I wrote this for a Fiction class.
“Hey, remember, back in high school, when you used to wait for me by the stationery store after dinner every day just so we could talk for ten minutes?” Ashim said.
“Yes, and you used to be late most of the time,” Shikshya replied.
Ashim and Shikshya had recently decided to end their relationship. Their relationship had turned five years this February. It was April now.
“Yeah. That used to be so much fun,” Ashim added.
“We used to spend like thirty minutes or so Saturday afternoons, after lunch. You used to come with Vijay and Kalyan, each one of you reading a page of that day’s Kathmandu Post and walking as slowly as humanly possibly,” Shikshya recalled.
It had been their first relationship. They had met in high school. While they described each others smarts being what they were attracted to, they were just excited to be in a relationship.
“I hated Saturday’s lunch. I never understood people’s fascination with fried rice. I hated it. But I used to look forward to talking to you,” Ashim said.
“Yeah.” Shikshya reached over for the TV remote and switched to HBO.
“Hey, I was watching Shark Tank. You can’t just switch in the middle of something,” Ashim protested.
“Yeah, you were not watching it. You’ve been on your laptop for the last forty minutes,” Shikshya tried to justify herself.
“What, I can’t multitask now?” Ashim pressed on.
“Don’t do this now. I’m just too tired from work,” Shikshya complained.
“That’s irrelevant. I was watching something and you can’t just interrupt it.”
“Okay fine,” she switched back to ABC.
They had been living together since graduating from high school. After college, Ashim and his friends Vijay and Kalyan had written a web-based software suite for schools. They had started a company called Bwingle, loosely translated to an attic, to sell that software to schools except they’d sold four in last two years. Shikshya felt like he was dragging it on and on instead of getting a real job that would actually have enabled him to split the rent.
“So, did you talk to Kalyan about living with him?” Shikshya asked.
“No. I will, though. Pretty soon. Don’t worry!”
“Are you fucking serious? It’s been almost a week. We’ve already broken off. We’re no longer a couple. There’s no reason for you to still be here. Why have you been putting it off? Seriously, it makes absolutely no sense that you are still here.”
“I know,” his eyes alternated between his laptop screen and the TV.
She shut the TV off and pulled his laptop away from him, “Look, you need to move on. It might be hard but you gotta do it. I mean, I know how hard it must be to ask him if you can stay in his place for a while, but I’m sure he’ll agree. He’s your friend after all. If he doesn’t, ask Vijay.”
“It’s not that. It’s just that it’s so hard to move on to a new phase. To something else. I mean, I don’t even remember what it’s like to live without you there.”
She said nothing.
“That came out all too cheesy but you know what I mean. Once I move out, it will be done. Our relationship. It will be done. Gone. That’s hard. I don’t know,” he added.
“Oh please, don’t do this now. We’re done here. It’s not gonna happen again. We’re not getting back together. It’s irrelevant when you move out in that regard. We’re two different people that were in a relationship but are not now,” she stressed the word were so much that it came out a little squeaky.
“You’re not getting the point. I’m not trying to get us back together. I just meant, you know, metaphorically. Me moving out is me accepting that this phase of my life has now ended and then moving out to a new phase. And I’m scared of that,” he tried to explain himself.
“That’s just what I said. You cannot not accept that anymore. You gotta move on. You gotta learn to move on. In relationships, with that whole “startup” thing. In life. You can’t just hold on to something on and on even after it’s done. There’s only so much you can get out of anything,” she said.
“Yeah. I guess. It’s strange, you know. I mean with Bwingle not going well and all, our relationship was the one thing going well in my life. Something I could hold on to. Now it’s just gone. Gone. Just like that. It’s just gone. I just don’t know what to do,” he said.
“Well, to begin with, you need to get your ass out of here. Then, I’d suggest quitting this Bwingle nonsense and getting a real job for a change. Something that brings in actual money. But it’s not not even about money. I mean, sure, it sucks that you don’t make anything. But the point is, you refuse to acknowledge that you failed at something. You need to learn from it and then move on to something else. You’re sitting here a week after we’ve broken up. I don’t understand what you’re thinking but it just looks like you’re refusing to accept that it’s over. You know, trying to hold on to something that’s no longer there. That’s already gone. Same thing with Bwingle. It’s dead. It’s been dead for years. Move on. Pick something else. Jump to something else. Anything. Just accept that you’re done here and do something else. Anything. Move on. Bwingle’s dead. Nothing’s going to change suddenly and make it work,” she replied.
“Why have you always been so dismissive about it? You’ve never been supportive about it. I don’t see how you don’t get it,” he inquired.
“It’s not me being dismissive. It’s me being skeptical that it’s going to work out. It’s been two years and you guys have sold to what, two schools? If it was going to take off, it’d have already,” she explained.
“It’s called being persistent. It takes time. It’s not so easy, you know. People are reluctant to change- they want to stick with what they’ve been using no matter how bad it is. It takes work to convince them to try something new.”
“I don’t know. It just feels like you’re wasting your time. And energy, when you could be making real money working for someone else. Vijay and Kalyan have already realized that and now both of them have good jobs.”
Two years ago, she had thought, him starting something of his own instead of getting a job like everyone else was very courageous and she had genuinely believed that he was going to succeed. As the days went by, she started becoming more and more skeptical. Now she believed his ego was too big for him to accept that he had failed and move on.
“You don’t always have to be so condescending about it, you know,” he protested.
“If you call being honest, being condescending…”.
“You could have been a little more supportive and not yell everyday that my startup is lame.”
“Look, I think you understand this already and you’re just refusing to see it. It’s not working out. You failed. And it’s okay to fail at things. Not everything has to be successful. You tried. That’s what matters. Don’t dwell on one thing for too long. Move on. You tried and you failed. You tried and it didn’t work out. Move on to the next thing,” she explained.
“It takes time, you know…”
“Are you seriously using the it takes time argument for the nth time now? Look, I know it takes time, I know it’s hard but it’s been so long and Vijay and Kalyan have already realized that and left. You haven’t had a new client in over a year now. You’re just stuck doing tech support for the three schools you have. If this was going to work, you’d have seen at least some growth. It’s been stagnant. It’s done,” she interrupted.
“When I think about it, though, it was never really about whether the company was working or not. It was more about you believing in me,” he said.
“To be honest, by this time, maybe it’s lame and it’s just me being stubborn. But you were dismissive about it one month in. Nothing ever happens in a month and you were already persuading me to quit. I expected you to be a little more supportive, you know. It didn’t matter whether we were going to make it or not. What mattered was you believing that we were. And you did, at the very beginning, but you backed out so quickly. You stopped believing in me after the first month. You scared away after the first hurdle. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to be together jumping across many hurdles. You’re supposed to get tired running together. You’re supposed to pick each other up every time the other person trips. Not call you a loser just because you can’t afford rent,” he added.
“Look, I’m sorry I wasn’t more supportive. I should have believed in you even when you were lame. But that’s beside the point now. You’ve got to move out. Seriously! Don’t force me to kick you out,” she said.
Her phone rang in the other room.
“I gotta take that,” she said.
“Hey now that you have to get up anyway, can you get me a glass of water,” he asked.
“Nope. If you want something, get it yourself,” she refused.
“Oh come on!”
“Not happening,” she went to the other room.
Ashim pulled out his phone and texted Kalyan, “Hey Kalyan, I need to ask you for a favor. Can we meet tomorrow to talk?”
Shikshya returned after a couple of minutes.
“Who was that?” he asked.
“It’s just work. A meeting got pushed from tomorrow afternoon to morning. So I need to get there earlier than usual.”
Shikshya was a civil engineer working on an engineering firm, drawing building designs. As her work was getting noticed more and more, she was spending increasingly more hours at work.
“Cool! Just so you know, I just texted Kalyan”, he said.
“Finally! Now that’s a relief,” she sighed.
“He hasn’t agreed yet. You never know,” he teased her.
“Doesn’t matter. You’re getting out by Saturday.” It was Thursday.
She sat down next to him.
“So, what do you think went wrong in our relationship?” he asked.
“What do you mean what went wrong? Not all relationships are meant to work out. Ours was one of them,” she said.
