PLACEBO EFFECT

 

Annika is an independent woman. She often runs late from work these days because the project is about to reach closure and these extra hours she puts in could give her the appreciation, increment, and promotion she has long deserved. It is really late now and unfortunately, the last bus that dropped her off directly in front of her apartment complex has left. She starts searching for cabs online. A micro would do, but since it was so late, she was ready to pay more to take the prime cabs as well. However, adding to her bad luck, there were no cabs available. Anxiety levels increased. She was a little tense too. She has a healthy and active lifestyle, walking a click and a half should not be a problem, she thought to herself as she started heading down the centrally lit road, with some shops occasionally in between.

She paced as fast yet looking as normal as she could. The family getting worried was all she could think of at that moment. She heard horns behind her. Must be some uncultured brat, she thought. A biker brushed her at high speed. After hitting her elbow, he turned back and it seemed as if he nodded at her. She felt bad. She wanted to teach him a lesson but was completely helpless. Her helplessness made her feel even worse.

A few hundred meters down and an old man walking the opposite way, but on the same side of the road, stared at her. He was looking at her, under her neck, all the while. This got her very frustrated. Such old yet ill-mannered men. What was he even doing outside at such an odd hour? Thinking this, she headed forward. Hoping to get home safe.

She could see her apartment complex now. Just three more blocks of apartments to go. This fact got her incredibly happy. There was a small shack that sold tobacco on the road, in front of the apartment complex she was currently walking past. She saw a man smoking, about her age, probably older. He looked at her with a disgusted frown. She knew very well what he was thinking. A girl of marriageable age, walking on the road in such late hours. He was judging her character. Presuming her job, the worst assumption he could make. She started detesting him immediately.

She could see the last intersection after which was her apartment complex. She could already imagine the worried look of her parents. All the things they would say about the fact that she, working was a bad idea, to begin with. She heard a car screeching, parking lights turned on. It stopped right ahead of her, on the side of the road. Its cabin lights turned on. Her worst possible fear had just turned to reality. Abduction. She froze where she stood, started getting numb. With all the courage she could muster up, she ran. She cried and she ran, as she entered her apartment complex. She ran right to the lift, went to her house and told her parents the entire saga. They were scared and content with the fact that she came home. As a remedy, she learned to drive and loaned a car.

Sometimes things are not how we see them to be.

Karthik loved to ride bikes. He worked hard to buy the bike he loved. He had gone to get the medicines for his mother, who had just recovered from a stroke. He had no option but to leave her alone and go get more medicines. On his way back, he brushed his left handle in a lady’s elbow, turned to apologize and rushed. He could not waste a moment.

Jaynath is a retired railway officer. He likes to go on walks after dinner. Tonight he saw a girl, nearly as old as her daughter whose birthday was next week. He really liked that girl’s attire and could imagine how pretty his daughter would look in that dress. He made sure to buy a similar dress for his daughter as a surprise gift. The thought made him smile as he walked past her.

Amit loves his wife and son. His wife is about to give birth in a couple of months. Everyone at home hates his habit of smoking. So every night after dinner, when his wife is washing dishes and son is studying, he slips down to smoke. Every night he smokes with regret. Tonight was worse; he was smoking after a week and hated himself for breaking his cigarette hiatus. The regret and rage were visible on his face as the mean and vicious look. At the same time, he noticed a young girl, on road, late at night. He looked at her with concern as she frowned and kept walking.

Harsh was driving home from work. He helped tow a heavy vehicle for some distance in the morning, which probably burnt his clutch plate. His gear was stuck and so he had to make a hurried stop. He saw a lady on the road and ineptly avoided hitting her. As he rubbed the sweat off his face, he got out to apologize and call a mechanic. However, the girl was probably so scared that she ran away. At least he saved two lives today.

Circumstances can make the same event appear different, perhaps worse. We must never let our prejudices control our minds. We must not give in to placebo and try to be braver and confident of ourselves.

 

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CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

Kriya sat contentedly in her room looking at all the pretty gifts her friends and family had given her for her 18th birthday. As she was shuffling through the gifts, a beautiful jewellery box caught her eye. Her friend Aanya had found it in an antique shop and it was truly an elegant piece. She picked it up to examine it closely and that’s when she cut her thumb against its sharp edges.

Kriya suddenly had a feeling she was being watched and turned around to come face to face with a man straight out of Arabian nights. He wore harem pants and a small earring and introduced himself as Jabiri the genie. Perplexed, Kriya listened to him explain how he had been summoned by her blood. She had three wishes and could ask for literally anything. Giddy with excitement, Kriya immediately asked for a lot of money and jewellery. Jabiri snapped his fingers and told her to check her cupboard. And just like that, he was gone. Not sure what to do with the riches, she hid the cash under a loose floorboard in her room and stuffed the ornaments in her jewellery boxes. She then went to sleep, dreaming about all the incredible things she could do with her newly acquired wealth.

