I was looking at my school pictures, the ones that almost belonged to a different era. Once a year, we came to school prim and proper, looking our best and our shoes shining, when we would be queued up and a pot-bellied man from Sharda Studios would take our class pics. I noticed that in all these pictures, I always stood somewhere at the back, my smiling face making every effort to pop out somewhere in between other faces. Why was it that in every pic, I was either lurking at the back with my face barely visible, or crouched low on the ground in front of the others as if I did not matter?
I guess you get my drift of thoughts. I have always been among the top 3 tall girls in class. In college, I was actually in the top 2. And let me tell you that though many girls I know would gladly exchange their high-heeled shoes to get my height, being tall is not always that cool. Okay, now I don't have the gigantic height the “Susmitas” and the “Bipashas” can boast of, but I guess standing roughly 165 cm tall is not so bad in my part of the world. Or maybe it is.
In school, I never belonged to the group of elite or petite girls who acted all coy while the boys dreamed of them and wooed them. Till middle school, most boys in my class were shorter than me, barring the ones who took gymnastic lessons or older boys who failed and repeated classes. I guess most guys considered me "one of them", since they never showed any interest in me except when pairing up for science quizzes.
Being tall ensured that I was always pushed to the hinterlands of the group because it is the privileged short girls who were allowed to stand at the center. In most pics, my head would be popping out of nowhere or I'd be sitting on my knees with a dozen hands making a V behind my head. While working in labs, I would help get the reagent bottles off the top shelves, put them back again, and climbed stools if need be. If you had a fantasy for dating tall men, almost 70% of the men you met would be eliminated off your list immediately, unless you were in Scandinavia.
I am not just tall, but large-footed too. Until puberty, and sometime even after that, I outgrew my shoes every six months. Bata soon stopped stocking my size of footwear. Even today, barring flip slops and running shoes, most shoes for girls do not fit me. Nor does all those tank tops and tube tops marked S, M, or even L. Anyone could mistake my feet for a man's feet, sans the hair. My palms are larger than most girls', and no amount of manicure or nail polish would make them look pretty.
I wore my dad's shoes and tee-shirts through most of my teens (also because those hormonal changes were making me go through some identity crises). I am the tallest woman in my family, and nothing they buy for themselves (except saris) fits me. Three more inches, and I'd be my dad's height.
Things weren't this way always. But when in my teens, my mom bought me a skipping rope, and I had to jump everyday. Jump, jump, jump, and soon, I was growing by inches every month. There is a "Wall of Fame" at home where everyone's height is marked and dates every few months. Dad would hold a scale by my head and note down my height with a pencil.
I have heard weird questions like, “Don't you find the ground far away when you look down?” Or, “How will you find a Bengali guy?”, and “Did you ever plan to join the armed forces?”
How can I forget my misery during dancing/cultural events when I would always have to dress and act the part of a boy? While the shorter girls would look pretty in their frilly frocks and lipstick and rouge, I was always wearing shirts and trousers and ties in dance events. While the girls wore colorful sarees as they danced to Marathi songs, I tried to look happy in my dhoti and gamcha on my head. The taller ones were always paired as men with the shorter ones, and soon, I gave up participating in dance events just because I was tired of dressing and dancing and acting like a guy. I was tired of the black painted mustaches and beards. I wanted to dance wearing flowers and garlands and lipstick.
Of course I always got the upper berth in trains. And got to lead my group in the Independence Day parades, holding the flag. I got to be the confidante of guys in school who considered me closer to them than the other girls. All said and done, I'd rather be tall than short.
Things changed when I moved to the US. Suddenly, most people were taller than I am. No more did I stand in a class group photo as the tallest girl. There have been times when I've stared at a girl a little longer than necessary, trying to debate if she was 5'10” or more. And the last time I went to buy a pair of track pants, no more did I have to grope for the XXL, XL, or L. The M fitted me fine, and with a little bit of effort, who knows, I might even be able to go for the S.
No matter what, frilly frocks or no frocks, high-heeled shoes or no shoes, petite looks or no looks, and tall boy friends or no boy friends, I am proud to be who I am. I am not sure I would feel the same way though if I was born as Rani Mukherjee.