“No, I mean, like, we were so into each other. We looked forward to spend every single moment with each other. What changed?” he kept pressing.
“I don’t know. I guess we just got tired of each other. Beside, this was a first relationship for both of us,” she said.
“But why? I mean why did we get tired of each other? I mean what changes that makes you indifferent to the same person who used to once make you go weak in the knees?” he persisted.
“You really sound like a therapist right now. Hey, there’s your new line of work,” she joked.
“No, I’m just curious. Don’t you think it’s interesting how we ended up here?” he questioned.
“Time? I think this was bound to happen. We’re very different people. There’s only so much you can adapt, trying to please the other one. After a while, you start questioning if all this is even worth it, you changing yourself just to make someone else happy. After a while, you just get tired of it all. You’re just done and you’re back to your true self and you just kind of fall apart,” she said.
“I guess that’s true,” he said.
“It’s just that we now know so much about each other that we’ll no longer be able to be awed again. I know that you refuse to do a proper job because you kind of have this feeling that you’re somehow, somehow in some tiny little ways, better than everybody else, that you’re somehow “destined” to do something big, to change shit and so you don’t “deserve” to do what everybody else does. You working on your startup sounded cool when I knew nothing about your motivation. But now you just come across as a narcissistic,” she spoke very fast.
“Whoa, that hurt! That was harsh,” he complained.
“Yeah, whatever. You know that’s true. And I’ve always been vocal about this shit,” she said.
“It’s really not that complicated. Not everything is supposed to turn out well at the end. Things happen- sometimes they’re shitty, sometimes they’re not,” she added.
“Yeah, I guess,” he gave in.
Nobody spoke for the next two minutes.
“But you know what, sometimes I think about our relationship and I feel like I haven’t always been very fair to you. I sometimes feel that I just was not very patient with things. It might have started with anxiety about our relationship. I might have projected your failure in Bwingle into everything, into our relationship, into our future and in a way, I was shouting to urge you to make it work. To make Bwingle work, to make our relationship work, to make our future together work. I don’t know. I should have been more patient. Things happen. Sometimes they’re shitty, sometimes they’re not but I could have been a better partner. I’m sorry. Not trying to patch things up or anything, just thought I owed you an apology,” she was getting a little mellow.
“That’s alright. Like you said, some things work out, some don’t. I’m just happy that I knew you,” he said.
“Yeah,” she replied.
“Let’s go get some ice cream to celebrate you moving on,” she had an enthusiasm in her voice he hadn’t heard in ages.
“It will probably be the first time you don’t roll your eyes while paying for me.”
I wrote this for a Fiction class.
I remember a time when it was my sister’s job to bring me home from school. We went to the same school. Her friends used to call me “Aastha’s Brother” and give me candy. I didn’t know their names- they were, Lollipop Didi, Gummy Bear Didi and Marshmallow Didi to me. It’s funny how I used to call her friends Something Didi but I never called her by her name or even called her Didi. She was just oi to me, equivalent to a Hey.
I used to walk to school with my Dad. I’d ask him all about how many stars there were in the sky and why the sun came up during day while all the other stars during night. Because he didn’t return home till late, it was my sister’s job to bring me back. She’d wait me by the black wrought iron gate, its sword-tips rusty, the accompanying wall covered with moss. And because I didn’t really want to go home, I’d just wait in line for the school bus with my friends, talking about why Charizard was the best Pokemon there was, until they’d all board the bus and then I’d run all across the school before finally going to her. She’d be sitting on a concrete bench, her backpack still across her shoulders, looking tired and mildly annoyed.
“Why can’t you come here directly from your class? You know, you can always talk to your friends tomorrow.”
“I know. I won’t be late from tomorrow, I promise.”
As we walked the mile from school to home, I’d sometimes ask her to buy me a coconut from the street cart that mainly sold watermelons and pineapples. It was a dark green cart, with a galvanized steel roof. There used to be a red, plastic bucket of water, that the vendor, who always wore blue shirt and khaki pants, used to wash the pineapples with after cutting them. I would often just refuse to walk and would sit on the street until she bought me a coconut. And if she did buy me one, I’d walk all good as long as I had the coconut. After that, I’d be bored and need something else to stimulate me.
Because I would have finished my coconut and would have nothing better to do, I’d pick up a stick and get behind my sister and hit her backpack, shouting, “Hah! Walk faster, buffalo. Walk. Hah!”. She’d try to grab the stick from me and throw it away but I’d just run ahead, stop and wait for her to do it all over again.
It used to be particularly difficult for her when it rained. Because I refused to hold my own umbrella or wear a raincoat, she’d have to hold one giant umbrella and hold my hands so that I wouldn’t go out in the rain, jumping in the puddles, brown with all the dirt on the street. Sometimes, I’d just grab the umbrella away from her and close it, forcing both of us to soak in the rain. May to August, as it poured heavily every afternoon, seldom did we reach home, not completely wet.
Now that I think about her, I wonder why she put up with all that. She didn’t have to. Dad suggested, perhaps every week, that maybe I should use the school bus that stopped less than hundred yards from our home.
“The bus is always too crowded and he doesn’t like crowds. It’s okay- it’s not that far any way.”
I liked walking home with her. I sometimes felt bad for making her life miserable, but mostly, I was just too busy grabbing her ponytail, to really self-reflect and feel guilty about it.
I like walking home from school with Aastha. She buys me coconut every day. And she lets me play with her. When i walk with her, i don’t feel bored. I get to pretend like she is a buffalo and i am walking her home after she’s done eating grass. We talk about Moomin. I think Moomin is a girl. She thinks moomin is a boy. I think she is wrong. That is a girl’s voice. Moomin is a girl.
I like doing my homework with her. I don’t like doing homework. They just make us copy stories in the book saying it’s a Handwriting Practice. My teacher says my handwriting is not legible. I asked Aastha what legible meant and she made me look in the dictionary instead of telling me what it means. I do not like her.
I like when we play the homework game. Whoever finishes writing three pages first wins. And gets a piece of coconut. I like coconut. But i do not like coconut water. It tastes bad for water and bad for a coconut. But i like coconut.
I do not like when she goes to village with dad. I also want to go with her. I do not like being in the house without her. I also want to go with her. But dad says i am too young to walk so far. He says when buses will start running, i can go. He says they are making the roads and are almost done. I cannot wait to go to my village with Aastha on a bus. I will ask her to buy me a coconut to eat on the trip. I like coconut. But i do not like coconut water.
I feel happy that Aastha and i go to the same school. All my friends know her. And her friends know me too. They bring me candy everyday. My friends are jealous of me. I share with them only sometimes. Aastha’s friends bring them for me, not for them. Why should they get to eat my candies? But i feel bad for them sometimes. So i give them one candy each. Only sometimes, though. I like candy. I do not like sharing them.
I do not like playing chinese jump rope. I cannot jump high and sometimes when the rubber band breaks, it hurts my leg. But Aastha always makes me play it. She straps one end to a stool and makes me put the other end around my ankles. I sometimes see her playing it with her friends. Maybe she wants to practice and win the game in school. That’s why i play. I want her to win. I do not want her friends to win. They bring me candy but she is my sister. I want her to win. And she buys me coconut. I like coconut.
One day i was playing a game with my friends. I was in the middle of a circle. My friends were holding hands making a big circle. I had to say go through or go over. If they said through, i had to make them leave each other’s hands and go. If they said over i had to jump to get outside. I cannot jump high. I was sad because all my friends are strong. I could not make them break the chain. I cannot jump high. I was sad. Then Aastha came and said she need to talk to me. They allowed me to talk to her and she whispered to me to go from below their arms. I like the chinese whisper game. They always get it wrong. It is so funny. Aastha came and and she whispered that i can go from below their arms. So i said, go through or over and they said over because they know i cannot jump high. So i ran quickly and went from below their arms. They said it was cheating. But we did not make that rule before starting the game. I like when Aastha helps me.
