Nails, the kind that grow on you

Ever since I asked whether I should get a manicure or make muithya (fish balls) on Friday, I have been thinking about my nails and what their lives have been like. I wanted to understand why I was even thinking of putting keratin ahead of fish protein. I think I have my answer now.
Polished at last!From the age of nine, I began chewing on my nails. I remember, because that was when we went back to India. I think I hated that first year. I had never been to school in Africa and from that idyllic childhood of huge spaces, colonial era houses with swimming pools, dogs, parents, lessons with my mother and a devoted coterie of African women, I went to Kolkata in September 1973, where we lived in three rooms and a veranda that seemed to have been stapled on as an afterthought. Right next door was my uncle’s family. I mean right next door. I now had to leave the house for a long period each day and go to school at nearby Palm Avenue where the junior PB school was located. I also missed my father very much as he had to stay back in Africa for some time after we left. In my mind now, it feels like years before I saw him again, but the truth is that he must have come to India by December 1974, as he was clearly there when my Dadu, his father, died. He then left India for what feels like another year for either Africa or Burma as a WHO consultant. My mother and I were left alone. There is no greater loneliness than the loneliness of being mistreated by your own flesh and blood. The only break seemed to come at school where I had come to love it and was doing well, and on the weekends when we took a bus or two to Shibpur to my Didu’s house. Everything that I did not have in the Ballygunje house, I had in the house in Shibpur. The company of my youngest aunt who is only 14 years older than me and her friends, the love of my Dida and far more space and less confinement than in Kolkata, even though it was a rented house. But I was now a confirmed nail biter..such a strange term for something that never feels like hurting and is almost unconsciously done. Weekend trips could not dislodge me from the habit. When my parents noticed it, they told me to stop. I do not remember trying, but I do remember hiding it from them. There is nothing sneakier than a child who is trying to hide something. I didn’t want to stop. At ten, or eleven or even fifteen, an occasional bottle of nail polish is no match for nail biting. I went on, periodically stopping, for a few months even, on one occasion, but always falling off the wagon sooner or later.

The first time I noticed I was not doing it anymore was when the children arrived. I have long nails in a lot of the photos from that time. Since then, I have lapsed once, but that is not important. I know I will never do it again. One of the best moments in my life as a recovering nail biter was in class about five years ago, when one of my fashionable students asked me whether I had acrylic nails, and I could say, ‘No, they are mine!’ Girls here tend to get acrylic nails as young as 14, and she was convinced mine were the same.

Luckily, nail biting is not like alcoholism, where you are one for life, even if you have been sober for twenty years. Now one of my biggest pleasures is reaching for that tube of hand and nail cream each night. It marks a victory for me; and a home manicure is a reward for the time my nails did without, for the time when I guess I was unhappy. I should get a professional one, one of these days, but will the woman at the salon know how good it feels, to have won that particular battle? Plus, why pay someone for something I can do at home?

Here is a link:

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