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!

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