Why Do I Find It So Difficult To Understand Sarcasm?

She wanted to name our baby “Sachin”. I believed her.

When I was in college, a 16 year old girl promised to marry me. She wanted to name our baby “Sachin”. I believed her.

When a policeman once asked me whether I’d like to get my passport on time, I smiled with gratitude and slammed the door on his face.

When I once read, “Ron Paul is a gynecologist, and he is self-taught.”, I did not understand why this evoked laughter in an audience. I still do not.

I’ve always had a tenuous understanding of sarcasm and double-speak. I take words literally. When I was a child, it took me many years to understand hidden insults. 

I’ve never had it any other way. I was not sarcastic as a child. I was too innocent to understand the art of insinuation. When a teacher was sarcastic to me at 9, I understood her only a year later. When I fully understood her, I felt numb, as if I were struck by lightning. I stood still, staring at my coconut tree. It was too late, because I’d left that city and moved into another school. There was nothing much I could do about this. This was deeply unsettling. Continue reading “Why Do I Find It So Difficult To Understand Sarcasm?”

You Were Wild Once

You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.

Krishnapriya: You are an abomination. You seem barely human to me. I have always thought so.

Me: Do not say that.

Krishnapriya: That is how I feel much of the time. Honestly. When you knew me, I was a very  insecure child–defensive and very very spiteful.  I guess I was intelligent too. I do not want you to use that for your writing.

Me: You need not say it to me. You know, I am old and have gone through different phases in my life. I precisely remember what I had felt at different points. I can use that insight into myself in my writing. What I write is not personal. I think it is only you who know that. Your judgment in such matters is so accurate. The other people are totally clueless. But, look, I am human. This has always been a consensus. But, these days the consensus is that I am “attitudent”. Continue reading “You Were Wild Once”

Stirring Up The Transgressive and Taboo

“You should be an eulogy writer.”

Men and women are not expected to go beyond a certain point, when these are precisely the points they want to cross. When even the bravest man or woman tries to push these boundaries with self-righteous iconoclasm, they do it hoping against hope that the harshest judgment of the world wouldn’t be reserved for them.”

“Half a decade back, one of my most pleasurable hobbies was that of reading the scrapbook of a little dynamite. She used to post naked pictures of hers in her album. I was a silent spectator who enjoyed her conversations with the men who enter her space with the  hope that there is so much that is possible. She was wise beyond her years, as smart as a whip. When we once talked, she said that I should have known her horrible reputation. She knew that everyone on the internet had judged her. I knew it too.”

More than a year back, when I wrote this, she commented below on Facebook, “I love what you write”. When I said, “Thanks, my child.”, someone wrote below: “I was thinking, ‘He has got a hot admirer.’ But, he calls her a child.” She said, “Ah. Saintliness. That must be what he called the girl who took her clothes off for him on the Yahoo Messenger too. But, wait, he must be filing this conversation too in his mind, for yet another blog post of his.” Continue reading “Stirring Up The Transgressive and Taboo”

Clever People

Clever teacher.

I was not sarcastic as a child. I was too innocent to understand the art of insinuation. When I was in second standard, one day, as usual, the children in my class wanted to go out and play instead of learning Math. Our Mathematics teacher was ingenious. She was a clever lady. She found a way to put an end to this nuisance by saying that the kids who prefer games to her class should line up in front of the classroom. I sprung up from my chair and cheerfully walked out of the classroom. After waiting for a while for the other kids to follow, I walked down the stairs.

Walking down the stairs, I ended up staring at my 1st standard class teacher who stood far away. I was still not over my deep crush over her. I used to be deeply depressed in those days. I had believed that she had left the school, and the job. I wondered whether, as usual, my suffering was unnecessary. There was of course, a reason why I fell for her. The law of causality tells us that nothing happens without a reason. In a parents teachers meeting, she had hugged me saying that I was such a quiet child. With a smug smile on my face, I thought how naive I was to believe that she was unaware of my existence. Continue reading “Clever People”

My First Short Story

Pointing at the bird, my mother told me and my little brother that this bird that never rests has better work ethic than us.

