I used to think of myself as a bit of a writer, and now I have trouble stringing two sentences together. As countless times afore, I strive once again to retrieve this blog from the dark dusty depths of a writer’s block that I have subjected it to.
What to say when the creative juices don’t flow? “Yappity, yappity, yap!” sounds reasonable enough to me. But as good an opening as that may be, I fail to follow it up with anything that holds any semblance to sanity. So screw sanity, you tell me? Fair enough. So I knock on the doors of insanity and a voice inside tells me I’m crazy. Oh the irony!
Life moves at its own pedestrian pace. With graduation day approaching, people are getting edgy. Reflecting on their past choices, striving for a better future whilst dreaming of the little big joys in life as the wide world now calls to them. These are exciting yet scary times fraught with frustration and disappointment. Many trials now lay ahead and with perseverance one can overcome them all, but that still doesn’t mean that hairs won’t be shed, nails will not be bit and the screams of growing anger and the frustration of a failure will not grow.
From a personal aspect, it is not the future that bothers me as much as the past. I know people would say, “Move on! Look ahead. Let the demons of the past rest.” And they would seem perfectly sensible, and yet it is something that is not so easy to let go off. Not until the future presents itself with some glorious opportunity that I would willingly and happily immerse myself into. Till that point, I am afraid it shall be very hard to completely slay the demons of my past choices. Are there regrets? Yes. Many. Does it necessarily mean that all that has happened since has not happened for the best? Absolutely not. By the mercy of all the guardian angels in my life, and they do number in many, I have had a pretty good life thus far. Very satisfying indeed and maybe it has all been for the best, no denying that. And yet there are some choices that make us stray into the grey realm of ‘what could have been!’
It’s a very subjective matter and a classic case of the grass being greener on the other side. It’s not, always so but yet, one can never tell from a missed opportunity. And there is the other matter of compromises and finally having to give up on that far-fetched dream as reality finally catches up with you. We never give up without a fight there, do we? However insane and unviable it may be, we contrive all kinds of situations in our heads where it would all be possible and it would all be glorious and wonderful. The harsh truth is that it never really is. Nothing in life comes without consequences and one must eventually learn to accept that. The logical path is to weigh the pros and cons of both sides and take up whichever seems more fortuitous. Many idealists would say that the path less trodden is the one filled with new experiences and new opportunities, but what they leave out conveniently is that it is also filled with uncertainties and a much higher chance at complete and utter failure. Sometimes the risks are worth the gain that one reaps in the future but very rarely can one leave that to chance. The path less trodden is after all, less trodden for a reason.
While I cannot yet give up on everything and lay my past to rest, despite the strong voice of reason, I can come to accept what is before me, a little begrudgingly, but with the hope that it all turns out for the best. However, that does not stop me from writing a small tale on dashed hopes and regrets. The story, which does not offer much in terms of a new idea, is a reflection of the society that we live in. Full of cut throat competition and materialistic interests driving it forward. Where talent and one’s own dreams and interests are more often than not in direct conflict with one’s own well being, growth and social security. However, critical as we may be, we can blame only ourselves and our constricted mindsets that drive us to such heights of greed that all else that was once serene, wonderful and pleasurable are discarded along the way.
Anyway, the ills of society has and shall continue to fill up many a column as long as there is civilization. So, without further ado, a short story, which has been churned out painstakingly over a night of sleeplessness. I am not generally happy with it, as there are many flaws that I notice, and yet I cannot get myself through the effort of re-editing it to give it a more rounded and satisfying feel. Make do with what you get folks, for this writer’s block is killing me out here.
“Arjun, stand up please!” roared the teacher, waving her sheaf of papers at a skinny boy sitting in the third row on the right, by the classroom window. Yanked out of his thoughts, the boy, all of seven, stood, his knees buckling slightly. All eyes were on him, the classroom was engulfed in pin drop silence.
“Tell me boy”, the teachers voice dropped to a menacing whisper, her eyes narrowed, “Why does the sun rise and set?”
