‘My parents needed a lesson, to understand what I was worth’

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Illustration: Samia Singh

IT WAS raining heavily outside. Angry tears were streaming down my cheeks and I was pacing up and down my room unable to contain myself. I had just had a furious fight with my parents and I truly believed they didn’t understand their daughter at all. I grabbed my suitcase, packed what seemed precious and resourceful at the time, wore a thick woollen sweater, tied my shoelaces and made the decision to run away. I climbed out of my window and headed away from our house.

I was six years old.

My suitcase was actually a red, plastic lunch box. Its contents were a five rupee note, spare change, Alpenliebe sweets and a video of the film The Neverending Story.

I was standing by our gate, soaking wet. Of course, in the heat of the moment, I had forgotten to take an umbrella. I was planning my next course of action. I headed towards the shelter of a large hedge surrounding our property and huddled under it with my red suitcase and its prized contents. I resolved after some thought that I shouldn’t really have run away. No. No. That would break their hearts, I thought. They just need a little lesson, they just need to understand what I’m worth.

After half an hour of seriously pondering life behind a hedge, I began to get quite fidgety. I sat on my red suitcase for what seemed like an eternity (in reality only a few more minutes) and then finally, shivering, uncomfortable and a little hungry, I gave in. I brushed off the leaves in my hair, picked up my suitcase and walked home with my head held up triumphantly. I was sure, I was certain that I would find two very distressed adults losing their heads over their precious little daughter. Perhaps, they were even calling the police. I could just picture all of this in slow motion. My mother would come running towards me and tearfully sweep me into her arms, and my father would put the phone down and hurry to wrap me up in a blanket.

The reality, of course, was quite different. What I faced as I stepped inside the house was one adult scolding me for playing out in the rain and the other adult slapping me for breaking my lunch box.

The funny thing about this story is that so many years down the line I can still remember details — like the Alpenliebe sweets. Yet, no matter how hard I try, I cannot remember what had made me so angry in the first place. Whenever I think of this story, I am reminded of how much larger life is than what we feel in any given moment. We can laugh at a cute emotional outburst. Yet, as adults, when someone laughs at our emotional outbursts, we don’t find it funny at all.

As adults, we tend to take ourselves very seriously indeed. We get caught up in the moment. We conjure up filmy condolences, music score and all, to satisfy our emotional outbursts. It could be a grudge held against someone for years; it could be resolving to never, ever recover from a break-up; it could be laughing at that bald guy in office or it could be a drunken punch-up over a pretty girl. I don’t know at what point we assume that we have stopped growing. We seem to know how large the world gets, but still slip into that we-know-it-all attitude. The older we get, the harder it becomes to laugh at ourselves.

I think childhood stories are a perfect way to remind ourselves that in 10 years, we might learn something more. We might grow more. We might gain more perspective. So, the next time you catch yourself getting caught up in the moment, having an emotional outburst and taking yourself seriously, just remember: it’s a lunch box, not a suitcase.

Kalki Koechlin is 27. She is a Mumbai-based actor

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