Even though 43 years are enough to forget and move on, that night when I juggled with hunger and emotions within is still etched in my memory. That night, in spite of everyone’s insisting, I chose to skip my dinner, believing it will make me look resolute in the eyes of my parents in my fight to join an English-medium missionary school.
Fighting against odds, I had secured 60% marks in Class 8 and presumed the score to be a gateway to my preferred education. What I had considered to be an easy task was turning out to be a Herculean one with every passing moment that night.
Convincing my parents was testing. As people who detested western culture, they were deaf to all my pleas. But as luck would have it, I completed my higher secondary education from Avalon Girls Higher Secondary School, courtesy my eldest brother, who was posted in Pathankot.
Those three years of English-medium education turned me into a career-oriented, ambitious, English-speaking, confident girl with a lifetime of lessons and experiences. The best lesson of all was “keep smiling, no matter what”, which was a cakewalk until college but then became a doubleedged sword.
Society back then didn’t tolerate a young, beautiful girl smiling at the boys of her age. Within no time, the neighborhood would be gossiping about why I had an ever-smiling face, which to them was “inviting”. It wasn’t tough for me to find out the reason; as I had realised that my smile was sweet and innocent. I did try to reason why a boy is “chivalrous” when he passes a smile to a girl but she is “a flirt” if she returns it. “Hansi to fansi ” they took as given.
This wasn’t the end of it. Working as personal assistant to the chairman of a corporate group, I always used to greet my boss with a smile apart from the professional pleasantries. For this, I was summoned to the manager, administration, and advised indirectly to be serious in office or I’d be in a fix. I blamed my habit of clinging on to the therapeutic benefits of smiling.
Even today, at 60, I continue to reason within the validity of that incessant smile I kept, in spite of all the hardships I had to face. The only difference between then and now is that today I enjoy and relish the reasoning.
The writer is a Chandigarh-based freelance contributor.