Growing up in the 80’s most movies showed the hero being rejected and lashed and slapped around by the girl before she would even consider smiling at the sorry chap. Somehow it always felt that rejections and acceptances were a thing of romances. There didn’t seem to be a single story around where the guy and the girl matched up ever so smoothly and set sail into the sunset with their elders waving tearful yet happy goodbyes.
..and then there is life.
..and other simpler (and occ complex) relationships where rejection happens and it’s just as painful.
To outright refuse takes some skill. Either you are affirmatively courageous or you are just plain rude.
I remember this girl a grade lower than me while at school. She apparently loved me to bits. As in, followed what I did, imitated me, brought me small cute gifts and spoke about me endlessly to other girls (who in turn came and teased me about her) – it was weird. Not her behavior, but the whole scenario. I wasn’t used to it, but it felt good inside to be liked. It was embarrassing for various reasons, but the one thing that I forced myself to being was – yes, kind. I grinned and bore through her long winded stories, I smiled at her when she waved excitedly across the hall, and I taught her some English when she struggled with it.
This didn’t come naturally. My immediate natural reaction was to run. To hide and not talk and double-guess myself and look at everyone with suspicion.
For starters, I was not a popular girl, by any long shot. I don’t think anyone knew of my existence till maybe 11th grade when I became this “bratty-always-joking-laughing” person. Because of this inherently introverted nature, I didn’t have very many friends. Just one. We were poles apart in every which way. From culture to looks to family to heights to color of our skin. I was dark, skinny and hesitant to speak up. We met in 4th grade, and we’ve been friends ever since. One thing that stuck out through all of it was that she was kind. She said similar stuff of me, but I particularly remember her being kind.
Kind in how she tolerated my very different not-pleasant-south-indian-lunches, in the way I was forced to dress, in the complete lack of bollywood music knowledge, in how she related complete bollywood movies scene by scene. I specifically remember this one movie called “Nikaah” – and where we sat behind the school, under the tamarind trees and she took a week to complete telling me the story. I haven’t seen the movie, but I know every movement of Salma Agha, Raj Babbar and Deepak Parashar. :-) That’s how I knew that a Muslim marriage could be ended by uttering “talaak” thrice. btw We were in 6th grade or so.
So I was just another student in this lovely fancy amazing school that my parents worked very hard for me and my sister to go through (and for which I will be eternally grateful, coz look at me now!) and as much as I loved the school, I was a nobody for the longest time. I was too cool for the ones who spoke only in tamil (plus I was not tamilian, and I felt like an alien there) and I was too goody-two-shoes for the girls who got dropped off in cars and wore Lady Di hairstyles, and I wasn’t exactly brilliant to hangout with the brainards. (in case you were wondering. that isn’t a word, I just made that up)
So I just hung around, mostly alone, just minding my business and loving my books which I chewed at some great speeds and my French lessons which I loved going to; a different world being at Alliance Francaise. It was a strange sense of balance, and all I had was this friend, who also shuttled and disappeared according to situations, of no fault of hers.
When I was in 6th or 7th grade, I remember sitting under this large banyan tree one afternoon while the rest of the class (all 140 or so of them) discussed the excursion plans, excitedly. I knew my mom would pack some peas pulav, and in my head who would eat that on a picnic and my dad would not allow me to wear a skirt (all of 5 2″ and too tall for an Indian teen) and I’ll be in some lucknowi chikan salwar (which he found so fascinating and I must have looked good in his eyes, coz he got me every color in the rainbow when he went to Delhi for some official trip) and surely, I was screaming to be the poster child for “loser”. It’s actually funny when I think back :-)
Among a lot of other thoughts that fought vehemently in my head, the one thing that stuck through it (and also at the excursion while I watched the waves beat repeatedly on the lovely brown sand) was that I truly wished someone would just come and speak to me. Just to say hi. Nothing more. For someone to turn around and say “want to join?” or “why you sitting here, let’s go into the water!” or even a smile.
Am sure some did, eventually, but the thought that remained was that to be in my position was the most wretched of the entire range of emotions anyone can feel. (bear in mind that I was a teenager and emotions run high at that age) I remember plucking at a dry coconut fibre debris and digging into the moist sand and swearing to myself that if I can within my power, will never let anyone feel this way!
Thereon, I was on a mission.
I spoke to everyone. It was an effort. My english was flawless, but I was a painfully shy lanky kid with nothing to offer, and my heart beat faster, my throat went dry and I even froze mid-sentence, but I trudged on. I would smile at everyone.
The servant maid’s daughter who sat alone at the bottom of the stairs, the lunch maid who sat alone and not in the circle of lunch maids at school, the ice cream man who in my eyes was far more intelligent that to be stuck selling ice cream at a girls’ school, to the little kids in buses, demure gawky girls at the temples forced into singing, and at the ‘gurkha’ at Alliance Francaise (he was a skinny malnourished Nepali with the saddest droopy eyes I’ve seen, always being pushed around by another burly moustached guy who scared the living daylights out of all of us students., and the juniors and my sister’s friends, and so on.
Now that I think back, maybe this is how I became the way I am. Gregarious and laughing while out amongst folks.
To this day, my eyes scan for folks in aisles or on the roadside who look like they are lost, I make small talk with the grocer, with my mailman, at the lone elderly lady who sits alone, and with folks online who try hard to fit in and no one replies to them (on twitter esp) . I try at least. I know what it is to be them. I know that sinking feeling to be invisible in a crowd, to want to be treated like we matter, to just be. This isn’t about popularity but about respecting a person’s need to want friendship, camaraderie, and to not thwart their signs.
To continue a conversation, to reply to emails soon enough, to reciprocate in the way you feel necessary does not take any time but it does require thought. The thought that can become natural if you tried hard enough for a few times. The action that follows the thought to include someone into your life for even a moment requires you to step outside of your own. To look without you, so that one can learn more of what’s within us.
That probably sounded like a sermon, but I had to get it out.
Wish more folks were kind. It is the kindness that is an everyday thing. Not necessarily the kind that you would help a destitute or a a tragic war veteran or a hurricane victim. That, most of us do.
My point is to be kind to each other in our everydays, online and in the real world, coz that’s how we change from within. Someone’s got to start it. Right?
Coz rejection sucks. Un-acceptance sucks even more. It stays with you for a long long time. Like a child within an adult who is always almost looking for a hug.