What were you doing at age 15?

The year was 2002–03, we were off to war with Iraq, the England football team were the best I've ever known them to be under Sven, phones with cameras in them were a big new craze, social media was just blogs, and my teenage generation was ridiculously divided over whether they preferred Eminem to Slipknot or vice versa.

Like most people of that age in the UK, I was preparing for state exams. My 16th birthday was half way through them, so I spent the preceding year preparing, that was my raison d'etre. I was most motivated by my exams in French and German, and I had one special study strategy for each: I made a few pen-friends on French language MSN chat rooms, and listened to Rammstein every morning.

I was playing Magic: The Gathering every Saturday at a shop in Croydon just up the road from where Skream and Hatcha were inventing dubstep. I was completely ignorant about dubstep back then, sadly, since Craig David had planted a deep hatred of UK garage in me a few years before there was no way I would have heard of it so early on. I was doing my own thing – making and performing synthpop as a solo act using general MIDI tracks played off a Yamaha keyboard. I used to perform around my local band circuit, where most people hated me for not being another bland 4-piece guitar band doing covers of Nirvana and Rage Against The Machine.

I spent a lot of time playing computer games: Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale, Final Fantasy X, and I even had a project to create an RPG in a WYSIWIG engine which I never got close to finishing. In an attempt to get off the computer occasionally, I did Shotokan Karate.

I was a serious goth back then and fell for the whole neopaganism/wicca marketing-at-angsty-teenagers bullshit:

At 15, I was in my first year of high school, a Muslim in Catholic school. In a culture where everyone's grades were known and the best students were the most respected, I thrived.

At 15, I fell in love for the first time with a work of literature: Le Cid by Pierre Corneille. It was my bible! My heart still trembles when I think:

Rodrigue, as-tu du coeur?

At 15, I left my home country. There had been prosperity after independence. But the democracy had been aborted before it could draw its first breath. An autocrat had ruled, semi-benevolently, buying allegiances by bribing all opposition into submission. The corruption had led to mismanagement. The mismanagement had left the country unready for the collapse of commodity prices. The economy had crashed, and never quite revived. The crash had led to stagnation. The stagnation had led to interethnic strife, as the shrunken pie made politics, the only vehicle to wealth, a zero-sum game. As the country slowly slid into civil war, those who could afford to leave left. Scion of an upper class family, I was among the fortunate ones.

At 15, I was a skinny kid with a funny accent, not fluent in English, desperately trying to understand what was being said to me, asking people to repeat what they had said, until in sheer embarrassment I would pretend to understand, give a nervous laugh, and walk away hoping my interlocutors wouldn't question my sanity.

At 15, 9/11 happened. I had moved to the US a month before. I could not understand why there was so little soul searching about the role of American foreign policy into bringing about this event. Peopled seemed genuinely puzzled that someone would want to attack the US. It seemed very, very odd.

At 15, I was estranged from Black America, an estrangement that would last many, many years. What was Black America for me? It was the kids who called me Kunta or Mutombo. It was the gym teacher who called me Tiffany and the annoying loudmouth who repeated it and laughed at me. It was the people who asked me if I'd ever gone hunting a lion or who were surprised when I told them I'd had a computer in my country. You guys have TVs in Africa? You guys have computers in Africa? You guys have zoos in Africa? And when I replied sarcastically, they never realized that we had sarcasm too in Africa.

At 15, I was starting high school in the US, worrying that I'd never master this foreign tongue everyone was suddenly speaking around me. What if I become the only person to live here and never understand the language? I plunged into all the books I could find. I must read and read and read and read and read.

At 15, I had my first romantic interest. She was a Chaldean girl named Rita. We had started out as rivals in our ESL classes. She was beautiful. She was intelligent. She was a year older. Most of all, she was unattainable. Her parents would never let her date. She came to like me a bit, too... I think. But it would never happen. I loved her from afar, and in silence.

At 15, I was just a kid, but I resented being told so. But, smart as I thought I was, I was just a damn kid.

At fifteen... I was enjoying my life in a way i never enjoyed again...

I had a real fun routine...

Okay so on regular days things went like this..

I used to wake up at 6 then the school bus came to pick me up everyday for school at 7.

We used to have so much fun in the school bus, everyday trolling each other or discussing computer games or talking about movies and having a serious conversation with my one particular friend about who will win Premier League this season and doing all the analysis of previous matches.

After that... studying for 3 hours before our halftime break...well actually i was supposed to study but all i ever did was having snacks in the middle of the lectures sitting in the last bench with my friend. Now after the break, starts the sleeping time for next two lectures because these lectures were of Hindi and Social Studies then rang the final bell and school time is over.

Heading home.. its 1 PM time for some hard rock music...this was the time when i used to be alone so i spent my whole resting time in playing games like Pes and FIFA, Gta's and yes Farcry also for like 3 hours

I turned 15 in September of 2012. At the time, I was beginning my freshman year at CHS, an expansive, well-funded public high school school with over 4,800 students.

