Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bullying; It's just harmless fun, right?

Yesterday, I read a blog post on bullying. It wasn't a shock to me since I already knew that bullying takes place in schools. Somehow it's also something a friend and I always end up talking about when we meet. 'We weren't that bad,' one would say. The other would always agree. We weren't that bad. We never are. Right?

And yet, yesterday's post made me think more deeply about bullying and how bad it really was among my classmates or even batchmates. Were we really the last of the good kids? Wasn't name-calling bullying? Didn't teasing amount to bullying? Didn't laughing at another kids' inability to understand a lesson or subject bullying? Weren't we bullying kids when we excluded them from certain activities? But no... We did all that for fun. We all laughed at the end and went back to whatever it is we were doing.

Or did we? Did the kid being called names laugh it off? Did the kid who was teased laugh? Did the kid who was laughed at laugh with us? Did the excluded kids laugh?

And then I was taken over by a sense of guilty and shame. Not because I had always participated in these incidents. But even if I hadn't uttered those names or teased someone, hadn't I laughed? Hadn't I enjoyed it? And even if I didn't, even if I knew it was wrong, hadn't I looked away? Hadn't I ignored it while it happened?

And so were we really the last of the good kids? Were there batches that didn't in some way bully a kid? When I told my mother about this, she told me how an older kid would pinch her when she was in school.

So for years and years, generation after generation, kids go through something they don't like and we have some how managed to go about life without addressing the problem. You maybe thinking, in a world where kids are physically harmed and mentally abused enough to even harm themselves or commit suicide, what's a pinch or two? What's a bit of name-calling? It's harmless, right?

But why do we need to call people names, pinch them or in anyway make them unhappy or uncomfortable? Why do we like to intimidate people even as a joke?

I remember telling my grade three teacher to change my place in class because my 'friends' would eat all my food. I remember feeling so embarrassed when I was new in school and a kid told me a certain teacher's name was Elizabeth, when it wasn't. When we stood up to greet the teacher with a loud 'good morning, ms. ...' I felt like the entire world was laughing at me. I disliked this kid throughout school. I avoided her as much as possible.

I remember how we would say something like, 'if not, what would you do?' in a threatening voice when someone asked us to do something. For instance, if I asked someone to pass me a book. These were never serious but why do we have this mean streak we love to use when unnecessary?

I dismissed this as immaturity and a lack of anything else to do. When you spend six hours every day with the same bunch of people, you need to pick on people in order to keep things interesting. Gangs and cliques will be formed and some kids will just end up being the black sheep. You will tease or bully people because there's nothing else to do and because we are told that that's how things work. A class needs a class clown, someone who we can all depend on to annoy teachers, disrupt classes and make everyone laugh. Every class needs a nerd to impress teachers and get really high marks. Every class needed a teacher's pet who aimed at pleasing teachers. And every classes needed the kids who are easy to tease. And this is a system most of us just don't question.

And yet, we need to question why we want to tease, bug or bully someone. We need to ask ourselves why we snicker when a particular student is praised by a teacher. We need to ask ourselves why we are so mean sometimes.

But then I remembered moments when I brought these behaviors and thoughts into adult life. I remember going for lunch without asking certain people to join us simply because we didn't like them anymore. I remember excluding people from meetups or outings and avoiding them. And now it makes me feel so ashamed because in school, I wasn't just being a kid. I wasn't just going with the flow. As a kid and as an adult, I was just mean. I am mean. And it's high time I did something about this.

And I'm not making excuses but I think this meanness is a result of some thing that is just not right within me. When I'm mean to someone, it's sometimes because I don't know any other way to express my feelings towards them. We are so used to avoiding problems, bottling them up and then exploding. We aren't used to talking to people and telling them that what they did was wrong. We prefer raised voices and hurting people.

And if it wasn't about not dealing with my problems properly, my meanness stemmed from unhappiness within me. Maybe by laughing at kids who were being teased, I was finding a way to forget how a teacher had scolded me or how I was feeling left out from certain class activities. Maybe by ignoring a colleague I was trying not feel like they are better at the job than I am.