I feel bad for not being able to help her. I sometimes wish i was her big brother so that she would be my little sister. And i would help her. I would help her with her homework. I felt bad for her when last week, she could not finish her math homework. Dad had gone to kathmandu for a meeting about his book. And mum of course could not help her. I do not know how to divide. If i knew i would help her. She said it was a agelbra homework but i would help her if i knew how to divide. I do not know how to divide. But i know how to multiply. I knew it before they taught it in school. Aastha taught me that it is just adding two numbers many times. I like it when she teaches me. That way i can go to school and know things before my friends. I finished the multiplication homework before they gave it to us. But i could not help Aastha with her agelbra homework. I felt bad for her. I would help her if i knew how to divide. I do not know how to divide. I wish i was her big brother. Then she’d be my little sister and i would know how to divide.
I cannot imagine what my life would be like without Aayush. I remember being alone in the house, having nothing to do, dad in school, mum making supper, no lights because of a rolling blackout. I hated the evenings when it’d get darker with every second that passed by. I would just sit on the brown leather couch with my legs on the rectangular glass coffee table with an aluminum edge, perhaps to make sure that I wouldn’t break the edge off while playing. The only sound would be the white, round clock above the big fat, white TV ticking and the occasional pressure cooker whistle from the kitchen. I’d look outside the window, looking at the small lawn and the veranda where there would be mosquitoes flying around the door, eager to get inside. Near one of the corners of the marble veranda, there would be a green spiral mosquito stick, the end orange and white smoke spiraling up slowly. The mosquitoes probably were used to it by then. Sometimes a mosquito would fly by close to the burning incense, before suddenly drifting back, trying again a few seconds later. It looked like the mosquitoes made a game out of it, competing with each other- trying to see who could fly the closest.
And then Aayush was born. I finally had someone to talk to, to play Chinese jump rope with, to make a game out of doing homework. Every time Aayush had a homework to just copy one of the stories in his English book, I felt good about myself. The exercise seemed pointless but I felt good because I had to go through that and now he has to, too. He hated doing his homework unless it was math. So I’d always entice him with a piece of coconut. I wanted him to finish his homework quickly so that we could go outside and play Chinese jump rope. Mum didn’t let us play until late because of the mosquitoes so I would make sure that he finished his homework as soon as possible. He didn’t like playing Chinese jump rope but he’d play any way as I didn’t agree to play anything else.
It was a pain walking him home from school but I felt responsible towards him. He was my little brother and it was my responsibility to bring him home safely every day. He doesn’t like crowds and the school bus gets really crowded so I don’t want him to take the bus. Dad didn’t really understand this and kept insisting but I persisted. When he’d be really stubborn sometimes, I would want to give up and make him take the bus. And then I would feel guilty for thinking that. I was his big sister. I am responsible for him.
Last week, during exam week, one morning, he hid my backpack and didn’t tell me where it was until the last minute. I ran late because of that and while I just made it on time for the exam, I was really mad at him. So that afternoon, I didn’t wait for him and just left for home. He came back that night with Dad. Dad and Mum were really mad at me for being irresponsible.
“You should not have left him there. If you don’t want to walk him home, you know, he can take the bus. But you’ve said clearly that you want to walk him home. What if he was lost?” Mum was very mad at me.
“Lost? In the school he goes everyday?” I thought to myself.
“Look Aastha, you don’t have to wait for him and walk him home if you don’t want to. It’s perfectly alright. But let us know if you’d like that and we’ll arrange him to take the bus. Just don’t make a promise and fail to be responsible towards that,” Dad said.
He took the school bus for around a week after that. But I didn’t feel guilty. There’s a limit to having fun- I nearly missed my exam because he hid my bag. It’s not always funny. Around a week later, he came to me and asked if I could go back to bringing him home. After making him promise that he’d be good, I agreed. Two weeks in, he was back to taking a stick, pretending I was his buffalo that he had to take home.
You know, it’s funny how you say, it’s not my fault and that I should learn to forgive myself. That I was not responsible for all that happened at all. But I don’t feel responsible for what happened. I mean it was an accident, she was hit by a car. I just miss her. I miss her very much and I feel regret for not being a good brother, for not being a good person and for not valuing what we had. I don’t recall a time when I was actually nice to her. Every night, she’d tell me a story before bed. Sometimes I’d just pretend I was asleep; she’d then gently pull on my comforter, turn off the lights and go to bed herself. I’d just keep waiting until I was certain she was asleep. Then I’d go to her room and play the radio loud right by her ears to wake her up. She’d have to come back, tell me another story, wait till I was asleep before she could go back to bed.
I don’t remember this happening. I was probably too small to have any memory of it. But Mum once told me about this. When I was around three years old, Aastha had gone to a wedding of a relative, around half a mile from home because Mum was busy with something else. They make this sweet called kashaar, which is just ground rice made into small balls with hot jaggery, in weddings. So they gave her a couple of those to eat but she decided to bring those to me. So she kept holding on to them. As she was returning home, it started to rain heavily with strong winds and lightning and apparently, a tree fell off couple of yards away from her. As she finally reached home, all the kashaar’s were wet and not edible at all but oblivious to that, she gave them to me, and I apparently just shouted to her face, “I don’t like kashaar. You brought them only because I don’t like them.” I just didn’t care about the fact that that she could have died had the tree fallen just a yard in her direction.
Every morning, she’d polish both of our black leather shoes shining in the yellow, morning sun. As I sat on the flimsy gray plastic chair to put on my shoes, I’d look at hers and think they were shinier than mine and so I’d take some dirt from the lawn and put it on her shoes.
You know, they used to check if our nails are trimmed or not in school, and every time my teacher asked me why my nails were not trimmed, I’d just say, “Because Aastha didn’t trim them.” I don’t remember if that excuse worked or not but my life revolved around her. Even though I was well able to eat dinner on my own, some days, I’d refuse to eat unless she fed me. I’d refuse to go anywhere unless she accompanied me. I’d take orange peels and spray them into her eyes. As she’d run away shouting, “Stop it. I’ll tell dad and he’s going to be very mad at you,” I’d grab her ponytail and jump up and down, making the sound of a horse galloping.
Seeing him bother me so much, my friends sometimes ask me if it’s worth it, having a younger brother. I often ask myself the same question. Do I like my life more now that Aayush is around? For one, I definitely don’t feel lonely any more. I don’t have a lot of friends- just a couple of really close ones but they live really far from our home. So I don’t really have anyone to hang out or play with after school or when school’s off. Sure, he’s far too young for me to really hang out with him and our time spent together is mostly just us playing Chinese jump rope, hopscotch, me telling him a story or him grabbing my hair. But now that he’s around, it feels like there’s someone close to me, someone who’ll pretty soon go through the same thing I went through and soon enough will be grown-up enough for us to talk about things other than coconuts. It’s more of a he will soon grow up than whether he’s mature enough right now. But even more important is the feeling that there is someone younger than me who I have responsibilities towards. He is so tiny, so vulnerable. He cries if he slips and falls even though he’s not hurt. He cries if the food is spicy or if I don’t buy him a coconut. He is so tiny, so vulnerable. And that makes me feel something, it makes me feel a sense of I need to protect him, I need to be accountable for him, I need to make sure he doesn’t trip and bruise himself, I need to make sure he learns from my mistakes, the sense that I am his older sister and he counts on me to be safe and happy, that makes me feel so strongly for him. And it’s a feeling unrivaled by anything else. Perhaps it’s because the same blood runs through our veins and it makes me feel so connected to him. Because I don’t feel the same way for a friend, or a friend’s younger sibling. And when you have this thread connecting yourself to him, things like him pulling your hair or him hiding your backpack don’t really matter. They’re part of who he is, they’re part of his identity, those are the things that make him my littler brother. He doesn’t do all that with say, my friend. He does that because he feels close to me, because he loves me and because he knows that it’s not going to be too bad. Although he might sometimes go too far, that’s just because he just is not mature enough to realize what ramifications certain things can have. Those are his ways of expressing that he loves me. And sure, when he slaps your back for no reason, it hurts a lot, but you kind of grow into it and you learn to realize that he just has a weird way of expression and that expression kind of makes you feel a special bond with him.
Aastha is not here, by the gates, waiting for me. She is always here. Did she get mad again? I did not do anything this time. We had so much fun yesterday. I am very happy that she topped her class. She came first in the last exam. She was so mad that i hid her bag. But she still came first. Mum and dad are very happy. She is very happy. She came first. She topped her class. She was very happy yesterday. We made mo:mos. I love mo:mo, especially when there is chicken inside. I was so happy that we got to eat mo:mo because she came first. I wish she always came first. I love mo:mo.
