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Gate Opening Day

Today is Gate Opening Day. The whole village stands at the gate, rank and file. All able-bodied villagers over the age of sixteen. We stand with weapons in our hands—weapons we wield with varying skill.

Today, the Visitors arrive. From all over the universe, they will pour through the Gate. They want what we have. We defend a secret—a secret only the village’s most trusted elders know. And we defend it from everyone.

They want it for many reasons. But we do not care for reasons. We only defend.

Until the Gates close, we defend.

Today is Gate Opening Day.

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One Last Look

He’s packing his bags, he’s leaving for good.
I’ve heard about this day all through my life.
The day mom and dad will send him away,
Off to study, very far away.

Of course, I didn’t think it would come so fast.
I’m 90% sure that day was two years away.
It seems only yesterday he was blasting his tunes,
And singing to me, almost completely nude.

Only yesterday, he was on his computer,
Headphones in, watching some movie.
I see him watching, not blinking his eyes.
I sneak a look at the screen, and surprise, surprise,
It’s black and white, it’s old as time.
Does he even watch movies from today?
These look like they belong in all-white halls.

Oh, man, he’s crying. This one must be good.

Come to think of it, he doesn’t cry much.
I’ve seen him sad, but not bawling so much.
Sometimes, he looks like he wants to cry,
But for some reason, he can’t. He’s stressed, buried

In books he doesn’t enjoy.
He’d done that a lot over the past year. Probably studying.
Throughout that time, he didn’t look at me.
I felt dejected, empty inside.

But the day his exams finished … well…
You should have seen him jumping around.
Once more, he gave a damn, he was happy.
And our music sessions once more began.

He brought more songs to our sessions,
And more clothes as well.
But I didn’t care, or mind much. I loved the sound of his voice.
A sound like raindrops in the middle of a Delhi summer.

His friends were fun, too, though they didn’t pay
Attention to me, but to him, they did.
They seemed to make me happy,
And when he’s happy, I’m happy.
Now, he’s going away, away for good.
Off to some school to expand his knowledge.
Why they’re keeping him, I don’t know.
I just hope they have another of me.

He’s packed his bags, he’s leaving for good.
He takes one last look at me.
He stares into my eyes, and I into his.
I want to say something, but I’m just him.
There’s not me without him, I’m going away.
I don’t think I’ll be able to handle his absence well.
One last look, and then, he’ll be gone for good.

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Apology

The Boards broke me. That much has been clear as my glasses. It may not look like they did, but it happened. The breakage wasn’t emotional or physical, it was literary.

My sentences are terrible. My prose is weak. My plots are dull. My characters are thin. My style is dead, and it’s all because of the Boards.

I don’t know if that’s how the Boards are, but my English teacher certainly hated the way I wrote. I’m sure she meant well. Except, now, instead of she hating everything I wrote, and me enjoying writing it, it’s become the opposite. Granted: I’ve left school now, but I still feel like she would have liked the things I’m writing. I certainly hate them.

Writing has become boring for me. Earlier, it was a means of escape, so I could get away from this crappy world, and make worlds of my own. Now, I can’t even start. Sure, I’ve started many times. I’ve had ideas that sound excellent. But every time I start, I hit Ctrl-A, backspace. I can’t – for the life of me – write something that I enjoy reading. I go, “Ok. Ok. Wait, what? Ew. No!” and boom. Back to square one.

For example, I had an excellent idea for a mystery story, but once I was done, I knew inside me that it was the worst thing I’d ever written. Everything was predictable. I hated my own writing. I’d begun to imitate the books I hated most. I’d begun to make every one of my pieces a worthless pile of cliché dung. I hated my work.

So, here I am. Apologizing. Of course, I won’t put anything here that I don’t like, myself, so I’m not apologizing for the content. I’m apologizing for the lack thereof. I’m apologizing for not posting anything at all, offering the explanation of taking some time to get myself together. I’m sorry.

I’m working on something quite cool, though, but it’s not perfect yet. Once it’s perfect, you’ll see it. Just you wait.

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Confrontation

It wasn’t going to be easy, she knew, but somehow, she had to confront him. She took a deep breath and entered the room. Her heart was beating at an alarming rate. Her palms were sweating. She was shaking from top to bottom.

