Since the day I was born, I was compared. Since I was thin, I was compared with the chubby baby next door and they said “ tch, tch, बेचारे को खाना लगता नहीं”. (Had I been fat, the thinner one would have been right size, I am guessing). As I started talking, I was asked to stand to attention and recite the meaningless poems of stars that twinkled and three pigs and fat hens in front of people who had no interest in rhymes or animals or me but my parents had to show me off anyway. So I pee’d in front of them, was given a tight slap for damaging the threadbare carpet and whisked away from the presence of adults as if they had never seen themselves pee. It wasn’t my problem that my mom forgot my routine, was it? Once I dared say no to the whole “Show uncle, where is your nosey, and your cheeks” rigamarole- I’m sure after 50 years everyone knows where their cheeks and noses are and don’t need me to show them. The consequences of the denial ached my bottom for the next few days.
School was another ball game. Peer pressure started right there. You had to gain admission to the school, where mom’s best friends daughter had gotten into, just because the best friend was the arch rival too. The grill started. Learn all the poems, alphabets, know your manners and so on, if I had to learn everything before going to school, what was the school supposed to do? I managed to not get admission to the-school-where-mom’s-friends-kids-went- I think I know why- I told the teacher about her nose looking like that of a pig. She should have been happy I knew pigs existed and was a keen observer of that anatomical fact. But I would like to believe that my mom failed the test, not me. That reduced one reason for my parents to brag about, and I never heard the end of it.
As I started primary school, it was the marks. Why did I lose ½ mark in Hindi was a big debate just before dinner. How do I know that “मेरे बाबा मुझे भैंस कहते हैं” isnt the right sentence for भैंस. And if I don’t get the theorem, well, the earth isn’t going to fall, which will anyway not because it is attracted to the Sun, but then I wasn’t so good in Geography either. Specially when it came to memorizing my maps, which resembled my mom’s chapaties, you could never tell an Australia from an Africa no matter what direction you looked at it. And God forbid, history! Remembering the dates and the years was plain painful. Hence I always wrote my answers vaguely as “Sometime during middle ages” instead of “In 1757 AD”. A child that is expected to remember the date when the Hunans invaded and the shape of the continent and the 3 ways of solving simultaneous equations – when does the poor kid ever get to play? Everytime I studied history, I had nightmares- big fat numbers- imagine a 1856 and 1789 on top of me, crushing me to history!
And of course you had to write the godforsaken essays, whoever discovered the torture ought to be shot. My teachers could not relate to what I wrote because my “cow” essay would be “A cow has 4 legs and udders” and the marks vanished. Once I had to write an essay on the school principal. The title was “मेरे प्रधान अध्यापक”. And I did not know how to start. So I did not. Should one start with “मेरे प्रधान अध्यापक आदमी हैं” or “he wears unpressed clothes to school”. I could not think of 5 interesting facts to write about the principal. He was like any other grown up. Should I write that he caned me on Monday because my hair was too long. Any way, I lost those 10 marks. Even my funny essays were probably not that funny cause my teacher was never impressed with my sense of humor, (probably since I drew her cartoons in class and showed them to her at the end- all kids laughed, she just glared).
I was sent to a tutor to learn simultaneous equations and she spent 10 days trying to get the x’s and y’s into my head and hoping I could somehow just get it, but it was not destined to be. I could solve some of them but more as a matter of chance than logic. (Like you know you have 25% probability of getting the right answer for a multi-choice question). I would sit and dream of playing in the mud with dogs and my friends, really getting dirty while my teacher would wave her hands and move her mouth and utter some syllables which I could easily shut off even while simultaneously nodding my head at appropriate times. My family had this uncanny habit of arranging competitions between kids which they knew I would lose- like who can drink a glass of milk faster. They told me some soap about motivation and stuff, but at the end I did not even try because I knew I would lose- who wants to drink milk anyway.
Sometimes it was subtle. They would casually discuss “Mr Patel’s daughter can draw so well” while I was sitting right there. They knew my attempt at drawing was a series of curved lines which not be construed to look like anything earthly. They would not even look at me when saying that, maybe they hoped I would take the hint. I acknowledge being a mediocre kid. But throughout my growing up period, I was made to realize at all possible occasions that I was not as good as the kid next door, because he won the baby show, or because he came 1st in class or because he got admission in a better college. I did learn how to ignore such tactics and pretended to develop a sudden interest in the book that I was holding upside down. In fact I grew so good at it, at times, my parents would lecture me and I would go to sleep with eyes wide open and an expression of rapt attention.
Problem is, now that I am a father of a similar brat, who gives me a sweetly innocent expression when I tell him to pick up the newspaper and asks me “Dad, do you have a back problem or what?” why does that give me a feeling of déjà vu? Yesterday he told me he had failed in German despite cheating and he conveniently lost the paper some 6 months back!!! Maybe mediocrity runs in the family.