Tag Archives: boarding school

Bully

That’s me. In school. Shorter than your average kid but with twice the sass. And the unshakeable belief that the sun rose from my ass. I was in an all boys boarding school. Yup. That comes with its own set of challenges. Most of which, they tell you, “build character”, “turn you into a real man”, “foster relationships which last a lifetime”. Well, yes. And no.

 

There wasn’t much you could do if a senior wanted your new sneakers. They’d just take them. You couldn’t say no if they wanted you to wash their dirty socks, everyday. Or eat your share of food.

I’ve always had a problem with authority. And initially, these little ego tussles always bothered me. Being physically dwarfed by most kids, it was almost impossible to protest. I remember vividly, wringing my hands together behind my back and clenching my teeth when I was being yelled at for something really stupid. The senior stopped yelling, walked behind me and seeing my hands, red and perspiring, he said “This is your problem. You have a very large ego. Don’t worry. We’ll break it.”

Eventually, most kids end up shedding who they really are and guard themselves the best way they can. Some become aggressive, some become introverts. The defense mechanisms, inevitably, always stay in place. Long after the attacks have stopped.

As time went by, I learnt to be shrewd. I learnt to pander to their ego so as to get away with I really wanted to do. It was a small compromise.

It surprises me now, after all these years how easily we got used to this way of life.

Sometimes though, someone would cross the line. And for me, it wasn’t an act of physical violence inflicted upon me. It was something seemingly harmless that has stayed with me all my life.

I was in the eight grade. I was called to the twelfth grade dorm for some random work. This senior of mine, probably bored in the afternoon, asks me to climb into his locker. I barely fit. It was the kind of space where you couldn’t stand, sit straight or straighten your limbs, even for a small kid like me. As soon as I got in, he locked me in.

I don’t know if I was in for a minute or longer but it felt like forever. I kept begging him to open, banging on the thin steel. Looking back, it would’ve made more sense to close my eyes, breathe slowly and wait but I was scared and uncomfortable.

Light and air rushed in when he finally opened the door. I had tears streaming down my face. He was laughing. When he saw me in distress, he masked his feeling of guilt with arrogance and asked me to not be such a wuss and to get out of his dorm.

People hate bullies because they torment the weak. But that’s not all they do. Bullies give birth to new bullies.

What my senior did that day was wrong in itself. But apart from the actual act of sadism, he did a grave disservice to me and those closest to me.

He unknowingly taught me how to hurt people.

My school made me a self defense bully. So petrified of being hurt or bullied, I learnt to act out in anticipation. And as I got stronger, unshackled by the burdens of school hierarchy, my verbal blows got swifter and more efficient. For any minor act of aggression against me, or even perceived betrayal, retribution would be swift. And merciless. I mastered the art of knowing what and how to say things that would cripple someone. And although, I’d have the last word, I felt my heart shrink, become darker with each episode. I learnt to prey on their weaknesses, in much the same way a few of my seniors preyed on mine.

This behavior affects all your relationships. The one you have with your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your best friends and unfortunately, even your children. And as affectionate as one may be, you’re still a bully.

There’s nothing about being a bully that one enjoys. One doesn’t enjoy the hurt caused to your loved ones. And the sense of power is a misplaced one. Remorse inevitably follows. You end up living your life with constant guilt. You miss the purity of the heart you used to have, buried under all the layers of hurt and unresolved issues.

We use our pasts, like I used mine, to justify all that is wrong with us. Till one day, you decide to let go of it. We need to accept that it’s a choice we make. When we have two wolves whispering in our ear, one guiding us to the light and the other dragging us back to our dark patterns, which wolf do we end up listening to? A wise friend once told me, “The one we feed”.

You’re not the scared boy in the locker anymore. And everyone’s not out to get you.

Feed the good wolf. Believe in the best of you. Recognize your patterns, acknowledge them and bid them a quiet goodbye.

It’s time.

 

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The ketchup chronicles.

I understand that most people would find ketchup a pretty weird subject to write on. Ketchup, the bane of chefs all over the world. Ask for ketchup at a pizzeria in Italy and you risk getting thrown out, maybe I’m exaggerating, but at the very least, you risk getting a really nasty look from the chef.

The problem with ketchup is that it’s often thought of as a masking agent. A panacea for all tasteless fare. It really isn’t. Let me tell you about how my relationship with ketchup has evolved over the years.

As a kid in small town India, ketchup was synonymous with the locally available ‘Kissan’ ketchup. It was India’s answer to Heinz. Same color, same consistency and came in a distinctive glass bottle which needed a good whack or two before dollops of the crimson goop splattered your plate. The taste was timeless. It went perfectly with traditional Indian snacks like samosas, replacing the tamarind or coriander chutneys which found pride of place in old Indian homes. The western revolution had begun on the dining table.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of India’s early globalization years. So, then came Maggi. Ads on TV played often, showing the new Maggi ketchup being ladled on beautifully crafted burgers, pizzas, samosas, french fries and I even remember an ad where a kid just licked ketchup off his plate. But, Maggi never entered our house. We are a family which does not take kindly to change. There was never any need felt to replace the old faithful Kissan.

Then came the boarding school years. Maggi, in a stroke of unparalleled genius launched a new ‘Hot and Sweet’ tomato-chilly sauce. Launched with much fanfare starring a ‘then’ popular tv star called Javed Jaffrey, their tagline was “It’s different”. What I believe they tried to do was to bring in the slightly old Indians who stayed away from ketchup, deeming it too sweet. We Indians do like a bit of a kick in our food.

I first tried ‘Hot and Sweet’ in my boarding school. And not in the conventional way. Every wednesday, saturday and sunday, my school served it’s version of Pulao. Pulao is a fragrant Indian rice preparation with peas, carrots and french beans. My school’s pulao on the other hand was brown in color with scattered peppercorns and cloves, devoid of any veggies. They served it with a watery, insipid version of mutton rogan josh. A friend of mine suggested we add a little bit of the ‘hot and sweet’ to rice, suspicious at first, I followed. The result was magic. My mouth burst alive, my palate was tingling. It was sensational. Thereafter I cannot recall ever eating that stupid pulao without a generous helping of the magic sauce. (Don’t judge me. I was 9. And hungry).

Maggi subsequently launched plenty more versions, there was an onion and garlic one, a tamarind one and a chilly garlic one. But none came close to the original. So when I think of Maggi ketchups, I don’t think of it as just another product. It changed my life (and my waistline), at a time in my life when I was young, homesick and hungry for a palatable meal. It was a friend in a bottle.

As time passed, Heinz came to India, it was the same as Kissan to me. Pretty ‘meh’. When we go eating at fancy places now, the chef usually has his own homemade version. So I make do with that.

But at home, nothing replaces ‘Hot and Sweet’, the bright red sauce with small crimson specks, flowing effortlessly out of the bottle (no whacking required). I still get pretty upset if it’s the bottle’s empty and hasn’t been replaced. Eaten with a grilled cheese sandwich, trust me, nothing comes close, pretty indescribable. Maybe that’s why Maggi came up with the ‘It’s different’ tagline. Because, well, it is.

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