But maybe it's also about acceptance and self-esteem. If I didn't laugh along with the rest of the class, I would run the risk of them ganging up against me. If I didn't use the same nicknames the rest of the class used, they will come up with some insult for me too. If I had raised my voice and told them to leave a kid alone, I would have become the class enemy or a spoilsport. 'God! Someone doesn't have a sense of humor' they would say. 'Mind your own business,' they would say. So we shut up. We laugh along. Or we detach ourselves from the situation. We give excuses to comfort ourselves. We ignore the problem. And by doing so, we contribute to it.

There is also a matter of power. Imagine the power a kid feels when they are feared by the entire class? The power they feel when they can make the entire class laugh with just one cruel word or action? For some reason, we feel like we have more power when we pose a threat to someone.

Not all of us can do this. I can't look in someone's eyes and dare them to do something awful. I can't find the courage to do that. But being able to hurt someone gives us power. It makes us feel strong. It adds to our confidence. And so when a person realizes that they can dare others to eat dirt or hop fifty times before entering the classroom, they make use of it. They keep on bullying people. They keep hurting people.

And these kids who just want to matter in class go on to become despicable adults who boss people around. They ridicule colleagues. They insult subordinates. And they keep spreading unpleasantness.

And the kids who are bullied or teased or made fun of go on to have no self-esteem. They have no confidence in themselves. They always have their guard up. They are scared.

However, some of these kids, whether they were the bullies or the bullied, go on to become responsible adults who respect other people. And more often than not, they become examples of how bullying is just harmless fun. 'Look at A,' people would say, 'she used to be a big bully in school but now she's such a disciplined young woman.' Or they would say, 'you know, we used to be so worried about B. But now he's fine. Such a strong boy to have gotten past being bullied in school. Harmless fun, no?'

And so we tell ourselves that bullying isn't a problem in Sri Lanka. That bullying isn't a problem in the school we are proud past pupils of. That bullying was never a problem when we were in school. And when we hear of an incident of bullying, we say, 'we were never like that. Kids these days!' and we forget all about it. And so the problem goes unaddressed and unsolved. And kids continue to fear the place that is a second home until they are adults. And kids continue to fear the people they grow up with.

And this goes on and on. Kids try to grab attention of parents or teachers. They are told to ignore it or fight back. They are told to stop being weak. And after being ignored or forgotten over and over again, someone will do something that no one can ignore. And usually this something involves death. It isn't a cry for help because those cries went unheard. It is, instead, an end to their troubles and pain. And finally, their parents, teachers, classmates hear them. Finally, the country hears them. But then it's too late.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

What makes a place a home?

 Article written for Night Owls.

As a child, the concept of home is easy to define. Home is the house you live in. You’ve lived there all your life and you can get from one room to the other with your eyes closed. Home is… home. That’s enough explanation.

Home is where you will spend your entire life. Home is the place you will always go back to. Home is where you know you will always find your loved ones.

As you grow older, however, you begin to hate the place you call home. You think those walls that hold so many memories between them are imprisoning you. You need to get out. You scream at your loved ones, you slam doors and you stay away as much as possible. You vow to leave as soon as possible.

You move away because the new place is closer to work or university. You tell your parents that but you all know why you need to leave. It’s time. All birds must leave the nest one day. Or maybe you want more distance between the people you love but also need a break from. You are happy to be accepted to a foreign university and you make a house in that country home.

Life works out this way. You have fewer arguments with your family. You talk to them regularly. You love them. You convince yourself that both places are home to you. Then you go back home, to the house you once escaped from, and you notice that the bathroom has new tiles or that the mugs used by your siblings are different. You try to fit your daily routine to suit their routine but you fail day after day. When you get home from the airport, you are excited to meet them and share stories with them and give them all the gifts you bought. But they have things to do the next day. You pretend to not notice how sleepy they look and after a while, they apologize and go back to their rooms. You are left alone in a room in a house that no longer feels like home.

So you blame yourself. You promise to visit more frequently. You try so hard to be part of your family once again. But at some point you give up. When you talk about home, you are talking about the house in that once foreign country. You realize how much you want to go back to the routine you are so used to. So you do. You cry when saying goodbye to family but knowing you’ll be home soon calms you during the flight. You get there and tell your friends who are now family all about your holiday. And they listen. They don’t excuse themselves to go to bed. They stay up and you have your favorite food.