Little did she know that genie magic had its consequences. They couldn’t just conjure things which didn’t already exist. When Jabiri had conjured up the riches, it had been transported from the nearest source: the Mehra’s house where a huge wedding was to take place next month. The entire Mehra house was shell shocked as to how all their wedding jewels could suddenly disappear in one night. They immediately lodged a police complaint.

The next day when Kriya was showering, her sister Kritika came to her room to look for a matching set of earrings for her dress. As luck would have it, she wore a set of earrings from Jabiri’s gifts. She then went next door to call her friend Anita Mehra for a party they were supposed to be attending. Anita’s mother couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw Kritika’s earrings and alerted the police at once.

Kritika was a mess and repeatedly kept denying any role in stealing the jewels as the police ransacked their house. Kriya was horrified when she realised what had actually happened and couldn’t bear to see the shame in her parents’ eyes. She rushed to the bathroom with her wishing box and sliced her thumb on it. Jabiri appeared once again and asked if she was ready for her second wish. Kriya wished for her family to be saved from the mess she had caused. Jabiri was gone with another snap of his fingers.

The police could find no evidence of the robbery and the earrings also miraculously turned out to be fake. Kriya thought she could put the whole thing behind her but she was very, very wrong. People still believed Kritika had stolen the jewels as they were never recovered by the police even after days of searching. She had lost her friend Anita and nobody would talk to her at school. The neighbours stopped associating with their family and started calling them nasty names.

Kritika was never the same again. Unable to deal with her depression, she tried to end her life by slicing her wrists. Though Kritika was saved, Kriya knew she was responsible for her sister’s miserable condition. And at that moment, she knew what her final wish would be. Kriya summoned Jabiri again and she wished for time to be turned back to the morning of her 18th birthday. Jabiri let out a loud guffaw and snapped his fingers.

Kriya woke up to a new day to see her family around her wishing her a very happy birthday. That night when she saw the box, she carefully wrapped it up in a cloth and threw it in the river, where it could never harm her family again. As days passed, her memory of the disastrous events also began to fade, until she was left questioning if she hadn’t actually imagined the whole thing.

Years later, a fisherman would catch the box in his net. Wanting to take a closer look he picked it up and accidentally cut his finger on it, thereby summoning Jabiri to the mortal realm again.

Playing hard or Paying hard?

As I pen down this article, the greatest sporting spectacle on earth is underway.

32 nations from 6 continents are fighting tooth and nail for the Jules Rimet trophy. The FIFA World Cup.

But isn’t it just another quadrennial sporting event?

What makes it different from the others?

To truly understand the magnitude of the event, some statistics might help.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was aired to an estimated 3.2 billion people, which is 46% of the human population.

Yes, almost half of the whole world tuned in to watch football during this phase !

The cup has witnessed a meteoric rise in popularity since its humble beginnings.

The first world cup in 1930 could only gather 13 nations, most of them being European. This is quite in contrast to the upcoming 2022 Qatar WC, slated to host 48 nations from over 6 continents.

The 211 countries part of FIFA further cement the dominance of the sport over any other. That’s 18 more than the number of United Nations members.

Just let that sink in.

So after all the praise I’ve heaped on the sport to prove its dominance, a pertinent question may arise in the reader’s mind – “Why the hell am I questioning the World Cup’s benefits at all?”

After all, shouldn’t the countries continue fighting over hosting rights for such a lucrative tournament?

However, hosting a world cup isn’t just another hunky-dory affair. FIFA’s extremely high standards lead to a battle before the actual war in getting the infrastructure ready.

It especially hurts those nations which need football the most.

South Africa stands as a prime example. In a country and continent as culturally and ethnically diverse as it is, football acts as a binding agent.

So nothing short of a renaissance was expected when South Africa won the hosting rights of the 2010 tournament. The fact that $3 billion of tax money was spent only raised expectations.

Naturally, the key word of 2010 for the Africa masses was Hope.

Only to turn to despair.

Though the tournament is remembered as a success, it hasn’t really helped the nation.

The FIFA anthem of South Africa 2010 – “Waka Waka” is remembered endearingly.

The same cannot be said for the country’s football players.

They have continuously underperformed at the international level. So it was no surprise when they failed to even qualify for the 2014 or 2018 cups.

The stadiums have been severely under-utilised, as the weak local league hasn’t been able to maintain them. Most have been dismantled.

Brazil 2014 went several steps ahead and the government spent $ 11.6 billion, almost 4 times the previous WC’s spending.

