Up in smoke

The first lesson environmental sciences gives us is the fact that the earth is lent to us by the future generations. An alternate angle could be the fact that the earth we leave for them is our ultimate gift to them, and it certainly does not look good. The world we live in is so filled with stress that it has become a suffering to live a long life.

Stress leads to a plethora of mental and physical disorders, which eventually leads to shortened life-spans, loss of happiness, a decrease in productivity and many more problems. It only increases as people grow older. To rid themselves of this stress, people use a variety of methods which include but are not limited to alcohol, nicotine, and psycho-stimulants like sleeping pills, cocaine etc. All these ostensibly help reduce stress but in fact, give rise to an addiction. People end up using these as an excuse for not trying to find happiness in their lives. There are a variety of ways people use to blow off steam, but doing it literally is more common these days.

 

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Very common addiction to nicotine comes from cigarettes. It has been a part of our society since ancient history, with various forms of opioids and other psychoactive materials, being converted to vapors and smoked. From hookah in the middle east and India to the pipes used by aboriginals in the west, smoking up has evolved with the society.

There exist multiple types of normal cigarettes for example menthol, which people generally use to start smoking, light, advanced, for loosening up the mind, and light, for chain-smokers who do not really need it but can not deal with nicotine withdrawal symptoms.We now have e-cigarettes as well which make vapors out of anything using combustible substances and electricity. It is not yet a common sight in our country, but hookah sure is. People, young and old alike, can be seen swarming the hookah bars where they are served smoke through a water-pipe along with  food and sometimes drinks. They have become a great spot for socializing.

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However, unlike the common understanding, hookahs and e-cigarettes are equally harmful. An hour of hookah can fill your lungs with more tar than a complete pack of cigarettes.Nicotine is a great way to reduce pressure in your head, but the withdrawals leave your body craving for more. This is the logic of marketing of cigarettes, but not a good logic to follow up on.

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Another trend that is hitting the world by a storm is the recreational use of cannabis/marijuana, commonly referred to as ‘weed’. It does have significant medical benefits, which are still under research. It helps patients suffering from glaucoma, reduces nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, improves appetite in people with HIV/AIDS, and treats chronic pain and muscle spasms. It is also under preliminary research for their potential to affect stroke or children’s epilepsy. Smoking it up is still not good for health.

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It can still be consumed orally through muffins, biscuits etc. If the governments globally legalize marijuana, it would definitely make the world a happier place. Imagine a pizza delivered at your doorstep with chilli flakes, oregano and marijuana sachets. Making chapatis with weed in it. Restaurants serving ‘Chhole’ and ‘Weed Bhature’. Although strict policies like that with liquor will be needed to keep it in check, however, people will have less harmful methods to de-stress themselves.

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The best stress-busting mechanism, for me, is looking at and playing with pets, be it dogs, cats or even cows. Playing a sport is equally helpful. If for some reason though, you are hooked on to nicotine, a suggestion would be to use safer alternatives like nicotine gums or patches to slowly help yourself rid of the addiction. Dogs still remain my prime suggestion for all stress related problems.

 

Don’t let this article ruin your mood, pulling a cigarette once or twice a month won’t kill you unless you have Bronchitis, like a certain friend of mine. Always try finding healthier ways to kill stress and increase productivity. Smoke is bad for you, in any form. As the reggae king, Bob Marley used to say, “Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief, and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!”.

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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.

Four Seasons

The Mail Carrier

Ramapuram was a small, sleepy town. Full with unambitious people roaming around the big banyan tree, as if it had borne the nucleus of the old town. People were happy, everyone going around for their work, everyone sustaining the small town economically. Industrialisation had left the town almost untouched, which only added to the natural beauty the town had. Letting things be as they imbibes a certain untouched beauty to the subject, and Ramapuram, if seen through the right eyes, was a perfect example.

Raman was one of the many dreamy-eyed residents of this town. As small a boy he was, like all other boys and girls of the town, he went to the only school the little place had. The school was a place of interest for the boys. The most striking features of the school were the old thatched roof, the archaic yellowed walls, the rusty blackboards, and the almost uninterested teachers. Almost as if it was an epitome of neglect and carelessness. The teachers had not been changed in years, nor had been the classrooms. The old furniture had borne the brunt of all the aimless people who happened to use it, day after day.

Every day would come and pass by. The students were taught the same Sanskrit, History, English Composition and Maths every day. The teachers would come and drone, each stricter than the other. Perhaps if not in terms of qualifications, they competed with each other. Maybe they compensated for their lack of scientific acumen with their strictness, which eventually made the students fear them, and hence, ask no questions.

