Back to School

If you’re new, please start here – The Lottery of Birth 

When I stepped into school for the very first time, I cried like a little demon child and refused to let go of my parent’s hands. My first-grade teacher ridiculed me, comparing me with other kids in the class who had probably gotten done with their share of drama at home.

“Look at Akshaya, she’s moved here from Delhi and not a single tear from her.”

Stupid Akshaya can go to hell for all I care. I wanna go home.

No matter how many times it happens, the process of going from strangers to sharing inside jokes about dead hamsters never ceases to amaze me. So in a few days, I had my own set of friends and everything seemed to fall in place. We ran around the school, played Gillidanda, and had carefree lives with not a worry in the world besides homework and cartoons. I had “fit in” and was part of something.

Boy in school uniform

Stayed white for 10 minutes in the morning.

Fast forward five years and I was going to have to do this all over again but this time I was the kid who had “leg problems”. How do you fit in when you’re unfit in the eyes of others and everyone’s first question is “why do you have such a big shoe on?”

That was a dilemma I battled with for years when the answer was right in front of me. But without anyone to guide me, I felt like the back of a head in a sea of a thousand faces.

I walked up to a seat in the first row which was already occupied by two kids who seemed to be friends from the previous grades. It felt like I was on the set of Groundhog Day as I had to keep answering the same set of leg questions over and over again like a broken record.  A little while later the teacher walked in, introduced me to the rest of the class with a few extra words asking the rest of the kids to “take care” of me.

While I was homeschooled, my mom took care of writing down notes for me and all I had to do was to memorise those neatly written notes. Little did I know that kids had evolved and transitioned from copying things down from the blackboard to writing things down as the teacher dictated.

I put in my full concentration, listening to every single word like a priest during confession. As I wrote, strangely the sentences never seemed to end.

“Only in the garden of the selfish giant, it was still winter full stop the birds did not care to sing in it as there were no children comma” … wait what? Oh, I was supposed to end the sentence when she said “full stop” which is “period” for you Americans.

Over the next 4 years, I’d make a whole bunch of new friends, some of whom share the same twisted sense of humour as me and have stuck around to this day and others who had to leave once their visa expired. But every tiny interaction with each of them has been pivotal to moulding me into the person I am today.

Boy in school uniform

Too cool for school

I had gotten back to playing sports and started with Cricket even though I detest the sport now. It was pretty fun back then and when you have a problem with your leg, you get a pass for sucking at it. By around the 7th grade, I started to play Badminton which I enjoyed a bit more as I could at least compete to an extent.

I had forgotten how to run. My normal walk itself was a limp as the leg just kept getting shorter and shorter or was I growing taller? It was either one of those. And so my attempts at running had turned into a hop and a skip.

Two kids in school uniforms

After School Special

I was forced to sit out all the P.E. classes while I watched all the others run and exercise. I wanted so much to be a part of everything and prove that I was just like the others. All I could do was sit under the shade of the tree while my classmates sweated it out under the unforgiving heat.

Society has deeply conditioned us to such an extent that we all have this incessant need to fit in. I see our need to fit in, like an inverted bell curve across our lifetime.

As a child, you’re at the peak, as your childish innocence and confidence make you seek the attention of the people around you. Every order of, “Show uncle that new dance you learnt” would be met with some fake hesitance followed by breaking out into a little jig that will be used for every birthday video compilation for the rest of your life.

Later you start to plateau, as school conditions you to the ideas of the ideal life. The aim then becomes getting into a prestigious college, finding a job that can pay for all your vices, and starting a family when you have no idea how to even take care of yourself. Any thoughts otherwise are shot down at a young age.

But then later on in life, certain people have a realisation that there are no do-overs in this game called life and that you have approximately 3000 more weeks left to make the best of. For some people, this realisation comes too late as they continue to try to fit in and “live in the moment”.

This realisation is what showed me the answer to how I could fit in.

The answer was that I shouldn’t.

I had to stand out, on the one good leg I had. I had to accept and make peace with the fact that things could never go back to how they were. And that’s okay. I had bigger things to worry about, rather than blame my circumstances and crib about life. Sure I might not have had a head start. Heck, my tyres were punctured before the race even began. But the race was far from over.

I may not have had the best of school experiences as I struggled throughout those years with my identity. I tried my hardest to be considered a regular 11-year-old. I tried to hide the fact that I had a disability. But that never changed the reality of things. So work on changing the things under your control. Otherwise, just take a closer look, you’re probably holding the knife the wrong way.

Throughout my school years, I was getting other opinions from doctors about what could be the next step going forward. Around the time I was in the 7th Grade it was time to get a second opinion from another doctor based in the land of baguettes and snails.

It was time to head to France.