Her facial features had always been a problem. She’d spent ten years of her life home-schooled by her father. From her fifth standard onwards, she’d gone to schools, and every year was progressively worse.

Her mother had been in the police force, which meant frequent transfers. You name a major city in India, there’s a seventy percent chance she’s spent at least a year there. Every new city meant a new school for her. Every new school meant new children, and with her face, you do not want new children.

Her face was best left undescribed. Suffice it to say that if you imagine the worst face possible, and multiplied it by ten, you wouldn’t be close to understanding how bad it was.

However, that didn’t stop her. In every city, every school, she was at the top of her class. There were bullies, and there were friends, but no impediments in her education. She was top of the country in both her tenth and her twelfth.

The newspaper never showed her picture.

Now, after four years of college, and a huge graduation party, she was in the U.S. to further her education. She’d gained admission in none other than Harvard University, in their Computer Science division. She was happy. But…

This meant new people. New people from a whole new country. She’d heard enough about racism to know that the U.S. would probably be worse than India. If someone with flawless features could be shunned because of their skin colour, she stood no chance at Harvard.

Now, she was here. At the door of her new lecture room. She hesitated before entering. Her face was to the floor. She had the hood of her sweater on. A student went past her, not noticing her at all. She stood there.

Top of a country with one and a half billion people. Twice. What did she have to fear? Why was her head down? Why was she ashamed? She stepped away from the door.

There was no reason. She didn’t have to be afraid. Twelve shools in twelve cities couldn’t keep her down. What chance did one measly University stand?

She picked up her head and walked in to see her professor. To her shock, his face was a sight to behold.

“Ah,” he said, “it seems our class has gathered. Hello there, I am Professor August Pullman.”
She smiled as she walked over to her seat. She pretended not to hear the whispers, “Are they related?”

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The Dark Knight

I recently rewatched The Dark Knight. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored. There are just so many layers to that movie, and I don’t think I can let it go without at least one blogpost for itself.

First of all, SPOILER ALERT!! This movie is one of the best movies you’re ever going to see. If you haven’t watched it, what are you waiting for? I’m going to spoil quite a few awesome parts of the movie, and I don’t want to do that if you haven’t seen it. I encourage you to stop reading this and watch it. It’s on Netflix.

I think it’s a masterpiece. From writing, to directing, to acting, it checks every box. Some people say that the action is hard to follow. To them I say, “You’re not trying hard enough.” I can follow the action in most movies of today. I think it’s a brilliant way to add tension to the scene, but we’re not here to debate about the action. I think there’s no debate when we say that The Dark Knight is the best superhero movie in existence.

Of course, I’m going to spend a lot of time on the Joker.

What a character!

I mean, he has one motivation – fun. Everything he’s doing, he’s doing for fun. He enjoys every explosion, and every bit of violence for which he is the cause. You can see the enjoyment in his eyes, and that is the beauty of this performance. Heath Ledger was a fantastic actor, and I’m really sorry for his death. I didn’t know of him when he died, but now, I could cry.

The Joker literally does not care. About anything. He is, in his own words, “an agent of chaos.” He wants chaos to reign, and that’s where everything stops for him. He will do anything for people to realize that chaos is the only constant. Whatever goes up, must come down. All good things must come to an end. He knows that the only way to do that is to bring down a highly respected person to his level. So he devises his plan.

He slowly brings Harvey Dent the the edge of madness, killing his girlfriend, burning his face, etc., but Dent still doesn’t give in. Then, in the hospital, Joker just boops him on the nose, and sends him falling into the great abyss of chaos. It’s so well thought out, and should be very depressing, but Nolan’s not going to leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. He wants you to stay in your seat and contemplate. He is not going to let you get up so fast. He wants you to blankly stare at the credits and think, Whoa.

Inception, The Prestige, Memento, and The Dark Knight all have the perfect endings. This one wants a happy ending. This one wants Batman to have at least one moment to shine. He takes the blame, and the people of Gotham still have hope. Hope. A hopeful ending. They’re usually the most perfect ones, but it has to be nailed.

You do exactly what Nolan asks, because he’s a genius. There’s no getting around that.