Yet, Raman did not mind. He had no doubts. He was certain. The day would end at the same time the train passed the school, and more certain he was of the fact that the school was not a place for him. He was considered a failure. He would sleep through his classes. Sometimes some teacher would wake him up only to beat him up, most of the times, the teachers just sighed and let him sleep. Who does not sleep in school anyway?

The end of the school day almost coincided with the loud noise the daily mail carrier train would make as it would pass by the town. Out of the many trains that passed by the town, the mail carrier was the most important one. To the people who worked at the small forge by the lake, it signalled lunch. For the teachers at the school, the mail would mean the end of a sultry workday. The old people would go for their afternoon naps, which would often extend into the wee hours of the next morning (Then under the banyan tree they could be heard saying, “These young people are so lazy, sleeping late into the morning. How do they expect to be successful?”). To Raman though, the mail always meant the end of the sufferings he had to endure every day.

Monday was a new week, a new day, a new start. Raman hadn’t been so pumped in years as he was on that Monday. He somehow looked forward to the classes. Though it seemed wrong to his gut, all down to his roots, he somehow knew he could face the teachers today. Sanskrit came, and he could correct grammar in all of the verses the teacher wrote on the board. The Gita, the Ramayana and some verses from the famous Meghdootam, he could recite and correct them all. History was cake today. He knew all the dates. The Mughal Empire, the year Sir Thomas Roe attended Jahangir’s court, the year Bahadur Shah Zafar died. He knew it all. Nobody got appreciation from the history teacher, and yet, Raman was the only one in the class the teacher heaped praises upon.

English composition was a breeze too. Raman could summarise every chapter of Tom Sawyer with ease. Maybe like Tom, he had risen up to the occasion when he was least expected to. Though Raman was not as mischievous as Tom, he obviously shared the laziness. Maths was easy too. Linear algebra was easy. He did not even need to lift his hand to compute the value of x (Only if life was as easy as solving a linear equation, he thought). On Monday, Raman felt what he never thought he’d feel. He felt at ease with his school, his life. He could ace the exams on Monday. A new week is a new start for all of us, after all.

Raman knew that he had changed his life that day. Filled with a new sense of purpose, a feeling of satisfaction, and the best of it all, he was not unnoticed anymore. It felt so strange to him, as to how his life could have turned a full circle in a day, but oh yes, he was happy.

Like all good stories though, be it Romeo and Juliet or the Iliad, this good story couldn’t last forever. After all, success is not achieved in a day (or in a night). It is a path tread only by the hardworking and the certain. Success is a rare commodity, and like many other essential commodities, was in low supply at Ramapuram.

The sun had climbed up the horizon, the mail carrier had come to Ramapuram, and like all trains, it carried news for the people around it. The news is like sunlight. It warms up the things it touches, much to Raman’s dismay.

The train’s shrill whistle shook the townspeople up. Raman felt a surge of dread shrouding his new world. He started feeling the same lethargy he felt every day. He did not want his day to end, but it started slipping like sand from his fist. No matter how hard he tried holding on to it, it was just slipping away. This new wave of sadness had introduced a new screeching and pulsating pain in his left ear, or so Raman thought (After all, sadness does cause pain). Wasn’t sadness supposed to ache his heart, and not his ear?

The next thing Raman could hear was his Maths teacher pulling at his ear, “Don’t sleep in my class, you moron! The mail’s here, the day is over, go back to your home and sleep.”. To the sound of the mail’s shrill whistle, Raman’s new world came crashing down and broke to form his old one. Raman hated homecomings.

Abduction

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With love showers from God, we have been graced,
We are fortunate to be born on this earth, in peace and solace.
The perfect paradigm of beauty and serenity is nature,
These qualities in our mind and soul can be nurtured.

But we have a devil and an angel residing within us,
Whomsoever we feed starts growing within us.
These days, the demons have gone beyond their boundaries,
So self centered, they don’t listen to anybody’s cries and pleas.

Girls in their teen were abducted,
Not just two or three, but about two hundred.
They were in the examination hall writing a test,
Striving hard to live and to do their best.
Unaware of what they had in their casket of fate,
Unaware, this was the last time with friends and mates.

To be educated was their fault?
To be in school was their fault?
To have high ambitions was their fault?
According to Boko Haram,
Having breasts was their fault,
Having a vagina was their fault,
Being a girl was their fault.

In science, humans have reached very far,
In technology, we have crossed all bars.
Still, a buxom lady is pictured naked,
Cases of sexual harassment are being reported.