But why did she not wait for me today? We are all so happy. I did not even bother her yesterday. Why is she mad at me? Maybe she forgot. Why is dad here? Dad never picks me up. Why is he here?
Aayush, we need to go.
Yes dad let’s go. Where is Aastha?
Aastha’s been on an accident. She was hit by a car. Your mum took her to the City Hospital. I’m taking you to your Uncle’s.
Asident? What’s an asident, dad?
It means she’s sick. She’s in the hospital. Let’s go.
Sick? Aastha never gets sick? Why is she sick? She is a strong girl. Ha, I know why she is sick. She ate too much mo:mo yesterday. I told her not to eat so much and give me more instead. Ha, she ate too much mo:mo and her tummy must have hurt today. I told her not to eat so much. I will eat more mo:mo tonight but i will not get sick. I am a strong boy. But Aastha is also a strong girl. Why did she get sick? She never gets sick. She is a strong girl.
But dad, I don’t want to go to Uncle’s home. I want to see Aastha. I want to go to the hospital to see her. No I don’t want a coconut. I want to see Aastha. Where is she? She is a strong girl. Let’s go to the hospital. I want Aastha. Where is Aastha? She never gets sick. She is a strong girl. I don’t want coconut.
I wrote this for a Fiction class.
The alarm goes off. But I don’t want to wake up yet. I go back to sleep.
“It’s already five! You’re definitely going to be late today.”, I hear my sister.
Five? Wasn’t it like four-thirty seconds ago?
I reluctantly wake up and jump to shower. The water is so cold that it feels like they’ve just pumped it up from Antarctica. Nah, I’ll shower tomorrow- I promise this time.
I get dressed and go to my sister to say goodbye. While she’s busy applying kohl to one of her eyes, she gives a quick look from the corner of her other eye.
“I didn’t know you had a black jeans. That seems a little baggy to me.”
Done with her kohl, she walks to me and touches my left shoulder.
“You look good. Good luck for the day.”
She wishes me luck everyday.
“Touch me on the right shoulder too.”
I feel uneasy if someone breaks symmetry. I force my sister to restore the world’s balance.
As I leave my apartment, I cannot help but give a sudden shiver. I’ve never felt so cold before and it’s getting worse everyday.
As I reach the street after a short walk across a trail, I’m shocked to see how thick the fog is- anything beyond thirty feet is barely visible. It’s bone-crushing cold and yet there doesn’t seem to be any decline in the number of people around. This is exactly what I love about this city- everyone’s so busy with their own story.
As I reach the bus-stop, I notice the same old woman sitting on a low, iron, stool- red with rust it has accumulated all these years. She always sits on the same spot on the sidewalk, right next to the buses selling tea and biscuits. She has a young son who always does his homework sitting next to her on a red mat so dirty that it’s almost black these days. I don’t see him today. Maybe he finished his homework last night. Maybe I should try her tea one of these days.
I get on the bus. Full of hope, I look around to see if there’s any seat left. There’s one at the last row but I don’t want to sit there. Vijay told me last week that the last two rows are where the most number of pickpocketing incidents happen.
I stand near the middle of the aisle. It won’t be long before the conductor asks me to move to the very back because “there’s so much space behind me and we should all go together”.
“Baneshwor, Seto Pool, Raato Pool, Gaushala, Gopikrishna!”, you can clearly see his breath as the bus conductor recites the names of the places the bus will go to in his torn jeans, gray jacket and yellow woolen cap. He is perhaps five to six years younger than me. I wonder if he’s ever been to school.
The driver shouts, “Let’s go, the other bus is already here.”
Three buses compete for the same passengers and once the fourth one comes back from its trip, each one of the three wants to get out as fast as possible, trying their best to collect the passengers on the way- each passenger adding fifteen rupees to their fortune.
The bus gives a violent jerk as it starts to move. I quickly grab the handrail with my left hand. It’s painfully cold but the bus moves so violently that I’ve got no choice. I feel uneasy as I’m holding the rod with just my left hand. I retract my left hand and grab it with my right hand. Because I’ll be using my left hand for the rest of the journey, I remove my right hand, grab it again and then switch to left.
“Using a forged student ID to get a student concession is a shameful deed.”, the bright red letters above the door are screaming to me. I don’t know how to react as the last time I was in school was five months ago but I still want concessions.
I wonder how much savings will I be left with once I’m done with all my jobs. I have twenty-seven thousand in the bank, I make forty a month; if I save twenty-five out of that, I’ll have one hundred twenty-five after another five months. The school still needs to pay me thirty. So all in all, I’ll have hundred eighty two in the end. Deep down, I know it’d be a wonder if I save half of that.
I’d never thought of getting a job before I got one. I applied to US colleges last year. After getting rejected from all, I had nothing better to do as I reapplied. Someone asked me if I could tutor his sister and then, suddenly, I was tutoring five and teaching two classes in a school. I think about when I’ll get back home and realizing how dark it gets at around eight these days, my heart sinks a little.
The bus stops at Raato Pool and a really girl enters. She’s wearing a tight, blue jeans and a brown overcoat that’s competing with her black leather boots to reach her knees. She has a dark, hair that falls over her shoulder. The conductor asks her to keep going back. She reaches near me and stops. My heart starts to race.
“Hi!”, she smiles at me.
This is probably the first time a stranger of opposite gender has said hi to me. This is probably the last time too. I curse myself for not combing my hair this morning.
“Hello!” I smile back at her.
“Where you going? College?”
“Umm no. I tutor over at Gopikrishna. What about you?”
Ah, so she wants to be a doctor then. A pretty, little doctor.
“You’re just out of high school, right?”
Damn! do I look so old?
“Yes. I just felt like working for a while.”
That was true. My family’s strong enough to sustain me without me working but I like the independent feel I get with my jobs. Also, I get to spend money on random things I like.
“Good for you.”
“What about you? Where did you go to high school?”
“Wow! Do you know Pranav?”
“Of course! So you’re Pranav’s friend, huh?”
“Facebook friend. I’ve never met him.”
She smiled at that. She has a smile to die for.
“Gaushala”, the conductor spoils it all.
“My stop is here. Gotta go now. It was great talking to you.”
I hadn’t noticed that the bus was already pretty crowded at this point. She had a pretty hard time getting out of the bus. And then there are the sickos who grab a woman’s body when she has to squeeze in to get out. I just hope there’s no one like that here.
A lot of people get off at this stop and it’s a little better now. The bus moves on.
Wait, I should have asked for her number. Nah, that would have been awkward. Shit, I should have at least asked her name. I could have searched her over in Facebook that way. Ahhhhhh!
“Hey, why are you trying to get your hands in my bag?” I hear an angry woman’s voice from near the very back of the bus. Damn, another one of the pickpockets.
“Because I want to.”
Now that’s a bold pickpocket.
“How dare you try to steal my purse and say that!” I like the confidence in the woman’s voice. I like these sort of conversations- I usually get to hear one every month.
Everyone’s eyes are on the two. I turn back.
The guy looks down. Maybe he’s finally ashamed of himself.
He kneels down and out of nowhere, there’s a switchblade in his hand. People try to clear around the two.
“I hope this doesn’t turn ugly”, I hear someone whisper.
“Now shut the fuck up and give me that purse.”
I feel helpless. I feel bad. A woman is being mugged in broad daylight in a bus full of people. And the people all around are silent. No one dares to raise a voice. No one has any fucking balls to do anything about this. What are all these people afraid of? One tiny little knife? Where is all the humanity shit now?
The woman obliges.
I want to do something. I want to shout. I want to scream. I want to help the woman. I want the mugger beaten up. I want to teach him a lesson. I want him dead.
I take my hands of the handrail.
“Now that ring too. Oh yes and that pendant.”
I try to move towards the two but my legs refuse.
I’ve never been in a fight. And I don’t want to get into one. I’m just a short, chubby guy who barely has any strength in him. I cannot stop a football kicked towards me. I have never ever beaten a soul in arm wrestling and I want to fight this thug with a knife? I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to die.
“Leave the lady alone. Don’t you think can get away with this robbery.”
