Thursday, November 24, 2016

Being Bullied Passively in School : Ten Years Later

I was loved, growing up. Family, friends, an army of brothers: I know I was loved, in a very conventional sense of relationships and situations. But what I remember more than that love is that I was also slighted at almost every turn. As a result of that, I never felt loved. There is this difference between knowing you are being loved and feeling loved, and that is lost in many a friendship and relationships.

The thought of school yards drag with it happy memories in the mud. I have friendships from Kindergarten that I still cherish and hold dear, and they are also the very same people who have hurt me without their own knowledge. Back then, I thought it was enough to be just loved, that the banter that accompanied it comes with friendship and intimate relationships. But at 14 years of age, I experienced a gaping hole like none other in the presence of the very people I grew up with, for a good decade. Almost all of them don't know about it, even now. It took me my higher secondary education, five years of college, and becoming 22 before I realised that love was not enough, that the assumed 'friendly banter' is not acceptable and the fact that I have, indeed been passively bullied for a good part of my formative years. I vocalised this to two of my friends (from school) about two years ago: one of whom was subject to something similar in our school-life and another (who has been through their fair share of experiences) who looked a little stunned to know how much of what they thought was not a big deal has affected us in our respective lives.

I was always the person targeted as the 'entertainment' in many groups of people from my school life. I was a fairly popular kid for an interesting mix of reasons: being one of the best sports-persons in school, my loquaciousness and my uninhibited strength to ask silly questions about the things I don't understand. While each of these sound to be independently good aspects of my personality (which I believe they are), it was also what was made fun of at every point. I was (and still am) a tomboy. I talk a lot and in those formative years at school when you are still trying to make sense of life and finding out who you are, trying to accept and wishfully want to be accepted, being passively bullied fell together with me. I understand how my talkativeness could be annoying to someone but it was not like I always blabber incomprehensible gibberish. Every time I had something to say, I was shut off before I was heard, I was laughed at before I finished the sentence and sometimes, left alone to finish saying what I wanted to say because I have even had people walk away from conversations with me. I have been asked to shut up. I have been asked to stop 'lecturing' someone when I would merely be trying to tell someone about my thoughts on a particular matter. My voice was loud, but it was not heard and I want to tell you how much that hurts, even now. These experiences from school form a great part of our lives, it chisels us to be who we are. I think I am finally at that place where I can publicly say this, without anger or sounding accusatory.

When you are not heard, when you are not seen for anything but as being the person who is prodded to ask questions in a classroom by the other students so that the class could potentially waste time in a boring course, when your talents are not quite acknowledged, or when you're visible only for the times of entertainment for someone else: you learn to build walls. You learn to build walls to keep everyone at a distance, dole out unconditional love for a select few and stay safe with yourself.My own friends have been passive bullies, and they have left me with huge insecurities about myself. I find myself apologizing frequently when I talk to people because I have been made to feel like I am not worth someone's time in the past. I speak quickly so I can speak without being cut off. I learnt to focus on art, writing, reading books, being involved in sports and by default, being in the company of dogs. These skills I built were overlooked for a good deal of time. Even now, when someone compliments my writing or art, it doesn't go into me beyond my skin. These things don't seem to travel far but they definitely do cut deep.

While I am not an anxious or an anti-social person on the surface, I am left over-thinking a lot of things and conversations. I make acquaintances with people easily. I am easy to talk to. I believe this in itself turned up to be a part of myself because I know how it feels like when you're assumed invisible or looked through. My empathy can definitely improve, but I learnt a lot more quickly (in comparison to my peers) to be kind, to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, my intention is not to pull the rug from under my friendships but to bring to the forefront, how these interactions have impacted me. I don't hold any resentment for any of my friends who have hurt me: they did not even realise that what they were doing is actually passively bullying someone. Their intent was good perhaps, but their actions directed by peer pressure and the weight of growing up to fit certain slots put me through rough times. For that reason, I decided not to ever treat someone unkindly. I would talk to everyone in my class, there were no outcasts nor uncool kids in my sight. I played with everyone, interacted with everyone and tried reaching out to people in ways I could. But to this day, it's hard for me to accept an outreached arm at me. I don't accept love easily. I don't call someone my close friend easily. I don't share what is on my mind with someone unless I know to trust them fully. I am always on the edge on the inside of my soul. I am almost always expecting someone to bid me goodbye or ask me to shut up. That, perhaps is the baggage I carry with me from school- like a backpack. I have not been able to set it down since.

