Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter Reading List- 2012

Time really does fly. I had my summer reading list and now I have my winter's list. So these are the books I read this season:

1. Beautiful Creatures

Here's the story- Ethan Wate lives in a sleepy Southern town where every morning is the same. His life includes memories of his dead mother, his reclusive father, his eccentric believer governess-of-sorts and a wannabe rockstar best friend. He can't wait to get out of his boring life till Lena Duchannes, neice of the town shut-in Macon Ravenwood, comes to his school. The two fall in love, but there's one problem- Lena is a Caster. And not just any Caster. Due to a curse upon her family, every female of her family is claimed on her sixteenth birthday by either the Light or the Dark. And Lena's birthday ddraws closer with every passing day.

The only bad thing about this book, in my opinion, is that it's about a boy who falls in love with a supernatural creature, a Caster to be specific. I mean, we get that a lot these days, right? But the good part is the way it's handled. First of all, I love the male voice. It's so adorable, without being too mushy. Second, there's a sweet Southern USA setting and you can feel the monotony of the place, the way it's somehow stuck in the past and nobody new or different is ever really welcomed. Also, in these books, being a Caster is not always shown as a good thing, as Lena yearns to be a normal girl. It's a fun read for young adults and I just might pick up the sequel.




2. The Catcher In The Rye

This one's a classic. Holden Caulfield, a cynical sixteen-year-old, is kicked out of school. The novel follows his adventures in New York streets after he leaves school without telling his parents. There is less story than you would expect because this story is character-driven, with Holden's cynical commentary and descriptions explaining everything that happens around him.

This is a great book, very 'my taste'. Holden is obviously grieving the death f his brother, but he won't let that show. He's also in love with his old friend Jean, but doesn't know it. These are the things that make Holden likeable, even though he mostly just criticizes everyone he meets.

What I also love is how Holden sees the 'bad' in grown-ups, things people seem to attain in the process of growing up, things that children don't have. For example, he talks about smart people and says they never want anyone to say anything smarter than them. When talking about his sort-of girlfriend Sally, he says she is actually very vain. He observes how she can carry on a meaningless conversation with people she barely knows and is repulsed by this. He sees the world as a mature child. He sees that adults are often self-absorbed and act according to social convention, things that children would never do. What's best is that even though he can be very irritating because he hates everything, you can tell that he's actually right in hating them. But then there's nothing that can be done, because after all, the grown-up world just is very 'crummy' sometimes.

The novel ends with Holden in a psychiatric facility, with no explanation as to how he got there. He says he's ready to move on because he's actually missing some of the people he brutally criticized throughout the novel. This, in my opinion, is the most beautiful emotion in the book.

3. Why We Broke Up

This book is written by Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket who wrote 'A Series of Unfortunate Events'. First of, I salute Handler for writing something that is such a departure from Series of Unfortunate Events. Second, this book is not just for young adults, but for all those who've ever liked the popular guy/girl and then experienced disappointment (that means everybody)

The story is about a box that Min gives to her ex-boyfriend Ed. In the box are things that they had or shared or gave each other during their short-lived relationship. Min uses these things to tell Ed why they broke up.

The beauty of this is that from the very beginning, Min knows her relationship with Ed won't last. It's the same old story- girl meets gorgeous guy, falls in love instantly, hopes it stays that way. But Min's no cookie-cutter girlfriend- she realizes this is not going to work from the very beginning. She doesn't enjoy Ed's basketball games, doesn't like the bonfire parties he goes to, likes old movies that Ed will never understand. But she still hangs on to hope because she loves him, but that really doesn't count for anything sometimes.

The book can get a bit hard to read sometimes, with sentences being very long and running into each other on several occasions. But there's lots of dialogues to make up for it. Extra points for the great illustrations of all the things in the box.

Min is very insightful. She mostly realizes that little things can be signs of incompatibility. For example, Ed carelessly tears a flier Min pastes for her best friend so he can write his number on it. It's a small thing that she can't complain about, but she understands that Ed never really got that the flier was important to her and that's one of the reasons they broke up. Also, Ed is a basketball playing dude, but he's shown as more than that- a guy looking for an interesting girlfriend, a guy who's good at math.

It's a very beautiful book. Incidentally, I wrote something like this last year but romance was never my thing, so I stopped writing it midway. I don't think I could have done as good a job as Daniel Handler, but maybe I'll post some excerpts sometime.

4. Mortal Instruments- City of Bones
I didn't like this one. I actually stopped reading it mid-way. It's about Clary Fray who discovers she's a Shadow-Hunter like her mother. It's the same old story- girl finds out she's not normal or mortal and she has to defeat someone or fight something because something/someone dear to her is at stake. This was not for me. But I will recommend it to those who like YA supernatural.





5. Ella Minnow Pea
See how the title-cum-protagonist's name sounds like L-M-N-O-P? This is the story of Ella, a girl living in the fictional island of Nollop, an island named after the creator of the infamous 'The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog'. The Island's Council has a statue of Nollop with the pangram under it. As each letter of the pangram falls off from under the statue, the letters are outlawed from the island, that is, nobody is allowed to say or write these letters. By the end, only the letters L, M, N, O and P remain. Ella finds herself fighting for her freedom of expression against a totalitarian government. The challenge? To find a pangram of 32 letters containing all the letters of the alphabet, something which seems impossible with only a few letters in her disposal.

Idea and concept wise, this was the best book of my winter. It's a light-hearted take on totalitarianism, freedom of expression, freedom and good expression. The only downside I can think of that Nollop is shown as an island where language is an art, so everybody, from teenagers to the elderly, speak and write in an overly formal, highly articulate manner, something that might be hard to digest for a lot of people out there who are looking for a quick read. Also, there is very little dialogue. Also, an American character, Nate Warren, uses the same language as the Nollopians, something I thought qualified as an discrepancy. However, if you're looking for a read which is both fun and serious, this is definitely the book for you.

If Ella Minnow Pea is ever made into a movie, I hope the makers keep it simple and funny, instead of trying to go all serious and revolutionary, because that's the beauty of this work- it's a very funny situation alluding to more serious situations.

6. The Book Thief
In Nazi Germany, Liesel Meminger is orphaned and left in the care of foster parents. One day, she discovers a book, 'The Gravedigger's Handbook', and with the help of her foster father, she learns to read and write. Thus begins her journey as a book thief, as she steals books from the most dangerous of places in the most dangerous of times.

This book doesn't have much plot. It is more of an account of life in Nazi Germany. It's a lovely book. It doesn't try to judge what's good or what's bad, doesn't make any political statements. It tells about different people whose lives are interconnected by the time they live in. There are instances which make the characters seems so full of life. For example, Liesel's best friend, Rudy, is a big fan of Jesse Owens, so he paints his face black and goes for a run. But his father says he's blessed to have "safe" blue eyes, blonde hair and skin, and he must never try to have anything else.

