The Question of the Answer

This article first appeared in the GenWise Newsletter on the 16th of July, 2021.

We live in a world of many answers. I’ve dismissed volumes full of answers that my ancestors would never have seen in many lifetimes. Answers listen to our whim—slaves at our beck and call.

We live in a world where we are taught answers. We are taught to answer. We are searching for answers.

Is that a way to live? Is that a way to learn? Is what we need an answer?

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a “pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent species of beings” creates Deep Thought, a computer, to formulate the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. After seven and a half million years, Deep Thought produces the Answer: 42.

That’s it. 42.

The obsessive search for answers is meaningless. It provides no real insights, develops no real skills, and is ultimately useless. But hey, I got 86% in tenth grade, so that’s gotta count for something, right?


Textbooks are a never-ending series of answers to questions that are either formulated arbitrarily, or sometimes do not even exist. They are a collection of arbitrarily chosen facts that we’ve all been gaslit into thinking are the important. The whole textbook could be replaced by 42, and I would know exactly as much as I knew before.

Because what the pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent species of beings didn’t realize is that they were asking for an answer, but they were not asking a question.

“What is the square root of 1764?” is not a question, it’s a plea for an answer.

Who decided that the textbooks I was given contain the exact information I need to know in order to become a functioning member of society? Why have these specific facts and events been chosen? What is the Question that yields the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?

Now, those are questions.

In fact, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide, that same pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent species of beings created a computer to figure out what the Question was. What do you think that computer was called?

“Earth.” A computer so large that it began to house life, and it became home to a race of primitive ape-like beings known as humans.

If The Hitchhiker’s Guide is to be believed, our purpose was to ask the Question.

Let’s take this sentiment and unpack it a little, setting aside its comedic and absurdist origins.

We’re here to ask questions. The answers have already been found, they’re out there. We’ve created a massive database where all the answers are on our fingertips. We have devices in our pockets that allow us to know the answers within seconds. All we have to do is ask the questions.

And yet, what do they teach us in schools? To find answers.

The institutions that we pay to help us understand our roles in society, and carry them out to our fullest extent do not teach us to do what may well be our primary function. Instead, they teach us to do what has already been done for us. They have become a redundant part of our society. And yet, they are the rock around which every life in our society is built.

To look for answers, one must know the question. And if we know the question—the true question—we know that things are a lot more complicated than just one answer.

You see, any question that has only one answer is not the question you should be asking. If it has only one answer, it is redundant to ask it, because the answer has already been found. To try and find another answer, we must ask a question to which not all answers have been found.

We should not be looking for one true answer, because there is no such thing.

And in our never-ending search for answers, we will have no context for what we have found. Our computers will stare at us and calmly declare: “42.”

A Poem by Sylvestor of the Nalinor Isles Poetry

The Ballad of the Underground

Traditionally for a song like this,
I’d need a Muse’s power,
To fill my heart with tales of yore,
To inspire this humble bard.

But, friends, this is the kind of tale
No Muse can tell through me:
The tale of a land spurned by the gods,
And its horrid history.

So, whence forth comes this tale of mine,
O people of this land?
It comes from the cries of the burning towns,
Scorched by our sun’s bright hand.

There once was a tribe of olden folk
Searching for a home,
But under the Angry God of the Bright,
It was getting pretty warm!

They went into a shaded cave,
They fled his sight, unmarked.
Encased by stone, so quiet and cool,
The tribe embraced the dark.

Generations came and went,
The tribe became a town.
The town became a civilization,
And thrived underground.

Our God of Light, he looked around
For this elusive horde.
Naught could escape His fiery gaze,
So, where the hell’d they go?

The concentrated power of our
Flaming God of Lights:
It giveth and it taketh away
It grow-eth and it blights.

When He finally found their home,
All rapt in revelry
The unassuming, unlit cave,
Burned with His jealousy.

“What haven’t I provided them?
What privilege have they lacked?”
The tantrum of the God of Light
Was full to the brim with tact.

“I’ll show them what their flight has brought,
They’ll be sorry they ever left!”
He went back to His working-desk
And prepared a seething jest.

And what a way to get them back,
How hilarious Thou art!
Monsters from the depths of hell,
Who killed them all for sport!

The sprawling cities turned to dust
The towns burned beneath
And all this destruction just because
They were tired of the heat.

O Lord of Light, your peerless wit,
Your sanctimonious farce
Has taught them all a priceless lesson
And turned their homes to dust.

You see, O friends of this Holy Land,
No Muse can tell this tale.
For she herself is unaware
Where her Lord of Light has failed.