These girls were parted from their mothers,
Far away from their sisters and brothers.
While we were in the most comfortable zones we had seen, ever,
These girls were being raped each time rougher and harder.

We, girls, are the reason why life continues,
Still, we are the victims of sexual abuse.
We are not puppets,
These men are the real culprits,
They can’t just pull strings to undress us,
Play and then discard us.
I can clearly sense the grief in their eyes,
The fear, after seeing those big, muscular guys,
Tearing their clothes, to lay bare their body,
Just to have pleasures which are momentary.
I can clearly hear those screams, well, every girl can,
Her trying to protect what is left of her , from that monstrous man.

Atrocities, tortures, murders are rampant,
One day, Boko Haram will have to pay and repent.

Till that time we should continue our fight against this evil fox,
Trust me, it is not as cumbersome as penetrating Fort Knox.
We just have to remain strong in the toughest of  times,
Even when we become the victims of these moral crimes.

Yes, we will fight it out!
Yes, we will fight it out!
Should be our motto,
Just step into the fight,
Like Miss Malala, without much ado.

-Sheryl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, we will fight it out!
Yes, we will fight it out!
Should be our motto,
Just step into the fight,
Like Miss Malala, without much ado.

 

-Sheryl

THE SEMIFINALE

With or without a grand alliance, 2019 is going to be an interesting battle. But towards which side the battle is tilted will be clear by December when three states will go for elections.

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In all the states, Congress will be directly taking on the BJP. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan is highly unpopular and Sachin Pilot has delivered his promise of reviving the Congress. Rahul Gandhi has brought Ashok Gahlot and C P Joshi to Delhi thus consolidating the position of Pilot. So, even with Gulabchand Kataria, Kirori Lal Mina and Raje all working together, Rajasthan is a lost cause. Every election in Rajasthan has a slogan and much to the relief to Modi-Shah duo, this time people are swearing to destroy Raje but still vote for Modi in the general elections.

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Shivraj Singh Chouhan is one of the most charismatic chief ministers of BJP. The Vyapam Scam which led to ‘suicide’ of dozens has been unable to dent his image of an honest politician. Yet he is facing the wrath of the farmers among many factors which are reflecting in various opinion polls in which BJP is astonishingly lagging behind. Still, his only viable alternative Jyotiraditya Scindia has been pushed to the corner thanks to the new grown friendship of Digvijay Singh and Kamal Nath. So he may be able to pull it through.

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The third one is the tribal state of Chhattisgarh. Its Chief Minister Raman Singh is one of the most underrated players. Every one of the last three elections has been a close one and yet Raman Singh has won every time.

He has been successful in curbing the rise of other leaders like Saroj Pandey and senior leaders like Ramesh Bais have been sidelined. Congress, on the other hand, is facing the rebellion of its tribal face Ajit Jogi who has aligned with BSP to form a “formidable coalition” of Dalits and Adivasis which will clearly affect prospects of the grand old party.

The result of the latter two battles will clearly provide momentum either to the UPA or NDA. However, it is worth mentioning that in spite of winning all these states Vajpayee lost the elections in 2004. It would be interesting to see whether the fate of “New India” is different from “Shining India”. The game is on!

We are all responsible.

2017

It was a partially sunny day. The wind was strong but there was no rain yet. Joshua was waiting in the queue with his KTM RC 390 in a petrol bunk somewhere on the East Coast Road twenty kilometres away from Chennai.

‘Last year, around this time, it was sixty-six rupees per litre! I remember it very distinctly’ Joshua said frustratedly.

Vicky, sitting behind him, replied ‘Now it’s eighty-one per litre. I know’

‘Greedy rich shareholders and spineless government’ Joshua cursed.

‘If the fuel was cheaper, what would have happened? ‘Vicky asked.

‘We would’ve visited Pondicherry more often, have fun more often’, Joshua replied.

Vicky sighed with a smile, ‘Yeah, but you would have turned more fuel into greenhouse gases. You will be contributing more to the climate change that’s happening. Any commodity that is harmful to the environment should be costly. That’s the only way you would use it less’, he explained

Joshua moved the vehicle forward as the queue moved and then he turned to Vicky ‘I agree Mister Civil Engineer. Enough with your environmental advice’ he jested.

 

It was unusually a sunny day in a developing locality somewhere in Ernakulam district, Kerala. Mohan Raj was looking around the construction site for the Senior Engineer. ‘Engineer Sir!!’ He greeted him outside the construction site.

The Engineer came walking through the busy site among the brick workers and cement heaps all over the place. ‘Hello sir!’ he greeted back ‘How are you sir? How is Chechi?’

