On every birthday, a day before or a day after, I used to scribble some birthday thoughts. Some were introspective, some were evaluative, and some were too philosophical.
My readers asked me, ‘why don’t you say something more mundane?’ I said, ‘It is difficult, because that is what I do for the rest 364 days!’
As one more birthday fast approached, I thought of writing something on gratitude. Now, you would ask me, ‘To whom?’ That takes me to the universal ‘chicken-egg’ confusion.
Someone wanted to know this: ‘Should I thank God or should I thank my mother for my birthday?’ There are mothers who keep reminding their children every now and then about how they saved them from getting ‘destroyed’ within the womb itself. One smart son asked: ‘Did I ask you to give me birth?’ That is a wonderful question indeed!
Who can take credit for our births? Parents? You would argue; parents can’t take credit as it is because of their parents that they were born and then grew up and committed an act which led to procreation. The ‘credit search’ continues and finally it would invariably reach the Creator of first human being. Thus, the ultimate gratitude for every birth is towards the Creator.
Let me have a look at myself: My body, my education, my profession, my family, my achievements, my misadventures, my omissions and so on.
Yes, I have been blessed, guided, and shaped by the Creator and His creation, in spite of my infirmities, incongruencies, and inanities.
I was shocked to read the following news item in the paper the other day titled ‘Taunted, ‘skinny’ boy kills self’. It was reported that the boy was ridiculed by his classmates for trying to be a volunteer in National Cade Corps (NCC) of the School because he was underweight. The boy, who was studying in a school in Bangalore, reportedly hanged himself to death at his house using his mother’s saree. Nagvinay was only 14 years old. He had told his parents that because of his ‘skinny frame’ he was frequently a subject of ridicule at the school. He was being mocked at while doing his NCC parade. Whom to blame for his ‘figure’? : Himself, the Creator, the parents, or the nutritionist of the pregnant mother?
For a moment, I went back to my own student days. I was very lean when I was in my childhood and teen years. I hated my English teacher in Class IV just because he always explained the word ‘thin’ by giving an example that ‘Sibichen is a thin boy’. But he never used such examples referring to anyone to explain the words ‘thick’ or ‘fat’. That made me furious. Why only the weak are targeted?
I wanted to join NCC like Nagvinay. But fearing ridicule from the friends, I never applied for it. When I reached the college, I joined the National Service Scheme, as they never checked my height, chest, weight or waist. I was always kept as the goal keeper during football matches. Whenever I played forward during the lunch hour matches, the number of times I fell on the ground was more than the number of times the football hit the ground.
For several years, I couldn’t sit comfortably in any bus because there would be a third person asking me to sit on the edge of the two-seater so that he could also sit comfortably. When I walked with my mother, her friends used to tease her asking, ‘Are you eating the entire food at home without giving him even a bit?’ In fact I tried to eat well as I had only one ambition during my childhood and that was to become a fat person. For this, I made it a routine to have an extra meal everyday on the way back from college. I used to eat at my favourite restaurants on various days: Chapati and Curry from the Milk Bar, Parota or Dosa from Brothers’ Tea Stall, Semiya Payasam (a type of Milk kheer) and vada from Dhanalakshmi Vilas, or three big bananas and one large glass of lemon juice from Maniyan Pillai Chettans’s shop. But the pointer of the weighing scale refused to move ahead for several years.
Someone had told me, ‘when you visit a church for the first time, whatever you pray will be fulfilled’. I had only two prayers always: First, I should become fat. Second, I wanted a few hairs above my upper lip. That was the time when I saw a newspaper advertisement about an ayurvedic oil for curing baldness. I used my entire pocket money to buy that oil and religiously applied it every night. But nothing happened. During that time, the Bishop of the Diocese, Rev. Dr. Sebastian Vayalil came to inaugurate a function in our institution (that admitted only boys). In his address, he quipped while explaining a point made by him: ‘By worrying, you can’t get even a single hair above your upper lip’. After reaching home I threw the oil bottle in an abandoned well.
I never thought of doing what Nagvinay did. What would have happened had I ended up my life out of frustration and inferiority complex? People would have forgotten a boy called Sibichen K Mathew in no time. Of course, my mother would have lit candles at my cemetery on my death anniversaries.
But what did I gain by not attempting to toe the route of Nagvinay? Yes, I gained weight as I grew up and started going to gym to shed the extra kilos. I got an attractive moustache like any other elderly Malayalam film stars. Picked up a few outdoor games and played them fairly well. I could enter a reasonably good career arena after successfully passing a medical test and rigorous physical training. Nagvinay could have become like me or much better than me had he not taken this escape route. Where were his teachers when he faced insults from his friends? Why did his parents fail in providing emotional support to him? What were the omissions and commissions of the NCC officers that pushed Nagvinay to this extreme step? Were there no counsellors in the institution?
These days, there is unprecedented increase in the number of incidents of suicide among children and teenagers. Life is not and can’t be always rosy whether you are a lord or a servant. But there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel. We do not know what great moments are in store for us. Every milestone in our life should propel us to go further with fresh hopes. Jeremiah (1:5) says ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart’. Every creation is unique. Each one of us has a unique role to play in this beautiful world. Even in moments of despair, disappointment and disillusionment, one should understand that there are people, events, things, memories, and wishes that can rejuvenate our minds, rekindle our spirits, and restore our lost hopes. But we should take the step of finding out and reaching out to them. So, don’t live in an island. Shed your ego, get rid of your anxieties and fear, humble yourself and be strong in your faith.
Happy birthday to me!
© Sibichen K Mathew
© Sibichen K Mathew
See my earlier birthday thoughts below