It was the beginning of summer. Annual cultural functions and sports were only a few weeks away. All the staffs, teachers and students of our school were busy with their tasks, preparing for the big annual school festivals; handling their studies, classes and attendance because our annual examinations were only a few weeks after the festival.
Hi! My name’s Riya and this is a true story from my childhood.
THE LAST MONTH OF MY THIRD GRADE
“Those who want to participate in the march past please stand up!” announced our PE instructor in a loud and deep voice. Almost all the students of my class stood up. Too enthusiastic I suppose. I, on the other hand, just wanted to sit through the entire festival at home and watch Doraemon, my favourite cartoon.
I didn’t have any good friends when I was young. I was never a sporty or a studious kid, and had basically no talent that would make me popular among my peers. I used to sit by myself during the recess period, near the window and daydream. My imaginations had no limit back then.
“Hey, Riya! I said stand up! Can’t you listen? Are you deaf or something?” barked my classmate Somaleena at me. I used to sit on the front bench and she used to sit behind me along with her friend Sangyukta and a boy, whose name I forgot, so let’s name him Kaushik.
“Okay!” sluggishly, I stood up.
Somaleena was an impolite little lady. She used to be rude to whomever she deemed fit. She never used to care about people’s feelings and had very little sympathy for others. But these things of her character were only true if you’re “too dumb” or “too ugly” in front of her eyes.
Sangyukta was a practical girl. She was logical about every aspect. She was mature enough to know what was right and what was wrong, by holding onto her own analysis of the situation. She wasn’t so close minded unlike her friend.
Kaushik was a studious little fellow. I hardly remember him and rarely have any memories of him. I guess he never affected my childhood unlike the other personalities.
“Okay class! Tomorrow we will conduct a selection among you for the march past. Those who fail the selection process will be trained for an entertainment drill for our guests in the sports festival. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir!” chorused the entire class in unison.
“Good! Now sit quietly in your classroom and wait for the class teacher to come in.” saying this, the moment he left, the entire class turned into a fish market.
“Oh crap! That is so unfair!” Anannya, my best friend at that time, exclaimed to Somaleena. Strangely, both of them were really good friends. Anannya used to hang out most of the recess period with Somaleena and her friends. It seemed like Anannya had become a part of that friend circle.
It never bothered me though. It’s not like I never felt lonely, my imaginations were always there to keep me company. If it never bothered her, it never bothered me.
We had a huge fight between us a few days back over some stupid socks! My mother came and I was sent home by my class teacher while Anannya stayed in school. But that is an entire different story. After that, the next day she apologized to me but we didn’t talk to each other properly. Also, she shifted from the first bench to the second during that fight and she never returned to her own place. So, I was kind of left alone with a boy named Kaustabh, who used to sit beside me.
Kaustabh didn’t talk much. He used to hang out outside on his own during the recess period. He seemed like a typical loner like me but he wasn’t. He didn’t have any friends but he had classmates who used to take care of him. He suffered from a personality disorder. He was our age but acted like a 3 year old and hardly had any growth spurt. So, I guess the entire class sympathised with him.
“Oh please! It’s not like I’m going to fail. March past is easy.” said Somaleena. She seemed confident, but again when is she not?
“Don’t worry Anannya, I’m sure that you’ll pass.” said Sangyukta.
Here’s one interesting fact about most of my primary school years; “Good students” who get “good marks” in basically all the subjects, must also be the best at basically everything else. Doesn’t matter if it’s a simple sport or art, if you’re not a good student and you excel at something other than studies, you will be dragged down by not only your classmates, but also in full support of the teacher. Most of the teachers during my primary school days were biased.
I wasn’t a good student at that time. My marks were poor and my class teacher always used to complain about me to my parents. Consequently, I was tagged as a “bad student” by my fellow classmates and my teacher supported their notion. So making friends and my voice being heard in the class was never an option for me. How Anannya came to my life always bewildered me! She was the first person who was kind towards me and tried to be a good friend. She even called herself as my best friend before I did! But since no one in the class liked me, she soon decided to change her mind. Also her cousin Sayantika, used to badger her to break our friendship and blackmail her all the time. In Sayantika’s mind, if she is the cousin then only she gets be her best friend. Looking back, I now realize how stupid of a soul I was.
The characters, Sayantika and Somaleena, were almost same. The only difference was that Sayantika was too clever and too insensitive for her own good. This anomaly of her, affected her life a great deal in the later years.
Sayantika had her own friend circle. I don’t remember all of them, but it did involve Priya and Anindita. They play a major role in the later part of this story.
