I was a special kid, I always believed. Even Ms. Braganza used to say- you’re my special child- often. But today, the way I see it, I don’t know if I really am special or special was just a euphemism.
After I started becoming a part of social gatherings- by which I mean school- I realized I was a social person. I liked to be surrounded with people. But did others prefer to be with me too? Perhaps, no. I wasn’t being skeptical; I drew such conclusions from the way others looked at me, others behaved with me, others used me.
I was in seventh grade when I had my first kiss. I didn’t tell anybody. Not that my parents wouldn’t have been interested in knowing, but as per my knowledge, that I once gathered overhearing the NGO’s director, I was abandoned by them, my parents, when I was only of a few months, and dropped in the NGO. I didn’t know why my parents didn’t want me! I didn’t want to know why! Because I always came up with the theory of them being poor, that they couldn’t take care of me, that they wished a good future for me and so left me in the care of the ones who could provide me a decent life. My parents loved me, and had to part from me for my own good. Sometimes you got to do the hardest things for the good of those whom you love; sometimes the best solution is the hardest solution.
The one I kissed, my then classmate, whom I considered one of my good friends, had won a bet. A bet that he had with other boys that I wouldn’t kiss him back. I did. He won the bet. And I became a laughing stock for the class forever.
Years passed before I could comprehend the reason of being mocked only for having kissed somebody.
The NGO that I was raised by took care of my academic fees and other expenses. Nanny, who had taken care of me as a toddler died when I was five. And then I was given into the hands of another nanny and then some other. There was no fixed lady. Never. And then I turned seven and soon was allotted a small room along with three other kids, whose parents had either died or, just like mine, had left them for their own good.
The next room to ours was occupied by four girls. I used to call them didi, used to spend my whole day in their room whenever I wasn’t in school. And they, I thought, were fond of me too.
Being the youngest among them, I was always the guinea pig they would experiment their dresses on; dresses they designed from the duppattas of the salwar-kameez that they were bequeathed with after their mothers died. After draping their self-designed clothes on me, they would adorn me- with red lipstick and sometimes with a small bindi too. When I used to look at the mirror, after getting all dolled-up, I’d wonder if I had inherited my mother’s face.
Years passed and those girls stopped dressing me up, claiming that I and they had become mature enough to not to play such childish games. They might had grown up but I still was a kid and so whenever they were out, I’d sneak into their room and dress myself up. I didn’t have any duppatta of my own as, unlike those girls’, my parents didn’t leave me with much stuff. And, NGO provided us with only limited stock of clothing, which left me with only a few pairs of shorts.
Though I couldn’t drape duppatta-saree as neatly as didi could on me, but my reflection in the mirror used to excite me nonetheless.
Time passed and, gradually, I started to feel the strange and sudden desire of knowing the reason of my parents abandoning me. Not that I doubted their good intentions or their heavy hearts with which they would have had to part themselves from me, but still I wanted to know.
Every night, before going to bed, I used to pray to God to reunite me with my parents. People of NGO loved me; at least Ms. Braganza did. As far as I could recollect, after I turned eight it was only Ms. Braganza whom I used to turn to whenever I felt happy or forlorn. But never to have felt the hands of a mother caressing my hair, or never to have experienced the swings that a father would have thrilled me with, all this was gnawing me by then.
I’d hallucinate my mother lying beside me at nights in bed.
I had entered in my teens and therefore was expected to be more sporty, sharp in studies…but I was neither a sporty child nor a sharp one. The room next to mine was still occupied by those four girls but our interactions had dwindled over time.
One morning of Sunday, I encountered one of those girls in the balcony. She was smoking and offered me one too; but I declined. Smoking wasn’t allowed in NGO; though that wasn’t the reason I declined the offer; I declined because I was still a kid of fourteen.
“It’s been months since I saw you. Seems you’ve grown-up overnight.” She said noticing me from up to down. It had been almost two years since I had interacted with any of them. I didn’t say anything.
“Want to meet other didis too?” She asked after a few moments of silence and some deliberation.
I nodded. She crushed the white cancer on banister and we went inside. As it was Sunday, most of the children and faculty members were out. Only Ms. Braganza was in that day, who probably must have had dozed off after the breakfast in her room, and with the silence around, I presumed it was only I and the other girls in the NGO.
