Friday, April 18, 2008

Walk like a man

When I was little, I'd try and walk in step with my father whenever I could. So if he'd put his right foot forward, then I'd put my right foot forward as well, and we'd walk in tandem. We didn't own a car back then so I had to do a lot of walking with him, and I always remember doing this, sometimes subconsciously. Of course, later on, when I hit my teens, I would try and do anything to differentiate myself from my parents, but back then--I wanted to be just like my father.

Another thing that I remember mimicking was to never gaze at a woman; my father would always walk with his head straight, eyes in front, and would never let his sight shift from that angle. I, being of a much more shy nature, preferred walking with my head cast down, eyes to the ground (especially when a woman or a girl would pass us by).

This became increasingly hard to do once we moved from Saudi Arabia to India, and I had to dodge the increasing number of people, animals, and all other manner of things on my journey into the outside world. Also, for the first time in my life, since 2nd or 3rd grade, I was once again surrounded by girls in my class, who were curious to know more about the foreigner who had come from abroad. Especially the reason why he always walked with his head tilted towards the ground. Some of them were even bold enough to ask me if they thought there was something wrong with them, which made me not want to make eye-contact, causing me even more humiliation than I already felt. I tried to break the habit, but it wasn't easy.

That same year, a girl named Sarwani from Japan had joined our class, and had become the talk of the entire school, and as misfortune would have it, was chosen to sit next to me. I had not sat next to a girl for most of my pre-pubescent life, and to be thrown into such a situation was most uncomfortable. My peers, noticing this uneasiness, saw their chance and jumped on it. I think I lasted a day before I went to the class teacher and complained. It was all I could do before breaking down into tears. My teacher laughed it off and said that that's exactly why she wanted her to sit next to me. I did not understand.

The following day, I'd decided that I wasn't going to take things lying down, and partitioned the desk into half, making it clear that all of Sarwani's things should stay on her side of the border, and that at no time should it cross over to mine, lest she'd have to bring her arm into my space and fuel any more controversy. I also asked her to keep the talking to a minimum, or not at all if possible. She was amused. The plan would've succeeded if it weren't for the jerk of a Chemistry substitute sir that we'd gotten for one of our classes one day, who was looking at Sarwani in a rather peculiar way. I didn't notice it at first, but when she turned around I saw that the top button of her shirt had come undone and was hanging precariously low. I had no intention of saying anything to her, but I couldn't keep my mouth shut, so, managed to give her a signal. She looked down, quickly buttoned her top, and gave me a gracious "thank you". It was sort of hard not to talk to her after that.

It's been 15 years since then and even now I am not completely over it. The inhibitions of looking at a woman still linger, and these days when I go for my morning walks and see all the beautiful, fresh faces in front of me (as discreetly as I possibly can), I am still as lost as ever as to what it is I'm supposed to do. I wonder if any of the girls have the same problem, which would indirectly mean that they've taken notice of me as well, and perhaps that would be a little reassuring.

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