Tits, tests and testes

Tits, tests and testes

(This is part 2 of the article I wrote about tenth standard. Please read part 1 here.)

When I moved to a new school for my tenth standard, I was leaving behind all my friends and classmates from childhood. There was a huge void to be filled. It added to my feeling of alienation.

Up until then, I lived in a quaint semi-rural Indian village on the Arabian coast, complete with a beach lined with casuarinas, a ruined fort from the 1600s and a town that was once home to Portuguese colonisers. It was idyllic and my childhood couldn’t have been better.

From there, I was now moving to an urban middle-class suburb that huffed and honked during the day; heaved and grunted in the evenings; and expressed its aspirations first through its teenagers.

The students in this new school weren’t very diverse culturally or racially. There might have been some religious diversity. We all shared at least two, if not more languages in common. We wore the same uniform that hid our socio-economic backgrounds. But unlike adults, teenagers don’t rely solely on such intangibles to be mean or nice to one another. This revealed itself to me gradually, through interactions with a host of characters— my new classmates.

On the first day of class, I was introduced as the new joinee. It was a real oddity, having a new classmate in the last year of school. The friendships had been made, the betrayals had happened, the lunches had been shared, the weakling had been bullied, the girl who always fainted had been identified, the pooper had learnt to excuse himself. The stakes were really low. No one was interested in impressing me in order to be my friend, even if I was interested in impressing everyone.

So Shivraj got straight to the point. On the first day, he sat next to me and asked me in the most patois Hindi that is characteristic of tough Bombay and her tougher provinces: “Tere baap ke paas kitna paisa hai?” (How much money is your old man worth?). I was stunned into silence by this brazen question. I had been taught not to speak about money. And I knew it was not dignified to use ‘baap’ (loosely translates to 'old man') instead of ‘baba’ or ‘pappa’.

But Shivraj was kind even if he was unabashed and impatient. So he nudged me— “matlab medium hai apne jaisa? Ki ekdum solid?…huh?!”

(Is he middle class like us?.. or is he filthy rich?!)

I knew we weren’t 'filthy rich', so I went with the first option. He didn’t tell me if it was the right answer, instead, he moved on to the next question: Whose tits do you like more? Sneha’s or Siddeshwari’s?

I was shocked, again. But before I knew it, I had already turned my head in the direction his fingers pointed; to the last bench in the fourth row, where the two girls sat. I knew the answer but I didn’t want to tell it to this guy. So I blushed and looked away.

He then proceeded to tell me, ‘Amey and Siddeshwari have a thing going’.

All this while the teacher rambled on and the students paid no attention whatsoever.

I asked Shivraj who this Amey guy was. He asked me shocked ‘you don’t know Amey?!’ and pointed towards him.

The first thing I noticed about Amey was his unbuttoned shirt. He had coloured a few streaks of his hair golden. He looked like someone who would have the tattoo of a lip on his groin. He had the most stereotypical smug look, I had ever seen on a boy-man. His brows were in a perpetual furrow and his lips always gathered in the direction that was of interest to him in the given moment.

When Amey saw me look at him, he raised his head briskly. I didn’t know what that meant. Was he saying ‘Hi’ or ‘What’s up?’ or ‘Pay respects to your emperor’? I looked away and that was our only interaction the entire year. I later saw Shivraj curry favors with Amey, especially when Amey brought his dad’s car to school on Saturdays, driving himself.

'Hmm, big guy', I thought to myself.

Ninaad seemed friendly but shy. He always looked at me curiously and we smiled every time we exchanged glances. Once Ninaad and I became friends, he introduced me to his friend Amit. Ninaad then went on to hold an imaginary football and said that that was the size of Amit’s testicles. I didn’t know what to do with that information. Amit was not pleased that this open secret was being let out to the newest guy in class, me. He chased Ninaad to punch him in the face.

Ajay had begun his journey into la-la land.

Omkar and Sai were two best friends who performed really well in the exams. Siddesh was their third wheel but some of their smartness had rubbed off on him. Siddesh laughed at me often.

In an interaction, Omkar once told me that I was a peasant because I came from a village and was not born and brought up in the suburb. That was the first time I learnt that where you lived was a matter of status.

Sai, I thought, was very good looking. But I didn’t understand why he was nice to everyone despite having such looks. I had learnt by then, that you could get away with anything, if you were good looking.

Abu came to our new apartment to drop off some notes and I invited him inside my home, because my mother insisted. She made us tea and gave us snacks. I was very happy. He saw that we didn’t have a sofa set and laughed about it to his friends later. I didn’t know that was a thing to be made fun of. It hurt me. I got over that hurt only after we bought a sofa set to welcome my sister’s in-laws-to-be, many years later.

I was thin-skinned.

Vaibhav imitated teachers really well, students too. He weaved stories with characters and performed them in breaks. Everyone would be in splits. I always grinned nervously, fearing he might pick on me if he saw me laugh too much. I didn’t know this was stand-up comedy. I don’t think Vaibhav did either.

Sonal was the 'first-ranker' in class. She and her three girlfriends formed a quartet who walked synchronously, Sonal leading the way always.

When Mrs. Bannerjee, my english teacher, announced to the entire class one day, that I had written the best letter in a test, I saw my stature rise. No one expected that, least of all me. The ultimate validation was when Sonal and the Pussycats borrowed my test paper to go over and understand my 'expert technique' of writing ‘A letter to your father, who’s away for work’.

As the academic year drew to a close, something peculiar happened. My classmates started asking one another if they were going to use caste certificates for college admission. I didn’t know what that was. So I asked my father and he told me “Caste is a thing and we won't be using any certificates”.

I thought it was some sort of a certificate students used, if they so wished. I didn’t know what it was for. But that didn’t matter because my dad had said it wasn’t of concern to me.

To partake in conversations with classmates, I too asked a boy, who had started balding very early, whether he was going to use a caste certificate. He got terribly upset and barked at me— “yeda aahes ka?! Aadnaav Gokhale aahe mazha. Brahman aahe me… salya!” (Are you nuts?! My surname is Gokhale. I’m a Brahmin… idiot!)

I had no idea what got him riled up like that. I decided it’s best I don’t ask about things I don’t understand.

That would turn out to be my first ever introduction to Caste.

I had many such introductions to the ways of the world, which I truly started to understand only after I left the kind and humane environment my parents strived to build and nurture in our home that didn’t have a sofa set for years.

The process of losing my naïveté started soon after my tenth standard.

Even if I don’t wish tenth standard or the realities of the world upon anyone, it might be an inevitability.

(Names have been changed. Or not.)