When I was fifteen most of my classmates, during reading sessions in the classroom, began exhibiting signs of their voices cracking, much to their embarrassment and much to a loud guffaw that followed every time a squeak escaped their vocal cords. Puberty explained our biology teacher to a classroom of about fifty boys. Uncannily enough I escaped the phenomenon. My voice, through my teenage years and later, never broke, never cracked and I grew up to be a man with a voice that for all practical purposes lacks a bass. Many of my comrades, in nicety, herald me as a man who is extremely soft-spoken while the not so nice ones, have comically and quizzically said that my voice sounds feminine. A voice quite rare!
Growing up my voice, its cadence and pitch, bothered me. In all honesty, I was never the average regular boy-I was horrible at sports, I was shy with a dash of awkwardness. Not being a regular boy leads to a fair share of mockery; now, couple that with a soft voice, mannerisms that one usually associates with the fairer sex-I was the butt of many a joke. I remember practicing cricket surreptitiously to be more “acceptable”, tried my luck at football, and I diligently tried modulating my voice to sound hoarser. None lasted for more than a day! Come what may I could never bend it like Beckham, nor could I get a mile closer to how Al Pacino sounds. But there were some silly cruel advantages that a boy with a soft voice offers to a Literature teacher-the female characters when reading Shakespeare at school were always assigned to me; Portia from Julius Caesar was glued to my existence through school.
I get mistaken for a woman on the phone, always. Uber drivers, Amazon delivery personnel, tele callers address me as Ma’am! My Human Resource personnel, when I changed jobs recently, told me of a diversity component that I would get imagining that she was recruiting a woman. My roommate used to tell me that my voice is so siren like sweet that I ought to excuse him during the instances when he would doze off at the middle of a conversation. My partner, rather kindly, tells me that my voice is soft and comforting like white noise.
The pandemic makes my predicament a notch worse. Masks filter away my voice leaving behind a sound barely audible! Annoyance accompanies my syllables when I need to repeat a phrase more than three times to a point when I am heard screaming (or squeaking), necessitating the need for a cough drop later.
However, one blessed day, without a warning, all signs of botheration left me! I reckon I was accustomed to the mistake which an unsuspecting caller would make when addressing me as a woman, or when the remarks made at my soft-spoken voice lacked any novelty. Quite interestingly before the other person can exclaim, I gracefully mention that yes, I am soft-spoken, and I sound like a woman. To the Uber drivers, the Amazon delivery personnel I play along as a woman and as cruel as it may sound, they are extra nice to me, waiting for a longer period, or hastening to deliver something at my doorstep.
Acceptance and to be able to laugh at myself has given me a new lease of life. When making reservations I am sought to speak to a restaurant manager, ‘Certainly Ma’am you can drop me, and we will have a table for you’. When the need to fix something or avail a return request arises, my voice magically sorts the issue. ‘My apologies Ma’am, we will get this fixed as soon as possible.’ Often, I proudly proclaim that I ought to be a Radio Jockey and host late-night shows, talking and comforting heart-broken souls, lulling them to sleep (I would be an overnight success). Or I ought to be the voice-over for a psychological thriller, the silky but scary softness one associates with them. I should think about a career move, right?
Having outgrown the discomfort now, oftentimes it amazes me to think that my voice bothered me in the past! Decidedly, the taunts, the mockery had to be lived to emerge happier; to be able to laugh at my own self, initiate a joke on me, has led to a surprised audience bereft of the power they hitherto wielded.