A lovely book. I think everybody should read it at least once.


So that's my list for now, but I read a lot of books these days and could have missed some out. If I remember any more names, I'll do another post. Till then, keep on reading.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wonder

I knew a boy when he was a child
And had no teeth or hair and couldn't speak
And had bright eyes that got brighter whenever he saw something new
And held someone's hand whenever he wanted to
He grew up to be six feet tall
Thin and lanky, with a beard and all
And started thinking more about
What he really wanted in life
For himself and the people around him.
At first he thought he wanted to be
Like those people they show on TV
So he dressed well and learnt to play the guitar
And found himself a very good-looking girlfriend.
But the clothes were always black
And he left his guitar on the train
And nobody bought him a new one because he wasn't all that good with it
And the girl said she met someone new.
He let it all slide and lived on
But only because that was all he could do.
He didn't completely give up, though
And went on asking what he really wanted.
He got a little older
Things changed and he thought
That he just wanted to get a good job
And wanted that prices stay down,
Tragic jams vanish and his boss not he so mean.
But prices went up every year
And they made a new car that everyone could afford
So now traffic jams would never go
Because more people had cars out on the road.
Then came the year when people lost their jobs
And his boss said, "This company can't afford you anymore"
So he spent months looking for another job
And eventually found one that had very long working hours but didn't pay much.
He got by all this but it took away a part of him
And now the grass wasn't so green anymore to him
And the sky wasn't wo blue
Because his world had just lost a bit of its color.
He did what everyone does
Found a lady who wasn't quite like the first girl who found someone new
But he still liked her very much.
So he married her and they had a son.
That was when he finally realized hat he wanted in life.
He just wanted his bright eyes back
The ones that brightened up every time he saw something new
So that the world wouldn't be so ordinary and colorless anymore
And he wanted to hold anyone's hand he chose to hold
Anywhere and anytime he felt like it.
But he couldn't anymore because he was grown up
And everyone expected him to be mature.
So he looked at his son and saw that the baby
Had no teeth and no hair and couldn't speak
And the baby's eyes brightened up whenever he saw something new
And that was how use realized that
Marvel and wonder weren't yet lost in the world.

Straight-Out Truth

A few years ago, I met a boy who was from the North-East. Man, was he handsome! He was tall, unlike most of his north-east Indian friends. And he looked like one of those hunks from manga books. If you don't know what 'manga' is, let's just say he looked a bit like this:

You should have seen his girlfriend. Soft features, long straight hair, doe eyes- she looked like a Korean movie star. Now, my skin would never be that soft and there's nothing I could do with my eyes, but since I was very drawn to this boy, I thought maybe having the same hair (straight hair, that is) might get me noticed. It all sounds very pathetic now, but we all do stupid things when we are young right?

The boy left my school and went away but my desire for straight hair remained. You see, it sounds very nice to say 'thick, wavy hair', but somehow, in real life, having long straight hair you can run your fingers through is just so much more attractive. The way straight hair always seems easier to manage. The way it falls on your eyes ever so gracefully. The way it fans out over your shoulders like silk. I could go on and on.

Plus, for all us wavy haired damsels out here, seeing people on TV and films and magazines flaunting straight hair can cause a lot of distress.


So, I twisted my curls around my finger for what I swore would be the last time and set out to set my hair straight.

The first idea was to use a product. I used a shampoo that made half my hair fall out but didn't straighten it. Then there was a serum which made my hair look a bit silkier but even that didn't give me straight locks. My mom wouldn't let me go to a parlour or blow-dry my hair. I was getting really frustrated, but I'm no quitter. I decided to pull out the big guns.

(Disclaimer: Do not try this at home. No, really.)


I did what a lot of women in the last century did- I used a clothing iron. Suddenly, the word fire hazard took on a whole new meaning, but it was working. My hair actually did straighten out. But do you see how risky this was? Well, I saw the risk when one day I overheated the iron and it burnt my hair. The strands became papery and fell off in tiny shards, as if my hair was falling in pieces. I couldn't help but picture what would happen if a slip of my hand caused me to touch the iron to my skin. And that was the end of the clothing iron.

So now I just wait for the perfect product to rid me off the frizz. And maybe the wait's going to end soon. Sunsilk is launching a new product and guess what it does! It straightens hair. See, miracles do happen with brands like Sunsilk around. You just have to wait and try some crazy alternatives before they come your way.

(This post is an entry for the Straight Hair Experiment blogging contest. For more, go here.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rest In Peace




Shreeram Radhakrishnan died on 3rd December. Now, just because I am writing this, doesn't mean we were the best of friends. I knew him in a very limited way because we participated in the same extra-curricular activities sometimes. But I know what he was like because, well, he was the guy who needed no introduction. That was was said about him on his school farewell. And now that we are all being forced to bid farewell to him one last time, we realize that he is still the guy who needs no introduction because even though we haven't met him in a while, we're all crying for him.

Shreeram was a very brilliant student. Not the I'm-getting-the-highest-marks-in-all-my-subjects type off brilliant, but the true prodigy type. He was the state ripper in the boards and got into IIT- Mumbai with a rank of 224. He was also in a lot of extra-curricular activities and that's how I knew him. Whenever I saw him, he was smiling. Nobody had anything bad to say about him. My teacher once told me that one day, during the afternoon prayer, his classmates started chanting his name instead of the prayer. That's not something that happens to everyone. Poor Shreeram was mortified that day, but that's just because he was so humble.

I found out that Shreeram was sick early this year. When I received no further news about him, I thought he must have recovered. Then my friend called yesterday and said, 'Did you hear about Shreeram?' I couldn't bring myself to say anything for a few moments and my friend, who is normally so impatient on the phone, didn't urge me to talk. And that's when I just knew. But still, I asked, "What happened?" and my friend told me. All of a sudden there was no hope to cling to anymore.

I babbled on the phone for a while, because that's just what I do when I don't know what I'm feeling. Then I called my mother and she told me she already knew. She was very sad because Shreeram died of MDR-tuberculosis and someone very close to both of us once had the disease and so we know what it's like to go through it, both for the patient and the family. That person made it, Shreeram Radhakrishnan did not.

I went online and searched his name and saw all the articles reporting his death. In all the pictures accompanying the articles, get was smiling so brightly, just like he did when he was with us.

Just like I said before, my personal interaction with Shreeram was very limited and I don't want to insult anything by saying this is a huge personal loss. What this is, is a huge loss of faith. Out of all of us, he was the one who seemed so gifted and lucky and happy with his life. He wad the one whit really had a chance. So how could this happen to him of all people? And how come he had to spend months in a coma when people who don't deserve to live walk freely? And if it can happen to him, it can happen to anybody and there really is no justice in the world.