Priya and Anindita were very close friends at that time. They were considered as the “popular kids” in our class, atleast that’s what they thought about themselves. We exchanged conversations once or twice, not necessarily a good conversation. It’s hard to call it a conversation if every time the outcome after the conversation would be to get bullied and humiliated. I was a stupid kid back then, perhaps too innocent to know what was going on around me.
Every class in a school must have a kid who’s considered a thief by your classmates, or someone who damages other’s properties and then tries to blame it on others knowing full well that you did it on purpose and everybody knows that you’re lying. This holds true for every school in this universe. If it’s not true in the reader’s case then, did you even go to a school? Anyway, this was true for our class. Her name was Adrija.
In third grade, the students had to attend an Activity period, where the assigned teacher would teach us all kinds of crafts that we can do using matchboxes, glitters, green tape etc. The supplies required for the crafts were not provided by our teachers and we had to bring our own. This was the period where Adrija used to show off her talents. You sit beside her, doing your crafty works and then suddenly you notice that half of your stuff’s missing. Where did they go? Well, one time the situation got so bad that the teacher decided to check everyone’s bag, and guess who had Anannya’s colourful marble papers rolled up inside her bag? Voila! Adrija caught in her petty act! But that never stopped her from destroying and stealing other’s stuffs in her future endeavors. Though the entire class had been a victim of these petty acts of her, I used to be her primary target. Obviously, I was an easy target for her, I hardly had any friends. So the number of times these happened to me was extremely high and the entire class knew about it but decided not to act on it. Because why would they?
The next day during the selection process, I tripped. I knew this would happen even before it did happen. Anannya and Somaleena decided to have a catwalk contest instead of a march past and so did Sayantika and Priya, while Sanguykta got selected. Anindita was a sporty girl, she might have been selected, I don’t remember clearly. But that doesn’t matter. After the selection process was over, those who passed were allowed to go back to their classrooms. Not surprisingly, hardly a few students passed. Most of us didn’t and were sent to the playground to practice our drill formations. The amount of energy and effort put in to practice fourteen different formations just for an entertainment drill, during the afternoon summer heat, every single day atleast for one hour is much more than a march past, which I presumed they practiced in the shade. I guess the selection process should have been the other way around! To this day, I’m hoping that our PE instructor didn’t know what he was doing.
After the first practice session was over, our PE instructor announced,” After this weekend, please bring an umbrella having different colour stripes with you every day. From the next day, we will practice with you holding the umbrellas. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir.” everyone said with glum face and a worn out voice.
After the weekend, everyone brought their umbrellas and practiced the drill for two hours in the afternoon heat. This continued for two whole weeks. I used to get tired a lot and hardly had any energy left for my afternoon classes. I never wanted to participate in the first place, but here I was, suffering like an idiot. The only thing that was going on inside my mind was the thought of how I wished to pick up my stupid umbrella and hit it on Somaleena’s face so hard that all of her teeth would fall out. It was her fault that I was in this mess in the first place. But it didn’t stop there. It was about to get even messier.
It was probably during the third day of the last week of practice. I was frustrated and so was everyone else. Our PE instructor called us to the main ground of our school for the drill. I arrived late and had to stand at the back of the line. The practice session hadn’t started yet. I was putting up my umbrella when I realized that Adrija was standing behind me. She was constantly poking me at the back of my neck with the ferrule for her umbrella. I noticed that she was trying to open it but couldn’t and that’s why the pointy end was touching my back constantly. I told her to take a few steps back and then do whatever she wanted with that thing, but she wasn’t listening and kept poking me. I was thirsty and tired and honestly didn’t feel like picking up an argument for the sake of that. I turned back and grabbed that ferrule,” Please Adrija, Stop it! It’s not funny! It hurts!” saying this I let that umbrella go. After a few minutes, she stopped. All of a sudden she burst out crying. I looked back and behold! Her umbrella was bent sideways. It looked like someone had stepped or maybe jumped on that stick. How she managed to open it, I had no idea. It took me a few minutes to realize that everyone was staring at me.
“Look at what you did Riya! Why did you do it? Why did you break my umbrella!?” screamed Adrija. Oh no! This is not happening. This is so not happening! I was shocked. I couldn’t move. Everyone is staring at me. Why? She is lying! You all know that! Stop staring, I didn’t do it!
“I didn’t do it Adrija, stop lying!” I yelled at her. Now, the crying voice got even louder, so loud that our PE instructor who was standing at the very front could hear it.
