I had a terrible childhood. I know "terrible" is relative, but at the time I felt like I was the only one in the world going through the sufferings I did. It didn't help that I was in a really small town with really small-minded people who were indifferent to what I went through.
I had no role model to look up to. The majority of the people I knew were drunkards, drug-addicts, prostitutes and battered wives. Everything felt cut-off from the rest of the world and that we lived in a parallel world filled with chaos, fights and screams. Most girls I knew ended up getting married as early as in our mid-teens.
I was desperate to grow up. I couldn't bear my mom crying at nights worrying about us. I hate to pretend to sleep knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do to comfort her. All I knew was that, if I were an adult, I could comfort her, I could stop pretending and tell her that even without dad, we would be okay, that I'd take care of her.
So, it wasn't even an option to tell her how much I was bullied and beaten at school, at church and by other kids. She didn't need to know that nobody wanted to my friend, that I spent all my break time at the school library because that was the only safe place from bullies.
But I had a dream. One of my favourite past-time was to browse through this one Encyclopedia about different countries, dresses and food. "One day" I'd tell myself, "one day, I'm going to travel to these countries, wear these clothes and eat these food. One day, I'm going to get out of here."
I had nothing to tell/show me that there was even a remote chance of ever realising my dream. Yet, I dared to dream even one step further.
"I can't be the only kid suffering like this" I'd tell myself everyday, "There are millions of children around the world like me - children I don't know, but children who suffer maybe even more than I do, children who feel as lonely or maybe even lonelier than me. But one day, I will grow up. I will grow up and do something with my life. Something significant. Something worth writing about. Something that will inspire children who come after me to read about, something that tells that I have been where they are, but that I conquer. Someone who comes outside of the well. And that someday, I will become the role model that I could never find as a child."
I ended up getting a double promotion. The day before I was to join my 9th Class after finishing my 7th Class, my mom took me to our neighbour's house. "Helen's been promoted to skip one level again."
Everyone in the room laughed."You're setting up your daughter for failure," they told my mom, "she isn't qualified for such high level at her age."
My mom felt so bad she rejected the offer. But I wanted it. I desperately wanted it.
"No," she replied, "can't you see that you're just going to fail? You're going to become the laughing stock and so will I. I can't allow that."
I was livid. "Either I sit in 9th Class or I will never step foot in school ever again!" I retorted.
My mom knew me enough to know that I meant it. "Alright, but remember that I warned you."
My first pre-semester exam, I failed in Maths. My report card, for the first time in my life had a "Simple Pass" written on it.
When mom came to visit me, I could see defeat in her eyes. "I told you that this is too much for you. You're not qualified for this yet, you stubborn, stubborn child."
At class, I was then relegated from the front seat to the last. They had decided that the whole thing was too complicated for me and people had made a mistake in thinking that I was good enough to be promoted well before my time. Teachers and students alike drifted away from me.
So, I did the only thing I was good at - learned, studied even harder.
"I'm not who people think of me. Only I decide who I am. And I am good enough!"
When the 1st semester result came, I came on the 2nd position and missed the 1st position by 4 marks. I knew then that if I wanted it enough, I would and could make it happen. By 3rd semester onwards, I held onto the 1st Position title.
I was 15 years old when I left my town and went to Delhi alone. My brother needed an immediate surgery and Mom couldn't go with me. "Go next year" she suggested, "You're too young to go alone. Or study your UnderGrad here and then go for your Masters in Delhi."
But I had already made up my mind. I had to go. With or without anyone. So, I took the address that Mom gave me and went. I had never even seen how a train looked like. I was so naive that I didn't even know that I shouldn't drink the tap water in the city. The first day I landed in Delhi, I went out and drank water from the tap. I immediately fell sick with typhoid. With nobody to help me, I couldn't even move out of the bed. At one point, I passed out in the toilet for hours. Somehow, after a week, I miraculously recovered. There was no cellphone then, so I never really had a chance to even call my family for help.
