Why Did My Childhood Screams Last So Long?
I was born to parents who suddenly fell in love at the age of 45 (my dad) and 41 (my mum). Both of them had decided to stay celibate all their life. And then changed their minds.
Up till the time they got married, they remained dedicated to raising their younger siblings and working hard to make ends meet. My father was a government official in the finance ministry and my mum was an officer in the Indian army.
In the 1970’s it was very unusual for two people of their age and professions to come together. To make matters more strange — he was a Punjabi from the north of the country and she was from a Bengali family from the east. The marriage was hurriedly arranged. I believe she got a day off work and called in sick for the Friday so that they could both get the weekend at home.
They looked tired but deliriously happy in the black and white wedding pictures.
They were a confluence of contradiction. The only thing I feel they had in common was their screaming introversion and mismatched professions.
My mum was an artist in a military uniform. She sang professionally in the radio station to earn a salary to support her siblings and also painted quite well as a hobby. My dad was a spiritual-minded economist. He loved to trek into the Himalayas and visit religious shrines. For example, he went to a place called Kedarnath which is a very important holy shrine of the Hindus 7 times in his lifetime. He traveled to Mount Kailash in China alone at a time when it was very difficult to travel there as an Indian as there were hardly any facilities and life was extremely hard in the mountains.
He was a writer and liked to write short stories and letters to the editor and kept track of all the times he got published in the newspapers. He could invent stories on the spot. I have a vague memory of him telling me and my cousins bedtime stories about anything we wanted spontaneously.
Wait. I need to back up and get born first…
And then I was born a year after they married punctually at 10.10 am.
That day in India they were celebrating Janmashtami. The birth of Krishna, one of the premier Gods of the country. I have no memory of any god-like powers or godly treatment in my upbringing. In fact, the first memory of myself in this world is one of feeling abandoned.
It emanates from a sunny afternoon in kindergarten.
The school was empty and all the kids had been picked up and taken home. And my rickshaw driver had not come. And I was bawling. Nothing too dramatic but looking back it’s a memory I wish on no child that young. I have other similar memories in the same school of being bullied and mocked for having shat in my pants. I must have been a weak kid and I know I was a very sensitive child who was overwhelmed by being in school in a new city and separated from my dad who was in Delhi. Again something I never wish for any kid that young. It screws one up in ways you don’t realize until much much later.
But you can’t decide anything when you are 4. You just accept and obey.
One year later my brother showed up next to my mum. We were still living in Agra. Then one day we were back in Delhi. My mum was now staying at home and my dad and she would have a lot of arguments which I hated. I remember days I would worry about my mum's temper (she had a bad one) and that she would start arguing with my dad who to my best memory was a very soft-spoken quiet man.
I don’t remember him too well. But i feel i am a lot like him. A Seeker.
My best memory of him was him teaching me to tie my shoelaces. He patiently taught me to do it. I vividly remember quietly sitting next to him on the bed and learning this life skill from him. He also taught me how to tell the time. Still thank him for that.
I got my love for traveling from him. I have great memories of trekking in the mountains and going to Kedarnath as a family. It opened my eyes to nature and its spiritual magnificence. He introduced both me and my brother to my favorite comic superhero- Tintin.
I just don’t remember him loving me or my brother enough. I guess my parents were the `spare the rod spoil the child’ school of parenting. So I believe there was not much cuddling or physical show of love in the house. We were brought up as little adults who had to be smart, study hard, respect our elders and be good boys in the eyes of society.
Another vivid memory was a bit noisier. He had somehow found out that I had picked up 10 Rupees from his wallet and gone to a shop to buy some comics. When I got home he was waiting. He was furious and he chased me around the house with a wooden bow we had got from one of our holidays and I had to hide in his clothes cupboard to avoid him getting to me. When my mum came home he told her I was going to grow up to be a thief. He never raised his voice or hands on me ever again. Well, he did not have much time to do that again.
My father died on April 1, 1984, just after midnight, suddenly of a heart attack. I was 11.
