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.

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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

Cutting a Sorry Figure

Poverty is one of the most monumental yet overlooked issues of our country. Money is the end and the means of our existence. It is not bad to have an urge to earn more money, the lesson of acquiring more and more resources is embedded in the most primal parts of our brain. We want more money than the person next to us, and the urge to earn is what drives any economy forward. There is no surprise that our economy is growing by leaps and bounds. The question that rises is why are the poor so poor in our country? In a country with a predicted GDP growth rate stands at a huge 7.3 percent, why haven’t the poor already become rich?

This sudden bolt of inspiration came into my mind when I was at a market near my place, and a balloon vendor, all dressed in scraps, came to me asking if I wanted a balloon. My stature does not serve justice to my age, but then the both of us knew that I wouldn’t have bought the balloon, I am too old for that. The desperation on the face of the man made me give him a 20 rupee note. We do know that desperation makes men scale the unscalable, and the will of the man who is ready to offer a balloon to every grown up at a market really shook the workings of my inner mind to the core. The face of that man has occupied my mind ever since, and this article is a result of the many hours I have put in to research what it is like being poor in the developing nation we call ours.

According to the Census of 2010, the number of people below the poverty line in India stands at 32.7 percent, or almost 43 crore Indians. The count stood at 49.4 percent in 1994, and on paper, it could be seen as a great achievement when you reduce the poverty rate of such a huge country by almost 17 percent over 16 years. Our regional rival, China has brought down the percentage of its poor from 60 percent in 1990 to 12 percent in 2010, just to keep things in perspective.

This achievement is quite hollow though. According to the latest report presented by the C Rangarajan (the ex RBI governor) expert panel, the minimum daily wage stood in urban areas for qualifying above the poverty line stood at 47 rupees, which was brought up from 33 rupees per day in 2011-12 as recommended by the Suresh Tendulkar expert panel. The World Bank has set the standard at US$ 1.9 per day. Adjusted for PPP (Purchasing Power Parity, or in simple terms, the amount a local currency can buy what US$ 1.9 could buy in the US), it amounts to about 54 rupees, a little more than what our seemingly efficient (pun intended) Finance Ministry thinks is okay. The simple conclusion is, the number of poor people in India is more what the reports show.

I am not an economist or a statistician, but as an engineer, I can crunch some numbers for you.

Two young economists, Abhijit V Banerjee and Esther Duflo, studied numbers from many cities throughout the globe, and Udaipur, a huge city in the Indian state of Rajasthan was one of them. I am using their data and observations to put my points forth to the reader. Udaipur has people from both ends of the economic rainbow living peacefully among its beautiful blue walls for many years now. It is an ideal place to do an economic study, because like all rainbows, the rich found the pot of gold first.

Consider this. 65 percent of the poor in Udaipur are underweight. In a country where obesity is looked on to as a sign of healthy well-being, this data is clear enough to show that the poor in India have troubles even while trying to procure food. 55 percent of the people have some form of anaemia (deficiency of red blood cells), and 46 percent of them have been seeing a doctor because of the issue. 45 percent of the adults reported they cut down the size of their meal quite often to have enough for their children. This actually hinders the healthy development of the brain, and coupled with anaemia, we are looking a way lesser number of IQ points available for poor children to use. The rich may not be born clever, but they certainly win over the poor during childhood.

So, what do the poor people eat?

In Udaipur, the cheapest cereal is millet. 68 percent said that they depended the most on millet, 20 percent said that they had rice (which costs twice as much per calorie), 10 percent depended on wheat (70 percent more expensive than millet per calorie) and the rest resorted to sugar (which is the most expensive per calorie and has no nutritional benefits). The poor are great at managing their food budgets though. A person in the middle-class income bracket will go through weeks without even touching millet, only complaining about how quickly the prices of other staples have increased. The poor learn to manage their money better than the rich, giving up on satisfaction and taste to save a little more money.

On studying their expenses, we find that only about 2 percent is spent on their children’s education, which is quite understandable as almost 72 percent of the children in the city attend schools run by the state government, which offer free education and mid-day meals. Poor children still continue to underperform at the higher education level, a proof of the fact that our public schooling system is functioning way below par.

Almost 8 percent of their income is spent on alcohol or tobacco, and this is where the knowledge of keeping one’s body healthy comes in. A well to do, educated person has some degree of concern for his health, while a poor uneducated guy revels in the momentary pleasure his cigarette gives, not giving much thought to how great is the damage to his life expectancy. Life expectancy is a farce for a poor Indian though. Less than 5 percent of our poor have access to clean water and toilets, and you don’t expect people to live very long in those conditions anyway, which equals lesser time to earn money.

