An Unquiet Place

Sound travels the fastest in solid mediums. In ghettos, it travels even faster.

Every square kilometre of Delhi is sagging under close to sixty thousand mobile feet, which makes property prices go as high as one gold mine per square foot. You can take either that, or resign yourself to the befouled tenebrous asphyxiating ghettos, where oxygen comes wrapped in grime and decibels, and one doesn’t bother about the other till the other begins to rot. 

These ghettos are sprawled like untamed outgrowths on the margins of aesthetic colonial plantations, and they wait, like Venus Flytraps, for temporary occupants with limited purses. UPSC aspirants, the gullible but aspirational flies, are taken in and slowly dissolved in their corrosive juices and rapacious enzymes. 

Within this cramped city, if you live in a ghetto like I do, you’re always surrounded by sounds, so much so that you begin to recognize people- whose faces you’ve never seen and will never see- by the sounds they produce. It’s a gold mine for a writer who wants to observe how thuds, clings, whooshes, screams, brawls, babbles, giggles, alarm clocks and prime time tv debates collide and bang each other, and more often than not, interbreed to create seismic waves that travel through the walls and end up destabilizing your soul. 

For someone who has a prelims coming up in two months, it’s a nightmare, an orchestra of ghouls, a maddening erratic inharmonic disruption which bothers me at cellular level. It makes my mitochondria shriek and collapse in rage. 

Every morning, my atheistic eardrums are pounded with unwelcome devotional music, which people of all faiths play out on speakers, to a deafening scale, at the earliest hour possible. The only way it would make sense is if they depone that it assists their bowel movements, which is why I tolerated smokers in toilets in JNU. 

The next sound I hear is the thunderous crack of my own bathroom door, which is swollen because of moisture and thus gets stuck on closing, making me lunge at it like a cannon ball every time I need to open it. The flush pot begins to fill and I plug in the earphones. Yes, I am one of those gen z kids who can’t shit without music. In fact, I have a toilet playlist that assists my bowel movements, but unlike my neighbors, I don’t play those on a speaker. 

By the time I decide to study with the focus and patience of a heron, somebody gets a call, somebody wants to hear bhojpuri music and somebody just wants to drill things into the wall. Then, there’s always some deprived and abandoned baby that keeps crying. Some bloke has communal news debates to catch on, while some people keep replacing the furniture all the time. The guys replacing the furniture could well be cleaning up a crime scene for all I know. 

This prodigal son gets a call from home and shouts as if reading proclamations at the public square. This Romeo calls his Juliet and serenades for an eternity, their conversations profoundly emetic and agonizingly gleeful. If people are not talking over phones, they call their friends home and commit all kinds of unparliamentary debauchery. Sometimes, these orgies go on till midnight and I am forced to bury my head under the pillow with my ears wrapped in a towel, and stuffed with earphones playing white noise at potentially dangerous volumes in order to sleep. 

There are romantic talks between a couple, which melt into sex chats after 12. These chats begin with suggestive speeches, and turn into panegyrics on the woman’s physical attributes (which I can recount vividly by now), which are then met with remarks about the potential infidelity of the boy (he is not really someone I would trust either), and it’s all frolicsome till it finally flows into fellatio petitions (no success yet). On the other side of the spectrum are married couples, who bicker like furious wounded savannah beasts. There’s a rythm, though disturbing it is, in their fight. The other one always tries to return with the volume increased by one unit, and by the time they finish four sentences, dead bodies dig away from under the earth to the other side in sheer exasperation. 

Here I would like to clarify that I am not a voyeur. It’s just that houses here are so closely glued to each other that after midnight, light sleepers like me have little hope of a tranquil slumber without external device or pills. Even with devices, there always is a Mozarty mosquito hovering around with its bardic spirits, driving me nuts with its skin-deep lyrics and disappearing into another dimension by the time I delayer myself. 

I try to make the most with the little window I get. In that tiny frame of silence, where everybody finally seems to have come to an unspoken agreement, I blurt out insipid facts of economics and history at the top of my lungs, thus dropping my own modest shillings into this boundless piggy bank of pandemonium. 