I was woken up by my distraught mum and I saw him lying on the floor frothing from his mouth. Eyes closed. Not moving. I had to get the doctor who was a neighbor. They took him to the hospital and then a few hours later my mum came back and in the darkness of the room came and sat by the side of my pillow and put her quivering hands on my forehead and I knew our lives had changed forever. My mum was a widow and I was the new man in the house!
At that moment I was drafted into the adult school of life and given the charge to drive a truck laden with bricks of social obligations. I wanted to drive for the sake of my mum…I just could not get my feet to touch the clutch and brake pedal. It was hard and I did not manage it too well in hindsight.
I think I woke up to adulthood and then passed out into a state of shock.
I went into an emotional coma. For some reason, I can’t remember my teenage years until I became 17. I can’t remember how I grew up through those years. I was desperately lonely and desperate to be hugged and comforted. But there was no one around and I could not bear to beg for it. So, I chose the path every shy suffering kid chooses- stonewalling my emotions behind a veneer of escape, imagination, and desperately seeking external validation.
Our home life was turned upside down.
My mum had to go back to work. She could not go back to the Army as she had sought early retirement. In the years while at home she had studied Journalism and that helped her get a job at the National TV station as an assistant Producer for the news show. It was a poor paying low-level job. But she had no choice. She had 2 kids in school to bring up. When he died we were staying in rent-free Government accommodation. Now we had to move out.
My father was against owning assets so wanted to never buy a house after retirement. I don’t know what he was thinking now that he had a family.
Thankfully my mother had forced him to apply for a flat in one of the government schemes and it came through. But that meant we had to move out of central Delhi and shift to the East of the city which was still underdeveloped and very remote from the rest of the city.
His death crushed my self-esteem and shattered my innocence.
I was an intelligent kid in class while my father was alive. The security of a stable home meant I was a good student (Top 5 in class); great at sport(fastest runner in junior school); a confident public speaker and a good singer.
I became the head perfect for one of the four sections of the school. Being in an Army school we had the motto — Learn to Obey which sounds scary and a bit old-fashioned now. But I fitted in quite well. The teachers liked me and I think there were girls in my class who wanted to sit next to me.
I was the boy every parent prays for as they are slapping them across the face for being disobedient.
But within a few months of my dad’s death, I started to transform. Puberty took its toll on my pretty face and slim body. Within a year I was a scrawny, awkward kid with buck teeth and large pointy ears, and a croaking voice that could not sing a single high note. I lost a lot of weight and I hated how I looked. I would curse myself often in front of the mirror and hope that something would come and take me away.
My raging hormones and my self-loathing and self-pity all beautifully played into my first sexual experiences with fellow boys in my school and neighborhood. In these teenage years, I turned to other boys I knew for affection. I would find ways to be alone with them and get into bed with them naked. I would encourage them to take their clothes off and I would stroke their genitals until they went down on me and sucked on me and made me ejaculate. I had these affairs with more than 5 boys. What are the most vivid memories I have of these years from 12 till 17. I felt a huge sense of guilt about my sexuality. But it was my secret release and my first real act of rebellious self-identity and self-love.
Gay and heartbroken in the same year:
My story of needing validation and love got worse or more vivid when I fell in love for the first time in my life with my school classmate when I turned 17.
She was this beautiful confident girl who was the most popular in school. The love I felt for her was puppy pure. I did not even hold her hands or kiss her…let alone have sex with her. I just loved her and desperately wanted her to love me back. I thought I had a good chance as I was this rising rock star in school who was the lead singer of the school band, I was a good public speaker and Editor of the School magazine. I would try to impress her with my words and voice and I thought I was getting close to making her mine. But then one day she invited me to her place and told me she loved me but was not in love with me!
What made it worse than it already was that she had the hots for this other guy. He was the best sportsman in the school and very good-looking. A real ladies man that men admired.
I can tell you it was the worst year of my school life at the highest point of my social fame.
I see the pattern as I write this. A boy starved of love and affection and seeking it in all things that were external for his ego validation.
I wish he had screamed and cried a lot more when his world collapsed and not hid it from his mum. I wish he had told someone he was lonely and scared and hurt and needed help. I wish i had been there for him.
I am now and he is happy.