Events, and moments.

My Facebook wall tells a beautiful story these days. It talks about a book that I put my soul into, and how it walked into people’s hearts. It also mentions how the book has been doing well and is holding its own for over three weeks on a list that gets updated by the hour. Through pictures, it talks about ever loyal friends who have put faith in me and have gone ahead and bought the book. Scroll down further, and it’ll show you pictures of the gorgeous launch events and how I was beaming and glowing in august company. It talks about the culmination of a long journey, one that started with least expectations. But it also hints on how this one event has changed the course for the rest of my life.

What it doesn’t show, however, are those tiny little moments that shaped it all. The moments that were my very own, the ones I held the closest to my heart as everything around me seemed surreal. So yes, of course, the unveiling of the book was a big one. Having esteemed writers hold up my book for everyone to see felt like a rite of passage, but even before that, I will always remember the moment I first saw the book, which was just a day before the launch. I was at my Mama-Koka’s place, to talk about the programme for the next day because he was my Guest of Honour, along with my Mahi who was the beautiful host for the evening, when The Husband walked in with the books. To be honest it felt a lot like holding my baby for the first time. I ran my fingers over the cover, flipped through the pages, sniffed them, closed the book, kept it on the table to see it better, and then two second later would pick it up again, and do the same thing over and over again. I couldn’t stop smiling. The Husband gave me a pen (for me to sign copies, he said) and asked me to sign the very first copy for him. That moment, right there, penning my signature, was one that will always be etched in my memory: Mami-Aita’s dining table, with the tea things not yet cleared and the faint smell of mangoes in the air because Koka’d insisted that I try the mango puree that he’d made, my head brimming with a thousand thoughts but my heart pushing through with just one feeling – accomplishment.

The next moment luckily I have a picture of. This.

This was on the dias, right after the unveiling of the book. My Mahi pleasantly surprised me by inviting my parents along with my sister on stage to unveil the book and it was extremely emotional. Mamma, Deuta and my sister held the book right there with me, and all I could think of was how they have stood by me all throughout, and how this was all their doing: Mamma, the wind beneath my wings and Deuta, that rock-solid wall that sheltered me from self-doubt, and my voice of reason, my sister. After the book was unveiled, my Deuta hugged me and all I could think of was how I will always be his little girl, no matter how old I grow, no matter how high I soar.

The third moment I also have a picture of.

My little one, of course. Who’d skipped her afternoon nap that day because she was so busy playing with her cousin. Who’d thrown a tantrum because she didn’t want to wear a dress and had to be coaxed and pleaded by my sister to attend the launch. Who was over tired by the time the launch ended, and could be kept silent only with the help of a phone. And there I was, after the launch, right back to being a mother. While we were trying to wrap things up at Vivanta by Taj (which is where the launch was), I had asked Jenny to take her home so she could be put to sleep right away, but Miss Munchkin absolutely refused. So I carried her instead, and poor thing was asleep in my arms within seconds. We’d planned a dinner with Mr. Nagaraj and his family who had travelled all the way from Bangkok for the launch (more on that later) and also to celebrate my finally being a published author, and I was to get changed right after putting the little one to bed but she decided that enough was enough and clung on to me. And that’s the moment I remember: asking my husband to leave for dinner without me because I couldn’t bear the thought of her having another tantrum; realising that no matter what happens, I will always be a mother first.

I also remember this tiny little moment the very next morning when I was walking up the stairs to  our terrace with a bucket full of clothes to hang out to dry and I remember recalling how ordinary and normal life felt. I had been on tenterhooks for every single day leading up to the launch, and it wasn’t until it was finally over that I realised just how anxious and uptight I had been! I felt like I could finally relish the thrill, and I’d started walking with a new spring to my step!