A man, probably in his fifties, moves towards the robber. My heart starts racing but it’s happy that someone finally raises his voice. I want other people to chime in. I want everyone to get together and beat up this guy.
What’s happening? Why isn’t anyone saying anything? Bunch of fucking cowards.
“This is none of your business old man.”
“This is my business. This is all of our business.”
Exactly people. Let’s get together. Today, this woman is getting mugged, tomorrow it could be you. Get up now and get hold of him.
I make way for the old man to move towards the mugger.
All of a sudden, I hear a loud, sharp cry. It takes me a few seconds to realize what just happened. I see blood pouring through the old man’s shoulder. The thief just plunged his knife into the old man’s shoulder. He rushes towards the door with the woman’s belongings.
Thank god I didn’t speak up. I don’t want to get hurt like that. I don’t even know that woman. Why should I care about her more than myself? What do I care what happens to her?
But a part of me feels terrible. I feel sorry for the old man howling with pain, asking the driver to stop the bus. But more than that, I admire him. I admire that he spoke up. I respect him. I respect him that he took an action. My conscience condemns me for being so passive.
It was me who was supposed me do all that. I want to be in the old man’s place. I want to be the one who was hit with that knife. I want to be the one who spoke up, the one who raised his voice. I want to be the one who has a trace of humanity still left somewhere down there.
I know that I’ll never be able to do what he just did.
That’s my stop.
I wrote this for a Fiction class.
He gets off the Green Line at Kenmore. As he climbs the stairs up Commonwealth Avenue, he wonders what Inbound and Outbound means. He’s been meaning to google that since he first noticed them this September. He takes his navy blue glove off his right hand to google. Nope, too cold- will do it later. He puts his glove back on. He hopes he remembers about it when he’s inside.
As he walks past Campus Convenience, he starts thinking about how beautiful winter in Boston is. It was snowing since yesterday night and it finally came to a stop only around an hour ago. The streets look white with a mix of snow and salt. He loves the fluffy, dusty feel on his boots, not a big fan of the sound of squeezing snow beneath though.
While his friends cannot stop complaining about how cold it gets, he was really excited to finally live in a place where it snows when he read the email that he’d been accepted to MIT’s physics department for a semester abroad. It was four in the morning, he hadn’t set an alarm or anything, he had just woke up. As he opened his laptop, his heart had started racing and he had started to feel sick. He was warm, he was shaking. After reading the email, he’d quietly gotten out of his apartment to go on a walk.
He notices an orange brick building with Yawkey Center for Student Services written on it. Sabhnam had given him a brief tour of BU last month but he’d failed to notice the name on that building before. He wonders how much donation had Yawkey probably given to BU for that. He wonders if any building will ever be named after him.
As he turns over to Bay State Road, he notices a middle-aged man shovelling snow from the walkway in front of his house. He thinks about his mother brooming the section of the street right in front of their house. He doesn’t feel right about that.
The man looks up and greets him, “How you doing?”
“Pretty good. What about you?”
“I’m good too. Cold day, ain’t it?”
“Yes it is.”
He climbs up the stairs to the door and rings the bell. There’s a plaque with “MIT Student House” written on the heavy door. Why would anyone name a house “Student House”? It feels like a placeholder more than an actual name. Maybe it’s the whole meta thing like naming a bar “The Bar”. As he looks around, he notices an old man, probably in his eighties in a heavy coat, a blue Red Sox cap and a cane walking very slowly along the rails of the Vedanta Society. He stops and takes out a cigarette. He wonders what he’d be like when he’s that age. Shabnam had told him last time that the man is a Professor Emeritus at BU. It’s so tragic that people have to go through all that she had said. As he was contemplating about his parents approaching that age fast, he hadn’t said anything.
“Hey! Come on over,” a short girl, probably around five feet with blue, shiny, round eyes opens the door. She has a black sweater and blue jeans on.
“It’s brutal outside, isn’t it? It’s probably like five degrees.”
As he mentally converts that to Celsius, he notices that Shabnam’s dark black hair is now shorter than his, barely reaching her shoulder. He’d liked it better when it was longer.
“Yeah, but doesn’t it look so beautiful outside?”
“Yes it does. But the cold makes it not worth it.”
“You know, I like the winter here more than the fall. When it’s cold outside, it feels like someone just removed a blanket out of you. You feel so open, so relaxed, more comfortable, like you’re closer to life and to who you are more than you’ve ever been. It’s almost like you’ve opened up to a new part of yourself.” he notices that she has tiny DNA earrings hanging from her ears.
“Did you just say comfortable?”, she giggles.
Shabnam came to the US when she was nine. Her parents had won a Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery and so had migrated to US back in the mid-nineties. A lottery suddenly changed everyone’s life- her dad became a librarian from a History Professor over a period of weeks. When she asked him why he sacrificed his career to come to America, he smiled and said, “For you chhori.” As she hugged her dad, she thought she’d never be able to do something like that for her kids.
“Pratikshya will be here shortly. Abhi is downstairs in the kitchen. We’re making mashyaura.”
Shabnam was an undergraduate at MIT; a CS major in her senior year. She came to MIT wanting to do Material Science. I want to research graphene she’d told everyone during orientation. As her freshman year went by joking about how she’d be able to buy herself a nice car if she had a dollar for every “course-6” she met, she’d become one of those herself. Lately she’s been struggling to keep up her GPA. She works incredibly hard but she wants to go to grad school and her GPA “isn’t up to par for graduate work” her advisor had said.
As they step down a narrow, rickety, wooden stairs to the kitchen, Kabir notices a familiar smell in the air- the sweet smell of onions being fried with chillies, cinnamon, cardamom and clove. He misses eating Nepali food. Pratikshya had once tried to teach him how to cook but after having to order pizza because he burned dinner multiple times, she’d given up. He misses the elaborate dinners she used to cook every night. Everyday, he looked forward to the end of the day so that he could go home and sit down and talk to her about all kinds of trivia nobody but they cared about over rice and goat curry.
There’s a small rectangular table by the window, laminated with a bluish green Formica that’s already come off around the edges. There’s a huge shelf across the door. It amuses Kabir to see them being meticulously labelled as “Studs Breakfast”, “Studs Condiments” and probably half a dozen more categories. What kind of house call themselves Studs? But then again, Student House to Studs isn’t that big of a leap.
“Hey Kabir, what’s up?” Abhi asks in his deep husky voice. Kabir’s always been envious of his voice- his sounds so shrill that it feels almost like a woman’s. Abhi and Pratikshya had tried hard to convince him that his voice was just fine but he believed that they were just trying to make him feel good.
Abhi had a big build. He was almost six feet tall- enormous for a Nepali. He always trimmed his hair as short as possible, his beard always longer than his hair. He was doing computer science too.
“Nothing much. What about you? How’s everything?”
“Kabir just said that he feels more comfortable in the winter,” Pratikshya interrupts the conversation.
“Yeah, he’s always been like this. Even back in Kathmandu, as the temperature fell to lower thirties, he’d never stop talking about how awesome it’d be if it snowed. I’m sure Boston must be heaven for him.”
Kabir, Abhi and Pratikshya had been friends since high school. They used to work on their Further Math homework problems together. They had an IM thread called “The Curious Kittens” where they sent each other math problems to work on. Pratikshya often joked about learning more math from that thread than from her professors but that might even be true- there was at least one problem each day to work on. Since Kabir and Pratikshya broke up four months ago, there hasn’t been a single message.
“Hey, how’s Madeline?”
Madeline was Kabir’s girlfriend. She was also a grad student in physics just like him. She was from Minnesota; when she’d asked him if he’d heard of it, he’d replied, “Of course. Marshall is from Minnesota.” They met in a Statistical Mechanics class where Kabir struggled for almost an entire semester before finally asking her out. He took her to a small Vietnamese place off Mass Ave.
As they took their seats, he complimented her, “You look really pretty.” He felt really awkward.
“Thanks! You look good too.”
After a couple of seconds that seemed like an eternity, he finally broke the silence.
“So, how was your weekend? Did anything fun?”
“I saw a movie. It was called The Fountain. Have you seen it?”
“Oh yes. I loved it. It was a little tough to understand at first but I watched it again after reading about it on the Internet and … oh, it was such a piece of art.”