I have been discussing this several times with a good friend from my school who went through something similar. Classmates and my friends used to assume what this person is made up of. They have told me of similar and other issues that presses them until this day. They are in a great position in life, they worked a good job and are now abroad, in a prestigious university. But the insecurity and scars from childhood into adulthood has not faded away. They are still too haunting. I wonder how different this situation would have been had we had counselors in school and more awareness about such concepts. It still exists in a majority of schools, where I am from. Teachers were not sensitized to pick any of these up. I have my first two favourite professors now: when I am now pursuing my Masters degree and that is because they are sensitive and pick up things quickly, they ask me and we have conversations. We need some changes in our own systems of education.

One thing that kind of seems visible in confrontations I have had recently on this front is the fact that me being hurt about something almost seemed incomprehensible to the other because they were 'only joking'. 'We love you, we were only joking', they'd say. You don't get to decide if someone else is hurt or not, that is simply not an option or a decision of yours to make! Please remember to be kind, please remember to check-in with someone you think you may have offended in any conversation. We all grow up. I am not the person I was ten years ago. My interactions have to, thus, change with time. Sadly, when I do position myself strongly now, it hurts the very people I am trying to tell that have been hurting me all this time. But, I guess that's inevitable right now.

Being subject to such instances and mildly self-troubling formative years has left me a person most people don't recognise. When I am truly trust you, I speak to you in a different way of which only a few know. I urge you you to be generous with your kindness. You never know when you make someone's day. For, when I have been subject to all this and in seventh grade, I got out of an English exam to have one of my own friends who has been their share of insensitive tell me that the composition passage reminded them of me. It said and I still remember 'Creative people are not afraid to ask silly doubts'. It was a reinforcement of sorts. I never stopped asking questions or being talkative despite what I went through. It hurt, but I tried and pushed through because I didn't want someone else to define who I am, as a person. Please remember that any relationship needs both love and respect. It can't survive on just one of these.

All this only made me stronger. I learnt to take care of myself. I learnt to be independent. I developed skills that were in part coping mechanisms and a good part, passion. The last few times I confronted someone close to me about this, they were hurt/offended. I had to spell out that it's not okay to hurt someone even though you love them dearly. You don't love someone and hurt them for being who they are or what you think they are. It has been as hard for me as much as it is for them, and I hope they understand that. My intention isn't to hurt anyone but speak up because this is an important message to put out for one to see. I had a draft of this almost two years ago and I'm only getting around to publishing this now, because this time around, I have to let go. I have to write this down and let this go.

This time, I am still loud and will make sure I am heard.

Please be kind to one another.


Source: Pixabay 

Monday, November 7, 2016

I Stand a Cyclical Step Away from Being Everything Else

I am tucked away in a niche on the highest floor of the campus library where no one can find me. No one can directly see me or at the least, I can’t see anyone but for the tree tops slowing changing colours in the fall of the summer, now gone by. I am amidst everything that is me: changing colours, a dot of an existence in the infinite and everything transient. I am also everything that isn’t me: gable roofs, sweaters and a partial slice of these surroundings. I am removed right now. I am listening to Chopin’s nocturnes as the sun shines outside the curtain wall spread of glass and wondering how being stuck in such a turbulent and delightful place can be expressed in words. I am going to try anyway.

I am bi-lingual. I am actually tri-lingual, so to speak. I am quadruple-lingual if I consider pieces of other languages I know enough to have a conversation with a Tea Master for a cup of chai across almost any state in my country and yet, I need my American friend to say ‘vanilla’ for me because my accent is somehow incongruous to the barista who can’t understand when I say ‘vanilla’. Vann-nila Milkshake, I say.  How do you read an Indian woman saying ‘vanilla’? The word itself seems weird to me now that I have repeated it over and over again. But do you know what is comforting? Vennila. வெண்ணிலா, is the bright, white moon. The bright moon under which I sing and write, that which is everything comforting to me, that which is midnight stories from my mother, books I read under dim lights on the terrace and a constant companion. We hear what we want to. We listen to our own projections and inner-most calling, cravings and demons.  Every time I hear words, I don’t see just one meaning. I see its mermaid sisters in other languages, swimming by hand-in-hand. I seem to have gills for pores and wings for fins. I am familiar. I am unfamiliar. I hold them all in my fist and I can easily switch between at the least three languages within the fraction of a second and yet, I am not understood when I say ‘vanilla’.  What then, is my proficiency with these languages?  I’d go one step further, what is proficiency itself? What does it mean?

