That tag I did yesterday stirred up some school time memories. So here goes …..
I must have been about 12 or 13. I had a whole lot of brothers, one real and about 9 cousins that I grew up with. It was wonderful for me, when I was a kid, since I always had playmates, and the rough and tumble of boys’ games suited my tomboyish soul. However, I grew up and started sprouting breasts. I was unceremoniously dropped from the team and ordered to behave like a girl. I hated it and also my stupid brothers. I thought girls were sissy, and did not like them at all. So to nurse my wounded pride and to get over their betrayal, I became an introvert and got into the world of books in a big way.
There was this boy in my class who made my life a living hell. He was tall for his age, and very very popular. I was decidedly nowhere near his social status. I was a geek and hurt many male egos with my over-achieving scholastic ways. The girls thought I was a snob, and I could not stand their catty sissy ways. I had too many brothers in the same damn school for any boy to even consider being friendly with me. All in all it made me pretty friendless.
Soumya was a likeable kid, the class clown. I think he had ADD decades before Tare Zameen Par made it fashionable. He couldn’t sit still and drove all the teachers nuts with his constant wise-cracking and fidgeting. So they did what any good teacher would do. They sat him beside me, the class swot, in hopes my goody two shoes behaviour would rub off on him.
He took every opportunity to make fun of me, pull my proverbial pig-tails and make me the butt of his jokes. I was the angrezni, the chashmish (I did not have specs but since I was bookish …..) and the worse of them all, the girl who was flat as a board so he called me “Four-by-Four”. The damn nickname stuck.
How I hated him. I would see him and cringe and pray every day he would fall ill to some mysterious disease and have to drop out of school thereby never having to sit beside me and needle me with his jabs through out the day. I would be depressed, sorely tempted to get my elder brothers to bash him up – but I never did. I was not speaking with them so I endured it.
I also endured it because sometimes, when no one else was around, he was completely different. He was sweet to me and thoughtful and almost apologetic for his incessant public torture. It made him almost likeable. Almost.
For two years I was stuck with this boy, the boy who made me the laughing stock of our class on more times than I could ever keep count. Then thankfully, his father got transferred to another town. On his last day in school he walked up to me and said “Hi”. I just nodded, holding my breath wondering what verbal parting shot he would fire. I cringed and reminded myself that this was the last class in which I would have to see him or hear his nasty voice. Man, was I glad to be rid of Soumya, who would tell the class in a loud voice “Ritu does not wear a bra, she is so skinny” or “Ritu’s tiffin spilt on her skirt hahahha. See there are haldi stains” and tell other girls in my class “No one wants Ritu as his girl friend”. I waited knowing that this was the end of the Soumya chapter.
“Ritu, I just want to apologize to you for all the teasing I did to you in school,” he said in his deepening man voice.
I just grunted.
“I want you to know, I really like you. I’ve enjoyed sitting next to you for the last two years. I wish we were better friends.” I looked at him like he had just grown horns out of his head and stood there tongue-tied. “I only teased you because I had a crush on you.”
Then he walked out of the door, turned around and smiled at me and said, “I teased you to get your attention.” Then he turned around, headed towards the school compound and out of my life.
At the time I was seriously annoyed. I could have thought of a dozen different ways he could have shown his affection for me, none of them which included drawing a plywood piece on the blackboard and naming it Ritu, snooping into my school satchel, peering at the back of my shirt to check whether I was wearing a bra or not.
But I’ve grown older and wiser and I look back on the memory of that smiley curly haired boy who loved his comic books and I see what I was blinded to in the midst of my youth.
Soumya loved me. He was just a jackass about it.
As for me, life started improving after he left. I had the desk to myself without having to be careful about it slamming down on my fingers. Even tiffin would not spill so often which makes me suspect foul play. I started filling out. One thing remained the same – I never got along with the girls in my class. Actually two things – I never got included in my family team of all boys. These two changes happened in college where I met lovely chilled-out women who I am still friends with, and my cousins started behaving less like chowkidars and more like pals ……. possibly because they wanted to date my female friends.