I was nine years old when I noticed that a bird was building a nest inside my “home”. For weeks, I would lie on my bed and watch the bird carefully build its nest. The bird made countless trips to and from the nest to collect materials to build its home. Pointing at the bird, my mother told me and my little brother that this bird that never rests has better work ethic than us. And that it is time for us to shape up. I think she should observe some Magazine editors here, but I suppose it is a bad thing to find flaws in other people.

I and my brother soon started hatching plans to trap the bird and its baby in the night. We even bought a cage. “But, we should wait for the right moment”, we told each other. We waited and waited and waited. In those days, I read as much as I can, about birds.

One night, we both decided that the time has come. We woke up in the night after our parents had slept, and started walking towards the nest, holding each other’s hands with a torch and a cage. When we were about to trap the birds, we noticed that the birds had left that day evening. We stared at each other, with an expression of astonishment on our faces. And then we went back to our beds feeling betrayed, with incommunicable discomfort. Continue reading “My First Short Story”

All that means that I am Sapiosexual

i-love-you-like-grown-ups-do-no-for-real-5999Many years later, when I heard do-gooders prating about the importance of giving back to the society, I remembered what I told Krishnapriya when I was seventeen. We were discussing our grand plans for the future. I said I’ll become a great novelist when I grow up. And that I’ll drop my day job and move to that beautiful bubble of mine when my novel hits the bestseller list. 

She said I was being too selfish. “You won’t share your wealth, even with those underprivileged children in Africa?” she asked me. I told her it’s difficult to be so rich without serving people. “But what about actors and rock stars? Do they serve the masses?”, she asked me. I said, “They do, my dearest child. They electrify the pulse of millions.”, and she replied helplessly, “But….but, you think too much.” 

I knew nothing about the brilliant schemes communist people cook up to block the revenge of nerds.  I was too innocent to entertain such possibilities. Today, I know that clever people in the government are actively scheming to impose something called the “super rich tax”. They say they care for the poor, but that is just the usual fig leaf excuse. The real objects of their hatred are people who are smarter than them. I know this because I have observed many leftist people in action. Editors in a magazine did everything to make sure that my articles are not as beautiful as my seaside villa. 

When I was traveling in the train the next morning, the winter sun was dappling the greenery around me. I remembered her. 

                         ***************

The year was 2004, and we used to wait for someone to write in our scrapbooks. It was on one such evening the “Queen of Darkness” added me on Orkut. Her Orkut profile read:

“I got long legs. They work just fine. I also love my feet, which is small and very pretty. I uplift depressed souls. I have great compassion. People do not notice. But, when you think of the salvation that comes at the end, it feels so nice. And I love Ayn Rand.” 

A friend had written a testimonial for her:

“She has a mind that is extraordinarily complex for a girl of her age. But, if you mess with her, she will never forget it. She will never let you forget it either.”

Another testimonial read:

“When she grows up, she might turn into one hell of a heart-breaker, but then she would be worth it too. It is fun to see her torturing the many men who love her.”

The picture of Nietzsche in her community list “frightened” me. She was a member of the “Anti-Social” community. She owned an Orkut community: “Sapiosexuals”. I looked up the definition of the word “Sapiosexual” in The Urban Dictionary:

“One who finds intelligence the most sexually attractive feature. I want an incisive, inquisitive, insightful, irreverent mind. I want someone for whom philosophical discussion is foreplay. I want someone who sometimes makes me go ouch due to their wit and evil sense of humor. I want someone that I can reach out and touch randomly. I want someone I can cuddle with. I decided all that means that I am Sapiosexual.”

Now that’s me.

Her twelve-year-old brothers profile intro read:

“I love Philosophy. I also love my sister though she can be quite bossy.”

I knew her. Years ago, I knew her as “Cutiekrishna”. We met in a Yahoo chat room. I still remember our first conversation. When I said I wanted to pull her over my lap and smack her bottom for talking on the Yahoo messenger when she was supposed to study, she replied, “This is none of your business.” I said apprehensively, “We should talk. I think we might get along well.” She retorted, “You’re right there, Shanu. We might. But then, we just might.” I felt a pang of dread. But I loved it because she was all of twelve years old.

When I asked her how she found me on Orkut, she said evasively, in a contemptuous tone, “I saw you in somebody’s friend list. I don’t really remember who.” But I knew it was a lie. She went to school in the same city where I studied computer engineering. She had dark eyes, long lashes and everything. And a Teddy Bear. 

