During my college days, when I was fresh out of my teens, I used to do a lot of silly things. I should not call it silly though because, back then, that was how I lived life. During our school and college life, hanging around with the opposite sex is a "status symbol." You get attributed with labels like "stud," "Mr. Popular," etc. You earn the respect of your friends and it feels good to be accepted by the opposite sex.
I didn't have the tall, dark and handsome persona which girls apparently swoon over. Rather, I was the "short," "dark" and had a "family pack." Neither did I play any musical instrument nor was I good at any sport. But I was quite witty and had a great sense of humour. I was really good with words, and among my peer group, I was quite daring and could approach girls with ease. Within no time, I became quite popular among girls in my group, earning the ire and jealousy of the boys in my group.
It became evident when I sensed hostility in the way they talked to me, the way they behaved with me. They would be discussing something and when I arrived at the scene, they would simply stop talking and stare at me with uneasiness. They stopped inviting me for their hangout plans, movies or picnics. They made sure that I was kept away from the "scene." After a while, things started turning ugly as the boys in my friend circle got together and started insulting me before the opposite sex. They would say things like, "Hey, this guy bathes with coal" or "Oh, it seems he never bathes at all" and "It seems years of accumulation of dirt has made him so dark" and "He is so dark that even if he bathed with acid, his color wouldn't fade away."
To all their insulting remarks, I had no answer. I didn't know what to say because, yes, I am dark-skinned and I cannot deny it. I started losing my self-confidence. I started losing my morale. Their remarks broke my heart. Sounds of their laughter after mocking me would echo in my mind for days. I became the laughing stock in my group, a soft target who people could make jokes about. They made me look dark and I was pushed into darkness. I started losing interest in things, in life altogether, as the feeling that 'no one loved me' seeped in.
As my semester ended, I took a pause from my life to soothe my mind and soul. I stopped 'chasing' girls for a while and that actually helped. I started reading motivational books written by the likes of Dr. Joseph Murphy, Dale Carnegie, Robin Sharma, Shiv Khera and many others. I started reading the Bible and verses like "God created you in his own image and likeness" gave me a lot of strength. I attended various seminars on topics like cultivating a positive attitude and related topics. I realized that most people in this world have been bullied or have been discriminated against at some point and many people have faced bigger problems than me.
I started enjoying life again. I watched movies, played cricket and read novels. I started expanding my sphere and began making new friends. I started hanging out with people who respected me for the way I am. I filtered out my friend circle, removing people who tried to pull me down. Slowly and steadily, I made two best friends who became friends for life. And in the years to come, we as a trio shared countless memorable experiences.
As I experienced life, I learned to love myself. I removed all the toxic people from my life. I understood that it is not necessary at all to impress people. Those who want to love you will eventually love you and those who want to hate you will hate you, no matter how much effort you put in to change their mind. You must never fear to throw away people who don't love you. You must never, ever bear the insults of people just because they call you your friends. Fight back. Earn the respect you deserve. You are unique in your own way. Never let people define you.
Though slowly, but I learned to look into the mirror and say, "Hey dude, you look so handsome." Because now, there was no fair or dark, only colors. Colors of friendship and happiness. For friendship never discriminates, it only accepts.
This piece was originally published in Youth ki awaaz.