Maybe I should write a diary. I’ve always hated the idea of one but now it seems like I can do something with the form that aligns it more with how my memories structure themselves within the contexts they occupy. In a way, they are limited by the fact that most of them are irrelevant except as a means of the continual generation and regeneration of the illusion my identity but then again, for the same reason, they are also freed of the conventions of fact-based entries and reflections that are so utterly boring that it would probably be no more taxing to read them in binary code. I can’t write if I can’t enjoy discovering what my writing reveals to me.
Writing is a horribly self-reflective and frustrating art form because it is inherently self-alienating. Writing makes you feel like you can’t think until you see it on a page in these strange mystical symbols that the human cult has devised to keep a secret from itself. And maybe that’s true, as Jaques Derrida put it: there is nothing outside text. Of course, that is a mistranslation but I prefer it because it proves Derrida’s point. Maybe I’ll talk about it later. For now, it is enough to say that language is self-alienating because it actually is foreign, alien, tenebrous and unattainable but it also permeates our minds and bodies. We never really possess language, we grope for it in the dark and the dark is endless. Therefore, I will make no pretence of actually being in control of what I say or how I put things together, and yet I do say them because it is as true as anything I know.
I’ve just recently realised that I was bullied as a child and multiple times. It was rarely physical but I think I was unusually susceptible to it, being a frail, skinny child, eager to please and be liked. I was bullied by this guy whom I came home from school with for three years. We had this unofficial carpool system and it was usually his father who picked us up. It was about a forty-five-minute ride home. He was five years my senior. I think he thought of me as an annoyance and didn’t really want to be associated too much with a kid of my age. I wasn’t a huge fan of his either but I still wanted his approval so I would often try to make myself seem cool by studying up on the things I thought he would be into and reciting them to him the first opportunity I got. My half-baked factoids simply sent him into a frenzy of mockery, sarcastic retorts and general humiliation, some of which was actually really clever. Now that I think of it, bullies are almost always very creative when they want to be. I don’t know how he really was as a person; I was never his friend, but I do now recall that I had once heard that he had been bullied too.
See, he wasn’t very cool at all. We came from very similar families, both Odiyas, both brought up with traditional Indian values with tremendous weight on academic success. We grew up in Shillong, a north-eastern state which is strangely attuned to western culture and being Oriya with Indian values in Shillong leaves you with no choice but to be a nerd. Cool kids talked differently, they told different jokes, they liked better cartoons and were well-versed in popular culture. He was supposed to do well in his exams and get a job in IT (which he has, at Google no less) and that was not conducive to being cool. Being cool implied not being too fat or skinny, dressing casually and with a certain air of indifference, being into all the new angsty bands and just generally not being in any way ‘Indian’. So I think I remember hearing he’d be made fun of at parties for being fat or being a nerd or whatever, and although I didn’t realise it then, there is always a chain when it comes to bullying and aggressive behaviour. No one decides to be a bully on his/her own. Bullying is not the exercising of choice in order to possess power over another human being, it is a flaw in the way we relate to other people. Of course power operates even within the dynamic of such a small instantiation of the larger issue of Bullying, but this power, while being intentional, is non-subjective as Foucault says in his History of Sexuality, “Power relations ‘are both intentional and non-subjective … not because they are the effect of another instance that “explains” them, but rather because they are imbued, through and through, with calculation: there is no power that is exercised without a series of aims and objectives. But this does not mean that it results from the choice or decision of an individual subject.”
Before I discovered the internet, one of my greatest pleasures was when my father would bring me DVDs to watch. My father went out of town every three months or so and took along with him a list of scribbled movie titles that I had written down. Many of the titles were just nonsense that I had created myself, recalling summary of the movie that a friend had related to me. My father would buy what he could or whatever actually existed, and they were not infrequently low-quality pirated prints that he had managed to in some shifty New Delhi market. But they were my favourite things to look forward to when he came back. I had a whole collection of DVDs I’d kept in one of those old CD cases and I’d watch every movie a thousand times before I tired of it. Anyway, sometime around 2006, my father had found a copy of a Pokemon movie I really wanted and brought it for me. I was overjoyed, ecstatic, swelling with pride just looking at the CD, glistening in my sweaty palms.