To be honest, nothing sounds more melodic than revenge.

That’ll be all for the day.

Chai pe Charcha

Wholesome futures are woven over cups of tea. 

To cut long history short, Camellia Sinensis, popularly known as tea, spread out from its Irrawaddy home, first in the urns of Buddhist monks, then in the ships of Dutch traders. Then, British tongues found it refreshing and moral, and like they always did, they made us grow tea for them in Assam plantations. Later, we, like we always do, made one thousand varieties out of it, and turned it into a cultural force.

Tea, affectionately called chai, is the universal beverage of India. It’s the closest to an omnipresent entity, so much so that if you’re stranded here but can’t smell tea around, it must mean you have ventured too far from civilization and will most probably never be found. From villages to metropolises, from kiosks to resorts, from colleges to parliament, chai is the only constant that fills every glass that can be filled, and every heart that can be filled. Chai is beyond space-time. It’s eternal. 

Chai is much more than your regular drinks. It’s an elixir. It’s an emotion. It’s a companion that breaks ice, stimulates the conversation and prolongs it. It initiates dates; it ignites discourses. It makes marriages and it breaks regimes. 

Chai is the currency of etiquette. The better Chai you brew, the more cultured you become in people’s eyes. It’s the yardstick against which your personality is measured. It’s something that makes you amicable or grotesque. If you can’t make good Chai, people don’t really give two dimes about your cv. But if you can turn them ecstatic with the Chai, they don’t bother about your cv.

Chai organises relationships into a hierarchy. A diluted chai expresses dislike, a sugarless chai shows bitterness. A diluted and sugarless chai starts a cold war. The number of cardamoms in the Chai keeps on increasing in proportion to the affection you hold for the person. If you love someone, you brew the Chai slow, with the care of a chef. If you are brewing it for your crush, you cook it with Kumar Sanu in the background, and top it with saffron. Quitting sugar in the Chai for your diabetic spouse is the most pious act in love. Precious promises of love are made over cups of Chai, wholesome futures are woven over cups of Chai. 

Now, drinking Chai is a real skill. There’s a style involved there. You must not drink Chai like a reckless pirate. It demands colonial elegance and victorian aesthetics. There are lengthy tutorials dedicated to the right way of sipping Chai. If you don’t drink Chai like a lady or a gentleman, you lose friends. 

So as the sun goes down, the zombies creep out of libraries and throng the Chai shops in UPSC hubs. If you’re a Chai seller here and not a millionaire, it always means you’re lying. A chaiseller is no ordinary person. They have employees and branches. They no longer sell just chai, they sell an experience, a relief, and a booster. In chai shops, you’ll find hundreds of aspirants, huddled up in groups, some smoking, some sipping tea and some engrossed in conversations. It’s a cacophony, nevertheless, it’s melodic. There’s a rhythm in the noise as there’s heart in the symposium. 

Cyan and I have oftentimes tried to make an estimate of monthly earning of the Chai shops. The most modest estimate of net disposable income was so big that I almost enrolled for a certified tea brewing course on Udemy. But the Chai shop is never a monopoly. Over time, there emerges a new age Chai startup that threatens to dethrone the monarch. The process leads to innovations: from Kashmiri Chai to Nagori Chai. Some try to tap into the health consciousness market by selling green tea. No obese person sipping green tea in the open has ever been spotted by me though. I always find them in kachodi shops, while it’s always the slim ones who are taking this medicine.

I did try the green tea in JNU. It was an unforgettable experience. And in a totally negative way. It tormented my taste buds so much that I reconsidered viewing heart attack as deliverance rather than death.

At my home, we have an old packet of herbal Chai, which is next only to green tea on the scale of abhorrence. We often receive guests who talk like they’re preaching, and if I don’t like the preaching, I ask them if they’d like herbal Chai.

They usually find themselves under some divine compulsion to not only agree but enthusiastically ask for it.

