Confessions of a Teenager: Discomforting Truths or Soothing Lies?

I can’t summon an analogy that describes teenage. Even the thought of drawing one feels like holding sand in my hands. The more I cling to it tempted to believe I am closer home to finding one, the more it slips away from the grip of my palms. Teenage is a prolonged season when many of us manoeuvre into experimenting in the wild. A profusion of technicolour hubbub emerges out of nowhere, and one feels like sailing through it at a super-human pace. Whether to grab an opportunity or snatch a chance, we indulge in delirious energies as we explore another side of the world that seems to have much to offer. Beset by the fear of missing out we do not want to let slip anything, especially when we are passing them.

Amidst other desires, I had erotic urges when puberty dawned. But I swept away a fat slice of it under the carpet because I was ridiculously shy, unforthcoming and awkward. For the sake of argument, I couldn’t look a boy in the eye while talking. At school, I was unsure if anyone else in my class experienced a similar adrenalin rush, causing certain parts in their bodies to stir the way they did in mine sometimes. As bashful as I was, the mere thought of approaching anyone about it terrified me.

The adolescent revelations I came across not only soaked me in their glory but also made my knees go wobbly. I knew a few of my classmates to indulge in fickle fables. While in class, much between them transpired into sugar-coated hushes and saucy chits. However, a lot ensued behind closed doors after school hours. Although I revelled in many of such disclosures, my blood pumped in anxiety. My heart would beat wildly, the regularity of its thumps best suited to Eminem’s tempo. I would repeatedly rub my clammy hands on my skirt. Organic nervousness was the non-negotiable kin I had earned in the processAll for auditory telltales.

Or tall tales.

When I was in grade nine, I remember doodling a double-bordered ‘V’ on the wooden desk of my bench with a pencil. It was a spontaneous scribble during recess, driven by the lack of having anything better to do. After all, my doodling skills do not qualify to save even my life. Anyhow, I20170510_152905 coloured the insides of the alphabet with the pencil, the shading and the borders on the wood desk shining through. A classmate passing by asked me to erase it, for it bore the possibility of being perceived in the wrong sense. I wondered what could be inappropriate with an alphabet that flanked virile wings on its sides. As the bell rung signalling the end of our lunch hour and my friend returned from the next classroom and sat beside me, I asked her what was faulty about my ‘doodle’. She told me that it could be mistaken for a penis. What?

Another time, a classmate had brought audio CDs for a friend. It was an act the teacher caught, as a result of which she demanded him to hand over the CDs to her. When he denied being in possession of any, she directed to check his bag, a feat to which he obliged. She failed to find any CDs on rummaging through the bag’s contents. I was told eventually that he had hidden them in his underwear. Wait, what?

I used to find myself nodding silently when friends spoke at length of the workshops we had on sex education. (Un)fortunately, none of them dealt with the definition of sex. Topics hovered around the subject to explain the biological process, the precautionary measures and even AIDS. But, just what happens when someone spells S.E.X. was an area yet left to be covered.

I was spellbound by this other side of the world, except that I felt artlessly silly in it.

Miles to go before I sleep.

Atop the Eiffel Tower, Paris

You believe it’s a world of roses until a thorn from its spine pricks you. You believe in realising your dreams until someone shatters a mirror in front of you. It’s perhaps a reason why children are uninhibited. Because sexual maturity begins to mess things up. It is no wonder why we see tiny tots as one of the best sources of idea generators and our go-to people during time-offs. Their temporal concerns brim with all things creative and carefree at that, much so that we begin to ponder the point when we started to lose it.

When I was in grade twelve, I considered love a filmy affair. The way Bollywood did it. My first love confession to the 180-centimetre cat-eyed boy from my extra class was on a State Corporation bus ticket. It was my favourite, hey. A six-rupee chit printed in a green and pink combination. Whimsically influenced by Marvel’s Mystique, I wrote on the ticket a set of numerals the boy had to ‘decode’ to infer my message.

The numerals indicated the alphabet they represented as per their chronological order. His friend had told me off for presuming that the boy was a genius to figure this by himself. So, when he didn’t come back for two days, like a babe in the woods, I shared with him the secret to decrypt my note. Only to find out that the next day, he had asked my friend out on a piece of paper that read –

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That sense of wobbliness in my knees was back. Sexual maturity had begun to mess my world up.

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But, there’s a Story behind every Mother

As humans, each of us fetches a story within ourselves. An account of narratives that shape into a series of events and people. Even if there is nothing to write home about, that inevitable process of evolution fails to take our leave until time can remember. From infancy to our first day in uniform. From schooling routine to the sudden burst of hormonal rage for that ‘special someone’. From puberty to the selective firsts of exploring our – and another’s – finer fabrics. From juvenility to the indiscriminating responsibility of standing on our feet. From reaching the stage of a merited earner to shouldering responsibilities, whether for oneself or the household. The beat goes on; there is no eluding this vicious cycle.

