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.