I’m just sitting at my computer and free writing. I just love this movie, and feel that it needs all the love it can get. I’d love to discuss it further, so feel free to discuss it in the comments! All opinions are welcome, but if you tell me that this movie is bad, expect a very, very long and angry response.

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I’ve Had Enough

Alright, I’ve had enough of this.

I’ve wasted five months of my life mugging up words from textbooks, and am about to waste five more. I have no choice at this moment, but I still want to vent my rage somewhere.

The Indian Council of Secondary Education’s checking for the Board Papers happens in the following way: the papers are given to a “checker” who will have a list of keywords on her desk. In any given answer, this “checker” is to give marks based on the number of keywords she sees. After this is done, these papers go to another checker who does the actual checking. This checker sees if the answer is only a series of words, or an actual coherent sentence. However, the answer is not checked if all the keywords are not there. Only if a person writes all the keywords in a particular answer, will it be checked by this secondary checker, a person who actually knows what she’s doing. This checker’s verdict is the final one. After this woman gives a total, that’s what will be printed on this student’s marksheet. Nothing doing after this.

This system is flawed. The ICSE 10th board checking system is FLAWED. With this system, we are not raising “the leaders of tomorrow”. We are raising a hoard of people who can say, “Transpiration is the process of evaporative loss of water through the areal parts of a plant.” What is the use of this? Great! Transpiration is the evaporative loss of water, or whatever! Ask someone what “evaporative loss” means, and they respond with “I dunno. It’s not in the portion.” or “it’s not in the textbook.”

Now, the same answer could be written as, “Transpiration is the loss of water from the leaves and stem of any plant in the form of water vapour,” right? Makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s longer, but easier to remember, and it tells you what tranpiration really is. Logically speaking, it should get full marks, but noooo. ICSE wants you to write “process of evaporative loss” and “areal”. If both those words are there, then you get all your marks. Otherwise, you stick with whatever third-class college you get.

“O.K., fine,” I hear you say, “Just learn it with those words!”
To this, I respond, “With all due respect…” and laugh in your face.

Because it’s not just transpiration is it? There’s also osmosis, photosynthesis, pollution, pollutants, immunisation, vaccination, vaccine, chromosome, chromatid, gene, genetics, chordae tendinae, mitochondria, nucleus, mitosis, meiosis, and countless other definitions. Not to mention all the answers other than the definitions. Oh, also, if this wasn’t stressful enough, there’s also NINE OTHER SUBJECTS TO WORRY ABOUT!

Then you say, “Oh, those definitions are easy!”

Think again.

You forgot about the keywords.

It’s a full circle back to keywords.

Also, NINE OTHER SUBJECTS!

So, here’s my solution. Are you ready? Drumroll, please!

No more keywords. We hire people who actually know what they’re doing and have spent years of their lives dedicated to these subjects. These people are now full-time checkers.

Now, traditionally, these people will be teachers in other schools. They will have to quit their jobs, because there are probably a COLOSSAL number of out-of-work teachers waiting to get a job.

And what about the keyword-checkers? They go back to their regularly scheduled teaching lives. They’re all teachers, spending time in classrooms, doing what? Teaching.

Let them teach.

Meanwhile, the keywords are dead. Now, a student can answer in whatever kind of language they like, as long as it is coherent and gets the point across.

Also, any answers which are word-to-word from the textbook will result in negative marking.

Here’s why:
Mugging up DOES NOT EQUAL INTELLIGENCE.

If you can mug up words from the textbook, you just have a great memory. Most probably you have no clue what you’re talking about.

And parents? If your child scores full marks in everything, it does not mean that your child is smart. It just mean that he or she can mug things up from the textbook.

I know three or four legitimately smart people who get an average of 53% marks. On the other hand, I know four or five people who score about 96%, but when I ask them some logical, practical question, they’re blank.

It’s true that there are some people who score excellent marks, and know what they’re talking about. I know about five or six of those, too. Just know that if you have a kid who can score marks, it doesn’t mean anything. At least when you’re talking about the ICSE Boards.

Until and unless my system is adopted, the 10th board exams are not testing excellence, knowledge, intelligence, or skill. They’re merely testing memory, and memory can only get you so far.

But what do I know? I’m just a lousy fifteen year-old.

