My Life at N.E.D. - Episode 3: The betrayal

December 30, 2023

If a smile could kill, he would’ve been a mass murderer.

He once told me that he was born in Karachi, like myself. Yet, his accent wasn’t quintessentially ‘Karachi wala’; it was Urdu spoken with a subtle Punjabi inflection. Very soft spoken. Friendly, smart, and probably quite rich.

Our bond was instant: it was friendship at first sight.

I need to explain the “tribal” dynamics of an N.E.D. class. The unwritten rule was to constantly be with your “group”. These were the people you’d team up with for assignments and projects, spend time with after classes or in the evenings, study alongside, hit the gym together, and even share in the occasional roughhousing. If ever faced with bullying, it was expected - at least in theory - that your ‘tribe’ would be your defenders.

If the bully was from a senior batch, you wouldn’t expect too much from your mates though. And everybody was okay with that.

Daamir Jutt was the first person who spoke to me when I started at NED, as far as I can remember.

Like myself, he was the youngest of three brothers. Like myself, he too initially grappled with the challenges posed by our remarkable teachers. As we delved into our study sessions, it became apparent that, while competent, he wasn’t exactly a standout scholar. Yet, what he lacked in innate brilliance, he compensated for with relentless diligence. I can honestly say that Daamir was, without a doubt, the most industrious individual in my circle. I had enormouse respect for his work ethics.

We used to go to the gymnasium after (and sometimes during) lectures to play table tennis. With Daamir and Kizwan (who deserves a note of his own), we were the three musketeers.

The three of us were affectionately known as “the Jutt group” by our classmates.

I have always been conflicted about Daamir; a person I have experienced the extremes of both love and hatred for. The evolution of my relationship with him was fascinating, weird and heartbreaking. Over the next four years, it turned into something that changed the way I think about human connection. Through him, I came to this sobering realization that when critical moments arise, one might find themselves standing alone, without a champion in their corner.

The trust issues I suffer from at this point in my life are rooted in my time at N.E.D. Year after year, I kept hoping that Daamir will snap out of his ways and will stand up with me, telling the bullies to fuck off. I kept waiting for the day when he would put his arm on my shoulder and tell me that everything was going to be ok.

He never did.

After the end of first year at N.E.D., Daamir’s behaviour made me as lonely as I have ever felt.

I’m pretty sure he never meant to hurt me on purpose. It’s like he was trapped, with no way out but to join my bullies in laughing at me, making me feel tiny, unimportant, and worthless. If he hadn’t, they might have turned on him instead.

Maybe he felt he had no choice.

But here’s the thing that’s eating me up inside: I can’t shake the feeling that he did have a choice. I’m so tired of trying to justify his actions in my head.

When it comes down to it, you always get to choose – are you going to stand with the bullies or stand up for the bullied? You can’t just flip sides whenever it’s convenient for you. The choice you make in those moments, that’s what shows who you really are.

Daamir’s conduct is indicative of a common pattern.

It’s a frequent occurrence for people to be let down by those they trust the most. This betrayer could be a spouse, a family member, or a close friend. We open up to them, granting them insight into our innermost thoughts, our dreams, fears, and peculiarities. Logically, there’s no guarantee that someone with such influence and insight into our lives won’t betray us. There’s no proven equation that ensures “Person A will remain loyal.”

Yet, we continue to place our trust in others. It’s a fundamental aspect of our humanity.

However, just as inherently human is the act of betraying that trust.

I have numerous memories of this seemingly kind, smiling young man making hurtful remarks, ridiculing my setbacks, and sharing my private aspirations and worries with others. Aligning with those who bullied me instead of standing by my side, he broke my trust. After the turmoil subsided and the bullies dispersed, he would revert to his former self – the apparently compassionate Daamir, whose smile seemed to offer sanctuary. You’d find yourself trusting him once more, only for him to rejoin the fray later. His presence kept my life in a continuous loop for four years.

N.E.D. had this system where we would have to take pop quizzes every few weeks (or was it every few months!), and our scores would count towards our results at the end of the year. I specifically remember one particular Chemistry quiz. In fact that’s the only quiz I remember.

I thought I did pretty well in that quiz. I was confident that I’ll probably get 18 out of 20 or something. Daamir knew that I was pretty confident.

It turned out that I scored 9 out of 20 on that quiz. It was the worst I had done throughout that year. I was actually quite sad that day.

Daamir, seizing the opportunity, launched into “the mockery mode”. I can’t recall his exact words, but his message was crystal clear: he taunted me for my apparent ignorance, questioning how I could be so oblivious to my impending failure. The pain of that moment is amplified by the vivid memory of his laughter, joined by our so-called ‘group mates’. It was a mockery that resonated with humiliation, a sound that still echoes painfully in my mind.

Human memory works in mysterious ways. Sometimes you forget the words, but you remember the sounds. And emotions.

It was the worst day of my first year at N.E.D. Not because I did so bad on that quiz. But because of how I was ridiculed after that quiz by this smiling assassin. And that was after me spending countless hours helping Daamir out with his own assignment submissions.

And then there was this table tennis match. The day I cried, alone in a small room, thinking why should I go on and continue to live. Daamir was in the next room laughing audibly.

But before I tell you that story, I must introduce Kizwan. Kizwan Saza deserves a note of his own. I will probably write about him next week.

I was never good at making friends.

I remember that back in school days, my mum used to invite my classmates to our place to hang out with me. I feel that back then I had really poor social skills, and my mum would probably hope that free food or candies will buy me some friends. I could never find anything common to talk about with kids my age. My dad was gone by the time I was 7, and both my brothers were much older than me. In highschool, I used to keep myself busy by burying myself in studies, or in story books. Sometimes I made computer programs, and sometimes I wrote stories of my own.

None of those hobbies helped me develop any social skills. And now I realize that over the years, lack of those skills did limit my ability to respond to the challenges that the life at N.E.D campus threw at me.

My mum and elder brothers don’t know about this part of my life. Not to this day.

Imagine a child sitting alone on the floor, head buried in their hands. They’re overwhelmed, scared to meet the gaze of the bullies who stand around them. The bullies’ laughter - echoing like a thunder - is making the child feel out of place, their existence a burden too heavy to bear. The child longs to stand and leave, to find a safe haven. But there is nowhere to run. There is no place to hide. And the legs aren’t moving.

On countless occasions during my time at N.E.D., I felt like that child. And Daamir’s smiling face provides the backdrop for those experiences. He was there. But he was never on my side whenever I needed him to be.

Loads of movies are out there about incredible folks doing incredible things. But hey, what about a movie about the ordinary me? I’m tossing out a bunch of stories about my pretty boring and sad life here. If someone wants to make a film about it, go ahead – no need for a big-budget blockbuster, even a simple cable TV special would do just fine. Best part? My life’s tales are on the house – no charge for these gems!

As for Daamir, we’re not exactly sending each other holiday cards these days. But if Hollywood ever gets around to my life story, getting Daamir’s character right is a must. It’s important to me that he’s shown just as I remember him.

He is not getting any royalties though.

P.S. No real names have been used in this post.