Acceptance

Coming home had always been something I’d stubbornly avoided for as long as I could remember. The thought of living under restrictions, surviving with my parents constantly barking around my ears and having uncomfortable conversations with relatives you didn’t even know existed always frightened me. As you grow older, you tend to overcomplicate things as well. You carry more baggage, more secrets, more lies. You learn to hide these secrets and lies effectively over time. You only let these secrets out based on how comfortable you are with the people around you. When it comes to my family and I, well it’s easy to say that we’re not the closest.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. They’re a crazy bunch who would do anything to make me happy. It’s just that now that I’m older and more confident in who I am as a person, my body won’t let me go back to be that shy kid who continually obeyed anything and everything my family told me to do; even if it was wrong.

My thoughts were clouded with these unwanted disputes as I nervously fiddled with my boarding pass at the boarding gate to my flight. I was hoping my flight would get delayed just to string the ‘reunion’ a little further away, but to my utter surprise, it had been preponed. How exciting.

You must be wondering why I was so pessimistic about just going home. You see, I’ve been hiding a big secret from them for the past few years. A secret which I know my family would heavily frown upon. Revealing the secret may either result in my family being completely torn apart, or me losing everything I loved and cared for so dearly. There was no ‘win-win’ situation in any possible path I chose. You would think that residing in a country where the word ‘freedom’ was tossed out like confetti from a piñata, my family would be more understanding and accepting for the man I had become and how I lead my life.

As I sat down in my flight, my girlfriend clutched my hand and gave me a look of understanding. “It’s gonna be okay,” she muttered as I typed out a text to my mom informing her of my flight’s departure. I immediately got a text back saying “That’s amazing! Have a safe flight hun! The entire family is here to meet you!” They wouldn’t just be meeting me now, would they? I switched my phone off at that point and tried to make myself get some rest. A long week lay ahead of us.

The few hours after our arrival at Michigan city went by in a blur, all the while my tummy getting more and more restless as the minutes went by. I purposely insisted my family not to pick me up from the airport (which to my surprise, they actually agreed to), hence we booked an Uber to my parent’s home. Throughout the journey my palms were sweaty, my face flushed as I kept fidgeting from side to side. My girlfriend felt my quivering nerves and tried to hug me out of it, but it was all an exercise in futility. I could feel my stomach doing backflips continuously, and by the time I could calm myself down, we had arrived at our destination.

I paid the driver and helped ourselves up to the veranda of my house. I rang the doorbell thrice like I usually did, and prepared myself for the worst. Well here goes nothing.

The door swung open to my parents exuberant faces. They looked me up and down before diving into a bear hug, all the while planting kisses all over my face (still grosses me out to this day). They let go of me after 10 long minutes of cooing and telling me how much I’d changed, before stepping back and realising that there was another human being standing right next to me. They analysed her with confusion on their faces, before asking me about who she was. I gulped nervously.

“I just want you to hear me out before you guys say anything okay? Just don’t freak out.” They nodded in unison.

“Uh, this is my girlfriend, Hannah. We’ve been dating for 3 years now.” The confusion on their faces started to dissolve into a frown. “I’ve been wanting to tell you guys about her ever since we met, but I know how you guys view relationships in general. So, I stopped myself because I didn’t want there to be unnecessary drama when we already had enough on our plates. I just want you to accept her, accept us and give us your blessing.”

There was an awkward silence for about 5 minutes before my mom, holding a poker face, moved to the side and made way for us to enter their house. Not a word was uttered by my parents as we walked inside, just the sound of our footsteps echoing through the hallway. Curious stares were shared between my relatives, some in surprise, some in awe and some in disappointment, as Hannah and I made our way upstairs. Boy had we upset them.