She talked like a philosopher. When I heard her often say, “Co-ordinate geometry sucks”, I asked her, “But, you are only 12?” She said her father’s idea of amusement was teaching her Calculus and Co-Ordinate Geometry. She said, “Nobody cared for him when he was young. He doesn’t care for them now. On some days, I feel sorry for that man.” When I asked her, “Do you love your parents?” she said, “We are supposed to love our parents.” I was touched. If there is anything that regret about my life, it is that I was not born to super-nerdy parents—To people that deserve me.

I argued that happiness is possible only through being perfectly logical and rational. She asked: “Are you logical and rational?” I nodded cheerfully: “Yes”. “Now, are you happy?”, she asked me, with a sarcastic smile. I was silent, because in my teens, I was anything, but happy. 

When I argued endlessly, listing my premises one after another, she said, “Once in a while, you should take your fingers off the keyboard and pay attention to what I say too.”

When she asked me what I look for in a girl, I said I want someone with whom I can discuss philosophy all night long. “It is such philosophical discussions that turn me on”, I said. She said, “I knew a sixty year old man. I miss him, and the philosophical discussions I had with him. It still turns me on.” She then sent a smiley that resembled a scooter driven by an insect. Many years later, I understood she was kicking my ass.

When I once said, “People tell me I am the coldest person on earth. But, you sound colder than me.”, she replied, “It is for my own safety.” She said, “I am too mean to people, but they still like me. I am not nice to you because I do not want you to stop loving me as much as you do now.”

She was leagues ahead of kids of my age in intelligence and maturity. “But, what is the point in being the smartest among all those dumb people?” she asked me.

Her IQ, I estimated, was 50 points higher than that of senior girls in my college. When I often said she was smarter than anyone I have ever known, she said: “But, it is so nice of you to rub it in!”

She said, “You are a quick learner, Shanu. You are a quick learner.” It made me sick.

The boys in her class, she said, drop their pens on the floor near her desk to look up her skirt while picking it up. “The boy who sat behind me used to do it almost every day. He left the school a year ago. Otherwise I would have slapped him hard across his face.” she said. When I once said, “I’ll slap you”, she retorted, “You can’t.” I felt emasculated. Months later, I noticed that the girls in her school do not wear skirts. When I asked about it, she disappeared. 

Once we talked till 5 O’ Clock in the morning. I feared my mother will come downstairs and find me talking over the yahoo messenger the whole night. She asked me to wait because she had to change her clothes. “Half done” she told me, after a few minutes. My heart was pounding. “Tops off or shorts off?” I asked her. “Look, we are flirting. I am not in to this.” she said. “I am sorry. I hadn’t intended that.” I said apologetically. “It is alright. By the way, tops off.” was her reply. Months later, she said: “But, we weren’t really flirting. That is not flirting.” I sat there wondering “flirting” meant. I still do not know. Years later when I asked about it again, she said, “I was really kiddish.”

In one of those days, I heard that she broke the heart of a 17 year old Punjabi boy she met on Yahoo chat. Long after she ditched him, the boys in his class often called her to say that he was not eating. “How can a 17 year old boy be that dumb? I calmly listened, but when they started swearing, I proved that my vocabulary is not bad either. But, I still reply to his messages.” she told me. 

She once said, “The only reason I still talk to you is that you find me so adorable.” When I turned silent, she said, “Now, deny it.” Months later, I asked, “But, is that the only reason you talk to me?” After a deep, ominous silence, she replied, “Let me think about it.”

Once when she spoke to a super-senior of mine in college, he said he didn’t understand a snide remark of hers. She said, “But, I did not expect you of all the people to get it.” When I told her that he was a senior of mine in college, she said, “Hehe. He’s too dumb to be a senior though. Why do you even talk to him? He is so demented.”

She once said, “He is too dumb to be my brother, but I still love him.”

In 2005, a 15-year-old mutual friend of ours called me to say she was suspended from school. When I told her Mr. 15-year-old was never quite sure she was thirteen, she said, “When I met him, he was as dumb as a 10-year-old. But, I never doubted whether he was a 15-year-old. I was fair to him. So, why is he not fair to me?” They used to talk too much on phone, but she had to stop when his parents found out and said that she shouldn’t call. But, when I asked her why they don’t talk anymore, she said, “I am over talking to stupid people. I have long outgrown that phase.” 