This next moment I will never, ever forget. Two days after the Guwahati launch, The Husband and I traveled to Delhi for the Delhi launch. I was already slightly apprehensive about leaving Miss Munchkin behind but we’d decided that it would have been too hectic for her. The previous night I had received a message from Adil Hussain that he was suffering from viral fever and was hoping that he’d recover enough to make it to my event. Even before that, a series of events had dampened my spirit, and it was with a deliberate intention to keep myself positive and not be bogged down by disappointing thoughts that I boarded the flight and buried myself in The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (beautiful, beautiful book by the way). The moment I landed, however, I received a message from Dipankar (the face of Readomania and my rock throughout this journey) letting me know that on its very first day on Amazon.in, the book had reached Number. 4 on the bestselling list in the category of New Releases in Indian Writing! I remember grinning ear to ear, I remember giving a high-five to The Husband, and I remember repeating to myself: everything will be alright. I almost bounced my way out of the aircraft. I had always liked the Delhi airport, but from this time on,  I will always associate it with how victorious I felt. That moment, shivering slightly from the cold, watching an advertisement on rare species (the one going on at that moment was about an Aardvark) and informing my Deuta over a pathetic phone connection about the good news… that has to be one of those moments right up there, on top of the list. Three weeks later, as of today, the book is at Number. 6.

Then of course there’s this moment:

That’s Adil Hussain, saying something funny and I am laughing that typical smile of mine that makes people wonder if I can see while I smile or not (I do, folks. I do)

Now we’re back in Singapore, and normal life, so to speak, has resumed. Except of course, it is intercepted by these moments when I read a wonderful review, or when friends tell me that they liked the book, and I feel like I must have done something right. The Husband and I went out on a date yesterday, after ages, and I asked him, ‘So which moment was the highlight for you?’ He thought for a bit and he said, ‘When I saw people queuing up in the Delhi event to get their copy signed by you. That’s when I told myself, she’s made it!’ I reminded him of that one evening in our Dubai apartment, sitting on that cold leather couch when he’d promised me a Macbook the day we get to know my book is getting published and I had laughed it off saying, ‘Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen!’ I don’t think I have ever eaten my words as happily as I do now.

Cheers to that!

Oh, and here are a few links:

You can buy the book in India here: http://www.amazon.in/Revelations-Imperfect-Life-Sankhya-Samhita/dp/9385854429/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

The Amazon.com link here: https://www.amazon.com/Revelations-Imperfect-Life-Sankhya-Samhita/dp/9385854429/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499481050&sr=8-1&keywords=revelations+of+an+imperfect+life

Goodreads link here, with this amazing review a wonderful reader has left: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35528184-revelations-of-an-imperfect-life

 

 

The “Let’s freak out!” Meal

This is the story of a meal. But before we talk about the actual meal I need to back trace just a little bit and talk about the place where we had the meal.

So if you’ve ever been to Singapore, or even met anyone who’s been to Singapore, you would know Mustafa Centre. What is Mustafa Centre, you ask? Why, it is our go to place for every little thing! From the turmeric we use every day to the perfumes I love to collect. Reasonably priced, amply stocked, Mustafa is probably the first and last place you go to for anything Indian, be it Good Day  and Bourbon biscuits or Kurkure or even the Mysore Sandal Soap. But this is not about Mustafa Centre. You see, the area where Mustafa is situated is Little India (pretty self-explanatory) and in the maze of alleys and streets surrounding Mustafa is tucked a nondescript Bangladeshi restaurant called “Khana Basmati”. And that, is the real hero of this story.

Now the Husband is a die-hard fish lover. Brought up in a typical Assamese household where fish was a daily affair whereas chicken was saved for Sundays, he had obviously developed a taste for simple home-cooked fish. I, on the other hand, am a chicken person through and through, which sometimes, poses, err, problems. Specially when it comes to deciding where to eat and what to eat when we are outside. One day, having spent hours shopping in Mustafa, checking off items on a long list and veering dangerously towards starvation from having missed breakfast and lunch, we chanced upon this place. When I say chanced upon I really mean we scoured the place for a half-decent Bangladeshi restaurant which served fish, and when I say “we” I really mean the husband because he had a particular hankering for fish that day.

The moment we stepped inside the place, I felt like I was in the dining area of an Assamese wedding. You know that smell? Of fragrant rice and dali and bhaji and Maasor jul with lemon squeezed over everything? Yep! That was the exact fragrance. Fine tuned that my brain is to associate that smell with hunger, I suddenly realised I wanted in on that meal. Deciding that the place was definitely the take-away kind and not exactly the proper dine-in location, we packed some fish and chicken (because of course I wanted chicken) and came back home and sang paeans about just how tasty the fish was and how authentic it tasted. Filled to the brim with oil, dipped in the red of chili powder, it was the very epitome of guilt and indulgence. The very next week, despite not having to buy anything from Mustafa, tempted by the taste, the husband traveled all the way there just to pack lunch and bring back home. And so it continued, even though like it always happens with chance encounters, the frequency waned until it’d been months since we spared a thought to that place.