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Lunch

The bell rang. It wasn’t really a “ring”, it was a sort of personalized bugle noise. Probably composed by the Music teacher. She had composed a lot of songs. More than 80% of these were prayers, and that’s why nobody really liked her. Pramod stood up and joined the rest of the students in a bored chant of, “Good afternoon, and thank you ma’am,” and the teacher left. Pramod stuffed his books under his desk. He closed his black gel pen and stuffed it into his pouch. Closing the pouch, he threw it under the desk. He sat down and let his mind wander. He was simply staring at the door, but his ears were everywhere. This was exactly what he did between classes every day. Listening, but giving no indication that he was. He knew almost everything, but he acted clueless. He knew that Nakul, Manoj, Anika, and Lata were planning to watch that new war movie tomorrow. He smiled. They weren’t going to get the real beauty of that movie. Then his mind drifted to the war movie. To its director. To that director’s other movies. To an actor from one of the other movies, and the noise seemed to fade out as somehow, he managed to reach his favourite movie. He was thinking of the movie, of its acting, of its twist, of specific scenes, when he suddenly blurted out a dialogue, leaving the guy sitting next to him in utter confusion. He laughed, apologized, and then sighed, his eyes visibly glazed, his stare distant, as if he were thinking about his lady love. Man. That movie is SO good…

Then the food came rolling in. A metal table with an extension jutting out to put the plates on while serving yourself the food. Five tins of food sat there, as one servant opened them up and tossed the serving spoons inside. Pramod got up and walked over to the tins. Hovering over them, he felt the foul smell of the disgusting school food, all of it smelling as if it was at least a week old. He surveyed the food. Chapatis, rice, and – oh yay – chana. He rolled his eyes at the seeds of grain thrown into gravy and mixed sloppily. Did school even pay the cooks? The class teacher walked in. “Good morning, ma’am.” Pramod said.

The teacher replied with a simple “Come on, take a plate.” Pramod sighed. He grabbed a plate and thrust his hand inside the bowl of spoons, deliberately shaking his hand to and fro inside the bowl to create an irritating clanking noise. He hated his class teacher. If he failed this year’s board exam for any subject, be it one she did not teach, Pramod was blaming her. He tore open the packet of Chapatis and grabbed one. He took some chana and thrust it into his plate. It made an unpleasant slop. He went over to his desk and threw his plate onto it. He slumped into his chair and tore his Chapati apart.

Every bite he took was terrible. It was so bad, it didn’t even want to go into his mouth. Every piece taking forever to go inside, and when it did, it didn’t want to stay there. He felt like barfing three or four times with every bite. He felt as if he were eating magotty bread from Lord of the Rings. He smiled at himself for making that reference, and suddenly cried, “THREE STINKIN’ DAYS!” into the air, with the exact same accent as the orc, yet again utterly confusing the dude next to him.

He could hear each bite making a crunch sound, wondering whether a Chapati should be doing that. At long last, he had finished his Chapati, but his chana were still in his plate. He groaned and walked over to the tins again, deliberately making stomping sounds as he did. He REALLY hated school food.

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A Confession

12/105BIS Boulevard de Grenelle,
Near St. Mont Piquet – Grenelle Station
Paris,
France

June 11, 2021.

Dear Commissariat de Police,

I am John Dameron, and this is a confession. I was at the Eiffel Tower on the 31st of May. I was the one who killed most of your guards, and a few hundred innocent tourists from all over the world. I am your “terrorist”.

To be fair, I’m not a terrorist. I’m not ISIS. I’m not some kind of genius like in Agatha Christie books, looking to show off my genius. It really doesn’t take a genius to pull off what I did. I’m not the poor guy from Pakistan you’re currently chasing. Do your research. That guy’ll tell you that he’s never even been to Paris. No. I’m just Good Old Johnny.

It was painfully easy.

I walked into the Eiffel Tower, completely unchecked. I strolled in with a black backpack – full of guns. I put it on the table in front of no less than two bored guards, who told me to go through a metal detector. They didn’t check my bag. They didn’t check anything. They didn’t even touch my bag. I simply picked up my bag, hid behind one of the ticket counters to put on my mask, and lit the whole place on fire. I killed everyone in my sight.