‘All are doing well! My wife also came to the town with me, actually!’ Mohan replied as the both walked towards the nearby tea spot ‘Now she is in her brother’s house here’.

‘Oh, okay sir’ The engineer replied ‘Two glass tea! Both strong!’ he ordered as the both sat down on the old wooden bench painted blue.

Mohan Raj took out a bunch of affidavit papers from the file holder he carried. ‘I have brought all the originals and xerox of the approval certificates sir! All the approval work is done and I brought it as you asked.’

The Engineer checked the papers ‘Okay sir. The work will be complete within two months. Your Resort will be ready!’ he promised

‘Two glasses of strong tea!’ The chai maker called.

The Engineer took the glasses and gave one to Mohan ‘So, are you leaving Bangalore after the Resort is opened sir?’  he asked.

‘No, no’ Mohan laughed ‘I work in public sector sir! I can’t just leave the job. My wife’s side of the family will take care of the resort. Her brother will oversee the hotel’

‘Oh, okay’ The engineer sipped the tea

‘Sir, the materials used in foundation are effective, no? The final cost is less than estimated which is good, but still’, Mohan asked.

‘Sir, there are no land slides reported in this locality for the past fifty years. It’s just one floor building, there nothing to worry!’ The Engineer sounded confident

‘What about the drain?’ Mohan asked

‘I suggested typical Kerala style roof, but you wanted flat roofs. All the rain will reach the ground as per my design and moreover your hotel is built in a land area that is slightly higher compared to the neighborhood, and the rainfall is getting lesser every year, there will be no flooding problem even if you ask for it!’ The Engineer replied with a laugh

‘You can’t be sure about the rainfall with all the Climate change and global warming sir’ Mohan said worried.

 

2018

Vicky focused his phone camera. The pottery wheel spun round and round as his grandmother pressed her four fingers tightly on the clay to bring the pot into shape. He was finally spending his vacation in his native as he wanted.

‘Throw the phone away!’ she said annoyed

Vicky pressed the ‘add to story’ button and slipped the phone in his pocket.

His grandmother held his hand and pulled it towards the clay. ‘Wet your hands with the clay! Don’t assume it’s dirty. Clay is not dirty!’

‘I know Aachi, I study Civil Engineering!’ Vicky said smiling as he pressed the edge of the clay.

‘We have to bring it to shape as fast as we can. Soon the sun will dry the clay, and when it dries it will be strong as a stone!’ she exclaimed

‘So, then wet it more. If you add more water, it will take longer time to dry’ told Vicky’s little sister sitting next to them painting dried out pots.

Vicky was curious what answer his grandmother would give.

‘It doesn’t work like that! The soil is strong without water, it is weak, out of shape and can be molded when you add a little water, the more water you pour the clay itself will become watery and flow away’ she replied

‘That’s exactly what my Soil Mechanics sir told!  So it applies to all soil.Not just clay!’ Vicky said stunned.

‘So, if you pour more water, all the soil will erode like water? Even all the sand in my school ground?’ Vicky’s sister asked

Vicky was lost in thoughts ‘All you need is to pour more water’ he thought.

 

Mohan Raj was standing there not knowing how to answer his wife. He kept on calling to the phone number of the Engineer, but the number was unreachable. He was nowhere to be seen.

His wife was sitting in the corner along with her mother in the corner of her native house crying out loud, mourning in the pain of loss. In the middle of the all the crowd of relatives that surrounded, was the body of her brother wrapped up and ready to be taken

The unusually heavy flood that hit Kerala didn’t exempt Mohan’s brother-in-law. The ground level of the Resort building which was higher than the neighborhood dissolved into eroding soil and moved the Resort building along with its shallow foundation causing the single floor building to collapse. There were no guests at that time. Only two servants and Mohan’s brother in law.

If the authorities didn’t approve the construction, if the Engineer wasn’t that dumb, would the dead be alive?

If there was no climate change, if there was no such unusually record-breaking rainfall this year, would all the built-up structures that have collapsed be saved? Can we even blame anyone in particular?

The severe rainfall was two and half times the usual rainfall and it’s the highest recorded in the last hundred and eleven years. The Indian government was formed only seventy-two years ago while the state of Kerala was formed sixty-three years ago. Although the causality was not dangerously high, the property damage is about twenty thousand crore which the people of Kerala cannot recover from for years to come. This year’s flood is one of the obvious phenomena that happened as the direct result of Climate change, the human induced climate change. We are all equally responsible to take care of our planet and all of its changes and challenges.
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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.

