I learnt one of the most powerful lessons of life when I was 9.
“No, I had memorized the other chapter, I was about to begin this one”, I wailed to my mother, as she took another smack across my arm with her thick dark brown stick. It was a night before my Grade 5 Geography exam. And I had not read through the chapter, “Africa: the land and its resources”. Not that I was well versed with the earlier chapters, like “Sugarcane cultivation in Queensland”, but the African safari had derailed even before it had started.
My mom, had this typical habit of asking questions of all the chapters a night before the examination to get a sense of my preparedness. And more often than not, she ended up disappointed and shattered.
Anything in life which attains frequency, becomes a routine.
And even if the routine is disappointing, the emotions gets tuned to the failing wavelength. But that day was different. I had not even opened the chapter of Africa. The pages were fresh as a morning sunflower and the pages did not even carry a wrinkle. The moment my mother flipped the pages to reach at the dreaded African island, it spelled my doom. The questions she asked were a mere formality. Results and consequences were known to both of us, even before the ordeal.
I was an average student, not able to concentrate. I believed that I had precocious blessings in areas other than studies, but never showcased it. My mother had enrolled me into a plethora of extra-curricular activities: painting class, swimming class, music class, drawing class and many more, hoping to discover my verve for something in life. But I could never sustain. There were imperceptible signs of boredom. I instantly used to hum a nice Bollywood hindi song as soon as I saw my relatives, but reached a dotage in my singing classes, always disinterested, with an air of nonchalance. My mother used to launch into a litany of her 9-year-old child, but it never bothered me.
So the problem was no longer cipher. Son of a middle class family in India, not good in studies was the first challenge. The icing on the cake was the child was also not a marvel in any other space. Add to it the fact that the child did not find it concerning at all. But my mother saw it as a grave issue which needed immediate correction. Discipline, Severity, diversity, Austerity- everything was tried, but of no avail. Even threat, in form of sending me to boarding school or stopping my indulgence- (ice cream/ cricket), did not work. It was a grave issue.
One day, I came back home weeping profusely. Tears rolling down my eyes. My mother, already compounded by the ginormous challenge of a female running a school in a small town, embraced me providing the much needed succor. I was beaten in my school playground by my fellow classmates. “I feel I get bullied, I don’t get a seat in my bus. They don’t let me play in the sand. I feel my weak physical strength allows them to dominate”. I seethed to myself. My mother heard it all. And she began the question answer session, this time without a stick.
After hearing her child’s plea, she immediately switched on the guiding light. “Look, you don’t have the physical strength to fight it out. Thin, curvy, small- all these would take long time to ramp up. Long time! And then also it would not guarantee victory because in the space of physical dominance, your hitters would also incrementally gain strength. Not impossible, but difficult”.
I listened to her intently. My ego had been bruised by a group of brats, and I was determined to show them their place. My mom continued, “It’s a simple game of dominance. Power. And power has a close derivative called respect. Reverence leads to influence which in turns drives supremacy. And one of the ways to gain respect is knowledge. The day you start focusing on your studies, magic would invariably begin”.
When you are emotionally down, you search for hope. And cling on to the most plausible one, especially when you feel you might have the skin in the game. I was moving towards it. I earnestly asked, “Are you sure it would work?” She replied, “It would be magical. Once students know that you are one of the best in studies and updated with notes, their outlook towards you would change. Try it out. That’s the only way possible in the short run to redeem your power”.
Ego works in strange ways. I was hurt! I was vulnerable, seeking for redemption. And my mother had sensed it brilliantly. She had showed me the path. And I ran on it. What I saw as a result, was exactly what she envisioned. The same group of brats became my friends, and they were no more brats. I became the studious one and my mother was happy. Couple of years later, my mother said, “Ego sometimes works in our favor. All the mental energy we fuel to sulk on our hurtful misery, can be powerfully turned to ignite the laid back emotions to find out the impossible way out”. I learnt one of the most powerful lessons of life when I was 9.