We came downstairs a few hours later, gathering by the fireplace at the centre of the house. The room, filled with all of my relatives, was eerily quiet as we sat down. Hannah looked nervous for the first time in forever, looking around the place like a deer caught in the headlights. Boy had she handled all this like a champ. I’m just glad she hadn’t run away as soon as we got here. My mum and dad walked in soon after, serving us drinks. My mum called for a toast, catching everyone’s attention.

“Greetings everyone. Thank you all for gathering at our place this Christmas Eve. I’d like to share a toast in honour of our returning and new guests here. As we all know, the past few years haven’t been easy, with Andrew moving out, his sister getting married and what not. Whatever came, we faced it with our heads held high and kept ourselves happy throughout it all. And as we all know; our happiness lies in the happiness of our children.” The crowd hummed, and murmurs of agreement were heard from across the room.

“I would like to start the evening by sharing a quote said by Leo Tolstoy, ‘The means to gain happiness is to throw out from oneself, like a spider, in all directions an adhesive web of love, and to catch in it all that comes.” Was she saying what I think she was saying? Hannah and I exchanged shocked glances.

“With that said, I would like to give a warm welcome to Hannah, my would-be daughter-in-law to the Anderson family. We love you both with all our hearts, and we hope to see little grandkids running around the house very soon.” I rolled my eyes at that one, while Hannah blushed beside me.

“Merry Christmas everyone! Cheers!” The entire room filled with uproars of joy and excitement, as they hustled over to clink their glasses. Hannah was still processing what just happened, while I scooped her up into a bear hug and shared a light kiss. The family cheered in unison before they all started hugging us one by one, congratulating us on our relationship I couldn’t believe it. It felt amazing to finally let the people who I’ve loved the longest coexist with the person I loved the most. I guess the saying is true, the love and acceptance of a family is Life’s greatest blessing.

By Oeindrila Bairagi

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Bittersweet

I do not know love without heartbreak,
I do not know sex without sweet pain,
I do not know lust without longing and ache,
I do not know passion without adrenaline rushing through my veins.

I want to breathe easily and love deeply,
But love isn’t real,
If it doesn’t take your breath away.

By Sowmiyaa Senthilkumar

Pay and Not Eat

How much do your parents pay monthly or annually as mess fees?

And how much do you spend to buy food?

Why not eat from the mess when you paid for the food already?
Do you really have to go out and eat?
Even if you do go out and eat, do you really have to skip meals entirely from the mess?

You might try to defend yourself and say that you always have breakfast from the mess. Well, I’m pretty sure that the only reason you do that is because nobody is going to go out of campus just to have breakfast.……… I mean, teenagers, in general, are too lazy in the morning to do anything.

College mess food has begun being associated with edible though bad tasting food. Before joining my University for the first time, I checked on Quora about it. One thing led to another and soon I was looking at Q/As about the hostel mess. One question asked was about whether the food was good.

Most answers basically said & I quote, “The food is good. I mean, how much we can expect from a mess.”

See what I mean? Hostel food implies bad food and food from outside is considered good food.

Have you ever gone to your mess with an open mind, thinking, “The food can be good or bad. How about I taste the food and be honest with myself? Or at least form an opinion for myself instead of going by others’ opinion?”

I came to my hostel for the first time a day late compared to others. So, when I went to my mess for the first time, I went with my roommates. I had hardly tasted the food when one of my roommates exclaimed, “Yuck! That doesn’t taste good!”, after tasting some tomato soup. I don’t remember having the soup that day myself because after somebody remarks like that, nobody would want to.

Maybe the soup was bad that day, maybe it wasn’t (and I later found out it wasn’t!)

However, what I’m trying to convey is this:

You have no idea what you’re missing out on! You might be having amazing food in the mess!

Take my case, for example. I know people who hate the mess food. I know people who like it but don’t like the routine feel of it. I love the food but when it’s something I don’t like to eat, I hate it.

To leave you all with one note: By eating from outside, your parents are paying total of 1.5 or almost 2 times your mess fees; to pay for the food you eat (from outside) and the food you don’t eat (the mess food). You may feel that the money is coming from your pocket (quite literally!) but we both know it isn’t.