JUST ANOTHER DAY

The rooster’s crow at the crack of dawn signalled the beginning of yet another day in the small village which Sameer called home. Sameer was a middle-aged guy who lived with his mother on the outskirts of a town. Tending to his fields and feeding the cattle were the only worries he had. He’d lived his entire life in the same village and had no extraordinary expectations from it. Following his mundane routine, he sat with a newspaper in one hand and a cup of tea in another. The headlines announced that the election results were due that day. Sameer’s indifference to this piece of news mainly stemmed from the fact that there hadn’t been much of a fair voting in the first place. Everyone knew it was rigged and it would be a miracle if the ruling party lost. This was because the opposition party was too scared to contest elections in most of the places due to numerous threats. Thus, Sameer’s few moments of pity was taken over by his usual apathy.
Sameer jolted awake from his afternoon siesta, hearing sounds of commotion outside his house. On further enquiry, he found that by some stroke of luck, the opposition had managed to win that seat and taken out a victory rally for the same. This was not taken well at all by the previous ruling party who had started rioting. Sameer arrived at a full-fledged mob fight in the middle of the street and somehow got dragged into it. Chaos ensued as wherever Sameer looked, he could see people fighting each other with sticks and stones. Not able to apprehend the mindset of the mob, Sameer looked around confused as blood ran in the streets. He suddenly felt a sharp pain at the back of his head and realised he had been hit with a stick. When he clamped a hand to the back of his head, the hot trickling blood assured him of his hopeless position. He fell to the ground and watched in painful silence as the fight continued all around him without anyone realising his condition. Sameer could have been lying there for an hour, maybe two, time seemed to have lost its meaning. After what seemed like an eternity, his mother accompanied by his friends came to his rescue.  His friends asked him how he felt and all he could muster was ” not very good”. The question seemed ridiculous in his head. His injuries had put him in a state that required specialised medical care. Had the politicians focused on adequate hospital facilities in the village, Sameer would not have to travel all the way to the next town for his treatment. What a horrible place to get into a fight, he thought. People should at least have the good sense to fight in front of hospitals. Sameer died on his way to the hospital.

 

-Sonal Mahanta

VERDICT AT THE STROKE OF MIDNIGHT

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It is only a matter of time until a new government will be in place in the capital, and possibly a new face addressing us from the ramparts of the Red Fort on this day, exactly a year from now. It has been four years since the present regime assumed power and with less than a year left for the next general elections, here’s a reality check to see if this regime stands the chance to see the light of a new five year term.

It is hard to recall a government as proactive and resolute in its ambition to be the predominant stakeholder in the overall affairs of the state. Be it the launching of certain new revolutionary, unconventional and radical reforms or by means of both innovative and pre-existent schemes draped in new colours. To the keen observer, these may seem as the government’s efforts made to epitomize a new Avatar of welfare-politics in an era where every class of society demands increased representation, which reiterates the promises made to promote their principal agenda, and to maintain their influence and charisma over both their existing as well as prospective vote-bank.

Despite mixed results, the relentless efforts to bring about change certainly highlight the present government’s intentions. Particularly those involving the massive drive to open Jan Dhan accounts, which was linked to the direct transfer of wealth benefits to the beneficiary by plugging the existing illegal leakage. Reforms like demonetisation were preceded by many schemes for people to declare their black money voluntarily without facing severe penalties. Though economic growth was subdued in the preliminary stage of this reform, currency circulation has stabilized and economic growth is steady at a healthy rate of 7.3%.From my standpoint this reform is simply a temporary measure to review the level of preparedness of government agencies to thwart any emerging threat to India’s economic interests from within and beyond. For a more far reaching effect I would put forward for consideration a more comprehensive strategy to tackle growing threats to our financial economy. A strategy comprising of initiatives to plug loopholes in the existing anti money laundering mechanisms and devise new elaborate and innovative schemes which focus on targeting fraudulent acts and illegal transactions. A good place to start would be by seizing undocumented land and unlawfully appropriated government land.