In the wake of this terrible loss, all I have learnt is that there's really no point trying too hard because it doesn't guarantee us a long or happy life. Justt when it seems like we're about to step out in the world and start our lives, we can have something really bad happen to us or even die. But that doesn't mean we get to throw our lives away and waste time over stupid problems and boys/ girls who actually don't care about us and throw tantrums all the time, because we have to make the most of our lives and there really isn't enough time. Shreeram had a lot of things we didn't, but we still have our lives and we have to live it to the fullest.

I hope Shreeram's soul rests in peace and that heaven really exists because if it does, Shreeram would definitely go there and we can all see him once we join him there.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Found In Translation

Ever been to a place where nobody speaks your language? Where all you do is sign and mime all day to get the simplest messages across? If you haven't, you would be surprised to know how many spend their lives away from their homeland in places whose words they neither speak nor understand.

I grew up in Delhi, so I can speak Hindi very well. I am Bengali, so I have no problems getting around in West Bengal and other Bengali speaking areas. Plus, I'm perfectly fluent in English and that's useful everywhere these days. So far I haven't had too many problems with language, but I see people who do.

Take for example these twig boys in my class. In my college, people (including some teachers) speak in Bengali most of the time. One of these boys is front Bhutan and his mothertongue is Zonka. The other is from Darjeeling and speaks Nepali back home. Sometimes, they don't understand when the rest of us are saying. Then there are my neighbours in Mumbai who just migrated from Pakistan and only speak Sindhi. And there's my mother who says she gets nervous in Mumbai sometimes when everybody around her speaks Marathi. Even I've seen that she acts notably more confident in Kolkata, because she is very fluent in Bengali.

I belong to a country which was divided into linguistic states. People speaking Hindi shoved into one part of the country. A separate land for those who speak Tamil. Another one for the Oriyas. And a number of more states separated on the basis of language. I see that language can really become a social issue sometimes, because my mother witnessed the anti-Bengali movement in Assam. And I know it can be hopelessly irritating if someone just doesn't understand what you're saying. But at the same time, if you really look on the bright side, you'll see that language doesn't always become a communication barrier.

Now consider this- my aged Sindhi neighbour conversed easily with my grandmother who only speaks Bengali. They don't share the same language but they but there are lots of other things they share and so they can connect without speaking the same words. My mom actually likes Mumbai very much and wouldn't want to move away just because she doesn't speak Marathi. And the two boys in my class got by just fine last semester, and now they even speak some words in Bengali sometimes.

If we want to understand each other, we will. It doesn't matter what we speak as long as we really want to express ourselves. So here's some advice- Don't lose patience with those who don't speak your language and don't close yourself off to learning new tongues. Language is an imaginary wall, which means it doesn't exist at all, and so we can all help bring it down.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kolkata Chronicles- Part 3

This really happened:

My design teacher walked in for his second period and asked "How many of you are from West Bengal?

Most hands went up. The only exceptions were a foreign student from Bhutan, a half-Telugu half-Bengali girl from Arunachal Pradesh and of course, me, because as I mentioned at the very beginning of. Kolkata Chronicles, I don't consider myself someone who's from this city or even this state for that matter

My design teacher then asked, "And how many if you believe this state has some of the most talented people in the country?"

Once again, most hands went up, but they went up faster this time. Plus there were lots of self-satisfied half-smiles.

Then came the third question, "And how many if you know that Kolkata is not the most developed city in the country?"

This time, no smiles. Just a whole lot of hands going up.

Now would be the right time to tell you my design teacher is known for his quirkiness. Right then, his expression changed and he shot, "That's because we talk too much".

We all laughed but only because we,all know there's sine truth to this. It's like one of those truths that're inferred from experience, like 'People gain weight after they get married' or 'Hot girls are mean' and so on.

Of all the cities I'very seen so far, Kolkata is by far the most talkative. Within five minutes of knowing someone, you can know someone better than you know your regrets. On my second day here, I went to an advocate to get an affidavit signed and ended up finding out his name, age, work experience, family relations, how the biggest lawyers look up to him, his opinions in ragging and the college I was set to go to and God only remembers what else. On a rickshaw, a puller heard me speaking English and familiarized me with his heartbreaking story of wanting to study English but having to quit his education the year they were to start reading English. A lady I shared an auto-rickshaw with told me all about her daughter and then went on to tell me how she was born less than a year after her twin brothers, how she was practically raised by her aunt and how she wishes to have spent more time with her mother.

That's not all. This city functions on 'adda', the conversational forum for friend circles. Basically its a practice as old as the city in which friends or even acquaintances get together to discuss all things big, small, good, bad, entertaining or boring but ultimately always inconsequential. In fact, during pujas, there,s a pandal in Maddox Square where thousands of people gather just for 'adda'. They sit on newspapers in big circles or sometines on benches and the whole point of being there is not so much enjoy the festival of Durga Puja as it is to celebrate the biggest 'adda' festival of the year.

Is all this talking a waste of time? I have to stay here for five years so I'll reserve my comments opon that. All I'll say is that this is just how the city is and without so much of talking, Kolkata just wouldn't be Kolkata anymore, be it good or bad. Yes, I do wish people would express their opinions through actions than they do vocally. But in your life, if you ever crave stimulating conversation full of hyperboles, metaphors, exclaimations and Tagore quotations, come to Kolkata and you won't be disappointed.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Kolkata Chronicles- Part 2

Love is in the air. Scientifically that's an impossibility because air is basically a mixture of several gases and 'love' is definitely not on of them. But if you're an eighteen-year-old girl just starting out with college in Kolkata after newly arriving in the city, you might just start believing that 'love' is something people  breathe in this city.

In my old school, there were very few couples. As harsh as it sounds for me to say this, a lot of these couples had a dumb girl and a stud-type boy in them. Dating wasn't a very big craze. I mean, me and my best friends never even thought about it....Okay, so maybe we did but not that much. By the time we graduated high school most of these relationships had dissolved into friendships. We knew we would mostly be going to different colleges, in some cases even in very different parts of the country.And no matter how much anybody claimed to know about love and relationships, the truth is at the back of our mind that some things don't stand the test of time and distance and its better to end them on a sweet note than drag them till they tear apart.

I didn't have a boyfriend in high school. In all honesty, I wasn't exactly the prettiest or most popular girl in school either and boys didn't particularly want to be with me. It didn't matter because I had friends who were just like me and we had all the fun and bonding we needed. Now, I knew people have boyfriends in college, but when I got here, I saw a lot of people had already been in relationships and it was a very common thing too. I mean, girls my age can very casually say, "You know, my boyfriend did so-and-so and then we went there and doesn't like me going and blah blah blah" and nobody listening will even blink an eyelid.

That was just the first part. Then I saw twelve-year-olds walking hand-in-hand down the street. Some people find it cute. I find it funny.