OR

If you want to look at it another way:

Just the way staying in a hostel is a necessary experience in life, so is eating bad mess food. So, you literally have no idea what you’re missing out on!

The Switch

Her chest tightened,
Into so many knots,
Juiced out and hung to dry.

Her mind in chaos,
Running with no destination,
Screaming for help,
Anyone? Anywhere?

Her eyes seeing,
Her ears hearing,
Not the waves crashing on the shore,
But the shadows of unformed people,
Familiar but strange.

Her conscience screaming,
She could feel the vibration of its voice,
But couldn’t make out the words.

She ran around,
Looking for the switch.
The lights were too bright,
The noise was too loud.
Scraping the walls with her nails,
Desperate.

Then she found it.
The tightening,

The shadows,
The screaming,
All gone.

Her eyes seeing,
Her ears hearing,
The waves crashing on the shore,
She looked down and smiled,
As she crashed too.

By Sowmiyaa Senthilkumar

Hey, It’s me!

Dear Reader,

Haven’t you always wondered what it is like to be inside a writer’s head? To understand why they think what they think and how it all works? Maybe you’ve wondered how it is like inside anybody’s head, but ironically, I can only provide you a perspective of what it’s like inside my own head, and I shall do so.

Over the years there have been three things that have intrigued me. One, is how we become the person we are today. Every day we are influenced by the things around us, subconsciously building our perceptions and beliefs based on the things we experience. People talk about individuality, about being yourself and following your own beliefs, and I think of how they do not realize that everything we are is a reaction to everything around. It is not possible to make decisions not affected by anything. Maybe we will know what we truly are if we had been alone, unaffected by everything else but ourselves. However, then we would merely exist and not live.

Knowing this, I sometimes wonder about everything that made me who I am today, and why I behave the way I do. It is as if I am a clay model, and I can be moulded into anything. Sometimes I am moulded and remoulded, different around different people. To the outsider, I seem to be an average person- intelligent, maybe a bit nerdy, with a streak of humour and sarcasm. But what’s more cliché than to try to break stereotypes? I’d like to assume that I am not your average nerd.

I have a lot of choices on who I’d like to be. Like I said, I am different around different people, and it depends on my mood. Sometimes I am the introvert, but sometimes I want to be the life of a room. Sometimes I think being famous and funny and having loads of friends would be nice. Sometimes, I think being sarcastic, having a few good friends and laying low in a crowd of people would suit me better. The more I think about this, the more I am led to believe that completely figuring yourself out is not an easy task. It is a quest of self-discovery. It makes me shudder to think about how people do not actually know themselves.

I am essentially the introvert. I don’t like initiating conversations or having small talk. I take my time trusting people, because the one time I let my guard down and tried being an extrovert, I did not like it. I want to know that people want to talk to me, but I don’t want them to actually come and talk to me because it’s a little unnerving. But when people do approach me, I’m very open if I have material to talk about, like my views on life, or books and character analysis. In a group of people, I’m more of an observer. Trying to find connections, to find the reason behind every little action people take, to give back stories to every other person I see. Why did she say that? What was that flicker in his eyes? Why did he smile? What inspires people to be who they are? I believe there is a story to everything. And writing those stories is what I try to do. I try to be empathetic, to put myself in other people’s shoes and see from their eyes. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction in reading people. For a writer may be a world trapped in a person, but aren’t we all?

The other things that really make me wonder are, firstly, if yawns are contagious, in a class full of sleepy yawning students how does a teacher not yawn? And secondly, if dinosaurs are extinct creatures, how did we find out they roared? For all I know they could be up there in dino heaven, squeaking to each other about how assuming we are.

Now that you have a glimpse of how it is like inside my head, I hope you can relate to me. But if you think I’m entirely crazy, I’ll let you in on a secret. I think I’m entirely crazy too. 

