Reborn

Author: Janani Ramachandran


Dewdrops slid down her body
As the snow began to thaw
Uncovering her buried form
That lost its way in the expanse of the perfect white
The sunlight reflecting in her ebony irises for the first time in a long time

One could say she was lifeless
But one look closer
One could feel the slight ministrations of her uncertain breath
Slight yet steady
Like the stream opening to a mighty river
Her ebony irises
Like the inky starless night sky
That conceals a million behind its inky curtains

Her pale arms scratched with blood red scars
Her soft flesh pierced by rough wood and dirt
The fair mixed with the brown
Giving rise to a new hue
The colour of her cocoon
That would give rise to the new her

Her colourless lips encrusted with dried blood
New Ebony hair peeking out from a mass of lifeless strands
Her fat eaten by the ice
Stripping her to her bones
Yet she looked full
In complete harmony with the ice complementing her starved form

They called her a miracle
When they felt a slight twitch in her cold wrist
They had thought that she would’ve snapped
Like the great trees amputated by winter
They’re great arms twisted by the unforgiving cold
Yet there she lay
A subtle pulse in her lifeless form

It should’ve frozen her heart
Crushed her bones
Sucked the life out of her lungs
Iced her blood to bed her in a coffin of ice
There was an endless list of what should have happened
But nothing of what had happened was found in the pieces of parchment

She was alive
Her blood gushing into her veins
Stronger than ever
Her breath like the beginning of a hurricane
The colour returning to her pallid body
Gasps of awe as they watched her arms twitch
Yet what almost everyone missed
Was the drops of liquid lining her closed eyes

Dawn had arrived
The first beam of sunlight hit her heart
A reminder that the wait was over
As her eyes opened
There was a certain light in them
Like a falling star in the inky night sky
That commanded attention and respect
But most importantly fulfilled a wish
It fulfilled hers
She had been reborn

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Cooking And Compilations

“Maa! Tell me this. Why is it that I can put in the right amount of salt almost every time? I have never cooked, never been taught about it, then how can I be so accurate with it?” I asked as I sprinkled salt over the pan to caramelize the onions. I must have been cooking some paneer dish, since I cannot cook non-vegetarian food at home. I made dinner that night and everyone felt fulfilled. It was the first time that the biggest food critique, my dad, passed my cooking. I had only cooked Maggi before this, which according to him, is not worth calling food.

“Shivam, you’ve been called to the staff room.” I had been at my best behavior, so I was pretty sure it was not about something I had done. I walked to the staff room and saw a bunch of other kids surrounding Nivedita Ma’am. She was my class teacher in sixth class and she taught English. She called me close and said, “You have a decent pronunciation. If I give you something, will you be able to read it on stage for the morning assembly?” I was excited; it was going to be my first time on stage if you ignore the Bangla play I did in the third standard where the teachers had to feed me my lines by the end. I had to recite the English translation of our national anthem, my first gig.

I was in the fifth standard. Until now, my computer lab was only about presentations but today was going to change my life. “Today we are going to learn about QBASIC: Quick Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. It is a programming language; you can make calculations and even draw with this. It is a lot like LOGO, but it can do a lot more.” I learned the most fundamental program that day. The “Hello World” program. I learned a lot of QBASIC that year, all of which I have now forgotten.

“Before performing in front of everyone, I would want you to take part in the debate. I have written something you can use.” She handed me a two-page long speech. It was perfect. Never have I been able to recreate a speech of that caliber, even though it has been ten years since then. It started and ended with a quote, it even had a poem in between. It was perhaps too good for me. On the day of the competition, I choked. Nevertheless, my assembly presentation went nicely.

“I have always noticed that people with sharper minds have very accurate assumptions when it comes to cooking. They add the right amount of salt, spices, tomatoes, etc.” my mother replied. The conversation ended, but I will be honest, it was not the first time I was cooking. I had made Maggi many times before this. Sometimes I would add a lot of vinegar or soy sauce. However, I had never had difficulty adding ingredients I had tasted. I would add anything I found in the kitchen: Pickles, Garam Masala, raw spices, Chat Masala, absolutely anything! Except for the aforementioned mistakes, I was always proud of my creations. It tasted different every time and Maa would always look forward to my new experiments. 

