As I grew up, I grew fond of books- mainly fantasy novels, that took me outside my mind’s imagination and immediate environment’s reach, and deeper into myself. I read on and on as the genres and subjects fluctuated from the Panchatantra’s moral tales, Enid Blyton’s short stories and Goosebumps to Dan Brown’s mysteries. As I moved from the teen who teared up at Twilight to one who wept in the school bus as she read Khaled Hosseini’s work (Author of the Kite Runner), I had this interesting book right there, guiding me through all my reads. When I couldn’t decipher Shashi Tharoor’s political satires to when I needed to feel the exact ‘emotions’ in Fifty Shades of Grey, cuddled in bed, I flipped pages of my dictionary.
It was a huge Oxford Dictionary that Papa got for me, that came with a Thesaurus (I didn’t know what this was till I began writing myself). It forever stayed on the table next to my bed after I learnt how to use it at school, maybe in 2nd grade. As I got into reading in spare hours, Mummy got me a pocket dictionary that I proudly carried to school each day. On its first page, I’d proudly written, ‘Akanksha Mishra III-C’ with a pen (Big deal then). And since then, the dictionary became the book I read bits of everyday. It’s shifted from a hardcopy to an app on my phone and an account I follow on Instagram.
But, this article, isn’t about how I pumped up my vocabulary by looking up words I found in books, but how I learnt what things (mainly abstract) really meant when I didn’t know whom to ask.
I learnt from this dictionary, in third grade, what ‘friend’ was: ‘a person whom one has a bond of mutual affection’. After that I looked up what mutual meant, I wondered if I did have friends. Some months later, I looked up definitions of ‘beautiful (mass n) a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses especially of sight’. I, this little kid, looked at herself and decided she wasn’t pleasing with her boy-cut hair and Nigerian-sun tanned skin.
As I bounced on into grades six and seven, my searches grew curious and I wondered what ‘boyfriend’ meant, my friend told me: ‘a person’s regular male companion with whom they have a romantic or sexual relationship’. It was then I stopped calling my boy…friends my boyfriends. I wondered if I would ever have one, because after I searched what sexual meant, I made up my mind that it was no-no. As I listened on to my friends talks during recess and read Chetan Bhagat’s ‘Three Mistakes of my life’, I flipped to find meanings of ‘sex, intercourse, gay, homosexual, menstruation, vagina’.
A few months in and I knew ‘menstruation’ was a lot more than: ‘(mass n) The process in a woman of discharging blood and other material from the lining of the uterus at intervals of about one lunar month from puberty until the menopause, except during pregnancy’. I learnt it was natural and happened to half of the humans on earth, but it was taboo and a bad thing to talk about with boys and in front of Papa and my brother. I learnt how to cry when I stained my white school skirt, sit aside during gym class, staying in and watching TV while everyone played football in the evening. I learnt it made me a woman and in subsequent classes got to know its biology. On enquiring about poor women from my mother, I also got to know it was unmanageable for the poor women and needed sanitary attention. It disturbed me then, to know women were bleeding in pain, subjected to torture. It still does. My dictionary couldn’t get me the answers I needed then.
Some more years and I finally deciphered ‘intercourse’ and was grossed out at the very thought of it: ‘sexual contact between individuals involving penetration, especially the insertion of a man’s erect penis into a woman’s vagina’. It took me almost five years after reading that, that it was something pleasurable and beautiful, created life and needed to be spoken about. I then (with access to the internet) googled condoms, homosexuality etc. It baffled me and I was disgusted. I stayed away from discussions involving these topics and the very mention of the word: porn.
I was taught not to call someone ‘gay’, as it was demeaning and disrespectful, so I looked it up too: ‘(adj) light hearted and carefree’. This seemed alright to me, till I saw ‘homosexual’. I looked it up too. ‘Sexually attracted to people of one’s own sex’. This was amusing. Because, I wasn’t. But I wasn’t disgusted. Time passed by, and I knew there were terms such as homophobia, which only we humans, as a species exhibited. I learnt that there was something called sexuality and it was predetermined genetically. I read about it in detail when I chose to take up biology. I knew gay people who were gay (definition number one) and was proudly not phobic. I learnt it was more than a definition, or described, elaborate, illustrated pages of my fat medicine textbooks. It was a movement and a stamp of the failure of acceptance of love on the face of humanity.
We’ve all searched up the word, love. I even looked up lust. One definition went: ‘an intense feeling of deep affection’ and the other was’ strong sexual desire’. It took a few years to accept, I felt both. I also believe, we ‘need’ both.
Given varied sexualities, biologically we’re meant to procreate. Love is a beautiful way to trick us into it (but we also love our parents and siblings, yes), but we also need the lust to enable our species to grow and survive. Some of us want it differently, some men with women, some with men, women with women, some don’t want it at all and so on. There’s a whole chunk of meanings we need to self-discover for ourselves and for the society we live in. We need to do more than restrict ourselves to phobias of what society throws at our mouldable minds. We need to look up more meanings in more dictionaries, apps, wherever and whatever. And we need to look up more than that. We need to look up at people and respect them, for their monthly errands if they’re women, for their sexual inclinations, for their social preferences, for being themselves. Let’s help each one be oneself, with pride.