Without understanding a word of Hindi, I went alone to apply to colleges. For 3 days, I ran around trying to find my way around different campus. I had never seen so many people in my life. On the 3rd day, I found myself stood in a line only to find out that I had stood in the wrong line for Science students. The irate guard scolded me in Hindi, took my papers and threw them in the air. I didn't even know if I should feel humiliated nor sad. I was just too shocked. As I went down to pick up my papers, a stranger came and helped me. As I thanked him for his kindness, he smiled and told me to follow him. I obediently followed him and he took me to the right person.
The stranger went and said something to the man at the counter. The man motioned and asked me to give him my application papers.
After he browsed through, he looked up and told me, "I'm sorry. I can't accept your college application. You are not qualified."
I was shocked. Why?!!
"You're below the age criteria. You need to be at least 17, 18 years old to be admitted to a university. You're 15 years old."
"So what do you want to me to do?!!"
He looked at me and sighed, "Go back home. Come back and apply in another 2 years or so. Study something else. You're not qualified. I'm sorry."
I stood there and looked at the man.
"No Sir," I replied, "I spent my last Rupee coming here. I can't go back home. There is no next year or the next. This is my only chance."
"I'm sorry." He returned my papers and asked me to leave.
But I couldn't. I won't. Not right now. Not when I was that close. So I stood right next to his counter. I'd made up my mind that I'd stand and follow him everywhere until he accepted my application. After several minutes, the stranger who'd help me earlier came back.
"He didn't want to accept my application. He said I was not qualified and asked me to go home."
"He said that I was too young."
"So what are you doing here?" He looked at me with a strange expression on his face.
"I can't go home Sir. I gave up everything to be here. I'm going to stand in front of him until I am admitted."
The stranger went inside and in a few minutes, the man at the counter called me, "Okay, I will admit you. But remember, you're not doing yourself any favour. You're too young for this."
I completed my Bachelors at 18. Yes, I was young. But he didn't know how much I wanted it, how much I needed it. If I fail, I won't just fail myself - I'd fail every other children who might hear my story.
So, why am I telling this story right now?
Because, One - I know that if I want it badly enough, the universe always gives me an angel to help me. So I am not alone in here.
Two - after more than 15 years - I am told yet again that I am not qualified enough, that I just don't have enough experience, that I am not good enough. They look at my face, my "childish" happy-go-lucky nature and writes me off. For them, I am that unqualified child all over again. They don't know how I've been written off all my life. They don't know how many times I've been told that I'm just not good enough. How many times I've been here - the one doomed to fail, the one who's just too immature, too kiddish, too lost, the one with clouds in her head.
To the outside world, I've failed. I've been humiliated. I've been shifted to the last row of the seat yet again. Hello, last row. Nice to see you yet again. But you see, no man decides for me who I am, what I am capable of, what I can do. I do.
I am not defined by the image that others have of me. I decide who and what I am. And I am not a failure. I have never been and never will be.
Do I feel hurt? You bet I am.
Does it feel unfair? Yes, it does.
But I am wise enough to accept that this world is unfair and the only thing I can control in this world is my action. So, I control my action. I change. I adapt. I evolve.
They say that I am unqualified for the job. Good. So now, I go back to doing the one thing I'm good at - redirect and focus all my pain, tears and emotions on work and bettering myself. Everything else is secondary. Everything else is blurred, nothing exists for me, nothing else matters save for pushing myself until I reach my top. And I will get there. Finally, after a lull, I find that match that lights my fire again. I find something that I want to actually write and record about again.
This isn't about an ego, pride or anger. This is about me reminding myself of my story and where I come from, where I am, where I'm going and in which direction. This is me telling myself why. Why this is bigger than me. Because, one day, I'm going to tell this success story. I'm going to inspire that little girl/boy sitting alone in the corner, with no friends, from a shitty broken family, in a shitty place, among bad, hurtful people, with zero role model to look upto. That little girl/boy is going to know that there's actually someone like her/him and that someone has been as alone and lonely, has gone through shitty things like her/him but that, unlike all the people she/he sees around, has won. So, I have to do this. I cannot absolutely fail in my story, can I?