A Poem by Sylvestor of the Nalinor Isles Poetry

Forgive Me, Sweet Valsara

O Sweet Valsara!
Your eyes are so kind.
In my dreams they do appear.
Though not only dreams:
I’d be a liar
To say they aren’t right here.

O Sweet Valsara!
Find it in your heart
To forgive this humble bard.
We’d meet in the dark—
Away from the town,
Under the night, cool and starred.

O Sweet Valsara!
I cannot forget
Our private and secretive knock.
That simple beat,
That perfect rhythm,
And the sound of your opening lock.

O Sweet Valsara!
I left you there,
After how hard we worked to meet!
But that fateful night,
I heard not the sound
Of our specific beat.

O Sweet Valsara!
That night I heard
The scraping of scabbard with steel!
Down came the door
And right there he stood
With a frightening, malicious zeal.

O Sweet Valsara!
How sorry I am
For leaving without farewell!
The folk of our town
Heard my songs
And gods! They didn’t take it well!

O Sweet Valsara!
I should have thought
Of you when I made my jests!
Their steel bites, my love,
But nothing hurts more
Than to be away from your chest.

Stories from Vaegrath The Free Cities of Xanthar

The Wayward Slave

The Slave loved Blackgan city. He loved the smell of salt in the air. He loved watching pedestrians shrink away from him. He loved the feeling of a knife’s point directly at the small of his back.

He felt the itch now, as though something should be touching him… but wasn’t.

Everyone wanted what he had: All the power of the Wayward Slaves.

He turned a corner into a deserted part of town. A few blocks down, a wooden structure had collapsed into itself. Shards of wood jutted out at awkward angles.

He pushed apart some of the wood and made his way into the ruins. He was inside a destroyed tavern. Tables and chairs littered the damp, muddy floor. Behind the rotting bar, several shattered bottles lay strewn around the floor.

The Slave stepped around the corpse of the bar, and crouched on the floor. Absent-mindedly, he picked up a shard of glass. It was the size of a dagger, and would probably cut like one, too.

He felt around the mud a little and found a depression. Smirking, he stood and took a step forward. He jumped into the air and landed on the mud… except it made a sound like wood. Three times, he jumped, making loud noises, and then he stepped away. A moment later, the ground shifted and opened before him like a trap door.

A large man stepped out of it. He was bald, and he was muscular. He seemed deliberately strong, as though he had built his body to look strong. Whether he actually was… only time would tell.

A delicious taste came to the Slave’s mouth, as he imagined whipping around this man, slicing and dicing his skin to his heart’s content.

His advisors’ words cut through his mind: At least try to negotiate first. 

That was useless. Blackgan City was not the place for tea parties and negociations.

“Slave,” the big man nodded. His voice was deep, booming.

“You seem fun.” The Slave smirked, his voice slithering out of his mouth.

“Hands out, please.”

“Oh, c’mon!” The Slave feigned a whine. The big man stared right back. “I’m sorry I called you fun.” He held his hands out by his sides.

The big man patted him down, taking away all of his weaponry: five daggers and a newly acquired shard of glass. The Slave bit his lip in frustration.

The man stepped aside and the Slave climbed into the trapdoor. Jumping off the ladder from the fifth rung from the bottom, he found himself in a brightly lit room.

The room gave off a musty odour that indicated age—a sense that this place had been around far longer than the ruins of the tavern above it. Inside sat a table with four people around it. Three of them just looked like grunts: big muscles, hard faces, no shirts. It was the man at the head of the table that excited the Slave.

He had a large scar going down his wrinkled face, through one eye and a crooked lip. There was no eyepatch, no eyelid. The mutilated corpse of an eye was on full display. Pure white, leaking from the sides, so much that the man had to take a handkerchief and wipe the pus off from time to time.

The Slave initially thought the man had a thin upper lip, but soon realized that the lip was simply missing, and instead, there was jagged flesh.

He bowed deeply.

“Lord Morrison,” said the Slave. “What an honour. I must say I am a huge fan.”

Lord Morrison made no response.

The Slave looked around, found a chair, and sat.

“The Lord didn’t say you could sit,” said a grunt, suddenly standing.

The Slave spread his legs in his chair and sized the grunt up. All brute strength. Pathetic.

“Well, it seems I can!” he patted the grunt on the arm. “So, now you know.”

Fire took the barbarian’s eyes, and he reached for his sword. Before anything could happen, though, Lord Morrison held his hand out and spoke.

The Slave counted three teeth, but there could have been more amongst the shambles that was his mouth. His voice came out like a sword being scraped across wood: almost a hiss, with a grizzled husk. The words came out slow, calculated, confident. Arrogant. “No need for that, my dear chap.”

The Slave threw his mouth open, “That’s no fair, why does he get toys? The big mean man took all mine away!”

