When you’re an awkward fat kid in India, you're bound to get teased. A lot. It’s just one of those inescapable universal truths that nobody questions. Still, you expect it to remain a genial peer thing, something that your classmates do to have a laugh, without actually having the intent of hurting you. Not everyone gets that memo though.
College life was particularly hard for me. For one, I was still in my hometown while all my friends were spread to different parts of india and secondly, well…I am me! I was a very easy target.
I wanted to complain to my grandmother, whom I called Amma. I should have called her grandma or Muthashi( grandma in malayalam) but I had heard my mother call her Amma ( mother) all my childhood and I just copied her.
Monkey see, monkey do.
Anyways, when my parents divorced, my grandma was vehement in keeping me. She made quite a show of it. In retrospect, I think she did it to put my mind at ease over the fact that neither of my parents actually wanted me. After my parents had skipped town, she had the responsibility of a pre-teen girl all on herself. She had started teaching again after five years of retirement and I knew she was doing her best to take care of my upbringing and dealing with my teenage tantrums.
I like to think I held up pretty well in the beginning. I didn’t want to burden Amma with my petty issues. I tried my level best to concentrate on my studies and not pay attention to what people said.
They didn’t mean any harm, right?
They're just having fun.
I made it a point to laugh along with them so that they’d believe I wasn’t having any hard feelings, but that just encouraged them.
From smiling through classmates teasing to listening crude remarks from boys sitting in the college bus to even having to go through unnecessary advices every time I nibbled on food, I went through all that quietly.
Then one day, we got a new professor for our department, Prof. Anuj. He was tall, had muscles, generally amiable face and obviously became the heart-throb of girls on campus. He was young-er than most our professors and seemed pretty adamant at wanting to be the chill professor. When he noticed that I was a favoured target for teasing, he joined right in.
Slowly, his jokes in class started directing towards me. It made the whole class laugh and even though I smiled along with the jokes, I felt very upset. That evening I was sulking in my room, when Amma came to call me for dinner. She took one look at me and stroked my hair lovingly, the unspoken question brimming in her eyes. Her warmth suddenly made me want to cry and I couldn't stop myself. Amidst my messy blubbering sobbing, I told her everything.
She listened peacefully, her expression changing from surprise to bewilderment to confusion to anger in such a pace that it was almost comical!
She exclaimed, “You’re the most beautiful girl, Molu. They’re just saying that because they’re jealous! Can't you see just how perfect you are. How dare them compare my child to those malnutritioned chicken breeds! And that teacher! He joked that you can't walk properly, huh!? You see for yourself, he'll trip on his own legs in the most inconvenient times.”
She made an act of whisking her hand in the air and bringing it back down unclenching her fist. At the moment it made me roll my eyes.
My sweet Amma could even pretend to do magic when it came to making me smile again. I chuckled at her antics and hugged her tightly.
The topic was forgotten by the time dinner was done with.
The next day, Prof Anuj tripped and fell down a flight of stairs.
I immediately thought of Amma’s words when I learnt about Prof Anuj’s accident. It felt so incredulous to have something like this happen. Coincidence, huh? Still, that day when I went home and told Amma, she just smiled. For a moment, I genuinely wondered if she had really cursed prof Anuj.
A few days later, I had asked grandma to give me small amount of food when I saw her piling up rice on my plate. She seemed offended by the prospect of me even considering eating less. I laughed and told her , “ My friends don’t let me eat and you don’t let me diet.”
She frowned and immediately reached for my ear that was nearest to her to pull. “What?”
“Nothing nothing! Ouch! Amma!!”
“Hm good. Start eating and finish everything.” She left my ear and I pouted at her.
She smiled at me and asked, “ Who doesn’t let you eat, by the way?”
I waved dismissively, “ Just a joke at college. You know Shubham,right? He started it. Eh..anyways, it's just a plot to steal my tiffin.” I laughed and started eating. But it seems Amma wasn’t taking it so lightly.
She grumbled to herself, “These people. Why can't they leave you alone! Not letting you eat and calling themselves friends.” I rolled my eyes at her annoyance. “Its fine, Amma. No big deal.”
She huffed and sat down beside me.
