I apologize again for being so irregular. But with a viral fever and preboards to keep me busy, I think I can claim amnesty! I would have really liked to write some kind of great nostalgia piece about my last days in school, but this post is a narration of a specific event and the lessons I've drawn from it.
I happen to be writing today because it's a very special occasion. A once in a lifetime kind of occasion: my official farewell from school!
I'd already experienced it in another way, from the sidelines, when I was in class XI. There is a morning program with a computer presentation (pics of past years!) and a party in the evening, in which students of class XI and XII have the chance to dance together to a DJ's tunes in the school basketball court.
Today I got the chance to experience it - as the subject. A function held for us, the senior most of the school, and practically ex students.
The morning program finished on time, and we all went home excited for the evening function (my reader, please forgive such brief mentions of these events; there's something else I want to talk about). The program was to begin at 3 and the dress code required all junior boys to wear jeans with kurta, suits for junior girls, suits for senior boys and sarees for senior girls. And this, of course, gets a lot of chatter and comparison going on among the students way before its time for farewell.
I arrived late by about an hour (a sacrifice on the altar of self satisfaction with looks!). But I wasn't very worried, I hadn't really planned about dancing anyway. You see, I feel shy dancing with others. But on the other hand, this was our farewell, and I would never again get the opportunity to dance with my friends - that too with everybody looking good, celebrating the evening in school.
But you know what, I actually swung into action. This is not because I dance well but feel shy, I've actually never really felt comfortable dancing in front of others. I can count on one hand the number of times I've willingly danced at a party. Plus, I had never danced in a sari. So yes, I was nervous. But seeing so many other girls going for it anyway anyhow, I decided to give it a shot - after all, how bad could I be? And I didn't want to regret later that I'd missed the opportunity.
But something happened this time. For about the first time, I didn't feel judged. My friends were busy dancing with an amazing variety of steps and I was not pushed out of the crowd. My friends were having so much fun! Why couldn't I? They didn't care how I danced. They were just kind of happy I was dancing. Shared joy. Some random movements thrown with the beats of the music and I was still part of the circle, not feeling left out as I usually did. After a while, faking it and copying some of the others' steps, I began feeling more like the dancer I was behind closed doors. I recalled some of those steps, made up some of my own and just went with it, feeling more and more free with every song . And for about the first time ever in my few experiences of dancing with other people, I enjoyed it. By the end, I was wishing that the DJ would play more songs, so I could really absorb this great new experience. I even saw smiles on the faces of some of my friends who had seen me dance for the first time and knew well that I didn't usually dance. Even if I didn't love every song, I tried almost every song, going along with the girls in whichever group I happened to be standing in at the time. At the end, I surprised even myself: Could I really dance in a sari and that well? Even if I wasn't great or the best, I certainly wasn't terrible. And I could even see a few other girls looking as confused as I used to be, wondering how to dance in their sari or what step to use. I took the whole event as a proof of my own belief - You can't miss what you've never tried. This dancing thing which I'd avoided for so long was wonderful!
All this brought back rather vividly to mind my first farewell, as a student of class XI. At the time, I felt I had only about one suit in my wardrobe that was worthy of the occasion. And it happened to be a plain white one. I thought it would look very nice paired with some silver jewellery and heels. Unfortunately, on the very morning of the farewell I began feeling sick. I considered this a bad omen. Nevertheless, I was determined to make it to the evening function. I got ready well in time and arrived there to discover that no girl had thought to wear white. It was a blaze of colour and materials everywhere as my classmates fluttered around in suits of various cuts and with colourful accessories. I spent some time with them, but kept feeling awkward, to the point of assuring myself that I was a total idiot - they must be all thinking I looked odd. And I felt odd, standing aside from the dance floor, feeling shy. Soon after, I left that gathering.
I went up the stairs to the next floor, crying. I felt miserable. I looked bad and I felt afraid to dance. Oh, it was so bad of me when I was in a gathering of girls who all seemed to take to it so naturally. Oh, what had I done wrong, why could I not dance? Why did I not have something better to wear? And with such depressing thoughts, I sat on a chair near the staff room, watching the sunset. The solace I hoped for did not come, but I was ordered away, so I wandered along the first and second floor corridors, looking down at the dancers in the central basketball court. I felt so apart from them, so alone that I chided myself for quite a while. I even thought of dancing alone in the corridor, just to make myself feel better, but realized that my seniors were roaming there, cameras in hand. My mind began constructing unpleasant repercussions of my actions: I would be looked down upon for the rest of my life, I would never learn to dance with friends, I would miss out on making friends crucial to my future etc. Later, it even came down to thinking that I did not 'deserve' any of this since I had so many faults. Maybe all the people who knew me deserved better. They deserved to know a Charu who was better than me..maybe even one with a different name, mine probably wasn't a good one. In a nutshell, I devalued my existence.
I did eventually come down from the corridors, but I was feeling too sad inside to really join in the last dances and songs. I left quickly, escaping the scene. That whole experience which had been preceded by so much excitement, became a bad memory I've tried to forget in this past year.
Dear reader if you've read this far, here's the message: I'm not mentioning bad memories of the past to dig up skeletons. My purpose is to free myself of a bad memory by sharing it with the world. I'd also like others to take any lessons they find in the story. What I ultimately realized was this: I avoided dancing for a long, long time because I felt shy and also feared the consequences if I danced badly. I denied countless invitations through the years to dance, often standing by the dance floor, alone or taking photographs of others. Now, a door that was open for the past so many years is closed - the opportunity to dance with my friends at school. But I want to celebrate the fact that a new door has opened. College, university, job and who knows what else...I have my whole life stretched out ahead! There will probably be many, many chances to do the things I love, including dancing, if I choose. My time at school, even without the experiences I missed out on, was the time spent at a learning ground. I'd learned things there which it was better to learn than to miss out on, and even if it was the last day, I'm grateful I learned them. It was almost appropriate that I learn to change my mind about my fears when I was there.
Most importantly, I've learned this: saying no to something out of fear is a way of saying no to life itself. And there could always be so many surprises stored just around that choice of choosing something new over an outcome we force on ourselves. You could grow as a person, learn new things, build happy memories, make new friends, discover your hidden talents, find a new source of joy or even all of these, packed into the same new experience. To fear doing something due to a past failure only binds us to the past, making the present a shadow of it, rather than something that illuminates our future. Leave behind jealousy, anxiety, sadness...The present moments of life never come back again. And you don't have to search or find happiness, you only have to put in the effort to discover it all around you. Even I know now that I'll take up opportunities to dance when they come up.
May you say yes to many new things in the new year and discover fresh, happy surprises in your life :) :) :)