Updated: Jan 6
It was a school day, on a Saturday. And we all know that nothing good can come out of Saturday-school. However, after finally managing to grudgingly drag myself out of bed and lazily-turned-hastily go through a series of monotonous everyday events that are apparently necessary for this little something called “hygiene”, I was on my way to school alright – on a bright 7:30 AM, trolling about the emptier-than-usual roads to sit in a classroom and solve coordinate geometry sums on a day that HAD been reserved for some self-care. AKA way too many chocolates, no chapatis (if I got my way) and a few too many episodes of Modern Family on my friend’s Hotstar Premium account.
Well, there goes my self-care Saturday.
But I’ve got to admit – once your face is all dripping with that freezing cold water and the last few dozen remnants of sleep have been washed out from your eyes, the idea of having to go to an overcrowded building to cram unnecessary information into that already burnt out and shaking brain so you can spill it all out onto ruled sheets that go into the hands’ of well-meaning but ill defining teachers and also determine your worth to society once they’ve been graced with those ever-so-elegant red pen marks – doesn’t seem all that bad, really. I mean, it is what it is, right?
Turns out, that school day was amongst the better ones. Some or the other cultural or art or cooking or psychology (I honestly don’t know, if you couldn’t get that by now) fest was going on and a few of us 8th graders were ushered into different halls to participate in some strange experiments conducted by the older kids. Now, phrased in this manner, this may sound a little… fishy… and maybe even on par with violating the Geneva Convention in some ways, but I can assure you that no Rick and Morty type events were taking place and no, our school does not need to be seriously looked into or sued. Just that the senior batches needed to get some of their psychology or physiology or sociology (again, I don’t know) experiments turned in, and who better to play guinea pig than an innocent thirteen year old who had just wanted to get out of her third language Kannada class (me).
By the time these affairs were all wrapped up and we were sent back in, I had missed the majority of my classes and it was nearing dismissal time. Now, as any other student who had managed to bunk almost all of their treacherously boring lessons and solve some weird version of a crossword puzzle under eerie observation instead, I was ecstatic. Today had been a good day. Maybe I had even gotten some self-care done after all. You know what they say – nothing heals more than being written a report on.
But it was that walk back home that settled it all in, really. The van wasn’t coming in that day, so I decided to buy a cheap orange popsicle and stroll along back home instead. The distance was short, the weather pleasant, my bag light – but this incredible feeling of dread that had settled into my stomach for absolutely no reason wasn’t all that easy to ignore. Now, at the moment I might have blamed it on my eating habits and chastised myself for getting myself a sickly-sweet ice lolly that in all honesty just tasted like cold flavored water wrapped in sugar, but there was more to it. Now, I’ve always been one for rolling my eyes at how every film’s protagonist can consistently manage to just “feel the tension in the air” because nothing of the sort has ever happened to me – the most I’ve ever been able to feel in the air would be the pollution – but as much as I tried to push it down, I knew something had to be wrong.
So, I quickened my pace.
As I stepped into my house and entered my bedroom to tear out of my sweaty-with-the-Saturday-sun uniform, my mother strode in, apparently having reached home from wherever she was just a few seconds before me. And she did not look pleased. In fact, she looked pained.
“Why did you walk? I went to pick you up,” she snapped.
“I’m sorry,” I raised my eyebrows, “how would I have known that you were on your way?”
Either she didn’t hear that bit of what I said, or chose to ignore it. Another pained glance my way and I broke. “Good Lord. What is it?”
“Your music teacher called today. Your sixth-grade piano results came back. You didn’t pass.”
Now, in a frenzied continuation with my previous statement, I’ve never been one for sobbing along with the protagonist of whatever movie I’m watching when they throw down the phone or begin to sob or yell or hurl. If the reason’s a good one, it’s a good one. But if Miss Girl here is going to be having a breakdown because her boyfriend of three days’ father said a mean thing to her, I’m probably not going to be nodding along in sympathy. If anything, it’s melodrama and stupidity at its finest.