It is true that the poor are always at a disadvantage in the money game, they face a difficult childhood, coupled with mismanaged, and often missing government funds, thoughtless economic policies which have no real economic benefit to the poor. They do learn to save money, the do not take care of their health, or even if they do, their surroundings are way too unhygienic to prevent disease. At this juncture, it is quite easy to understand why only a small proportion of poor people do manage to rise up the economic ladder. The government might show that they are helping the needy, but then there is no such thing as free lunch, or a mid-day meal (pun intended).

The poor in our country are seen as scum, as people who do not belong to our country, the ones pushing our economy downwards. Yet, at the same time, they clean our houses daily, they stand in the heat to sell fruits and vegetables, they take us place to place in their rickshaws and contribute a significant 27 percent to our GDP (Gross Domestic Product, and I’m not explaining this) while doing so. It is high time that we start helping these people on our own, instead of blaming the two ineffective political parties who are always in power in our country.

We, as the people of this country can turn things around, and we should.

Though I still do wonder what would have happened if I had bought that balloon.

 

Check Your Emotions Before They Checkmate.

It is that time of the year again when almost everyone under 20 is free. Free to walk under the sun, swim in the ocean, sleep under a roof, under a tree, work for some more pocket-money, explore hobbies and interests, to make the most of all the time they have. It is the time to meet your parents, your family, go to your grandparents’ home and enjoy with your cousins, for this is among the last few opportunities to do so. Everyone is going to grow and leave the nest someday.

For me, it is the time just as any other that I spend thinking of a better world. I keep wondering what the human mind can accomplish, given its creative capabilities and destructive tendencies.

Humans are social creatures. We have evolved to create communities. An urge to be in the good books of people around us is instinctive. Such behaviour is a result of the idea that weaklings can be victors as well, using the strength of unity. Unfortunately, this urge has taken away the angelic side from most of the people. We lie, cheat, and betray to be on the side preferred by the stronger person. This led me to think, what if we lost all our emotions altogether. This mental experiment can take many forms. There are plethora of films and other forms of art that have experimented with the concept.

PK, the Bollywood film, where we see a humanoid alien coming from a similar type of planet. He is naïve, always misunderstood, and pays a hefty price learning our twisted methods of living. We can also think of “The Purge” concept, where humans live peacefully except one night a year, when they murder and rape each other. The “Saw” series takes its audience through a journey that teaches how life can be lived with our moral values intact but with big stakes.

There are many ways to tell a story, and not all of them have to imply to the lesson directly. In “A town without me”, popularly known as “Erased”, we learn directly that fighting alone might not solve your problems. However, if you muster up enough courage, it resonates with others. Another lesson I saw in it, is speaking up can solve problems right in their roots. “Your Lie in April” and “Anohana” explore these concepts as well, where just speaking or accepting the truth, when and where it mattered, could have solved everything. Obviously, truth is the bitter pill to swallow most of the times but is always better than living diseased with a pretentious personality, separately for each individual you encounter in your life.

In a world where humans are always honest, we would still encounter the seven sins. In that world, even petty criminals would need severe punishments to keep the latent criminals in check. This somehow paints a picture of a communist dictatorship, where everyone is equal, and crime is crime. Honesty is honesty and not hate speech.

A robotic society, where there is no leader, no religion and people follow their will based on logic alone for instance, a society where you pull the lever and let one die to save five. Heaven in its true senses. There is no bond or relationship and we go by our lives in an orderly fashion, doing what we must do to survive. When trivial situations, mishaps and accidents happen, only logic solves them finding optimal solution for the future. This would deny human rights and would be highly apathetic. On the contrary, it compels me all the way more to make and live in a world like that.

Our world is plagued with problems; women do not get equal treatment. It will be different in my world; a human would be a human. Pay grades would exist; however, there would be no discrimination based on gender, race, cast or other reasons. There will be no poor because job requirements will control population, using brutal ways if need be. Road rage in that world would be consigned to oblivion; people will follow rules, understanding the gravity of the consequences of breaking them and not in their fear.

A world of that type would take away the humane part of us. It only seems fair to run it as an experiment and apply partial results to our real lives. This makes us realise that honesty and a life of high morale comes with a cost. You have to like others less to have a favourite. Equality is a tool mostly used by people for their own comfort just like concepts of feminism and right to live. Hope is just a boost of adrenaline that makes us jump into fire.  Nevertheless, these parts of us make us human. Life finds its meaning in between survival and ensuring longevity of its species, but is definitely not constricted merely by these concepts. We are the masters of our own life. Masquerading as the good guy would definitely be tough, consequently, you will get angry, feel hurt, and get envious. However, you must bear it alone and be the stronger person. Fight for all you deserve but not get greedy or proud of it. You define your life. Will you make it a good one?