That night we’d been invited to a dinner party at my bully’s house and I really wanted to show my new DVD to all my older friends so that I would finally be cool, but my mother would have none of that. She told me I couldn’t take the CD because I’d lose it. After an hour of vehement protestation, I decided to do the honourable thing and tuck it clandestinely underneath my sweater, lodged uncomfortably against my ribcage and pelvis. When we got there, and after all the cool older kids had finished with their quips and funny conversations and were then deciding how best to amuse themselves, I tactlessly suggested that we watch the movie I had brought, tucked in my pants. I can’t recall if anyone had sniggered when I took it out but I wouldn’t blame them if they had. I was just, characteristically, trying too hard. But they accepted it graciously since Pokemon was all the rage back then. The CD was whipped into the computer and the movie was played, the lights turned off. The only problem was that the movie was really low-quality with superimposed subtitles and terrible audio. The bully turned to me and said, ‘This is obviously some cheap pirated movie. We can’t watch this. You go watch it at home.’ My heart sank.
The neighbours to the left of our house had seven children. Two of them, I was close with. One was effeminate and lanky with boundless imagination and a flair for drama (Y). The other was short, butch and given to a dry, caustic demeanour (Z). I was much closer to Y than Z. Y was kind to me and involved me in games that I couldn’t understand; he didn’t look down on me and I liked that. I liked Z too but not as much. He was quick to anger and overly direct in his trenchant remarks. We were the younger kids in our colony. I can honestly say that both Y and Z are now wonderful people in their own ways and completely changed from their younger years. Their parents are also wonderful people although I never interacted with them much. I do remember their father oftentimes washing his white Maruti with a hose in front of their house. This one time sticks out in my memory when Y asked him if he could lend him some money. His father slowly turned out one pocket and then another and looked at us with knitted eyebrows and protruding lips, turning his palms up slightly. I didn’t understand the ritual but Y had obviously been on the receiving end of it several times and said aloud so I would understand: ‘he’s saying he doesn’t have any money.’
When Y and Z shifted quarters (within the same university) I was devastated. I played outside with them till evening time and never wanted to go home. I was not prepared for them to leave. I didn’t play with any of the other colony kids; there weren’t that many left. Although, I would never admit to missing them. However, my mother, who has probably betrayed more of my secrets than I’ve had, went and told their mother about my adorable little feelings. The little piece of gossip went down the grapevine until Y mockingly asked me about it and I vehemently denied it. I would still walk two kilometres to their new house every Saturday for another year or so to hang out with them but eventually I became more and more aware of the possibility that my visits were not wholly solicited and may also have been unwelcome with such regularity. This fear of being unwanted fed into my mind until one day I never visited them again. I still remember vague shapes of their house, both old and new, the smell of it and their huge shared collection of MAD magazines and comic books but I remember very little else. From then on I spent most of my time after school alone, fiddling with things in my room.
My relationship with Y was probably one of the most memorable from my childhood and though it too was not wholly devoid of abuse, it was, as far as I can tell, a positive experience. He was willing to be a friend to someone whom he recognised as being different to him. I’ll never know what motivated him but I do acknowledge the fact that he wasn’t the typical masculine influence that most boys at that age have (of course, that came later) and I’m thankful for it.
Maybe I’ll talk about this again sometime and make more extensive notes about the issue at hand but for now I’m just tired of typing. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention the next link in the chain. I have often identified my own behaviour towards my sister, who is seven years younger than me, with that of my bully. I have never been abusive but there have been times when I have mocked her or jeered at her beyond what can be considered playful bickering. It’s different from playful jabs and jokes at her expense, and I can always tell because her reaction is subtly different. It is a deeply unsettling realisation that we can be the perpetrators of what we ourselves have been victims of but it is also what makes us capable of real change. The last time I went home from, I joked about how bad the cupboard looked because it was covered with my sister’s puerile fairy stickers. I didn’t think she would take me seriously because I had mentioned it to her several times and elicited no visible reaction from her, but when I went into her room after a snack, I found her on her knees, mechanically removing one sticker after the other, looking like she had lost something and had given up looking for it. I have never felt worse. I begged her to stop, I told her I was only joking, that I didn’t mean it but the stickers were almost all gone and she said to me, ‘It’s okay. You were right. They did look kind of bad.’