His name was all it took. He was a big burly boy in the class who wore glasses, had his untucked shirt hanging loose most of the time, and his pants barely contained his butt crack. He appeared very friendly if you counted the times you’d find him grinning ear to ear. What you would probably not notice is that these smiles came from ridiculing others.
I spent a large part of my school days avoiding his eyes, at the same time very conscious of where they landed. Constantly afraid that they’d stray on me a second too long and he’ll say my name out loud. Faces would turn and he’d do his routine at my expense.
Are you wondering how he used to say it? He maintained an eye contact with me from across the room as if we were, in fact, having a very private conversation. Only there were ten other faces between us, looking from one end to the other. Some were in relief, some tensed, and others clearly anticipating a good time. Like a bull, he’d charge at me with words. In retrospect, I realize that he used to say things only a ten-year-old could find witty, except no one in the room questioned his humor. Everyone laughed. He fed on their laughter as assent, ignoring my consent. Carried on.
What did he say? “Tu saala gay hai na?” (You are gay right?) “Kya kar raha hai tu? Aur koi kaam nahi hai? Ja kaha raha hai? Mard ban” (What are you doing? Don’t you have any other work? Where are you going? Be a man). This was the very boy who played tagged me with the girls in fifth class!
I’d ignore all his distasteful (failing at it) and try to flee from the site. I tried to move way so I couldn’t hear him, move away so he would stop shouting all this in front of our classmates. Classmates whose faces I had a tough time looking straight at until enough time had passed for them to forget about the incident. Unsupervised lunch hours were my worst nightmares.
How he did it? Hunt for weaker people, crack jokes at them, be loud, threaten with fists, and push them around. When he did it? Between classes before the next teacher came in, in the recess period.
To avoid the likes of him I’d rush out of class before people packed their bags at the end of the day at school. I’d skip the morning assembly. I did everything to ensure I kept my distance from him in my school life.
During the unsolicited instances where I was picked on, he would follow me around latched on, with a bunch of cronies, boys who’d laugh at his jokes and egg him on. That was his gang, with whom he’d be found leaning against dusty corridor walls, checking out girls. They boosted each other up.
To his simple question on whether I was gay, I often wonder what would’ve followed had I said ‘yes’. But I know that for the boy I was then, it was impossible to come to terms with that fact, especially with the hostility all around. The little me didn’t know the world outside, and the time spent inside was life, as I knew it. And there was no way out but to endure and survive in a dog-eat-dog world.