The Ugly Duckling was one of my favourite stories when I was a kid. Not only because it has animals but because I could connect with the story at some deeper level.
When I was born I wasn’t the prettiest looking kid. In fact I was far from pretty! I had practically no hair on my head, had big, filled-out cheeks but a disproportionately small and skinny body, slightly “chink-y” eyes and a non-existent nose. My poor paternal grandfather got a rude shock when he saw me. He was especially disturbed about the lack of hair. My mum had ( and still has) lovely long glossy hair so he was expected I would be blessed with the same. But you know how it is , you hope for this and Murphy ensures you get that! Such is life! Now that I am older and have seen my fair share of infants, I wonder, are any tiny pink new born kids pretty?? They are supposed to look kinda strange and you are supposed to be madly in love with them anyway!
At age three(or was it two?) one of my uncles commented to my mom “Her nose looks flattened out. You know ,like a tyre went over it.” What do you say to that?? My mum just smiled mildly, told him that her kid was just fine and divert the conversation to another direction. A few other random relatives made similar comments and each time mom would provide them with the above described treatment.
Once she was telling me a bed time story- The Ugly Duckling( bad choice, in retrospect!). At the end of the story, I asked her in all seriousness ” Ma, am I an ugly duckling?”. My mother burst out laughing. She couldn’t believe I had said that. She was surprised that arbitrary comments made by people around me had left such an impression. She did her best to reassure me that I was loved irrespective of how I looked. Needless to say, after that day the storybook was placed at the bottom of the book rack- not to be read again for a long, long time.
My parents never had issues with my appearance. They thought I was the cutest kid. I guess all parents are wired to think that way! The issues with the non existent nose and the lack of hair gradually resolved themselves with age. However, distant relatives would use every possible opportunity to bring up the more-than-two-decade old event time and again; mostly on occasions when the entire family would have gathered together for a wedding or some such event. This was done only to ensure that more and more people could be informed of what a “pretty” kid I was! (Honestly, I don’t think it made an iota of difference to the audience but the older aunties just love to rehash ancient tales. May be if you discuss them often, the tales become timeless! May be that was the reason behind relaying them time and again).
Just a few years back I visited my Tai-ji in Central Delhi. She is generally a happy-go-lucky lady who loved to cook and (over) feed her guests. We are Punjabi after all. Our clan traditionally lives to eat…sorry, feast. I was, at that time living in the hostel so the possibility of being over-fed sounded great to me! She fed me a scrumptious meal for which I was supremely grateful to her. Towards the end of the visit she brought back into the conversation her favourite topic. Fortunately for me, she was in a good mood and quickly brought the topic to a close by saying ( in Punjabi, I translate here for the benefit of the reader) ” Now you have become ok. When you were a kid you were rather ugly looking. You looked nothing like your parents but now you are ok.” This was followed with a big, bright smile. I was speechless. I had hoped that at age 23 people would have forgotten about my past. Apparently not.
Since the past two-three years the issue of my appearance has been coming up in conversations with lesser frequency. I think we aren’t having sufficient family get-togethers. I sure the next big one that happens, will see yet another elderly lady bringing up snippets of my “glorious” past!
PS: My mum read this article and wanted to make a few additions. When I asked her if I were an ugly duckling she responded saying “No, you are my sweet swan.”
She just wanted to clarify this little fact for the readers. 😀