The establishment of a unified goods and services tax regime is a case of ground-breaking reformation of the indirect tax system. The current tax regime has more tax slabs than envisioned and has been revised on multiple occasions. However, certain grievances have been expressed by small and medium businesses with respect to rise in compliance leading to fall in margins. However, in my view the goods and services tax is perhaps the best answer to a complicated concoction of indirect state and central taxes ranging from the much dreaded excise duties and customs to VAT (value added tax) and service tax. It is indeed an intuitive initiative which shows promise since taxes levied would no longer be concentrated on the finished product. It would be distributed proportionately among the various stages of the whole process all the way from manufacturing to distribution. This would virtually eliminate any chance of foul play on part of middleman and is in my opinion an effective means of tackling tax evasion and other forms of illicit financial flows such as money laundering. Besides the aforementioned means of efficient tax collection, another key economic parameter where there has been visible improvement in the ‘ease of doing business’. Since the incumbent government came into power, India has managed to go up 42 places in the rankings, of which a phenomenal positive growth of 30 places was achieved in this the previous fiscal year itself.

The present government has made significant efforts to radically change the governance mechanism in India. For instance, the changing of the Budget date to the 1st of February ensured the respective departments of the cabinet had additional time to spend the money allocated to them. The tradition of presenting an independent Railway Budget, an annual event of great political opportunism, existing since the colonial era, was done away with. This was necessary to ensure that the concerned portfolio is refrained from being used as a bargaining chip in coalition politics. The replacement of the Planning Commission with the NITI Aayog is essentially a politically motivated move to signal a departure from the work strategy of the erstwhile UPA regime, coupled with the intention of showcasing a redefined image of good governance in order to retain public credibility and relevance in regional affairs.

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While economic aspects such as inflation have remained under check, rising oil prices put a constant pressure on the government to cut existing excise duty rates. This could consequently cause a significant blow to tax collection correspondingly leading to even more budgetary constraints. Despite this, better targeting of subsidies, particularly in the agricultural sector, by introducing a revised minimum support price which covers almost all agricultural produce, has been widely viewed as a politically driven move made at a strategic timing of a year. With the general elections right around the corner and an active monsoon session for both houses of parliament this move can be perceived either as a desperate gamble to preserve influence in rural affairs or a piece of masterclass politics played to attain the status of a regime which is favoured nationwide. This stands combined with a steady control over the fiscal deficit. There is visible trend of exports gathering pace, but the government’s inability to regulate high oil import prices may lead to a significant widening of trade and current account deficit. Weak corporate finances, low demand and the Reserve Bank of India’s tough norms have pushed up the bad debt of banks. Even though power generation and distribution has risen, several plants remain idle due to muted demand. In terms of infrastructure development, highway construction is seen as the government’s key achievement -perhaps the only one worthy of a special mention – with pace more than doubling in years.

Giving the present NDA regime sole credit for the impressive performance in terms of numbers in certain areas would do injustice to the efforts made by the erstwhile Vajpayee government. It’s been recognised for taking initiative back in the day to establish India in the forefront of technological innovation and social reformation. The much talked about Golden Quadrilateral Scheme, which linked the four metro cities Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai was the brainchild of his government. The Pradhanmantri Gramin Sadak Yojna which is been heavily promoted by the present regime was another grand-vision of the Vajpayee government. It was aimed at easing movement of farm produce, and improving access to healthcare and education by establishing a network of all weather roads that criss-cross villages across India. The mobile revolution started during Vajpayee’s time when the erstwhile NDA government decided to slash call rates and thereby bring in more competition in the telecom industry. Since then, mobile connectivity has taken off in such a manner that it is today the key pillar of the present Central government’s JAM (Jandhan, Aadhaar, Mobile) plan for financial inclusion. Our present government therefore owes a lot to their endeavours, that too at a time of uncertainty.Vajpayee’s achievements did not happen in a conducive atmosphere. Unlike the absolute majority that the present government enjoys today, Vajpayee had steered a coalition government that depended on its NDA partners. Neither was the global economy, nor India’s security threats very friendly. The country was embroiled in an intense confilct with its immediate neighbour to the west, with the government waging war against both Pakistan and its alleged state-sponsored terrorism-machinery in a bid to protect national interests from within and beyond. The war in the Gulf was troubling global markets, spooking oil prices. Notwithstanding all this, by the end of Vajpayee’s term, India’s GDP growth was inching towards double digits, inflation was under control and India was, at least in terms of numbers, shining. Our present government therefore owes a lot to their endeavours, that too at a time of uncertainty.

