Tell me about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
‘I named her.’ I told the psychologist.
Defensive and unrelenting, I sat there in his office; questions answered, opinions argued, compromises made. I later figured out it’s not all about the name. It’s more so about the name keeper. About me . . .
It takes me long to accept facts.
While no psychologist could actually ever figure out why Neha, my sister, was an oversensitive child, the fact that she was one, was enough for us to maintain caution when dealing with her. I, however, took my time to realise that. I never accepted that my jokes, teasing and control weren’t usually taken in the most positive way. The bubble of complex that it created inside her was reflected in her speech, her rigidity of nature, her short temperedness and her low self-esteem. She was loud in the house yet quiet in front of strangers. She’d argue with us all over why she had to pick up the dishes but wouldn’t be able to answer a question in class. With her bitterness and insolence and her stammered speech, Neha eventually made me come to terms with yet another important fact, about myself; I am an emotionally detached person. When it comes to showing appropriate emotions, to empathise with another person, to contribute towards one’s behavioural development; I fail miserably.
At least, then I did.
4 June 2008 - Neha’s birthday coincided with my last O-Level exam. Since I knew nothing special was planned for her birthday, I chose to enjoy the freedom with my friends rather than spend time with her. I got home to find her sitting on the couch, watching TV. She said nothing. I wish she had, for then at least I would have argued, laughed, hugged and re-hugged her till I could somehow make up for what I did. But she didn’t. That day, her unusual silence and normalcy taught me the importance of family. I learned how to make choices, not out of any great love or devotion but out of unabashed guilt and remorse. Baby-steps.
When she’d tell on me and when she wouldn’t be part of the team ‘sisters’ and instead support team ‘parents’, her austere attitude would annoy me. Had she grown up too quickly? If not, her boring personality was a definite downer. Nevertheless, there are moments, when she makes me feel that she understands that I’m the eldest. She makes me the eldest. And the helplessness that comes along with that rare submissive self seems to be a call to our relationship. Sometimes, at the end of the day, she would come to me with her history textbook and would start flipping pages. She would tell me how long her test syllabus is, how much she had done, how much she had yet to do. She would read the chapter titles, count the pages, curse the teachers, laugh at her own procrastination and cry out of stress. Then I’d listen, hug, endear, console, plan and suggest. And all of it would come to me naturally.
24 November 2007- I cried when my parents went for Hajj (The sacred pilgrimage). Burdened with what I thought was too much responsibility, I would vent by playing badminton in school. I remember how my sisters would have to wait for me an hour after school ended and how they complained about it. But I did it for myself. It was a conscious effort. I realise now that it is probably why everyone said a hyperactive child like Neha needs to be set busy in sports and other activities. But I guess everyone is different. Neha finds her peace in the quietness and stillness of art. When she went up on stage to receive her prize for a distinction in art last year, I couldn’t help but smile behind the lens of the camera. I saw the resurgence of pride and self-confidence in my shy sibling.
4 December 2010- She wakes up on a Saturday morning, at 7, only to wish me luck for my SAT. She is able to inspire enough love in people that one makes her their responsibility. Mainly because she thinks everyone else is hers. She irons my school uniform when I am too occupied studying for my exams. She comes in my room, checks on me like a mother, asks if I want Pepsi and kisses me good night when everyone would go to sleep while I would finish my assignment. For the smile she feels would straighten things out, she is my father’s over protective nature, my mother’s pervasive concern.
April 1996- June 1998 - In kindergarten, I had a friend whom I considered my best friend back then. Tall and thin with delicate features, she was shy and just a little stubborn. She’d cry everyday as her mom left her in care of our teacher Miss Cooper but as the day passed she settled in. I remember making snowmen with her out of dark, black, sticky clay. Hers were always better. They were made of neat, perfect circles, with almond eyes and she’d complete them by placing her coloured hair band over it. Mine were just funny. I named my sister after her. I named her after Neha Saleem.
I later found out that though Neha primarily means “shy and hidden” in Urdu, it also means “beauty and love”.
“The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing truly more artistic than to love people”
-Vincent Van Gogh
Earlier, I thought reciprocity of emotion comes with expressing one’s feelings. The conventional. I feel now that maybe, sometimes it doesn’t need that latter voice. Sometimes, the gap between receipt and return is defined only by the lack of realisation or communication. When covered, one understands that unconventional form. And perspectives change...
I recognised that unconventionality of love, with hurt but also with the will to change; when seven years ago, someone told the psychologist:
‘I don’t like my eldest sister.’
I won’t ever forget. That was the beginning - She was the silver lining of my black cloud.