“I agree. It was wonderful. Hugh Jackman was outstanding. I love watching Aronofsky’s movies. They’re so full of passion and meaning and they always make a point in this subtle way that’s so peculiar to Aronofsky. Have you seen A Requiem for a Dream?”
“Of course I have. That was disturbing. I generally like to research movies over the Internet before watching them. Of course I don’t read the plots but I read a lot of reviews, from critics, from general people. And there was this guy at IMDB who had written how this film was such a psychological torture. After the movie ended, I couldn’t find better words to describe it.”
“Wait, so you didn’t like it?”
“No. Of course I liked it. I loved it. Sure it was a psychological torture but it was like … the kind of torture that you want to experience once in a while. I mean, it’s disturbing. It was very very disturbing. I was shaking for like ten minutes afterwards and just couldn’t stop thinking about it. You know towards the end, where Ellen Burstyn’s character, what’s her name…”
“Umm, Sarah. I think it’s Sarah.”
“Yeah, Sarah. You know, at the end, there’s this scene where Sarah’s friends come to see her at the hospital and after seeing her, there’s this scene where they just hug each other and start crying … oh man … that was so powerful. I start shivering every time I think about that scene.”, he was actually shivering as he said this.
“I know, right? And you know, the background score on that part is like so perfect. Exactly what the scene needs. And then right at the end, where they show where their addiction, of those three I mean, ultimately led them to, when Sarah is on her bed and still dreaming about being on that TV show, winning the grand prize and basically, just being there with his son and the music gets louder and the credits just start rolling abruptly. I was like that’s some fucked up shit. I just lied there, motionless, the credits rolling while I couldn’t think of anything. It was probably like twenty minutes or so that I finally stood up. God, that was one hell of a movie. Not that it’s related but it kind of reminds me of this part in Infinite Jest where…. wait, have you read Infinite Jest?”
“I have. I think you mean the conversation between the psychiatrist and the girl on suicide watch.”
“She’s alright. She’s at her parent’s home for the break.”
An electric bell interrupts their conversation. Kabir wanted to build an electric bell when he was in college. It was a simple middle-school project for most people yet as the metal strip failed to vibrate even after working on it for two days, Kabir had finally given up. See this is why I want to do theoretical and not experimental physics. I fail to make something even as basic as this work out. As Kabir tried to reconnect the wire to the switch for the last time, Pratikshya leaned in from across the table and kissed him on his forehead. He missed those kisses. When they had arguments, she’d suddenly stop talking and kiss him on the forehead. That always resolved things- either she apologized after kissing or he did. He missed her.
“That must be Pratikshya. I’ll get her,” Shabnam heads towards the kitchen door.
Kabir and Pratikshya had been in a relationship since their sophomore year. They both had very similar interests- both loved working on intense math and physics problems, both loved having endless discussion about things nobody else cared about. After pulling two all-nighters in a row trying to model the transmission of Wi-Fi signal in their apartment so that they can find the optimum position to place their router, they’d discovered that it was already in the optimum position.
“Dude, how long has it been since you last met Pratikshya? Is it going to be awkward?”
Is it going to be awkward? I don’t know, he thinks to himself. They’d broken up four months ago. They didn’t have a fight, nobody had cheated, nothing had happened. A random August evening, he came home to Sandheko Chicken, and Aaloo Kerau curry; two food he loved the most. As they were eating, she suddenly stopped, put her forks down and, came and kneeled down on both her knees. He got confused and a little nervous. Is she about to propose me to marry her? Don’t guys usually do that? They’d joked about how it wouldn’t be too surprising if she had to propose him considering how shy he was even with her. Still, he wanted to do propose her not the other way round. He wanted to do something grand, something romantic, something that would take her breath away, something that would give awws as he tells his kids the story of how he met their mother years later. But not now. He wasn’t ready yet. He had no plans of getting married whatsoever before getting out of grad school. They’d talked about this countless times before and so he wasn’t sure why she was doing it already.
She reached for his hands and held them tight. Her hands felt warm and smooth.
“Something’s not working out, I think we should end this,” she was gently rubbing his hands.
“What? What? Wait wait wait. What? What do you mean?”
“This relationship. Something’s not right.”
“What? Why? What happened? What’s wrong? Did I do something Pratikshya? I’m sorry if something I did hurt you. I really am.”
“No. No. No. It’s not you Kabir. No. It’s me. It’s me. I love you. I still do. But I feel like we’re in a stage where something has to change and this relationship cannot keep going.”
“But why? If nothing’s wrong, why do you want to leave me?”
Later that week, Pratikshya had moved out.
“I don’t know man. It might be a little weird but I’ll be fine. We used to be just friends before we got in a relationship, remember? How’s your research going? Natural language processing, right?”
“It’s going pretty well. We’re working on integrating a bunch of different algorithms to take Wikipedia pages about stuff and make it able to answer questions about that particular thing. The kind of stuff to use in things like Siri, Cortana.”
“That’s cool man. Good luck.”
“Thanks! It’s a real bummer that we’ll be here for a couple of months more only. How’s your research going?”
“It’s okay I guess. I’ve been working on a bunch of different solutions to Einstein’s field equation to study how two neutron stars behave when they collapse into each other. It’s fun though.”
“Sort of like the Schwarzschild metric except for collapsing neutron stars?”
One reason Kabir enjoyed Abhi and Pratikshya’s company so much was that they all spoke the same language. One could just start discussing about something cool they learned in lecture that day and nobody would feel lost. They all knew pretty well about each others fields and so discussing about any of them felt very natural. He remembers admitting to Pratikshya how she intimidated him. She was doing pure math and he’d shown him an xkcd comic about the purity of fields asking her if she thought what he did was inferior.
Kabir turns around. She’s on maroon pants and a black overcoat that barely covers her knees. She has a brownish black hair hanging just over her shoulders. Her hair right above the forehead is shorter than the rest- she always parts them slightly to the right making it look slightly like she had bangs except at an angle. It’s called a shaggy hairstyle she’d told him when he’d asked her about her new haircut last summer.
“Hi! How are you?” He wants to say how beautiful she looks but resists.
“I’m good,” she hugs Kabir and Abhi.
“Good to see you Pratikshya. There, grab a chair.”
As Pratikshya, Kabir and Shabnam all sit down around the formica table, Shabnam notices that Kabir has socks of two different colors on.
“You have two different socks on,” Shabnam enquires.
Pratikshya chuckles. No one but Kabir notices.
“Oh I’m just too lazy to pair them up after doing laundry.”
Pratikshya knew that wasn’t true. Kabir’s obsessive nature wouldn’t allow him to keep his socks all unpaired. He wore different colors for the same reason why he’d have to kiss her on both the cheeks or else the symmetry of the universe would be broken. She’s always thought of his quirks like that to be cute, to be what defines him. He crossed his leg like he was sitting when he slept, did every single problem-set in reverse order.
“I can understand”, Shabnam teasingly says to Kabir. “By the way, did anyone do anything interesting this weekend?”
“I went to see The Judge. Oh by the way, did you guys know that there’s an awesome Nepali restaurant called Masala in Somerville. We went there after the movie and it was really fun. The food was fabulous and the best of all, all the servers are Nepali so it almost feels like being in a nice Durbar Marga restaurant in Kathmandu,” Pratikshya responds.
“How was it? The movie I mean,” Kabir asks.
“I liked it. You know, now I feel like I always gave Robert Downey Jr. much less credit than he deserves. It might be because I’d only watched the Iron Man movies and Zodiac before this and none of them demand great acting. I mean they’re just not those type of films. But, he’s phenomenal in this one. Probably one of the best performance I’ve seen this year.”
Kabir knew what movies meant to her. She probably had watched over three thousand movies by now. He also liked watching movies but she was definitely crazy about them. She wrote a web app to make a list of all the films she’d watched so that it’d give all the details about the total time she had spent, average duration, average IMDB rating, most common actor, director, etc. He’d watched over twenty days worth of movies and she had over four hundred.
He really liked that he shared his interest on movies with Madeline too. They’d spend hours on the couch watching Netflix together. Since she went home for Christmas a week ago, he’s been missing watching Scrubs with her. They’d fought right before she left about him not joining her. She had wanted him to meet her parents and spend the break at her parents’ house with her. He had said he just wasn’t ready yet.