Hope was in the air, again.

Only to be crushed, again.

Instead of improving even slightly from its predecessor, this WC was embroiled in even more controversy.

A politically charged Brazil with nearing elections pumped up the detractors of the spending. The mysterious deaths of construction workers did no better to help its case.

The final nail in the coffin was the constant decline of the already struggling Brazilian economy.

Qatar 2022 has a budget of $220 billion, more than 60 times that of the 2010 WC.

To put things into perspective; that’s approximately equal to the net worth of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates combined.

That’s a bizarre sum of money, even if it’s being invested in an uncharted territory.

And still, this cup hasn’t gained the confidence of the masses. The corruption charges against FIFA top brass such as Sepp Blatter have severely tainted its image.

There are a few positives, yes. Germany recorded a significant spurt in child births 9 months after the 2006 World Cup, which was quite unusual for a country with declining population. Also, tourism during the world cup does see a sharp spike.

But do they outweigh the negatives?

Hell no.

Tourism spikes are very transient. With the upcoming unfavorable locations (Qatar), tourism is even less likely to be a valid argument.

Contrary to the way it was marketed, the 2010 World Cup did not create solidarity amongst the nations, in sporting terms or otherwise. Most of the African footballers still find no opportunities at the base level, and the talented ones still move to greener European pastures.

Qatar’s astronomical budget can very well be employed in other suitable avenues, such as helping curb conflicts in the volatile Arab region, rather than being used to build state-of-the-art structures destined to be miniature ghost towns.

The world cup remains the biggest and most seen quadrennial sporting event. Its relevance or need remains unchallenged. However the way the countries are selected as hosts, or their spending definitely needs to be kept in check. A balance is needed so that the success of the sport is assured without misusing public wealth. If the current system prevails, a day shall come when the World Cup becomes yet another corporate gimmick masqueraded as a sporting event.

I can only hope that day never comes.

Shivansh

Let it flow

she

Some curl up on their beds with heater pads.

Some pop in pills like candy.

Somewhere, in another part of the world, little girls think they are “injured”. Worse still, some are sure that it is cancer.

While most of us have been taught about, or at least are informed by our mothers or sisters about puberty and menstruation, many suffer in silence and ignorance.

In many households, especially in countries like Nepal, India, Afghanistan and Iran,experiencing periods is viewed as a frightening experience. The “embarrassment” regarding periods is a major cause of hesitation amongst women, which might affect their daughters’ health.

The stigma isn’t prevalent for no reason. These are a set of hand-me-down myths and misconceptions which a female child is made to believe because her ancestors had believed in it. Some bizarre myths often heard are: “Don’t touch the food, it will go rotten”, “You are impure during menstruation”, “You will defile everything you touch”.

I also read an account of a girl who believed her nail polish had spoiled because she applied it during her period.

The condition in India, especially in some rural areas, is so bad that girls and women care little about personal hygiene, let alone menstrual hygiene. A survey says that 23% of  girls in India dropout of school, the major reason being inaccessibility to clean toilets. They choose to stay at home, and eventually end up getting married early.

The high cost of sanitary pads is a primary cause of low menstrual hygiene, since women resort to cheap alternatives like cloth, which are reusable, but very unhygienic (only 12% women in India use sanitary napkins). Some also reportedly use newspaper, sand or straw. The germs in the reused cloth might result in serious infections. Further, reports say indigenous girls in Australia steal sanitary napkins and bunk school during periods.

To make it worse, we have advertisements which ask us to bleed blue and keep it all a hush-hush affair. This, instead of encouraging girls and women to talk about their period freely, forces them to keep it to themselves.

Being a single father just increases the problems. Girls can choose to talk to their aunts or sisters instead, if they are uncomfortable. Being silent will never help.

It is sad how a perfectly normal phenomenon, which has been occurring over ages as an indication of physiological maturity, normal body functioning and a sign of fertility is stigmatized and depicted as a curse rather than a natural cycle of hormones churning inside the body.

As Rose George (a marathon runner) rightly says in an article, “Period may hurt, but not talking about menstruation hurts more.” While one might experience bloating, excruciating pain and nausea, the thought of being buried under ignorance is far painful.

We need to take inspiration from women who accept their body, their cycles wholeheartedly and take pride in who they are. Kiran Gandhi, a Los Angeles based musician, sensed that she was going to get her period while she was running a marathon. Yet, instead of using a pad or a tampon she chose to run, letting her menstrual blood flow free.

To make personal and period hygiene accessible and affordable, the government can distribute napkins for free, or at least at a nominal cost, to females in rural areas. Constructing and maintaining lavatories in schools will go a long way to support girl education, which will, in turn, improve their quality of life and the generations to come.