Both of us were standing at the end of the third row. Priya and Somaleena were in the second row. They saw what had happened. Somaleena ran towards me while Priya stormed off at the front to call the instructor. I was hoping that she was coming for my aid but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“What is wrong with you Riya? All this time you couldn’t bear to be near her. You accused her for stealing and now you break her stuff?” yelled Somaleena. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was being falsely accused. I tried to explain that I didn’t know how it broke but she didn’t listen.
“Who broke the umbrella?” asked our PE instructor as he was approaching nearer. Priya and Somaleena pointed at me. Adrija was still crying. Everyone else was quiet and enjoying the scenario, probably waiting for a twist to happen. “She did it! Her name is Riya, sir! She is always mean to everyone! No wonder she broke it!” screamed Priya. She had turned the cards. I guess someone’s pain is a pleasure for others.
I was so scared. This all seems really stupid and silly now, but at that moment I feared that I would get suspended. I always feared our PE instructor. I knew how he used to beat the children. I don’t remember clearly but I might have started to cry.
Sometimes an innocent can be falsely accused for a crime, while half of the world believes that they have made the right decision, the other half doesn't care at all; a harsh truth that I learnt through real life experience and not by watching a Netflix show or someone’s documentary. I was seven at that time. This incident hit my childhood life like a boulder. Compared to this, the six years of mental torture and humiliation by my classmates seems like pebbles to me now. Even after all these years, I never found the courage to move on. I couldn’t forget it. My sixth grade was even worse and I don’t even remember most of it. But this, I still remember, a grudge that had never left. So, I decided to write it down.
Maybe it was my crying and my constant denial that the he decided to let me go with a warning and told me and Adrija to go back to our class. He decided not to take me to the Principal’s office. Of course, I returned alone while Adrija was accompanied by Somaleena and her other friends. Priya stayed. Anannya was there too, standing and staring at me, she didn’t want to involve herself in this. She didn’t take my side and decided to keep quiet and enjoy the show.
When I got my back to my classroom, Somaleena snatched my umbrella from my hand and yelled,” Maybe I should give this to her! That would make her stop the crying.” And then she did what she said. Adrija didn’t take it though. I ignored their drama. I was puzzled to my very core. How could this happen? And after only a few minutes of peace, the bell rang. If only I knew what was waiting for me, I swear I would have bunked my drill practice that day.
Everyone returned. Somaleena and Priya told them what had happened. What scared me the most was that everyone was taking Adrija’s side. No one wanted to believe me. The entire class was against me, except Sangyukta. She used to sit behind me and so she knew me well. As she was practical and didn’t have any urge to bully me, she favoured my side of the story and not the one that they made up themselves. To be honest, they were enjoying it. They were laughing the whole time while accusing me. I thought I had a little ray of hope since someone was on my side, but it was just an illusion. Anindita and Somaleena soon convinced her. And since Anannya was already in their friend circle, all she said to me in the middle of this chaos was,” I’m sorry Riya, I can’t help you.”
“You do know that we will take you to her mother and complain about you, right? You can’t stop us. No one is on your side. We will drag you there if necessary, but you can’t get away from us. We will take you there.” threatened Anindita. Somaleena joined in, laughing and smiling the whole time. They were having fun. They enjoyed when I cried.
My luck was never on my side. Adrija was a “walking student” while I was a “bus student” in my school terms. A walking student means that the student stays nearby and their home is a walking distance from school, while bus student means someone who comes and goes by bus. Obviously, in primary years for a walking student, parents used to come and pick them up from school while this was not the case for a bus student. At that point, I was totally alone. I had to face someone’s mother in the absence of my mother. That day couldn’t get worse.
Since, it was the last period, after the bell rang, everyone started to leave. I picked up my bag started to leave hoping that I could reach section D and tell Antara and Sushmita what had happened. If I didn’t get on my bus and was forced to stay at school, atleast they would know about the situation and let my mother know. The three of us used to get on the same bus. Antara and I were and still are practically neighbours. But before I could step out, Anindita pulled my bag from behind. She and Somaleena strangled me like I was some sort of murderer trying to escape.
“Where do you think you’re going?” asked Anindita, “We told you that we would take you to her. Let’s go!” They practically dragged me down; both of them grabbing my arms tightly, holding my elbow and shoulder, shoving me down the stairs. I tried to defend but to no avail. I was screaming the whole time pleading to let me go and that I didn’t do it. I was crying so bad that I was started to choke in my own tears, but they kept dragging me down the three story building, probably bruising both of my arms.
Just before we had reached the groundfloor, Anindita stopped.
