradict each other, and so did her emotions. “should I tell him again?” “bother him again?” “Again? For the thousandth time?”
She returned home, and dada asked her jokingly if she had fought again. She nodded in negative.
It was her new school, where she had a hard time ‘adjusting’. The news of the sexual harassment of a student in the school she attended earlier, spread like wildfire. So the family thought it better to send her somewhere else. But it changed for worse when the teachers would call them up every other day, to tell them how arrogant their daughter was. Every other day she would run into a fight with the class bullies, failing to be the cheap, weak conformist. Staying silent and taking it is tougher than we think, and she certainly wasn’t tough enough.
One fine day she made the mistake of responding to one of her classmates in English, and the bully-leader asked her to move out: “Haryanwi ya Hindi, ya bahar ka rasta” (either you speak in Haryanwi or Hindi. If not, you get to move out of the class) She, falling prey to her bad habit of questioning others’ authority, replied: “who are you to tell me?” It started from there and ended nowhere. The teachers would either laugh it off or put it on her head again. She was torn between the duty of sparing her parents from everyday worry, and to not be just another kid.
During consecutive substitution periods, when the students had nothing to do, everyone else would just sit together gossiping or playing, and she would sit alone with the love of her life in her hands: some good book; she would stare at the pages but not read them. It was perhaps the power of mental disturbance that it could separate the love and the lover, close yet apart.
One day after a street play rehearsal, a teacher caught her for not wearing a tie. It felt suffocating in the scorching heat. The teacher reprimanded, “I never knew even girls are like this” It was a breach of uniformity, she knew, but was her gender a bigger breach? The infirmary nurse told her “I’ll get you a TC if you don’t get this skirt elongated. Even 5th class girls are not spared by their classmates. Do you not feel shameful wearing this to 10th class?”
The words stung.
It was no more a childish quarrel when things became obscene, and she had to tell her mother.
Every morning she would march to the school bus stop, only to proceed towards a place where she felt like an anti-social element. Questions were seething in her. She wondered if she was actually the wrong one? But she knew she wasn’t wrong when one day, the same bully, didn’t think twice before creating a shameless, unapologetic banter on a classmate who was mentally unsound.
Was her education less important than her appearance? She thought when the principal made her miss her favorite English class because a flick of hair found its way outside the braid. To her, uniformity was acceptable, but its relation with ‘attractiveness’ wasn’t. “Why do my male equivalents have such control on my life here in this building? Do I pay less? Or did I sign up to be somebody’s subordinate?”
“To hell with your morals”, she learnt to chant through the course of these years. Even after five years, still, an unknown devil, in the body of a homo sapien, controls what she does at 7 a.m. before leaving home for college. He controls what sort of self-defence tool she keeps in her bag. Twitter has become the new popular public domain where opinions are heard. She had gained quite an impressive feminist following, only to wake up one day to realize her account got deleted. “The world tries to shut whatever poses challenges. They resort to denial as if it shields them from the calamity.”
Her writings were bitter and raw. Raw, even in the presence of heat—the fire she had gathered throughout these years. She absorbed it from the embers that lay in her way to the school bus. She carried the sting of the misogyny, which was flung on her every day. Perhaps the only difference between her and her fellow sufferers was that she knew she was suffering and they didn’t. It was her failure that she couldn’t impart the same interrogating vocabulary to others.
One night, her diary read:
“There were no co-ed schools,
And girls’ schools were nowhere
She went to a boys’ school.
Because she wanted the education of her share.
She was my grandma.
You ask me where I get this nature from?
I blame my blood for it
After these wars,
I use elixir for my ablution
While you, the filthy world, use mud for it.”
Suddenly, I feel the need to halt the typing. Autobiographical accounts are a real job.
My flow of thought is distracted by a sudden sound.
‘Biology’ read the cover of the textbook that thumped on the table in front of me. My 11th class self pictured the human heart thumping inside it. It was the time when I chose the path of science, the most dreaded of all three streams. Its aura was such; if the other two subjects were mere ‘streams’, it was a whole ‘river’. When to submit our decisions finally, my friend told me, “I know a girl who chose to study medicine and ended up working in a beauty salon.” I resorted to silence again, and stood aghast, startled by two questions: first when the hell did I share the authority with anyone but myself? The authority to decide for myself, the authority to dream how I’ll end up. Second, what is so wrong in ending up in a beauty salon?
No book taught me this; my inner self has known it always—an honest worker is the best worker. The only profession which is on the pedestal of superiority and honor in my eyes is that of a soldier. The rest are all the same, all just equally respectable. I look on my left; there’s my companion Sanya, fellow teacher, biology. I call her a friend on the face, but I know she is just a companion. No hardness in feelings, but people don’t seem to digest the cold honesty I have in store.
I ask her to pass on the biology book, perhaps to enter the classroom again, but with a stronger spine.