“Because you,” Lord Morrison looked straight at him, “have infringed upon my grounds.” Every word came out carefully, each syllable enunciated. “There are few with the courage to do such a dastardly thing, and it must be applauded. But you must understand, you cannot be allowed to continue.”

“My mummy always told me that sharing is caring. Didn’t yours?”

“Unfortunately,” said Morrison, not missing a beat, “I had to cut my mummy’s life short. It is not the most comfortable of topics, so let us focus solely on your… insolence. Edward, here, has been with me for two weeks, unable to exact his vengeance upon the fools who destroyed the caravan that left two days ago from Myxhal. Some of those items were of supreme importance to Edward. He doesn’t like you very much.” He wiped some pus from his leaking eye. “If you surrender now, he will only take three fingers from your left hand.”

Edward smiled hungrily.

The Slave leaned forward. “I thought this was going to be a truce meeting.”

“What in the world gave you that idea, boy?”

“Must I remind you, my lord, that Eddie’s caravan was not the only one we took.”

“Six caravans were raided, and twenty of my men are dead.”

“The Wayward Slaves did all that. If I’m not mistaken, and please correct me if I am… that’s every shipment from Myxhal for two months. You have no product in Blackgan at all. I thought we deserved a little more respect than this.” The Slave spit on the ground.

The grunt went for his sword again, advancing around the table this time. The Slave didn’t move. Lord Morrison held his hand up ever so slightly. “Archie, come now.”

“Listen here, runt,” the grunt was now towering over The Slave, his shadow completely engulfing the Slave. “That’s Lord Nestor Morrison over there. Show some respect or I’ll eat—”

“Archie!” said Morrison’s rasping voice, shutting Archie up at once.

The Slave, still in his chair, looked straight up at him, and his eyes turned just a little red. Archie’s head momentarily retreated. “Yeah,” There was a tang to the Slave’s voice, like a whip being cracked on a slab of stone. “Archie.”

Archie snarled, and then backed away. The Slave could taste his fear. His mouth began to water. Oh, he was so happy that Morrison was threatening him.

“You know, Nestor,” said the Slave. The tension in the room seemed to rise the minute he said ‘Nestor.’ Archie definitely didn’t like it. “I really don’t appreciate all this,” he gestured vaguely at the room. “This isn’t really a comfortable environment for me. I don’t need this.”

Lord Morrison’s half-face curled in a snarl. The Slave felt his muscles seizing. He felt his windpipe close. He couldn’t breathe. For a small moment, panic took him, his heart jumping, a sharp pain in his chest.

“Is this more comfortable, boy?” said Morrison, his face erupting in glee.

The Slave closed his eyes and concentrated only on the taste of Archie’s fear. It melted in his mouth, almost bringing tears to his eyes, going straight from his tongue to his brain, and exploding there. His windpipe opened.

He gasped air and regained control of his muscles. He was standing now.

His lips stretched into a smile. “Thank Olir up high that you did that.” The room had become delicious. Every person in it tasted of a cake dripping in chocolate sauce. He had to gulp back some spit to stop himself from drooling. “I promised my advisors I wouldn’t fight until I was provoked.”

He threw the chair into Archie and lunged at the Lord, biting into his neck. There was an explosion of flavour as he ripped the Lord’s throat out with his teeth. Black smoke billowed from the hole he left there. The Slave breathed it in, the fragrance of a meadow of poppies filling his sinuses. His blood rushed through his body, and his limbs began to move at the speed of light.

The next few minutes were only flashes. The big man who had his daggers. Archie’s crimson guts. The other grunts cowering in fear. The taste of their terror. Black smoke filling the room. Sweet. Smoke. Blood.

To the others, the Slave was no longer a man. His hands whipped in every direction, becoming arcs of pure destruction. Every time they cut into him, he seemed to get stronger. The four grunts were no match for him, as Lord Morrison lay screaming on the ground, clutching the half of his neck that was no longer there.

When they all were dead, and his daggers lay dripping with their blood, the smoke billowing from their wounds found their way into The Slave’s nostrils. As he breathed out, his eyes flashed pure black for a second, and then returned to normal. Sheathing one dagger, he sauntered over to Lord Morrison, barely alive, thrashing on the ground like a fish out of water. He was trying to say something, but his throat was in tatters.

“I was hoping you’d do something like that.” The Slave pressed his knees on Lord Morrison’s hands, stopping him from casting any spells. “It seems you didn’t do your homework. You didn’t ask your men what they saw when the Slaves descended upon them. You should have, Nestor.” The Slave’s dagger sank in the exposed part of the Lord’s throat. Blood gurgled in the back of Morrison’s throat in spurts. The good eye was engulfed in fear. Pure, unbridled terror. The Slave felt drunk and giddy.