Arjun stood and thought for a while, he blinked twice at her, gathering his thoughts, “Uhm…teacher…hmm…because…”, he fumbled for words.
“…because just like us people, the sun too needs to sleep and rest, and rise again refreshed, glowing brightly in the sky.” The teacher, read off the paper before shifting her eyes back onto the boy, “Is this not what you have written boy?”
He nodded brightly, a slight smile on his lips, relieved at not having to answer for himself.
“Fool!” she screamed, as people jumped off their seats in shock. “Is this what I have taught you, idiot boy?! One slap you’ll get. Spending all your days, staring out windows, and writing all kinds of rubbish. Next time you come to my class without learning your lessons, I’ll chuck you out and call your parents, do you understand?”
Confused, the little boy said, “But..miss..Gattu Mama said… the sun…he told me, the sun has to rest. He said…”
“Shut up!” retorted the woman, her face red, standing over the little boy, “You are a fool and so is anyone who feeds you such nonsense, do you understand me?”
This bothered the boy. How dare she call Gattu Mama a fool. He replied, defiantly, “Why should I believe you? Gattu Mama is very intelligent, and he never scolds me… He ev..” *SLAP*
The sound of the slap rang around the classroom. Arjun stood in shock, his eyes welling up. The teacher drew herself up, and spoke in a whisper, “You shall believe me because I say so. Any more of this nonsense from you, and I shall personally make sure that you are thrown out of this school.” With that, she turned away, to her next unfortunate victim, a few sheaf’s of answer scripts down the heap.
As he later recounted the story to his mother, holding back tears as he did so, she kissed him and told him something that would go on to be an important life lesson for him. The fun things in life are not always the best and true. Gattu Mama spoke well, he told funny stories, and brought him chocolate, but he was wrong about the sun. He must probably be wrong about a lot of other things. The teacher was right, she was unkind and hurt him, but she spoke the truth and he would do well to accept it and not cross paths with her again. He must follow this because it is good for him.
*Eight years later*
Arjun, now a lanky teenager, sat upon his bed, books lying around him, muttering and scribbling on his notebook, “cos fourty plus sin thirty is equal to…” The sound of a football being kicked interrupted his thoughts. He peeped out of his window to the field across his house. Raju, Deepak, Sohail and Mahi were there along with some other kids, getting ready for a game of football. Arjun’s eyes brightened. Smiling he jumped off the bed, and ran downstairs. As he crossed the living room, a voice called after him, “Arjun, where are you going?”
“To play, Papa. Deepak, Mahi and the others are there.”
His father leaned forward, surveying him over the top of his spectacles. His eyebrows arched, he said, “Your board exams are in a month. This is not a time to play. Once they are finished, you can play as much as you want, but the exams are important.”
“But Papa…” Arjun pleaded, “I studied all morning. Just one hour and I’ll be back. Promise!”
“No!” his father said, firmly. “Look beta, these exams are important, and good marks in them shall help you later on in life. You must work hard for this, because it is good for you. Now go back upstairs and study. I’ll cook something nice for dinner. You like pulao no?”
“Yes Papa”, he said dejectedly, trudging back upstairs.
*Two years further on*
“Congratulations Arjun!” screamed Sushil Kaka over the phone, “We just got to hear about your wonderful board results. Your Kaki is also very pleased, and has asked me to pass along her best wishes.”
“Thank you Kaka. Say hello to Kaki for me.”
“So what are the plans now? I was just discussing with your father the other day. You should give all the engineering entrance examinations. Prepare hard, get through and your life is set.”
“Uhm.. yes, Kaka. Papa was telling me, but, I don’t think I want to do engineering, Kaka. I think I would try going for English, you know. I really wanted to become a writer.”