“I never liked that Shubham guy anyway. If he jokes about you eating anymore, he’ll……he’ll…”
I raised an eyebrow. “He’ll what?”
“He’ll…find a fly in his every meal!”
I burst out laughing.
My Mom called to let us know she’ll be visiting in a few days. Like every other grandma in the world, my Amma started cleaning the house. In other words, she supervised and shouted and made me clean the whole house.
Anyways, even though I never really understood why the storage room needed to be cleared out, I secretly enjoyed cleaning. Amma kept all the old photo albums in a cupboard in the storage room and every single time, wed take it out and she would start recounting stories, sometimes the recollections varied but it was all fun nonetheless.
One photo caught my eye. It was my mom with her group of friends. I recognized my dad in the group too. My parents had a love marriage. With all the Indian drama. Grandparents were against the marriage and so, being young and stupid in love, my parents had eloped together. And soon after mom got pregnant with me!
Amma still gets emotional when she sees mom. It’s a weird mixture of anger and sadness. Every one of her visits is met with grumpiness throughout the duration of her stay and extreme sobbing when she leaves.
“Not again, Amma!”
“What?” she sniffed, wiping her eyes and flipping yet another page of the old photo album.
“You started crying again.”
“ I can't even cry now on my own wishes.” She cried more diligently now.
I was sitting on the floor beside her chair and was watching the photos on her lap. I put my head on top of the photos and after much cooing and explaining she finally stopped crying. Her hands gently stroking my head, she said, “ You are my responsibility. If it wasn’t for me, you’d have had such an amazing life with your parents.”
She blew her nose on the pallu of her saree. I held the fingers that were stroking my hair, “ If it wasn’t for you, I’ll probably have been given in an orphanage, Amma. “
“Hey! Don’t say things like that!” she slapped my cheek lightly.
“But its true. You’re my Amma. I don’t want anyone else. I'm very happy here!!”
She looked at me with teary eyes.
“Everyone used to tell me that the stars position on my birth indicated that all the people near me will have bad luck.”
I frowned slightly at the sudden change in topic.
“Some said I had witch powers. I was also born with my legs first so I have healing powers as well…”
I was still listening,bewildered. My Amma teaches science to kids, by the way.
“When your mom ran away with your dad, I was upset. My small girl had gone behind our backs, lied to us blatantly and left us. I don’t know if I was even living in those months. Your grandpa and I used to sit by the door, hoping that our daughter will come to meet us. We were her parents after all. We had given up all our dreams and ambitions and happiness so that every single one of her dreams get fulfilled. We wished to hear her voice every single time the phone rang. But she didn’t call. She didn’t visit. We had to resort to asking her friend in town about her whereabouts.”
“That friend told us that your mom was expecting you. That she was happy and well. That she was very disappointed and angry that we couldn’t accept her love for your father and that’s why she had cut all ties with us.”
Amma scoffed, tears coming in her eyes again,as she repeated almost to herself, “ cut all ties with her Amma and papa” her voice broke.
By this time I was sitting up straight, watching Amma in a new light. She had never told me any of this before.
“That night, me and your grandpa sat talking and crying so much. I cursed her. I cursed my own daughter. I said that she wouldn’t understand the love anyone gives her nor her love would ever be understood. My husband scolded me for even thinking that. But…”
“but what?” I asked quietly.
“I didn’t realize how it would affect you.”
She cried for a few more minutes while I mulled over the issue in my mind. I remembered Amma insisting for my custody. Was that because she held herself responsible for my parent’s divorce and my abandonment?
I don’t want to know.
I hugged my Amma and calmed her down.
"It's nothing like that, Amma. Now please stop saying such things. You sound so old and superstitious." I shook my head in an unimpressed attitude, " I didn't expect this from my cool Amma." she bonked me on the head for that.
We quickly got over that topic.
Well….she got over it and shouted at me to look at the time. Then scolded me some more for distracting her for no reason.
Then we started cleaning again.
So my Amma is possibly a witch. Who cares?
We never mentioned that story again. Not even as a joke.
I saw Shubham a few days later. He looked really pale after that food poisoning he got. He keeps insisting there are flies everywhere.