I remember a relative who once took the time to visit me to check on my career plans and remind me that cracking UPSC is not everybody’s cup of chai.

“Would you like some herbal chai, uncle? ” I asked so sweetly that my larynx began to drip honey.

“Ha ha. This is why you couldn’t clear it. Housework is not for the man on a mission. ” He said, but as he found me nodding in agreement, he added, “But since you ask with such humbleness, how can I refuse? Just mind the sugar. “

I brewed the chai like a witch.

When I brought it to him, he pointed out that it’s bad manners to offer tea with the left hand. I apologized sincerely and chose my right hand for the job.

Well, he squirmed first, but I reminded him that it was herbal.

“They have to find the ingredients in dense Himalayan forests for which they have to study ancient texts for years. ” I explained to resurrect his confidence. After a while, he seemed to be convinced with my well researched and even better rehearsed explanations. Also, he didn’t really have an option to discredit the tea that’s made after reading ancient texts.

“It’s so good. I feel healthier. What’s the brand? ” He asked.

I gave him all the details. Never saw him again though.

So that’s about Chai. It has a range from herbal to saffron. You can choose one shade from the spectrum and land your point without speaking. Chai is a rich language. So the next time you brew it, let it speak and spread love.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more. 🙂

Silence for Rent: a library in a UPSC hub

Library sells a unique product: silence. But is it really that quiet here?
Well, things speak.

My post-dengue ideology has been to be a non-abusive spouse to my own body and listen to all its mercy petitions. So when my tailbone started giving SOS calls, I decided to join a library with good ergonomic chairs. I could have purchased a chair myself, but I had become stagnant and wanted to feel some peer pressure. My roommate, Cyan, had already enrolled in a library and had built his own pride within a month. My expectations were certainly lower, and so I focused more on infrastructural aspects than company.

Delhi is full of small and expensive UPSC hubs, which possess a distinct culture that revolves around the typical aspirant. A defining component of this Aspirant Culture is basement libraries, a galaxy of them, each promising a heavenly tranquil abode on their posters. They are decorated with photographers of toppers, intended to lure you into renting the ambiance. In UPSC hubs, everything that’s supposed to sell has toppers’ photographs stuck on them. Some even have recommendations in their own handwritings, expressing utmost gratitude to the seller for guiding the former aspirant into a topper. Closest to the fabled Midas touch, I tell you.

Anyways, to be honest, the libraries that are affordable look like dungeons. There are luxury libraries too, with fridge and chaise lounge and pool table, but they charge so much you’d rather quit UPSC than pay. But guess what, even those libraries are full. Certainly, the World Inequality Report is not entirely wrong.

I once made a mistake of expressing surprise on the face of an old lady who owned a library as she asked for a security deposit. She gave me a look that earls once reserved for peasants.
“It’s what the rate is, child. ” She said as I tried to bargain, “we are never off demand. If not you, someone else. ” I could only nod with pursed lips in response.

After a cursory scan through dozens of affordable libraries, I managed to find one about a nautical mile away- with toppers’ photos, ergonomic chair, ac, wifi, and clean toilet. I picked up a corner seat, hoping to come out a topper on the other side. A month later, here are my observations.

The library, quite contrary to its intended purpose and large stickers of “PLEASE MAINTAIN SILENCE” is far from the tranquil sanyas. It’s a disturbing space: people keep moving in and out, or twisting and turning, or moving things if still, or moving their mouths chewing crunchy nuts, or tearing the paper, or making things fall by mistake. You would say these are forgivable offences, but I have a list of heinous ones too. They whisper. They chuckle. They brew coffee in their seats. They leave their phones unmuted. They carry with them the smoke they just made outside.

People in these libraries are diverse in character and disposition, but the two most disturbing categories are smokers and couples/best friends. Smokers lack the civility to take center fresh after they are done with their joints. They simply barge in, the cloud of smoke hovering around their skull and pervading innocent nostrils in the vicinity, thus turning lung cancer into a communicable disease. The guy on my left smokes three cigarettes a day, without which, as per his statement, he can’t focus and shit (literally).

