My class teacher in Class 3 was a wonderful woman. I don’t remember her face, but I remember the peacefulness, fairness and wisdom she exuded.
That day, I lay there with my head on the table, sitting on the bench just across her as she sat calmly doing her work. I felt silenced by the deep sense of shame I was feeling.
She was waiting for me to tell her the reason I had pulled such a scam. But she was never threatening, not even once. “It’s okay,” she repeated several times. “Not everybody likes everything. I don’t like to eat bitter gourd, and that’s fine. You can tell me why – I won’t scold you.”
But I was speechless and sobbing softly, like a child whose playful wrongdoing was being called out after being ignored for long.
It all started without much planning, with me lying about a stomach ache to get excused from gym class. With a bit of scepticism, I tried it again two weeks later, this time blaming back pain – and it worked! That the gym teacher seemed to believe my words every time made me lose all caution, and I deployed this trick every two or three weeks — sometimes for two weeks at a stretch.
My teacher eventually caught on. It must have to do with the innovative varieties of aches and pains that an eight-year old seemed to get so frequently. So, one day when I confidently threw “neck pain” at him, he told my class teacher that I was up to something.
What I didn’t understand enough to explain to my teacher that day is that I wasn’t just having fun when I got myself excused from his classes. I was sparing myself public embarrassment. I was a fat child, you see, and not too great at sports. More so, our teacher enjoyed ridiculing kids who couldn’t easily do the things he taught. He did it in front of everyone and they would all have a good laugh. It got too difficult to bear and that’s why an otherwise honest-to-goodness child like me ran such a lengthy scam.
The first time I discovered I was ‘fat’ had been two years before this incident when a boy in class called me a ‘pumpkin’. I remember feeling confused, because it came out of the blue. I couldn’t understand why anybody would say something mean like that.
From my ears where those bitter words fell, the awareness that I am fat spread to every part of my body and very soon it birthed shame. At six years old, I had already become uncomfortable wearing shorts and t-shirts – designed as they were those days, with no thoughts of fitting all sizes of children. A series of body-shaming physical education and gymnastics teachers played a great role at worsening it. This led to me despising all movement-based classes.
Unfortunately, it spilled over outside of school and I never went to play or exercise on my own. And as I’m a girl, no one saw a red flag and acted on it. They just let me be the inactive, dark-corners-seeking-sad child that I was.
I thought that was okay, and that I was a brains person and not an activity person. But for the last two years, as the scale shifts to the wrong side of my twenties, it’s becoming obvious that my body and mind are a wreck because I do not exercise or move enough. It has especially been heightened during the pandemic as there are no avenues for activity.
You’d think knowing is half the battle, but you’d be so wrong because I struggle every day to push myself to do something, anything — stretching and small workouts at home, skipping, yoga, dancing, or just some walking. But it seems as daunting as a Himalayan trek. Every time I think of doing any activity, my mind becomes a battlefield, and very often, the terrified part wins over the sensible one, and I continue to ‘potate’. And the constant exposure to people who seem to be effortlessly active on social media just makes me sink deeper into the couch.
If you’re like me too, don’t beat yourself up. You’re not lazy. There are some things beyond willpower, and the underlying issues take time to be resolved. Meanwhile, I’m taking the path that my wonderful class teacher took — giving it time while carefully thinking about it. I’m reading about the importance of exercise for well-being, watching workout videos and bookmarking them. I go for walks once as often as I can. I do instant stretches at random times of the day. I dance in the bathroom sometimes. I have hope that this will someday get me closer to getting enough exercise and being fit.
Nirupama V is a writer and podcaster working in the development sector; passionate about mental health and Kdramas.