Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Of Names, and the Like

Dad's a teacher, through and through. Ever since he knew himself, he had been trying to teach his little brother and sisters. Dad's the first born to his mother, but second-born to his father. Sure, there is some story there, more complex than I can imagine, but he had never acted like the second born. This I know, because leadership is his very quality. And yet, teachers don't lead, do they?

What do they do, really?

What's their purpose?

It's everything. That's their purpose.

Dad named my bro Karthik because he was born around Dussehra/Diwali (can never get this detail right), and also, what's the reason behind it. Maybe some mythical connection I cannot glean. I'll glean it someday, I am sure, in a way I will like. And then, after three and a half years, he wanted to name me Niharika. Another detail that is sketchy, because I don't know when exactly dad chose this name. My cousin Harika was born a year and five days before me. When her parents gave her that name, dad changed his mind and named me Sneha, to avoid confusion.

I could've been Neha, but I am Sneha. My name means friendship in Telugu, and I suppose I stayed true to my name until this day. It's been inundated into me, the name, through songs, through movies, through Happy Days or whathaveyou. I never thought it meant anything else. But then the boys started falling for me. And I don't say this out of vanity or to make a statement, but it's been true my entire life. Ever since I can remember, somebody always liked me and it was always more than just friendship. I think I got my first love-letter in class five. Not a big deal, if you consider the rest of the world, but in Anakapalle, it was nearly a bomb-shell. Which I detonated with ease without ever reading it. It's a trait I maintained throughout my teenage life. I wasn't that attractive. I was too small, too short. I wasn't even a woman till I was sixteen.
But this sense of being unobtainable and nearly irresistible had become something of my bane in the later years. I found stalkers. I was the town-gossip. I was fought for, I was a muse of, I was incalculably sweet for whoever laid eyes on me. If I wore high-heels, it was a statement. If I wore a skirt, my legs were openly stared at. If I put on make-up,  fingers would raise everywhere. When I cut my hair short instead of wearing it in buns, I was nearly expelled. Heck, look at me! I'm not even five feet tall. What are you so threatened about?!

Change was the threat.

We are a small town. We have values. Please tell your girl to wear proper clothes.

Boys talk about her. Boys make noise because of her. We're telling you this for your own sake.

Of course, none of this made it to my ears because dad never told me. Maybe they didn't tell him either, because they wouldn't know how he would take it. Dad is liberal in his thinking. He had moulded himself according to the state of the world and never stopped learning. It's how he teaches so well. It's how he's so good at everything he does. So what could these people tell my dad that will make him change me? Change himself?

They must have said something, because he did change. I wasn't a grown up yet, but he put in some basic rules.

You can choose whoever you want to be with. But only after college.

The rebel in me immediately picked up on the hint. He thinks I like someone! What an affront! I'm the smartest girl ever to have walked those classrooms and he thinks someone could actually match that! No, of course not. It's impossible. He could never have thought that. No. He thought, I would fall for a lesser being. It's just human nature. Girl's got hormones.

Except, I didn't. It's laughable yet, but I had the slowest growth possible in human evolution. Ok, that's a bit much, but you get my point. I've done my foolishness in school. Played with a crush and tied a rakhi before he could reject me. Well, he crossed my rank. It's just not done.

Naturally, I sought out the drama to get over my revulsion - wherever it was addressed at, and probably gave mixed signals to a boy named Abhilash. Abhilash was preparing for medicine. I was going for engineering. We met in the EAMCET classes Anakapalle didn't have, but dad organised for my sake. So, I wouldn't have to leave home yet. The class was small, hardly anyone ever came. There was a lot of opportunity for passing signals. And dark enough to leave love letters and diary milks in my cycle basket outside. In jr. college, there was another guy named Diwakar who liked me. I wouldn't look at him twice even if he wasn't such a dunce. But I did, for some reason.

There's been a fist fight. He was one among the two. The implication was me. I got interested. I talked to him as we cycled or walked home sometimes, after college. Like I said before, I can make friends with anyone. I can draw anyone out, from whatever hard shells they built around their hearts. But nobody got the concept of a boy and girl just being friends at that point. They used it as an excuse to start a conversation. They still do. Dad knew Abhilash's father, who was naturally, also a doctor. So he came home sometimes, for private lessons. I don't know what his caliber was, but I heard he was ok. He looked ok too. Fair, tall enough, sweet. Not that I gave a rat's ass, but he was in my mind all the same. The intensity of his letters was hard to forget. I had the writer bug even back then. I could recognize potential wherever I see it. But then, the word got out that Abhilash likes me and the other guy flew into a mad rage. Had the boy cornered in my very street with his Gavara thugs and beat him up. I guess Abhilash didn't know what to do, he was bleeding from the mouth. So he came to our place and the whole story came out in front of dad.

It was a little unsettling, but yet, it was a new development. I kept my cool and answered where answers were needed. There was nothing to say. I did nothing wrong. Everything just happened. I don't remember seeing Abhilash after that. I don't even know if I have the name right. It started with Abhi.
It's been ten years hence and I still hear Diwakar wants to speak with me. He stalked me for nearly seven years and I don't know what all methods he used, but I'm guessing they weren't all good. There was a point of time, when I seriously feared an acid attack. But thank goodness, I was out of Vizag by then. Nowhere within his reach. I just didn't know what to say to him.

Nothing I ever said could convince him.

How could it, when he was on his knees, begging? When he was the first caller every 12 pm on every important day in the world, and in my life?

Not that I ever said anything to him at all. I stopped speaking to him altogether, some time after that incident. I never read his texts. Sometimes, I just left the phone on, so he would run out of balance and not call me again. Go about my business.

He never hung up.

He threatened suicide. He sort of became an alcoholic. He became ugly and repulsive at sight. He never even left Anakapalle. Never even pursued whatever dream it was he had as a kid. I'm sure he had set himself right by now, but for several years, he simply wasted himself.

And it still wasn't my fault.

Was it?

Were there words to dispel such feelings in teenage boys that I just didn't know about? With all my fascination for English and good prose and gossip columns in newspapers, have I overlooked something valuable taught to me in Telugu class? Some few words, that could've ended that story before it began? If there were, I still don't remember them. I don't think it's anything that's been taught in schools. I don't think sex was even a part of the vocabulary in the texts of language. If it was, it was buried under inane philosophies and childish lessons. Yes, childish. In some respects, they were, because they didn't teach me much more than what I already knew.

Ten years have passsed and I still don't know what to say to him. I don't know if he is alive. I don't know how he is or what he is doing. What he thinks of me. What he ever thought of me.
I don't know how to reciprocate such insane, inordinate love.

Dad never told me, my name means love.

Rishi reciprocates in the next post.

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