“Oh, well,” said The Slave, as smoke once more began to escape Lord Nestor’s throat. “I guess you know now.”


My Parents, and Why I Hate That They’re Cool

I have the coolest parents in the world, and I hate it. I hate it.

All my friends have uncool parents, and I feel like their lives are much more interesting than mine. Their parents yell at them. Can you imagine that? Your own parents… yelling at you!?

I have this theory: a child’s ability to break rules is indirectly proportional to the coolness of the parent. You don’t need to punish children direly to get them to follow rules. You have to remove the appeal of breaking the rule. It’s true. I have never broken a rule in my life. The closest I’ve come to doing that is I stayed out after 7:30 p.m. It was the tensest day of my life. My heart was giving Usain Bolt a run for his money with the way it was beating. There was so much adrenaline in my body, I was shivering. It was so scary. I walked into my house, outrageously late. 7:38! I walk in, and my mom has opened the door. She looks at me, and my heart jumps into my mouth. Her eyes bore into mine, and she just goes, “Hi.”

I lost it. “I’msorryi’mlateishouldhavecalledyouandletyouknowimsosorryaslkty;alkj vlks;g;lkkjsldAAAAAHHHHHHHH!”

They were, of course, cool with it. That’s the thing. They didn’t make it like a restricted section of the library or something.

The minute someone tells you you can’t do a thing, you immediately say, “Why not, eh?” It suddenly becomes sexy. You want to do it even more. My parents didn’t make breaking the rules sexy. Even today, they’ll be drinking some wine or something, and they’ll offer some to me. They offer their teenage son some wine. And what does their daredevil of a teenage son do?

“I’d rather not sin, thank you very much.”

If Great Britain wanted to keep its reign over India, all they had to do was make independence non-sexy. The only way to do that, is to offer it before it was asked for. A spokesperson of the British East India Company says, “Hey, so we’ve taken over, and all, but listen, you can be independent if you want. Just say the word, and we’ll go away.”

If that had happened, Gandhi would still be a lawyer in South Africa.

My parents’ reaction to the issue of girls is what bewilders me the most.

Normal, uncool parents, what do they do if they hear rumours about their son and a girl? Beat the living shit out of their son, right? That’s just what they do. Not my parents.

There’s a girl that my friends tease me with all the time. One day, that girl, all my friends, and I were chatting when my friends started teasing me. My mom walks in, and hears all of this. She walks into the kitchen, and then says to that girl, “Bahu, would you like some water?”

You see what I’m talking about? My parents are the coolest people in the world.

Sometimes, I like to imagine what would happen if they saw me breaking some conventional rules.

I can see it in front of my eyes. My mother knocks on my locked door while I’m smoking weed. BEFORE YOU START COMMENTING AWAY, I MUST ADD THAT I DO NOT SMOKE WEED. This is a hypothetical reaction my mother would have if she saw me smoking hypothetical weed. HY PO THET I CAL.

Got that?

She knocks, while I’m mid-puff. I hastily put out the joint, making an ugly hole in the bedsheet in the process. I open the door and very coolly, ask her, “‘Sup?”

She takes a sniff of the room, and surprise litters her face. “Arsh.” She says, sternly. “What’s that smell?”

“What sme—nothing, I dunno.”

“Arsh, there is a smell. What is that smell?”

“It’s nothing, mom, what do you want?”

“That’s weed, isn’t it. You’ve been smoking weed.”

“No, mo—”

“How dare you. Do you not have any shame? You’re smoking weed in the house and you didn’t even think about offering any to me?”


The Gym

After seventeen years of relative indifference to gymnasiums, I went to one a few days ago to finally see what all the fuss was about. The result was an experience that I am not likely to forget for a while.

Never before have I felt less like a man. Never before have I felt so intimidated by testosterone. Never before have I felt so out of place.

I consider myself someone who can gel into a situation with relative ease. I can slip into a chair in the corner, do my own thing, and merge with the environment. I can become invisible to the general public. Never before have I felt so visible as the day I went to the gym. Trudging through the sweat and toil, I was greeted with “Oh-ho, Arsh? Gym today?”

Many things struck me as I tried to orient myself to this new world. First: Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing. While I was aimlessly wandering from one piece of equipment to another, everybody else was pushing me out of their way to get somewhere. When they got there, they’d pick up the equipment and use it with considerable agency. Did they research all this before they got here? Did they just have a machine-like dedication to what they wanted to do? Or are they (like I am wont to do) going towards the piece of equipment they think looks most impressing, like moths to a flame?