My first reaction to all this was, well, jealousy. I know it sounds bad, but how're you supposed to feel when everybody around you has a boyfriend/girlfriend and you don't have a single guy paying you any special attention to you? I mean, I go to a good college and have some awesome writing credentials and successfully completed a marathon. I'm very low maintenance, don't spend much on clothes and make-p and take fifteen minutes to take a shower and  get dressed (you have to admit that's impressive for a girl). I'm a catch, people? How come nobody sees that.

Okay, so I was just kidding in the last paragraph. My first reaction was, well, nothing. Yes, I do think people start dating a little early in Kolkata, with every school probably having a lot of couples. And yes, I don't understand relationships and don't particularly want to be in one. But maybe that's just because I'm not ready for it or because I grew up surrounded by people who very cute and childish about these matters. I mean, we talked about Robert Pattinson but never thought about what it would be like to actually be with a boy. But that doesn't mean I will be judgemental about people who date at a young age. But still, I reserve the right to laugh when I see twelve-year-olds acting like they're madly in love. I'm in Kolkata, which is evidently a very romantic city, but there's a lot of time before it rubs off on me. Till then, I'm going to watch others fall in and out of love and be just a wallflower in this department.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kolkata Chronicles- Part 1

Let's start with the flavor of the season- Puja.

For those of you who don't know what Durga Puja is, here's some info- It is believed that Goddess Durga was created by the Gods to vanquish the demon Mahishasur. After a battle lasting ten days, Goddess Durga finally defeated Mahishasur, thereby saving both the earthly as well as the heavenly abodes. Goddess Durga is the embodiment of power, justice, beauty and motherhood. Durga Puja celebrates the worship of this Goddess Durga.

Even though Durga Puja has its religious as well as mythological significance, you don't have to come to Kolkata to know about that. Basically, you don't need Kolkata to know what Durga Puja is, but you have to come if you want to know what it could be.

Even though Puja falls in October-November, its arrival is preceded by lots of shopping. I started my classes in college in Auugust. It was also the time when I moved into my new room. I was still new to the city back then. My eyebrows went up and my jaw fell when someone asked me "Started your Puja shopping?" I mean, Puja was still months away and my parents never really cultivated the idea of festive shopping in me. For two months, I watched my friends and roommates shop while I didn't buy anything. But as Puja drew closer, I decided I couldn't go out wearing my old clothes when everyone else is wearing new, so I bought a top from Gariahat. You see, the festival shopping gets to you even if you're stingier that Scrooge.

When I first told my classmates that I was planning to go back to Mumbai during Puja, they all had one reaction- 'You're mad'. Nobody here can imagine leaving Kolkata during Puja time. Its the one time of the year when people go all out and have all kinds of fun without feeling guilty. You know the day has begun when you hear the rhythmic beats of a 'dhaak', the percussion instrument that's widely used during the festival. That's when you get out of bed and get dressed in your newest, finest clothes. You head out to your neighborhood puja 'pandal' to seek blessings from the Goddess. There's the 'anjali' in which the priest recites a mantra and people repeat after him. After that, 'prasad', which is supposed to be food blessed and touched by the Goddess, is given out. That's followed by the 'bhog'. People seat themselves along rows of tables for the food. No non-vegetarian food is served.

After that, its time for the fun part.

While some people busy themselves in the 'worship' part of the festival, others let loose just before evening. That's the time when you go 'pandal hopping' which is the local term for going around the city to see what's up in the other pandals. You may ask why go elsewhere to see exactly what's happening in your local pandal, but that's a stupid question here. Every pandal is unique, be it in terms of the idol, the decorations, the food or the people. But the real motivation behind pandal hopping is to see all the theme pujas.

Theme pujas are a recent concept. The organizers pick a theme and design/decorate the pandal accordingly. Even the idols are befitting to the theme.  I was forced to admit that the people of West Bengal take the concept of ‘experintation’ to a whole new level when it comes to Durga Puja. Everywhere in the world, people try to come up with new ideas to jazz up their festival. But here, coming up with a new idea for the pandal is an old idea. Innovation is the tradition.  Just imagine the amount of work and creativity that goes into making these pandals and you are bound to be amazed even if you’ve never have the opportunity to experience it all in person.

Now comes the sub-festivals. By ‘sub-festival’ I refer to those things which have become typical puja traditions over the years but actually have no religious value. For example, someone told me that there are short-term couples during puja.  Know that sounds weird, but here’s what it means- People pick out someone to date just for the five days of puja so they can hang out together. I don’t know why they do it or even why a lot of people do it and hhhave never really seen such a couple, but if people tell me about it it must be true. I’m sure there are more of such things that go on during puja and with time I’ll find out about those too.

Did I enjoy puja? Well, I don’t go out much and can’t hang out for the whole day and eat junk food without getting sick, but in my own way I did enjoy puja. I enjoyed watching the city transform as the festival drew closer. I enjoyed my own visit to Gariahat market to buy a new dress. I enjoyed some of the cultural shows I watched in my neighbourhood pandal. I think everyone must come to Kolkata during Puja time at least once in their life. You may love it, you may hate it, but it will surely invoke some emotion from you because it is a sub-culture in itself. 




Monday, October 29, 2012

Kolkata Chronicles

I always refer to Kolkata as my 'new city'. I can speak Bengali and have come to Kolkata before, but every city has a flavor which rubs off on you only if you spend a lot of time there. Yo don't become a  Delhiite if your parents are from Delhi but you live in Goa. You don't become a Mumbaikar just because you're Marathi. A city is not merely a language, history or part of a family history. In fact its more than just a place. Its a culture which drips right down to the narrowest alleys, the most crowded buses, the poshest localities, the local hangout spot, the music, the dialect and the tastes and sensibilities of the people who live there. In my previouus visits to Kolkata, most of which were for a few days only, I didn't venture out much. So even though I can speak Kolkata's language, Kolkata never spoke to me.

But now I'm here. Yo would think my entire family was educated in Kolkata but that's not the case. My father graduated from BESU, Shibpur which is in West Bengal but not exactly in the heart of its capital. My mother spent most of her life in Guwahati (Assam) and graduated from Cotton College. My sister studied at Delhi University. I, the only person in my family to never have lived in Kolkata, am the first person to attend college in Kolkata.

Now that I'm here, I'm slowly discovering various facets of the city and that doesn't mean clicking pictures of Victoria Memorial or any of that tourist-y stuff. I'm witnessing, learning and imbibing things which  come to you only if you live in a city. At the end of last year (just before I turned eighteen in Janary 2012), I did the 'Growing Up' series which was about my experiences with maturation. This time around, I've decided to do the 'Kolkata Chronicles'. Its a series about my experiences here, both good and bad. Hopefully, you will enjoy the series just as much I'm sure I'll enjoy describing Kolkata to you. Keep checking this blog for the first part of 'Kolkata Chronicles'. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Unexplained Disappearances- First 15 pages


1

I am not even out of bed and I already know this is going to be the worst day of the year..

