Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Teenagers are stupid

I should know, I was one. When I read about teenage girls who get into strangers’ cars without giving a thought to who those men might be, attracted by flashy clothes and loud music, I can't help but think “Stupid, stupid, stupid girls” – but I also know that they wouldn’t have given a single thought to anything bad happening to them until it actually happened.

I don’t mean that I was ever dumb enough to be attracted by strangers in flashy cars (when I was a teen, there weren’t many flashy cars around where I lived - or expensively dressed men, for that matter), or that anything bad happened to me. But there was an instance when I COULD have got into trouble and probably nobody would have noticed until it was far too late.

This was when I was 14 or 15, during a School Day entertainment night which was held at a big auditorium – I think it was the erstwhile Rajarathnam Stadium in Madras, but I can’t be entirely sure. My memory is a bit hazy there.

Anyway, we students had prepared skits and songs and dances etc for the evening programme, to be followed by the prize giving ceremonies. I didn’t concern myself with the prize-giving (obviously because I wasn’t one of the top rankers). But I was involved with a longish musical skit – backstage (I’d helped paint the background scenery and props) and on stage (I was singing along with a couple of other girls between “scenes” in the skit). It had been good fun all along because I’d ended up missing lessons (along with everybody else to do with the play) while we prepared the backdrops and costumes and practiced the song, and so on.

So, on the day of the programme, all of us who were involved with the entertainment programmes were bundled into hired buses and taken from school - still wearing our uniforms - to the stadium a few hours before the start. Some of the students were to be picked up from the stadium by their parents after the programme, and those who didn't have private transport arranged would be taken home in the hired vans. I was one of the latter, because I was living with my grandparents and they certainly couldn’t have come to the stadium to fetch me.

The evening went by quickly. Our skit was much appreciated and for once I didn’t mind standing on stage singing, because I was part of a group of three girls plus a boy from my class who sang the male part. (Why three girls for the heroine and just one boy for the hero? I’m guessing it’s because Sujith was the only boy who WANTED to sing! And to be frank, we three girls – from different classes – were the English teacher’s favourites.)

Anyway, while the prize giving ceremony was coming to an end, we were busy in the changing rooms, dismantling everything, checking our lists to make sure that the props and stage clothes were accounted for, and looking for misplaced items, etc. I was among the three students who ferried the various things from the changing room to where the vans were waiting.

By the time we were close to finishing, the prize distribution had been done with, the Vote of Thanks had been given and the evening had come to an end - it would have been around 10 p.m, I guess. The audience had dispersed surprisingly quickly, with parents scouting out their kids and ferrying them off home. One school van had already left with the first batch of performers/helpers who had packed up early (because their turn on stage had been earlier than ours).

One of the teachers had told me earlier that I would probably be in the last batch of students to be taken home. This was okay with me because I was enjoying doing something different, being out late (officially! oh the thrill!) with my schoolmates and generally scurrying around self-importantly with this or that clutched in my arms. We had nearly finished, the van was being loaded with our things when a teacher asked me to take a last look around the rooms to make sure nothing had been left behind. She then got into the second van that was just leaving.

Now, the main doors to the auditoriun had already been shut and locked; in any case, we had been using a side entrance to get backstage and to the changing rooms. I duly peeked into the rooms and made sure that nothing had been left behind. Then I went back to the exit that I had used to get in - except, when I stepped out, it was into near darkness. There was no van or anything, so I knew it had to be the wrong exit.

I should have gone back inside, I suppose, and tried to find the correct exit, but no - I decided that I would just walk around the building to get to the van. After all, I was already outside, and I wouldn't lose my way if I circled the building on the outside.

In theory that was not a bad idea - at some point in the perambulation I would get to where I needed to be. In practice, though, it was really dark and lonely, and the building was a lot bigger than I'd envisaged. There was nobody about as I stumbled along, trying to see in the partial darkness. The grounds looked very big, very deserted and very quiet. At first I didn't register these things as potentially sinister, I was concentrating so hard on where I was putting my feet. In fact, I was actually relieved when I saw a group of lungi-clad men standing near the boundary of the stadium, smoking in the light of a streetlamp - and yes, you can call me stupid for feeling relief rather than fear. They all stared at me as I hurried along; one of them shouted something at me although I didn't really hear what he said, and the others laughed.