Second: The room was filled with grunts. I have passed this gymnasium (which, I must add, is in my Boarding school) many times to get to the Table Tennis area. Usually, they have music playing here. I always thought the music was there to give their work-out a sense of rhythm. Turns out, without the music, the place just sounds ugly. It’s already an ugly room, with crumbling white walls covered with valleys where students had punched them. It already smelt ugly, with at least fifteen sweaty, teenaged boys crammed in a room the size of an extravagant washroom. Turns out, the place is unbearable without blaring music because it sounds ugly, too.

Lastly: Girls. At some level, every boy in that room had girls on their mind as they grunted their way to a slightly healthier body. Sure, they’d cite athleticism or health, but at the back of their mind, even if it’s dismissed as a by-product, girls are the reason they dedicate this hour-and-a-half to this hideous room. When they actually come in, the room transforms. People who had been half-assing their exercises would suddenly be filled with the passion of youth. The room would undergo a new wave of grunts and, occasionally, shouts of anguish. The girls themselves looked like tourists in a museum, noting with considerable admiration, the beauty of certain exhibits in the room.

I wasn’t just staring at the people in the gym. I was working out. I had a friend show me the ropes and almost kill every muscle in my body. I came out of there feeling like I had held the weight of the sky on my shoulders. It is a good feeling, knowing you have done some hard work. I applaud myself, knowing that this is nothing compared to the dedication these boys show every day. I describe them like lesser beings, toiling mindlessly, but I am the lesser being. I am the thinker in their midst, too weak to lift their weights. I am not the intelligent, creative, eccentric artist that I think I am. I am learning my place in this world of men. I am a disoriented tourist in the city of my own people.

Poetic Prose

We Don’t See Enough of the Sky

We don’t see enough of the sky.

The most we see are glimpses through the gratefully granted cracks between buildings. We spend our days and nights staring at blanks ceilings, plain ceilings, dead ceilings. We spend our lives engrossed in dead things, forever waiting to join them in their eternal slumber. We are jealous of their peace. We envy their rest. We yearn for that sleep, that nonchalance.

Everything we do, we do it for the future. We plan and we plan and we plane. We make the assumption that the future exists.

We do not know the future. ‘“The future’s not ours to see, que sera sera.” And yet we say, “shall, will, might.” We deal in things that are yet to happen. In the future, we will go to universities. In the future, we will study the wonderous possibilities this world offers. In the future, we will make the decisions that lead us to a cleaner Earth. In the future, we will live our dreams. In the future, we will be truly alive. Alas, tomorrow never comes, and we sit with glazed eyes, staring at the dead ceiling, waiting for our date with Death, wondering what she’ll wear.

Meanwhile, the sky watches us. We travel from room to room in a room, constantly boxed in. We don’t see the sky enough, but It watches us. It sees our endeavours and knows our dreams. It was here long before we were born, and will be here long after we finally die. It surrounds us, protects us, preserves us, and we don’t spare it a second glance. We don’t even acknowledge Its existence.

Here’s a simple question: what colour is the sky?

Blue, of course.


Look at it, O smug reader. It is not blue. It is the colour of life. It stretches out farther than the eye can see. It teems with life. Stare into its wisdom, O smug reader. See that it knows. See that it stares right back at you. ‘I’m here, son,’ It says, with reassuring eyes. ‘Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.’

How can we claim to have problems? How can we claim to be in distress? How can we be anything but grateful for the sky’s wondrous reach? We batter it, assault it, and riddle it with our bullets of gas. Yet, we complain of misery? With every molecule in the sky crying out in pain at once, how can we complain about poor grades, bullies, or that girl who just will not say yes? As we complain about the future, we destroy the shield that protects us from the perilous present.

We don’t see enough of the Sky. All we see are tiny slivers through the cracks our buildings allow us. If only we saw it, regarded it in its infinite wisdom, we’d see the colours of life and the vibrance of the kky. Only when we see its life will we see how truly dead we are.

We don’t see enough of the sky.

If we did, we would come alive.


On Aaron Sorkin

I’ve begun watching a show on Hotstar called The Newsroom. It’s a really cool TV show, with some of the best writing I’ve ever seen. It finds a new story in every episode, while still being connected to one over-arching story. Not a lot of TV shows can do this well. Crime shows try, but often fail. Newsroom succeeds. Another show that succeeds — and when I say ‘succeeds,’ I mean, ‘blows it out of the damn park’ — is The West Wing. These two shows have one thing in common. They’re both written by the best screenwriter in the business, Aaron Sorkin. I want to talk about Sorkin. There’s one thing he does that I find beautiful.