“Rubbish! It’s just a passing phase Arjun. Trust me, we have all been there. You’re a good, intelligent student, what would you do wasting that on an English course? What job will you do? Trust me, I’ve been a teacher at IIT Kanpur for ten years now, and I see boys of your age all the time, confused and uncertain about the future. It happens, beta, don’t worry. I’m telling you, do engineering, that is where all the jobs are, you shall have a bright future, and after that if you want to write and all, that is always there as an option, no? Do what I say, study hard for the joint entrance examinations, and you’ll realize later that I was right. Trust me, I say this because I want your good. Now hand the phone to your father, I’ll talk to him about this.”
“Yes, Kaka.” Slowly he handed the phone over to his father, and as they discussed his means to a bright future, Arjun quietly left the room.
*An engineering course later, some way into a job interview*
Job Interviewer: “Well, Arjun, you must be knowing a little bit about our company?”
Arjun: “Yes sir. Who doesn’t! It’s one of the biggest print media companies in the country with the largest coverage network and reader base. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I’d have to say that it has always been my dream to work here.”
Job Interviewer: “Thank you. We do hear that a lot of course, but I believe you. I can see the enthusiasm in you, and to be very honest, we are very interested. Your academic record is good, your extra curricular activities are impressive and your aptitude tests have come up well. However, there is one hitch, which I am sure is a mistake, but here in your application, you’ve written down that you want the post of assistant editor. A little absent mindedness on your part maybe?”
Arjun: “Uhm.. no sir. Not really. You see, sir, it has always been my dream to write and print journalism is where I’ve always wanted to start. Maybe one day have my own column in the paper! With your company coming for placements, I saw it as my chance, to finally having a shot at turning that dream to reality and sir, I could not be more earnest when I say this, yours is the organization that I’ve dreamed to be a part of. To have my write-ups reach out and read by people in all corners of the country. Look sir, I’ve even had a few short stories published in your paper, see, I’ve brought the cuttings. If you could just give me this chance sir.”
Job Interviewer: “This is certainly most strange and a little absurd. I mean, I understand your enthusiasm and you’ve got talent, I’ll give you that, but I can’t just hand you an assistant editor role with no background in the department. That would be very unprofessional of me. What we can, and are willing to offer, given your skill set, is a role in the engineering department. I assure you, I’ve been in this line long enough, and that is your making. You’ll learn a lot there, and progress. You have the talent and the right skill set. I’m not saying you’ll be no good at being a writer, but I’m offering you this job because it is both benefitial to you and the company. Now while you’re there, you’ll have connections and could get a few write-ups published. If you’re good, no problem, but as far as any other position goes, that I cannot offer. So are you willing to accept a technical role in the company?
Arjun: “Yes sir. Very grateful sir. Thank you.”
He shook the interviewer’s hand and walked out, head bowed slightly. As his friends thumped his back, congratulating him on his new job, Arjun smiled, and said little. His life was set.
*Seventy three years since that day, a week after Arjun’s funeral, his granddaughter was reading through his diary*
March 31st, 2087
My hand shakes as I write this. I have been unwell for some time and today, I finally feel a little strength come back into my withered body. So I take up my pen, for maybe one last time. Right, that sounded overly dramatic. Anyway, enough of the wry humor.
As I reflect upon my life, I feel contented, happy. A life well lived. I started off as a young man, with hopes of one day becoming a writer. I was intelligent, and generally studious, because it was for my own good. I still remember vividly that slap I received in class two for being cheeky with my teacher. It was both the most embarrassing and also defining moment of my life. As I raged defiantly, I remember my mother telling me how the teacher was right, and unkind that she was, abiding by her would take me along the right path. I have ever since travelled on the same path, following, abiding, because it was for my own good.
After completing my class twelve board exams, I remember telling Papa about taking up English for my graduation. He was disappointed for he thought there was no future in it. A thought echoed at that time by Sushil Kaka. They were probably right, and their reasoning was justified. After all, they did want the best for me. So as per their wishes, keeping my best interest at heart, I took up engineering. It is a career choice that I have never regretted making. It lead me to a good job, a stable life, a happy family, kids that I could provide for and a comfortable retirement. Quite serene actually. I could never become an editor though, nor a writer of any kind. I did submit an awfully large amount of articles to the editor in chief at the newspaper I worked for. There was a point where my bosses were concerned that I was busier with writing articles than doing my assigned work. So they gave me more work to keep me distracted and over time and with promotion and success, I gave up writing altogether. What was the point anyway, I was doing well, had a good life, all that a man could ever ask for.
