Independence 101, By A Certified Freshman

When I was in the 6th grade, I studied about my country’s struggle for independence from the British. I was young and impressionable, and having heard about British atrocities (they spell “color” with a “u”!) I began to develop a hatred for tea and an obsession with attaining independence. The British were long gone – GOOD RIDDANCE TO EXTRA VOWELS – so I projected my vicarious feelings of enslavement onto my parents (who coincidentally love tea). Since I am from the land of Gandhi, I decided that the best way to achieve independence would be by a) fasting and b) initiating a salt march. The salt march didn’t last too long, because I had to literally march for three seconds to get from my room to the salt shaker. The fasting lasted for an even shorter duration of time than the salt march, because my mother baked a cake, and I was basically an eleven-year-old Augustus Gloop. It was when I was stuffing chocolate cake into my mouth and pockets and ears that I had an epiphany: this was not how I would attain independence.

The only way I could become independent was by going to university.

And now that I have achieved that, I must admit that I have unbidden bouts of colonial nostalgia, as I’m sure Gandhi did when the British left and took BBC Entertainment with them.

For the most part, independence is certainly what it’s cut out to be. I ate M&Ms at 12 am yesterday, after I brushed my teeth. I haven’t clipped my toenails for a week so I am well on my way to becoming a moustachioed holy man. I ate breakfast at 11:30 am today, and I didn’t even call the meal “brunch”. I’m such a rebel that Gandhi would see me and go “YO DUDE WAZZUP” and try to high-five me, but I would totally leave him hanging.

At other times, however, I have an acute desire to renounce my independence. My need to be dependent is most acute when it comes to three things: a) Personal hygiene b) Food and c) Money.

When someone’s not telling you to “GO CLEAN YOUR ROOM”, “GO SCRUB YOUR FEET”, “FOR GOD’S SAKE, TAKE THAT SOCK OFF YOUR HEAD”, personal hygiene is hard. Before coming here, I had never used a washing machine in my life. I thought that trash just vanished from the mystical black-hole voodoo thingy called a trashcan. Back home, when my friends would ask me what I was wearing to a dinner party, “crumpled” and “mild odour” would not have been my adjectives of choice. I’ve always been a big believer in magic (especially black magic, but that’s a story for another day). I liked to think that my clothes ironed themselves without setting the house on fire, that my fairy godmother cleaned the bathrooms, and that Santa Claus took my trash to the nearest recycling station on his reindeer sleigh (I had a weird childhood, okay?). Becoming independent made life a whole lot less magical.

Another thing that has become less magical is food. There was something about not knowing what was for dinner, about sitting at the table and trying to guess from the aromas emanating from the kitchen, about closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, having dinner put before you, and then realising that it was exactly what you ate for lunch. It’s certainly more fun than having to “balance your diet”. Food is present in abundance here, and that’s a problem. There’s no one to stop me from eating breakfast for dinner and lunch for a midnight snack and Oreos with every meal. There’s no one to remind me to drink water when I’m thirsty and eat food only when I’m hungry. It’s difficult to maintain one’s health as a Juvenile Independent. My mother has to Skype me to remind me to not to eat Lays (Salt and Vinegar) for breakfast, and I still “forget”.

Another thing that I tend to forget as an Independent Adult it that money has value. It is not just a piece of paper with pictures and words on it. One of the first things they suggested to us here at university is that we download an app called “You Need A Budget”. My reaction to this was “Lol.” It turns out that the joke was on me, because I later realised that I was not, in fact, Scrooge McDuck. I was not even a duck. I was an Adult, an Independent One at that, with Expenses. I get a stipend here, and for a long time I thought that “stipend” meant a lifetime’s worth of free things, like it is on the Oprah Winfrey Show. “YOU GET A STIPEND! AND YOU GET A STIPEND! EVERYBODY GETS A STIPEND!”

It wasn’t like that.

I needed a budget.

