When it began, we toddled into the school gates together dressed in uniforms that looked like sailors' suits. With delighted faces, red cheeks fit to be apples of mother's eyes, we entered rooms - walls covered in colored paper, furniture aligned in rows unlike anything we'd seen at home, chairs filled with young faces just as delighted as our own. We tumbled along, learning alphabets, climbing grades, letting sharp shrieks emanate from our tiny bodies as they bobbed and swooshed around the playground. When we tripped and fell, we picked ourselves up clumsily and that innocent grazing of a knee healed quickly. Endlessly we chattered about things of absolute importance in our abundant, little lives while adults looked on with awe, listening intently.
We should have known that entering these gates would lead to a slow and steady departure from the innocence of childhood. Each passing grade left us decidedly more knowledgeable, disciplined, self assured – as if the formula of life was written between pages of our alphabet books. The more we wanted to speak, those in charge of us lost the smile on their faces until we learned to keep our questions to ourselves. We burrowed our little heads in textbooks, although they did not contain any answers. When my parents decided to change schools for him, we knew little about how expensive this boarding school education was going to turn out to be. Maybe he ended up speaking more than he should have there, maybe not enough, but when we weren't looking, they beat him up. And while the intent was to beat him into shape, I think all the shaping left scars so deep, even those unwounded could not forget.
Before institutions like schools tainted our experience of life and while our half aanaa backyard was still the entire world to us, did we ever make mistakes? I don't remember either of us ever doing anything wrong, although consistently notorious we were. As children, unschooled, we were our own teachers and our mistakes always led us eventually to the right places. In school we learned to identify our mistakes as wrong. Each mistake we made turned us a little sour, humiliated, ashamed, staining our consciousness, eroding into our self esteem.
When being ourselves began to feel wrong, we took refuge in facades, facades that hardened into personalities helping us become unique, identifiable, socially acceptable. We clung to those identities like we still cling to the edge of our sleeves in winter to prevent the warmth of our bodies from escaping. We couldn't afford to let our real selves escape out into the real world. We could no longer embarrass ourselves, make mistakes, admit defeat. At any cost we had to prevent the real from spilling out of us.
Like everyone else, we are made of yearning, curiosity, love; we are made of creativity, imagination and the capacity to relate. But most of all, we are made of water – and it is inherent in us, the desire to flow. When things couldn't flow, they began to leak out anyway.
He drew. I wrote. We let insanity pour out of us in unreasonable proportions through our mediums. During late nights free of institutional obligations, we confided to sheets of paper printing on them our versions of questions about life, love and the universe. We also confided in friends whom we invited back home because school time, cut into equal portions of academic 'periods', did no justice to the potential friendships offered. While sipping coffee in our dimly lit kitchen late into the night, we talked and shared our thoughts, let ideas infuse and grow. We talked about One Hundred Years of Solitude like it was a book that could change your life from the moment you touched the first page. Back then, books still changed our lives. Conversations oozed out of us, pricking our minds and bodies, giving us goose bumps, making our synapses edgy.
With a misplaced priority, academics attacked us to make us ready for the world. School replaced spontaneity, grades replaced inquisitiveness, mediocrity replaced metabolism, duplicity replaced authenticity, half hearted replaced wholesome. Within thick and shiny exteriors, we carried fragile, distorted souls. Our commitment to hypocrisy strengthened in spite of ourselves. By the time we exited school we realized the real world was a cruel, demanding, oppressive, prejudiced, and reductive place. Cold, docile, submissive, incapacitated, we were ready for the world.
Nowadays, it takes courage to look into him. In the rare moments that I find the courage, I can spot a crack on his shell and peering in, I see pale shadows of the real thing. Like today, when I saw remnants of the six year old boy I once used to know with gleaming eyes, unsure of himself, asking questions he's unable to answer, as if sowing seeds of unanswerable questions today will bring forth fruits of wisdom in the future. He says he is painting again, but how it's difficult to remain true to art while coming up with a politically motivated agenda for creating it.
Look at your eyes gleaming. What are they gleaming with, but water?
Be like water; let it flow out of you; stay in tune with your emotions and you'll know exactly what to do are words I offer.
We part for the day, but are there invisible threads tying us together again?
(Published in today's Kathmandu Post. Lucky me.)