Illustration by Anastasiia Zubareva

One Shadow, Two Reflections

Coming to NYU Abu Dhabi has been something of a rebirth, as an only child.

Oct 30, 2016

Just nine minutes in, I was squeezed out too. After an intense battle consisting of a few brutal kicks, some tummy bumps, several mini concussions and 50 million liplocks, my twin had won. Gosh, I feel for mum. It was no less than what fancy scientists term nuclear fission — continuous bombardment of particles against a wall of uranium — except my helpless mum’s amniotic sac did not have metal-coated walls. Ouch. Although me-minus-nine-minutes and I didn’t give her a good time in her womb, we did spur a wave of excitement within our family, considering the rarity of our case. However, just as much as Tom wishes he had been a tad faster to catch Jerry, I wish I had had a slight edge over Saurav, my brother, by being the older one. By the time I was done swimming inside my dearest mother’s belly, it was too late. The unchangeable fact that would impede me from cradle to grave was the fact that I entered the world second.
Saurav, the bolder one of course, has been paramount in helping me reach my zenith. In fact, I quite often thought of myself as the letter z in rendezvous — crying out loud to be noticed but just an additional letter that doesn’t really make a difference. Every time I achieved something, it was because he did it first — be it sports, academics, co-curriculars, you name it. Being born as the younger one had a deeper significance than it may have seemed. All he did was all I would be able to do and all he didn’t do was effectively undoable for me. It was a strange amalgamation of extreme dependence, lack of self-confidence and fear that was implanted within me. This unique abnormality went a long way in shaping my adolescence. My victories, if any, were devoid of independence; cowardice had the better of me each time. In the brightest of daylight, I was the shadow that walked along the road to glory, but as the sun sank into its burrow, I faded.
Days turned into months, months into years and years into an eternity. Somewhere deep inside, I was sure that there were genes that had been lying dormant, waiting for some spark to ignite them. I hoped that somehow, in some way, my concealed idiosyncrasies would reveal themselves, demolish the introvert in me and — most importantly — earn me respite. Being asked what it was like to be a twin only added to the list of unanswered queries I was combating. I don’t blame people for their curiosity: it certainly is an incomparable experience. Having been confronted by this dicey question a few 100 times now, I still strive to look for an answer. Perhaps one of my least favorite questions and a popular conversation starter that frustrates me is: Who’s smarter? It’s really annoying to be put on the spot like that. If I say I am, I’m cocky. If I say he is, I’m dumb. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Now, over the last few months, the plot has taken a slight detour. Coming to NYU Abu Dhabi has been something of a rebirth, as an only child. I’m steadily crawling out of my twin’s shadow that so far has inflicted me with dependence. Little did I know I’d find myself in a breeding ground of game changers, at the center of a storming revolution, where no one fails and everyone succeeds. I belong to this melting pot of cultures that stretches the horizons of thought, broadening the domain of knowledge I’d previously known. What unites a multitude of perspectives on this new planet I’ve stepped onto is the cry of the falcon, the cry that instigates diligence and innovation. Where do I pigeonhole myself among this bunch of prodigies? Diligence and innovation are far shots with my go-to person not in sight. More recently, people have been asking me why my twin didn’t apply to NYUAD with me. As daunting as it was for me, we decided that we’d go to the college that fits us as individuals and serves the purpose of nurturing us for what we want to do with our lives, independently of each other. If that meant physical separation, so be it.
Either way, falling into this legacy of intellectual spirit without my counterpart is as much an honor as it is a heavy weight. But weights don’t always let you down; they’re meant to make you stronger. I feel like I’ve just about found the spark I’d been chasing for all this time. No man is less than the other. No matter what our physical components are, we’re vastly different clouds that all share a silver lining. Finally, the chromosomes of fear and reliance on my better half that had been perennially infecting my being have slowly and gradually started to dismantle themselves into eclectic particles. I do miss his presence, but I also embrace the absence. I’ve eventually come to realize that in trying to catch up with my twin, I was breaking through the fetters I had put on myself. The mere fact that I don’t have him around bothers me. And yet it gives me a new identity, fueling my courage each time I’m faced by a steeper hurdle.
In that regard, I feel destiny was deceivingly meritorious in sending us to different regions. I find it funny how self-reliance, my greatest trepidation, empowered me to pop the secluded bubble I’d been living in. No more, it said, no more. With the warmth from the light surging through my body, I found the ignition and saw the world as being so much bigger and fuller. I’m setting out to explore now, and I’m sure I’ll stumble along the way, learning a new lesson each time I fall. College so far has been awkwardly engaging in the sense that the more I explore, the more I know how little I knew. As I write this, I recall the clichéd yet righteous adage: everything happens for a reason. After all, if Jerry wasn’t the cunning little creature he is, Tom would have only been a lousy grey cat. Likewise, if it weren’t for the fate that separated us, I would’ve still been hiding in the gloomy shadow of my brother.
Gaurav Dewani is a contributing writer. Email him at
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