Sincerely,

A Writer.

 

Uncertainty

I don’t know if my eyes will meet the dawn
Tomorrow morning, when the sun gleams.
I don’t know if life will be the same,
Whether tomorrow night, I’ll see more dreams.

I don’t know if my shoulders will feel light,
Or my smile less arduous.
I don’t know if I’ll do better tomorrow
And be more wise and virtuous.

But as I leave for tomorrow on this golden night,
Staring at the stars and wondering,
I just hope you have all my answers
And are with me, gladly coming.

-Ananya Bal

Open Letter

This could be termed as my open letter. It isn’t directed towards a particular person or a group, it’s for the entire population. It’s how an Indian teenager feels about a certain aspect of our country that is an issue more sinister than corruption.

There was a case in Delhi a few years ago; a young girl was assaulted and gang raped in a bus by 6 men. The extent of her injuries was intestinal and abdominal damage caused by a metal rod being inserted into her. Her friend, the only sane man in that bus at the time, was assaulted and suffered from serious injuries as well, because he tried to save her. This was infamously known as the ‘Nirbhaya’ case. Unfortunately, the girl died a few days later. It was the end of December and what followed was probably the least celebrated New Year’s Day in India ever.

If I could have a conversation with any one of the rapists, I would ask them just one question. Why? I ask all the other rapists out there the same thing. Why? Why would you do such a terrible thing? Why would you think about it, let alone actually go through with it? Why would it even cross your mind once? To me, anyone who has ever even thought of doing something like this is in the wrong. It’s another human being for God’s sake. You can’t just force that person to do something they don’t want to. You can’t even think of doing that. And then there are the ones who are probably worse than the rapists. The ones who defend this. They may not necessarily be rapists, they may not even be a close friend or family member of a rapist. However, they share a mentality that is too impure to exist. ‘She asked for it’. Why do these people believe that she asked for it? ‘Because of the way she dressed.’ According to these people, if a girl wears sleeveless tops/crop tops/short skirts, etc. she is then ‘eligible’ to be raped. She shouldn’t show that much skin because then, she is ‘asking for it’. Let us assume that showing skin is a sin. The defenders of rape believe that an accurate punishment to that is removing her clothes and forcibly touching her, molesting her because she exposed skin and she should be taught a lesson. I’ve often seen or heard women complain about their family/friends telling them to not wear shorts/crop tops/etc. and that it might be dangerous for them to do so. At first, I believed that they just worry too much. As it turns out, they don’t, because of the way these people think. This mentality needs to be changed. Sexually harassing foreigners by masturbating in front of them is not acceptable. Stalking women is not acceptable. Raping them is not acceptable. It’s another human being who won’t be the same ever again. If she manages to survive it, she’ll be haunted by it, every day, for the rest of her life. She’ll be scared to get out of her house. She’ll never feel like a free bird again. She might even be shunned by people because she ‘asked for it’. No amount of punishment is enough to justify that, not even being hanged till death.

Imagine if something similar happens to your sister, mother, partner, colleague, etc. They’re all women and they’re in danger. They’re in danger because of rapists, their defenders and the people who stand by and watch ‘helplessly’. They choose to ignore it because they fear for their own safety. Their good Samaritan reflex is suppressed because they don’t want to risk getting hurt in the process of helping someone else.

To all the rapists out there: because of you and your sick, perverted minds, the world isn’t happy. At least the worlds of these women, teenagers, and children. They are scarred for life; scars that will never completely heal.

Therefore, I ask the people who stand by to put yourself in danger for the sake of another human being.

I ask the creeps on the internet, those who harass and stalk women, to think about what they’re doing and the consequences of their actions.

I ask the defenders to think of what they would say if something similar happened to their sisters or mothers

I ask the people who don’t fall under any of these three categories, to be aware and to spread this awareness, which shall hopefully make this country a better and safer place to live in.