I asked her why she did not go to school that day. I said, “Perhaps your parents know that you are a smart child who doesn’t need nobody’s help.” She nodded, turning silent. After a while, she asked me whether “Mr. As-dumb-as-a-ten-year-old” had told me anything. The Principal decreed that she sit at home for two weeks. Her class teacher did not like it when she lashed out: “I know the frustrations of a forty-five year old virgin.” 

“They gave me two weeks. My mother doesn’t punish me because she fears I will hit her back. But, she says that I need counseling”, she said. When I was a boy, my mother used to tell me that she felt nervous while punishing a boy who had grown tall, though I had started loving the hard touch of her hand. Ah, those rose-colored glasses.

When I was once walking near the railway station to find a rickshaw at midnight, a man stopped his bike near me and asked me where I was going, in a familiar voice. I said I was going home. He asked me whether I’d like to join him. I couldn’t have recognized my neighbors by their face, but I felt he was one among them. I said, “Yes”. Much later, I asked him where he was going. He stopped the bike, and said I needn’t join him if I do not want to. He was willing to pay. I screamed.

When I reached home, I told Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old that a gay man tried to take me home. But, Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old did not know what ‘gay’ meant. When I said that a gay man is a homosexual, and that “gays are attracted to other men”, Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old said, “Enough. I get it now.” When I told Krishnapriya that Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old did not know what “gay” meant, she said, “LMAO. The boys my school say that Shailesh is gay. I am not sure. They call me SNB”, she said. When I asked, “Swiss National Bank? I am not sure I always understand these expressions.”, she said, “Sexy Naughty Bitch”.

She began conversations along these lines: “I know what boys who talk to me want. I know you too well. Don’t worry. You can marry me when I grow up. Just wait. It might happen.” I burned in shame, speechless, lying on my bed for hours, with unpleasant butterflies in my stomach, hoping that someday I might forget it. But, then, I just might. In those days, when my mother removed the curtains of my room, I did everything to keep my room dark. 

It was hard for me to not like someone who could see through me so well. I often denied. I hemmed and hawed. I pretended not to understand when she hid the whip from me. After a few months, when I brought it up in the middle of a conversation, out of nowhere, she laughed and said: “But, I didn’t mean it at all. You can’t forget it? Did it hurt because it is true?”

Much as I appreciate being understood, it would have been better if she’d kept her mouth shut. 

To attend a quiz program, she once turned up at my college. She said, “The girls were nice. But, the boys looked like, well, nerds.” When we started talking on Yahoo Messenger, she’d said that she was tall, with long, straight hair and everything. When I told her this was not true at all, she said, “I was 12 then, and I was tall for my age.  I also had long, straight hair then.” After a while she said, “You know, your blog sucks”. When I said, “My blog is better than any blog I have ever read, and ever hope to read.” she said, “Sure. Everything is relative.” But, she’d once said that she liked my blog post “Unconditional Love”. She’d said it was a great privilege to be praised by her. Later, she repeated, “I’m pretty. And I know it.” This was when she turned cruelly sarcastic. 

When I was delivering a long lecture on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, she asked me, “Shanu, Why don’t you live up to what you believe in? Do you even believe in what you believe in?” I felt sick to my stomach. I stopped talking to her. She removed me from her Orkut list. When I tried to talk to her again, she said, “Don’t call me your dearest child. I am very sorry too.” 

I felt numb.

She wouldn’t forget an insult or an injury. If you mess with her, at best, you could wait and see her nibble you to death. It was from her I learned to hurl insults that rip people out of existence. It was from her I learned to hurl insults that remain a secret shame till they are taken to the graveyard. Perhaps the saying that men’s great works bear the persistent marks of pain is true. This is why I have such a long line of detractors though they’d never tell you that. 

I still remember her with deep affection uncharacteristic of me. Years later, when I poked her on Facebook, I gathered she was studying in some stupid engineering college in Tamil Nadu.  A few days later, I tried to find out whether her college info remains intact. She’d removed it.

I’d expected it, because……..because I’ve deep insight into such people.