“Guys, dinner’s ready. Let’s take all this upstairs. That table will be a little small for us,” Abhi declares.
Kabir and Pratikshya’s eyes briefly meet as they get up. It is weird Kabir thinks.
They carry all the food to the dining hall in the second floor. It is a huge room, huge at least compared to the kitchen. It has enormous floor to ceiling windows and you can clearly see the dorm row buildings right across the Charles. There is a pool table that looks like someone left an ongoing game immediately after the sliding wooden doors. They put the pans on a long narrow table by the window.
As they settle down to their chairs, Pratikshya realizes that she’s sitting right across Kabir.
“By the way, how’s your niece doing Kabir? How old is she now?” Abhi asks.
“She’s incredible,” there’s a sudden enthusiasm in his voice. “She turned one this August and she’s already walking now. She called me Mama yesterday. Can you believe that?”
Kabir’s life revolves almost completely around his niece these days. He’s been spending hours every day Skyping with his sister and niece who tends to take her mother’s iPhone for food. When she had a little fever last month, he’d called over fifty times over a period of two days to check on how she was doing.
After breaking up with Pratikshya, Kabir was broken. He’d decided to spend a couple of weeks at his sister’s home so that his niece would distract him away from Pratikshya. As he grew closer to her, he just wanted to be with his niece all the time.
“Pratikshya, you’re flushing. Are you alright?” Abhi’s voice suddenly interrupts Kabir rambling about his niece.
Kabir turns to her and notices that she is staring at his plate.
“Oh nothing. Maybe it’s because of the huge temperature gradient as I came inside. You know it’s so cold outside today.”
Kabir doesn’t believe her. Something definitely looks wrong. He can always spot when she’s hiding something.
Abhi keeps pressing Pratikshya, “Are you sure you’re alright? Have you recovered from the complications?”
Pratikshya’s eyes turn towards Abhi and she gives him a dirty look.
“What complications?” Kabir repeats.
“Oh nothing. I just had an upset stomach. Nothing serious.”
“Come on Pratikshya. You really think I’ll buy that?”
Pratikshya got sick a lot. Two years back she’d started getting sudden, sharp pain in her chest. After seeing a cardiologist over a dozen times, he’d said that everything looked normal yet she should avoid intense physical activities just in case. Last winter, she had to be taken to the emergency room because she started getting sudden pain in her lower right abdomen as they were having dinner. After the doctor had diagnosed that her lymph nodes were swollen because of a viral infection in her stomach, he was allowed to see her. As he cried in her arms next to her bed, she’d said in her calm gentle voice, “Heyyy, don’t worry, I’ll be just fine. You just heard the doctor said it’s nothing to worry about. I promise I’m never going to leave you. I’ll always be here for you. Trust me, I will. Stop crying please. Please Kabir. I’m fine.” She’d also started crying when he hadn’t stopped.
After a silence of a few seconds, Kabir repeats, louder this time, “I’m asking what complications?”
Abhi and Shabnam get up from their chairs and slowly leave the room.
“I’m so sorry, I thought he knew,” Abhi whispers to Pratichhya as they pass her.
“I told you, it’s nothing. Really, it’s nothing. Just a minor stomach ache, that’s it.”
Kabir pushes their plates away and grabs her hands in his. It feels weird to hold her hands like this now.
“Pratikshya, please tell me what’s going on. Please. You know, I lov- I mean care about you. Please tell me what complications. Pratikshya, please. Please”, he sounds desperate.
“How many times do I need to repeat it Kabir? It’s just a damn stomach ache. Can’t you hear me?” she seems annoyed already.
“Yeah right”, he was almost whispering by now. “I believe that. Why do you always do this to me Pratikshya? You broke up with me and didn’t even tell me why?” This was the first time they’d acknowledged that they were in a relationship since they’d broken up. “I didn’t keep pressing because I trusted you. I thought maybe something’s up. But not now. You’re going to tell me what’s wrong with you. And you’re going to tell me now.”
“You really want to know?” she’s almost screaming by now. Her eyes are slightly watery. “You really want to know?”
“Fine. I was pregnant this summer. With your baby. I was pregnant and I had an abortion. Because I’m too small and I took too long to decide, there were some complications and so I keep passing out. That’s what’s wrong with me. I was about to have your baby but didn’t. That’s what’s wrong with me.”
Kabir’s ears suddenly gets red and hot, as if his heart suddenly decided to pump all his blood there. He collapses to his chairs. He cannot process what she’d just said.
“You were pregnant?” he repeats more to himself than to her.
“Yes. I was. I was pregnant.”, Pratikshya’s already crying by now. “I didn’t want you to ever know that our daughter was growing inside me. I knew it’d kill you to find out. She was our daughter. Our. She was our daughter.”
“I had a daugher? I had a daughter growing inside you and you killed her?” he throws her hands away. He feels disgusted by her. He feels nauseated.
“You killed our daughter Pratikshya. You killed her. You killed her. You killed our daughter. You killed her. You killed her.”
“I’m sorry Kabir,” she grabs his hands. “I really am. You weren’t ready for a child. I wasn’t ready. Neither of us were ready for a child then.”
He leans back to his chair and stays motionless for several minutes. He takes his phone out and texts Madeline,
“I’m coming over to Minnesota tomorrow.”
He looks outside the big glass windows. There’s no traffic on Storrow Drive and beyond the road, over in the Esplanade, he notices giant footsteps slowly fading into the emptiness of the dull, white snow.
Around a week back, I read a question on Quora that was along the lines of “How can I read more books?”. One answer that I found particularly interesting was to make a list of all the books you’ve read. That way, not only do you maintain an organized list of things you’ve read but you feel like you must have the list growing. You, in some way, start on a reading spree even though it might be just to increase the list length.
After a few days that it took for me to absorb that suggestion, I started a Google Spreadsheet to keep track of all the books I’ve read. But I decided to not stop there and so made another sheet of all the movies I’ve seen too. As the list of movies I’ve seen outgrew the list of books I’ve read by a wide margin, something dawned on me- why waste this incredible data by limiting itself to a silly little spreadsheet?
And there it began. I knew right away what I had to do.
A day later, I started working on a rudimentary web application to maintain a database of movies I’ve seen. I knew I had to do some data scrapping and so I chose Python. I hacked out a dead-simple application with Pyramid that just collects the links to the IMDB pages of the movies.
I stored those IMDB links in a simple two-column database. Next stop, scrapping.
I chose mechanize and BeautifulSoup to scrap the movie details from IMDB. The idea is simple- follow the link, collect the movie’s name, year, content rating, duration, release date, rating, director, actors, genre, country, number of Academy Award nominations and wins.
So I wrote a script to go through my database, scrap of all those info from IMDB and put it back in another table. Click here to head over to GitHub if you’re interested to see my scraper.
Next, I needed to enter movies I’ve seen. Because I’d already started that silly, little spreadsheet, I just moved those names over. While the list, by no means, is exhaustive, I believe it still gives a pretty good idea and I can always keep on adding movies as the names come by.
Finally comes the interesting part- the results. As the whole point of all this was to see what interesting results can be derived from the movies I tend to see, I started by listing the movies. A list of movies I’ve seen along with a brief detail of that movie can be found here (if you’re thrown an error, just hit Refresh).
I added a snippet of code to sum up the duration of all the movies in the list. As of writing this, that adds up to 17 days, 17 hours and 55 minutes. See, I told you it’d be fun- it’s already begun!
Then, I was interested to see things like, on average, how long of a movie do I see, what’s the average rating of a movie I see, etc. So I added another page to calculate those results. Here’s a brief summary:
- Mean Duration: 140.41 minutes (Standard Deviation: 26.8613)
- Mean Rating: 7.11 (Standard Deviation: 1.309)
- Mean Release Year: 2004 (Standard Deviation: 10.921)
Also, things like whose movies do I watch the most are particularly interesting to me. So I compiled data like the following too:
- Most Watched Actor: Shah Rukh Khan (24) followed by Leonardo DiCaprio (17)
- Most Watched Director: Priyadarshan (11) followed by Martin Scorsese (8)
- Most Watched Genre: Drama (125) followed by Comedy (49)
- Most Watched Release Year: 2008 (20) followed by 2010 (19)
- Oldest: Casablanca (1942) followed by Bicycle Thieves (1948)
- Longest: Mohabbatein (216) followed by Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (210)
- Shortest: Gravity (91) followed by Easy A (92)
Go ahead to this page to see a full-breakdown of all such data.