I cannot continue this without mentioning Dhananjay sir. He hammered down the basics of programming into his students, especially the interested ones. It was the only class I looked forward to, in my last two years of school.  Eventually, I realized, anything that a human can do, can be programmed. Some decisions and repetition of certain steps, a permutation of these could describe anything our human mind can comprehend. He would never tell us the shortcuts until we mastered the basics. We would print patterns, sort numbers. Arranging numbers in ascending order can be done in one line. Nevertheless, he made us develop our own way to do it, after which he told us about the existence of the shortcut.

 

These three hobbies influenced me greatly. It was not until recently that I realized how similar they are.

 

A good dish needs a good recipe. There are hundreds of ways to cook but it all starts with choosing the right ingredients. They must be fresh, their taste and textures should complement each other and the spices. The way they are prepared can make a huge difference. Dicing, fine chopping, grating, Julienne cutting, blending, etc. can give a wide spectrum of flavors and taste to the same ingredients. Roasting, shallow frying, deep-frying, steam cooking, etc. are all possible ways and each of them can highlight a different aspect of the same ingredient. The taste should make the person hungrier with every bite while eating half the time and make them feel fuller with every next bite for the next half.

A good speech is always less than 5 minutes long. A good lecture should not have more than 15 minutes of explanation. You need roughly 5 minutes to change the opinion of a person or to implant an idea in the crowd’s mind. A rhetorical question or a statement, preferably a joke, with a deeper meaning is always good to start with. The type of language you use, how formal you are and how you present controversial statements could make or break your speech. You should divide it into sections with interconnected topics. The most crucial step is to connect with the hearts of the crowd. I have never won any prizes for my public speaking, but I have always received a better response from my crowd than my competitors have.

A good program must have comments. After some experience, one can always tell a good code apart from a bad one. When reading a good code, you can visualize what is happening in each step. There are varieties of ways to solve a problem and optimization is the key. Choosing the right language for the right problems is a lot like choosing the right weapon to hunt. You cannot hunt birds with spears. For a problem with strings you would choose Python or JavaScript, for a numerical problem C and for a problem where you need copies of similar items, you would want to use Java.

My best code would be the menu-driven attendance management system I made, using a 2-Dimensional linked list. It was an absolute beauty. All the functions well connected, no bugs, extremely fluid and highly interactive. My masterpiece. I have come all the way from QBASIC and I still have miles to go.

From choking up in my first speech, I gave a monologue for my school farewell. It was filled with witty remarks and anecdotes from my final couple of years at school. Everyone found it relatable and had a great time. I had left my final mark, spoken my final words at school. Another good speech I gave was the one where I prepared to go for a competition but it turned out to be just an exhibition performance. I spoke crystal clear, everything went perfect and the audience was left spellbound. Once, when I had to deliver a poem written by our school’s late great director, my mic malfunctioned and every “sh” came out as an “s” and it came out as a detestable rustic accent. I now write my own scripts, they are nowhere near the first script I got, but the audience always loves it. My dream is to pull off something like Mark Antony from Julius Caesar. I can never speak well during my practice presentations, but I absolutely nail it when it matters.

I am still improving my cooking. I can follow recettes but I cannot combine non-powdered spices to create the real magic of food yet. My best dish would be the Shahi Paneer I made before coming back from my summer vacation. I can also not forget how I once messed up Anchari Paneer by using twice the amount of spices than necessary. If the first were a swim in a lake on a sunny summer day, the latter felt like walking bare feet in the desert and licking sand out of thirst.

Once you light the stove, introduce yourself on the podium or submit the code for checking test cases, there is no turning back. You have to prepare and keep all the ingredients handy; you cannot chop onions while frying your spices. They need care, five extra seconds of frying and you have vaporized their flavors. You have to ensure you are speaking in a flow, every expression, direct or indirect is visible on stage. You might think you covered it up, but a long enough pause, a slight fumble that you correct by repeating the words, it’s all noticed and you lose all the recognition from your audience. Every time you build and compile your code, the entire CPU, all of the hardware engages to comprehend what you have instructed the computer to do. Even if you asked it to do a never-ending job, it will do it until stopped. This could crash the system; damage the hardware, this small bug is enough to destroy the entire motherboard. One lazy person created the Y2K problem, which could have ended up with us losing all our digital data as we entered the new century.