Why Liberated Young Ladies Do Not Have My Support

Tell Men Not To Rape

If the word helplessness has ever had any definite meaning to me, it meant waking up at midnight, insisting that I want to sleep with my young aunt. I still remember the confusion, and helplessness. To me, happiness meant being allowed to sleep with her. Children take delight in such petty vices. My mother knew this. When I grew up, one day I would talk to my class teacher in baby class. She felt that even today, decades later, I speak the same way I spoke to her when I was three. Within us, there is a child that refuses to grow up.

Once, a young colleague wanted to know what the word “molestation” meant. When I said, “It is something which women face in the buses, trains and crowded roads. It is every man’s fantasy. But, I would never attempt that because I value my life, reputation and health very highly.” she screamed her empty heads off that I have destroyed the reputation of South Indians. Continue reading “Why Liberated Young Ladies Do Not Have My Support”

My Experiments With Truth

I keep wondering how Mahatma Gandhi became hip in this dishonest country!

Honesty is a precious virtue. Wimpy Kid’s experiences while practicing honest speech are quite illuminating: When he decided to obey his mother by being an honest child, it was a liberating experience for him.

When his friend Max Smedley started telling him about his grand plans on becoming a Pro basketball player when he grows up, Wimpy kid was a lot more truthful. He said: “Think again, Max! Neither one of your parents is taller than 5-foot-4, and you’re the only 150-pound six-year-old I have ever seen!”  Max started crying, “Waaaah”, while his father took him away. Wimpy Kid said smugly: “I cannot tell a lie!” When Rowley’s grandfather said in his birthday party that he wants a chocolate cake the next year, Wimpy Kid said to everyone’s embarrassment, “That is, if you are around next year.” adding “Hey, I am just trying to be honest.”

However, the hypocritical world around him did not appreciate his goodness. Wimpy Kid’s honesty angered everyone, including his mother. When she did not speak to him for a whole night, he decided that it was time for him to go back to how he was before.

Continue reading “My Experiments With Truth”

Sarcasm And Social Acceptability

Sarcasm and socially unacceptable behavior has nearly ruined my life in all normal ways. It has also made it incredibly amusing and funny on a deeper and much more important level.

As every human action boils down to trade, I have to admit that overall my strategy was not at all a rip-off. In fact, it was a wonderful deal, a reasonable trade-off.  I have behaved in such a manner for various reasons which are rather complicated. I would say it is often because of my honesty, good-will, benevolence, deep love for humanity-and of course, my naïve, gullible nature!

It is often said that “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”. We also hear “A sarcastic person has a superiority complex that can be cured only by the honesty of humility.” I have always wondered whether there could be notions which are so far from the truth. How someone of normal intelligence can seriously hold any of these moralistic, “church sermon” like rationalizations is completely beyond me! Rational inquiries of moral philosophers were confined to politically correct, “mushy” virtues like unconditional love, kindness, compassion and benevolence. Even moral philosophers who took pride in their political incorrectness had confined their rigorous analysis to more worthy virtues like integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride and of course, selfishness. Very few have anything good to say on one of the most feared, despised, sickening, malevolent, humiliating form of doublespeak which makes people flee and shun the light of the day: sarcasm. When even apostles of selfishness like Nathaniel Branden say “Aside from cases of violent coercion, as when someone points a gun at you, you are responsible for your reactions. No one “makes” you become sarcastic”, we should know that the fate of sarcasm is bleak indeed. A bit of iconoclasm is therefore in order.

We might say that sarcasm is a “conversational scapegoat”, and unfairly so. The socially beneficial effects of sarcasm need to be defended hard. Sarcasm goes against the inflicting person, but it helps the truth reach him faster, in ways which are not too obvious. A man faces a painful dilemma when he faces deeply insulting sarcasm. He is compelled to prove his backbone by a tight slap-or he can listen silently, smiling like an imbecile thinking he is being smart & tactful. The sad fact is that it proves that he has neither intelligence nor a backbone, as the one who hurled the insult might know too well that it is true and didn’t expect a slap, precisely for that reason! I remember an instance when I hurled an insult which hits where it hurts the most-family, and the victim listened silently, not out of fear of a more public humiliation, but because he knew it was just another general, categorical statement intended at no one in particular- and because only truth hurts-and because he was a man of immense self esteem. Well crafted sarcasm puts such a person in the position of a mink that walks blindly into a scented trap. If it hurts so much, it can only be because it is true and such sarcasm deserves the highest praise, not condemnation. Given certain narrow assumptions, truth as such should never hurt the innocent. Like happiness, “Truth” should be considered an Aristotelian “chief good”, pursued for its own sake. As scathing sarcasm is often truth, it should be ranked higher. Continue reading “Sarcasm And Social Acceptability”