The present government has been facing constant criticism as domestic investments have not picked up and job growth has remained slow despite initiatives such as ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’ launched by the government. Voters see employment prospects at historic lows. It took an obvious beating post demonetisation and is yet to recover. Consumers in particular have a low opinion about their own income levels and overall purchasing capacity. In the writer’s opinion, they fear that the successes involved with the initial implementation of policies might be short-lived and that swift radical changes to the existing economic framework might end up being a counter-productive approach. This kind of response comes as no surprise as the public has always been hesitant in terms of accepting change. This issue of adaptibility was showcased even when the Indian economy was undergoing a phase of Liberalization, Privatization and Globalisation under the directions of the erstwhile Narasimha Rao government. Back then too, an intuitive and a long-term productive policy was met with large-scale critisicm and a polarised response from the public at large. However, due to the concerted efforts of the UPA regime and the economic genius of the then finance minister, Manmohan Singh, this radical change was brought into motion. And today it is impossible to even imagine a holistic economic growth and social and economic developments without this transition. In the present scenario, it is worthwhile to note that business owners have the most positive outlook on the situation in the last five years. Most businesses expected a decline in profit margins, but the net opinion has improved since the present government came into power. Under the incumbent regime, people in corporate circles have generally stayed optimistic about future prospects, and stock indexes like BSE SENSEX and NIFTY 50 climbing to record high figures in such a limited time frame is a testament to growing investor confidence in unpredictable times when the world’s two biggest economic giants USA and China are engaged in an epic trade war. Such an uncertainty hasn’t dawned upon this world since the time of the Cold War. Our growth rate and economic development has remained undeterred despite, let alone a few areas such as aviation.

There are, nonetheless, numerous critics who claim this to be case of favouritism, with the present regime being constantly accused by both the opposition and several non-state parties of promoting corporate-friendly policies and suppressing the informal sector by encouraging digitization of the economy. They also seemed unimpressed by the numerous significant announcements contained in this year’s budget particularly a healthcare programme called the National Health Protection Scheme (Ayushman Bharat) to cover 10 crore poor families and a proposed 12% contribution by the government to the Employees’ Provident Fund for new employees for the first three years. No reduction in personal income tax rates, and an increase in the cess on income tax from 3% to 4% has invited public disapproval, especially from the members of the middle class, expressing their disdain due to obvious reasons. It is no surprise that in order to keep the rich content and the poor satisfied, the ones in the middle would inevitably face the brunt of the tax collection regime for the sake of national development.

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Another cause for concern arises when we bring up the question of social development in the most linguistically, and culturally diverse country on earth. Human rights have remained a topic in contention since the time of pre-independence and is more relevant to our society today than ever. The rise in demonization of certain communities, especially on the basis of their caste, religion and political beliefs presents a looming threat to our national interests. Systemic abuse of human rights by both state and non-state actors remains widespread, and on several occasions the government remains helpless and at times ignorant towards the anguish faced by these marginalised communities and their subjugation through intense mob-violence and hate crimes. There have been consistent claims and allegations made against the present regime of subverting social freedoms, such as the freedom of expression, of assembly, of association and protest and also that of press and media, of which the latter has been clarified as a measure to keep a check on ‘fake’ news and media and prevent the misrepresentation of facts and information. There are a few influential people who have gone to the extent of claiming that democracy is in danger which in the very sense of the phrase, amounts to an overly exaggerated observation in with respect to purview of the state. It sounds absurd to say the least, in light of the fact that these comments were made in public spotlight and if these so-called intellectuals so much as cared about the views that they so openly expressed, they would have thought over twice before expressing them in the public domain or perhaps even refrained from doing so. There have however been cases of subversion of free speech and expression even resulting in death of individuals including but not limited to journalists, writers, and social activists which needs to be appropriately addressed but doesn’t necessitate redundant demands for large-scale public dissent and associated anarchism in an established social order. It is disappointing to note that the present government has made little efforts to address these issues besides condemning them, which has also been the case with previous regimes, who in a bid to secure their respective vote-banks, turned a blind eye to most of the ill-happenings in the so-called modern-day Indian society. The current crime-fighting mechanisms are characterized by a slow response to crime occurrences. Our law enforcement agencies act as a damage control unit rather than a body involved with active crime prevention. While the proactive stance against organised crime has delivered results over the years, it is also essential to address the issue of the alarming increase in the rate of unorganised crime, especially against women. There is a critical need to incorporate new productive adjustments to the operating protocol of these agencies in order to effectively limit occurrences of unorganised crime instead of lying in wait of a complaint to be registered. The government needs to take initiative in this respect.