All three of them, are the same. It is all about living in the moment, enjoying what you are doing and not thinking about anything else in the world. Every time I put on the frying pan, step on a stage or compile my code, time stops. My mind clears out, and all I can think of is what I am doing. My senses become sharper than a doe in an unknown part of the forest. A slight change of smell and my dish might be ruined, a short hum and my speech is gone, and a missing semicolon is like a murder amidst a crowd. I cannot afford to make a mistake, if I make one; I have to live with it. Every hobby is an escape from the daily life, where you live the moment with no pain from the past or worry about the future. “A hobby might not define who you are, but it definitely affects some aspects of your personality.” I leave you with this statement to ponder upon and the fact that Adolf Hitler made great paintings (like the one above), to support the above statement.

Trailing Stars

 Author: Janani Ramachandran
A silent cry echoed through the grey walls,

As she swept the deserted corridors with her blush gown,

Her movement frantic as she attempted to see beyond the engulfing darkness,

The white of the moon,

Unable to escape the demons lurking in the unnamed darkness,

She found her turquoise eyes closing in feeble attempt to safety,

A surge of hope caressing the walls of her heart,

As a faint silhouette of a lantern appeared before her mind’s eye,

The light reflecting off her bejewelled crown sparkling on every wall,

Mimicking the stars adorning the bare night sky,

Its radiance rivalled only by her twinkling eyes,

Her endearing face alit with a silly smile, the golden light dusting it with a rosy blush,

The toothy grin and the matching pigtails a sharp contrast,

To the serious look she often feigned in childish humour,

Involuntarily reaching for the floating light with her little chubby fingers,

As the soft crackle of the flames resonated within her,

Her little head lifting in surprise as the lantern suddenly disappeared,

Only for the darkness to be lit by another one,

Fierce determination swirling like an immature whirlpool in her aqua eyes,

She swore to capture it again in a race against time,

And found herself make the biggest leap of her life,

But what she was yet to know, was time was bound to win,

As she leaped to grab the light, time played its part,

Mid- leap she outgrew her fine little clothes,

Her juvenile grin sculpting into a serene smile,

Her face now composed of features that seemed like subtle strokes of art,

Yet her surroundings carried no sign of her sudden metamorphosis,

Waking up from the fall she found herself curled in fetal stance,

Preserving nothing of her past but only her heart,

That forever carried her childish smile written within its walls,

As she looked back she hoped to find the floating lanterns,

That had her smiles and tears inked on their walls of light,

Yet all she saw was the trail of stars,

That had scripted her story via Cassiopeia,

The constellation that told her tale and lit her night sky,

The princess that day became the Queen of constellations,

Earth that day met the stars..

Rainy Days and Mondays

Author: Afreen Ahmed

 

I can smell the damp timber of the Victorian-style gazebo I sit in, one of the many in these secluded woods. It overlooks a pond adorned by water lilies and filled with fishes tinged with amber and pearl, swimming freely in the crystal clear water. A cool breeze creates rings of ripples on the surface and the sky begins to darken from a beautiful blue to a gravel-grey. I feel the first splatter of rain on my palms as I hold them out and I can hear the musical chime of raindrops drumming on the leaves as they fall in a crescendo. The gazebo still stands, despite its old age, the musty and earthy odor of it giving it away. This mixed with the petrichor from this spell of showers is my favorite smell. It gives me these waves of nostalgia of things I haven’t been through or seen.

These woods have stood for years, untouched and undaunted. The fish swarm towards the crumbs of bread I throw into the pond. In the distance, ducks dunk their heads into the water. I place the bread packet on the bench and take a quick photograph of the scene on my camera. This location is the image of tranquility and my secret place. I come here when I feel like being left alone and to escape the rush of the tireless world.

I cherish the days it pours, and keep a certain fondness for it in a corner of my heart. It rained the first time I rode to school on my new bicycle, after my father’s enthusiastic efforts to teach me how to ride one became a success. The scent of my mother’s soft and chewy brownie cookies, straight out of the oven, would attack my senses on these days. It rained on the day I got into the one of the best universities of art and when I fell in love for the first time. It rained on my 18th birthday when my grandfather gifted me with a Polaroid camera, much too steep for his savings, but still a possession I prize the most.