And finally,

I ask the rapists and the ones who have thought of raping someone to pause. Before you make the impulsive decision and proceed to molest someone, pause and think of what you’re about to do to that person. About how you’re going to wreck that person’s and her family’s entire life. How you’re about to destroy their will to live. Turn around and never let any such ideas cross your mind. Save multiple lives, including your own.

I’ve reached the end of this letter.

It expresses how an Indian teenager feels. How we see the situation and how we hope that a change is brought about.

Sincerely,

Xyz.

-Parth Pande

What Ifs

The house smelled like spices. She sat at the table as her mom hummed to herself in the kitchen, preparing dinner to celebrate her sister’s college admission. Her sister was out with her friends and her father was still in the office.

She stared at her phone. Another day gone, still no message.

She could feel it in her chest. The panic. The dread, the despair and the pain rising; slowly, steadily. Her breath became heavy. Her palms went cold. She fought to keep calm. It is okay, it is okay, she chanted in her head. But it wasn’t. Inside, she could feel herself struggling to hold it together. Outside, her mother still hummed, her sister was still with her friends; father, not yet home. The house still smelled like spices.

She sat until she could no longer sit still. “Ma! I’m going to the terrace.” She did not wait for a reply. She grabbed her headphones and ran outside. On the terrace, she plugged them in and blasted music, hoping to drown herself in it. To escape. But it didn’t work. She sat down in defeat and stared at the starless sky.

She didn’t hear him come. He poked at her, and she looked around ,only to find him standing there, with his usual goofy smile on his face. She removed the headphones as he sat down beside her.

“Hi! I knew I’d find you here. So, what’s up?”

She stared at him with an unrecognisable expression on her face, and in a dead voice she said, “I’m scared.”

His smile faded, concern flooded his eyes. He looked at her for a long moment, trying to read her expression and make sense of what could possibly scare her. She was the most wonderful person he had ever met. She was independent, confident, jovial and always encouraging. She had a solution to all his problems. She was always by his side, cracking jokes, lightening the mood. She was the happy one. And yet he could see the fear in her eyes, the panic on her face, and the struggle to remain calm. “Tell me”, he urged.

She took a deep breath, and stared into the distance. He didn’t press for information, giving her time to gather her thoughts. There was silence all around. The wind blew idly, the moon was hidden behind the clouds. The sky was dark. After what seemed like a long time, she looked at him and said, “What if. What if I don’t do everything I am supposed to. What if I make the wrong decisions, do the wrong things, live life the wrong way?”

“What do you mean?” he frowned in confusion.

“I mean. What if I can’t do everything people expect me to do? I worked my ass off for 12 years in school. I was a straight A student. I was the valedictorian. And yet, I got into a not so good but not so bad university, after all my efforts. I thought, okay, I have the skills, if I work hard I can do well. I worked and worked and worked, but there’s only a year left and I don’t know whether I really like what I am doing. I feel lost. I feel aimless. I don’t even know that if this is not what I want, then what do I want. What if I never get a job? What if I get a job that’s dull and boring and kills me inside, but I have to do it because I need the money? Everyone says, ‘Oh you’re brilliant. Oh, you know everything’. But will I actually be able to do anything with knowing everything? Will I survive the real world?”

He stared at her in horror. He had never realised that she, of all people, would have so many self-doubts. And she wasn’t even done.

“My parents have so many expectations from me. That I will do well for myself in life, and I will be able to support them in their old age. What if I cannot? What if I cannot provide them everything they want, like they’ve always given me what I have wanted? More than that, what if I cannot provide them what they need, like medications and proper care? Everything I’ve been working for, the thing I’ve taken into account while making all my decisions, what if I don’t achieve it? I know, this may sound really unrealistic. But it’s not. It’s very much possible. There are so many others like me, thousands and lakhs of people competing for the same positions and even though I am better than some, there are some better than me. What if I lose out? What if I become just like anyone else, replaceable, with no real value? What if I’m average? I don’t have any special skills, and I don’t know what will make me stand out in a crowd. What if I become like the crowd, monotonous, robotic, just another person among millions of people?