Instead of hiding your napkins in your handbags and concealing them at the bottom of your shopping cart, remember that menstruation is a normal phase in a woman’s life. Embrace it.

– Ramyaja

 

Sentience

SENTIENCE

Bump.

For a few moments after that, darkness was all Aaron could see.

He had not expected the old man around the corner of the hallway. Nobody does. He instantly knew he didn’t have to wait around – he was in a hurry. He noticed a few strangers surrounding them as he helped himself up a wall. Weirdly, he felt no pain at all. No sense of shock. Every moment was making his situation worse. He had to make decision, and before a crowd mustered and the incident went out of control.

The old man had just finished thanking the stranger who had found his spectacles. As he turned his head to apologize, he squinted at a fading vision of a man running away.

It took Aaron a slightly delayed arrival at his lab’s security gates. Following everyday protocol a bit hurriedly, he checked-in his I.D. while the metal detector integrated with the threshold did its work silently. The security guard seemed to notice his impatience, but did not want to make it worse by poking him with doubts of her own – although she had not received her regular delivery from the man. Her train of thoughts vanished when the machine beeped and lit-up green with the words “Aaron Ingham, Special Permit”. Aaron did not seem to care about the guard’s raised eyebrows as he walked away from her sights.

The welcoming hum of his lab hadn’t changed in months. The same pitch, the same drone – and yet it felt different today. His footsteps echoed through the marble-lined, fresco-filled walls, and were struggling to catch up as he hurried by. The usual conduct was to move along silently and not let the footsteps rant – but he didn’t care. There’s nobody here, and if this does not go well, there will be nobody. As the chief operations officer, his recent project had been Pal – Pseudolocomotion-assistive Labrat. The last part had been a joke – a joke that will no more exist. Pal had been created as a medical device to help paralysed patients feel the sense of motion again. And Aaron just remembered the final diagnostic results. It needs a talk; an interrogation.

He punched his card in as he simultaneously switched the machine on. Nobody on his team had done that before – nobody had actually worked Pal. Yet he was confident he could work it out – with just twenty hours to go. The fans whirred up and the lights blinked, and the cooling rig had begun to transport fluids. The cameras and speakers revved into action, and the monitor beeped – Am I sure? I need to do this. Should I do it alone? I’m afraid. No, I cannot. He hit the Boot key anyway. Crazy man.

For a moment, Aaron was confused. The monitor seemed to show a black-and-white video of a small office. The lights were flashing in a similar way, but there was no sound. Something is wrong. Before he could figure it out, a young , well-dressed man in his early forties seemed to enter the office. Beard well-kept, hmm. As he watched, the man checked the clock on the opposite wall – Aaron’s jaw dropped. The time didn’t matter, but the date did; it was the same day for them, in different timezones. The video is a live feed!

He spoke into the lone microphone in front of him. “Hello? Pal?” The man on the other side seemed visibly rattled in a happy way. He waved his hands around in the fashion not unsimilar to that of a chimp wanting bananas. “Ca….uu…year…eeee….?”. He sounded ridiculous. Is this really Pal? Questions raced through his head as “Pal” seemed to find a workaround. “Hi.” The crisp gruntle of Pal threw Aaron off his misjudged tracks a bit. “I am Paltrovich. How are you?” He placed his accent somewhere in Midwestern Asia, but was visibly comforted with Pal’s developed sense of humanity. “Feeling good, pal. I’m Aaron. Aaron Ingham.” The man on the other side sported a puzzled look on his face. “No, no. You’re AI. I remember.” Aaron had used his initials while punching in the working systematics, and had encouraged his fellows to do the same. “Yes, Pal. AI is my name. Aaron Ingham. You, on the other-”. “NO. You’re not Aaron Ingham. You’re AI. The first self-learning machine of our world. You’re my creation. Hello? Re..mb..rr?”.

Now Aaron seemed to sport the puzzled look, and was surprised how similar it turned out to be. He clearly remembered working days and nights, chipping away code by code at Pal’s mainframe processes. He was a civilized scientist, and sensed a rage of arguments coming his way. Pal’s words would be a buzz to him. Reboot. A piece of unproved trivia that AI machines lived their last five minutes of their existence over and over again in a closed loop when forced close. It wasn’t Aaron’s problem. He went outside and switched the MCB off, forcing the shutdown of Pal immediately. I need a break.

As he walked the path to his quarters, Aaron shivered a little bit. It was a chilly night, and he couldn’t get the man’s face out of his head. I’m your creator, you’re AI. Pfft. Like there was any such possibility. He knew a sleepless night loomed ahead of him. Close to his quarters, a bunch of people were chattering around. Weird. As he checked in, he overheard a conversation about a fire started in the first floor of Building 3. Pal’s room! He took a turn, checked out, and began to run.