It rains today with an intensity I would usually appreciate, to an extent where I would expect good things to come my way. I walk out into the downpour, my cornflower-blue dress shirt and formal trousers sticking to my skin. I feel the drops fall onto my face as I step into a muddy puddle, soiling my polished derby shoes and hum a lullaby my mother used to sing to me in the night when I was scared of the dark. I am afraid now. 

I look for solace here after being rejected the seventh time in an interview to hire photographers in globally renowned companies. I had toiled really hard for this and filled my cup until it overflowed. I got onto shaky feet, just to fall again with no one to catch me. I’ve run out of fight and feel helpless and lost. My parents would welcome me back with open arms, but the disappointment in myself hits me in the gut. Where had I gone wrong? 

It gets chilly and I head back into the shelter of the gazebo. My heart clenches and I can feel ice spread over it, cracking it into a million shards. My hands shiver as I blow onto them to keep them warm. I watch as a lone white bird swoops down into this shade to protect itself from the rain. It wistfully looks at the thundering sky as if searching for something it had lost. It then preens its snow-white feathers and I cannot help but stare at it. It looks back at me and out of impulse, I place a few leftover crumbs of bread on the wooden flooring of the structure. It hops over and pecks at the crumbs. I feel slightly amused and chuckle to myself. It chirps loudly in reply and I sit motionless, afraid to scare the bird away. It whistles a sanguine tune, and I wonder if it sings for me. The trills of the bird gives me comfort temporarily until the sun comes out once again. 

Eventually, the noise of the rain lessens and the drops fade into nothing. The sky shines a bright blue and the sunlight gleams through the woodwork of the gazebo, lying on the floor like sweet honey. I close my eyes and feel the warmth of the sun hit me on my face and take it all in. When I open my eyes, I find that, once again, I am alone, and the bird has flown away to join the rest of its flock. Double rainbows decorate the sky and I become aware of the loud chirping of frogs. 

All I wanted was to live out the dream that I dreamt up and become a celebrated photographer. Despite being separated from its family, the bird sang knowing that once the rain had stopped, it could go back to where it came from. I knew then, that I too, could make it out of here, even if it takes a night or a hundred years. Change would come slow but I would just have to wait for the tempest to pass and go back to pursuing exactly what I want. Hope really is the thing with feathers.

I smile to myself and look up at the rainbows. If I followed them, would I find my pot of gold? As I sat dreaming, a sharp ring from my phone pulls me back to reality, a message from a revered wildlife photography firm. I had been called for a personal interview the next Monday, after they glanced through my portfolio and deemed it impressive. I knew this was my last chance, but I was resolved to give my best and walked out of the gazebo. As I trudged over the wet, glistening grass, I realized I would still cherish rainy days for years to come.

The Lovers’ Burden

The mirror told the truth. Savitej was no ordinary man. Over six and a half feet tall, and consisting of two hundred pounds of pure muscle, he was touted to become one of the greatest soldiers of the Bihar Regiment, joining a Param Vir Chakra awardee and multiple Vir Chakra awardees. An exceptional marksman, a cunning strategist and a gallant leader, his booming voice and strong personality made him equally feared and revered by his battalion.

He slapped himself and muttered, “Wake up, wake up, wake up. Another day’s about to start.” He looked at all his scars, as he would, every morning. They meant nothing to him, in spite of what they made him go through. There was a pain radiating down his lower back. And for some reason, it was the only thing that mattered to him. He smirked and got dressed in his track suit, for his pre-dawn jog.

Taking his first lap around Danapur Cantonment, the pain felt more than usual. Looking around, he saw the armoured units warming up their vehicles for their daily patrols and the supply trucks arriving from Patna. The first flock of birds was taking flight and a couple of roosters were beginning to crow. All in all, it was another usual day.

Completing his jog, he returned to his bungalow. His lover was still sound asleep on their bed. He kissed his lover and sat down at his desk, to write his daily log. He winced as he sat down and murmured, “Am I getting too old for all these acrobatics?” While writing, he nodded off and fell asleep.