The couples think they live in a bubble. Couples think like that all the time in all places, and it’s generally cute, except for in a library. They have to whisper to each other after every five minutes. Couples in making do this exercise even more vigorously, to up their chance. Free electrons – single people desperately looking for a partner- do this at God level, whispering to multiple partners throughout the day. The free electron in my room takes tea 5 times a day, with 3 different women. He is a first-attempter but guides them in their preparation. I had to shut him up quite a few times, but he has remained remarkably resilient.

There are others too: engineers (identifiable through anthropology optional notes), literarians (greco-roman classics and fancy bookmarks), artists (self designed charts pinned on the wall), minimalists (mostly empty table), nobles (fruits, dry fruits, dark chocolate). Some tables are organised as if put on for exhibition. Some walls have pins so accurately placed as if to emulate constellations. Some tables have more food than books, some tables are starved of both. Some maps are laminated, some worked on elaborately. Some walls have quotes, some have directives to oneself, some have daily performance report cards. Some pens lie around, some are bundled together in coffee mugs. Some coffee mugs are plain, while some have cute pink cat cartoons.

There are individual islets lost in the archipelago of friends. The archipelago islands leave for tea breaks together while the islets follow their own timeline.

There’s much more, and I could give graphic details about everything from the soothing whirr of the exhaust to the distracting whoosh of the flush, but I guess you can do without the specifics.

As for the owner, he is polite and cooperative, till you pay on time. The caretaker doesn’t care about books, and spends most of the day on his seat watching Amazon Prime, something I cannot afford. Once or twice a day, he comes with the fire-extinguisher-sized room spray, and leaves us with VOCs wrapped in fragrance.

There are spare rooms for dining, but with yellow bulbs and a large table, they look like they are used as interrogation chambers during holidays. The water from the water cooler smells like it just cuddled with algae, but it bothers nobody. I guess people have adapted to pollution and pathogens.

As for studies, it was never productive for me because I couldn’t revise loudly. Nor could I move much, for I don’t like to offend people. So the library, in my opinion, suits people who are either freshers, or lack a silent corner in their room, or intend to build romantic ionic bonds. These sum up the push and pull factors, which, apart from toppers-studded posters, drive the library economy in the Aspirant Culture.

That’s all for now. See you soon.

The System is Collapsing

Gloomy thoughts on a gloomy night.

Hello there!

Powercuts in the ghettos of Delhi in a sweltering summer midnight rekindles the medieval memory when the monarch got nerds sewn up in animal hide and carried on a mule to Baghdad because they said earth was round.

And so here I am, sitting on my chair in my balcony, which stretches a few centimeters longer than the UPSC prelims answersheet, drenched in sweat and furious at this wisdom tooth which has been trying to emerge for about a year now. The darkness around me remains impenetrable. The strait-like strip of sky above stays stripped of stars. 

I can hear voices though. Students discussing nation’s problems. Couples discussing their own problems. Kids cackling at lame jokes. Babies blabbering incomprehensible phrases, and their parents responding with wonder and encouragement. The clinging of utensils. The whooshing of flush. The cacophony at a distance. And even farther, the blaring honks of vehicles zooming on Delhi roads. At this point, someone plays loud music and all other sounds vanish, and I feel even more pissed. Because one, it’s a song about some guy promising some car to some lady, clearly mocking my multidimensional poverty; and two, when it’s pitch dark you need heterogeneous sounds just to remain sane. That seems like an assault on my fundamental rights, and I feel like invoking 32. 

But I don’t want to pick a fight because I can’t see, and verbal cursing is something I am trying to avoid these days. Because once it gets on the tongue, it develops an organic relationship with you. You begin to think in terms of curses. 

E.g., B#*&$ the system is collapsing. 

For UPSC, you have to think differently.

E.g., There are persistent and systemic issues, but with the synergizing efforts of government, organizations and people, swift and substantial transformation can be achieved. 

