I am not a rebel, really I am not. I never had any intentions nor did I go out of my way to be the rebel. It just seemed to have come about. Let me explain – as a child in the very traditional society of India, I was expected to fit in as the ideal child – successful working father, mother at home and I doing brilliantly well in school both in academics and outside of it.
Well my father was moderately successful, at least for a while and I will come back to that, but my mother was a working woman and I did not do brilliantly in school. I am not sure why because everyone around me was doing scintillatingly well and I was no less intelligent than them, but I just did not seem to make the effort. It all seemed useless and mundane and my imagination, which from the very childhood was inhabited with the colors of vibrancy and adventure, thanks to all the book reading for babyhood, seemed so much more interesting.
Therefore I never fitted in – my peers, the children of my parents’ friends always seemed to be grouped together charmingly, doing so many things, but I stood out – the inevitable odd one, the rebel who did not mix. I desperately yearned to be with them, but I was shunned and I am not sure why, except I carried some invisible sign of “Different” which alerted my peers to be wary of me. They shunned me and I took to my pride and shunned them in return retreating more and more into my imaginary world. Before I knew it, I was the rebel who walked alone! Hello! I did not want to walk alone – you all made the decision for me and now you decided I was the weirdo!!
My very kind teachers, for I can think of no better words to describe their generosity, thought of me as exceptionally stupid and lost no opportunity to make me feel small, or let my parents know that they should be worried since I was too lazy/dumb/incompetent to do anything. My working mother, an anomaly in 1990s India, should have been a bit more liberal in her worldview and cut me some slack! But instead she decided it was the end of the world and berated me constantly and complained unceasingly to her sisters, who in turn, never failed to point out how well their children were doing and it was a crying shame that I had turned out to be such a rotten apple! They made it sound like I was into substance abusing wastrel, at the glorious age of 10, when all I was doing was, reading books. Some books which I agree they did not understand, but hey addiction to books is more of a figurative and psychological term, not comparable to drug related problems! And trust me, I wanted to be as shiny and bright as my cousins, but somebody just needed to tell me how. I just could not comprehend what I ought to do to make things better and naturally; I was the problem child of the family – the rebel!
Things took a turn for far worse when my father became bankrupt, got involved in all kinds of legal battles and we were reduced to living on charity in half way houses. All this happened during my formidable teen years, when life comes to an end with a pimple, and here my world was literally falling apart! The financial downward spiral continued all the way till I started working full time at the age of 21. The fact that I went to an elitist school and college where everyone arrived in a designer car and maid in waiting, did not make matters easy. Nor did the fact that I was born obese and continued to be overweight help my self-image issues.
I was accused of not making any effort to lose weight – how could I when I honestly did not know when and from where my next meal was coming from. To paraphrase Scarlet O’ Hara, I was so hungry. The logical deduction was if my family was amidst such financial struggle, I should have naturally lost weight. What can I say, except agree and apologies for a metabolism that did not work as per set norms of societal expectations, and I continued to be chubby/plump/fat! I did not want to stand out and trust me, if I could surgically remove my digestive system and replace it with a size zero one, I would, but the doctors are still trying make that kind of scientific breakthrough and in the meanwhile I was the rebel who scorned the set mores of beauty. Well I do, do that now, but at the age of 15, I really wanted to be the set standard of beauty, but like I said, I did not know how! Somebody tell me how to get a stick thin figure and non-frizzy hair, because the usual methods were not working!
The only change in the status quo was suddenly I started doing very well in academics – from grade 11 onwards, my brain decided to come out of hiding and do fantastic things, things I always knew I was capable of, but did not bring forth. As the situation at the home front deteriorated, I had a meteoric rise in my academic endeavors, which resulted in being admitted to one of the best, albeit elitist colleges, in the country. My intellectual success did nothing to help me improve my social position, except, in addition to being poor and fat; I was condemned as a nerd. Topping exams was great but who ever read discourses by Kant voluntarily – a nerd! The thing was, I did not fit in with the nerds either – the free bird in me wanted to travel, party and experience life as much as the social chic, next to me, except no one bothered to ask me if I wanted to party, instead I was branded as the library chic – nobody seemed to understand that the nerd could also be a party girl!
The only place I really fitted in eventually was my University – by virtue of my eccentric readings all my life, I cracked one of the more difficult entrance examinations for a Master’s degree, at a university as much known for its intellectual brilliance as well its extremely eccentric behavior. I finally had come to my own – for the first time I started feeling good about myself …I was still a geek who trudged to the Library everyday and picked up the most obscure volumes like The Occam’s Razor for light reading, but I was also the social kitten who presided over her dorm’s social events and was constantly surrounded by people. If I was not the center of attention, I was as close to its edge as it get! I could air my views no matter how outlandish and while I was argued down by 10 different and contrary opinions, it always ended with tea and with my mind being open to 40 different thoughts!