The sound of the bugle awakened him. He woke up with a start, and saw the mess on his diary. “Oh, not again,” he said, tearing off the ink blotted pages and tossing them into the trash. He saw his lover move in the bed, and said, “Good morning, my love. How are you this fine morning?” A high-pitched voice replied, stifling a yawn, “All good! You?”

“Never been better. The pain keeps getting worse, though.”

He was greeted with an eye-roll, followed by the usual “I told you that we didn’t have to do it last evening. But you insisted.”

He chuckled and said, “I’ll be fine. This pain is worth it. This pain is worth the sacrifices you make.”

A smile as warm as the sun outside shone at him, and his lover got up. They embraced, and he said, “Off you go to the barracks. Make sure no one gets to know.”

“Yes, Sir. See you on Saturday.”

He watched his lover jog towards the barracks. As the figure got smaller and smaller, he wondered how long they could keep it going, without being exposed. Eventually, he’d have to tell someone about the pain. He couldn’t tell the army doctors, or his peers: it would result in an immediate suspension and court-martial. He did the usual and called his sister up, and asked for medication. Hearing his symptoms, she laughed and said, “You’re forty-three, and your phase still hasn’t passed? Oh, Dear Lord.” She prescribed some pain-relievers and hung up.

Thursday, the 6th of September, was like any other day for Lt. Gen. Savitej Singh Johar. Going through files, letters, requests for leaves and go-aheads, was his bread and butter. As he leafed through the Services hockey team’s request to go out and practice in the SAI complex, he realised that he hadn’t played a good game of hockey in ages. He closed the file, and got up. ‘Let me go to Bharadwaj and see if I get into the officers’ team for the next tournament’, he thought. As he walked outside his air-conditioned office, he received a call from his sister.

Answering the call, he could hear people, on the other side, shouting in glee all around, shouting “Love Wins!” He heard his sister shout, “Go see the news immediately! Bye!” What could’ve happened, he wondered, that his sister called him up to tell him to watch the news. He went down to the lobby, where a crowd had gathered around the TV. Some were murmuring nervously, some had small smiles of relief and some had looks of immense disgust. He read the headline, and his heart almost stopped.

The headline read, “Supreme Court unanimously strikes down Section 377.” His pulse grew faster, and he felt as though the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. His hands were trembling, and a tear came to his left eye. He had never felt relief like this in his whole life, not even when he finished at the Defence Academy. All his life, he had live in the fear of his superiors finding out, the fear of being isolated by his peers and the fear of losing the respect of his battalion.

Walking back to his office, he dialled the barracks and ordered them to tell Brigadier Agrawal report to his office. He was told that Brigadier Agrawal was arrested by the military police, a quarter of an hour ago. Before they could tell him the reason for the arrest, there was a sharp rap on his door. Disconnecting the call, he barked, “Come in.” The door opened, and four military police officers walked in.

He smiled at the officers, and said, “Ah, yes, boys, how may I help you?” He recognised them all, they had all served under him, at one point. None of them smiled back; on the contrary, their faces revealed apologetic expressions. He couldn’t understand why. His smile disappeared, and he said, “What’s wrong, boys?” The shortest of them, Officer Mishra, said, “Lieutenant General Savitej Singh Johar, you are under arrest for violating Section 46(a) of the Army Act, 1950 as reported by Brigadier Lohith Agrawal, with video proof. He was arrested twenty minutes ago, after he showed a certain video to his bunkmates, as a reaction to the news. You, sir, are part of it and named explicitly in it.”

His joy turned into fear, his elation turned into anger and his newfound throne of safety crumbled into a pile of dust. He stood up and bellowed, his voice breaking, “Are you out of your minds? Did you not see the news?”

“Indeed, sir. Acts of homosexual intercourse are not permitted in the Armed Forces. Please come with us.”

Savitej sank into this chair. His mind went blank. His limbs grew cold. His muscles stiffened. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he could hold no longer. The pain his back was at its worst. He remembered all his lovers: the times they had spent, how he held them, how he kissed them and the times they had become one. As the officers handcuffed him, and took him away, he could see people coming out of their offices, and looking at him in shock and awe. And that’s when he realised: Everything had changed and everything was the same.

Four Seasons

Four Seasons

A ‘season’ can sometimes refer to a time in life instead of the weather. But does that mean everyone experiences it differently?