For one, its the first day of college. That means meeting new people. That meant being polite and smiling. I’ve never taken to those activities.

Second, its August 28th. Its been a year since my brother went missing.

Third, its my goddamned birthday.

I lie in bed and stare at the ceiling, boggled by how one day can mean so much. I wish I could go back to sleep and let the day slide. I can’t. Eventually, my dad will come to my room and wake me up, and I don’t want that. Ever since my brother…. Well, he’s been a little paranoid for the past year and if he sees me sleeping past seven- that never happens- he’ll start with his usual questionnaire. Are you okay? Do you feel sick? Sould I get a thermometer? I appreciate his concern, but the whole routine is getting a bit repetitive now.

I let out a final sigh and jump out of bed. My feet land right in the middle of the books I left on the floor last night. I love reading and writing, but that can take a toll on the state of tidiness of my room. Everywhere I looked, there was some book or the other, or maybe a notebook with my story ideas scribbled on them. The wall is painted yellow and is bare except for a chart showing the periodic table and a flow chart on communication systems. I know what people think when they look at my room- NERD.

Its almost seven. My first class is at ten. The campus is several miles away from my house and if I want to make it in time, I must hurry. I quickly shower and dress. I emerge out of my room and see thhat thhe door to m parents’ room is ajar. I peep in. My mother is sleeping half-open mouthed. Earlier, she used to be the first one to wake up every morning. She’d pack m lunch and then head to the City College Library where shhe was head librarian. Things have changed now. These days, she doesn’t wake up before noon. She’s on antidepressants and tranquilizers and she misses my brother more than anybody.

I hear water running in the common bathroom. My dad. He must be taking a shower. He had promised to take me on the first day, but I know he’s going to take me everyday for at least a semester. I quickly head for the kitchhen but stop mid-way in the corridor.

My brother’s room.

So neat. So tidy. Drawers firmly shut. Closet looking new. Table-lamp switched off. It all looks so unlike what it used to look like when he was around. If there is one thing we shared, it was messiness. A sharp pain pierces through my gut as m gaze falls on a picture of him stuck on the wall just above hhis table. I marvel at his chiseled face, the unusual, classical appearance. We don’t look alike, but we are still related and I can feel his absence as I stand here.

Ignoring the pain, I march to the kitchen and fix myself a jam sandwich. This has been my breakfast for the last year. Sometimes its also my lunch and dinner. My mother doesn’t cook everyday anymore. On days when she’s feeling down, bread and jam become my staple diet. I swallow hard, fighting the monotony of the sweet, fruity taste.

“Ready?” my father says.

I turn, a piece of bread hanging out of my mouth. “Yeah. Let me just get my bag”.

My father eyes the clock hanging high above the kitchen counter. “We’re late already”.

But I have already picked up my bag and am almost out the door. I kind of fast. I do everything fast. My father joins me. He looks a bit like me, with big, dark eyes and a substantial nose. His wrinkles are prominent now. He’s aged since Kartik went missing. At the last moment, he checks his wallet and I put on my shoes. Then we head out together.

We don’t talk on out way to the station. We don’t even talk once we’re on the train. Mumbai trains are always crowded. Its early but the train is filled with humans struggling to maintain balance in the rhythmic sway of the train. Only the lucky get to sit. All conversations are dulled by the monotonous chugging of the engine.  The odor of sweat from every body mixes together and nullifies itself such that it seems part of the train. It hurts me to watch my frail father sandwiched between two large men, his hands gripping the handlebars overhead and his spectacles lopsided on his nose. I wish he’d let me go out alone. I wish he wouldn’t take all this trouble.


My college is a short walk from CST, the station we stop at. I deliberately walk slow so my father would keep up with me. I know the way, but I let him say, “This way” at every turn.

When we’re at the gate, my father begins. “Do you have everything?” my father asks.

“Books, notebooks, water bottle, lunch box, ID…” I rummage through my bag, making sure I had everything I could possibly need.

“Cell phone?” my father says with a maniacal urgency.

“I have that in here”, I say, running my hand over my jeans pocket.

“Do you have an umbrella?”

“Why do I need that for?”

“Look at how sunny it is! You’ll need an umbrella to walk around campus”.

I’m not going to parade around campus with an umbrella in my hand, I think. But all I say is, “I’ll remember to bring one tomorrow”.

That appears to satisfy him. He wishes me good luck and gives me a hug I couldn’t bring myself to return. All gestures of affection have ceased from my side since about a year ago. After Kartik’s disappearance, my family has gone down so steep a downward spiral that I now feel rather distant from it. Its just that my parents seem like leftover versions of themselves now, and I can barely recognize them.

I turn, but my father keeps a hand on my shoulder. “Listen”.

“Huh?” I notice his face has changed. He’s biting his lip and looking down. He opens his mouth to say something. “Hap-”

My chest tightens. Here it comes. The obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’. I almost want to snort and say, “Like that’s what this day marks”. But I keep my mouth shut and brace myself, ready to take the pain of being wished on the date my brother went missing.

He doesn’t go through with it. His face relaxes and he says, “Nothing. Never mind. You be on your way now”.

I nod. The day would always be the anniversary of Kartik’s disappearance. It would never be my birthday again.

As I walk away from the gates, I keep stealing backward glances at my dad. He doen’t move an inch until I was safely inside the building. Who’s looking out for whom? I think but quickly shove the thought away.

I pick up a map from the office before I head off for class. Still, the hallways confuse me. My first class is for electronics, but I can’t find the room.

“Are you lost?” somebody asks.

I look up from the map in my hand. Standing before me is a boy I find myself instantly attracted to in a rather silly, teenaged-girl way. He isn’t particularly beautiful. Its just that he is rather….striking. His shaggy dark hair partly cover his forehead and brush his right eye. His eyebrows are thick and well-defined. He was so tall that I, who stood a good 5’6”, only came up to his broad shoulder.

“I’m not lost”, I answered defensively. “I just…I just…” I gave up. “I just can’t find my class”.

“What class do you have up first?”

“Electronics”, I replied. “It’s supposed to be right here on the third floor.”

“I’ll take you there”, he offered.

“No, it’s okay. I wouldn’t want you to go out of your way.” I am being polite, but I have developed a tendency to be overly suspicious of people. Whenever somebody acts overly helpful, I try my best to evade that person. What if somebody kidnaps me or something, like that witch from Hansel and Gretel who lures kids with a house of candy and then eats them up.

“Hey, look. I’m just trying to be helpful”, he says, putting up his arms in mock surrender.

That almost makes me smile. I have to admit, getting attention from him is kind of flattering. “Umm, okay”.

He seems to have a fairly good idea of where all the rooms were. I follow him, but still kept stealing occasional glances at my map. The tall pillars and high ceilings in the corridors remind me I am not in high school anymore. This is a bigger world. The classes will be different, the people will be new. I silently congratulate myself for getting into MNIT, which is the best engineering college in my state.