However, there was this one incident that shall forever remain etched in my memory. On the face of it, it was most trivial, and yet, so deeply significant.
It was a warm spring afternoon. I was at home, watching a game when Saurav walked in. He was about nine at that time. “Papa, Ishan and Dhruv are calling me to play.”
“Yes, so?”, I looked him over, as he nervously shuffled his feet, indecisive.
“Mumma says, that I have to study for the exam. If I don’t do well, she will send me to a hostel.”
“Well, studies are important, you know. You study because it is good for you, you know that right?”
“Yes, Papa, but I don’t know…I..”, he looked pleadingly at me with his innocent eyes, unsure, two worlds in conflict. The path was before him to trod, and yet the mind had travelled afar, far from the trodden road. I remembered a similar day from my childhood, when I was drawn by the sound of a football across the street. I was drawn back upon the road then by my father, who told me of the importance of doing well, something that I have come to realize and appreciate since. This was a chance to pass on the same wisdom down to my son, because it was for his own good. And yet, when I opened my mouth, something very different, very unfamiliar came out,
“Son, what do YOU want?”
He looked at me in wonderment, his little mind exploding with possibilities. He squealed, “I want to play, Pappa!” I looked at him, smiling at his excitement, “Then go! Do what you want my son.”
“I’ll be back in an hour and study. Promise!”he shrieked as he hugged me, and ran away. I heard his excited shrieks for some while outside the window, his voice bubbling with happiness as it faded into the distance.
And there I sat in that silence, overwhelmed by my own thoughts, my mind racing. “Did I do the right thing?”, I questioned myself, “Is this what is best for him?” My mind jogged through my own memories and how different they were. I did not get what I wanted, but what I got was for my own good, wasn’t it? It is wise to lead him along choices that he cannot yet understand, it is what happened to me, and it turned out for the best. I trod down the path that lead to a good life, unquestioningly, and I did have a good life. Still, doubts crept in my mind. My own voice echoed around my head, “Son, what do YOU want?”
Life they say is a learning experience, and yet, at the end of it all, I learnt nothing. I followed my path blindly, giving up all my hopes and dreams, and here I am with a life without life experiences. I never questioned because it was all for my own good, and yet I cannot help but wonder what would my life have been like had I gone out to play that evening, running around on the green grass, under the glaze of the setting sun, what would my life had been like, had I had the courage to tell my family that I want to become a writer not because it is good for me, but because I want to. The more I thought the more I wondered, what would my life have been like had I grown up safe with Gattu Mama’s flawed knowledge of sunsets and sunrises. What if…
Saakshi flipped over the page, but it was empty. Those were the last words that her grandfather had penned. She closed the diary, wiped the solitary tear that had rolled down her eye, and stared blankly into the horizon for a while. Minutes passed by, finally stirring, she got up, flipped open her mobile phone cover and made a call, “Hi! It’s me. I’d like to make a last minute addition please….”, her voice trailed off.
Two weeks later her book came out. It was her third novel. The first one was critically acclaimed and had built up a fan base for itself, the second had made it on the best seller list. The third one was eagerly anticipated for quite some time, and finally it was out. Saakshi stood on her doorstep, a copy in hand. She was invited to a book reading session at a nearby store. The rays of the setting sun glistened in through the branches of an overhead tree, birds sang and a cool breeze blew across her face, rustling up her hair. Quietly she pulled her hair back, and opened up the first page of her book. It was pristine white with a short note printed in the centre.
To my dearest Dadu,
Because you made it possible.
She smiled, closed the cover, and walked off into the sunset.