“What are you doing Anindita?” asked Somaleena.
“Let’s make an offer. If you confess that you did it and you won’t ever do it again, then we might let you go.” said Anindita with a rather serious tone.
“What are you doing? No, we won’t let her go! She doesn’t deserve pity!”
“Hey, shut up! Let’s see what her choice is, either to get scolded by Adrija’s mother or confess. Seriously, who would have thought that someone could get bested by Adrija!” Anindita exclaimed with a wicked smile and a shrill laugh at the end. Somaleena smiled.
As I was an idiot kid and truly believed that honesty is indeed the best policy in this wretched world, guess what I chose. They didn’t seem to like my response very much. I could tell that since they had stopped smiling.
“Are you sure?” asked Somaleena. After she saw that I wasn’t replying, she said, “Okay, as your wish!” Both of them cheered and started dragging me once again till I reached the lion’s den. This was when the actual entertainment started.
Adrija along with her little sister were standing there, Adrija showing her mother the broken umbrella. A few more ladies were present with their kids, inspecting the scene unfolding in front of their eyes. One of them seemed like a friend of Adrija’s mother. As most of the students were “walking”, there was a huge crowd. Adrija’s mother saw me. Anindita and Somaleena told her what they had told the entire class that day. After hearing their story, she was furious, her eyes wide.
A mental scar that never left a seven year old’s memory; so old and yet so clear. The entire crowd watched. No one said anything. No one interfered. The children enjoyed and so did the adults. None of them protested that it was wrong. Children aren’t mature. They don’t know what is wrong and right. They don’t know what might be the outcome of their choices. They don’t know the difference between slightly making fun of someone and ridiculing and humiliating someone to that level where the victim gets mentally and emotionally scarred for the rest of her life. Kids don’t know when to stop, but adults do! To think that no one stopped her from doing that to a seven year old and were standing there, watching and enjoying the show not only disgusts me but I was, am and always will be ashamed that I belong to such society.
I have not written here what happened during those few minutes. It’s really disturbing and the experience was too horrific for me. I don’t have the courage to remember and live each detail of that memory again and write it down. All I can say is that during those few minutes, all that was going inside my head was how much I wanted to go home and be with my mom; how much I missed her and wanted to hug her. All I wanted was this nightmare to end as soon as possible.
Anindita and Somaleena thought that I would get scolded. Boy, were they wrong! They weren’t smiling anymore.
After about twenty minutes, Adrija’s mother let me go with a warning. She warned me, never to be near her daughter again. Kudos! Never plan to, you psycho! She was smiling. She seemed proud of herself. I was crying really hard at that time and ran as fast as I could towards my bus. After getting on my bus, Antara and Sushmita saw me, crying. They asked what had happened but I didn’t say anything. I cried my entire journey to home. After I returned, I gave my mom a tight hug and told her everything that had happened. Her mother even accused me of stealing other’s stuffs! Can you believe that? Why the hell would I steal my own stuff you pathetic moron? Do you even have a brain?
After I told her everything, her reaction was the last thing I expected to end my horrible day with. She laughed! She thought it was funny!
“Riya, why didn’t you something then? It’s really silly how stupid adults can be sometimes. An adult getting involved in children’s fight is not very nice. Anyway, freshen up! You’ve got drawing lessons this evening.” saying this, she went to the kitchen.
I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I was hurt and there was no shoulder for me to cry on. No one would listen. No one would believe me. No one was there for me. This kind of emotional shock may have been digestible in one’s teenage years, but not when one is so young to understand the ways of this world. At that point, my only hope was motherly care. I was devoid of that too. I was left all alone, battling this emotional and mental shock all by myself.
The next day, my mother had to practically force me to go to school. When I reached my class, Anindita, Sayantika, Somaleena and the rest of the gang greeted me which was very weird and unusual considering what they did to me the day before. I guess the scene must have horrified them too and they felt guilty.
With this horrific incident, my third grade ended. Though the bullying continued for another four years, nothing was horrifying as compared to this. My sixth grade was even more horrible but that is a different story. To be honest, Anannya, whom I considered to be my best friend for the rest of the four years, was never around for me when I needed her the most. In fact, she was the primary reason I used to get bullied all the time. To this day, I still don’t have even an ounce of self confidence. After the seventh grade, my section changed and my life took a turn. Anannya gave me an ultimatum. She told me to either file a complaint to the administrator and change sections so I could be with her or break our five years of friendship. I was a slow learner. Life gave me many opportunities and I let it go. But not this time, I chose to break our friendship. Till now, that was the best decision I made in my life.