He leads me to my class and then says, “It’s my first class too”.

“What’s your course?”

“B.Tech in Electronics and Communication”.

That basically means I can look forward to four years of sharing most of my classes with him.

“I have my friends sitting right over there”, he says, pointing at the back of the class where some kids are already seated. “We’re all from the same school. It’s okay if you want to join us”.

The class is like a movie theatre, with every row of benches placed higher than the one before. Even in the last row, I’ll be able to hear the lecture. But I am more of a front-bencher by nature. “No thank you. I’ll take the front row”.

“Sure?”

I nod.

“Can I atleast know your name?”

“Aria. Aria Suri”.

“I’m Riyan”. He hold out his hand and I shake it. His grip is comfortingly firm. He rubs his chin and then says, “You know, you look kind of familiar. Have we met before?”

What a cliché, I think. I have a feeling that this boy has taken a sudden, inexplicable interest in me and the cautious part of me warns me to stay away from him. “No, I’m hundred per cent sure we’ve never met before”.

“Hmmm. Well, I guess I’ll see you after class”.

I give him a non-committal shrug and head off to find myself a seat. Students pile in and Riyan effortlessly blend in with his group. For the next ten minutes, I use my peripheral vision to take quick looks at his group. 

It was the group that appeared most engaged in conversation. The cool group, I thought. Thhe one I’ll never fit in.

The teacher enters. It is a man in his thirties. I can never call him handsome. He is tall, lanky and dressed in a white shirt and black trousers. Is hhair looks as if its plastered to hhis hair. Had his moustache been just a bit more square, it would have looked like Hitler’s.

“Oh my God, he’s so tacky”, I hear a girl say in a nasal voice, sneering at thhe teachher.

I don’t care what the teacher looks like. As long as he can teach.

He starts with basic concepts of doping, transistors and other things I already knw about. I still take notes, secretly wondering when we’d begin with the real stuff. He isn’t a bad teacher, I had to admit.

When my class ends, I realize I need to go to the bathroom. Without being noticed, I slide past my classmates and out the door.

Absently, I start walking toward the corner that has a door with ‘LADIES’ marked on it. There are light murmurs in the corridors coming from the classrooms, but still, there is one sound that stands out.

I sense light footsteps behind me, their rhythm matching mine. My intuition tells me someone is walking right behind me, not trying to overtake me. My leisurely pace doesn’t make him or her impatient. It is as if….I am being followed.

I turn around without thinking. But there is nobody there. I curse myself for letting my imagination fly. I quicken my pace and as soon as I put my hand on the doorknob, I hear someone behind me. This time I am sure. And I get scared. My mind doesn’t let me react; it just causes me to freeze.

The next thing I know is my head has been shoved into the door, hitting it with a loud bang which sends a shock down my spine. I reflexively shut my eyes. A strong set of hands pull my hair and then push me forward. I catch a glimpse of something sparkly, maybe a watchh something hanging off my attacker’s wrist. I land on the floor, my right arm breaking my fall. The pain makes me scream and struggle on the floor. 

I get disoriented; I can’t raise myself back up. I just lie there, shocked, hurt, frightened.

Someone pushed me. Someone, who can’t possibly know me, tried to hurt me.


2

“I told you. I was going to the bathroom and I fell”, I say for the millionth time.

“Did anybody push you?” my mother asks. She’s been asking the same question in different words for the past thirty minutes.

“No. Why would…”

“Did you feel someone behind you?”

I feel like this is the Spanish Inquisition, sans the intense physical torture.

My father just scrutinizes. His face is frozen in an expression of negative thought. His heavy eyebrows are so close together, they form a thick line. His glasses hide the look in his eyes.

The right part of my forehead is badly bruised and my arm has required a lot of pain cream. I reach for the tube beside my bed and squeeze out some more cream.

“Are you sure?” my mother, wagging her thin finger in front of my face.

“Yes!”

“Okay”, she says, backing off but not fully convinced. She is quiet for a few seconds, as if giving me one last chance to tell the truth. People say I look like her when I am in a bad mood. I note her passive frown, a thin line of her mouth that makes it impossible to tell what she is thinking. “Drink some water and go to bed. Don’t go tomorrow”.

“Don’t go? I can’t stop going to college because I fell”.

“If your hand troubles you, you’ll have nobody to help. Stay home. Take some rest and go again on Monday”, she says firmly. I don’t have the will or energy to fight. She switches off the light. Together, they leave the room and half shut the door behind them. I stay sitting up. Lying down hurts my arm too much. The doctor has said the pain would go by tomorrow. It seems doubtful.

I wish I were living in a hostel where paranoid parents can’t dictate when and where you could or couldn’t go.

“And Aria?” my mother says, suddenly appearing at the doorframe.

“What?” My annoyance is poorly disguised.

“Don’t stay up too late and don’t try to get up too early tomorrow morning. Did you set the alarm on your phone?”

“No”. I quickly tucked my phone under my pillow. She didn’t notice in the dark.

“Call me if you need anything”, she says and leaves again, this time closing the door completely. It becomes pitch dark. My eyes takes a minute to adjust.

The biggest thing is that I was being dishonest with myself. My mother is right. Someone has pushed me. I am damn sure of that. But I can’t tell anyone as it would drive my parents crazy. My mother used to be the kind of woman who didn’t fuss when one of her children fell down or got hit by a cricket ball. But it is a different story now. For a year, she has been one of the most paranoid women I knew. She has taken me to school every day and brought me home. She watches from upstairs when I go for a walk around the building. It came as a huge surprise when she didn’t insist on coming with me on my first day of college. She probably just thinks I’ll disappear too. One day, I just won’t show up, just leave and never come back. Then she’ll have two rooms to preserve like shrines.

But its not just that. I have a very bad feeling about the incident. Perhaps something like ‘feminine’ intuition really does exist and its telling me that someone tried attack me. On serious purpose. Someone wants to hurt me.

Or maybe I am just playing with these ideas. Maybe, like my mother, I fear for myself too. I don’t want anything bad to happen to me. Its true that my brother’s disappearance has made me extra cautious. I believe if I am harmed, this family, everything it stands for, our names, everything will just crumble and become insignificant.

My elbow throbs as I lower myself to my pillow. I hope nothing like this will happen again. With that hope, I finally force myself to sleep.
*
College is better than home.

After mostly sleeping and nursing my arm over the weekend, I decide to go to college on Monday. Out of the two hells I spend most of my time in, college is the more bearable one because nobody knows me here. Nobody’s overly worried about me to the extent of it being paranoia. Nobody treats me as a special case.

Nobody except Riyan.

I decide to have my lunch under a tree in the canteen just to have some peace. I open a book called ‘Shiver’ and begin reading.  I like the cool shade of the branches above and the quietude, but Riyan finds me there and takes a seat on the grass. “Hi, again”.

