My eyes opened slowly. The remainder delusions of a dream still convinced me as if I was still in Delhi. And my eyes opened. The first thing I saw was the huge three panel window of my room sans the curtains, opening out to the balcony. And through that I could see the sky. Such a clear sky. With not a single trace of any cloud. Just clear blue with no visible depth. A new beginning. A fresh start. It's weird how over the years the usage of the term "A Fresh Start" relates to something better in our minds. But its not necessary. A fresh start could be anything- better or worse. I wish I had been aware of this fact back then. I look at the clock, it's bloody 5.00AM! I assumed it was nine already considering the brightness flooding in my room and here I was, the first one to wake up in a nakedly empty house. I heaved a sigh. I was in Kolkata.
It took me sometime to settle down the weird feeling beneath my chest: I wasn't in Delhi anymore. The air, the feel, the smell, the color. Yes, the color! After coming here I realized there was different color to Delhi, like tints in a photograph. Delhi is so yellowish. Not lemon yellow, but chrome yellow. Like the mustard fields. Kolkata is more green, like bottle green. Even the light back in Delhi felt more diffused. Here it was crystal clean as if shining directly upon us. It was just weird. Sounds clichéd, but I had to feel like an alien even though I knew the local language.
For next couple of months that followed, the time and effort was completely indulged in the upgradation of our lifestyle! We were not middle class anymore. We were upper middle class. Our furniture came in a couple of days later, nicely packed in cardboards and sacks. The flooring and tiling was done before they arrived. Afterwards there was a lot of addition to the furniture. Heavy expensive curtains. Lighting. Accessories. The first air conditioner and music system cum CD Player. And so on. Yes, we were upper middle class now.
The New School
The next on the list of tasks was me and my brother's admissions in school. Now this was the first minus point that we were going to experience in next one year. The system of schooling goes like this: The all India education board is NCERT till eighth standard and CBSE for ninth to twelfth standards with CBSE holding board examinations (Boards, in short) in classes tenth and twelfth. Now boards is a huge deal all over India, since it's a synchronized examination all over India. Delhi being the capital under the Central govt., most schools were generally CBSE. But the states have different state-wide education systems. Now in West Bengal, most schools were affiliated to ICSE (Like CBSE, but constricted to the state) And migrating from CBSE to ICSE is a strict no-no unofficially. You can migrate, but generally you are advised not to for sundry reasons. Now the few CBSE schools that we could apply to were obsessed with their performance in the boards. The more the number of students with 1st division and Distinction results in the boards, the better their reputation. And I had always been pretty average in my studies. My result always used to loom around 60% (2nd Division) and I never gave a horse's arse about it. So you can imagine the frustration my dad went through getting me an admission in ninth standard, one standard preceding the class tenth boards.
Now, another catch. The Bengali annual festival, the 5 day long Durga Puja takes place in the autumn around October. In Delhi, we get around a week long leave in school during this time. But since this was a Bengali state, the schools provide a month long leave for the festivities. It's basically our version of Christmas. So to compensate the time, in Kolkata you get a summer vacation of only one month in May as opposed to Delhi's two month long vacation in May and June. My whole point of explaining this difference was that, we moved to Kolkata in the end of June, so basically I had missed a whole month of schooling here. And while we were going through school to school for admissions, everywhere they said the same thing: The first terminal examination was just a week away and they were not willing to take a chance. After all the rounds, finally a school was ready to take me in, promising to exempt my first terminal results from my final result evaluation in the end of the year. But they asked me to appear for the exams just to keep my attendance compensated for the month of June that I missed schooling. And so I did, with a miserable performance. I got a humiliating 5 out of 100 in mathematics, considering the fact that I was generally good with math. But then there were just too many changes I was getting adjusted to, to let this failure affect me. This was Haryana Vidya Mandir. The longest nightmare of my whole life!
Me Against the World
The change with the most impact was the change of habitat. I agree for most of my life till then I had been a loner weirdo with not too many a friends. But this was different. It was like separate from my being. I just couldn't relate to my new environment. No matter how introverted I had been in my past, I could still feel my roots on a Delhi ground. But here I felt like a sapling, looking for a moist patch of mud to dig in new roots. This absolute alien like confusion had the biggest effect on my socializing skills. I wasn't so good at it anyway. I had just started making friends with people in the last two out of ten years I spent half of my days with. So I was an amateur at making friends. And this was a complete joke.