Where We Found Our Baby Owl

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The clouds were glowing behind us when we saw our baby owl. I and my little brother knelt on the leaves, releasing our intertwined fingers to hold it in our hands. Before we knelt between the rubber trees, I whispered in his ear that we should keep this to ourselves. Our uncle walked ahead, making incisions across the latex vessels. He had not seen the beautiful pet animal of ours. While we released our fingers, mine trembled in the cold air. It was nautical dawn. I was six years old. He was four.

While walking back home, we insisted on taking the baby owl with us. We walked, holding it in our palms, taking turns, occasionally moving our fingers through its forehead. We had never seen an owl before. When an aunt once tried to put me to sleep telling the story of an owl, it made me “afraid”. To sleep, I had to get the owl out of my system. She quickly gathered that to put me to sleep, what it took was a warning that she will hand me over to an owl. It was, indeed, a credible threat of punishment.

When we reached home, our aunt said that we should leave the owl where we had taken it from. “Baby owl’s mother will be sad if it does not see its child.” she said, reaching for the owl. We withdrew our hands and said, “If you give it back to baby owl’s mother, we will be sad.” We succeeded in fighting her off for a long while, but it was a conflict that she won. She had always deliberately thwarted my wishes.

Once, rising onto my toes, I had asked her whether we could make Onion-Vadas without onions.  She asked, “How do we make Onion-Vadas without onions?” She was cutting onions, and there were tears in my eyes. I did not like the taste of onions. When I stood there watching the swift movement of her fingers, I saw the mist through the window.

I was three years old then. She was still a teenager. I remember that she called me a book-worm. If the word helplessness has ever had any definite meaning to me, it meant waking up at midnight, insisting that I wanted to sleep with her. To me, happiness meant being allowed to sleep with her. Children take delight in such petty vices. My mother knew this. When I grew up, once, when I talked to my class teacher in baby class, she felt that even today, decades later, I speak the same way I spoke to her when I was three. Within us, there is a child that refuses to grow up.

When I insisted that I wanted to join her when she bathed, she raised her hand as if she were trying to smack me. She never did that, but I stared at her palms, hoping against hope that she did. I remember someone who was unapologetic about it. Later, I lay on the bed counting the marks of her fingers wondering whether it was all a dream, or whether it really happened.

But, it took me decades to understand what she meant when she said that we cannot make onion-vadas without using onions. Two decades later, I told many “editors” that it would be great if the newspapers and newsmagazines do not carry news at all. They disagreed, much to my chagrin. I do not know whether it bore any resemblance to what I once demanded of my aunt. In many important ways, we do not change. There is often a conflict between how things are, and how things ought to be. Deep down, I was always attached to my vision of how things ought to be. But, I was attached to it only because I relished it. Even today, when I write, it is not about what happened at the corner saloon, but about the fundamental principles of human nature. When authors cite me in 4011 AD, I do not want them to tell their readers that this is a Neanderthal philosophy.

                                          ——————-

When I became aware of my own existence, I was lying on the bed holding the leg of my little brother, fearing that he might fall off the bed. My mother had asked me to watch over him while she bathed. As post-toddlers, we folded the bed to wrap each other, taking turns. The girls in the neighborhood took me to their houses to tell me how cute I was. In the afternoons, lying on the bed, I waited for my father to come back from college and read to me. In the night, I insisted that my mother lie near me till I fell asleep at Baby Standard Time. 9 O’ Clock. I was afraid of the dark.

I have always had scary dreams. When I was nineteen, in a dream, my mother spanked me for breaking the flower vase. I woke up, screaming. My mother came downstairs and asked, smiling: “Did you dream of being punished by me? Nothing happened. Sleep tight.” I never understood how she could sense it without my saying so. Women have such sharp intuitions. I had the same dream when I was seven years old. It was then I understood that deep down, I loved it. When I was a child, I often dreamt of rabbits. My mother said that it is because little children are innocent. I dreamt of snakes too. A girl in college said that it was because I was horny. I am not sure I agree with her, because those dreams were really scary.