It was not an idyllic place and I had my share of heartbreaks and disappointments, but it was as close to a comfort zone and security blanket all rolled into one as I would ever get. The only place where I was not the rebel, just another student! Yay! As the wise have often advised, all good things must come to an end and while I managed to complete a Masters and M.Phil. at this University, my parents’ financial conditions forced me to end my academic adventures and seek gainful and paying employment.
I was fortunate enough to secure a position in one of the Forbes top 20 financial servicing conglomerates – a humanities student, I was hired on a fluke by then leader of the business, because of what I have no idea. From day 1, I stood out and now after 12 years in the company and several promotions later, I still stand out. I do not live with my parents; nobody in middle class India has quite grasped the concept. It is difficult to make the conformist understand that my mother, when she was alive did not share the same views on life as I did another point starkly proving me as the rebel! Everyone knows mothers are daughter’s best friends and here I thought it was way better for her blood pressure and my mental wellbeing that we lived at some distance!
Further, by the traditionalist mores of the Indian society, I am supposed to be married by now and here I am at the age of 33 still sharing an apartment with my best friend. Because I am not married and do not disclose too much of my personal life, I was a lesbian and my best friend who is really a sister from different parents, was tagged as my partner. This need to straight jacket all relationships in the narrow definitions of society was bad enough, but the fact that I believe there are all kinds of love and each of it deserves as much respect as the other and no one and I mean no one as has any right to judge another based on their sexual preference made it far worse!
I was first a lesbian and when it was established that I was in fact a heterosexual, much to the relief of many, I was deemed a feminist, again a branding to be ashamed off because, when I came to know much of these lesbian related speculations, I spoke unhesitatingly on the right of men and women to make their own choice, no one heard the man part, but EVERYONE heard the woman part and well, naturally I am a blue stocking style feminist. Because I was a feminist, most of the men bypassed me and the fact that I continued to be cheerfully chubby, made them think I was more a pal variety than a soul mate.
So now I am single, not because I really want to be but because I was a chubby feminist with too many ideas, which naturally equates very well into, yup “the rebel” category and it seemed to follow that I also became the difficult employee – I questioned everything and I tended to not always toe the line. Again I am clueless as to why I am different, except I did not socialize with my peers as I was expected to and at the cost of sounding immodest, I got things done in like 5 mins, while they took 5 years. As one of my leaders put it, I made my peers uncomfortable – their laptops’ annual output was 25 MB and here I was churning out 50 GB in a day!
Despite all this kind of wonderful support or lack of, I managed to get promoted and rise through the ranks – the company did have some great leaders who chose to allow for my eccentricities and instead focus on my work! Today, as I stand among the higher echelons of middle management and try and gain a toe hold in higher management, I am again confronted with the same dilemma that dogged me so many years ago – Don’t be different, after all the senior leaders are watching. You need to be more like your peers and be politically neutral; support a Sheryl Sandburg, but do not let on that not only have you read Gloria Steinem but also identify with her. Be careful of what political preference you showcase on social media or you may be tagged as a rebel!
Turns out from the age of 10 to 34 nothing much has changed, and I the rebel – but I really really don’t want to rebel. I do not work at being different! I have no intentions of being anti-establishment; it’s just that questions come to my mind. I really would like to meet a guy and spend my life happily ever after, but I only request for mutual respect and independence! I want to grow in the company, but I have political views and last I checked my country’s constitution guaranteed freedom of speech and thought; besides I never suggest anything remotely rebellious or anarchist; however I do believe that the government is answerable to people and has the responsibility to free the country of poverty and corruption, provide basic human rights. I believe we are all political creatures and “politics” is not a dirty word.
Sigh! It does seem like I walk the road alone, but had I been so different, why is my social calendar always so full? Despite always being the odd one out, since my Masters days, I have always been surrounded by a circle of friends and sensible portions of the family. Unlike the ever conforming upright social citizen, I never have to sit at home over the weekend, if I choose not to! There of course lies another problem – the fact that I have so many social options, yet I choose to sit back and read through the weekend…weird! Arrrggggghhhhhhh!!!!!!! I am not a rebel, really I am not! I just seem to be wired differently, I do not want to stand apart, but I seem to always have a view to a different angle. I am really really not a rebel, just someone who thinks, perhaps from a different tangent than you!