After being born blonde, a Srinagar boy had to pass through perceptive tests and trails before he realized that being different isn’t a curse, but a blessing in disguise.
With a North Face bag slung over my shoulders, my first day at Kashmir University’s Media School with Denim Jeans and a high ankle Wrangler shoes made someone to quip: Steve McCurry.
I was lost in thoughts. My past was again staring at me. Being blonde had once again become an existential burden for me.
Sitting alone on the third bench in the second row, a boy with a brown cap and a weird accent asked, hesitantly, “Hello, which country do you come from?”
With a smile, I replied, “Kashmir.”
But this wasn’t happening for the first time. I’ve learnt to deal with such situations as they’ve become part of my life.
Back in my childhood, so many things used to wake me up in the nights. And most of the times, it was an existential question that I would ask either to myself, or to my God, “why am I not like the others?”
Sometimes life makes you taste the fear and the worst fear is that of being haunted, by yourself.
During those harrowing days when crackdowns would terrorize my mother, she would almost crush me in her lap, telling the Indian forces, “Yae mera apna beta hai” (He’s my own son).
Growing up in a situation where you can’t go outdoors like other children may leave an impact on you in many ways and that would definitely raise concerns for you in your future.
One day I managed to go out with my cousins to a nearby playground. The place was full of life, with boys playing cricket and football, all together. After a few minutes, a boy elder to me came and took me to his home. I was happy about it. I never knew what was going on till he said to his mom, “Can I keep him in my room. He’s a chargeable power doll?”
His mother dropped me back home, but the thought of being born with some ‘abnormality’ bothered me. I was 9-year-old and could hardly figure out the situation around me. I wasn’t sure, should I talk to my parents about it or live with the curse that I was born with. Or, maybe, I shouldn’t tell anyone about it. Day after day, being ‘different’ made me thoughtful.
During those moments of anguish, seeing blonde people on TV would fascinate me. “Am I one of them?” I would ask Dad, expecting a straight disapproval.
“Actually you’re not my son,” he would say, in a lighter vein. “I found you at some place.” Sensing concern on my face, Dad would console and hug me tight. But deep inside me, I would quiz him, silently: Am I also one among you?
But time is the best teacher. I learnt to deal with my existential crisis. I turned more cautious of things around me. Simon, John, Sam, Peter, Harry Potter, Justin became my nicknames. I never minded them. Somehow, I had learnt to deal with the fear of facing people.
At 15, when I went to a village almost 25km away from my home in Srinagar, I was literally on a wild trip. Driving towards the village with my elder cousin, I saw green swatches of paddy fields for the first time. The beautiful view of farmers sitting under the shadow of the tall trees fascinated me. But my physical presence once again came back, haunting me in that beautiful hamlet.
I could see people whispering about me and following me. It made me loath my existence. What otherwise was a fascinating experience took only minutes to become a nightmare. I ended up in a dark corner of a store room bursting out in tears, complaining to my Allah: “Why me? Tell me, why me?”
But tears and tragic feelings kept following me to SP Higher Secondary School as well.
I was surrounded by almost 150 students in the Section C of the Commerce block on the very first day. I never knew my fault, for which I was punished and taunted so badly.
I never had a choice but to live with the fact of being blonde at a place where maybe it wasn’t a normal thing. Such experiences made me feel that I don’t belong to this place, where I was never accepted in the first place.
But as I learnt to rise above my fears, things began bothering me less. Now, I would never fall blank if someone would approach me with the intention of talking to the ‘European guy in the town’. I started interacting with foreign tourists, roaming around in the Old City of Srinagar, where my college was located. The realization that there’re people like me in this world was making me confident.
Born blonde was no longer a curse.
Walking on the Boulevard Road one day, I was spotted by few cheery boatmen. “Hey man,” one of them sporting a grey overcoat and black sunglasses approached me and spoke in a strange accent, “tell me which country?”
For a change, I made up my identity. I introduced myself as Sam De Souza from England. He forced me to have a cup of tea at his place. I couldn’t turn him down, as the idea of visiting a houseboat for the first time was tempting.
After climbing creaking stairs, I stepped inside his architectural marvel of a houseboat. Four wooden chairs with a half glass and wooden table at the centre, I was requested to have a seat. I had never seen such a beautiful view in my life. Hari Parbat and its reflection in the trammeling water of the Dal Lake made the place magical.
“Excuse me, sir,” a pretty girl in her early twenties standing on my right, with a tray got back my attention back from the lake. She was the daughter of the boatman, who had brought a cup of black tea for me.
Everything at the place felt so special, even the cup I was holding. I was totally impressed the way the boatman and his family treated me.
Somehow after half an hour, I managed to make him agree to drop me back. On the way back, the conversation with the boatman was smooth. He could never doubt that I was a local person in garb of a foreigner. We never met again.
Perhaps that day my fluent British English made me experience the most beautiful moment of my life. On my way back home, I realized: We always have ten reasons to be sad, but a single excuse to be happy.
We don’t have control over so many things in this world, like for me being born blonde was never a choice but simply a fact I had to accept and live with it. Not running away, but accepting the facts is the only way to rise above your fears and weaknesses.