When my mother kept me on the bed insisting that I sit still, I barely moved. I was not a noisy baby like the infants that infest the Delhi Metro. I do not want them inside my home. But even as a baby, I quickly gathered that the people around me were not really curious about the world. I watched the world without smiling, intensely. There was not a single word or incident that escaped my attention. When I spent many hours staring at the floor, my aunt once asked me what I was doing. I said, “I am thinking”.

When I came of age, my parents sent me to school. On the first day of Kindergarten, when my mom decreed that I go to school, I said ‘No’. I refused. When my mother smacked my behind firmly, I walked toward school, hushing my sobs. The upside was, of course, that it struck me that the authority figures that use force for my own good are worthy of my deepest suspicion. It was a lesson I would never need again.

I still remember my first day in Kindergarten. The sky was clouded when I stepped out of my house. When it rained, I stood beneath the black plum tree near the school gate. The wind blew, splashing the fruits over my school uniform. But, there was nothing much I could do about it. I was left unarmed in a room of nearly fifty children, most of them crying and whining. A child stood near the door of the classroom, peeping out. Separation from their parents was a source of intense anxiety, and helplessness for those post-toddlers.  

My class teacher was a pretty Gujarati lady. I do not know why she enjoyed punishing the soft child that I was. I am not lying. I do not think I deserved it. But, this was by no means the norm. The other teachers had ridiculous reasons to punish children. When I was walking back home after my first day at school, I noticed that a child was crying. The older kids were amused, and said in a singsong voice: “Shame, Shame!” I would have been more at peace with the proceedings in a concentration camp.

I once said, “School teachers are duds.” in the hearing distance of my class teacher. I do not remember why I said the obvious. But, I remember that she never forgave me for speaking the unspeakable. I have always wondered why this soft, silent boy was always eager to state the truths that were better left unsaid. It was never to inflict pain, because even the sign of the slightest pain in others made me feel terrible.

I did not look forward to the parent-teacher meetings because deep down, I always knew that I had some history with her. There were of course, other reasons. Once, at a parent-teacher meeting, my classmate Anjali told my mother that I always dumped my lunch in the dustbin. When my mother came back home, she was really angry. I do not intend to write about what happened that evening. I suspect that it was Anjali who ratted on me. She had dark eyes, pigtails and everything.

Once, when I went to the beach with my parents, I met my class teacher. She gave me chocolates and said that I should say “Thank You”. I said “Thank You”, with a shy smile on my face. I bent my head and stood there staring at the sands of the beach. When I occasionally raised my head, behind her, I saw the tides rising and falling while the evening sun set. At that moment, all I wanted was to escape from her and the beach. Even after two decades, I cannot get over my crush on her.

While walking back home, I saw a sea shell washed upon the beach. I held it close to my ear, and heard the roar of the waves rolling onto the shore. With an expression of astonishment on my face, I held it close to my little brother’s ear. He smiled. When I reached home, I walked toward our childhood friend Honey—for such was her name—to let her “hear the sea”. But, she claimed that it was hers. I told her that she was lying.

Honey was our neighbor’s daughter. In one of those days, I and my little brother found a baby crow near our house. When we tried to take it in our hands along with Honey, the bigger crows hounded us, and drove us back home. We stayed inside and watched them nervously when the crows were roving around our home. In the afternoons, Honey crawled into our bed to listen to our mother’s stories. When our mother slept, three of us went out to play.

Nothing of her subsists in my memory, but it is hard for me to forget the doll my parents wanted to gift her. It had blue eyes. But, soon my little brother confessed to me that he did not want to play with her anymore because she was fundamentally different from us. I do not remember whether I was overwhelmed, because I myself had considered ditching her. She was too melodramatic for my tastes. We kept the doll with us. But, it was hard for us to like it.

When our father started teaching in another city, we packed our bags and left. While packing, I had noticed that our doll was missing. To me, that was a problem to be solved, because there was nothing else that was missing. We had not taken the kitten that used to open the door for us, but, that was intentional. Years later, when we attended a wedding in her house, I stared at her shelf. I could not believe my eyes. It was our doll. When I pointed out the doll to my mother, she whispered in my ears that I need not tell anyone. I was silent for the rest of the evening, but I felt vaguely uncomfortable.