Arya ran to class, not just through the shaded walk but also in the sun and up the stairs. Not because her professor was firm about his students keeping the right time, but because she wanted to. Her new red top stood out and her ID tag was shiny. Her perfect hair fell over her shoulders with ease. She carried a full bag to all her classes and didn’t mind climbing six floors with it. Of course, she still had to look at her schedule on her phone after each lecture, it had just been a week. And since it had been just a week, she ended up being in some wrong classes too. But that didn’t bother her; no one was looking or judging and she loved hearing from other teachers.

It was either silly games with her new classmates during the breaks or strolling around trying to get the college map imprinted onto her mind. And the sun or the time didn’t matter. The boys did. The food and her room did but only a little. There was the occasional guilt of not ending up at a better college stemming from comparison with old school friends but she didn’t want that on her mind that day.

After a midday call with her parents on her yet-to-be-ported sim, she decided to spend the afternoon in the library and so began her seemingly long walk to the library, across the campus. She went through the shelves as though she knew all the subjects being taught in the college. She noticed an empty spot and pulled out some heavy books she thought were interesting and walked towards the seat. On her way, she bumped into a weary-looking girl. She gave Arya a judgemental look for carrying the books. A scanning glance, bottom to top, and she walked away.

 

“These freshers are such dorks”, Asmi thought to herself as she walked away from a girl carrying, what she could only label as tomes, in one of the aisles of the library. She had been there the past hour juggling adroitly between a group project and some work for her club. However, her willingness to spend a perfectly good hour during midday in the still library stemmed from her frustration due to her boisterous roommates. And now, her frizzy pony bobbed as she walked briskly towards her first class of the day. It had been three weeks but she was always late to class. Fearing her professor might ask her to turn back and leave, she started running.

She walked in and skirted along the twisted aisle right to the last bench where she expected her bunch to be, but it was empty. She wondered where they were as she sat down. Her eyes weren’t on the board, they were on her phone. She scrolled through group chats and memes while also wondering how she needed to get her laundry done soon. After a while, the professor started the roll call and Asmi’s eyes went up only to realize that she had spent the past forty minutes in the wrong class.

Disappointed, she left the class and walked a few steps before bumping into her friends. They judged her, but more importantly, they understood her. “You should cut yourself some slack and slow down. The semester just started. Isn’t that the same shirt you wore yesterday? Maybe I should hook you up with someone. That’ll make you dress better”, said one of them. And suddenly, her troubles faded. They all went out for their routine milkshakes after the remaining classes and it always helped Asmi to unwind with friends and food. But the day was far from over, she had yet to finish up on her assignment and make the daily pilgrimage at night to her club meeting. She attended them religiously. The peaceful walk back to her hostel, alone in the dark, was the best part of her day. That night, however, she walked beside her trusted senior and friend.

 

Aastha was contemplating if the club and her position there was worth her time anymore as she gave her junior some advice on college life. She had just started dating a boy and between a relationship and academics, she felt the need for more personal time. Returning to her room, she sank into her bed knowing tomorrow would be another chance at being productive. No texting, no calling, just some much-needed rest. She woke up early the next day and walked to class in her worn out denims, with one notebook and her hair tied in a bun. The classes rolled by, after all, it had been two years now and she knew what it took to get by five of them continuously – don’t look at the watch frequently and now there was someone with her who made it easy. She was secretly proud of the fact that she had not yet sat through a wrong class this year.

She didn’t exactly have free time, for hobby or even friends. It all went into her meetings with teachers to chalk out plans of execution for her research project and of course, improving her grades and skills. She had applied for and was awaiting a research grant. While most others still hung out often, the uncertainty of the impending future hung heavily on Aastha’s shoulders. It seemed to affect her more than it affected her friends. She couldn’t remember the last time she had lunch or dinner with them but sitting on her laptop and working for hours peculiarly filled the void. The good part was that it had made her humble and understanding. She didn’t mind now if her friends couldn’t make time for her; she had learned to live by herself and do things that truly mattered.

After giving it a lot of thought through the day, she typed a long and hard goodbye message to the club members, choosing the project over them. The people had grown to be a part of her through three long semesters but somehow, she felt happier that evening. More time for herself. She called her mentor to thank her for her guiding light.

