Life is a series of innumerable memories that we create over the span of our existence and while certain memories instantly make you beam with joy, some are easily forgotten like soft wispy clouds that float away into nothingness.
Certain memories stand out from the countless other memories, like bright luminous stars in the night sky and they leave a lasting impression on your psyche. For me, that memory was my first trip to Nathdwara.
Nathdwara, a small and quaint town located in the state of Rajasthan, is a place of great religious importance for many Vaishnavas (devotees of lord Vishnu) due to the famous Shrinathji temple. I was 6 years old when I first saw this majestic temple which is always brimming with devotees from all over the world, throughout the year.
The waiting area outside the main temple, known as ‘Kamal chowk’ (lotus room) was packed with men, women and children. Most of them were locals from the neighbouring villages and were dressed in colourful traditional Rajasthani attire. Minutes before the door opened, mom caught Kaajal and my hand in a vice-like grip and told us that under no circumstances should we let go of her hand. Dad was waiting in the men’s line a few feet away and he waved to us indicating that we should tightly hold on to mom’s hand. I was about to ask her why, when a man standing at the far end of the hall declared in a shrill voice, “The doors have opened!”
This announcement resulted in total chaos and pandemonium. People rushed towards the temple door like bulls charging towards the matador waving the red flag. I was so taken aback by the stampede-like situation that I huddled closer to mom and held on to her hand like my life depended on it. All the women went berserk as they pushed and elbowed every other woman to get a better view of the deity. The temple had turned into a veritable war zone where women hissed and snapped at one another to move aside. I rose on my tiptoes, even jumped a few times to catch a glimpse of the deity, but I couldn’t see a thing.
Like a ball in a football field, I was pushed from one end to the other and soon my hand, slicked with sweat, lost contact with my mom’s hand. I desperately tried to find her but I was lost in the sea of sweaty, hairy, bangled arms and stinking sarees drenched in sweat. Choked with panic and blinded by tears, I somehow managed to wiggle out of the ladies section. Fortunately, that’s when I heard my dad shout my name. I ran to him and clung to his legs petrified that I would lose him in the mob. He gently picked me up, wiped my tears and took me to the men’s section so that I could pray. At last, perched on my dad’s arm, I saw Lord Shrinathji’s smiling face and I joined my hands in obeisance and thanked him profusely for my safety. Even though the other men pushed and jostled, my dad stood there like a mountain, solid and unshakable.
This particular temple visit is forever etched in my memory because that day I realized how much I detested being pushed around. I despised the clawing hopelessness I felt at being unable to defend myself due to my small frame. I clearly remember feeling how lucky dad was to be tall and felt a deep yearning to be as tall and strong as him.
Since that day, my six year old self could not wait to be taller, so that no one could push me around or look down on me because of my short height.
I was pretty confident that I would grow up into a tall woman since both my parents were blessed with a good height. I had every reason to be optimistic; after all being tall was in my genes.
In school, being tall automatically equaled to being cool because only ‘one of the tall girls’ were given the privilege of cleaning the black board, helping the teacher put up posters on pin boards and sit at the back of the class (after all sitting in the front, right under the teacher’s nose was every school kids’ nightmare!) I was super happy to be tall, in fact I reveled in it and things seemed to be going pretty well in this direction till the sixth grade but after that, the unthinkable happened. My height stopped increasing!
I hit puberty when I was 12 and with that my growth slowed down considerably. After the summer break, when school commenced, I was surprised to see many of my friends who were once a few inches shorter to me looking taller. I was soon relegated to the ranks of the ‘shorty’ in class and I felt like a short legged duckling among a group of long and graceful swans. At first it didn’t bother me, because deep down I still believed that I would grow a few inches taller, but after I reached five feet and one inch my body refused to grow any taller.
I tried not to be too conscious of my short height, but I couldn’t help but feel deeply embarrassed in the company of younger cousins, relatives and friends who towered above me.
This embarrassment soon burgeoned into a lack of confidence and a feeling of inadequacy which made me all the more shy and hesitant when approaching new people.
In fact, owing to my short height I was once asked not to sit in the ‘Thunder’, a famous ride and star attraction at Essel World, a theme park. It crushed my heart to see fellow classmates laugh and shriek in delight while I sat on the bench, alone and miserable, missing out on all the fun.
I tried everything I could to increase my height- I went swimming; spent evenings either cycling or skipping and even borrowed my brother’s pull up bar, much to my brother’s amusement, who teased me mercilessly about it. I fixed the rod above my door frame so that I could do a few pull ups in the hopes of becoming taller, unfortunately I couldn’t do even one properly. My grandmother, taking pity on me, ordered an ayurvedic medicine which guaranteed an increase in height, but it smelt funny and tasted so bitter that I spat it out and vowed never to eat it again, much to her dismay. (Till date she rebukes me for this incident, stating confidently that if I hadn’t fed the medicine to the floor, I would be taller today).
My self-worth had reached an all-time low by the time I turned 15, and to look taller I started wearing footwear with heels so that I could compensate for my lack of height and diminishing self-worth.