Until tonight. Busy that we both are trying to arrange everything for the launches, tying all loose ends, coordinating things in India from here, we decided to get the final leg of shopping out of the way. It was only when I sat in the cab that I started feeling the dull headache that I get from being hungry, and I realised that I was so absorbed in work that I forgot to have anything after lunch. Despite having a lot of things on the agenda, the husband and I decided to have our dinner first. I tried suggesting options, but my husband being my husband, as in the kind of person who hates having to deter from his plans, wanted us to have dinner in Khana Basmati. He did have the courtesy to ask, “You okay with that?” and I said yes.

Which is how we ended up having a meal that I will never forget. It’s not so much the food that we had (plain rice, daal, some aloo bhaji, some lesera bhaji, and rou maas) but the feel of it. My steel plate was overflowing with rice and the daal was “hostel-variety” watery. I was ravenous, and after restricting myself for ages (I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had rice) I nearly attacked the food. It was about five minutes in, completely oblivious to my surroundings I was, that I realised I was the only woman in the entire place. The restaurant was slowly filling up with blue-collar workers getting off their day-shifts.

“You know what I love about you?” my husband said, between morsels. “That you are equally at ease in a five-star restaurant and a place like this.”

I shrugged and said I’ve always been like this. And in the next moment sent a silent thank you to my parents for teaching me to be like this. Days away from one of the biggest days of my life, anxious about even being in the same room as celebrated writers and artists, I was irrationally blissful about sharing a simple meal with my husband in that ordinary place.

I polished off all the rice with no regret whatsoever. We even ordered “dessert” which was basically three rasgullas and three gulab jamuns and the moment I took a bite out of one I was transported to that dingy little teashop (Ajanta, if my memory hasn’t failed me) in Orang, which is a pitstop if you’re traveling by bus from Tezpur to Guwahati via Mangaldoi.

“Doesn’t this remind you of home?” he asked me.

Of course it did. And in the end, that’s what matters. Not where you are, but who you are with, and what experiences you gather, and finding simply joy in the simple things life has to offer. Even if it is a $4 dollar meal in a Bangladeshi restaurant where they gave me the kochu bhorta for free. Life does offer you revelations everyday, doesn’t it?

I wish I had the photo of us in that place, but I don’t. However, today, just because I am feeling this sudden gush of gratefulness to my partner in crime who is just like me when it comes to experiencing life with abandon, here’s a photo of us that I particularly like.

On make-up and memories

Today I splurged on make-up.

I walked into Sephora, shushing the wailing sirens that always start blaring the moment I see shelf after shelf of intimidating make-up products. I clutched the phone like a talisman. On Notes I had saved a list of things I needed, one that I had compiled in the safe haven of my room, after hours of online research. It had names of shades I wanted to try and recommendations of trustworthy friends. But more than that, it contained a certain modicum of confidence, the only thing that would ensure my safe passage through those shiny aisles.

For a while I pretended like I knew what I was doing. My traitor mind took me to that nondescript make-up aisle in Carrefour of all places, a year and a half ago, when I had bought my first foundation. We were in Dubai, it was Miss Munchkin’s birthday party, and I had stolen half an hour to get my eyebrows done in the neighbourhood parlour. I’d walked into Carrefour, hurriedly found the closest shade that matched my skin tone, bought it  before I changed my mind and walked out feeling equal parts embarrassed and accomplished to have come this far in life without knowing how to apply make-up. I remembered how I had locked myself in the room to get ready and walked out feeling extremely conscious, and how Mamma (but who else?) had noticed and told me I looked pretty, making me breathe a sigh of relief.

