It was my first day of First Grade. The beginning of my formal schooling. Like most of my friends, I was sad that the holidays were over and dreaded the feeling of going back to school. It wasn’t that I didn’t love learning, but, it was how we learnt that made me cringe. Of course, technology limited how and what teachers could teach us, but learning only from a book wasn’t my cup of tea. The leap from kindergarten to formal schooling was a little overwhelming for me. Somehow I missed getting my hands onto things for learning. In kindergarten, we used to learn by touch, and by feel. No one was going to listen to the feelings of a 6-year-old about how boring learning seemed.
I was sitting in the first row in my class. There was no other place I was going to sit given my height at that time. It was an unsaid rule that the shortest guys would sit in the first row. We usually bore the brunt of a teacher’s frustration. Sometimes I felt they too dreaded being back at school after summer vacations. We acted as shields for the guys at the back. Sometimes, it was the last row that used to catch all the arrows and those days we used to heave a sigh of relief.
One of the classes we had on the first day of my first grade was English. I was sheepishly copying whatever the teacher had written on the board. I tried transforming myself into a chameleon to blend in with the surroundings. I was hoping I would turn invisible with the teacher looming so close. The uniform and bench thought differently. They had a mind of their own. They wanted to stand out, bright like the sun. It was bound to happen when the uniform is a white shirt paired with navy blue shorts, and the bench – a shade of rust. You definitely stick out like a sore thumb.
The teacher stopped right in front of me. I tried to put the finger on what might have caused this to happen. I was almost non-existent save the scratching of the pencil against paper. What caught the teacher’s attention? Was it the perfectly combed hair? Or the immaculate and crisp uniform? Was it the because the scratching noise wasn’t coming from a sharp pencil tip? My mind was racing. Faster than Carl Lewis. Only Carl came to mind because I saw a news clipping of his run from the Olympics.
She pointed towards my book and said, “You’re left-handed.” That caught me off-guard, and I managed to cobble up four words, “Yes, I’m left-handed”. I looked up at her slowly. An expression of shock and dissatisfaction had populated her face. It seemed like she lost her entire life’s purpose when she discovered I was a left-handed student. I was an aberration in her Universe. The teacher at that moment decided to right this wrong, by making me switch from left to right.
She suggested that I try writing with my right hand, which was new to me. But it was discomforting. I held the pencil in my right hand, and it was discomforting to do it. I felt awkward, trying to form letters with my pencil. When I finished writing a sentence, I looked at what I’d written, and I was crestfallen. There were a series of squiggles. We did stuff like this with our feet on the sand at the beach, not on notebooks. The teacher suggested that I try writing on the blackboard in a larger font to get me accustomed to using my right hand. The grinding of chalk on the board made things even worse. The squiggles I’d made on the notebook were now visible on the blackboard in 10X magnification. To my relief, none of my classmates laughed at my attempt. I was praying for the class to end soon, but relativity it seems would have other plans. It has played its ace and time crawled like a tortoise. The exercise on the board continued, and along with it, my discomfort.
I got back home in the evening and refused to go to school the next day. I wanted to know why what happened had happened. I asked my parents about it. I asked my grandmother about it. What I learnt was shocking. Some societies it seems, consider a left-handed person to be unlucky. These societies needed to understand – being a left-handed person doesn’t come by choice. It comes by chance. It is like the colour of my hair. It is like the shade of my skin. It is inherent. No one has a say in this matter.
I wasn’t about to let someone squash my individuality. I was clear about what I wanted and where to draw the line. It wasn’t entitlement or arrogance, but that I wasn’t happy to write with my right hand. Luckily my parents were supportive of my feelings and understood my problem. They made it a point to present my case to the school authorities. After assurances and promises that the matter would no longer be an issue, I headed back to my class the next day. I was at peace being me.
This incident occurred when I was a six-year-old. Three decades later, when I reflect on this incident, I realize it has made me respect a person’s individuality. It was nature that made me unique, and it is the same with others too. If you see someone around you who is against the majority, don’t exclude them. Instead, embrace them, celebrate them. Because in that celebration, you are celebrating life’s individuality. Nature intends to make us all unique – otherwise, we wouldn’t need genes. Mother nature would have a photocopy machine, and it would keep pushing the copy button ad infinitum. Change and variety are also nature’s ways of promoting efficiency through evolution. Individuality, it seems, is also the key to our survival.
We are all limited editions – a limited edition of ‘One Person’. It is in this variety that we see clarity. If everyone thought and did the same things, technological progress would have been impossible. We will be doing the Universe and Nature disservice by not being our true selves. Let the ideas of others inspire us, but let it not enslave us.