“Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time..”
I do not remember when it was that I came across Peter Pan for the first time; perhaps my vivid memory of being shown the 2003 movie at my school in the 7th grade was the first. I obsessed over it for months or perhaps years; enchanted by the concept of Neverland and never growing up. And when I read somewhere that Sagittarians are known to have ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’, I was elated at the discovery. I divulged to every passer-by my noble intention to never grow up or be an adult. The concepts high-schoolers attach to coolness are strange indeed.
At 29 years old, looking back and recollecting some incidents, I am glad that I grew up. This is going to be a difficult write up, more cathartic than usual, because I am going to talk about things that I had blocked out from my childhood – perhaps because it was inconsequential, and perhaps because I knew that all said and done, I was just being a horrible person. We want childhood to be all about magic and innocence and rarely acknowledge Barrie for his realistic reflections in Peter Pan.
Her name was Maari. I remember it distinctly because I was taught the word first by my Malayalam teacher. I remember noting it down, in that little ruled notebook covered neatly in brown paper and with a colourful sticker in front that announced the details of its owner.
‘Naanarthangal (synonyms)”, she wrote on the board.
‘Mazha (rain) – maari, varsham
I knew her name must mean something else in Tamil, for she was from an obscure village in Tamil Nadu (I never bothered to find out the name), but it always reminded me of what was taught in class. Rain. And although I would love for someone to be named Rain, surely even myself, I did not want to be called that, as my cousin did at times. He would call me Maari to spite me, and I would be indignant. How could he call me by her name?! Sure, she was all of 10 years like me, and perhaps even the same height and weight, but she was darker, she was illiterate, she was the household help. I did not want to be her namesake.
Looking back, I wonder where my innocence lay. Why I could not accept a girl my age and play with her as I would with a classmate. Why I found it weird that she would be reluctant to approach my cousins and I, and would stick to her mother in the kitchen as far as she could. Why I found it hilarious when my cousin would threaten her with a knife or a pair of scissors or a dummy spider and she would retreat to a corner or squeal like a mouse; why, he was only playing around, wasn’t he? Why was she so scared every time when he really meant no harm at all…!
Perhaps I did not realise that anything can be scary for a 10-year-old living with strangers who speak a different language, because I never had to. Perhaps my entitlement did not allow me to see beyond her skin colour and notice the same fears in her, the same insecurities and the same dreams in her heart as were in mine. Perhaps I was so conditioned to there being two classes of people, masters and servants, that I did not feel the need to question anyone why I went to school and she did not.
I wonder whether I would have been nicer to her if my cousin were not around. Perhaps. Maybe children learn heartlessness from each other, and maybe it is cooler to be cruel than to be nice. And every act of spite eventually gets washed away by our colourful daydreams, and the reality of our childhood becomes that of wonders and laughter and sweet nostalgia.
It has taken me 19 years to come to terms with what I did. I do not know where she is now. All I can do is send my apologies out into the universe, wishing that they would reach another 29 year old woman existing somewhere, a happy place hopefully.
Whenever I come across the question of what I would go back and change, I would always say nothing,. But today, I realise it isn’t true. I wish I could go back and talk to her, be her friend and make her feel welcome. I wish I could go back and have the courage to stand up to my cousin, to tell him to leave her alone. I wish I could go back and tell myself how she and I are the same.
I wish I could go back and make sure that I do not have to write this post with blurry eyes.