CLUMSY

img_4124While all the girls walked with grace,

I spent my time falling on my face

And when I landed in the muck,

I would blame my stupid luck

Slipping and sliding, I was a mess

Always the damsel in distress

Because I didn’t know left from my right,

Sports would give me such a fright

Walking into poles seemed like an obsession,

Maybe there was something wrong with my vision?

I would always laugh it all away and

Secretly hoped I would grow up to be okay

Been a few years, I’m still the same

I have a few more mishaps to my name

Now I look into the mirror and smile

I know I’m clumsy and that’s just fine.

 

– Sonal Mahanta

Not Being A Prodigy

Being in the presence of a prodigy is amazing. They leave people around them often spellbound, mesmerised and awestruck with their works. Their light works as the torch that brightens the paths of many after them. Every field of human interest or disinterest as well, has those names that become metaphors for novitiates in their fields. Prodigies occur once in generations and they redefine the field they enter.  They make things seem so effortless that everyone around wants to imitate them. They set new standards, new bars to cross for people around them.  They shatter old records, styles, make new ones and repeat this all over again. It takes great effort to come to top and it takes even more to stay there. And a prodigy is one who keeps bettering himself before someone else does.

Sergey Bubka, a legend in the sport of Pole Vaulting, broke the record not once or twice but 35 times. Kenny Schrub, better known as KennyS, redefined how the AWP sniper rifle was used in the game of Counter Strike. Unconventionally, he played aggressively with it,  instead of hiding in corners and waiting for players. The list of names is limitless, but my ability to remember is. When we are capable of fully admiring a prodigy, we get unknowingly attracted to their fields.

There are two ways to become a prodigy. Imagine the making of the best wooden chest. To do so, you can either use the best wood or you can use an ordinary type of wood but craft and polish the chest in a way that it becomes unparalleled. We will talk about the first method later. To use an ordinary wood to craft the best chest, the maker needs to put in the extra effort in polishing the wood, multiple times. The wood too needs to be able to withstand that kind of polishing and stay in its shape. It goes the same for becoming a prodigy. The person needs to work themselves out, exerting, enduring harder than normal to take the top spot. One can easily tell a legend in the making when they see them pushing beyond limits.

The other way to make that chest would be selecting the best wood. This wood could’ve been lost in the forest forever, but it discovered its best use in the chest. This wood would need much less effort and would outweigh the best of the contenders and set a new standard once it is finished. This is probably the best way to make a prodigy, to be born one. To be natural at your talent will help you master the basics quicker and in a much better way. Then you can do what the best people do easily and become better than them in no time.

That might seem complete, but there is a third way to make a better chest than the two above. This can be done by using the best wood and polishing it extensively, to make it the best of the best. This chest would make the best of items put in it look inferior. This method makes a prodigy, unparalleled.  The ones above this are remembered for long. But prodigies who got up there by this way become legends. They become the origins to folklores and are cited way beyond their time. This gives us the epitome of perfection, the Sirius of a sky full of stars.

On close evaluation, we observe that all the methods discussed above are flawed. Not all of us are born with a special skill. The world is a cruel place and getting noticed itself is tough, let alone becoming the best. Not everyone is able to make the cut and thus they become a part of the general crowd. You must beat the one at top to get to the top, which leaves the veteran lost in history books. There are so many trying to get up there that it takes impenetrable will power to get there which not everyone is capable of. Every spot has numerous contenders, and there is but one winner which leaves the rest lost in the crowd. And the third method thus gets out of calculations, lost in the rare probability of finding the talented and making it the best.

Is living worthless then?

If you are not special, then why are you alive? This question that ignites the fire of existential dread among many, can be very easily answered. The first argument is, you might have still not found your talent yet so keep trying until you find what you were made for. It is never too late. The second and most pointless argument would be, you need the dark to see the stars i.e. you need ordinary people to admire the extraordinary. The third argument is what I live for:

Freedom.

When you are not a prodigy, you are not bound to something specific. You can be a guitarist for a year and an athlete in the next. You can try out everything while not being the best at any. And that is what makes your life worth living. You are not bound by the limits of perfection, but only by boredom. If one thing gets you bored, try the next because the complete saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none, though often times better than master of one”. So, keep doing what you were and keep admiring the prodigies, for they need it and deserve it. Remember this in your heart that you are only bound by your motivation to do something. You might not be the best but hey, you never planned to come this far either.

The Stranger With The Light

A world so deeply pained,
And all efforts went in vain.
Yes, the light had gone missing somewhere,
And you brought it back again.

I thought that I had changed,
Indeed, this thought was insane.
Now learned that that was me who led the change,
I left those thoughts to search new lanes.

I then resolved to follow,
the good words thy had sent,
In your face, I learnt lessons,
Till yesterday, I hadn’t.

You wiped the picture clear,
How my steps should I steer.
Like a blessing you had come,
A stranger, who is no more one.                                                                                  –

-Sakshi Ragini