We entered in their room. They all were busy chatting and a sight of me locked their lips for a moment. Swati, the girl beside me, broke the ice by saying the same thing that she had told me in the balcony- about me growing over-night. Her statement, to my surprise, drew some curious and excited glances from the other three.
They were few years older than me, but then I didn’t know how much. They asked me how school was going; how studies were going on; all those mundane questions which I wasn’t interested in answering. The only thing that helped me in keeping my cool was the waving duppattas hanging to the clips on the wall; they reminded me of my mother.
Out of nowhere, one of them stood up and latched the room’s door. That made me uncomfortable. If that was not enough to scare me, all of them exchanged some sly glances which freaked me out.
The one sitting nearest to me said, “Remember why we stopped playing dress-up game with you?”
“Be- because they were childish games”, I replied hesitatingly.
She nodded and smiled and asked if I ever played any mature games. I said I didn’t know any.
“Let’s teach you one today”, said Swati.
“I have homework to do, didi” I blurted out. Sweat beads had set on my upper lip.
“Oh! It won’t take much time. Trust us. And you’ll enjoy the game.” Swati said and approached the windows to draw their curtains off. This game is enjoyed better in dark, she said in support of the drew-curtains.
With drawn curtains and closed door, I was taught a mature game which wrecked my already shaky self in an irreparable way. I was young, I was naïve, I didn’t know back then what did happen with me. They were my didis; weren’t they?
The day passed, and with it a week did, and I didn’t go to school; stomachache was my pet-excuse and I used it at my leisure that whole week. It was the weekend when I encountered Ms. Braganza while going to the common-area for lunch.
“What happened, my child? I heard you didn’t go to school this whole week.”
My pursed lips stayed that way and eyes kept staring the floor. She said again, “I know it’s not stomach-ache. What is it?”
A tear rolled down my cheek and I looked towards the door of those four girls. But I didn’t say a thing. Words were not enough to express what I wanted to, not even to Ms. Braganza. That was those girls’ last day in NGO. After that they just disappeared. I didn’t know where; neither did I want to know.
All those social gatherings soon turned into nothingness, and eventually a sociable me turned into an extremely introvert person. My agitation had been simmering inside me all the time. My only moment of solace was to look at a dolled-up me and imagining myself as a replica of my mother.
I was distorted- mentally and emotionally; only you can sense its intensity and, perhaps, that is why this is the worst area to fail at. Outer demons can be fought with others’ support but who is there to protect you from your own inner demons?
For some reason, I started hating everything and everybody, including myself. Yes, that Sunday was one of the reasons. That havoc had affected me in ways which couldn’t be explained, which wouldn’t be lived with forever by anybody else but me.
Days passed, months did, and I turned fifteen. My hair never grew any longer than my earlobes because long hair were not allowed in my school. Also, NGO didn’t prefer to spend money on something as lame as haircuts. So almost everyone in the NGO had short hairs. Everybody around me was growing up beautifully, but I, according to me, was turning more into a disaster with every passing day. I felt weird in my own body. I felt sick. I looked around and nobody seemed to care.
I was at the receiving end of either disgust or scorn. Today when I look back, I wonder- “Did they know?”
Time didn’t cease but my patience level, gradually, did. My studies had gone for a toss; mentally as well as physically I felt sick. I longed to get free, to be understood. And one night, after my tenth grade’s exams, I eloped, with a pair of my clothes, from NGO. Where would I go?- I didn’t know.
While I was at bus-stand, I encountered somebody whose eye-contact provided me an instant relief. I saw a ray of hope in that stranger’s smile which seemed to say that everything was going to be alright. I smiled back and that marked the start of my new journey.
That stranger took me to her place, a small house in the outskirts of Delhi, where she had been living with three of her friends for quite some time. This reminded me of that Sunday morning in NGO but time revealed that I had nothing to be afraid of while I was with them.
A year flew by and all my doubts were cleared, all my worries were allayed. I always knew I was special; “In what ways?” , it was answered here. Why my parents left me? The probable answer was given to me here. I took time to realize and understand myself, my new life.
One night when I was to fill a form for school-admission (I had decided to complete my schooling), I got stuck at one field. My fingers struggled to choose the check-box, check-box asking my gender: male or female. What was I? I thought. That was when I felt a hand on my shoulder; she said, “our world is not that easy, child. It’s the inner battle, first, that you’ve to struggle with.”