I urge you to listen to Chopin’s nocturnes in broad daylight. Throw yourself in my shoes, out of context, out of everything comfortably known. There is nothing as vibrant and melancholic as these compositions. What do you hear when you listen to a solo piano piece? What language pops up in your head? You’re surely thinking, aren’t you? What language do you think in?  What language do you think in when you close your eyes and see your mother’s face? When are those times your parents call you by your full name? What are the words that accompany the oddness of being referred to by our entire name by the ones we love, and if it is a language that you know, go deeper. Do you know the language or the inward surge that comes with it? If you had to tell the story of that inwardly gut, a wrenching pain or an excruciatingly beautiful joy, what are your words going to be?  We are a race that vastly identifies itself with linguistics, one’s mother tongue and inflections of a language’s voice and yet, for most things that strike us, we speak in silence, in pauses and in breathing; in being understood and experienced.

I talk to you from this place. The whole globe is cyclical and I am at the edge of one of the poles. Should I slip, I fall straight south. With a single step upward, I go down.  I am walking a tightrope on the horizon. With each step, I am seeking a balance. I am slack-lining; dipping up and down, trying not to fall. I am looking for a word in English that comes closest to கண்ணம்மா. I am amazed at how the word ख्वाब sounds in my mouth and its lyricism in poetry. One of my closest friends in this country said I was an effervescent personality whereas an angry ex-roommate called me a 'bad person' and that is interesting, someone else's words/descriptions of me: I like that added to the many pieces of who I am. I like these little bits of donated words to make me anew and changing but I am also everything I grew up with and devoured ,by myself. I grew up with கண்ணம்மா, with கண்ணா resounding in my ears. I can’t quite read anything as quickly in my own language as I can in English. I am auditorily attuned to the nuances of my language; it’s a meadow with rivers and the sounds, words come with memory, with nostalgia, with my mother’s face, my grandmother's smile and hot playgrounds. There is comforting familiarity in knowing what I am hearing and what it means to the one saying it, in my mother tongue. And yet, I can read English better than any other language I know. I know what I am looking for. Both of these languages now, hold me at an arm’s distance in one way or another. I am in-between languages, I am in the middle of explaining myself to people on either sides. I am no one story. I am too many of them and based on which side you ask me to tell you the story from, my narrative is going to change.

I want to layer my stories with the words you don’t know when I tell them. I want to know what you think they are and what I think they are and what they really do mean. I can’t translate for you what I viscerally understand. I read an interesting article with the term Shaman in Spanish (by a bi-lingual writer) and I am automatically thinking of the same word in Urdu. Oddly enough, these words mean close to the same thing in both these languages- one connecting the spirit and visible worlds. What do you think connects me and you? What connects a Spaniard and an Indian speaking a language that is a mix of Hindi and Farsi? How did these words travel? Like me, I’d like to think that language is cyclical too. It is stuck between familiarity and unfamiliarity. A language is one step away from falling into another and becoming one or something new. I am all these missteps; I am something new, something old and a confluence.

My friend, in a conversation yesterday, told me that all art is political. This turned up at a time when I independently wonder of the personal and the political in my art, writing and stance. Everything I write, say, make, or sketch is a manifestation on some level, a piece of my socio-cultural-linguistic environs. You are partaking in a bygone memory or incident that shaped me, now, across time. It is in the way I say ‘vanilla’, it’s the way I draw the moon, it’s the way I write a poem about my mother’s and my மூக்குத்தி and how I have embraced what it means to me now… to see her in myself as I move away from her, into being someone else. What do you think மூக்குத்தி is, anyway? I implore you to trace the form of these words that you may not understand. Try to write these words you see and write what you think they mean. They have a story that is me and you have one, too. Do you think these stories can fall together, find some link, a tear to share or a smile? Stories are what make and break us. Micro-narratives stitching up a whole picture full of holes: tears sewn up with the sun shining through them.  

I seem to belong and flit between everything I know and don’t know. I fall freely everywhere. I belong nowhere. I talk to you from my land of in-between's where everything is a simultaneous existence, one cyclical step away from being something else. I am everything you know and everything you don’t.

வாஞ்சை கதைகள் தரவா?


Art  ©  Hemalatha Venkataraman: Please do not reproduce without permission

Borderland: Gloria Anzldua (A book that I actually started reading when I told someone I consider my mentor that I feel like I am in-between worlds)

Sommers- I Stand Writing