He called the CoreSec – a 24-hour support office that issued passes for late visiting. They approved the request for special visit. He felt the need to check upon Pal – he did not feel so good about the gossip. And he needed him to not malfunction during diagnostic testing the next day. He broke into a brisk run, and reached the building sooner than he thought he would. This is going great. An inevitable turning was rising up ahead, and Aaron was not ready to slow down.

Bump.

For a few moments after that, darkness was all that Aaron could see.

My Mistress

The evening was calm, and there was a light breeze. I sat by the small door, patiently. Time was moving slowly. Seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into hours.  It seemed like forever that my mistress had walked out the door. Before she’d left, she told me, “Be patient. I’ll be back soon.” For me, soon was never soon enough.

My mistress was amazing. She took care of me, made my food, took me to different places and introduced me to a lot of people. She was always patient with me, and she was never angry with me. She pampered me a lot, which made many of my friends jealous.

I had nothing to do. I’d taken a walk around the house, had an interesting conversation with the neighbours through the fence and I’d even taken a run in the garden. Now, I was exhausted. I was hungry, but there was no food. I was thirsty, but water was beyond my reach. I had never felt so alone.

Suddenly, I heard a car arrive outside the main door. I was elated. My mistress was back home! My excitement grew as I heard her footsteps on the path to the door. As the door swung open, I jumped on her. Even though this had happened before, she was startled. She said, “Oh, oh, oh, take it easy, take it easy. I’ve just been gone five minutes!”

I followed her to the kitchen, where she gave me a delicious meal: chicken and vegetables. She gave me some water, and I’d never felt so much at ease. She made something for herself, and plopped herself on the sofa opposite the TV. I jumped onto the sofa and curled up beside her. She was watching some show on TV, about some people who were fighting other people. I don’t get the point of it, but I watch it with her, anyway.

All of a sudden, her phone rang. She picked it up, and began shouting. I feel very uncomfortable when people shout. She understood my discomfort and got up. She walked towards her bedroom, and I went after her, after a while. However, she shut the door on my face. Saddened, I walked back to the sofa, and lay down on it.

The evening turned to night, but my mistress was still shouting. Then, it stopped. Everything was silent and calm. She came out of her room, crying. I ran at her, and tried to cheer her up, but she brushed past me. She told me, through sobs, “I’ve had enough of this w-world, Bruno. I’ve-I’ve tried to be a nice person, but n-no one cares. They a-always want to p-pull me down, no matter w-what I do. I’m done.” I didn’t understand what she meant by that.

I followed her to the weird room, where she kept odd things like mops, ropes and buckets. She took out a very thick rope, and took a chair from the dining table, and went to her bedroom. She turned on the little lamp on her desk, and started to write something on a piece of paper. I sat on the bed and waited for her to finish writing. She was still sniffling; the crying seemed to have stopped.

She finished writing, and turned off the little lamp. I got up from the bed, but she told me to keep sitting. She turned on the main light of the room. She picked up the rope, and made some weird kind of loop with it. She placed her chair under the fan, got up on it and tied the rope-loop thing to one of the blades of the fan. She pulled the rope, a couple of times, with her hands. It stayed still.

She got down from the chair, and came towards me. Her hands were trembling. Her eyes were red. She started crying again. She said to me, “Bruno, you lovely, beautiful dog, I love you. I’m going to sleep.” She kissed me on the nose, and I licked her face, as I always did, before she went to sleep. I didn’t understand why she started crying, on looking at me. She always smiled when she saw me!

She went back to the chair, climbed onto it and put on loop thing around her neck. Her whole body was trembling, and the chair was trembling too. She looked around at me and said, “Bye-bye, Bruno.” She kicked the chair away with her foot. The chair hit the wall and caused a loud noise, and I was startled. I jumped off the bed sniffed the chair. I began to roam around the motionless body of my sleeping mistress, hanging from the fan.

It was an odd position to sleep in, I thought. Usually she just went to sleep in the bed, with me! But, whatever. She was tired, and she’s gone to sleep. She could’ve turned the light off before she slept, but that wasn’t an issue. I curled up under her shadow, closed my eyes, and said, “Goodnight, mistress. See you tomorrow morning.”

