Once upon a time I was an awkward not-quite-teenage girl who got admission to a school filled with snobs. I grew up in a family where money came (when they lived in Bangladesh), and then money went (soon after they moved to Pakistan), and while it’s not quite a rags to riches story, they didn’t always have money to throw around. That my 'folks' didn’t play a starring role in lifestyles of the rich and famous had never bothered me until I was suddenly thrown into an environment where all of this mattered (in a big way). At that point, I did what any child (with an overactive imagination does) when they come face to face with social pretensions they don’t understand: I compensated. When I had to, I made things up. All of a sudden, I also had ferangi toys (latest versions of everything, naturally), just at home where nobody could see them. I pestered my too-indulgent parents to take me to ridiculously expensive toy stores where I bought senseless stickers (as many as my meager pocket money would allow) to exchange with the popular kids who had a strange sticker mandate. I went over to friends’ houses and felt awkward about being the kid in Zainab Market clothes who had no idea what Levis were. Because I felt inadequate, I worked all that much harder to ingratiate myself with the cool-kids. I felt gratified when they picked me for their group-work sessions not realizing that most times I was just smarter than them and they picked me because I did their work. And this went on for a few years and I got used to being a comfortable follower. A great side-kick for kids cooler than I was.
One day, I was sitting around at school with a group of friends (who I had worked so hard to earn). I must have been around thirteen then. My mother called and asked me to come home (with the driver and car we shared) because she needed to be somewhere. I resisted, primarily because I had to drop a friend home (I agreed to do these little things in exchange for social approval). I found it simpler to deny her request (well, err, order really) and just do things my way rather than give in and risk the consequences if I let this particular girl down. (Remember, these were days when drivers did not have cell phones, unfortunately mommy was a little strapped for options when her daughter decided to be a brat). Anyhow, I got home to find my mother in tears, my father pacing around looking murderous and a generally tense atmosphere. Turned out, something unpleasant had happened when my mother decided to take a cab home (since I had this absolutely urgent school assignment and could not come pick her up from where she was) and the whole house was in a tizzy. In general, memories from childhood are dim, but I cannot forget those red-rimmed eyes that never – for a single moment – blamed me, but entrenched themselves in my soul. I discovered then, what some people I know haven’t discovered as yet, trying too hard will never make you popular, it will merely make you pathetic. I have never felt more ashamed of myself as I did the day I made my mother cry because I was trying to ‘fit in’ with a bunch of stupid children who could not care less about me.
I stopped 'trying' from that day onwards, and I learned to say no. This incident was pivotal because this was the beginning of who I am today. And the funny truth is: this didn’t make me a social pariah (as I had feared it might). Instead, around this time I made my first genuine friends. The incident (and the changes they brought about in my personality) would also explain why I have an avid (and possibly unreasonable) dislike for cliques. I'm convinced, that being part of the quintessential clique makes you an unpleasant person to know for everyone else. Group mentality, you see. A bunch of sheep collectively become wolves who feed off (perceived) inadequacies of others. From that time onwards, I actively eschewed being part of a ‘gang’. I like having many friends, and I like choosing who I’m going to be friends with and on what particular terms. As long as I like them, I will befriend anyone I choose, regardless of what society (and other idiots) think of him or her. By now, it’s more than an active choice: It’s a character trait. I cannot be part of a single ‘crowd’ (I feel suffocated). I cannot be friends with just one type of person (I get bored). I cannot be told who to be friends with (I get angry) but most of all, I cannot have society ever interfere in my relationship with people I love.