“Hi”. My response is unenthusiastic to say the least.

“So…” he says when I didn’t make an effort to start a conversation. “Where do you live?”

“Vashi”, I answered. “It’s about an hour away by train.” I think his question is cliched, but its harmless and easy to answer.

“Really? Must be tiring to commute everyday”.

“It  is, but I’ll get used to it”.

What follows was fifteen minutes of small talk. I can feel the other girls around the canteen eyeing me. Having lunch with the pretty boy is the perfect recipe to start rumors.

Riyan bends forward and picks up my book. “So you like to read?”

“A lot”, I say, taking the book back and placing it on my lap. I open it to the page I was at, eager to return to the story.

“Favorite book?”

“Hard to pick, actually. I have a favorite story, though”. I feel myself opening up to him and instinctively hold my tongue.

“Which one?”

I sigh. There’s no escaping this conversation. “Hansel and Gretel.”

His eyebrows rise in confusion. “Why?” he says, as if its impossible for anyone to love Hansel and Gretel.

“My brother used to tell me that story. I don’t know. Its just something about the girl saving the boy from the evil witch and the two of them destroying the witch together. Its jjust better than all the prince-meets-princess, they-fall-in-love nonsense”.

“Your brother”, he repeats. My throat dries up. Of all the words I just spoke, he picked this one out- brother. “Older, right?”

I look down and nod.

He doesn’t say anything for a minute or two, but I can feel his eyes on me. His gaze is not admiring, its searching for something. Finally he says, “You know, I still think I’ve seen you before.”

I have had enough. I’ve never met anybody called Riyan in my life. So how could he ever have seen me before. I rise to my feet and say, “I have to get back top class.” My book falls down from my lap and I mutter a curse under my breath.

“Class isn’t till fifteen minutes from now?” he points out. He picks up my book and hands it to me. His forehead is creased and he’s eyeing me in confusion.

“Yeah, but I have to go to the library and…” I am already walking away from him and he doesn’t say anything when I turn on my heels and scuttle towards the building.
*

A week and a half  has passed with Riyan grabbing every chance to talk to me. Whenever his friends try to call him over to their table during lunch, he says he is busy. He’s been walking me to class, has started sitting away from his friends and closer to me, asks me questions on the simplest of concepts and even takes my notes. Its as if we have developed a one-sided friendship of some sort. I, being generally a nice person, never ignore him.

Today, he takes a place right next to me. I turn to him and say, “Won’t your friends miss you?”

“No, it’s okay”, he says with a smile.

“Look”, I say in the nicest tone possible. “I’m sure you’re a nice person, but if you keep giving me this…attention, people will talk.”

“What are they going to talk about?” he asks innocently.

I sigh. “I just think that-” I want to tell him I wasn’t a very social person. That I have lost my ability to make friends since my brother went missing. That I am so used to being quiet and reserved now, it feels odd to indulge in simple, youthful friendships. But before I can say anything, he cuts me off and says, “I figured out why you looked so familiar to me”.

He rummages through his backpack and took out a small pile of equal sized sheets. They’re slightly yellow and neatly stacked in a folder. He takes out a sheet and places it on my table with the blank side facing upwards. The moment he turns over the first page, my hand reflexively flies to snatch it off the table. The words on the page are words I have memorized, but they still unsettle me.

MEDICAL STUDENT GOES MISSING, POLICE LAUCHES STATEWIDE SEARCH
by special NM City correspondent
14th April, 20xx

On Monday, Kartik Suri, a twenty-three-year old medical student at KCM Hospital was reported missing by his family. In what can be called one of the most puzzling disappearance in the past year, Kartik left for his daily classes at 7:00 a.m. Witnesses have confirmed that he was seen boarding his usual train from Vashi station at 7:30 a.m. However, CCTV camera footage suggests he never got off at his designated stop. The police have ruled out the possibility of a mishap as cameras are installed at regular intervals of his route and none of them show any footage of an accident.

When Kartik didn’t return home on Monday evening like he was expected to, his father Raghav Suri first called all of Kartik’s friends and acquaintances, and when that yielded no positive results, he didn’t wait before launching a report with the Missing Persons Bureau of the Mumbai Police Department.

“You don’t just get on a train and not get off of it”, said Raghav Suri. He refused any comment on the ‘accident’ theory and just said, “I’m completely certain my son is alive. I can feel it”. Kartik’s mother, Naina Suri, was unavailable for comment as she was hospitalized late Monday night following a bout of vomiting, disorientation and fainting. Doctors say her condition was caused by the news of her son not returning home.

Kartik’s family also includes his sixteen-year-old sister, Aria Suri. At present, Aria is with taking care of her mother. She says the hospital staff has been very helpful and she hopes to see her brother soon.
Evreyday, hundreds of people go missing in the city of Mumbai. A large percentage of them are reported as being patients of psychiatric conditions and drug addictions. Family abductions are also common. There are some who run away to escape domestic violence, assault and so on. In case of kidnappings, a ransom call is expected within forty-eight hours. The police are finding it difficult to classify Kartik’s case in any of the abovementioned categories which makes this case so complicated.

As I continue to look down, doing my best to control the tears that are welling up in my eyes, I feel a sharp bite in my stomach. A promising surgeon goes missing and all he gets this is all he gets- one article in a weekly publication that made most of its money by reporting disturbing serial killings and gross molestations and Bollywood gossip, a grainy picture on a poster pasted at stations and bus stops, periodic flashings of the same grainy photo on Doordarshan channel which nobody really watched anymore. That’s it.

“That’s you, isn’t it?” says Riyan, tapping at a file photo of our family that had appeared along with the article.

“So you just saw my face in the papers and remembered my face for a year?” I suspiciously question. I slide a few inches across the bench, distancing myself from him.

“It’s not that simple”, he says, mistaking the cutting edge in my voice for interest. “My own dad went missing seven years ago. Look at the next paper in the profile”.

I pick up the page and read the headline- ‘BUSINESSMAN MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEARS’. I quickly go over the article. Apparently, Riyan’s father, Ibrahim Majumdar, who was part owner of a small but fairly successful company called RK Tyres, had boarded on a plane from London and never gotten off. The eerie similarity to Kartik’s disappearance is hard to miss.

“If only my dad knew how hard my mother works to get by without him, he’d come back”, says Riyan with childish certainty. His voice is level, almost too level. “He was an excellent father. He’d never leave us, regardless of what my relatives keep saying”.

I have some questions in my mind, but I can’t quite put them to words. Riyan has pulled out a drawer full of repressed emotions, and now I feel incapable of getting through a day of classes. I look up. Is the fan really whirring that fast or is it just my head spinning? Bile rise up in my throat. Without saying anything to Riyan, I cover my mouth with my hand, hastily pick up my things and run out of class and into the bathroom. Once I am done vomiting in the sink, I sink to the floor, as depressed as I had been on 29th April last year.
I had looked forward to moving on to a new phase of life where Kartik’s absence wouldn’t constantly haunt me, but Riyan has destroyed all my hopes.