 

White Rose

WHITE ROSE
A short story by Saumyaa Sinha
“It’s your word against mine, whom do you think would they believe?”. Little specks of dust
were dancing in the tunnel of sunlight which streamed through their barely open window, it
was coated with dust, just like the rest of the house and the clothes. The negligence must
have taken some real effort though. For the curtains were heavy with dust laden layers, the
hem skirted over the ground, wanting to fall dramatically. An armchair sat oddly in the
corner, greased with oil spills and a table barely big enough to fit two pieces of crockery,
stood sleepily in the centre, there was a lonely piece of copperware, for silver burnt far too
much of the pocket, on a cracked mantelpiece. Life seemed to be squeezed so wretchedly
out of every furniture, there was a lull thrown over the entire living room. If one could call it
that. A carpet stretched across the flooring, the once intricate patterns were now reduced to
patches of dark mouldy patterns. It couldn’t stop raining outside.
Arnold Atwood shifted from one leg to another, his open trench coat swaying as he did so,
his smooth lips escaping a sigh of evident frustration. He wore a top hat, the edges made of
silk. Silk was far too expensive, some would say. Atwood had different priorities. He tapped
his brogue wingtips and the firm tap tap tap of it added to the pride in his posture, he
straightened up, a hand over his stubbled hubristic face, he continued tapping impatiently,
and as he did so he brought about a dance of dust as though one had just blown a
dandelion.
“You killed our child,”. Bethany Atwood’s voice lingered in the air. It was a mix of what you’d
call sweet as nectar and firm as tar. She wore a plain frock, little patterns of lilies lay dull
upon the dull shade of cotton. Her hair was a dirt shade of blonde, the kind which was once
a shimmering golden but with consistent negligence, came down to the lifeless colour of her
wall. Her eyes didn’t have the sharpness of her husband’s. No. They were plain. Dull, just
like her visage. As she said those words, she stared at Arnold’s tapping feet and at once he
stopped. There was a pain in her voice, something her heavy throat and heart gave away.
“It had to be done and you know it to be true,”. He said in a low, deep rumble. It rose from
his belly like a dead body floating upwards. “It had to be done,”.
“How a fool I have been, to marry a soulless man, petty enough to kill his own blood. Your
eyes haunt me like knives dripped in venom and the very hands which caressed me on the
moon my corse was blessed, are now abrased and scrape my skin with acid like touch. What
a fool I have been to put not trust and faith but also love beyond comprehend in a man
hollow and decaying from within. Selfish, are you. Selfish, selfish and soulless,” she clutched
the cloth of her frock and began pacing towards the window.
“And fool I was to think you had in you a sense of maturity. An understanding. Look around
you!” he bellowed, grasping Bethany by her arm, flinging her across the room like a little toy.
“Do you see the rusted chairs, the cracks in the walls and the half torn curtains? Do you see
the only picture of my mother, coated with dust, the framework, we had to sell for a mere loaf
of bread. Bread! My mother’s pride sold for bread!”