You finish university and find yourself a job. Your parents ask if you’ll be coming back and you tell them you want to see what this country has to offer. Before you know it, you are getting your citizenship in this new country. You fall in love. You get married. You have kids.

And you see less of your parents. They are getting older and frailer. You worry about them but they are so far away. Then one day, you get the call you always knew you would someday. Your father has passed away. Your mother tells this to you and as she cries, you want to be there next to her. You hear your sister do what you want to be doing. Hugging her and telling her it’ll be okay. You book a flight to go back… home. When you get there, the funeral is over and all your relatives comment on how you missed it. ‘It would have been easier for you since you weren’t home.’

And then you begin to wonder where home is. Which world did you really belong to? Where is home?

As cliché as it sounds, home is where the heart is, and the heart sure is a traveler. Sometimes when you go on holiday, you leave your heart behind. You miss home terribly and you feel so scared to be in a place that isn’t home. You miss the familiarity and warmth of everything you left behind, even temporarily. Then you find that your heart is back with you and that even a cold hotel room or sparsely furnished apartment can be home.

And then it begins; the unconscious reference to your place of stay as home. “We’ll go home after this film,” you say, and then correct yourself and say, “To the hotel, that is.” Slowly you stop doing that. Why bother? The hotel room is home. It’s where all your things are. It’s where you go back to every night. It is, in a sense, home.

Home isn’t the easiest to define. And it isn’t the easiest to let go of. But at some point in life, you have to admit that home isn’t the building; the concrete, the bricks or the paint. Home is the people you are with. Home is family and friends. Home is where you find love.

Home is, after all, where the heart is.

“You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you. And one day the sun will come out – you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past. Someone who’s only yours. And you’ll realize… that this is where your life is.”
-Brooklyn (2015)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Love as an adult

When you are a kid, love is such a simple thing. You don’t question it, you don’t try to hide it. If you love someone, you don’t hide it from them. However, as kids, many would say, we didn’t really understand what love is. We just felt this something and called it love.

During adolescence, we came to understand love more and more. We realized that love wasn’t a simple, four lettered word. We realized that you can love different people in different ways. And we learned that loving someone and being loved by them are two completely different things. We also learned that people label and categorize love. Love was no longer just love. It was love for your parents, love for your teachers, love for your pets, love for books or films or food, and romantic love. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to just love. You also had to feel the right kind of love.

Then we became adults and suddenly, love embarrassed us. Love made us afraid. Love became this thing we doubted and questioned and rejected quite often. Love became a secret we had to hide from people. We no longer tell our parents we love them, unless of course it’s a special day. And even then, the ‘I love you’s are often a quick ‘love ya’ or a mumbling of those three words. We never ever tell our siblings we love them because… it’s weird, right?

And when it comes to friends, the L-word just isn’t used. I remember this one time, I was signing Christmas cards with a friend. I usually sign them ‘Love, Shailendree’ and never think twice about this. But my friend hesitated. She wasn’t sure if she cared enough about a friend to sign the card with love. And I thought, as kids, I doubt we would have ever wondered if we actually loved someone when signing a card. They are our friends. We care for them. So we love them. It was just that simple. But now… why were we questioning if we really loved someone?

I recently met my four-year-old cousin for the first time. We’ve never seen each other before except in photographs and a few skype calls. When his mother, my aunt, picked us up from the airport, he didn’t speak to me. And I didn’t expect him to. As a kid, I remember avoiding adults and feeling so shy and embarrassed when they spoke to me. He was also happy to be back with his grandmother, my grandaunt. On our way home, however, we stopped to visit a few museums. And slowly, we started talking and he insisted on holding my hand.

Somewhere during the day, he looked up at me and said, “I love you, Shailee.” And my first thought wasn’t, ‘aww isn’t he the sweetest?’ I actually thought, ‘He has known me for just a few hours. How could he already love me?’ and since he was looking at me, waiting for a reply, I told him I love him too, and I did. And I felt so ashamed of that adult-thought about how one can love another just a few hours after meeting them.

And it made me quite sad that we make love such a difficult emotion. We don’t have to but we do. We run away from love and we are so afraid of it.

