‘Man is a social Animal’… as sexist as it sounds in this millennial era, this statement is indefinitely applicable for human beings. Most of our lives are spent in attempting to make people happy with endless efforts and perhaps a grain of gratification. In our young days, we end up doing this the most. The social stigma that makes us do such things sometimes ends up deteriorating our childhood, which is mostly just spent trying to attain popular appreciation. Having been a voluntary party to such actions, I have a very strange story to narrate. So, loosen your seatbelts and let go of whatever you are grabbing on to because things are not going to be exciting.
The social world has made it kind of imperative for all of us to have friends. Everyone does. I feel blessed that there are people in the world who can tolerate me. Nevertheless, it hasn’t always been the same. Therefore, this segment is for all the pariah strugglers out there.
I was a strange kid. I still don’t know why. Well, of course, some aspects of mine fit perfectly under the ‘taboo’ category, for example, my garrulousness, my weight, but most importantly my stories. Yes, that is the strangest strange part of it all. When I was just about to enter my double-digit age, I was circumstantially rendered friendless. Back in school, we are somewhat obliged to be part of some kind of group, aren’t we? Today we call it ‘squad’. Back then, the cool word was ‘Gang’. And I never had one. Initially, I presumed nobody liked me. Eventually, I found, I was right. ‘But why?’ I think every now and then. Why was everyone around me enjoying in some secrecy kept isolated from me? I didn’t know back then… but one day it hit me. It was my stories.
I have ever been a keen and meticulous observer. I like to be able to recall events in their most accurate forms. At first, it was an attempt to break the ice. But, after a few failed attempts, I made it a bad habit to try to converse with random people, probably the most famous chaps of my class, and narrate them certain experiences of mine which were close to my heart. ‘Maybe we’d have something to talk about?’ ‘Maybe they’d find me cool and take me to do cool things with them?’. Subsequent attempts were received with heavier rejections. Sometimes it used to strike well and I was able to gel with a select few. But then started what is called the ‘Best friend paradox’. It is a condition whereby you end up closely befriending someone who behaves that way only when they are alone with you, and otherwise you just stay the guy people make fun of. I could never score a real best friend, till I met this guy in class who seemed just as weird as I was. An unlikely coincidence was that he lived a few blocks from my house. Every other day we used to be at his or my house playing with our Beyblade collection, the infamous Yoyos, the legendary G.I. Joes, and what not. I had finally found a true friend. But, sometime later, he had to change his city. And in the era devoid of social media and in the India devoid of internet access, we hardly talked for years after that. I went back to trying to winning friends again. It had become more difficult. Puberty had hit us all and with it came all the aggressiveness which in turn amplified the criticism. I was the anomaly of the class at a point of time, only referred to whenever someone wanted some humour attention. I used to laugh it off, believing some idealistic stories that if I gave up then, then I was weak to begin with. Gulping my plight each day, I started voluntarily becoming a part of groups and gangs as the unofficial laughing stock. I was ready to face any amount of criticism if I just got the chance to be with them. And I did. But the pain kept increasing. Whatever I had presumed to be the end result of being part of social circles, it did not even feel close to it.
One fine day, I resolved that it isn’t enough. Maybe I need to prove my worth. And as every stupid junior schoolboy does to gain attention, I picked a fight. I was ready. I had geeked up on all parts of Rocky Balboa. I knew I could do it. I knew I had it in me. I knew wrong. It ended before it could begin. One punch to my nose and my stupid sinuses gave in. Man, I had a complicated nose back then. Didn’t even know we can use it to breathe till I got operated. I was standing there helpless and unable to breathe. My eyes were blacked out. And the only thing I could hear was the outburst of laughter engulfing the world around me. Yes, I had upgraded my level. I had gone to the extent of physical injury to gratify the people around me. And I didn’t blink an eye, leave it be shedding a teardrop. You know why? Because just like every spoilt kid in the world, I used to come back home and take out all my anger and frustration on my parents. And they, just like every other caring parent in the world, tolerated all my drama.
