Alden Boon

How My Dog, Clifford, Uplifts and Gets Me Through My Chronic Depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder: Rajes Balachanther


As told to Alden Boon.

You are a burden.’ ‘A waste of space.’ ‘A good-for-nothing.’ No, these are not my current innermost thoughts. These were words my parents hurled at me when I was just seven years old. Every single day. Threats to send me to a girl’s home rained down on me. What is inexplicably ironic to me is that I was a test-tube baby. Natural conception evaded my parents for ten years after they got married. I wasn’t an accident that sought to trap them in a transactional marriage; or an inconvenience that disrupted their freedoms. I was planned for: there was a careful decision to have me, and they went through the costly and laborious process of in vitro fertilisation to bring me into this world. So, as the only child in the family, shouldn’t I be surfeited with love and affection?

In hindsight, I guess I became a punching bag. That very year, my father was declared a bankrupt — I remember stumbling upon a letter marked with the word ‘bankruptcy’ in bold. The details are hazy: I think my father was an entrepreneur who got cheated of his money. There used to be a man who would come over to our house often and they would talk business; he suddenly vanished from the face of the earth. Whatever it was that transpired, the blame devolved on me. I was on the receiving end of my father’s displaced rage. My mother was an absentee parent: as a quality controller, she used to work the afternoon and night shifts, and so was never around to defend me. Not that she would have done so. What would a confused seven-year-old do in the face of constant berating? Laugh it off, of course. That only angered my father even more. As I wasn’t close with any of my cousins, nor did I have any friends, I had no point of reference as to what a normal upbringing was.

Rajes Corgi Puppy Pet Anxiety Depression Dog Singapore

In school, I was the oddball. I was — still am — an Indian who could not speak Tamil. Because I learnt Mandarin during my kindergarten days, my father wanted me to continue taking Mandarin classes. My then principal, who was Indian, was adamant that I picked up my mother tongue. I was completely inept. My classmates teased and taunted me, saying I was a disgrace. I remember thinking: ‘Yes, I’m lousy at speaking and writing Tamil. I don’t know, perhaps you could teach me?’ Such an obvious solution was apparently impossible. My mindset soon changed to that of ‘fine, if you don’t want to talk to me, I won’t talk to you.’

So, I became the outcast, the loner. And in school, being different meant I was the easiest target of bullying. My classmates would steal my pencils. Once, someone toppled the trash bin and made a huge mess. When the teacher reprimanded the class, everyone framed me as the culprit. I profusely denied the allegation, but the teacher called me a ‘liar’. I just had to accept it.

Another time when I was nine, I was minding my own business when a group of my classmates approached me. They told me to go to the basketball court. ‘This is it! They want to befriend me! I’m now part of a group,’ I thought, sillily. A girl pushed me to the ground, and the rest just ganged up on me and started hitting me. I reported the incident to my teacher, who informed my parents. True to form, the latter insisted that I was being melodramatic and that I was imagining things.

With all the things going on, school became living hell. To get out of it, I’d feign an illness. Whenever my father saw that I was playing truant, he would pull me by the hair to get me out of bed. With little time and dread, I had to get ready for school. There I stood in the assembly line, with my unkempt hair and wrinkly uniform, the laughingstock again.

Where I lived, there used to be a street vendor who peddled cigarettes. I bought a few sticks from him using my pocket money and picked up my first vice at the age of nine. There were also seniors from my school who frequented the uncle’s makeshift shop. I started hanging out with them. They introduced me to alcohol. They wanted to confront my bullies and fight them. I relished their company: it made me feel cared for. It was my first taste of friendship.

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.