Bethany looked up, clutching her arm, she marched ahead, until her head levelled with his
chin and she could feel the taste of smoke on her chapped lips and dry tongue as she
spoke. “Pride!” she scoffed, “what pride do you talk of! The same which has us indebted to
the landlords for years! The same landlords who were equals to us once, walk past us in
carriages and mock us! What kind of a mindless monster are you, to call her incessant lust
for jewels and riches, pride!”. She took a gulp to say more but Arnold spoke in a bare
whisper.
“Then how do you suppose we were to feed the extra mouth, huh? IT HAD TO BE DONE!
How long do you suppose before we had to collect for her marriage? None!”. Arnold
coughed, for he wasn’t used to talking this much. His mouth was always filled with a pipe.
Bethany scoffed yet again. “And by work you mean, you giving up that wretched game of
gambling for a day, two at maximum and not losing more than you have? How would we
feed her, indeed for all our earnings are spent on silk hats and trenches and footwear the
rich can only afford to wear! Look at me, I remain a humble servant to life as we have it. And
yet you live off me, a leech of lavish addiction. You have no concern, you have lust. Lust for
money and power and image,” she spit.
The next thing she felt, left her on the ground, it took a moment for her hand to travel to her
left cheek, which was hot and burning. Tears streamed down her cheeks involuntarily. Her
plain placid hairbun came half undone. She looked up to see Arnold standing above her,
eyes wide with rage. Perhaps she had said too much. But nothing but the truth.
“You dare talk to me in that way, your own husband? You belong at my feet and yet you
forget that I have let you rise to my level. Other women wouldn’t dare to as much as look at
their husbands in their eyes and yet your foul tongue twists words of preposterous arrogance
onto my way! Have you no shame, you servant? Have you no disgust at your own thoughts
and being?”
“Never have I said a word against your wrong doings,” she spoke looking down at the
ground, tears burning her eyes. “Never have I said a word as I, a daughter of a well
established family, gave into the whimsical life of an arrogant man,” and suddenly she
launched herself up and roared, eyes still on the ground “BUT THIS IS MY DAUGHTER
YOU HAVE KILLED! I saw you in the eve, strangling her fragile throat, her cries a mere wisp
of air, I SAW you do it before my very eyes…but, but I was too late, my poor poor child,”
suddenly there was nothing but silence. “And so it must be done,” she spoke, tears-tired
eyes staring right into the eyes of the man she hated with all her heart.
The man stood there ready to give her another blow, another lesson, another reminder of
where he stood and where did she. Bethany opened her kitchen drawer, and with her shaky
hands turned fearless, plunged the knife into her husband’s heart with an undeterred swing.
Like pulled by an upward force, his eyes stretched wide as he sucked in a gasp, the last gulp
of air he’d ever take into his now feeble and mortal coil, the white beneath his extravagant
trench witnessed an amusing transition of crimson, first nothing, and then a lot at once. He
was soaked in his own blood. Quiet and helpless was the man of such pride and power, his
hands clutching the knife wedged deep into his heart, eyes fixed upon hers with bewilderment, shock and boundless hatred. He never thought he’d see this day. The
betrayal of a wife was the strength of a mother. And it was the first time that in the pale, dull
house of theirs, the soft boring creams of the walls, and the fireplace, and the curtains and
the furniture, a vibrant hue of deep scarlet invaded the dull whiteness.
The dust swam in the streaming sunlight from the window and in the stillness of the air,
everything seemed as though a painting. Nothing moved, nothing happened. Until the last
thing to be heard was a gentle thud on the wooden floor, a clink of the drenched metal blade
hitting the ground, and a horrid frenzied laughter, escaping from the mouth of a woman, with
a blood-stained frock and hair cascading into messy clumps, the first and only thing full of
lurid life in the Atwood house.
And suddenly there was an eruption of applause and whistles and shoulders being thumped
and the dollying and panning of cameras came to a halt as the director rushed with footsteps
of an excited child to offer a congratulatory handshake to the actor and the actress whose
brilliance he fell in awe with. There were chattering crew men, camera lights dimming out
one by one, and the customary red velvet cake pieces being passed around to the entire
team for the immense success and finality of their new film- White Rose. The director stood
by the actress speaking everything all at once and complimenting her on her authenticity to
the character and using this element here and that improvisation there. There was a merry
aura hanging around the whole set, and it wouldn’t have broken lest a woman crew hadn’t let
out the most clamouring shriek. And all at once, in the new silence, the metallic scent of
blood hung in the air. The actor lay motionless on the wooden floor.
15 years later, the speculation and curiosity to why the beloved film awaited by many
common men and women and the rich alike never touched the screens, came to an end. A
documentary was released by an anonymous artist titled- “White Rose- the movie which
never got released”. And after the credit role, written in plain white, were the words “TO
PLAY THE PART IS ONE, TO BE IT IS ANOTHER”.

 

ALIVE BUT STILL DEAD

“What would be my age,mama?”, I asked. I was with my mother on the couch, as close to her as possible, with her hand on my head. It just felt safe. My mother replied, “You were barely a month old”. I sensed something wet falling on my head, thus I looked at her to only find her staring at the wall, with tears rolling down her cheeks. In the picture, there was a man. He was looking at the younger me, wrapped in a blanket and sleeping in his arms. This man is my father, apparently. His eyes were lit up with affection, his face glowing with joy. It felt like he had achieved something or found something really precious, that he won’t be giving away easily, not without putting up a fight until the very end.

Image result for rape
I continued to flip through the pages of this album which has been in the home for twelve years. There was this one picture in which, I think we were celebrating, the sort in which I am sitting on a baby high chair, properly dressed. Mom and the man were also seemingly wearing their best clothes. It was definitely not a birthday because I didn’t see balloons or decoration of that sort. “Mama, where are we, what is happening?”.She said, “That is the day when you took your first independent steps,hence the celebration”. Those were her last words of the day, she got up, walked into her room, slammed and bolted the door behind her.

I was left in the drawing-room all by myself, I just wanted to hide under her chunni, and never get out of it. That was my escape from the world that I didn’t want to face, the world that I despised. Under her chunni, clung to my mother’s body, I found my haven.

As much as I missed that right now, there was still something in me that wanted me to keep turning the leaves of that album until I see those twelve years of life. I saw a photo, in which I was old enough to walk, we are on some beach, with both the adults on my either side, kissing me on the cheek.In turn, our feet being kissed by water. Those were the good days, I guess.

There were pictures of me winning a certificate in some recitation competition, playing hide and seek with my so-called dad, going for vacations, being mollycoddled by both of them. I miss those days, I miss that dad, I miss my family, I miss what I once called home.