And it’s not just about getting a job, or earning money. We all get only one life; and I want to live it. I want to be happy, I want adventures and thrill and new experiences. I want to fall in love. I want to settle down. After all the expectations I have for the perfect relationship and the perfect life, what if I make the wrong choices? What if at the end of life, I realise that I have wasted the one chance I got to live on this planet? What if…” and she trailed off.

He didn’t know what to say to her. She was the one with the encouraging words when he used to rant away his problems and doubts. Now, it felt like she’d brought down her walls, her façade of calmness and positivity. She sat there, vulnerable and exposed. And he thought about everything she had said. About working hard and trying your best, and finding out that no matter what you did, thousands had done before you, and thousands will do after you. That you’re just one other graduate the factory has churned. Not a prodigy, not a genius, just mediocre. Average. And that you may never find your happiness, love or adventure because survival came first? It stung. But this wasn’t the only possible outcome, was it? Bad was only one of the options. Good also existed. He slid closer and took her hand.

“Hey,” he whispered. “Listen to me. I know it hurts to think that nothing may ever go right. Trust me, I know. But why do we do this thing, where we always focus and prepare for the bad outcomes? What if you do get a fantastic job, in a fantastic place? What if you earn loads of money doing something you love? And what if you do find the person you can trust your entire life with? What if all the good things happen? What if at the end of life, you realise that even through all the bad stuff you had the good stuff to support you, to help you look forward? And that you have lived this one chance at life as wonderfully as possible?”

She shook her head, smiling sadly. He could see that she wasn’t moved.

“Look,” she said. “The good stuff may happen. I know that. But what if it doesn’t? You say that I should prepare for the good stuff and not the bad. But if the good stuff does happen there is nothing I need to prepare for. It’s when nothing right happens that you have to clean up the mess and see what can be done about it. No one makes emergency preparations to win a war. People keep backups and emergency plans in case they lose. And I am so confused I don’t even know how I will take care of things if they don’t go well.”

“Kia. You’re going about this the wrong way.” He tried desperately to get his point across. “I’m not asking you to completely ignore the possibility of things falling apart. All I’m asking you to do is not count on your outcomes before you see them. By all means you should prepare for the bad outcomes. But minor setbacks shouldn’t be able to persuade you into thinking that the world has ended.”

Somehow, he knew what had brought this fear in her. She stared at him.

“If you’re trying to achieve something that is worth all your time and all your efforts, then it isn’t going to be an easy job. It’s going to be hard, and you’re going to face a lot of speed bumps. But speed bumps don’t mean the road has ended. You’re young, and at this point it’s okay if you don’t have your life figured out. It’s okay if you’re lost. It’s only natural.”

He looked at her. She seemed to be contemplating his words. He smiled and said, “Look, this is how I see it. If you can’t control the flow, don’t struggle against it. What’s going to happen is in the future. You gave the best you could. All those things you said, about your efforts not being enough and not being happy, is there anything you can do about it right now? Is there anything you can do ‘right now’, to change something that ‘may’ happen in the future?”

She shook her head. “See! You get what I am trying to say? Don’t fret about it now. Maybe you’re average. But, maybe you’re the average people are looking for.”

She smiled. They sat in silence for another long moment, before she turned to him and said, “Thanks. I needed that. And look at you, all philosophical!”

“Hey!” he grinned. “Do you stop believing in the moon just because the sun comes up?”

“No! That’s Jack Frost not you! Copycat!” She stuck her tongue at him. He smiled, knowing that though she might still worry about the future, she would at least try to keep smiling. He got up, pulling her on her feet. “It’s getting late, let’s go before they think we ran away or something.”

The silence was broken by the sound of their laughter as they headed back to their homes.

By  Anusha Subramanian