I shut out that irrelevant memory and walked up to the nearest salesgirl and surrendered myself. Told her I needed something for a special occasion and admitted that I was a newbie. While she must have thanked her lucky stars for presenting her with a gullible customer first thing in the morning, she was gracious enough to not look smug about it. I followed her through the aisles, filling up my basket with one product after the other. For the first time in my life, I blocked out that part of my brain now screaming for my attention, asking me to check the price tags at least, reprimanding me that sensible women don’t go crazy shopping with reckless abandon. Because that’s exactly how I felt. Like I was this completely different woman who threw stuff in her basket going “Ooh isn’t this the perfect shade of red?” or “Boy! I love how this makes my eyes pop!” The old me, the one who would evade salesgirls to the point of being rude, the one who walked into stores with a purpose and always had the calculator handy to figure out prices after discount and the total, shook her head and gave up after a few moments.

When I finally handed out my card at the cashier, I didn’t flinch. Not once. No, not because I had money burning my pockets itching to be spent (I didn’t, to be honest) I thought about all those days coming back from teaching the whole day long wondering if it was worth anything, and how I had forbidden myself from spending my salary on anything other than the basic needs (and books, which is kinda the same thing) I thought about the book launch and just how much it means to me, I thought about how it feels like my entire life has been building up to that moment, and how the last time I had felt like this was right before Miss Munchkin was born.

But more than anything, I thought about the woman I was, barely a year ago, the woman who would cringe at the sight of a mirror. From being slender and put together, I had turned into a slob with a blob of a face. Instead of a jaw I had a double chin (I still do, sadly) It didn’t matter to me anymore how I looked like because I didn’t venture out of the house, thoroughly occupied that I was with the wee little one. I let go, and it was slippery slope and it was only when I found myself in the pits that I finally woke up to reality. I stood up, dusted myself off and bought my first bold red lipstick. I wore it cautiously at first, but my reflection in the mirror oozed confidence and I started pretending I was that reflection. That one red lipstick changed the way I looked at myself.


So today, when I bought make-up, I thought about my Deuta who doesn’t approve of a woman resorting to unnatural means to hide what he believes is natural and beautiful. I thought about my husband who would definitely be taken aback when he looks at my loot, specially since in a moment of unadulterated happiness I went ahead and bought the little one toys for being a well-behaved child all throughout my shopping session. I thought about all the things I had refused to buy in order to save up for this moment, and I wondered if it was worth it.

It is, you know. It so is. For the sake of the woman that I almost became, and the woman I am today instead. It is all worth it.

Days away from the launch!

If I closed my eyes for a bit and looked back on the last few weeks, I would almost see myself smack dab in the middle of a storm. From having a vague idea of what my book was going to be called (my publishers made me change the original name and we had the hardest time figuring it out) to suddenly being days away from the launch, a lot has happened, and I mean, a lot!

But without beating about the bush, here’s what it has all led to. Here’s my baby, the one I wrote with my blood, sweat and tears:

RIL_F5

Don’t you love the name? I spent sleepless nights trying to figure out a name, and gave up, which is when the Readomania team came to my rescue, with an entire group of writers chipping in with their two bits. They called it the “naming ceremony of my baby” and it was exactly that! While we were still trying to come up with the name, I started getting in touch with my guests for the launch. My parents took it upon themselves to compile a list of guests along with their phone numbers, and within a week, I had a list of not less than fifteen distinguished personalities to call. In the span of barely two weeks we fixed everything: from the venue to the menu, the guests to the PR agency taking care of media releases and what not, and most importantly, the minute-to-minute of the launch.

It has been an exhilarating process, and the most beautiful part of this journey has been the many wonderful people I have come across. I remember the evening when I sent a message to my all time favourite Assamese author, Anuradha Sarma Pujari, and waited with bated breath for her to reply. Wonder of all sweet wonders, she replied, and not just that, we had a conversation over phone! I babbled quite a bit, and I’m pretty sure I repeated myself for lack of better sense, but I was blown over by how easy it was to just talk to her. In the course of the next few days, I got in touch with quite a few accomplished writers. Each time I picked up the call, I would feel my palms get clammy because I would be so nervous, but each time I ended the call, I would be all smiles because of the unadulterated encouragement and support shown my way.