Because no statistical analysis is complete without graphs, I went over to Google Charts to generate some pretty little charts too. Click here to go to the charts page. Here are some interesting ones:
Even though I’d love to believe that the graph above shows Normal distribution, I’m going to stick with the assumption that it’s “almost Normal” and will appear more and more so as the total number of days I’ve spend watching movies approaches months.
Nothing fancy here. Let’s move on to better things.
As looking for correlation in scatter plots tends to produce some really fascinating results, let’s see if we notice anything significant.
This graph does make sense. All the old movies are rated pretty good which isn’t quite surprising because I’d watch an old movie only if I’ve read somewhere that it’s good. I wouldn’t go as far as saying old movies tend to have higher IMDB ratings in general with just this limited data sample.
While I was desperately hoping that shorter movies would result in higher ratings, the result is inconsequential.
That’s pretty much it. I was thinking of doing something similar with the books I’ve read but I’ve been hesitating because a) the list is too short, b) although there’s goodreads, I’m a little skeptical that it’d generate results as interesting as what I got from movies.
I’ll keep updating the list and so all the linked stats plus graphs will update themselves. So if you’re interested in the movies I watch, please feel free to keep checking on me.
(If you’re thrown an error, just hit Refresh.)
The following was written in the evening of my sister Nisha’s wedding.
I remember reading in a John Harricharan book, “Though our beginnings may end and our endings begin again, we’ll forever be journeying in the fields of forever.” Certainly not an end, but waiving you goodbye and wishing you good luck for a great life ahead, I tend to think about the chapters of life and how time flew by from the moment of Shishir Ra Basantako Katha to a time when I was carrying you around the car to let you start a new frontier of life. Really, I’d certainly expected for us all to grow old; for me to be able to understand the chemical reactions Baba used to teach Didi, but I’d never imagined that a day would come by when I’d have to start sharing you with someone else. But, amid all that, floating around the stories, the memories, the teasing, the cries, the laughter, the joy, a strange feeling is overtaking me. A part of me has already started missing you while the other tries hard to convince me, “Come on yaar! She’s just a ten minutes ride away. She’s always yours and you always her. So, what’s the big deal?”
Yeah, what’s the big deal? You were studying in Pulchowk, coming home only in Dashain vacation-the only time I could be with you-and there was nothing I could do about that back then. Neither there is today. But, back then. I wasn’t sad. Then, you went to Achham and all other places that could get as remote as possible and still there wasn’t a thing I could do. Even then I wasn’t feeling all this. And, now, when we’re in the same city, just a few miles apart, I’m missing you and I’m feeling sad. Maybe this is the realization that you won’t be coming home for Dashain like you used to and I won’t be asking you “When are you going back?” the day you arrived home. Maybe this is the feeling that now, you’re more of someone else than mine. Maybe this is the notion that now you’ve a family of your own and that one; I don’t share it with you. I don’t know but I’m missing you.
I remember the days when before going to bed, you had to tell me a story every night. And, now, all those stories float around and the air is filled with your words, your stories. I used to fake sleeping to get your gentle taps and then, it’d be hard to lie idle, eyes closed, motionless, without saying a word for more than an hour but even by then, you used to be caressing me. The nights I used to call your name and you’d respond, no matter what time it was, and the following morning, I’d ask, “Don’t you get asleep in night?” Lying on the gundri, in the sun, having oranges and then, me spraying the peels in your eyes. Yeah, I remember them all and I feel sad to realize that those are the moments that will never come back; those are the times we’ve already lived up and no matter how much I try, I can never go back to the time when I’d ask Mummy to let you bathe me because you allowed me to play in the water for long. And, that’s what makes me sad; all those realizations, all those memories is what gives me this strange feeling.
I wonder why you cared of me so much when I listen to Mummy telling me about the time in GBS when you had gone to someone’s wedding and when someone had given you a kasshar(note the ‘a’, signifying singular there) you brought it home for bhai. Yeah, mummy tells me that the kasshar was already wet by then and wasn’t quite edible, but the fact that you brought it for me when I was merely a year old makes me miss you even more. And, now, when I remember you telling me of the incident when a tree had fell a few metres away from you, a shiver runs across my body. Returning home from school with you, Geeta didi and you teaching me how to walk fast-with extra long steps- makes me wonder who’s going to teach me how to walk fast again when I need to. Yeah, I remember all those. I remember, “Nishale nang nakaatdera nang nakaatya!” I remember, “yo dissection box bholi parshi talai kaam lagcha.” And, yes, I remember, “Kaancha, kaanchu, punte and punu.” I remember hiding your bag during exams when you were already getting late. Throwing mud on you shoes just because those were shinier than mine is still somewhere around me. When you were angry in Tihar, I came to you and sat on your lap because I wanted you to cheer up-the photograph reminds me all. And, your fights and cries in the corridor with Didi and Aasha and doesn’t matter how much you deny-you having sandheko bhatta– all those are still fresh in my mind. Perhaps I can write an entire books entitled “Memories” but the thing is that now, all those are coming back and it feels so weird and certainly, a little sad.
The time when you, me and Didi had gone to Phewa Taal, Chinese Gumba, Gaaun, it feels amazing now and I’m more than glad now that I finally left the computer alone for a few moments(Or, was there load-shedding then?) Shouting “Nisha” to let you know that I was home and then never calling you by your good-name(The Namesake Effect), no matter how much Mummy scolded me for that, thats what I remember now. Going to Jai Nepal for Maussam and then getting tonnes of criticism and complaints from Barsha and Aasha, now I realize that it’s just such things-the special moments spent together, the teasing, the fights and the scoldings that we remember after long. Draining your cell-phone’s battery and then getting your scolding-that was fun and now, I crave for yet another opportunity to do all that again. Touching your bed again and again when you were asleep and the nags then-I wonder if I’d keep touching your bed every second to hear your scolding yet another time. And, the Don 2 show with a visit to Garden of Dreams we never went to, I remember your persuasion to get my beard shaved.I guess, now, I’d shave it every time you said to without any nagging.
With all those memories around, I just wonder if something that they call a time-machine will ever be built. If yes, certainly I’d die to go back to the time when everything was so good; when I wasn’t worrying about all the meaningless stuffs and rather fighting and playing with you every morning to wake up. Yeah, you’re going to say stuffs like, “I’m so near. I’ll come to see you, and Aasha-Barsha regularly. We can live those moments once again.” But, irrespective of all that, I really miss those moments and something as sweet can never be re-created. And, this is what makes me sad. Not the feeling that now you live under another roof but the feeling that I won’t be able to shout “Nisha” when I reach home, the feeling that I won’t get to exhaust your cell-phone battery, the feeling that you won’t be on the bed next to mine and I can’t call your name anytime I wish and you won’t be there to reply, “Hazur, Kaancha!”; the feeling that I won’t get to persuade you to play just a single game of Kaalibudi; the feeling that I won’t be asking you “When are you leaving?” the next time you’re home and the feeling that you won’t be saying “Kasto cha bye you gadha! Aauna pachaina kahile zanches bhanera sodcha!”
Yeah, things will never ever be the same. But, like Helen Keller said “Face the sunshine and you never see the shadow!”, let’s think about life ahead. You’re always gonna be near me and I’ll always come to take you and Didi home on Teej; I’ll always take all of you fours’ photo on Tihar and I’ll always play at least a single game of Kaalibudi with you. There’s nothing we can do about the things that need to be done in life and there’s no point turning back to life and crying recalling the sweet memories. And, there’ nothing more I can do apart from wishing you all the best for your life. And, hey, I still remember the thing, “Pakh Na! Ma talai America bata kehi pani pathaidinna kere!” Though there are seas of memories behind me, storms of wishes to live life like before with all of us together, apart from wishing you good luck, now there is nothing left to be said. Nothing!