It’s the politics. Of course it’s the politics. It’s not the politics, though, it’s how Sorkin addresses Politics. He knows how awesome a political story can be. You can see it in The West Wing, most prominently, but it was Newsroom that brought my attention to it. I want to talk about the ease with which he talks about it. Most people are scared to talk about politics. They’re scared that their viewers will rain fire on them, and they’ll get less money because of it. Here’s the thing about Sorkin, though. He does not care.

Sorkin knows exactly how divisive politics is. In fact, this is what he calls attention to. He shows you how divisive politics can be. He shows you every possible fact, and then beats you over the head with it.

A common trap such shows fall into when trying this, is that they declare a side. They tell you that one side of the conversation is wrong. It is very difficult to show every side of a political conversation without completely alienating at least half your fan-base. Sorkin, however, does it.

I think it’s in the diversity of his characters. They’re different people. They’ve all got their own opinion on every subject. Sorkin puts all his characters into one room, and then goes HAM.

The most important part is the talking. People talk. The beauty of every situation is in the talking. People don’t understand this. When they see a scene where people are just talking, they groan and roll their eyes. To take a slight detour into another show, Game of Thrones has a couple of scenes where the talking is awesome. (Actually, the more I think about it now, the more I feel like if they asked Sorkin to write some of the episodes of Thrones, it would literally be a perfect show.) Sorkin shows you the beauty in talking. He understands it, and shows us the music in people’s words. I did his course on Screenwriting on, and in it, he says “that’s not how people talk.” Yeah, it isn’t. That’s not the point, though. The point is this: that’s how such matters should be discussed. My father says, based on a quote often used by one of his friends, “A story should be told as it should have occurred.” Never has a truer sentence been spoken. Sorkin tells the story as it should have occurred.

His best scenes are when five smart people are in a room, and they begin talking about a really scary topic like gay marriage or abortion. He shows you every aspect of the debate, while not looking like a complete ass, staying true to the characters and what they believe, staying true to human nature, and at the same time, telling a story that blows your mind.

Yeah, he’s telling stories, but he’s also talking directly to the government. “This is where you’re going wrong.” he says, “You’re not talking enough. You’re jumping to conclusions. You need to talk.” Talking can solve problems. Almost every episode of The West Wing ends in a problem being solved by talking. Talking is a step towards world peace. Yeah, we can’t talk world peace into existence, but talking can get us closer.

It isn’t what Aaron says. It’s how he says it, and the fact that he says it at all. At the bottom of everything, there is one message. Talking solves more problems than shooting or blowing something up ever will. And that is a beautiful statement. That could take us one step closer to making the world a safer place for our children.

Random Stories


**This story was written for the following prompt: “You have a useless superpower where you gain a random power each day that prepares you for the events stored in the day. Why this is useless? They’re all subtle, like summoning an extra toilet roll. Then, one day, you wake up with eldritch, god-like powers.”**

When I woke up, the door almost smacked me in the face.

I opened my eyes to be an inch away from my bedroom door, which was usually a few steps away. I blinked. Suddenly, the door was about a step away. I raised an eyebrow. Okay, zoom-eyes today. I blinked a few more times before I saw the familiar distance.

That was weird. My powers don’t usually matter much. This was a useful power. I never had a useful power.

I dismissed it. Maybe I needed it today.

I brushed my teeth, took a shower and dressed myself. I disconnected my phone from the charger. It turned on as the cord left the socket. There was a calendar notification: “education thing today – dress well!: 11:00 Today.”

“Ohh.” I said. The zoom-eyes suddenly made sense. The President was coming to the University today. He was an alumnus. He was making a speech. I’ve got zoom-eyes to get a better look at him.

I packed my good suit.

A briefcase in my hand, I walked out of my house, over to my car. On my way out, I saw my neighbour. I nodded in his direction, and he smiled back. “Wow, what a weirdo.” he said.

I stopped dead. “Excuse me?” I said, turning around.
“What?” he said.
“What do you mean, ‘what’?”
“Jack, are you OK?” he said, very closely followed by, “What. A. Weirdo.” The weird thing was, his lips didn’t move with his second statement.

I frowned. Then my eyes widened. Telepathy.

“I didn’t say anything.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, and quickly got into my car.
“That guy’s a damn quack.” he thought, as I peeled away in my car.

Zoom-eyes and telepathy. Two in a day. And two actual powers today!

But what did that mean? I always, always used my powers. Not like this, with the door almost smacking me, and my neighbour calling me a weirdo. But in actual life, when I needed the powers the most. When there’s no toilet paper in the toilet, I make it out of thin air. When I need to check papers, I have super-fast writing. What the hell would I need telepathy for?

I got to the University, went to my office, and checked the time-table. I had to teach a lecture until 10:30. Then, the President. I nodded to myself, and walked to the class. It was a flight of stairs, a long corridor and another flight of stairs away.