By the time the Guwahati launch was almost fixed, we had to start talking about the Delhi launch as well, and I found myself juggling multiple issues at a time, all the while keeping up with deadlines at school and taking classes and sticking to my lesson plans. Towards the end of last week I realised I had started developing a pain in my arm from handling the phone all the time, and my eyes had started smarting on their own. With the release of the book cover and the launch dates, my phone started beeping incessantly  and I felt compelled to check it every other minute. There was a time at night, when the phone’s battery was running dangerously low, and I was sitting on the floor with the phone on charge, and I realised that I was literally plugged into the wall.

And so, that weekend, I took a break. From everything. My nephew was over for the weekend and I packed everyone to an indoor playground so I could have the house to myself. I drew a bath, soaked in it until my eyes started drooping, then dragged myself to the bedroom and flopped on the bed. I must have woken up sometime after an hour, but I forced myself to sleep again, and only woke up when I heard everyone come back in. I had lunch, lazily walked about the house, read a few pages of a book, and barely registered the passage of time. The Husband took me for Wonder Woman that evening and I came back all relaxed.

Now that school’s out for the summer, all my attention and focus is on the book launch and getting the tiny details right. I’m bracing myself for a hectic fortnight, but I also know it is going to be the most happening time in my life, and I am nearly giddy with excitement.

This journey has taught me a lot. It has taught me that all it takes is the right intention and faith, and everything else will fall in place. It has taught me that the sign of a great person lies in their humility. It has taught me the importance of surrounding myself with the right people. And it has taught me to not lose myself in the process. The other day I received a notification on Facebook about a post I had written two years ago, and when I read the post, I became overtly nostalgic. The post was about that particularly trying phase in my life when I was enslaved by love, and was compelled to live life according to the whims and fancies of a one year old. I told my husband about how I missed that time, when it was just baby girl and I all day long, and I missed how simple and directed life was. But then again, I mused, if that was the life I had continued living, I wouldn’t be this person making phone calls and sending messages late into night, networking and organising and handling all of the responsibilities that comes with being a published author.

A published author. I still haven’t got used to it yet. It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I keep rolling the words in my mouth, keep staring at the cover to see my name and I keep hearing myself say, “The only dream I have is to see my name on print”. And here I am today, days aways from holding the book in my hands and all I can think of is how it still feels like a dream. I was telling a friend the other day about how I almost feel audacious, calling myself a writer, dreaming dreams that I know are beyond my reach, and he reminded me of the audacity of hope.

Audacity of hope, indeed. I’ll toast to that.

This thing about buying books…

Picture this:

It’s a busy Saturday. The list of errands we need to run is barely shorter than the grocery list for the week, and we’re skittering about the mall, slightly cranky toddler in tow. Lunch was a humble affair at the foodcourt and we’re trying to do as many things as we can before we can get into a cab, because a car ride with Miss Munchkin right after lunch isn’t really a good idea, if past experience is anything to go by. Nap time was about an hour ago, and we’re slowly but surely inching towards overtired.

And then I see an atrium book sale. 3 for $10!

The books, their covers worn soft and pages turned brown due to age, call to me. “Just give me a second,” I say to my husband, who by now knows me well enough to see the danger signs, and rolls his eyes in warning. “No, really!” I insist, “Just a second.” I walk along the display, gingerly touching the spines of the books, a fixed smile on my face. I imagine the pages, worn soft. Of late, I have been zeroing in on the children’s and young adult section, and I wonder if I can find a couple more Roald Dahls to add to my already growing collection. Despite being a sucker for chick-lit, I have this rule about never buying them first-hand, and so book sales are also perfect for grabbing a few indulgent fluff reads.

The husband starts getting increasingly annoyed. “Not fair,” he says, “You do this each time!” The little one, now truly overtired, refuses to let go of me, and so I do what I know best: pick her up and browse through books together because no way was I walking away from a book sale empty-handed. I manage the seemingly impossible manoeuvre of handling four thick paperbacks AND Miss Munchkin settled on my waist, and walk to the payment counter.

We come back home, the husband still miffed about my impractical detour and the toddler an absolute mess, while I hug the books to me because hey, I bought books!