As I write this, I can hear the screams that immediately came after I pulled the trigger. My finger didn’t come off the automatic’s trigger. It stayed there, and killed every one. EVERYONE.

When I close my eyes, I can see the splashes of blood as I ended the lives of people of all origins. People who only wanted to come to see what the fuss was all about. All they wanted there was to have a good time. And where are they now? Under the damn ground. They’re lying there. DEAD.

And you know what, I’ve been hearing your leaders talk about me, asking me how I can sleep. Here’s my reply: I can’t. And then you’d ask me why I did it. It’s because of you.

It’s because of you that I hear screaming children, wailing for their mothers and fathers to get up, as they watched blood fly from all over their bodies. Where are the children now? DEAD. Where are the parents now? DEAD!

It’s because of you that I see two lovers, who have come to the most cliché spot to celebrate love, run into each other’s arms, sharing one last kiss, as my bullets soared through their heads. Where is their love now? DEAD. Where are they now? DEAD!

It’s all because of YOU.

You might want to go back to the top of my letter. You might notice something. I just walked in. I SIMPLY WALKED IN, DO YOU COPY, LUNATICS? There is ZERO security to get there. Not to mention the lawn in front of the Tower. Some suicide bomber could just walk in, and set his bombs off and there are suddenly THREE HUNDRED DEAD! Not even on earthquake has that kind of a casualty count.

I haven’t mentioned all the people who got injured. Not many will survive.

Your guards didn’t stop me. I got in. Now, where are those guards? DEAD.

So come on over, I’m sitting right here. Inside the house mentioned above.

I’ll keep the wine ready.

A Violent Social Worker,
John Dameron

 

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When the Last Leaf Fell

**This is an alternate ending to O’Henry’s  short story, “The Last Leaf.” To fully understand this post, you must read that first. Click here for a PDF of that story!

Sue bit her lip to stop herself from sobbing. The doctor had given her the odds. Her dearest friend had no chance. Johnsy showed no will to live. Nothing anyone could do could stop that last leaf. It was going to fall. There was nothing to be done about it. It would fall tonight. And so would Johnsy. “Some day I vill baint a masterpiece, and ve shal all go away.” Mr. Behrman had said. Oh, poor Mr. Behrman! How would he feel!

Sue had to admit that her only friend in this world was going to die. She found that she was unable to restrain herself. A tear rolled down her cheek, and she came away from the painting.

Mr. Behrman broke his pose. “Ms. Sue!” he cried, and ran to her side. He knelt down and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Ah, Ms. Sue! You must not worry! I vill baint de masterpiece, did I not tell you? I vill save poor little Ms. Yohnsy, did I not tell you?”
Sue couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, Mr. Behrman.” she said, drying her tears. “I’m sorry. Please, I’m sorry, pose again,”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, please,”
“Ve can stop if you vant to.”
“No,” she said, a pleading look in her eyes. “Please, I – I just need to get my mind off this.”

But the painting did not help.

Behrman walked over to his blank canvas. There was only one way to save Johnsy. He looked out at the blizzard that was brewing. It was going to be cold. Colder than minus ten degrees Fahrenheit. He picked up his brush, and walked over to his room. He opened his cupboard, and removed his paints. It was time for his masterpiece.

Behrman walked outside and was instantly showered with snow. His hands were shivering, his teeth chattering, and his face, red. He had four layers of clothes on but it did not help. He had even covered his nose and head with a scarf. Nothing stopped the cold from gripping each inch of his body in its icy grasp, sucking every ounce of heat he had left in him. He walked until he reached the ivy vine. He stared down at the bane of Johnsy’s existance – the last leaf. He had to make an equal. He studied the features of the leaf for what felt like forty-five minutes, after which he set it down and took out a pencil. He began slowly with an outline of how the leaf would look, but he was shivering furiously. He began opening a bottle of paint, which fell out of Behrman’s hands. He muttered swear words as he dipped the brush into the bottle. He began painting.

