There are no real perks of being a wallflower – you just become the wall as you grow older. However, there’s probably more character in the heap of clothes in the corner of your room than in what people sometimes say in class. I don’t know about you, but I’m not afraid of saying things, I’ve always been more afraid of the people things need to be said to. It shouldn’t have to be this way because there’s enough chaos with everybody trying to talk over each other in an attempt to make sense. This sense of fear is hard-wired in me; it still takes me a lot of time to think before saying something in any form of communication that is not an informal conversation with a non-authority figure.
Have you ever been to one of those house parties floating on alcohol filled plastic cups and music you’ve never heard before? If you find yourself sitting in the quietest corner of the living room, eating a banana (no puns intended), you’re probably like me. You just realised who the host is because he’s giving you the stink eye for laying claims on his food without asking, doesn’t seem like he really wants all these people here, either. If the number of strangers in the room made you instinctively look down at the floor and inadvertently cut across to the kitchen the moment you entered, things are probably going to be difficult for you in almost any college.
The magic of LSR. I don’t know if this phrase was hurled at you as many times as it was at us in the first year, but let me assure you I don’t seem to have figured out what it means. Not being too rosy or romantic, however, I can also assure you college will give you a moment or two where you can carry your quietness with just as much charm as those who seem to be exuding it with all their confidence. You’ll learn it’s possible to feel exceptionally intelligent and extremely inadequate in the same space and that your friends who will appear to be the most certain creatures you’ve ever met, harbour just as much insecurity as you’re keeping to yourself. You might also learn how to own the ‘t-shirt and jeans look’ as much as the bindi as much as the summer dress, only to realise it’s completely possible and okay to own all these looks or none at all. That’s kind of how being in this college will also feel, like you’re this, that, everything and nothing at all. Maybe you’ll draw your knees to your chest at the back of the class room and drape your hair around your face and your professor will read into it to mean insolence or angst and maybe the only things you’ll ever say in class are through your eyes, nodding or in the pages of your notes. There’s some grace in that, although nobody will ever make you feel that way.
I would love to tell you that it’s okay to be like that and you’ll find a space here that makes you feel included but that’s not real. There are really no perks of being a wallflower but that’s not your short coming, the world’s just trying to knock the softness out of you and mould you into itself. Give in sometimes, the world needs to hear the things you think, write and should be saying. Keep fighting it, too because there are enough patronizing people (including me, probably) trying to tell you your voice is its volume, your personality is how much attention you can garner and your identity is reducible into its immediacy – little check boxes you can tick off of a list.
When I think about it in retrospect, I’ve never backed away from saying what I’ve really felt the need to say, even if my way of expressing it isn’t conventional. It occurs to me sometimes that maybe it should count that I can write better than can I address a room full of people, I can talk to different kinds of people in smaller groups although I can’t say what I wish I could say in a formal setting with fifty odd people and maybe there are ways of noticing and including quieter people to engage conversationally in the classroom we haven’t discovered as a learning community yet. We often self-censor and silence our voices trying to find their way because the spaces we inhabit are so insidiously judgement-ridden and not as accepting of myriad ways of seeing, being and expressing. What should count more is the determination to keep learning, even if some of us have always been scared and apologetic about trying to find a voice which isn’t as vocal because of a host of reasons like patriarchy, gender socialization, childhood experience and sometimes, just personality. I’m not sure if I’m a woman yet, although I identify as one while talking about gender issues and I certainly don’t know if I’m growing into the woman I want to become.
My hair isn’t drastically shorter (why is it still called a boycut, anyway?) or coloured, I have no piercings on my face and my clothes are still the same. I just wear them differently, like my quiet self-assurance in the corner of the living room at an awkward house party.
At our college orientation, the Student’s Union President told us in her speech that we could feel ‘the magic of LSR’ only if we remained open to feeling it. That day, most of us were so overwhelmed and swayed by the instrumentalists, followed by dancers cart-wheeling across the stage in red dresses cut to perfection, that for very long, we would try to recreate this magic in the most mundane moments and fail. Forget magic, the only time I did feel any sense of comfort in the everyday was when someone I didn’t know smiled at me in the passing or when we sat on the lawns in between classes, drinking iced tea and trying to make sense of how we felt. That’s when any real transformation is really taking place, when you’re not noticing and aren’t pressurized into it. Is this the magic of LSR? I can’t tell, maybe it’s just the course of things, maybe it’s just me and the people I’ve talked to. The fact that I have a rhetoric to talk about being quiet and being woman the way I am is at least partly because I’m here and I’m glad. I can’t tell you what to think or feel because the ‘you’ I’ve been addressing here is mostly myself but I can tell you, the reader, that there can be no generalizations, there cannot be some kind of cookie cutter mould we’re all fashioned out of.
I can tell you I’m a wallflower and sometimes, the wall (I really feel I might even metamorphose into the furniture of the classroom one day, instead of an existential insect) and yet, I have conversations, I have words inside my head and down on paper, I have people to drink tea with at night as we talk about what is wrong with a space that confines us to talk about these things behind walls. I have ideas to try dismantling hierarchies and reimagining realities with – ideas that are teaching me to question my own biases while noticing them in others. As long as there’s possibility of some form of dialogue with people, especially in understanding conflict, I have hope that I’m capable of creating my own spaces on the fringes of an exclusive order and you might find it too. I might often sound discontent and cynical but the truth is, this is the most confident and comfortable in my own skin I’ve been in the last two decades. If that still means I’m a wallflower and the perks are lost between the pages of young-adult fiction I’ve outgrown, so be it and I hope you too can find the courage to look for yourself in places other than mirrors and classrooms and college societies, if you can’t find yourself there.
Written by Priya Tripathy
Image by Chetanya Godara