I think it all started about two years ago. I mean, before that my husband and I did have a somewhat okay collection of books but it was nowhere near huge. I still remember the first buy that opened the floodgates. Miss Munchkin had just turned one and half, and I had joined that Mommies’ Group on Facebook where we all sold off our stuff, and this lady was selling off her books for $2 each. I grabbed the whole lot, and was extremely proud at having bought 20 books for $40. Some of those books I had read, having borrowed them for the library, but I bought them for the sole purpose of owning them.

My second major jackpot was when we came back to Singapore from Dubai last July. I rejoined the Mommy Group, and came across this lady who was selling off her entire bookshelf. An entire bookshelf! Double stacked! The family was moving, and they had moving boxes lying around, and I basically grabbed an entire boxful of books. Hardbound Jeffrey Archers and Stephen Kings, cookbooks… all in mint condition, 45 in total. The bookshelves started groaning in protest. My further purchases didn’t really help.

But this post isn’t really about listing how many books and where I bought them from (although it does read a lot like that so far, I know) This post is about the wonderful people I came across in my incredible journey of book-purchasing, and how my belief that book lovers are a whole different community altogether has been reinforced.

I started teaching last year, and because I teach English, I consider it my cardinal responsibility to ensure that my students have a steady supply of good books to read. The first time I bought books exclusively students was for my ninth-graders, when they’d handed me a brilliant class project and I was so impressed with the amount of effort they had put in it that I unabashedly promised them gifts. I remember the look on their faces when I walked in with the new books and told them the books were theirs to borrow. Word spread, and one day a sixth grader walked up to me and demanded to know why I was being unfair and lending books only to the higher grades. The simplest reason was that I didn’t have any books suitable for middle-schoolers, and the moment I realised that my stuffed bookshelves didn’t cater to the needs of a particular section, I knew I had to fill the gap. A harmless comment made by a cheeky eleven year old was what triggered it all.

On this journey towards converting our home to a veritable library, I have sought help multiple times, and have received it from all quarters. I remember desperately looking for a second set of Harry Potter books because I was unwilling to lend out mine. I had even decided to shell out the money to buy a new set in Popular since no one was willing to sell off theirs. Until I heard from this lady who had a spare set but was concerned that the box was slightly squashed. “Who cares about the box!” I wanted to tell her, “Tell me about the books!” I went to meet her straight after work, hoping it was worth it. Boy was it worth it! The books were in impeccable condition, and she’d wrapped the covers in clear plastic to make them durable. I could’ve hugged her (I think I did, I don’t remember) because I was overjoyed.

Because one of my students mentioned that he loved dogs but didn’t quite like reading books, I decided to get him books about dogs, and on that pursuit, came across this woman whose daughter, a voracious reader herself, was selling off her collection. It was late in the evening when I took a cab to their place, almost half an hour away from my place, and I decided to keep the cab running while I went upstairs to fetch the books. This young girl, on knowing that I was buying books for my students, decided to give away quite a lot of books for free, and I couldn’t do anything other than bless her. That day, on the ride back home, I thanked my lucky stars, my faith in the younger generation restored. All was, after all, not lost.

My latest tryst with providence came a few weeks ago. Through that same blessed group, I came to know about a lady having a garage sell with over 700 books and DVDs on sale, and the books were $3 each. The only glitch was that on the day of her garage sale, I had to go to school for a parent-teacher meeting in school, and was highly disappointed at having to miss it. Sending a hurried message asking her to send me photos of any remaining books, I prayed my luck hadn’t run out.

Turns out it hadn’t. I reached home, exhausted, only to find a message from her saying the books were now $1 each, and there were quite a few left, and would I be interested? Typing faster than I ever thought was possible I told her I would take the whole lot, and true to my word, reached her place the very next day armed with tote bags to bring the books. When I came back home and checked the books, I almost cried. Classics, Newberry Honour Medal winners, even hardbound books in perfect condition… it felt like a crime to pay only a dollar for each book and yet I couldn’t thank the higher powers above. Someone had once told me that if one’s intentions are right, and if one is desperate enough, things will go out of their way to fall in place.

Books

One of these days I will tell myself that maybe I have finally run out of room on my bookshelf. That maybe I’ve bought enough books to last me some time.

But then again, one can always buy another bookshelf, right?

