Sunday was a day to reckon with – I was suddenly in demand and not due to my sprained ankle (sigh.....all my attention-seeking days are over).
One among them was my cousin, Si, a very impressionable teenager but with her heart in the right place.
I have to admit that I was at my best impersonation of a sloth bear when she called up, thanks to a sleepless night, a well-deserved oil-bath (one whole hour of pouring/wasting hot water over my head), morning chores and two hours of figuring out my income-tax projections and how to go about saving my hard-earned money. So, I was feeling the after-effects of too much brain-taxation and too less sleep. God knows how people manage their life with just four hours of sleep over the weekend :) !
I did not budge from my place on the divan when the mobile rang. Instead, when I asked Bro dear to pass it, giving a how-dare-you-disturb-a-genius-at-work look, he pretended to walk by. But since 'geniuses' get disturbed by incessant ringing, he compiled and flounced off like a woman scorned. I guess studying too hard has some reaaallll serious side-effects.
I started with “So.. Si, how are the beaches at Mangalore doing?”
I hate asking about exams since I still remember how I hated to answer any exam-related questions.
Si giggled and launched into a tirade about beaches (we both love beaches). This was followed by a long-winded account of her send-off party at her college where she wore a saree which I had selected. While I was suitably interspersing the conversation with ‘um’s and ‘aah’s, Si thus shifted the topic, “C-Akka, can I ask you something personal?”
“Shoot Si” was my lazy reply.
“C-Akka, have you ever smoked?” was the hesitant question.
Now this made me sit up a bit straighter (sloth bear to cheetah :)...) and answer carefully, “Umm.....no. But what made you ask this question out of the blue?”
“You see most of my friends smoke. And they tell me to do the same.” She hastened to add, “Of course, I refuse. But they make fun of me and ensure that I am out of their group on select outings. I feel so left out.” The last sentence was practically a wail.
By now, realizing that I was dealing with some sort of crisis, I was wide awake, “Si, what you did was perfectly right because we have been taught all our life that smoking is harmful. You are feeling left out because your friends’ circle indulges in this, right? Tell me something, do all the people in your gang smoke?”
Si tearfully answered, “No.....there are two other girls who totally refuse to do anything with it.”
I suggested, “So, why not hang out with them?”
Si: “C-Akka, they are outcastes. It’s so uncool to hang out with them.”
I sighed and with a mental prayer to God started, “Si, you now think that it’s ‘uncool’ or whatever. But tell me something, how much do your friends stick up for you? When you need them, are they there to bail you out?”
Feeling a bit encouraged, I forged ahead, “See...do you think it is really okay to change yourself for such people who do not even realize the value of your friendship? Si....I know that friends are important. But you have to find people who accept you the way you are, Putti, who trust you and change you for the better. I know that at this age peer pressure is quite enormous. But given a chance, it’s not really difficult finding like-minded people. All you have to have is patience, Si. I know I sound a bit old-fashioned if I say this but it really pays off at the end.”
Silence broken by a sigh, “So what should I do, C-Akka?”
“Well...firstly, stop mingling a lot with that ‘smoky’ gang lest you too be associated with them. And ya.....give those ‘so-called-outcastes’ a chance to get to know you. They could be shunted out for exactly the same reason as you, right?”
“You really think so, C-Akka?” asked Si timidly.
“Yup.Try maaDi noDu...”I answered with all the conviction I could muster. “And you know what,” I added, “I am really proud of you, Si. Not everyone can make this decision and stick to it.”
I could almost feel the beaming smile at the other end.
After I hung up, I ruefully thought to myself – perhaps I too could have done well with some guidance (ice)ages back. But hey.....what the heck.....I did not turn out too bad, did I? :)