Teenage, is that Thee?

Chubby cheeks, dimple chin


Rosy lips, teeth within


Curly hair, very fair


Eyes are blue – lovely too.


Teachers pet, is that you?


Yes, Yes, Yes!

I remember reading this poem aloud with my kindergarten classmates on hot sticky afternoons, when the fans moved in slow motion and after lunch exhaustion hung over the classroom.

The illustration of the little girl next to poem was not surprisingly different from anyone I saw around me. She looked, like the poem instantly paints a picture in the head – a full-blown firangi child we only saw in English movies. We sang the poem anyway as per expectation, and took in the first dogmas of socially likeable features. Fair skinned, rose bud lips, light eyes, golden hair, the works.

Apart from the lurking thought that I wasn’t fair enough, I didn’t have a problem with my physical appearance until I hit my teens. My family shifted to a tribal region in the North East of India, a place where people are genetically blessed with the beautiful hair and skin, and kids could be mistaken for porcelain dolls. This was the time my body chose to show its puberty changes and boy o boy did my confidence go spiralling down! My light coloured body hair turned darker (also on the face, and I saw myself as a hairy monster that had been in hibernation all this while), I put on weight, got even darker (did not go unnoticed by my relatives), and added to all these life threatening changes was the omnipresent problem with my short height.

I fretted posing for the camera, ate as little as possible, perennially covered my face with a handkerchief, and sometimes at night stared in the mirror wondering what the devil went wrong here. When you are at the doorstep to the world of boys and the other girls already went on dates, these glitches were certainly not how I aimed to build my social life.

All I wanted was to be as fair skinned and thin like the other girls at school, to have silky hair that would bounce as I walked. It was my silent agony that I couldn’t be one of the girls who middle parted her hair and wore tweety bird clips on each side for soon my wavy hair would reconstruct into Marilyn Monroe’s billowing skirt. I wasn’t one of those who wore overalls without having it hug the body at the wrong places. I never smiled at the camera without worrying if my bushy eyebrows overpowered my face.

What I did instead was wear loose fitting clothes to hide my weight, flattened my boobs with tricks learned from the movie Now and Then, dived into height enhancing potions, depended on fairness creams and battled with poor body image.  But I was still I, and love letters declaring true love never came. What did come were sniggers from friends that I took as something I deserved. Who knew what constituted bullying and body shaming 15 summers back?

After a point I gave up  (I could say ‘accepted myself’ to sound wiser, but no, I surrendered). And then time happened. As years wore off I noticed these ‘glitches’ resolve on their own. I developed into what I will look like for the rest of my life, for better or for worse.

Struggling with poor body image, especially during teenage years is not uncommon. We are fed with stereotypes of beauty since we can remember, which is then compounded by the pressure of fitting in at high school. I was teased about my developing breasts and facial hair but looking back I realize that the root of my problem was I. I was my worst enemy who nit picked every small detail that was different from the rest. This is the worst kind of body shaming and I did not deserve that from myself. Nor does anyone else.

If I met my 14 year old again I would tell her that time will make it all ok, and while we are waiting why not play a game of badminton?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Death of a flat faced boy

It was Friday the 13th when he killed himself. I don’t think its a coincidence that he chose this day to perform his act, because knowing him he probably planned it so, and chuckled at his ‘splendid’ idea of turning myth into reality. Friday the 13th. The day bad things supposedly happen. Not supposedly anymore.

His were the smallest eyes I had ever seen, like they were slit with blades which disappeared when he laughed. Its amazing how much one can change when in love. The flat faced angry boy fell in love and learnt to see the beauty of life.

Though he had a vision of himself as a MAN’S MAN in a house full of girls he could only be so much of a man! Discussing lady problems with him around was not a big deal, nor was the time he puked in front of us after a dizzy amusement park ride. No fucks were given when we came out of the shower wrapped in a towel or pranced around the house in hot pants because we wouldn’t have it any other way.  The boy assured me that my Knight in shining armor was not the one I was chasing, and when I found the real one (albeit in a Royal Enfield Bullet) he was one of the first to see that I had found the one. He was extremely shy in front of strangers and, I cannot be grateful enough that he and Diego became friends at the drop of a hat. And the movie hangovers! The boy appropriated the character of Jaguar Paw (from the movie Apocalypto) for days to come and, couldn’t stop addressing himself in third person when he was feeling extraordinarily cool.