Okay, a half naked man just appeared on the opposite balcony with a torch, and we briefly looked at each other, our unclothed bodies emitting cavemen vibes. He had a slight paunch, but I resisted myself from recommending him a healthy diet. Once I had tried giving suggestions to a lady in JNU, to which she said she was body positive and that BMI indicators were Eurocentric. 

Anyways, it has been a frustrating day because I slept for hardly 6 hours, spent the entire day struggling to gather myself up, couldn’t finish the essay because my brain stopped working, Crimson called and demanded I met her, the cook didn’t come in the evening, Crimson made me wait for over 30 minutes and then harangued me with the petty problems of her life. A junior called me up and asked for my prelims result. After all this, I ate a loaded burger, breaking my vow to stick to healthy options only. And now there is power cut! Could it be any worse? 

Yes. My flatmate said he’d come next week. So that makes it one full month of me talking to myself, and the cook and Baba. Conversations with the cook involves she asking what to cook and me saying whatever’s in the basket, and usually there’s poverty in the basket. 

Conversations with Baba….actually we have stopped talking. He sees my face and takes out a pouch of toned milk from the fridge. I scan the QR code and pay 25 rupees. Occasionally, when it’s too hot, he says B#&$@, it’s too hot, and I agree with him. Baba always smokes beedi these days, and I can’t ask him to not do it, so I don’t linger about much in his shop. 

I have plenty of time and yet I can’t study efficiently. I sit on the chair while my mind sneaks out of the window and flies like a bee. By the time it gets back, I have to get up to drink water, go to the toilet, take a walk because my neck hurts. Everyday, I plan out the next day. The plan begins with me waking up at 6 am. Then some Black Swan event happens, and it’s 8 am when I open my eyes the next day. Sometimes it’s too hot and there is power outage. Sometimes it rains and the drops fall on the broken down AC with the thud of a hammer. Sometimes I just can’t sleep. 

Everyday at 8:30 am, I also go for grocery shopping because there’s no fridge to store vegetables. And I need milk for protein. Everyday, I walk past those fast food joints and the confectionery, and oh the aroma!… it takes an effort to control my greedy self. 

At this point, I am tied to 60 rupees a day budget, monthly expenses excluded. It’s stressful. 

When I am on the table, I oscillate between subjects and themes. While reading history, I want to read geography all of a sudden and when it’s geography time, maps make my eyes bleed. I try writing essay, and I feel I am not prepared, and when I try to prepare for essay, I wonder what’s there to prepare in an essay. I can’t increase my writing speed because I can’t think fast, I can’t think fast because I can’t mug up, I can’t mug up because it’s painful to read the entire syllabus again, it’s painful because I have difficulty in retaining things, I have such difficulty because I can’t sleep on time, I can’t sleep on time because of such midnight power outages. B#*&$, the system is collapsing. 

During the day, I took some pain to prepare a chart, another addition to a long dynasty of charts on my table, about things I must do this time. With every aspect of preparation covered in excruciating detail, the only thing now left is to act. 

I need to tame myself. Study using stopwatches. Force my hands to write. Fix my arse to the chair. Memorize points. Draw diagrams. Do it like a ritual. Make it into a habit. Turn it into a necessity. I need to embrace the monotony of weekdays. I need to cuddle with editorials and caress my notes. Give myself daily targets. Promise myself a reward. Be unperturbed by outages. Be focused on the goal. Think of the future. The suit, the salary and the system. The far end where lies the elysium. 

Journey Ends, and Begins!

UPSC: the first failed attempt. 💔

Hello there!

I am the regular UPSC aspirant you find in the unfeeling streets of ORN. Potentially genius, temporarily unemployed, perpetually trapped in this soul enervating loop of failures. I walk with a bag of books, expectations, disappointment and self-doubt. I want to beat the odds, reach the front page headline, wear the suit, be the hero, get the girl, and change the world. I endure, sweat and toil for that far fabled harvest. I fail, I try, I fail, I try, I fail, I try – in the hope that at the end of this purgatory lies the elysium. This undying hope resurrects me from my ashes- like a Phoenix, I rise again.