So I’ve made one, and I’ve done all the other Independent Things that I so looked forward to doing when I was eleven. I have officially been here for a month now, and I feel like I am slowly steering my wayward independence back within my locus of control. I wish, sometimes, that I could switch to being dependent for a while, especially when I’m doing my laundry, or ironing, or trying to fend off Freshman 15. But I’m finding comfort in routines. And the possibility that my garbage man might be Santa Claus.


P.S. If you liked this post – and I’m hoping you did, because you managed to get through 900 words of Mushroom Sup’s drivel – I’d love if you could check out my new blog, SalAD. It’s about my life at university, with dressing. And camels. Lots of camels.

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I was walking down memory lane, but then my untied shoelaces tripped me

Learning how to tie my shoelaces is my earliest memory.

It is also my earliest failure.

Shoelace tying, as a concept, was first introduced to me when I was five years old, by my kindergarten teacher. She gave each of us little pieces of cardboard, with holes though which the shoelaces had been strung, ready and waiting for us to tie them together.

Up until now, shoelace tying was a menial task left to the slaves (apparently, the politically correct term for them nowadays is ‘parents’). We would present to them our shoe-clad feet, and voila! Within seconds, we were ready to go. No mess, no fuss. In fact, I didn’t even notice that shoes had shoelaces until my kindergarten teacher pointed them out.

So needless to say, when we presented with the shoelaces, we were taken aback. What was it? Some of us peered closely at it. Some of us (I won’t say who) began to chew on the alien object, hoping its taste and texture would give us a clue as to its origin.  It didn’t.

“Children, today you will learn how to tie your shoelaces,” announced the kindergarten teacher, her voice containing a tone of glee that immediately raised suspicion in our young minds. “Shoo lay suz,” we repeated after her, in a robotic tone. I didn’t like the sound of the word. It seemed sinister somehow.

“Alright, so, everybody, pick up each end of the shoelace.”

I did that, and smiled. ‘I’m pretty good at this shoelace tying business,’ I thought. ‘I should probably become a professional shoelace tie-er.’

“Okay,” the teacher continued, “Now make two bunny ears. The bunny runs around a tree. The bunny jumps into a hole and then jumps out again.”

I looked up at her, perplexed. Bunnies? Trees? Either I was going completely mad or completely deaf.

She looked straight me at smiled warmly. But to me, it seemed mocking. I could read her mind. ‘Ha!’ She was thinking. ‘I can do something that you can’t.’ (Now that I think of it, I was probably wrong about that. But who knows?)

I attacked the shoelaces fiercely, twisting and turning them into what seemed (at that time) vaguely bunny-ish. I pulled and tugged, hoping that this violent behaviour would somehow persuade my shoelaces to tie themselves. It didn’t work.

My teacher knelt beside me. “Let me show you how to do it. After all, I am a brilliant teacher, but you? You’re just a good-for-nothing child.” (Wait. Perhaps I’m confusing my teacher with Cindrella’s stepmother. But let’s move on.)

I looked at her angrily, and then looked around at the rest of my class. Many children had already mastered the art, but an equally large number of children (the ones with the more primitive, cavemen-type instincts) were, like me, beating their shoelaces to death. Although I’m not so sure whether it was out of haplessness or frustration.

Anyway, I had always counted myself among the more, um… let’s say ‘evolved’ children. After five years of people commending me for every drawing I made (even though my drawings were often misinterpreted), and praising me for learning the first ten letters of the alphabet, I had begun to think of myself an exceptional human being. A child-prodigy, at the very least.  

Turns out I was wrong. I was nothing more than the ordinary mortal, struggling with basic life skills that others of my age had mastered already. Not a whiz kid, not a genius – just average.

Turns out I was wrong about that too. I was even less than average, because when everybody else had finished tying up their laces, I was still sitting there, trying to make sense of the bloody rabbits and the holes. All I could think about was throwing the stupid rabbit down the stupid hole. Everyone was just staring at me, wondering why one little piece of string was such a challenge for me. Now that I think of it, the phrase ‘damn it’ may have been coined by someone trying to learn how to tie their shoelaces.