My first day at school wasn't pleasant at all. It was utterly horrid! Probashi Bangali is a term for Bengalis who don't reside in West Bengal. I think I always liked the term. It had a very cutesy sound to it. It was only after coming to the 'hometown' that I realized what it really meant. Probashi Bangali or PB's in short aren't quite welcome here. Or at least very initially. They are some outlandish creatures left to the mercy and jest of the pure-bred bongs (If there's anything like that) The fact that my spoken Bengali wasn't that strong was the first ring on the bull's eye. My accent had a mixture of English and Hindi twang to it. Topped by a scarcity of Bengali vocabulary, which till now could be easily replaced by Hindi or English ones, and still be acceptable. The moment I walked in the class I was greeted by the class teacher who seemed quite sweet and compassionate, ironically plunging me into a gravely erroneous assumption that all the other subject teachers would show such warmth and welcome. She asked me to introduce myself. This was the first time I had to introduce myself ever in my life after years of being completely invisible. I started with the accent that I couldn't help, the twang and the diction. I never knew anyone could stammer faster than Porky Pig. Well guess what? I got a new talent. By the end of the minute of my disastrous introduction of myself, I could see the smirks, hear the giggles and feel the joke so acutely on me. That was the sign. I was in a rut!
The students picked on me. The teachers picked on me. Even the juniors picked on me. This was the time I really understood the meaning of the term 'loser'. My performance in academics kept sinking faster than Titanic. I was one of the back bencher no-gooders within a couple of months. I hated the school and it's army like obsession with discipline. Every morning after the assembly I would be making rounds of the basketball court as punishment because of the tiniest of reasons: Shoes not polished, One crease on the shirt that missed ironing, not carrying the diary to school to read the morning prayers, not singing morning prayers, even one nail uncut. The feeling of embarrassment for a 14 year old running round and round the court was numbed out by the disadvantage of being a loser. Losers are not allowed to be embarrassed. They are an embarrassment themselves. At least that's what I was reduced down to here. Imagine the circle of life. After seven long years of an invisible existence, my identity had just started to bounce some light so that people wouldn't see through me anymore. And within seconds I was transparent again. Right through me.
The Smiley Wallpaper
All the starry eyed dreams my parents wove on moving to Kolkata started to wear out down to their true nature of how forced and fake they were. The whole idea of a good life, was just a pretence, so that this massively expensive- not just monetary, but physical as well as emotional effort to start everything new at least appeared beautiful. The reality was the infected pus of fifteen years of their marriage was still reeking in ignorance underneath this glorious façade. No one would speak about it, but it was there staring at us like some dormant fiend caged within a house. It stared at us day and night. And we would just pretend it wasn't there.
My mother was all too excited initially, to assume her new role as a housewife. All her life, she was a working woman. And now, she froze her job back in Delhi and moved here on an extensively long unpaid leave. Although she was quite pleased with a relaxed and easy lifestyle at first, slowly this decision would turn it's true colors...
My brother was admitted in the same school. Suddenly the whole meaning of his education had taken a U-Turn. He was just a seven year old kid who loved to play and have fun like any other kid. And here he was studying and writing pages and pages of thesis like homeworks. His syllabi were so stupendously vast that all he did was study like some obsessed youth studying for engineering entrance. The worst part was he didn't even like to study. So it was all on my mom to sit with him until 2AM almost every night trying to get his homework done. And lets not even talk about the times during his exams. Just know, that it was during this time, that she got her blood pressure back and he got corns on his finger from writing with a pencil continuously for hours at a stretch. A seven year old, with corns on his finger because of writing. Imagine.
Dad, on other hand was completely oblivious to all of this. He was a bank manager now. And since where he worked was a small branch, his position was equivalent to that of a branch manager. So from being a clerk, it was a seriously big leap for him. And so was it for his ego. Now he was too big to care about all the petty little household issues. What he did care about was to show off his well off family of four to the world. And when no one would be watching, he would detach himself to his room. His room was like the king's layer in the palace. No one entered it unnecessarily. And he never stayed outside it unnecessarily. I never shared any closeness with him that I would feel the need to go to his room, sit in front of him and tell him about the hard time I was facing in school. I never shared any of my problems with him. Well, I never shared anything at all with him. And fourteen years later, we both were at different places to make such emotional alterations now. Same went for mom. As far as I remember, mom and dad never shared any closeness either. They never had a romantic chat. They never flirted. They never talked about their feelings. I doubt it if they ever touched each other in the later part of their marriage. And how do I know that? Because me and my brother were always between them and their relationship. I was closer to mom, so all her verbal requirements were limited to me. My brother was closer to dad, so all his emotional closeness was fulfilled by him. So we were always the greater priority compared to the other one as a spouse. We never wanted to do so willingly, but they put us there in between deliberately. Like some shield. I wonder what they were trying to guard themselves from. Falling in love?
So there it was. A new start heading towards a stand still. Like a car that starts with a promising noise and breaks down in the middle of the road ten minutes later. Kolkata in reality wasn't suiting any of us. But we pasted that plastic smile and held on, hoping that things would turn for the better. But none of us had any idea, when.