The very beauty of this nation, that is its wide-ranging diversity, sometimes becomes the biggest challenge for the political administrators since each region represents its own set of social issues, many of which are pervasive to that region only and a few cases of social stigma commonly prevalent in every corner of the country. Our constitution guarantees us equality of status and opportunity in principle but the present government has, in a manner similar to past political regimes failed to properly address the issues concerning the same. The reasons for the same range from the lack of political will, to the fear of facing widespread public discontent and mass disapproval from various sections of society particularly those who will most affected by such reforms. Reservation has had limited effect in the upliftment of the socially and economically backward classes (SEBCs) who continue to face repression and subjugation at the hands of certain members of the so called upper castes, while there are quite a few who are descendants of these SEBCs on paper but are comparably well off economically and take undue advantage of certain benefits accorded to them by virtue of their reservation status; which raises several questions in relation to the effectiveness of such a policy in upholding the principles of the constitution. Nevertheless, it continues to exist and is often used as political tool by successive governments at both and centre in order to advance their political ambitions. Though the present government hasn’t overtly expressed significant interest in following suit, due to the standing fact that reservations are a double-edged sword. Opportunism and manipulation coupled with skilful lobbying and incessant demands for increased representation by several communities, including religious minorities-most of which are not necessarily either socially or culturally backwards, have induced a state of perpetual disorder in state affairs and has put the government in a huge dilemma with respect to its future policy making, keeping in mind the interest of the voters. On several occasions though, members of the ruling alliance have also participated in reservation politics and further aggravated the situation.

It appears as though this endless saga will play on for eternity or as long as this nation exists as a democracy, whichever comes prior to the other. In the words of Plato-“Mankind will never see an end of trouble until lovers of wisdom come to hold political power, or the holders of power become lovers of wisdom.” Since neither of two scenarios seem likely in the current context of Indian politics, the only choice that we as citizens should exercise is to make our own choices. Even the ones who avoid getting involved in this process need to deliberate upon the fact that just because they don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean that politics won’t take an interest in them. It is imperative to note that those who consider themselves too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber. We as responsible citizens therefore should take initiative by being an active part of the process and urge our elected leaders to be a statesman first and then a politician, because while a politician thinks of the next election, a statesman thinks of the next generation. The upcoming elections represent a lot of new opportunities and even bigger possibilities. Even if there appears to be apparent lack of a real choice, we must support the one which would better suit our interests. There are certain areas where the performance of the NDA regime has been dismal to say the least. Even after prudently scrutinising the performance and corresponding public perception and response to the implemented policies, the perplexity involved with India’s ever-vibrant demographics would deter us from making speculations that would undoubtedly be contested by other schools of thought. The ruling party, for the sake of sustaining its relevance in the current power equation that governs the existence of the Indian state, could seek inspiration from words that are synchronous with its primary agenda, which is to nullify the influence of its traditional rival and possibly secure public opinion in its favour-“If ‘pro’ is the opposite of ‘con’ what is the opposite of ‘progress’?” Food for thought.

King

Long live the King“, the Friday Daily Mail screamed.

Keith ‘King’ Bell had finally decided to hang up his boots.

He lay majestically on his bed as the sunshine shone on his forehead from the window. A bed whose size was in accordance to his nickname. It was 7 AM. He woke up. Today was his final game.

After 15 years in cricket, Keith had become the world’s most feared fast bowler. But cricket was not his sole love.

He had as many headlines on page 3 as the number of stumps he’d rattled in his career. Tall and well built, he was feared on the pitch, and loved in the green rooms. A transition to action films was stirred up, but never taken seriously.

Being a media darling surely helped sustain his ‘Most Eligible Bachelor’ image all this while. A photo of him with any of the new movie bombshells was a prize catch for the ravenous paparazzi.

But it was all over now. After 15 years of physical and mental strain, he’d finally called time on an illustrious career.
Thousands of teary eyes were spotted at the Mecca of cricket during his testimonial match. No one wanted him to go.

Keith wasn’t really sure of his future goals.
Coaching? Never. He hated all his gaffers.
Commentary? Meh.

Reaching home after his final match, all he wanted was sleep. Enough sleep to rest his madly overworked torso.

Sadly, the siesta was cut short by a call.
A call which shook him to his core.

The caller had also mailed him a picture. Of him with Kubal Malik.

The King with the most wanted bookie of the sport.

“It’ll be on the Daily Mail tomorrow”, quipped the caller, cutting the call abruptly.

It was over. His 15 year old legacy was shredded to bits.

He shouted, disbelief in his voice. A 30 second call had turned a 15 year old career into a scam.

The shouting dried down. He wept now.

The clock chimed as the needle hit 6.
It was dark outside.

His heart was full of regret.
It was dark inside.

He slowly crawled into his bed, with a small black bottle in his hand.

It was 7 AM.

He lay majestically on his bed as the sunshine shone on his forehead from the window. With foam on his mouth.

Long live the King. The King is dead“, the Saturday Daily Mail screamed.

Shivansh Mishra