“Humne toh koi aisa bacha kahin nahi dekha…”
(We haven’t seen a child like you.)
Not that my parents have shared with me but I’m guessing these were their grudgingly favourite words to tell me in my growing years.
Reason was as simple as anyone would like to know without making an effort to know otherwise – I didn’t behave like other “normal” girls/kids. In society’s most lovable understanding of someone who challenges the status quo – a rebel. As a child I never understood why every applause-worthy answer to “What you want to be when you grow up?” was always “Doctor, Engineer or IAS”. It was a difficult scenario for me to imagine myself as an on-screen talent because nobody else around me was even close to knowing what it is, forget talking about it. The options that I always heard were – teacher, dietician, air hostess and IAS – can’t recall if I was more confused or frustrated.
And, I wonder now why I wanted to be “different” from others because the uncompromising ones, often called the crazy ones, don’t want to see themselves doing what the world outside expect them to do. It wasn’t being different, it was just about being me.
I grew up in a nuclear family, brought up by extremely simple couple, parents with a lot of love, care and freedom. My mother took care of the house and father took care of the bills in a government job while both together were “unable to take care of their daughter” because for them, too, it was difficult to imagine my mannerisms unlike anyone else they saw of my age around me. May be they could try if people didn’t attempt to force their primitive ideologies on the gullible duo who was way better than any cunning folks around them.
I wanted to laugh out loud, art of friendship came naturally to me, play cricket with boys (because girls didn’t play cricket), play badminton with boys (because girls played girly Badminton), make guy friends (and I mean friends) and roam around late in our residential colony. I was the last one to go back home because all my friends had deadlines except me – something that was conveniently deciphered as my mother’s appalling leniency – something I cannot repay and will respect till my last breath – she let me come out of the cocoon.
I was the gandi ladhki (bad girl) my girl friends’ mothers warned their daughters of because I’d be seen with boys, colony’s self-proclaimed, moral-police aunties used to spread rumours about me and had a gala time gossiping about a young girl who was living a life the way it was supposed to be lived – carefree. I was the gandi ladhki for the mothers of the colony boys because apparently they thought I shouldn’t be so open, talkative and friendly – some of them were mothers of those I wasn’t even friends with. Basically, they thought it was their birth right to have an opinion on me. Of course, it was too much to handle for a teenager who was already figuring her life and emotions. Society’s interference came unasked and my zero f*cks only lasted till the realization of the impact it used to have on my parents, especially my mother and that was unacceptable to me.
My teen personality wasn’t any different in school. I was a popular kid not for securing highest marks in subjects but always ranking highest in staff-room talks because of my excessive love for sitting in the extra-curricular basement rooms and standing up for the right. But I can, with a conviction, say the popular line, “Hum ache wale badmash hua kartey the…” (we were naughty yet kids with values) here. Music and Dance were oxygen and my Pooja ma’am and Devashish sir ensured I never run out of it. With their support, I was always the front-runner in all kinds of competitions, functions, celebrations, annual days and achieved laurels for the school, teachers and parents alike. However, my average performance in studies was always in the spotlight more than being the lead award-winning dancer and singer. The beauty of zero is that it doesn’t change and it helped me maintain consistency while giving f*cks here as well.
One of the reasons why I think I wasn’t chosen as the Head Girl because whether it’s school or professional life, nobody wants anyone who speaks up and isn’t a dumbass and yes-sir breed. And am sure that decision paid off for the teachers on our Teacher’s Day. I didn’t need titles to lead. I wasn’t the Head Girl but definitely a strong-headed girl.
