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Sunny Kotecha

A self-portrait

Most people don’t remember much from when they were young.  I know I used to go to an infant school right across the road from where we lived.  It had a huge climbing frame and green railings that looked really high when I was young.  I remember my dad and I climbed over them one day so he could teach me how to ride my new shiny green bike.  It’s funny though, because I never learnt how to ride a bike without stabilisers and even now I always walk around Oxford unlike most students here. 

The first ‘big’ school I went to was called St James.  My memories of that place aren’t great though my parents worked hard and paid huge fees so I could attend.  The selling point of the school was that it taught Sanskrit which meant a lot to my parents who felt that they had sacrificed much of their Indian culture in coming to the UK.  Other family friends went to St James and I guess I followed their footsteps.  The location of the school was probably the best thing:  in South Kensington nearly opposite the Natural History Museum.  It was a strict and stifling school; we couldn’t wear trousers on school trips and we began and ended each class with a Sanskrit sloka - but were also forced to learn the Lord’s Prayer and read from the Bible every day.  Though I was consistently top of the class I wasn’t happy – especially when my bed-time reading was restricted by a list designated as ‘suitable’ by the school.  I remember sneaking books home from the library hoping that my dad wouldn’t see the Judy Blume covers!

I was an ugly kid – fat and goofy.  I used to get teased at St James but don’t remember that much of it.  I think I am quite good at blocking out painful memories.  That’s the good thing about having a vivid and over-active imagination.  You can make up stories and forget the truth of what has happened to you.  Reality can be over-rated!  At secondary school, I was a bit of a loner for the first few years, preferring books to people.  Sometimes I still feel like that – especially when I’ve got a good book to curl up with…  I think it comes down to the years of my life I have spent just purely reading.  I love reading… still do, after all this time!  I don’t think there is much that beats a good book, something to munch on and a pleasant environment…  I remember telling someone quite recently that I feel sad for people who don’t read – but at the same time they probably feel that I miss out because I am not really overly moved by music or sport.

Sunny

Academically, I did very well in my 3rd year at secondary school.  I’d just broken up with my best friends and it was a strange time for me.  I don’t remember how I coped but I must have learnt a lot to make a new group of friends and get the year prize.  Fifth form went pretty quickly for me – I was still getting good grades and came up with top GCSE marks in most subjects.   Apart from the notable exception of starring in a play by the Asian Society when I was 15, I don’t think I really made the most of extra-curricular time until 6th form.  It was a great time; lots of new girls who wouldn’t judge me on the ‘swot’ reputation I’d built up.  I managed to get involved in lots of things – ‘Young Enterprise’ is the one that sticks out the most.  I really was in my element, enjoying my friends and the thought of going away to study Psychology at university. 

I did get the grades for Oxford but the worst thing about it was that I wasn’t allowed to celebrate with my friends.  I was desperately craving my freedom!  In a way, I suppose it made me look forward to university so much more and make the most out of every opportunity that came my way there.  Because they are so strict, something that dominates a lot of my thought is the difficult relationship I have with my family.  My brother is five years younger than me.  He puked as I was cutting the cake at my 6th birthday party.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever forgiven him for that!  Jokes aside, we do get on quite well except when he feels the need to assert himself in front of other people, especially my parents.  I think in some ways they give him far too much freedom – at least a lot more than I ever had!  Probably that’s what frustrates me – thought it is certainly compounded by the fact that he doesn’t study anywhere near as hard as I was expected to.  My parents were good at raising me – though I do feel that they are still over-protective.  I’m not sure how I’d raise my own kids.  I’d really, really want them to be able to talk with me openly.  Few people have that kind of relationship with their children but I hope if I am fair and clear with them, then I might be able to nurture the openness that is so lacking with my own parents.