 

Aradhya was in the middle of ironing her formals late in the evening when she got a call. It was a lost yet determined soul she had given some insight and knowledge to, a year back. “My investment paid off!” she figured as Aastha thanked her and wished her luck for her interview the next day. “I’ll buy you a milkshake if I land the job”, she promised Aastha. She was ready is all she had heard from her friends, her roommate, and her parents but for the first time in a long while, she had trouble sleeping that night. It was understandable.

She got up early the next day before the alarm went off. While getting ready, her phone rang. She knew it was her parents, calling to wish her luck perhaps. Her roommate always eaves-dropped on her call but this time around, there was nothing to hear as Aradhya was dead silent. “Her parents shouldn’t let her know that the university rejected her application right before the interview. She was preparing herself to lie to the panel about not pursuing higher studies to get an offer, but now, the very question will shake her up. How the tables have turned! Poor girl!” she thought.

Aradhya had a stern expression on her face after the call. Afraid to ask her more about it and throw off her focus from the interview, her roommate just wished her luck. She got ready silently and walked out with her files. There was nothing more to lose now and she had a certain poise in her walk. You’ve got to believe me when I say that she was the most confident person among the lot that got interviewed that day.

A year later, Aastha and Asmi walked into the milkshake joint. As Astha reminisced how she and Aradhya had celebrated there, she wondered if the milkshake would symbolize a tradition. Little did she know that Asmi was going to walk back with Arya that night.

A DIFFERENT WAY

Storytelling is an art, a talent of its own.  The earliest forms of storytelling must have been verbal aided by drawings. Nevertheless, It has evolved. Our first meeting with stories are usually through our parents, telling us a story to help us sleep. But the paths fork as we continue through our lives. Comics and short stories come first, followed by light novels, complete novels and then audio books for those, who are too busy to read or have weak eyesight.

We look for stories due to a lot of reasons. We learn from true stories. We find an escape from the real world. If you talk to a bookworm about their books, they get so passionate that you want to grab the first book you see and dive right into them. You are compelled to see what they see and feel what they feel.

Storytelling has evolved drastically over the years. We now have movies, TV soaps, anime and what not.  The method of storytelling that is being advocated here is RPGs which is acronym for Role Playing Games. People seem to unable to wrap their heads around the fact that stories can be told in such dynamic ways.

Novels were plain text, so they added illustrations, which according to many are obnoxious and disgraceful. However, a major school of people believe video games are too violent to be considered to be even remotely related to educated adults. There exist competitive games where the sole purpose is to win over other people, just like any other mental sport. The skills required are not just faster reflexes and better hand eye coordination but also the ability to foresee enemy strategies and counter acting them. Nevertheless, there are games that are meant for people to enjoy the story from all genres including horror, action, adventure, sorrow, fantasy, romance etc.

It never ceases to amaze me how one game can make people feel so many emotions in just one story.  

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I can never forget how scared I was when I first saw Dahaka, the keeper of timelines. He looked like a minotaur with horns shaped like infinity. He was all black ,surrounded by black mist, with white eyes. Oh the nightmares.

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I was really happy, when the assassin pirate, Edward   Kenway, returned home from his adventures after   saving  the world. He then took his young daughter on   the seas with her as she was the only family he had left.

 When you develop the powers of your character in the   story, adding strengths that suit your playing style,   unlike   how the author wanted him to be, gives a feeling   of fulfillment.

 

If you are a ‘Lord Of The Rings’ fan, you can see the graugs and the castles, climb on them, build your army. All these can’t be done in the book.

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Just like novels, these games come in series. Many popular novels take to games to tell the story of the prequel or aftermath of the printed text. These games give the user a sense of achievement, very similar to finishing a page or chapter in the book. However, words can never signify the difficulty of 35 retries just to get through that one villain and the satisfaction of continuing the story after his death. A novel only gives credits to 10 people, but a game owes its creation to many times that number.  The story of a haunted house becomes way more enthralling when you see the witch cut your arm and hear the chainsaw of the man following you rather than when you read of these things happening.

Novels and games have similar cons as well. They come at the cost of time, attention and money. There is piracy and duplication. They can leave you with nightmares or daydreams. Although, you will never end up strategizing your next moves and plan on exploiting your enemy’s weaknesses when you are reading a novel.