But it was then - and only then - that I realised that it was not exactly advisable for me to be where I was with nobody else in sight. Also, it struck me only then that if the last van had left without me, I could actually be in danger; with that thought, I picked up my pace, no longer worried about tripping, not daring to look behind me to see if any of those men were coming after me. I was very lucky, as it turned out, because the van was just leaving. I ran up shouting and waving my arms, hoping the driver would hear/see me. Evidently somebody DID see me, and thankfully I got in when the van stopped.

There was not a single student I recognised in the van; and although I recognised the teacher from having seen him in school, I didn't know his name and he certainly had no idea who I was. Had I not been in uniform, he probably would not even have known me as a student from the school.

To be fair, this wasn't totally his fault - the exodus of students had not exactly been organised. Nobody really knew who had left and in which van; nobody was keeping track of the students. The teachers who had been working with us on the skit had been picked up by their husbands immediately afterwards, or had left in the earlier vans. The teachers who were assigned to accompany us in the vans were unfamiliar with the students taking part in the programmes - they were there merely as escorts, being male.

All in all, although the evening had been a success, the organisation was utterly shambolic. So, between that and my own stupidity, I could have been in physical danger. But I was lucky - unlike those teenagers in Darby, who paid for their stupidity very much more horribly and drastically - because I got the chance to continue with my life as before... other than gaining a little more common sense.

I guess somebody Up There must look out for SOME fools, if not all of them.


Anu said...


Reminds me of when I had been incredibly stupid and naive too.

You are so right someone up there watched out for us.

Radi said...

Not just teenagers, Shyam. Twenty-somethings too.

I was driving back from Minnesota to Michigan, got a flat just on the outskirts of the town I lived in - and that happened at about 3am on Sunday night/Monday morning. In a town that rolled up its sidewalks by 8pm, and stayed rolled up all weekend. Instead of just spending the night in my car, and waiting for the cops to show up, I locked up and started walking along the side of the highway. A car pulled off and stopped a ways in front of where I was walking, and the lady offered me a ride home. She also told me she only stopped because she could see I was a young woman alone (in other words, gently hinted at my stupidity, a hint I absolutely didn't get). Anyway, she drove a bit out of her way to take me home, I called the cops to report the car's location (so it wouldn't be impounded), got into bed and slept like a log. Early the next morning, I called a friend to take me back out there, where I'd arranged for a tow truck to be waiting.

TWO WEEKS LATER, I got the shakes, badly, when I realized that the car that stopped (and that I so eagerly hurried towards) might have been driven by someone not-so-nice, and that I'd stupidly put myself in actual physical danger, just because I thought I could easily walk the 5-6 miles home, or someone would give me a ride (mainly, that some cop would probably see me walking down the side of the highway, and pull over to help).

I couldn't thank the woman who'd given me a ride, except in my mind, but this lesson has stayed with me, as it should.

Kamini said...

You were very lucky that nothing happened to you. I am constantly terrified for my kids that one act of poor judgement can result in something horrible happening.
In America the teachers I've seen are super paranoid when they take kids out on trips, counting and re-counting even after the bus starts moving.
I guess we grew up in a more casual time.

parthg said...

I was also stupid too.

Anonymous said...

Kamini is right. Teachers today wouldn't dream of leaving a kid behind like that.

I once walked into an empty subway on a Sunday afternoon to find a batch of lungi clad men doing drugs. I just turned back and ran at lightning speed. I guess the men were too stoned to even notice me, but I was hardly in a position to think then.

Kamini said...

Dear Shyam,
Has it already been a year since we met?! I remember Grand Central and Dawat as vividly as if it were yesterday!
Wishing you, your family and all your readers a very happy new year, and looking forward to much more fun reading on your blog,