My main worry is that I’ll never meet a guy I like that my mum also approves of.  She really wants me to marry within our caste (lohana) but with one ill-fated exception I’ve never met a guy who qualifies… I guess I should talk a little bit about the exception but it’s still a bit embarrassing.  It wasn’t a huge thing but it scares me how much my judgement was off.  It’s not even as if I was a late starter; I had my first crush aged 12 years old.  Like most other girls, I developed a crush on a friend’s older brother.  He was funny and loud and had the cutest dimples.  He’d usually make fun of me and we’d have legendary taunting matches.  He probably knew I liked him but I was one of his many admirers and would never have taken me seriously!  Things changed for me the summer I turned 14.  Maybe it was the first time people noticed I’d lost my puppy-fat, I don’t know.  It seemed that suddenly, boys discovered me.  Though I still wasn’t ‘pretty’, I had a cute, innocent look going for me.  With my long hair I stood out in a crowd.  I’d just had my braces off and so had the benefit of a novel and beautiful smile. 

Compatibility is so important; I do worry that I’ll never be with someone who just gets me.  Recently, I was chatting to a guy and just realised he’s so not the type of person who I could be with.  In fact he is really antagonistic and incredibly afraid of commitment and openness.  He runs away from any mention of awkwardness.  I find that so frustrating and hard to deal with – especially when I want to criticise him and tell him how to change when I shouldn’t.  I firmly believe I don’t have the right to tell people what to do, but it feels like I see things so clearly sometimes when others don’t.  Is that crazily egotistical?  I feel like I’ll need a king amongst men to make me happy but I don’t want perfection, I just want a guy who’s willing to take my opinion seriously.  I know when the time comes, I fall stupidly and madly in love, willing to do anything – I just hope it’s with the right person.

Something that has influenced me significantly but I have yet to talk about is Swadhyaya.  It’s an organisation built up by Pandurang Shastri (aka Dada) that aims to regain a kind of utopia by following guidelines set down in the Gita (a Hindu holy text).  Essentially it comes down to working hard, never losing faith and maintaining love for your fellow man.  People meet every Sunday morning all over the world to listen and discuss Dada’s interpretation of the Gita’s message.  As well as the philosophy, Dada has put into practise many projects all over the world that aim to benefit those in the lowest stratas of society.  It has been estimated that he has affected the lives of 25 million people mainly in India.  His good works have recently received acknowledgement from the international community – most notably the Templeton Award, seen as an equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize and presented in 1997 by the Duke of Edinburgh at Westminster Abbey. 

Line Drawing

Swadhyayees meet at programmes or camps throughout the year to share thoughts and bond with each other.  We have classes and discussions on culture and other relevant topics.  The most recent thing I remember in depth is the concept of ‘bhav’ which is essentially the concept of love and affection for other people but without expectation of anything in return.  At the same time you have to be self aware (‘swa’ meaning self and ‘adhyaya’ meaning study) and try and remove ego from your life by acknowledging God in everything you do. It all seems quite deep but is well worth the effort when you realise what it’s all about.  As someone once said “I’m not sure why we are on this earth, but I’m pretty sure it’s not just to enjoy ourselves”.  My dad believes and follows the ideals of Swadhyaya somewhat more than my mum.  But that’s ok; she just feels that there are other things more relevant in her day-to-day life.  She is also a lot more aware of what people in the Indian community may say about our family and that’s probably why she wants to maintain the ‘proper’ way of marrying into our own caste.  I find it hard to agree with her but I know the pain of not fitting in, and also fear of what people think.

I haven’t yet said a lot about myself or my personality.  Not because it isn’t important, but perhaps because it is – and further to that, it’s actually hard to put into words.  I was on the phone last night to a friend and he accused me of judging him.  The funny thing is that I try to make a big deal out of not being judgemental.  In fact, I like to think of myself as a tolerant and open-minded person.  Maybe it’s just the theory of non-judging that I like – and the self-satisfied, almost smug, feeling it gives me.  Am I actually sitting on my high horse telling other people how they should be?  I know that humbleness is a virtue.  Sometimes you know you ought to be a certain way but you just don’t know how to get there…

For example, I know I have a problem of high expectations.  Dada says that we ought not to expect anything from anybody.  But how can you get to that stage??  It seems that you are conditioned to expect something to happen again if it has happened before or is considered the ‘required’ thing.  A simple example is that of a boy phoning you.  You didn’t ask him to call in the first place but you don’t mind chatting to him.  You’ve known him a while and don’t fancy him, but the conversations get to be kinda fun.  Without meaning to, you fall into a pattern of chatting to him most days.  He makes you feel good and somehow you get to stage of wondering when he’ll call and actively looking forward to it.  But eventually it’ll get to the stage where intentions are stated and then what?  Maybe he doesn’t call anymore but you’re already at the stage where you expect him to call, and in fact, you are almost relying on your daily fix.  At what point does the expectation turn significant?  Is it just a matter of conditioning and reinforcement?

