Remember those slam-books with glossy pages and quirky fonts that we used to pass around in school from under the desk? Sometimes, we would be caught in the act by the unnecessarily strict menopausal Geography teacher or the Maths teacher who only wore khadi, and we would go red in shame when they confiscated our trove of hidden secrets.
I don’t recall clearly in whose slam book I wrote it, but I do remember writing “Fake smiles” in a slot that asked, “What do you hate most?” At that age of brooding adolescence, a sly smile that my crush had cast at me before walking away hand in hand with a friend – was apparently what counted as “fake smile” to me.
Before I knew it, I grew up, and slam books filled with glittery emotions were buried under a thick layer of dust, somewhere.
The phrase was formally introduced to me when in XIth standard, my father accompanied me (and a cloud full of monochrome hopes) to the South Kolkata centre of Aakash Institute. I didn’t feel it, but I was made to believe that I wanted to be a doctor too. The pretty lady at the reception peddled false promises, with (yes, you guessed it right) a fake smile.
In the initial days, unwarranted advice like “Stay away from fake smiles”, “Fake smiles are worse than fake tears” used to pop up on my Facebook news feed. I believed them whole-heartedly, and before long, I cocooned myself into the perfect excuse of an introvert. Meanwhile, life happened, and I slowly forgot the art of smiling, that came so spontaneously once after a shrill birth cry.
Today, as I lurk in the dark alleys of depression, most of the days, I feel like a man blinded for a moment by the flash of lightning. And, somewhere lies a sapling of hope that yes, this too shall pass.
I cry, I scream, I weep. On better days, I convince myself to be stronger while watching some feel-good flick in Wes Anderson colours and laugh out loud to slapstick comedy. I try to sing along to peppy pop numbers, hiding Nirvana in some corner. And when I go out alone in bright clothes, lining my eyes in an objectionable amount of Kajal, I pretend to be happy. And now, I have learnt how to do it. It’s very simple, sport a “fake smile”, and you are good to go.
Sometimes, I am amazed at how far I have come, from hating “fake smiles” to wearing it as a seal of “alright” to my shabby and shattered self.
And as I sip into another cup of tea while typing this, I sincerely wish to unlearn the art of fake smile.