It was in Kindergarten that I learned to say that I “loved” school. One morning, while taking me back home on the day of a strike when the whole city came to a standstill, my father asked me, “Do you like school?” I said that I loved school. When he asked me, “How do you feel today?” I said that I was sad.

When I was still crawling, my parents had conned me into thinking that I would have a swell time in school. A few hours in school were enough to convince me that it was moonshine. I soon started looking forward to summer vacations. But, I should have known better than to take their words at face value. Once, my mother said that she was cooking Aviyal—and that I would probably love it. I waited, and waited and waited. But, it tasted so awful that I developed an aversion toward anything that looks messy. I hear that now there is a rock bank called Aviyal.

On the day the summer vacations began, I and my little brother woke up in the morning and opened the door to “play”. But, we saw all our chairs hanging on a tree. On a placard, it was written large: “April Fool!” We stood there with an expression of astonishment on our faces. When we called our parents, they said that it was the “April Fool’s Day”. They intuited that some of my father’s students did that. I had seen them. Once when my father gathered that they did not know the difference between Arabic numbers and Roman numerals, he called me and my brother. He then said: “They are in school. They know what it means.” I glanced at them contemptuously. They were bored to death when the university compelled them to read the great classics of western literature. They would have rather been lashed till death.

I still remember my first day in primary school. The “male chauvinists” in my class said that they will not be sitting with the girls anymore. I was the only boy who was willing to sit with them. I have always had an exact mind, a mind that took words literally, a mind that judged an idea on its own merits. The other boys said, “If you love them so much, why don’t you kiss them?” I sat there, feeling alienated—feeling cut off.

But, my views on feminism have not changed since then. I was convinced that this “attitude” was transmitted from father to son. The Indian economy was at the cusp of liberalization. I felt that it would take a few more years for the country to undermine, and eventually wreck the remnants of the patriarchal culture. I stand corrected.

At school, I was always confused and bewildered. When I was five, one day, I walked toward school without my school bag. I had heard that a day-long Fine Arts Festival was going on. When I walked into the classroom, my class teacher smiled and asked whether I had come to the school to enjoy the breeze. “Where is your bag?” she asked me, not without some disapproval. I glanced at her, my eyelashes moving upward, with deep sadness in my eyes. Then, I looked at my empty shoulders. Somewhere those tender shoulders had failed me. I felt alienated from my school-bag, and for once, I grasped the intimate relationship between sarcasm and alienation. Somewhere the premises do deeply interconnect.

I felt terrible when my classmates frantically took notes. But, did I sit there enjoying the breeze? Did I cry like a sissy? No. I did not. I would not even have even been able to bring me to write about myself if I had done so! I would have been mighty ashamed of myself today if I had done so! I listened to every word she uttered, slowly, committing them to memory. It was a life-and-death matter to me. While traveling back home, I repeated those words to myself because I feared that I might forget much of what I had heard. When I reached home, I sharpened my HB pencil, and wrote everything she had dictated in my note book. When I was done, I had my lunch.

The next morning, with subdued anger, she said, “Come here”. I walked toward her with my notebook. My lips were sealed. I was painfully shy. When she opened the notebook, she noticed that I had written everything she taught the previous day, in clear letters. She hugged me tight. When she gave me the progress report at the end of the year, I noticed that at the bottom, she had written: “Photographic memory”.

I am not indulging in malignant self-love. My point was that I learned a lesson. When there is a will, there is a way. These are lessons that a child does not learn in a classroom. These are lessons that a typical teacher will never even begin to understand. It should come from within. These are values that cannot be taught. Either you have it in you—or you do not.

School cannot teach conscientiousness. When I started working, I noticed that some of my colleagues came at noon, left in the afternoon and looked here and there when tired annoying others. But, instead of feeling bad about themselves, they felt policed and persecuted. If natalists can be caught thinking of mandatory sterilization, it is hard to blame others. I think Delhi-ites are cats. The whole city is infested with character disorders. If anything, school reinforces such character disorders.

The next year, I was depressed because she no longer taught us. One afternoon, I walked toward the staffroom, and stood there, staring at her. When she asked me, “Why are you here?” I walked away, nodding my head. I was devastated for a very long time.