Once a misfit…

I remember vividly two instances in my childhood when I realised I was a misfit. The first one I have written about here. I was in primary school, and compelled to participate in an “action-song” competition that everyone thought was a singing competition. Everyone but me. Which is why while everyone sang their graceful songs, I hopped and skipped and shimmied to “I had Auntie, an Auntie Monica…” In hindsight though, that could also have been because my Mamma had asked me to do so, and Mamma’s word was the Bible.

The second instance is still vivid in my mind. I was in fifth standard, and our class teacher had decided to introduce the concept of voting to our class. So instead of choosing a class monitor herself, she’d asked for volunteers. A few boldly stood up, and among them was a student who was, well, less leader material, more class clown. A lot of girls started laughing. Not me. Our teacher got rightfully agitated and gave us a ten-minute lecture on how it took courage and responsibility to stand up for oneself, and that we were being mean by being judgmental. Once her lecture was over, she made everyone vote. The entire class voted for that girl. Not me. Everyone kept looking daggers at me while I defiantly sat, red-faced and convinced that since I hadn’t laughed at her in the first place, I wasn’t compelled to vote for her, specially since I really didn’t believe that she was capable of being a leader. I guess I was proven right barely a week later when a new monitor was selected (not elected this time) by the teacher because the first one wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping the class in order.

The point here is not about being proven right, though. It is about a nine-year old who realised that she somehow didn’t fit. In fact, if I had to sum up my entire high school I could do it in three words: I didn’t fit.

Part of the reason could be because Mamma taught us Physics and Chemistry, and was known to be one of those strict teachers whose one glance could silence an entire class. All my friends thought I would go home and babble in front of my Mamma all the deliciously sensational gossip they indulged in. It was an all-girls school after all, and talking about boys was what made the world go round at that time. I wouldn’t have much to contribute anyway. Tongues wagged, rumours spread and I would usually be the last to know. I was the quintessential wallflower, and would often have tiffins with only my book for company.

The other reason why I was a misfit was maybe because back home I had a completely different life. With an age gap of six years between me and my sister, and a childhood spent trying to catch up and always failing, my conversations with my parents and my sister were a far cry from the conversations I had with my friends. Our dinner talks revolved around books and fictitious characters and music and stories from our parents’ childhood. My sister and I had a whole different world we had made for ourselves. One where our favourite pastime was to curl up with a book each and read aloud specially hilarious or particularly beautiful lines, or to sing songs with seconds and experimenting with techniques. We were quite self-sufficient, so to speak.

It was in college that I first felt as if I belonged. I had a group of friends (an entire group!) for the first time in my life, and we hung out together, bunking classes in college and after tuition classes. These were guys who got me and made me laugh. I wasn’t anonymous (Deuta had taught in the college for twenty years before moving on to Tezpur University) but I was isolated enough to enjoy the freedom of being away from the spotlight. Maybe that helped. Or it could have been the co-ed environment after twelve years of studying in an all-girls school.

Things took a turn for the better once I joined university. The fact that I was the daughter of the Controller of Examinations, didn’t exactly help me blend in (no, I stood out like a sore thumb) but by then I had learned to ignore wagging tongues and hushed whispers. There were people who were too intimated to come up to talk to me and people who thought it was okay to talk about me (often they were the same people) and yet I had friends I could count on. I had my band, and like always, music made everything okay. I loved my solitary walks around the campus just as much as I loved my evening “walk to the canteen” with a bunch of friends. Right before I had to leave, which was right before I got married, was when I realised that I had indeed made quite a lot of friends (a lot of them my juniors) and the separation hit me hard.

I am still the introvert with an extrovert personality who gets anxiety when plonked in the middle of a large group. I still have issues with exclusion, having faced it my entire high school, and am hardly the person with a ready retort to when people say anything sarcastic to me. I still feel like a square peg in a round hole, but if there’s something that I have learned, it is that you don’t really need to go around trying to fit in. All you need is one or two square pegs just like you, and then the round holes don’t matter anymore. And if everything fails, there’s always a book.

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A Sunday to cure it all

Today has been a good day after ages. And when I say ages I mean almost a month that has felt like forever.

