This is a story that one of my students wrote. Through a simple narrative, she takes us through an internal journey of the character Neeraja, who makes us reflect on the imperfections and eccentricities we see in people and choose to be so judgemental about. If only we were to look deep into those imperfections, we would see our own imperfections, our deficiencies.The story teaches us to be sensitive to people and accepting of the diversity of human behaviour. It teaches us to read into the silent stories that people carry within them.
The quest for perfection is an endless journey that we embark on, right from our childhood. We live in a world where most of us are aware of our imperfections, and yet expect perfection from others. Is it okay to be imperfect?
Neeraja enrolled into my school when we were in 4th grade. She had long hair that was straight, thick eyebrows, glowing eyes, and a bindi adorning her forehead. Her bindis changed colour every day- from red, pink and green to mustard, yellow and turquoise. She stood out in her school uniform, especially on Wednesdays, when her white uniform appeared blue from too much Ujala. I remember the boys in my class sing the Ujala ad song that was popular at the time, and make fun of her. But that didn’t seem to wash away the smile on her face.
My class teacher made her sit next to me. At first, I hesitated talking to her as I was shy to initiate a conversation. But that didn’t seem to bother her. She was one hell of a talkative girl. Where she started and where she was headed, she herself didn’t seem to know. My responses to her rattling were limited to monosyllabic expressions of hmmm and oh! I hardly bothered to pay much attention to the content of her conversation. But this lack of interest never deterred or disappointed her. She kept at it. But how long could I go on as a passive listener? So I started talking too, and we became good friends.
Eventually, I came to know that her mother had passed away a few years ago in an accident. I never confronted her on this, but I could now see the pain behind the glow in her eyes. I could now relate to her enthusiastic tasting of the dishes my mother sent in my tiffin. “Did your mother make this?”, she would ask every day. I realized that in truth, her life lacked the colours that her bindis abounded in.
We were in touch even after school. An year ago, we decided to meet up. That was the first time she talked about her mother.
“You know what? Growing up without a mother is not easy. On many nights, I would cry myself to sleep. At an age when I needed a mother, I was playing mother to my younger sister- making ponytails that were always imperfect, packing a lunch of bread and butter into our lunch boxes, and the millions of other errands that needed a mother’s skilled hands- her perfection. Life seemed to demand so much from me. How could I be perfect? However, those imperfect attempts made me strong. Now, I can cater to the needs of a whole family, all by myself. Can you do that?”
She raised her eyebrows with a very serious expression and then broke into laughter. I laughed with her. Then, she continued.
“You know why Lord Krishna is loved over all other deities?”
“Why?”, I asked.
“He was blue in color. He was playful and stole butter. He encouraged Yudhishtira to lie- to say that Ashwathama was dead, in order to upset Drona. He even encouraged the hesitant Arjuna to slay Karna in his moment of weakness- when he had no arms to fight and no chariot to help him escape. Of course, these acts were for a greater good.”
She paused and then continued.
“Krishna was perfectly imperfect. Despite lacking in qualities that describe the perfection of the other Gods, he is loved like no other. That definitely proves that deep down, we all have our insecurities- our imperfections.”
Being a strong Krishna devotee, I found myself nodding in full agreement.
Whenever I see children wearing coloured bindis, whenever I realize there is too much ‘blue’ on my white coat, Neeraja and the wisdom in her words come back to me. The world is never perfect. It never has been. It never will be. And so it is with each one of us. We are all a little injured, a little jealous, a little selfish, a little broken…but a lot more loveable, on account of these imperfections within. We have all made our mistakes and regretted it in retrospect. And so, in this world of imperfections, it is perfectly okay to be imperfect.