When I went out with friends, I avoided standing next to my tall friends while taking pictures so that my short height wouldn’t be so glaringly obvious. I would cringe inwardly every time I was told in jest and good-natured ribbing to stand at the front during group selfies because otherwise I wouldn’t be seen. Tiny incidents like these left me feeling disheartened and despondent. I felt as if I was dealt a bad hand and I often wondered angrily why I had turned out to be so short when everybody else in my family was tall?
I assumed that being short meant having an unimpressive personality and therefore a life time of being side-lined and ignored, but I soon realized that I was completely off the mark when I met my tenth grade history tuition teacher.
History was one of my least liked subjects (apart from Mathematics) but my worries were put to rest when I joined Mrs. Baijal’s tuitions, who was an amazing teacher and her fun way of teaching history ensured that students went from abhorring to adoring the subject. Mrs. Baijal was short, (shorter than me at 4’11”), but her aura and confidence was so staggeringly high that she could make boys double her size quake in their boots. She was a powerhouse and a sight to behold when she taught and I realised that her height did not in any way take away from her charm or diminish her assertiveness. She had an innate sense of confidence and she was so comfortable in her own skin that every student instantly took a liking to her.
I would cringe inwardly every time I was told by my friends, in jest, to stand in front during group selfies
Since then my perspective changed and I began to love history and even became more comfortable with my height. Earlier if someone called me short, it riled me up, and I always felt angry and upset, because in my mind, being short was akin to a personal shortcoming, a fatal flaw that I had no way of overcoming. After meeting Mrs. Baijal, my feelings began to change and gradually the way I perceived myself and my height also changed.
For a long time, I blamed my short stature for my flagging confidence and my inability to love myself, but meeting Mrs. Baijal changed that and I started noticing other people who didn’t let their lack of height stop them from loving themselves and living their life to the fullest.
In one of the episodes of Indian idol, Neha Kakkar, who was the judge of the show, spoke about her short height and confessed that many people made fun of her because she was 4’9’’, but that didn’t stop her from believing in herself and achieving her dreams. She promised herself that she would prove to the world how ‘big’ she is through her voice. I was super impressed by her confidence and never say die attitude. Her speech compelled me to ask myself- If I like and admire her work and don’t judge her for her short height, then why do I judge myself for being short?
Since that day, I decided to stop judging myself and started focusing on loving and accepting myself. To be honest, getting over this mental block hasn’t been easy. There have been days when I squirmed inwardly while I stood next to statuesque women in elevators, and sometimes I would stand in front of the mirror on tip toes, and wonder how great I would look if only I was a few inches taller. But I encouraged myself to stand next to tall girls in queues without feeling sorry for myself and walk confidently in flat sandals without hoping to magically conjure a pair of heels.
What helped me immensely in my journey towards loving myself was reading about famous personalities who were unfazed by their so called personal ‘shortcoming’ and went on to reach the pinnacle of success such as Sachin Tendulkar, Lata Mangeshkar, Daniel Radcliffe, Reese Witherspoon, Ariana Grande (she is 5’1’’ just like me!), Shakira (She is 5’2’’ and her beau Gerad Pique is staggeringly tall at 6’4’’) and Salma Hayek.
At 5’2’’, Hayek was branded as lacking and short by Mexican standards but that didn’t stop her from becoming a world famous actress. She has spoken against body shaming and negative body image and questioned the age old belief which assumes that tall is beautiful and short is ugly. “Who decided that it’s better to be tall? Why is it better? Am I less healthy? Am I less capable?’ (http://thecreativemind.net/3306/salma-hayek-being-short-was-considered-a-deformity/)
All those years ago, when I was pushed around in the temple, I had concluded that I wanted to be tall so that I would never be shoved or looked down upon. Today, I know that being tall doesn’t necessarily translate to being strong and being short doesn’t mean you will always be overlooked and ignored. In the end, it all boils down to what you think of yourself. How the world perceives you and treats you solely depends on how you perceive yourself and treat yourself.
I have come to realize that a positive body image and a high self-worth has nothing to do with the way you look or how tall you are, it comes with a deep sense of knowing and understanding that you ARE perfect exactly as you are, and there is nothing that you need to change about yourself.
I no longer look at my short height as a flaw that I should try to conceal by seeking refuge in a pair of heels. In fact, during a close friend’s Sangeet performance I did something that I normally never do, (or even think about doing) but I did it, and I’m so glad I did. I danced sans my heels on stage and it was possibly for the first time that I danced fully, wholly and completely, with the kind of confidence that I never possessed when I danced with heels.
I always thought that with the leverage of borrowed height from my stilettos, I would feel more confident and poised, even if it felt a bit uncomfortable, but that day, when I stepped out of my heels, I felt most confident and at ease. That was a day of true liberation for me because that day, I danced in front of a large audience, standing next to girls who looked way taller than me (given the fact that they were naturally taller than me and also wore heels). I danced with my head held high and for a change I felt something that I had never felt before- I felt comfortable being me and I realized that nothing feels better than falling in love with ME.