Okay, that’s enough poetic stimulation. Now let’s come to the point. I FLUNKED PRELIMS in my first attempt, the attempt for which I had my topper’s speech prepared and rehearsed in front of all four dingy pink walls of my room and the four dingy pink walls of my flatmate’s room. For effect, I had drawn on every wall two dozen stick figures representing enchanted audience. In hindsight, the sheer amount of time I invested in modulating my voice while uttering the heroic tale of my travails was the time I was supposed to revise mundane provisions like Mandamus. Now that the unholy pdf is out, I am too embarrassed to look at walls. The stick figures are jeering at me. So I am looking at the ceiling instead…well trying to because it’s dark and the ceiling is not visible, pretty much like my roll number in the pdf. 

I have failed before. Quite regularly. Actually ALL my Maths unit tests after std X. And failure hurts. But this one hurts deeper, in corners hitherto untouched by sensations of pain. Because I had slogged for this, killed my passions, developed back ache, sacrificed joy and neglected friends. And I couldn’t even get to a stage where I could be rejected by humans. A heartless machine ate my mcq answersheet and burned 365 days of my life into soot. 

Rumors were rife that results would be out in a day or two. I already knew I was not getting in, but everybody around me was expecting a miracle. I downloaded the pdf and searched my roll number. Two people made it from my dreaded center- a prehistoric settlement with two kurkure shops in the middle of Atacama desert- and I was not one of them. So it finally downed upon me- another term of hard labor with no furlough. My heart sank, but there was a sense of relief that it’s over for this year. No miracles this time. 

I began contemplating how to break the news. Not that my parents are hangmen, but they had spent their hard earned money for nothing. If I was a mutual investment, my father would have pulled out, no pun intended, ages ago. I gathered up some courage, watched Harshit Dwiwedi consolation video and wrote on WhatsApp group in bold and capital. RESULT OUT. NOT SELECTED. 

Maybe it was the font, but my father instantly replied with motivational quote, as if he was already waiting for my tragic proclamation. Then he added another quote for effect. My mother forwarded a shayri about God, faith and courage, and I felt like weeping in her arms. I had missed the chance to give my parents a better life. A diabetic mother who doesn’t undergo regular medical tests because those are expensive. An old father who wears perforated vest to save on clothes, takes 3 hour bus in the mornings, in sunshine and blizzards, to cut transportation costs, and yet never denies money when I ask him.

My eyes welled up as I thought about them. In the time I worked and failed, they got older by another year. 

Yeah you could argue that my parents don’t have their economic priorities right, but the middle class experience shapes our budgetary habits. You could also argue that one year of hardwork is never a waste, and blah blah and blah, but the thing is, either you’re in or you’re out. Moreover, it’s my hour of lament, and I like to be left alone in my anger. 

But phone calls won’t let me. They could have texted, but I guess they were concerned. I wonder why. I never displayed any sign of mental health problems. Nor am I charming enough that people apart from my parents would care about. And nor do I have a spare rope in the flat. The consolations were pretty generic, as if rehearsed in front of dingy pink walls. And I welcomed them with clenched teeth and wide fake smiles. In the universe of adult people, calling people to fuck off is a tricky task. You have to be artful and ingenious to convey the idea, because you may need the same person later in life. 

I texted Apricity. She texted back. Enough consolation. 

I went to the mirror and looked at my face. Pulled up a smile, like Joker, and decided to go out and have great food. I also needed company, and since Crimson assured me I could cry on her shoulder, I went for it. 

“Here’s Buddha for you. It will keep you calm. “She said, handing over to me a little statue. 

“This is your second gift to me and it’s worse than the first. “I stated a matter of fact. I already had a life sized Buddha poster on one of my walls, and I was already contemplating converting to other faith. 