3
Somewhere in the early hours of dawn, I have the same dream again.

I am in a forest. Its dark,but I can’t be sure because of the thick canopy of trees overhead. Veins hug the barks and the plants on the ground rise up to my calves. The night is still There is a ghostly silence occasionally punctuated by the hoot of an owl or the gurgle of a distant spring.

Initially, I am alone. I feel as if I’m gliding, not walking at all, but still there is the rustle of my footsteps on the dead fallen leaves scattered on the muddy ground. I revel in the solitude. But then I see my parents. They’re circling the tallest tree in the vicinity, one which has a bark as thick as a small house. They are searching for something, yelling, their faces were worried. I stop, unable to walk forward. Then, some inexplicable force draws me backwards. The more I try to fight it, the more I kept walking backwards. But my parents don’t look at me. They just keep going in round circles, shouting….someones’s name, maybe?

Finally, I bring myself to a stop with a jerk.

“Kartik!” That’s my mother’s voice. They’re looking for him, I think. They can’t find him.

I look down, there is a something small and brownish resting lightly on  a broad leaf. A bread crumb.

The crumb means something because I turn on my heels. And there he is. Kartik. He looks just like he did when he went missing- more handsome than I an beautiful, fair-skinned with smooth hair and rimless glasses. Before I can utter a word, he puts his hand on my mouth in a way that frightened me. His hold is tight and I can’t move my face. He then puts his finger on his lips and smiles maliciously. When he let go of me, I turn around to find my parents. They were still circling the tree, looking for Kartik.

“He’s here!” I say to them, but they can’t hear me. And when I face Kartik again, he has vanished.

My eyes fly open.

Its still early. The sky outside my window is a lovely grayish blue. I take three mouthfuls of light, cool air and jump off the bed, ready to start the day. But the moment my feet touch the floor, my mind gets cluttered by the same thoughts that have bothered me throughout yesterday.

It takes about thirty minutes of pacing to get my thoughts straight.

I think about how Riyan talked about his father. They must have had a really strong relationship. I certainly detected a hint of unshakable faith in his voice when he said that his father would never leave him. In short, he still loves his father.
With me and Kartik, its a bit different.

I played a lot with Kartik as a child. He even used to be been rather proud of me because I was an exceptionally cute kid with chubby cheeks and three ponytails rising like fountains from my head. He taught me the alphabet, got me books to read and even dropped me to my nursery class in the school we both went to. But once I turned ten, we pretty much went our separate ways. He had a select group of friends he spent a good deal of time with. He became some kind of super-intelligent freak and the whole family was sure that he was on his way to becoming the country’s greatest surgeon. He got himself into a rather prestigious medical college. My parents went from being his parents to his fans. At some point, we just lost each other, and I became sort of the back-up kid.

And then I started discovering how he wasn’t as perfect as he seemed…

I shake the dark thought out of my head. The truth is that no matter what my personal opinion of Kartik is, I still love him because, well, hes my brother. We have a shared childhood, the same blood. He is a big part of my life. Nothing will ever change that.

Besides, I can see what his absence did to my parents. They  are broken, and it hurts me to watch them desperately seek closure every single day.

Ughh… I hate Riyan. I hate him for making me think these thoughts. I hate him for paying special attention to me only because his dad had gone missing like my brother. I stare at my bathroom’s mirror and wondered if I had actually let myself believe for a second that Riyan was taking genuine interest in me. I shrug away the thought. I am an average-looking girl. My hair is thick and wavy, but my braid hardly ever lets that show. My eyes are big and framed by long eyelashes, but the dark circles I have earned by staying up late studying in the last six months of school are hard for anybody to miss. My height, weight, skin color- its all pretty average. Nothing to make a good-looking guy help me on my first day of college.

I splash water on my face and take time to get ready for college. I remember to pack an umbrella and a pair of sunglasses, even though I am pretty sure I won’t need them. At seven, my dad knocks on my door and the two of us set out to repeat our morning routine on the train.

Today will be the day I’ll finally tell Riyan to stay away from me. God! Will I have to do it inside the class? 
That would be horrible.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to go that far.

He meets up with me in the hallway right before my our chemistry class. He looks worried. The minute he is within earshot, he says, “Are you okay? You looked kind of sick when you ran off yesterday”.

“Yes, I’m fine. Can I just talk to you for a second?”

He shrugs. I lightly hold him by his arm and take him to the edge of the hallway. “Look”, I start. “I’m certain you and your family have had to deal with a tough seven years. I understand because my life hasn’t been so great either. But if you think that our pain is going to be some binding force for the two of us, I’m sorry.” I realize how harsh I sound, let out a deep breath and continue in the softest tone imaginable. “I’m doing my best to be the best kid my parents could have, and a big part of that involves doing my best to just not think of my brother all the time. So please, I can’t have you taking interest in me just because your dad and my brother have something in common”.

A look of genuine hurt registers on his face, but he quickly hides it with a stony mask. He doesn’t say anything before disappearing into the classroom. I stay still for a while, telling myself that what I have done was unfortunately very necessary. I am already dealing with so much; dealing with a boy’s hurt feelings on my conscience will be no big deal.
*
Its been a week since I last talked to Riyan.

I am walking down the stairs, going to the computer room. I am running a bit late. As I turn to walk down the next flight of stairs, I see someone in a green T-shirt writhing on the landing. On careful inspection, I discover its Riyan. He’s on the floor, struggling to get up. His hand clutches his left side and he’s trying to get hold of the railing. Its weird to see someone who looks strong and tall in such a sorry state.

“What happened?” I ask before I can stop myself.

He looks up. When he sees me, he relaxes a little, as if I am a safe person to deal with. “Somebody pushed me. Somebody held me by my neck, pushed me against the wall hit me really hard and then rammed my heads into the railings.”

“Someone did that to you? What are you, like, 6’3” or something?”

He nods in comprehension. “I know. That’s why I don’t have any broken bones and my nose is still intact”.

“Who did this?”

“I didn’t see.” With a lot of effort, he stands up. He still has his hand on his ribs. He is out of breath. He looked right at me, “And that’s how you hurt yourself, didn’t you? Somebody attacked you”.

I freeze. I had forgotten about that day. I had written it off as an unexplained incident which was probably being magnified by my imagination. I hadn’t really seen the attacker, there was no reason to conclude that there was one.

“You….” I have no answer to his question. But the fact was that he knows something that I didn’t know, something he probably needs me to know, something I ought to know.

But now is not the time. I have way too many questions in my mind to seek answers right away. Without saying anything, I walk away, secretly hoping the last three weeks had just been a bad dream.