I hit puberty. That is when things change. Well that is not something new, right? It is that time when everything started changing not only within me but also around me. Parents in some way or the other confront their kids about this, well I was too, but by a monster. I was raped by that man each and every day when my mom used to leave. I was told this was normal, that this happens to every kid. After that day there was no new addition to that album, things stood stand still. The house which once used to be filled with laughs, balloons, streamers, now was always at sixes and sevens with my clothes sprawled on the floor and filled with shrieks, screams and cries.

The neighbours stopped visiting us, mom couldn’t comprehend what was happening to me.

A month passed, two months passed, three months passed, it was only after the seventh, that my dad was accidentally caught in the act, and now three years have passed. It is just me and my mom, in this house. Two lives that can never be normal. My mom’s adulthood, and my childhood, youth and adulthood all smeared with an indelible imprint which haunts me every time I close my eyes.

I took out the last picture from the album, it was me, mom, and that man, at a wedding, the last smiles on those faces. I shut the album, threw it in the dustbin and went to my room.

In the year, 2016, a total of 38,947 cases of rape were registered under POCSO. Now a girl isn’t safe even at a place she considers home .There has been a turn in the tide however, with more and more of these cases being regularly reported and demands for stricter legislation being made even more vehemently by the masses. Only total justice shall suffice, nothing more and definitely nothing less.

Sheryl

College education- Are we being wise enough?

As the season of declaration of results and the run for admissions begin, it is not surprising that the anxiety levels of aspirants as well as their parents soar high amidst all uncertainties. Marks secured become the foremost criteria (and ratings, of course!) for college admissions. But being mere first-timers, we are left with no other option but to consult the internet in order to judge an institution for its significance, and thus getting lured into the delusional advertisements. Nevertheless, the conventional belief that getting into a good college will help their kids achieve a secured future, drives parents to pursue the so-called elite institutions. Interestingly, in a recent article from The Times Of India, it was stated that nearly 6.1 per cent of India’s youth are unemployed, as of February 2018, which accounts for almost 31 million people. Let’s be honest, unemployment has always been an issue with our country. But over the years, we have seen a surge in the number of institutes for higher education, however, the unemployment rate too continues to rise. Is it a mere coincidence? Or does education have an impact on this crisis? And more importantly, a negative one or a positive one?

 To begin with, a pivotal aspect of economy that hinders our country is the burden of the educated unemployed. One explanation can be that lesser number of jobs are created compared to the undergraduates or post-graduates churned out by the universities. That the graduates are not qualified enough for the jobs provided in the market can be the second reason. This raises another perverse question, Is college education really worth it? Spending four straight years of your life and not to mention the lakhs of money expended. All for nothing! If going for higher education can’t make you employable, then why to pursue it at all? It may seem like a ridiculous question but this is the stinging reality.

On the contrary, some people might be of the opinion that college is a place of community learning and prepares students to face real-life situations. It is a place where intellectual interactions and engaging in new ideas can help them develop their personalities. Also, mingling with other cultures enable the students to view the world from a different perspective. It also provides them with internship opportunities and on-campus placements(even though not 100%) which is a boon for both the students and our country.

However, the alarming increase of engineering colleges gives a grim picture of our future. A plausible explanation to this can be that students are pressurized by parents to pursue engineering as a career option over general studies, in the name of job security. This has resulted in dilution of our education system and the quality is shamelessly compromised with the retention of backward methodologies. And when we talk about graduation in science, it is reckoned as a bad idea since those who don’t get admission in mainstream courses go for it. As a result, the slow death of the quality of technical education has paved the way for a number of online platforms, helping the students gain better insight into the topic, which further proves no point in attending college.

And who knows, students not having a formal college education might even do well, if not better. For instance, the Silicon Valley sees a large number of dropouts each year. These programmers might not have a degree, but they do possess the knowledge required to design algorithms or create networking or develop app-based utilities, ultimately making a mark in the tech region. Well yeah, you might be wondering that that is so because they are computer geeks who began coding even before they were in high school! But the point is, they learned the essential skills required to get a job all by themselves. Moreover, in colleges, though theoretical training is given, its practical applications are often skipped out. Naturally, the candidates well equipped with the latter get better placed.

So to sum it up, we live in a era where political feuds are given priority over the falling economy. And while higher education has an upper hand in empowering the economy, at the same time it can be considered as a setback because of the mediocre educational structure. And earning a degree surely doesn’t guarantee a route to financial independence. On the other hand, attending college does make you better prepared to face the challenges that life might decide to throw to you sometime later. We can agree to disagree on the worthiness of college education. But, the dilemma will continue to exist unless we, the students of today’s generation, do something about it.

To do away with the flaws of the current education system might not be an easy task, but it’s atleast worth a try.