“Well, you have never gifted me anything. And I am the woman people will their properties to. “She stated a matter of fact. When people start stating matters of fact, I have observed, conversations turn volatile. So I decided to not pick up a fight. 

“I don’t earn. “I said. “When I start earning I will get you something nice. “I did not say this. Because Crimson may misinterpret things, which she is a master at, or worse – take my words literally, in which case I will be paying EMIs for her Spa sessions. The amount she pays as GST for a fancy lunch is my monthly rent, so I am not gifting her anything soon. 

Anyways, we walked into the Imagerunners, the famous photocopy shop, while she chirped about her latest milestone in CSAT study.

“I can solve division questions. In fact, I was elated until I forgot the table of 8. “

She really needed to work on her maths. But of course I didn’t tell her this. I gave the man at the desk the pen drive and told him to get the printed copies out. Since it was close to a thousand pages, Crimson got hungry midway and decided to eat light snack in an ac restaurant. 

She also wanted to shop some disposable clothes for just one day as she had to spend the night at a friend’s house. So we went to Karol bagh market for cheap clothes, the place where I buy the dress I wear to parties, that is if I am invited. After displaying shrewd bargaining skills, she was able to crack a good deal. Then she started checking other items in the shop, and when I pointed out that my mother does the same, she replied that all girls do it. 

“If you’re  a woman, you can always look for a nice discount anywhere. Just smile. And 25% off if you laugh. Want to see?”

Not really, I wanted to say, but being an adult is about letting other people have their say, so I pretended to be excited. We went to a vendor who was selling pants. I cracked an average joke and she laughed, and the shopkeeper seemed quite engrossed in her laughter. 

“I will pay only 150. “She said for a dress worth 200. 

“Okay madam. “He said. 

Now that got me excited. How human emotions work! 

We then went to this fancy place for snack, where they were selling something called “guava tea” for 165 rupees. 

“Are they running some kind of human experiment here?” I asked, looking at the weird tea flavors in the menu. 

“That’s what rich people eat, dear. “She said, and went on to order chilled water. 

“I have my water bottle. ” I wanted to say, but I had a gut feeling that this was not the right statement to make, especially when most of the people around us had ordered chilled water. 

The food took eons to come because the other cook had left the job. We got the sandwich and the maggie packed and walked to the Imagerunners. 

“Do I look fat? “She asked.

“Do you want me to be honest about it?”

“I want you to shut up. “

The copies were not out yet as the machine had broken down. The photocopy guy told us to come the next day. 

“Can’t you laugh and make the machine work?” I murmured to her. 

“When you know a spell, use it sparingly. “

We found a desolate corner and ate the food. It was so bad I couldn’t finish my sandwich and she couldn’t finish her Maggie. Then she started talking about her engineer boyfriend and the relationship which is in a bad phase, and since I have known her for a while, that she’s a complicated person with a tangled life, I told her to calm down and give the other person some breathing space. But she was concerned because she had started seeing the guy as a potential husband in the distant future, and he is not responsive. She wants to move to the UK. But she also wants to crack UPSC. She’s torn between her choices. 

“I think you are right. I need to calm down and get the focus back. Restart everything. “She said.

I walked with her to the metro station, and then we parted ways. With the Buddha in my bag, I lingered about in the unfeeling streets of ORN for while longer.

We are in the age where marriage is just five years away. We have passed the turbulent teenage, savoured the crazy college life but are yet to step into the monotonous world of working professionals. It’s a limbo we are trapped in. A time which is unrecognized in poems about stages of life, a time where you begin with a rhapsody and gradually spiral into disempowerment, a time when you are heartbroken like a teenager but can’t order a pizza or hurt yourself, because you’re not impulsive anymore. Every penny you spend is a budgetary allocation. Every moment you spend is a planned calendar. Every step you take is an unending marathon. Life, at this stage, is a mission, an infinity of infinite to-do lists. And the budget is really low. 

But I think Crimson will handle it. And so shall I.

We are the UPSC aspirants. We sail against storms. That’s our bread and butter. 

See you soon.

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