I’d like to write about what my future holds but I find it difficult.  People always say to me – you’ve studied psychology, you should know what makes you tick.  But I just find myself a bundle of contradictions.  When I was younger I had dreams of changing the world and being famous.  I guess my priority when I was a teenager was to do well in school.  At university I focused more on having fun with friends since I felt that getting to Oxford was an achievement in itself!  I did however, go through a phase of trying different extra-curricular activities to get the right kind of CV-enhancing skills but now I like to think there is a lot more to life than getting a job…

My only clear goal for the future is to have children - giving them the best possible environment and ideals to grow up with.  I’ve also thought tentatively about adopting children once my own have fled the nest.  I read recently that one in five children waiting to be adopted in the UK never once gets considered by a family.  I know that the situation is even worse for ethnic minority kids and I’d like to make a difference if I can.  I know that adoption is a big deal, and I hope I don’t sound too naïve about it but I know that I have a lot of affection and love to give.  It’s so unfortunate that so many kids get adopted almost on looks alone – there are so many out there ‘with faces only a mother could love’.  I know that I’m a maternal person, and if anything I will, like my own mother, be over-focused on making sure my kids get enough attention.  I’m sure it will be healthier all round if I had a big family so that I don’t become too smothering on any one individual! 

Having said all this, I don’t really know if having a career will fit in with family life.  I like the idea of being my own boss.  My limited experience of office life has made me realise I don’t like having someone checking up on me constantly.  I’m the same in the kitchen.  I absolutely love to cook but I find it so irritating if someone is watching or making ‘helpful’ suggestions!  I think maybe that I’d like to be a freelance writer, though I don’t know whether I’d be any good at it.  I’d love to write children’s books that adults still remember and enjoy.  A good example are the ‘Just William’ books, which I think are fab, and still make me laugh as much as I did when I first read them ten years ago!

Lion

I like writing because I can have my own rules.  Generally, I love to know what’s going on and need to have clarity about what people are thinking.  I absolutely hate unresolved conflict and will go a long way to sort out a situation where there is bad feeling.  I don’t mind telling white lies to make people feel better and I can be clever at covering up for others’ mistakes.  If I am upset with someone, I won’t rest until it’s sorted out – I hate leaving things up in the air and I guess that makes me a confrontational person at times.  I also hate to be ignored – if I feel someone isn’t paying me the attention I need, I’ll run after them to figure out what has changed.  I think it’s a type of insecurity... I also have a dichotomous personality, in that if I’m going to do something, I won’t leave it halfway – I like a sense of completeness.  That ranges from finishing a pack of biscuits that I might have opened (!) to seeing a project from start to finish.  I’m not very good at accepting when things have changed and I have to move on.

I’m a bit clumsy sometimes and sneeze very loudly.  I often put my underwear on inside out!  I like quirky things; I like to be different and stand out from the crowd.  There are so many little things about me that I like and don’t like… how long can I go on for? ;)  I’m quite touchy-feely and will cry if a book moves me.  I really don’t like being told what to do or made to account for myself.  Unreliable and inconsistent people frustrate me.  I like to be admired but can’t handle being ignored or having my core beliefs ridiculed and thus can be quite easy to wind up!  At the same time I’m quite good at making people feel at ease and relaxed.  Although I am not blessed with natural comic timing, I try quite hard and can make people laugh on occasion.  In my group of friends, I’m seen as quite lively, always ready with random comments.  I’m full of complex confusion.  Though I go out a lot I’m also quite happy in my own company since I get bored of other people sometimes.  Often I need variety and stimulation.  I like lists.  I write poetry, bad cheesy poetry that has to rhyme, but I like it (someone has to ;) I guess I’m just me…