Like everything bad it started with a hot forehead and a thermometer reading that confirmed that the little one was running a fever. If I were truly honest I think it started with the new term in school, and my getting assigned the role of a class teacher this term. They say the first few days in a new role is always the most difficult but darn it, when do the first few days end? Anyway. Not that I am complaining about class-teachership. I adore having my own class, and lugging bag after bag of books, old and new for my class library. I adore walking into the classroom feeling like mother-hen. Although more often than not it involves resolving disagreements as well.

Coming back to the fever my little one was running, because that, after all was when it started going further downhill… Along with a ridiculously high temperature, Miss Munchkin kept coughing a dry cough that ached my chest each time I heard it, and one morning she woke up crying and struggling to breathe. Guess what Mother of The Year did? Went to work. Having asked Daddy dearest to take Miss Munchkin to the clinic, I went to school because I couldn’t afford to miss a few important classes. Half way to work, I wondered if I had made a mistake because I was on the verge of breaking down in tears. My mind was barely functioning, until I received a call from the Husband telling me that the doctor had assured him that it was only viral and nothing worse and that she would get better in three days. When I came back home that day, she seemed okay although warm still, and Jenny told me she’d been eating well and playing. The same thing happened the next day, and by the third day her fever had come down. That afternoon I went bargain hunting at a Warehouse Sale of a popular bookstore, and just as I had got down from the bus and tried crossing the street, it started raining cats and dogs. Deciding to make a run for it rather than waiting at the bus stop, I ran across the street, and the moment I entered the hall, sopping wet, shirt soaked and sticking to my skin, I received a call from Jenny that the fever was back with a vengeance. Everything that followed felt like a blur: picking up books, paying for it at the counter, booking a cab back home. Hoping that my intention to be a good teacher justified my neglecting to be a mother, I finally reached home, guilt ridden, with my bag of books feeling heavier than usual.

That evening kind of set the tone for the next two weeks. The fever subsided after the very next day, and that being a Saturday and Bihu, we celebrated the first day of the year the only way we knew: by singing. My sister’s family visited us and we spent the day in the company of her guitar and age-old songs. But then, after they left, Miss Munchkin, having forsaken her nap in favour of listening to her Mamma and Jethai sing, turned into a screaming banshee. Bedtime became a nightmare, and she refused to be put down. Had I known that the banshee act would be more the norm than the exception for the next week, I would have been very, very wary. The tantrums continued, the screaming and the yelling and the kicking continued. I was at my wits end, overwhelmed, wondering what I had done to deserve being subjected to two hours of “I want to watch TV, I want to watch TV” at 2am. And did I mention that Miss Munchkin had decided that she didn’t need to wear clothes anymore? Every morning I had to manhandle her into wearing her school uniform, and every evening I had to rock her to sleep while standing till my back felt like it would snap. At the end of the week I finally gave up and realised that if this was how it was going to be, I would have to get used to it. I mean, it would be so, so easy to just give in, you know. Let her watch that extra bit of TV, let her stay home and not force her to go to school, say yes when she said she didn’t want to sleep and let her play instead. But I knew that if I listened to her, she would get the message that screaming got things done, and that was the last thing I wanted. And so I became the bad Mom, the one who refused to budge. The one who got screamed at. The one whose patience got tested over and over and over again.

Which is why yesterday, when my sister and I performed our Deuta’s song at the Bihu function organised by Assam Association Singapore, I had to leave Miss Munchkin behind because I was scared (yes, scared) that she would have a meltdown and I wouldn’t be able to handle her. I felt my lowest. My first duet with my sister after ages, and my mind was drifting to my bundle of tantrums refusing to be put down for her bedtime. When we came back home yesterday night, Jenny was in the living room, with Miss Munchkin asleep on her shoulder. Having decided that I would give in, just for once, I rocked her to sleep yet again, despite a stiff back. I told myself I would, for once, not let the whining turn into a screaming match.

And just like the clouds parting after the rain, she woke up smiling for the first time in ten days. We went out for lunch with my sister and her family, she played happily in the sand with her cousin, took a nap with him too, and we came back home much later in the evening. I know today might have been just a fluke, and come tomorrow I might have to manhandle her into wearing her uniform yet again, but at least I have today. We’ll take tomorrow by the horns if we have to.

P.S. I really hope I don’t have to. I mean, I love my daughter to the moon and back but boy does she make me want to pull my own hair out sometimes.