It wasn’t a great lecture. It was the noisiest class I’ve ever had to teach. I heard bored students and preoccupied children. I couldn’t concentrate. The disturbance went from annoying to enraging. The rage kept building up inside me for no reason whatsoever. In my rage, I threw a whiteboard marker across the room at a student. As soon as it left my hand, I realized what I’d done. Come back.

In mid-air, the pen turned and flew back at me. I caught it as if it had come and landed in my hand. My brain acted before it could comprehend what just happened, and the student started. It had looked like I just aimed the pen at the dude’s head, and not actually thrown it. But I definitely saw it go towards him, and turn back.

That was a new power.

That was almost telekinesis.

My heart was beating. There’s no way I could go on teaching the class. I checked the clock. 10:25. “Ok, class dismissed!” I said, and slammed my briefcase shut. I stormed out of the class and headed right back for my office.

The door to my office slammed into my face.

What the hell?!

I looked back. I looked around. I was in my office. Only a second ago, I was in the class. The class was far away.

My eyes widened as I realized what had happened.

Not three powers. Four.

I had superspeed, too.

This had to be connected to the President somehow. He was coming here. There’s no way my having four such high-level powers in one day, let alone one. I checked the clock. 10:27. Preparations for the president would start any time now. I just had to check one thing.

Inside my office, I looked at a pen in my pen-stand. I stuck out my hand. Almost immediately, the pen flew into my hand.


Telekinesis, telepathy, superspeed, and zoom-eyes.

I always used every one of my powers.

There was only one explanation to all this.

The President of the United States was going to be assassinated today.

And I’m the only one who can stop it.

Hostile Hostel

Part 6: Why?

Nandini felt like she was going to be sick. What could possibly be the reason for this? Why would Arnav want to frame Madhav? They were best of friends!

The world spun. She didn’t know anything anymore. She felt betrayed, confused, and angry, all at the same time.

She needed to find Arnav. She had to confront him.

She rose slowly, staggering. She turned around, her head pounding, the world spinning. She looked at the field to find Arnav standing, frozen, his eyes shooting between Nandini and the clothes.

Arnav’s mouth was open. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but nothing was coming out.

Nandini picked up Arnav’s shirt and stormed towards him. “Why, Arnav?” she said.

Arnav didn’t say anything. He stared at the shirt, and then at Nandini.



Arnav!” Nandini yelled, sickened, the tears finally escaping her eyes. “Talk to me, goddammit!”

Arnav spoke softly and gently. His hands reached up. “Nandini, please,” he said. “Calm down.”

“Arnav, don’t mess around. These are your clothes.” She jerked the shirt forward. “That’s Madhav’s room.” She pointed up at the window. “I know what you did. Tell me why!”

“Nandini, you don’t know what happened—”

Really?!” she yelled. “Want me to spell it out for you? O.K., here: you got up in the middle of the night. You snuck into Madhav’s room. You opened his cupboard with his key. You know where he kept his key, because you’re his best friend. You took his razor, which was easy enough to find. You went to Laxman’s bed and slit his throat. THAT’S what happened. Don’t tell me it’s not. Don’t insult my intelligence. Do me that courtesy at least, because I know what happened. I want to know why. Why did you kill Laxman? Why did you frame Madhav?! You were best friends!”

 “O.K.,” said Arnav, his face going from one of despair and terror, to one of unmitigated rage. “You wanna know why I killed Dhule? You wanna know why I put your precious Madhav in jail? It’s because your boyfriend was a manipulative jock bastard!”

That took Nandini by surprise. “What?”

“That’s right. The guy you love so much was an asshole. He was the scum of the earth, and I hated him, and everything he stood for. He made me sick. I’d have spit in his face, but he’d probably have liked that. So, I did something worse.”

Nandini’s rage turned into confusion. “What?!”

“Didn’t you hear? Every day? ‘Oh, look, it’s Madhav and his pet!’ ‘Oh, look, it’s that hottie, Madhav, and his pet!’ That’s what I’d become. His pet. But I was so much more. I was his torture dummy.” He paused, “and in front of the teachers, and during exams, I was him.

“In fact, every word he ever wrote – ever – was mine! You thought he was smart? You thought he was sweet? NOPE! The sweetness was an act, and the smartness was me. He wrote my name in his exam paper, and made me write his on mine. If I didn’t, he’d beat me within an inch of my life. If I deliberately wrote bad answers, he’d beat me within an inch of my life.

Nandini couldn’t believe it. That was not her Madhav. That was not the Madhav she’d eaten sandwiches with in the corner of the football field. That wasn’t the Madhav she’d loved.

“And the last straw? You.”