But that day, I got it. As I stood there, still in the uniform I’d never gotten a chance to change out of before being downed with a bucket of unforgiving ice, I got it. As I glanced at my mother who was shooting my way, a look that was a twisted, sour combination of disbelief and disappointment, I got it. As I grabbed my phone and shakily dialed my music teacher’s number as quickly and accurately as I could with a vision that was quickly making its way to be compromised by salty water, I got it.
As I realized that I had managed to fail, not just perform horribly, but fail in an exam for an instrument that I held so dear to my heart, an instrument that I had been playing for the past seven years of my life - something that had never been even close to happening before, I got it.
That fateful day has been imprinted in my memory so very deeply that I could narrate to you the exact string of events that followed without missing a single beat. I hadn’t shed a single tear as I sat on my bed. But it was when my teacher picked up, it was when he confirmed my mother’s words, that I allowed myself to completely and totally break down. It was little of the actual number that had been allotted to me, and a lot more of the devastation and humiliation and disappointment that was thickening the air all around me. I remember heaving, up and down, as my teacher, a man whom I deeply loved and respected, spoke to me in his calming voice and insisted I wipe away my tears and listen. The man who instilled in me a deep feeling of gratitude as I realized that there was still someone on my side. The man who told me that it was alright. The man who told me we’d try again, and work harder this time. The man who asked me not to give up.
Now, in retrospect as an almost-sixteen-year-old, I realize that it was with little maturity that I handled the situation. But back then, thirteen-year-old me was absolutely shattered and humiliated and never wanted to touch the piano again. The big, beautiful instrument that stood in my house’s hallway, the big, beautiful instrument that I had always prided myself on playing. But three years ago, as thirteen-year-old me sat on her bed and stared into a strange little bubble of nothingness, she also found it difficult to ignore the words that were forming a sentence in her subconscious – a sentence that she must have read in some novel or Pinterest board.
Do not be upset by the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.
Because all in all, that little voice was right. The work that I had put in was minimal – non-existent, even, maybe. A bitter amalgamation of ignorance, indifference and overconfidence was what had led me to this version of that day, and that thought was an epiphany on its own.
In the alternate series of events that had followed, an alternate version of me that was practicing day and night and allowing her instrument to consume her entirely, or maybe even just dedicating two hours a day to sitting down on the sleek, leather seat and placing her fingers on the keys, wouldn’t have been a version that had failed. I was almost certain about that, because today, I have allowed myself to offer my own being that much credibility at the very least. However, if by some stroke of bad luck, I still had managed to not fare well or miss the passing mark, I wouldn’t have this burning hole in my chest, because I would have known that I gave it my all. Mom wouldn’t have been all that disappointed, because she would have known that I gave it my all.
Bad things happen, she told me later, but you need to remember that at the end of the day, God helps those who help themselves.
And as much as I may not exactly be the biggest Krishna worshiper, I knew that she was right.
So, I did. I did try again. And this time, I made sure that I was doing it for the right reasons. Not because the protagonist of every Jane Austen novel knows her way around the pianoforte, but because, in the middle of the night, when I decided that I needed to get that one last bar right before I could sleep, and my still-awake father grabbed my still-awake sister’s hand and made her waltz around the hall with him to my sleepy Beethoven, it felt like home (well, technically, it was home but let me have my moment). Not because I was in love with the idea of playing the piano, but because I was in love with the piano.
Today, in the March of 2022, I realize that as much resentment as I may bear towards that one day that sent me spiraling down into a frenzy of distaste, I wouldn’t go back and change it. Today, as a piano student who is just about to be done with her eighth and final grade before moving onto her diploma, I know that if it weren’t for that fateful Saturday school-day, a lot would have been different today. I have always been a strong believer of the phrase, ‘everything that happens, happens for a reason,’ and I know for a fact that the version of me today, the almost-sixteen-year-old who has her earphones plugged in too much, to her parents’ chagrin, would know a lot less if she hadn’t learnt a thing or two back when she was thirteen.
And as extravagant as it may sound to the casual passerby today, I can thank my failure for making me some part of what I am today – I can thank it for holding me up and telling me that it was okay to have to try again, as long as the second time, I was actually trying. That it was okay to want to learn the piano just so that I could be my own life’s Elizabeth Bennett, as long as I learned to love the beautiful, beautiful instrument just as much as I had taught myself to love myself.