I’ve always been the silent type.
My mom once told me that she was in constant anxiety while she was pregnant with me because, unlike most fetuses, I didn’t move or kick. Things got so bad, she said, that she had tearfully gone to the doctor to find out if anything was wrong.
“Nothing was wrong,” she would then say. “It was just that you were too quiet, like you still are now.” I’d just stare at her whenever she said this, unable to think of an appropriate response.
Growing up, I had the same dilemma. In my preschool, while other people would play pretend games and tag during recess, I’d sit in a corner and play with sticks or little pieces of plastic I’d find.
My mom has still kept my preschool report card where, in between the rainbow stickers and purple smiley faces, my teachers commented, “While Tanya is doing well with recognizing colors and shading, she is very quiet and does not interact with other children.”
Scientists wanted to do tests on me to find out what was wrong, my mother still says, but I’m going to take that with a grain of salt.
I don’t want to say that I was a “precocious child,” because that really wasn’t the case. I never showed any signs of being exceedingly mature or intelligent for my age. In reality, I was just an extremely awkward person who had no idea what to say or do. I was painfully shy and hyperconscious about that fact.
This is something my family took a long time to understand.
The concepts of “nervous” and “shy” don’t exist among the kids in my family, and much of that has to do with the city that most of us grew up in. Living in Bombay breeds a sharp tongue and an acute sense of street smarts.
My parents, all my aunts and uncles and several of my cousins are products of Bombay’s upbringing. My five-year-old baby cousin, who currently resides in the city, has a biting vocabulary, speaks five different languages — English, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and Marwari — with a hostile intensity and looks like she’s always ready to pick a fistfight.
But somehow, the inheritance of this Bombay personality skipped me, despite having grown up there for the first six years of my life. So, instead of being brazen and self-assured like the rest of my family, I’m timid and self-conscious.
Furthermore, Indians in India grow up in joint families — your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all live with you under one roof. There’s no room to feel awkward and uncomfortable. Wanting to be left alone was never an option and often frowned upon.
As I’ve grown up, my introverted personality has taken the form of a seemingly cold and aloof demeanor, especially with strangers, when really I’m still the same awkward and anxious preschool girl at recess — confused about who to play with, how to talk to people and what to say.