While on holiday, I came across this little store that sold various things made out of old records. I have a friend who likes music and as soon as I saw the place, I thought he might like something from there. But then I had those godawful adult-thoughts again. ‘Would he think it weird that I was getting him a gift?’ Sure, we are friends but we weren’t the gift-giving type. We weren’t close friends who spoke everyday. So would a gift imply that there was more than just friendship being added to the mix?

But why should it imply that? Why can’t we be friends and admit we love our friends and express our love without having to feel ashamed or afraid? Why do we always think, ‘but what if he/she thinks I like him?’ So what? So what if someone finds out you love them? Why do you have to be afraid or ashamed? Why do you have to hide what you feel?

Being attracted to someone is such a natural, ordinary thing in life. And yet, why can’t we tell them we are attracted to them or like them or love them without months of wondering and considering and doubting and planning? When my cousin told me he loved me, as innocent as it was, I choked over the ‘I love you too.’ This wasn’t because I was lying about it but because I had nearly no experience in saying those words out loud.

I haven’t told enough people I love them and this wasn’t because I didn’t love people. It’s because something about being an adult means you have to shut up about love. You can express how happy or sad or scared or excited you are. But love? No, love needs to be hidden away.

I was talking to a friend recently about love. And we spoke about the limitations we put on love. And I don’t even understand why these limitations and rules and regulations and conditions exist. Why can’t we just love people?

And we can’t blame society. We can’t blame culture. We need to step away from the regulated love that we consider pure or true. We need to be able to find it in us to look at a person we care for and just say, ‘I love you’ without having to worry about what they’ll think about it or if they’ll feel the same way about us. We shouldn’t have to wait until birthdays or special days to tell friends or family that we love them.

Because it’s strange, isn’t it? We are all grown up now, mature. We understand things we didn’t as kids. We know what love is. We recognize or identify love. And yet, aren’t kids much better than us at admitting their feelings and expressing them? What has adulthood done to us? Why have we been robbed of the ability to just tell people we love them?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


හාමුදුරුවන් දානය වලඳා අවසන් වූ පසු, බණ අහන්නට අපි හැමෝම පැදුරු උඩ ඉඳගෙන, නමස්කාර කරන්නට කියූ විට, සාදු යැයි කියනවා ඇරෙන්න, බණ වැඩිය අහන්නේ නැහැ. බොහෝවිට මම වුනත් කරන්නේ බඩ ගුරුගුරු ගායි කියල බයෙන් ඉන්නවා නැත්නම් බිම තියෙන වැලි කැටයක් එහෙට මෙහෙට කරන එක තමයි. ඒත් අද බණ ටිකක් අහන්න හිතුනා.

පින් වල ආණිසන්ස තමයි බණ වලට මතෘකාව වුනේ. පින් එකතු කරගත්තම, මනුශ්ය ලෝකයේ හෝ දිව්ය ලෝකයේ සැප සම්පත් නොඅඩුව තියෙන ආත්මයක් අපේ සන්සාරගමනට එකතු කරගන්න පුලුවන්. ඒ නිසා වැඩි වැඩියෙන් පින් කල යුතුයි.

හැබයි ඔය පින් කියන්නෙ පාරක් හදන්න ගන්න මැටි හෝ සිමෙන්ති වගේ නෙමෙයිද? අපි කොච්චර බණ ඇහුවත්, කොච්චර බණ පොත් කියෙව්වත්, පින් කරන්නේ තව තවත් සංසාර ගමන දික්කරන්න නෙමෙයිද? එතකොට සංසාර ගමන ඉවර වෙන තැනට, එනම් නිවන් සුවයට ඇති මග අපි අර පින් කියන මැටින්වලින් තව තවත් දික්කරගන්නවා මිස, කෙටි කරගැනීමට තැත්කරන්නේ නැහැ.

ඔය කොයි දේ ඒවෙලාවේ හිතුනත්, පන්සලෙන් පිටත් වූ වහාම ඒ ඔක්කොම අමතක කරලා උදේට කන්න තියෙන්නේ මොන රස කෑමද ගැන හිතමින්, ඕප දූප කියවනවා මිස සන්සාර ගමන කෙටි කරගන්නේ කොහොමද කියල නම් මටවත් හිතුනේ නැහැ.