IN the early 1990s, my father moved to Delhi, the capital of India. I had spent most of my life till then in a small town – Sindri in the state of Bihar (now Jharkhand). I thought of this move as being both good and bad – good because I would now be exposed to the charming city life – that would hopefully provide opportunities for growth. The not so good part, was my own fear – that everyone in the city would just be much more smarter than me, and I would soon become the “stupid ass from small town”
From my childhood, I had pictured myself in situations where I don’t belong, situations where people around me know more than me, and my skill level is not good enough for me to be part of that group. Thinking about such situations would send a shiver down my spine, and wake me up in the nights as if I just had a nightmare. Somehow, deep down inside me, I felt that in Delhi, I ran the risk of being “made fun of” – of being utterly and completely humiliated!
I was right!
Being a shy introvert only added on to the probability of being humiliated. The flashy smart asses in school had the privilege of make believing others that they knew too much, and often fed on bullying us introverts to add fuel to their ego, and prove to the world that they belonged to the “elite” class – the class that knew more, that belonged to the new found “hep” culture!
Those days, I was far away from following English music or English movies. We watched only Indian language movies on television, and that too the ones that were made in the 1960s / 1970s (which would come in the DD1 – the only channel that would be telecast).
One day at the tiffin break, the following conversation ensued –
Vikram: Hey, did you watch the latest song on MTV?
Sam: Yeah, the Madonna song you mean… isnt it awesome.. Absolutely awesome… Love it.
ME: Wow! Has Maradona started singing now? I mean.. He used to play earlier, isn’t it?
ME: Maradona… the Argentine football player, he played in the 1986 and 1990 world cups. Is he singing now?
Sam: (bursts out laughing) Hey, jackass!! Its Madonna, not Maradona – you dumb piece of shit!! You don’t know about Madonna….
ME: No.. Not really
Sam: (telling it out loud now for other people to hear) Hey, everyone.. Listen up.. This jackass from Sindri does not know who Madonna is… hahaha! He thought that it is Maradona singing… Good lord!! Which planet you from dude!!
Insert – sound of everyone laughing gesturing at me as if not knowing about Madonna was almost criminal thing to do.
Utter and inescapable humiliation… hurt ego, sharply rising temperature on the “introvertness scale”.
A week or so later…
Our first computer science class is in progress. Computer science was an elective subject – in addition to the 5 subjects that were part of the syllabus. I had taken it to learn computers, which really was completely alien to me at the time.
The teacher taught us BASIC (a programming language). At the end of the class, the teacher announced that we should all bring a FLOPPY the next day.
FLOPPY – what is a floppy? I heard sloppy – in fact, just the other day, one of the smart asses had called me a sloppy ass, when I had spilled some water from my water bottle on his desk.
I decided to ask Vikram.
ME: Hey Viks..
Vikram: What man?
ME: Hey, need your help man… the teacher said get a floppy or something? What’s a floppy? I only know sloppy as an English word.
Vikram gave me the which planet are you from look. I did not have a good feeling about this one – so I gave him the “I plead you, don’t tell anyone – don’t humiliate me again”
He got the hint.
Next moment – he shouted out to the whole class.. “Hey, Ari does not know what a floppy is…”. Everyone turned to look at me with the “Which planet are you from” look.
“Which planet are you from dude?” – Vikram asked…
“Now presenting… Ari, the dude from the planet of the apes….” – Sam announced to the class.
I wanted to hide behind something, if nothing else, I wanted to bury my face into something so I could escape the scathing gazes from my class mates.
I hated bullies – I hated the “Smart asses” in my class. Yes, maybe I was not as “hep” as them – maybe I did not have the worldly knowledge about Madonna’s and floppies and Demi Moore’s. But hey, why humiliate someone – and make him look small in front of others!
When I look back now, those years in Delhi moulded a large part of my character. I learnt NEVER to make fun of others – how-so-ever stupid or silly he / she may be. It made me realize at a very early age that not everyone will have the same skill level, the same ability or intelligence. Every team, every situation will be a mix of people. And a true friend – a true human being – a true leader – helps the ones who are “not in their league” and takes them along too!