During course registration the year prior, my counselor, concerned that I was overburdened with Honors classes, convinced me not to take AP World History. When I got to high school, I found my advanced classes were interesting and my regular classes were not. I realized - too late - that not taking the most challenging course load was a mistake, one I made sure not to repeat. Fortunately, this gave me ample time to pursue some of the school's 100+ extracurricular activities.

Having played chess for eleven years, I made the easy decision to join Chess Club. After impressing the club's president and team captain (who later became a good friend and NM), I earned a spot as the team's 4th Board. In March, we traveled to Terre Haute to compete in the Scholastic Chess of Indiana Team Championship. After five grueling matches and five sweet victories, we were declared the winners. That was the first of nine high school State Championships I would eventually win.

I also joined CHS Key Club, a community service organization and the largest Kiwanis chapter in the nation. After a few weeks, I decided that I liked Key Club and wanted to play a more critical role than simple membership. Hours before it was due, I filed an application to run against thirteen other students for one of the club's two "Freshman Board" positions. Because the club was so large, there was a morning meeting and an afternoon meeting. Candidates were asked to speak at both.

On the day of voting, I arrived to the morning meeting late and ill prepared. When it was my turn to go, I choked. My mouth was dry and I stammered. I lost my train of thought. I had never used a microphone before and would oscillate between bringing it too close or too far from my mouth. By the time I finished, I knew I had fucked up. I voted for myself and left.

As I walk-moped to class, I had an internal dialogue: Is this something I really want to do? Yes. Am I willing to do whatever I need to win? Yes. Okay, get it together and figure this out. So I did. When I got to class, I was smiling and relaxed. Upon entering the room, I said I had an announcement and loudly reminded everyone that there was an afternoon Key Club meeting where elections would take place. I explained that I was running and made a joke asking for their vote.

I did this wherever I went for the rest of the day. During passing periods, I wrote a speech. During lunch, I memorized it. When the last bell rang, I ran to the cafeteria (where the afternoon meeting was held) and conversed with every Key Club member I saw. I introduced myself to at least 100 people and asked, politely, for their vote.

This time, my speech was much better. Recognizing that the large number of contenders meant most voters wouldn't remember who was who, I repeated my name about five times and hoped that "Joe Philleo - it sort of rhymes and is 8th on the ballot" would stick. It did. I got one of the positions (they actually decided to have three instead of two) and worked really hard to improve the organization. Later that year, I was appointed club Secretary for 2013–2014. The following year I was appointed President.

In Spring, bolstered by my previous election experience, I ran for Class President. As was the case with Key Club, the competition was stiff. Ten or eleven people were also vying for the position. Trying to convince 1,258 freshmen to vote for me and not one of the other qualified candidates was difficult, but by then I was pretty well-known and well-liked. This reputation combined with lots of campaigning and an effective placement of catchy posters pushed me over the edge. I won more than 50% of the vote and was elected CHS's 2016 Class President on the first ballot.

In addition to chess, key club, and student government, I also self-studied AP Macro- and Micro- economics, self-studied Honors Chemistry, won a spot on the CHS Economics Team, won a second State Championship, qualified for Nationals, flew to NYC, and placed 2nd in the country. Over summer, I officially took AP Macroeconomics (which was a breeze since I had just self-studied it) and entered my first relationship. Though the romance didn't last, my love for economics, chess, and helping people certainly did.

  • Attending a boarding school in Darjeeling.
  • Playing every sport possible - taking my my health and fitness for granted.
  • Being the proud owner of the "best seat" in the school - It was the last seat in the corner next to the windows on the fourth floor of the building. I could sit in the sunshine, stare at the Himalayas and also be on the "teacher watch" .
  • Falling in "truly-deeply-madly" in love every month and having my heart broken every month. (With an appropriate song for every occasion!)
  • Sporting a Rahul Roy haircut and John Lennon glasses.
  • Having my crush play "Ajeeb Dastan Hain" on the piano in a church and knowing that it was for me. He left after that and I never saw him again !
  • Being told repeatedly by my teachers to study harder for my ICSE exams and not be a complacent smart ass.
  • Dreading chemistry .
  • Loving History and Literature.
  • Still reading novels despite being told to study.
  • Relationship with the mother fracturing.
  • Walking through the cold rain on a high after winning one of the toughest quizzes in the district
  • Humming with great meaning the songs from Saajan !
  • Loving Dil Hain Ki Manta Hain (The Garage Scene still remains my all time favourite) .
  • Sitting in a corner on a cold foggy winter morning and wondering where life would be taking me - probably my first conscious brush with Solitude/Loneliness which plagues me even now.
  • Not knowing a thing about computers ! And no clue about cell phones.
  • Eating whatever came my way and tasted good - weight management and calories were alien concepts.
  • Having a terrible temper and getting into a massive fight with the hostel matron. The matron quit.
  • Running away from school to watch Shah Rukh shoot for " Dil Hain Mera Deewana" which was the opening song for Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman.


Date 15th Aug,2011 I turned 15 waaaao...I was filled with zeal and idioticy but,my idiotic attitude was vanished to some extent.

At 15 ,I was about to give the next big thing in every student's life i.e., ICSE exams,so in a way my fun was hindered to be very frank.

I was

  • Busy impressing my chemistry mam by mugging the chemical reactions(she was my first crush)

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