This is the part of life that I refer to as keep-calm-and-dote-on-your-family. For things here on, aren’t the same. They begin to branch from what they were once.

The roads fork out, and the juncture prods one to pick their prong. Our siblings have carved out a niche for themselves by now, and are well on their way to treading the path. Our significance in their hand-picked route reduces to visiting them once in a while. Regardless of the fact that we love them as much and more, we no longer belong to the same environmental radius as we did five years ago. Or even two. Our father’s first strands of grey peek more prominently than we thought they would. The receding hairline on his forehead and once thick mop seem to be blown off with a candle. In one go. Mum no longer pulls through the household errands with the same spring in her step. There is a discernible lag. A sliver of silver on her sideburns attempts to hide assiduously beneath her shoulder-length tresses – an unrefined endeavour that yields part-time success. The little folds under her eyes that are otherwise camouflaged behind her myopic spectacles reveal a dusted tale of hers to reminisce. Except that it isn’t.

They asked me to drape a Sari. I didn’t know which one to pick. So, I borrowed a piece from them all and draped a collage. Photo: Margaret Lanzetta, Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016

The fact of ageing hits us when see it reverberating in our parents. It isn’t until then that we register how contradicting the illusion of age is but a number gets for us. We disagree, shake our heads vehemently, and argue that age is not just a number – not for our progenitors. Because it reflects. It isn’t until then that we come to a fully-flavoured perception of our parents’ childhood. After all, they didn’t spring up to the phase of becoming a father or a mother. As their offsprings, we are merely the freshest blots of ink in their tales that they continue to record even today. It isn’t until then it strikes us that they would have had their share of yarns to spin when they were youthful dicky birds. Although our small nothings could have transported them backwards more times than we could have counted, they chose to not regale their chronicles when we were busy clinching ours.

Their evocations and echoes unheard and buried, biding their time to surface over the counter.

Some people come across with a natural tendency to talk. Without inhibitions or borders. Yesteryear gossips of family feuds to tomorrow’s worries tumble right off their tongues without ado. They let slip off of everything that goes on in their mind, some time or the other. Such people inadvertently unburden themselves through a fellow human to converse to, not to gauge an actionable reaction but to bask in the solace of companionship. Then, some people speak, yet remain guarded with their thought-process. They voice out their secrets when in the mood, and at other times keep the conversation flowing like a duck in a pond. Level-headed on the outside, scuffling under the waters. At such times, their exchange is likely to become transactional, to the point of being a prototypical parent. And then, there are the rest who forgo their past because it no longer matches their present. They let go of what exists no more for they cannot in the slightest, meld it to their current. Their lifestyle alters to a one-way that as per them, demands to gel into circumstances that pass them by. They are through – done and dusted – with their times bygone because they need to assume accountable responsibilities. Leaving them with no space in their ever-turning sheets of to-dos to accommodate any time for reminiscing their memories – which, now seem to belong to another lifetime. Their moments of monkeying around. Their earliest ‘special someone’ in their friends’ circle. Their first pubic exposure. And their elephants in the room. They see no point recollecting what’s done and the results that were kindled in the process. All is now defunct. Meant to let go.

My mother falls into this category.

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In my thirty odd years as her daughter, not once do I remember her recounting her childhood to me. Aside from a few fundamental facts of her upbringing in a Northern territory of India among four sisters, her mother being a housewife, and father a serviceman who socialised at the city club for a game of cards, I had no clue of what her childhood was like. Not until I chanced upon bits and bobs recently.

It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to building my self-esteem. Because she chose to disown it in the process of adulting. It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to building trust for a street display. Because she chose to irrupt into a nutshell soon after she picked the prong of her fork. It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to administering my social quotient. Because she chose a non-opinionated self as her shield, an instant reflex, lest the crowd ridiculed her thought-process or nitpicked on her lifestyle. It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to believing that I could never be up to any good, an individual with below-average capability. Because she chose to live in shadows after she went through a phase change.

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My mum no longer chose to be the rebellious voice in the house because her ambience had altered to donning the role of a married woman. She no longer opted to be the asserter with the man opposite because that wasn’t her father anymore. She no longer assumed the role of a caretaker for her youngest sister, because she had younger ones of her own. She no longer chose to be that socialising bee she once was, because we were her ‘others’, her society and her world. She no longer associated with that mischievous-most kid from her schooldays, because she had now chosen to steer her lifestyle one-dimensionally, towards her renewed priorities.

Us.

As humans, each of us fetches a story within ourselves. Little did I know, there existed one under my roof. Of evocations and echoes, unheard and buried, biding their time to surface over the counter.

Photos: Students’ Biennale, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016; Kochi, Kerala