Being Women

Oh, The Dreaded Number 2

The author reflects on societal obsession with "Number 1" through her own experience of being pushed for academic excellence

“Amma!” My teenager rushes home one day, with a little trophy, “I bagged the second prize in the RJ Hunt competition.”

Second Prize? No. 2?

He stands there smiling jubilantly, and I am transported back in time.

Circa 1994

“Number 2? I hate Number 2,” barked Sridevi from the TV screen. I was then but a naïve teenager on the cusp of entering 10th grade.

Nobody remembers Number 2

“See, even Sridevi knows Number 2 isn’t good. Nobody remembers Number 2 and nobody talks about him. If you wish to be famous and successful, you must be Number 1.” Mom pointedly commented on her way to the kitchen. And I pretty well knew it was intended for me. Because for the first time in many years, I had stood second in my 9th-grade final exams.

Well, as it goes, I belong to a family that is extremely keen on academics. I mean, all through my childhood, I was always expected to perform the best, to be the best, and mind you, by best, I mean Number 1. I did try hard to maintain the title, but then, thanks to the ever-mounting pressure of academics and activities, I slipped. To the second spot. And all hell broke loose.

As if parents weren’t enough, the pesky relatives didn’t make it any simpler. The eternal question always stood, “Who stood first?” “By how much?”

Why is the human race obsessed with the idea of Number 1?

And all this while, I have been wondering, why the human race is obsessed with the idea of Number 1.

From the very day we are born, there’s one sentiment that is bulldozed into our hearts and minds.

Win, excel, be the best. Be Number 1.

So what happens when you are talented, have worked hard, given your best shot, and almost won? You end up being, ‘The Dreaded Number 2’?

The world around you suddenly refuses to give you enough credit for all the effort you invested in it. You become invisible just because one person scored marginally better. But why?

For ages, the human race has held some kind of mysterious grudge towards Number 2. Wouldn’t you agree if I said, that most stress and frustration we experience these days stems from our fixation to be up there, right on top? Not one place less, though?  

It’s not just marks or ranks I remember Indian beauty queens in the past who had talked about not being given enough recognition just because they were runners-up in an international pageant with more than a hundred participants. Be it sports, movies, or just about anything, our society shows a very natural disdain for the second.

Why this mysterious grudge when No. 2 has so much to appreciate?

But why exactly? Come to think of it, the Number Two is associated with everything beautiful.

Love, romance, friendship, partnership. Is there any of this without a pair?

🐦🐦 Two birds for joy, Do Hanson ka Joda, two lovebirds, forever.

🔱🔱 Shiva and Parvathy, the celestial couple, the revered Ardha Nareeshwar, Adam and Eve, Surya Chandra, Man and woman, Earth and Sky, War and Peace, they all come in pairs, don’t they?

🕺💃 Two is the symbol of Duality, hasn’t it always been Two to Tango, Partners in Rhyme, Hum Do Hamare Do?

📆📆 The second month of the year, February, is when spring arrives.   

So, when nature doesn’t differentiate, why do we?

There’s one dialogue that struck me deep in the epic series on Netflix, ‘The Crown.’ Discussing her sister’s struggles, the queen tells her son,

“The system takes care of Number 1. It’s Number 2 that needs all the compassion.”

It couldn’t be more true. I guess it’s time we celebrate the Second. Even more than before. Let’s not place ourselves on pedestals and not differentiate based on ranks and scores. So our children aren’t pushed into unhealthy competition. So we rid ourselves of needless pressure and grief. So we make the world a safer and happier place to live in.

“Amma! You know who stood first?” I was jolted back as my teen nudged me.

“I don’t wish to know.” I placed his trophy in the showcase. “You are happy: your talent got the deserved appreciation. There’s nothing more I want.”

I embraced him.

(TSS turned TWO in January. To commemorate this milestone, a contest was organised. The theme for the contest was TWO. This entry written by Preethi Warrier is a winner)

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2 Responses

  1. A heart warming and theought provoking write up, apt for the exam season.. Celebrating the efforts not the numbers the need of the day.

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