Year 2006, a dry autumn evening:
I was walking back home from school. It was a five minutes walk. But that day, those five minutes seemed like an eternity. I was crying profusely. A man on a bike passed by turning his head towards me. A woman at the retail shop was staring at me. I sped up my pace, keeping my head low, muffling my whimpers, careful not to make more noise.
My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. I was shy, sensitive and naive. Easy target to bully. I carried a perennial new kid tag to every place I went. And in some places, it would stay with me. I did not understand why my classmates were rude, why I could not form stable friendships and why my teachers would be mean to me. I was sure I was not looking weird. But something in me was disturbing them. This time I was crying about a maths paper. I was awarded terribly low marks where I knew I’d get 95+(out of 100). When I went for a correction, the teacher showered words of abuse in return. My very extroverted classmate who did the paper modestly had a 96. She was smiling the brightest smile, laughing with her circle of admirers. I did not understand why and where I went wrong. But the thing that really broke me down was, the pity looks I was getting from her (she knew I did better than her) and fellow classmates.
The worst thing one can do when someone is crying: pity them.
I somehow made it home crying all the way. My grandpa was visiting our home, and was sitting in the hallway. He looked up through his glasses and could sense something was terribly wrong. He got up, held my shoulders and asked “What happened, oh dear, did you fall somewhere?” He is sweet like that. I am his princess. I never shared anything about the ongoing bullying and bias I was receiving in school but this time I couldn’t conceal. I told him everything I could while sobbing irrepressibly. He listened to everything I have to say.
He did the best thing one can do when someone is crying : listen to them.
What he told me that day would forever ring in my ears.
“Ammu, I know you cry because you deserve better than this. We both know this. Does the world know your worth? This must be unbearable for you, I understand. But never forget one thing. People will go on and treat you in the most unfair ways possible. Would you sit and cry every time wanting to be treated fair?Shouldn’t you show them what you’re capable of? Shouldn’t you let them know how wrong they were about you?”
My 14 year old mind couldn’t decipher a single thing he said.
“But grandpa, how could I…”
“Find what you are good at and excel in it. Give your best shot. You know you are good with your books, why not do something big with that? Set a goal. Nothing should stop you from working towards your goal. That way you become someone they cannot ignore. Surprise the ones who pitied you today. Trust me, that is the thrill of life and that… will make me proud”
Those words made me strong. It made sense. He did not immediately rush up to my school to make a huge scene. He did not confront any of my teachers about what happened. He did not shelter me. Instead he showed me that this world can be cruel and how to not get affected by that. He just let it be. And that probably is the best thing he did to me.
I worked my way through school. I was not expecting any miracles. It was tough and I kind of accepted it. Things were mostly the same as before except that this time I was not paying much attention to them. I kept on doing what I was supposed to do: studying. That did not give me any results instantly. Though it eventually it did.
It was a surprise for everyone when the board exam results announced. I scored second place in my district, and top ranker in my school. People who never knew about my existence before wished me. I started getting invitations for rank holders functions and speeches to guide for next batch of students. Suddenly I was a star and life was busy. All these things boosted my confidence levels.
That single achievement put an end to all the bullying I had to endure in my school life. I know this would not be possible if it weren’t for my grandpa’s word.
I express my sincere gratitude to the ones who damaged me and the hardships life throws at me for shaping the person I am today. If it is not them, I would not have gotten any fuel for the fire inside me.
I’m doing exactly what I learned that day. Doing what I am good at and giving my best. My 82 year old grandpa is very proud of me as he did in 2007.
PS: I don’t cry over wanting the world to treat me right anymore.