Behrman felt so cold, that he felt warm. Hypothermia was setting in, closing its fingers around his brain, and slowly taking out reason. He was no longer shivering. His paint bottle kept slipping from his hand. He put his brush down and began unzipping his top layer – a jacket. His brain was shutting down. The inner jacket was not enough to keep him warm. He picked up his brush and fell to the ground, shivering. He started to get up, but he was too dizzy. He wanted to sleep. Hypothermia now delivered its final blow, as Behrman picked up his brush and brought it to the wall. He was breathing heavily, but Hypothermia had caught him upon the hip. He fell against the wall, making a big green line that completely ruined it all, and Behrman slumped to the ground with a last sigh.
Inside, Sue lay awake, tears streaming down her face.

When Sue awoke from an hour’s sleep the next morning, she found Johnsy with dull, wide-open eyes staring at the drawn green shade. “Pull it up! I want to see,” she ordered in a whisper.
Wearily, Sue obeyed.

The last leaf had fallen. In its place was poorly drawn graffiti.

“I thought so,” Johnsy said, “My time has come.”
“No,” Sue said quietly, shamelessly letting the tears roll down her eyes. “No, Joanna! No! You can’t do this to me!”
“I’m sorry Sudie,” Johnsy said, as she slumped into the bed, putting her hands on her chest, “It’s just the way it is.”
“No, no, NO! Johnsy! Joanna, please!” Sue’s tears were now drenching her night dress. But Johnsy wasn’t listening.

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Independence Day

“Ma’am, stapler, please!” cried Arnav as he threw his hand up in the air with a sigh of relief. The end of the physics exam marked the end of 9th standard, and Arnav felt as if he had just completed a milestone in his life, even though he had the most talked about standard of school life to go: 10th standard.

He’d heard that standard 10 was a bit overhyped, and that 9th was harder than 10th, and he felt that nothing could have been harder than what he had gone through, but that hadn’t stopped the teachers from constantly saying, “You’re going to 10th now! Buckle up!”

Honestly, 9th had been hard, academically and emotionally. Embarrassing comments from his parents about him growing up was one thing, but going through the other changes in his life was hard. On top of that, some of his favourite people had died that year. A few actors, one sportsman, and, above all else, his grandfather.

Dada, as Arnav had called him, was secretly his favourite grandparent. He was fun-loving, child-loving, and the one person who Arnav could relate to in an instant. Throughout his life, Dada had been an introvert, and had always been nervous around people, but he learnt to discard that and move on with his life. After mastering that psychology, he went on to master Astrophysics, and became a pretty well known Indian astrophysicist. He was the first one Arnav would talk to at Diwali, and every time there would be a facts session, where a few of the newer discoveries were shared with Arnav, and he would get updates on the recent pictures from the voyager, though he didn’t really get to see a lot. He found Dada really cool, and you could imagine his devastation when he died.

The grief had overtaken him, and he gave up studying for a week. He went to school, but he was always distracted. He still laughed and joked. No one who would have seen him in that week for the first time would have known that his favourite person in the whole world had left him forever and was never to come back.

Yet he played, and joked, and laughed, but the thing he hated the most was, “You sure you up for playing? Do you need a break?”

No. He did not need a break. Why would he need a break? He understood that his friends were just looking out for him, but if he needed a break, he would take one. He didn’t need their permission. Besides, taking a break would make him think of Dada, plunging him once more into grief. Why would he want that?

Logically thinking, it was stupid, but underneath, he appreciated his friends. Every time he heard that, he scoffed at them, and told them off, but later, as he curled up in his bed reading The Godfather, he thought of it, and said to himself, a warm, fuzzy feeling rising in his chest, and his lips spreading in a smile, “My friends are just … awesome!”

Then his passing father would stop in his tracks, look at him, an eyebrow raised, and say, “Oookaayy … ?”

That was the highlight of his day. Curling up in his bed, smiling into the pillow, thinking, what a spectacular day that was! Not the many wonderful things that happened during the day which he overlooked in his grief. For example: Mayur smiled at me today. Sanika found my joke funny. Man, that joke was funny. Naresh and I fist-bumped! Ranjana said I played football well! I didn’t know that was possible!

And here he was, sitting in his exam chair, stapling his papers, not caring for the outcome. It had been a good paper, but the past was in the past, and the future in the future. Right now, all Arnav had to think about was nothing. There were five minutes more for the test time to get over. How do we pass that time? Well, we could totally think about how awesome yesterday was all over again!