Simultaneously, I was also going to play some Lawn Tennis in the evening at the Government Club. Things were much worse there. I had no resources or plans to gratify people there since the object of criticism was not specifically me, rather what I and my family could afford, viz. clothes, equipment, etc. Though, I used to love going there. It was the one place where I could celebrate my loneliness. But the damned politicians took that away too. They decimated the entire place to build useless stone elephants in its place. And guess what, while everyone else went to the Private Club, I couldn’t afford it either. At the same time, I had made one friend who was apparently not that bad. We started hanging out and created many unforgettable memories. This friend ended up slapping me in front of the whole class for some now-forgotten love-story of his. I woke up dizzy and not very surprised, but then I saw him apologising in front of everyone… Not once, not twice, not thrice… but four bloody times. No one had given me that amount of respect and consideration, especially publicly. A smile engulfed my face… a genuine one this time. I told myself, “This guy is mad… but he is a good friend… He might accidentally kill me someday in anger… but at least he’d be there at my cremation”.
We started hanging out more often. I remember, one fine day, one of our common old mates came to me telling how this guy belongs to a different religion and I should be careful. I was like (to be read in a Kevin Hart tone), “Bloody hell mate! I don’t care if he belongs to another species. He my friend… the only one”. A few weeks down the line, I happened to be seated beside another idiot who did not refrain from talking to me. We ended up forming a group with yet another guy who seemed just as different yet as crazy as each one of us. And guess who that last person turned out to be? The most famous lad on our floor. Well, that achievement went unnoticed. We were busy rejoicing our lives. I was telling them stories… and so were they. They believed what I shared and the best part is that it was only shared when all four of us were around. It was the beginning of a new era of my life.
Soon after, my birthday arrived. My elder brother did something extremely unpredictable. He gifted me a jumbo acoustic guitar set. I could have never foreseen back then as to how that one event was going to change my life forever. I started messing around with the strings at first. By then, thankfully, internet services had improved. It took me an insulated six months to actually grasp it properly. When I played my first song, it felt like all the pieces of the puzzle inside me were themselves coming together. It is yet inexplicable how strange it felt. The very next day, I went to school and was more silent than ever. My thoughts were silent, my mouth was shut. I was able to glance around properly and I saw something. I saw myself, all around me. There were so many people just trying their level best to win even the slightest of attention and friendship, whereas there were a few who seemed like they had given up. I looked beside me and there was this guy whom the class had christened as ‘Alien’. He was murmuring something. I turned a deaf ear to the rest and virtually increased his volume in my head. He was singing my favourite song… the one set of lyrics I had always thought were made for me… “I’m tired of being what you want me to be… Feeling so faithless… lost under the surface…” That was it, I interjected, “Numb?”. He gave me a wretched smile and spoke to me, a thing he hadn’t done with anyone else.
I went back home that day and tried to contemplate what had changed. And I could only arrive at one darned conclusion. It was not just me all this while. There are so many of us so desperate for just an ounce of affection and appreciation. And in that desperation, we often end up doing the last thing which is required, that is trying to settle in where we cannot even fit. It is not just okay to be different, but actually abnormal to not be different from others. And in our pursuit of being alike, we often end up instilling the fear of replacement in the minds of others, which is quite natural. Let them be the type of cool they are. Do you know which’s the coolest bunch of friends? The only one that we can be honest and still happy with. I have made several good friends ever since with whom my relations have been nothing but constant. And talking about the three maniacs, we are still going strong. We call ourselves the ‘Fabulous Four’… well, only I do, since back then they had the monopoly over names and after growing up I called dibs.
I always wish my childhood could’ve been a little different. I sometimes secretly recreate my dream childhood memories, the ones which I could never live. Maybe not sitting on the bench when everybody played cricket, not sitting on a corner staircase eating my tiffin during lunchtime since I feared that they would make fun of my food and my weight, not hiding some inner celebratory joy of mine believing it would be called a lie, and so much more. All these years, every day, I have recalled what it could have been and what it was… And you know what… I have not shed a single drop of tear. Well, you know what they say… if they haven’t seen it, it didn’t happen. And perhaps even if it did, you know what I do right after it? Just as the title of the very first song I ever played on my guitar says, I ‘Turn the Page’.