“What else have I been doing my whole life? If not struggle then what has this been?” I thought, left the half-filled form on the table and went into my room.
The mirror in my room reflected back a sixteen-year-old male draped in a saree. But my mind showed the little Aryan draped in duppattas searching for the slightest possible glimpse of his long-lost mother. I wanted the answers of questions which I never asked anybody but myself. So how was I to get the answers from somebody out there? I lied on my bed. Sleep was never generous to me; but that night it came even without me asking for it.
I once again step into the balcony and look down. Thunder rumble in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turn back and rush towards the door. It was getting late enough to be worried.
“Ma! Papa! You’re here!” I exclaim and leap into their arms. But soon their figures start fading, as if evaporating. Where are you going? Don’t go dad. Ma…please! Don’t leave me again.
And I woke up, again, in the middle of night drenched in sweat. Sixteen years might have had passed but I still yearned for a mere look of those two faces that I deserved to see, but, maybe, this longing was to never end.
Next day came with its promising sunlight. June’s sun had never been comforting in Delhi but that day’s sunlight wasn’t biting, the air wasn’t humid and I- well, I was sitting in the porch of the house reading newspaper.
Every Sunday, that newspaper dedicated the center-most page to Catholics’ confession. After starting off with my new life, I had been a regular reader of that newspaper, that page in specific; but that day’s confession page held something for me, solely for me.
My child! I don’t know where you are but I know why did you leave. I had always thought of you as a special child and you left no doubt about it while growing-up. You indeed are special.
You know, my child, why of all the children in NGO, it was only you who were dearest to me? Because you reminded me of somebody I lost. Joseph. His name was Joseph.
It was the chilly month of January in Delhi in 2005. I had just reached back my house from NGO when I heard a giggling sound coming out of my room. The sight of 16-year old Joseph, my son, in one of my gowns stunned me; wearing my gown, my pearl necklace around his neck- the most horrible sight I could ever see in my life, I thought at that time. He was oblivious to my presence and I let it be that way.
Next day we both were having breakfast when I, hesitatingly, told him about what I saw last night. He was startled first and then slowly, direfully, he crawled to me and wept in my lap until his eyes couldn’t cry anymore. But not even a single tear dropped down my eyes. Bluntly, I told him that he was my son, not a daughter. I was torn between my son and the world. And that was the last day we had a meal together. After sharing a few more days of distressed silence with me, he left me, abandoned me. Or maybe it was I who had abandoned him that morning. He was gone to never come back. I searched for him everywhere but it was as if he disappeared from the face of the Earth.
You know what the worst part is- I don’t even know if I should say Joseph is or Joseph was. Deep down I always had the inkling of his inclination but I had denied it as an impossible ignoble notion. In a way I had abused my own son, tortured him- by expecting him to live as somebody he wasn’t for sixteen years of his life. God had already played unfairly with him by trapping a poor girl’s soul in my Joseph’s body and I made it harder. If only I had comforted him, supported him, I might have never lost him. Regret laden with guilt is the worst kind of poison, my child! And I’m filled with it. It doesn’t kill you instantly- it kills you day-by-day, bit-by-bit, and keeps on churning within you until the day when you cannot take it anymore and give up to it.
But then I found you. It’d already been your 4 years in NGO but after Joseph eloped, it was you who I doted upon. I love you, my child, the way you are. God gave me another chance but I lost you, too.
I had seen you in those dupatta-sarees as a kid and as a teen. I had felt the numbness and pain of your eyes. I might not be able to help you much but this might provide you some solace- You have the face of your mother, whom I had seen the day she came here to leave you under our care. And you look exactly like her when draped in those dupattas.
I folded the newspaper and kept on my lap. Sun had hidden itself behind the clouds and drizzling had marked the onset of monsoon.
“Time for lunch, Aryan!” Josephine called from inside. Josephine who was Joseph for the first sixteen years of her life.
Whom did I feel worst for- Ms. Braganza? Or Josephine? Or myself? Did I find any relief in that confession?- Some of it perhaps. But this I had realized that I was an abandoned special kid. Just like those droplets abandoned by their clouds in the sky.
IF YOU ARE A FIRST- TIME VISITOR OF MY BLOG, DO REFER ‘First-Timers‘. IT WOULD HELP YOU IN EXPLORING THE PLACE.
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