In those days, girl students waited for the day they’d reach 12th standard and dress up in sari on Teacher’s Day. When the much-awaited day arrived for us, our principal sent out instructions that girls will not wear sari that year onward. We all were startled on that decision. It wasn’t fair and no rational argument was provided to us. I met principal ma’am and questioned her decision. Her answer startled me further, “Saris don’t help in maintaining discipline!” I decided that I will wear sari on Teacher’s Day and asked my fellow classmates to join in the movement. Some agreed, some ditched while some refused. Those refused were my two of my “best friends”. I went ahead with my decision anyhow as it wasn’t important to me if anyone supported me or not – I knew I was right and that’s all that mattered. On Teacher’s Day, every girl who wore sari was sent back by our P.T teacher from the main gate itself except me – I was called inside the principal’s room who seemed to be waiting to meet me. I sat down in front of her and she stared at me. I asked her how was I looking and she kept staring and nodding at me – I think I really offended her. Our Vice-Principal ma’am dialled my mother and explained to her that school had banned the sari and asked her to take me back from the school. My mother, expecting a face-off by then, replied, “Woh nahi maani toh ismein main kya karun… main nahi le jaungi…” (she didn’t listen to me, I am not coming) My mother said these words out of frustration but we, school friends, still recall it as the most badass-mom reply.
It was the day I waited all my life for. I was honoured with the mandate to become my favourite teacher – Pooja ma’am. I couldn’t have spoiled it so after listening to my heart, I went on to use my brain. I rushed towards home (we stayed 5min away), quickly changed into salwar suit, came back to school and jumped up on the stage next to a smiling Pooja ma’am whose eyes gleamed and as if they said, “You are one amazingly crazy child and am so proud of you.” She still narrates this incident to her students and it surprises me at times when I go back to school and students recognize me by my name.
By now you may think I was a naughty brat, badass and boisterous girl who wouldn’t care enough for others. Interestingly, I was all of it and yet cared for others beyond my ability. I cared more than my friends cared for me and that stood true across my school, colony and college.
During those days, Channel V Popstars was a rage and I had won a cut-the-queue pass at a roadshow. My two friends accompanied me to the Popstar auditions in New Delhi as they were good singers too. I carried that pass with me but using that small privilege meant I would have left behind my friends. As a go-getter and someone who was chasing her dreams, it wasn’t easy to not use that advantage but I didn’t think twice before choosing my friends over fame.
My mother was scared of my aspirations because she had heard of something like “mass communication” for the first time and asked me worriedly if that will take me to border like Barkha Dutt. I didn’t get admission in any Delhi University college because of my poor mark-sheet so I figured an option in Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. I wasn’t expecting to clear the entrance and miraculously I was the second last student to get a seat in Bachelor’s of Journalism and Mass Communication that year.
My love for extra-curricular activities continued in my college days. I was the first Ms. Fresher of JIMS, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi as ours was the inaugural batch of the newly-built college then. I actively participated in all the possible events and used to win accolades often in mono-acting, dance and sports at college fests.
By now, it was getting clearer in my head that I wanted to be an Anchor. So, once, when Doordarshan came to cover our college and wanted a student to volunteer as anchor, instead of raising my hand, I virtually jumped off my seat.
It was the first time I appeared on TV as an anchor.
I crossed the college level of competitions and achievements for the first time when I participated in CNBC Awaaz Khud Par Karo Yakeen – a nationwide hunt for the most promising news talent – that had me in Top 5 from Delhi Jury Round. It gave birth to two of the firsts to this girl-next-door – facing the camera and media biggies. Though, I had a restricted journey in this contest but somewhere a faint realization of making an impact as early as this had sunk in, a realization that my journey had begun.
Whenever I imagined myself, I could only see myself talking confidently, facing the camera and living the dream of choosing a profession that could allow me to become someone known. I wasn’t ready to live an unknown life. I wasn’t ready to lead a normal 9-5 life that gave me some money to survive and an average background good enough for my parents to marry me off. I wanted to be known differently (eyes getting moist as I write…J) and for doing things differently. I knew my initial journey hadn’t been normal all this while and I was beginning to understand my actions of rebellion – they spoke of piercing through the me-toos of the world, signaled of my emergence from the crowd of blind followers and carried the essence of walking a path less taken.
Most importantly, I knew I was born to believe because it all begins from belief. You have to believe in your own self to be and do things differently. You have to believe in your own self when noone else does. You have to believe in those unseen people you think you’ll find on the lonely way who will back you and believe in you like you do.
Believe in destiny, dreams and doors that you will find and open…
Believe in the unknown.