Who is a nerd? What is a nerd? – Tejas, circa 2006
I vividly remember the first time someone called me a nerd. I had heard the term in passing, what, with seniors jousting verbally on the bus, but I never quite understood it. All I knew about the word came from people’s reactions to when they were called nerds. Some stood up, in arrogant defiance, followed by a meagre attempt to beat up the instigator, and some cowered away, accepting their fate, their label. Consigning themselves to the corner of bus, book in hand, glasses on face.
Not long passed before my friends first marked me as a nerd. In primary school, I wasn’t the only one, but I read a lot, wore thick, Harry Potter glasses, didn’t play videogames (because I didn’t have a console), watched limited television, and did a lot of things on the computer – using Microsoft Office, and even learning how to build games, courtesy my Uncle.
I spent time burning music CD’s for my walkman, watching several episodes of Tell Me Why or Tell Me How, and even NatGeo documentaries. It was pretty easy to guess that I’d be brandished one really fast. Except, when doomsday arrived, I couldn’t grasp what had just happened.
What hurt more than the word nerd was who it came from. I had 4 close friends. We spent the full day at school together, ate lunch separately, but then ended up convening in the evening and spending more time together. So they had seen the other side of me – the guy who tried out all sports because his parents forced him to or the guy who preferred to play outside than sit at home in front of the PS2. It didn’t matter. They called me a nerd anyway.
And that hurt man. It hurt. Because to them, I was this chubby kid who’d end up last in every race we’d ever had (I still blame my knock-knees and my flat feet), who’d always keep goal in football, and concede the simplest of shots (out of fear of breaking my glasses), the guy who didn’t like taking risks, like jumping from the top of a slide (out of fear of breaking a bone), and the guy who had a 7pm curfew.
I was the guy who bought books as gifts for friends, the kid who actually spent time on minor pieces of homework, and the person who people would call up to find out what happened in school.
It was pretty bad, and I didn’t take it well. I broke down a lot in front of my friends, crying everytime I was picked last for a game of football, crying even when the ball hit me – an accumulation of emotions, and this unexplainable feeling that they did it on purpose.
I remember the valiant attempt my mother made to console me – ‘You’ll be their boss one day’, she said. I barely cared. Which kid wants to be their friends’ boss? All we care about as kids is having friends who thought you were ‘cool’.
It sucked. Until I found my ‘nerd’ clique. We paid attention in class, didn’t try too many risky things, and pretty much chilled out reading Enid Blyton. It was fantastic. But this was primary school, and my life took another turn when we moved to India.
6th and 7th Grade was tough because my image preceded me. Once I was labeled a nerd because I studied a lot and spoke about how I studied (mistake), no one looked at me any different. I mean, no one outright insulted me, and I wasn’t discriminated against, but jokes came really fast to my friends back then. My un-mastery of orthodox sports like Football hurt me severely, and I was barely decent at Hockey and Cricket, which were not considered all that cool by my friends circle.
Things changed when I moved to Inventure, however. I stopped caring what my image was in front of people, and began ignoring what people said about me. It still hurt when people called me a nerd and said that I couldn’t let loose, but that stopped pretty soon – everyone’s focus reoriented as boards came around. Inventure also had this really nice culture of inclusivity – giving out awards for Academic Excellence. While people who played Sports got medals and trophies, we got Books. And it made our day, week, and month. It was fabulous.
I never got over being called a nerd, but I started hanging out with people who didn’t care that I was one. And accepted me in their social circles even though I was one. It was pretty good. I mean, I did other normal things to chill out and let loose. I loved movies, for one, and some TV shows too. But because of the way I spoke and how much I loved studying, I guess that’s what people associated with me.
And that continues at college. It’s just that I care a whole lot less.
So yes, I’m a nerd. And I’ll accept this gladly. I’ve been one to stick by rules, I hate breaking them, and I love studies and academics today too. My work excites me a lot more than it’s ever done before.
Yes, I’m a nerd.
But this doesn’t mean I don’t like TV shows, movies, or sports. Nor does it mean that studying is the only thing I do.
All this writing was a consequence of someone calling me a nerd this morning. I guess that although my acceptance of the phrase has increased, the associative value of the word remains.