That hit Nandini like a bus. “Me?”

“From the day you came, to this day, I’ve liked you. Whenever I went to bed, the one face that came to my mind was yours. You’re pretty. You’re funny.” He chuckled. “And, as you’ve proved today, you’re smart as hell. Way too smart for me.” He looked into her eyes. “I like you, Nandini. I may even go as far as saying I love you.”

She’d never known. To her, Arnav had always just been Madhav’s best friend. That’s it.

“One night, when it became time to have the shit kicked out of me, Madhav asked me who I liked. I didn’t tell him. He hit me, punched me, kicked me until I told him I liked you. After that, he began talking to you more and more and more. He deliberately made it look like he spent most of his time with you or trying to impress you. Everyone started teasing you two together. He knew it. He loved it. Then, he asked you out, and you guys became a thing. Every time you guys were together, he looked back at me, and winked. He thought you couldn’t see him. He thought you were stupid. The only reason he even talked to you was because I told him I liked you.”

The winks. The winks she’d loved so much.

This was too much for her brain. That can’t have been the only reason Madhav had talked to her.

“I have proof. You can talk to Jayesh. He was in on it. He always was. If Madhav ever had a best friend, it wasn’t me. Never. It was Jayesh. Who do you think started the ‘pet’ thing?

“If you asked him, he’d tell you in a heartbeat. He’ll tell you how every night at eight thirty, they’d pull me to Jayesh’s room and beat the shit out of me, regardless of whether or not I did anything to deserve it. Then he’d laugh, remembering. If you don’t believe him…”

He pulled up the shirt he was wearing. “You can believe this.”

Nandini gasped.

His body was covered with bruises. Some of them were fresh, as if they had been done last night. Nandini’s knees wobbled, threatening to give in. “No.” she said. “It can’t be. He wasn’t like that! Madhav wasn’t like that.

“Not in front of you, no. He was an angel in front of girls and teachers. As soon as he got into the boys’ dorm, he was the worst bully you’ve ever seen.”

Then, Nandini realized something. “But if you hated Madhav so much, why did you kill Dhule?”

“Dhule was a creep. He had it coming. But in the big picture, he was collateral damage. See, if I killed Madhav, the blame would immediately fall on me, because Jayesh would blame me. Once he got involved, Santosh Sinha would get involved. I needed to destroy Madhav, without putting me in the crosshairs.

“See, I’m smart, unlike the image he’s been trying to make of me. I proved it to him. No one found out. No one was even close.” He paused to regard Nandini with the coldest stare. It tore through her soul, freezing it from the inside out.

His lips twisted into a smile.

“Until you.”

Nandini was terrified. The fear gushed through her veins. The colour was slowly draining from her face. She saw Arnav’s hands reach into his pocket. She knew he was holding something in there. Instinctively, hers went to her pockets. She found her pen and notepad. Her fingers closed around the pen, and removed the cap, all in the pocket.

“I’d always known you were smart.” Arnav said. “If we were together, at least I’d know what I had. Madhav never did.”

He paused.

“I love you, Nandini. Nothing crushed me more than those days when Madhav gloated about how he’d stolen you from me, like you were a bag of cash. He never knew what he really had. I would have, if he’d given me the chance. I’d be so much better than him. But I’m sorry, Nandini. The police are here. I can’t have any loose ends.”

He pulled a pen out of his pocket and pounced. Nandini pulled the pen out of her pocket and met the charge head on. She saw his pen before it came down on her. She caught Arnav’s arm, and brought her own pen down in a deadly arc. With a sickening crunch, the pen sank into Arnav’s forearm. He screamed, and his pen fell out of his hand. Nandini took a step back and pushed him away from her, grabbing her pen in the process. He fell to the ground, another scream escaping his mouth. She looked at her pen. A mixture of blood and ink dripped down its cylindrical body and fell to the ground. She threw it in disgust and ran.

She didn’t know where she was running. Her legs had minds of their own. She was in a daze.

After a while, her legs stopped running, and she realized that she had begun to talk. Her mouth formed sentences all on its own. By the time her mind caught up with her body, the principal, a policeman, Ashok and Ganesh were following her. She still didn’t know what she was doing. Somehow, she knew that a policeman would be here. She led them to the site of her fight with Arnav. Arnav was gone.

Unable to speak, she pointed to a small pool of blood that had been made in the dirt there, and at the pens lying next to it. The pool continued in a trail. Next to the trail were some footsteps.

Their voices were muffled, and Nandini didn’t have the energy to comprehend them. She saw the others run to follow the trail and footsteps. The policeman had his gun out.

She didn’t follow. She didn’t even realize what was happening. She slowly sank to the ground and fell. And fell.

And fell.