Albeit every person is made different. Some of us like apples, some oranges while some of us like both. You can like one and not hate the other. It all comes down to what your poison is.

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.

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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

Bright Red

He stood on a long, white, sandy beach, away from the hubbub of civilisation. The sparkling blue ocean lay ahead, graciously licking the soft beach with its cool, calm water. The celebrations of the previous night had rendered the beach somewhat dirty, but its clean aura still washed over his senses, and it reminded him of the night before.

The bar was the busiest place that evening, with the bartenders drowning in a deluge of orders from the guests. Sitting with his favourite drink, he looked around and thought about the vast number of people he knew. Everybody seemed so insignificant and passive to him. As his thoughts washed over him, he caught a whiff of a strong feminine musk amidst the intoxicating vapours of alcohol.

He wasn’t the only one, though. All around the bar, the conversations got quieter, and people swirled around to find the source of the smell. A lady was walking down the bar, her shoes clacking with every step on the wooden floor. Adorned in a dress of red, matched with rubies for earrings, a rose corsage and bright red lips, she smiled like the morning sun at all those looking at her. Occupying the only empty seat beside him, she ordered a drink, and looked at him warmheartedly.

Initially lost for words, he gathered his wits, and started a small conversation with her. As the words and the drinks flowed, it slowly transitioned into an exchange littered with amorous statements and light humour. Following the little laughs exchanged after a particularly humorous joke, their eyes met. His brown eyes, and her grey ones. She gave him a smile and grasped his right hand. His heart beat grew faster, and he could also feel her pulse rising.

It was that moment, when they rose and embraced, and she whispered something into his ears, rather seductively. She bade him farewell, with a peck on his left cheek, leaving an outline of her bright red lips. He stood there, transfixed, looking at her retreating figure, in anticipation of what was to follow.

The beach was completely deserted, save for one white and blue umbrella, which created a cool region of darkness. Under the umbrella, lay a lone figure, which prompted him to proceed forward. On edging closer, he saw a naked woman lying on one of the two mats. Her skin was smooth as silk, and her tan was a beautiful light brown. The woman from the previous night looked up, on hearing his footsteps and motioned him to occupy the mat beside hers.

Lying down on the mat beside, he held her hand. The conversation was loud, over the din of the ocean, but there was a certain indescribable beauty about it, that kept both of them at great ease. Keeping the conversation going, they kept drawing closer to one another, a little bit at a time.

He brushed her night-black hair aside, and took a deep look into her soft, grey eyes. He could feel the adrenaline rushing through his body, as he leaned in towards her, and looked at her warm smile. All of sudden, he noticed that her front teeth were larger and sharper than what they ought to have been. His excitement turned to fear, and he tried to pull away. Her grasp, however, was steel-hard, and like a cheetah, she jumped on top of him, and sunk her teeth into his chest. Multiple times.

In his dying moments, he looked up and saw her, the lady of the previous night, on top of him, with her bright red lips.

Inside Out

Ever so beautiful looked the sky,
As I walked by,
Walking past the houses, in the lanes,
Greeting the old lady, stooped on her cane.

With some curtains brushed aside,
I could get a glimpse of what’s inside.
Some faint voices, some familiar, some unknown,
Some genial, some in exasperated tone.

The aroma greeted my nose,
There a girl, camera, was a 100s liked insta pose.
Shook my head, with a smile on my face,
I kept walking my own pace.

Wasn’t even half a mile before the smile waned,
Those eyes evinced fear and pain.
Big and bulging, staring right at me,
Brimming with emotions, sadness, gloomy.

A boy of nine standing behind the window,
I looked past those eyes somehow,
Only to find what I feared,
Those deafened ears could again hear.

Squabbles, shrieks, abuses being hurled,
Disturbing was the visual concerned.
I again looked at them, million stories untold and unsaid,
Trauma being made to drink, grief being fed.

Who was I?
Just a passerby.
Now drowned in the ocean,
Of a child’s emotions.

This may have stirred turbulence in my heart too,
Disrupting the serenity of the ocean blue.
Who knows?
Thankfully, no one looked at my eyes, through a window.

Secrets buried,
Secrets that we have carried.

I started walking now, towards my abode,
All alone on the,dimly lit, road.

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Muskan Chanana