By the end of the day, I was close to tears. The teacher soothed me with some kind words and a pat on the back, and as I walked out of kindergarten, I realized that I had experienced something new that day. I had experienced my first (of many) failures.

The next day I came wearing Velcro shoes.  

 

In response to the Daily Post Challenge.   

This is how it all starts…

Um, hello.

I’m not really very sure about how one begins one’s first blog. My mother suggested a friendly greeting. I’ve decided to take her advice because she’s possibly the only person who will read this blog, and I must respect my only fan.

Note: My mother has just read this, and says that I can’t call her a fan until she reads a few more of my blog posts and is convinced of my authorial ability. Till then I can only refer to her as an ‘unbiased critic’.

Anyway, thinking of a friendly greeting was harder than I imagined. The first thing that sprung to mind was, ‘Dearest Diary’, but that would be an open declaration of dissociative identity disorder. It would also make this blog seem like it’s going to be filled with stories of flying ponies and pink, um, things favoured by tweens…which would attract paedophiles like moths to a light. So I began to think about ways people greet each other. The list was quite depressing.

The first was “hey” (volume, pitch and duration of time differ according to IQ level, gender and occupation). But I can’t really use “hey” in a blog, because it needs to accompanied by certain vocal trills in order to be effective. For example, if I were Paris Hilton, the ‘y’syllablle would have to be so high-pitched that only dogs could hear it. If I were to stress the ‘y’syllable for an inordinately long stretch of time, I’d probably be a cow.

Now that I think of it, in that case, I’d probably be saying ‘hay’ and not ‘hey’.

Variations of “hey” include “hey you” and “hey there”. But “hey you” is only appropriate if it’s followed by, “Are you looking at me?” and a punch in the nose, while “hey there” goes hand and hand with a friendly slap on the back.

“How’s it going?” is another type of greeting employed by several. But this, to me, seems rather vague. My immediate response is usually, “How’s what going?” The answer is generally, “It.”
A little more prodding leads them to come up with a very unclear explanation of what “it” might constitute. “Things,” they say. What do they mean by that? And what do I say? “Hmm…ah yes, the things. The things are doing fine. The things are really great. I love the things.” That sounds a teensy bit wrong. And creepy.

You could avoid all the unnecessary conversation and simply reply with the universally accepted response, “It’s good.” But then you’re obliged to ask, “And how’s it going for you?” If they too use the accepted response, the conversation is shot to pieces. You stand there, smiling politely and staring at your shoes, hoping that somehow, your shoelaces will get a life of their own and start spelling out words and coherent sentences which might help you resurrect the conversation. This continues until your fellow conversationalist says, “Well, I’ve gotta get going now, see ya,” and scampers away, hoping to never “see ya” again.

But perhaps the most banal and inane greeting of all is the colloquial, “What’s up?” I’ve spent many a restless hour pondering the appropriate response to this question. The internet throws up a number of responses – this is apparently a question that plagues many. Some replies such as ‘the sky’ and ‘the ceiling’ take the question quite literally. A few of the less intellectual replies involve uncalled-for references to body parts that would not be mentioned in polite conversation. Until now, I haven’t discovered an intelligent/ witty response to this nebulous greeting. Recently, I came upon a friend whom I hadn’t met in a while. “What’s up?” he greeted me. My brain was so befuddled by this question that I eventually responded, “Fine, thank you. And how are you?” He looked at me sympathetically, like I might be slightly slow. Which is exactly how I felt.

However, the most despicable of them all is, “Sup?” This contracted version of the already minute “What’s up?” was concocted simply for people who are too lazy shape their lips into two syllables.
Nowadays, I like to reply (wittily, if I may say so myself) “No, thanks; I just ate lunch.” But since most people don’t get my subtle reference to “sup” originally being a contracted form of ‘supper’, they look at me like I may not be completely right in the head.

So, at the end of my search for the perfect greeting, I decided to return to square one. To the first greeting used by the English-speaking world. The first word we say when we answer the telephone.

Hello.