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I missed him when I saw a friend’s boy-friend singing songs to her on her bachelorette. That should have been my flat faced friend wishing me luck with his Blink 182 songs. I missed him when I took a moment at my wedding party and saw the happy faces dancing around. His face should have been there and shone the brightest. I miss having someone who will agree to putting on make-up, slip into a dress and pose for the camera (and then point out that we forgot to make fake boobs for him). I hold on to the times when we chatted about Kim Kardashian’s butt while I ironed his shirts. Or the time we played poker with popcorns and chips and drank champagne out of steel tumblers and college coffee mugs.

Sometimes we take things at face value and leave things unsaid. A day before his death he asked a few friends if they will miss him when he’s gone. Nobody could process the question and gave him all sorts of funny answers. And then he wiped himself off the face of  the earth. Since then I have come to believe how important it is to show that one cares even if that is “out of character”. While talking about everything around the world sometimes we forget to ask how the other person is really doing. Not what-did-you-do-for-weekend kind of doing. In the cauldron of coulda, woulda, shoulda I wonder if things could change if we had told him obvious things like how much he meant to us, that we will always be there for him, that love will come back again. Well, we should have because what was obvious to us clearly wasn’t to him.

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I read somewhere that we are all afraid to say too much, to feel too deeply and to let people know what they mean to us lest that puts us in a vulnerable position. Well, that will never be me again. For I know what it feels like to leave a friend in a place and walk ahead in life. I only wonder if tomorrow when I meet him on the other side and ask him “Chinky, why did you do that?”, if he will simply shrug his shoulders like he always did and answer ,”I don’t know”.

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Never Again

SAY MY NAME

HEISENBERG.

No, that isn’t my name, and I know I fooled no one . But like Heisenberg I developed along with my name.

As a child it wasn’t easy for me to say my name. I couldn’t generally enunciate the letter ‘s’, thereby pronouncing Kasturi (then) as Katuri, which means bowl in my language. And naturally the laughter that ensued post introducing myself did not do very well in the department of liking my own name. There are 1001 reasons for a young person to get red in the face.

Then came years of living an introverted pre-teen life making it hard to appreciate the sound of my name, since it either meant that the teacher wants me to read out something in class (Golly! What if I pronounce the words wrong?), or I had to respond to attendance calls, or I was told by my friends if I could play with them or not. I disliked the attention my name brought to me, I wanted to disappear but it didn’t let me. Was I shy? No. Was I low on confidence? Terribly so!

Then I wanted to change my name to Karishma, the name of my favourite actor at that time. I was obsessed with this idea and begged my parents to make the change. They gave it a thought; while I spent days and nights imagining being under dizzy lights and stars (hell yes I was going to be an actor now!) and practiced my new signature (because autographs, bro) on all surfaces. Then. Then I came across another mesmerizing name and ran to my parents with the new discovery. They realized that it’s just a phase and we never went ahead with the name change. The lights went out and the stars faded; what remained was Kasturi.

By the time I was a teenager I was ok with my name. I decided to add double ‘o’ in place of ‘u’ and I was ready to face the world. ‘Kasturi’ became ‘Kastoori’ and I gathered confidence in life (I won’t say that it came with the spelling change, but my outlook did change along with it). Then it so happened that each time my name was called it was also to nominate me as the class prefect, or to show my neatly done classwork to others, or when friends asked me which games we should play. I developed an identity and it felt great to associate my name with that.

Kasturi is a substance that releases scent from the navel of Himalayan musk deer to attract females during mating season. The substance is widely used in perfumes, incense and as medicines. It may not mean much to you, and it did not to me either, until a random lady recited a couplet that Kabir Das wrote on it:

Kasturi kundal base, mrag dhundhat ban mahi
Jyo ghat ghat ram hai, duniya dekhe nahi

(The deer runs through the forest looking for the scent that comes within him. Similarly, people look for God everywhere but cannot see that God is within them)

Written in response to: Say Your Name

Bubblegums & Melting Icicles

It began with the word ‘luscious’. The delicious of all words, it gave me the feeling of something silky and fruity, an undeveloped idea of ‘fullness’. The word instigated in me the silky fantasy of dancing blindfold in a huge airy room full of satin pink and violet curtains. But closer to home, it was the smell of my friend, which was always a mix of fruity pink lip-glosses and the most exotic gum that she never left home without.

The mind is a mysterious life of its own. For what may have been just another word for others, ‘luscious’ was perhaps the word I swam the bubble of teenage years with, and formed my idea of eroticism. I recently found myself laughing at that curtain dancing desire of mine. And then kept thinking what it means for me now. Really, it’s just an idea, an emotion, isn’t it? It’s a voice, the ideas expressed in a book, a gaze, the smell of the woods. Or a sun bathed room that catches a glint now but is gone the next moment.

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Image courtesy Flickr