stories

Reminiscence: Of past and present

She stepped in quickly as the doors closed. She silently heaved a sigh of relief for making it on time. By the time the next train left from Piccadilly stop, it’d be a little too late. All the seats were taken—as expected—except one at the far end of the car. She made a beeline for it; she would squeeze her way through even if she had to. Although few people were still standing, she had succeeded in getting herself (and her over-sized bag) a seat, setting herself between the wall and a big white guy.

She looked her phone. 1:35 pm. I’ll make it in time. I’m just being overly anxious. While she was putting the phone back in her pocket clumsily, her unzipped bag on her lap fell upside down. And it was a chaos within the two square feet. Old receipts, scribbled notes, a wrist watch, her wallet, old bracelets, pens and colored markers and things and broken pieces you could never put together or let go off came out spilling on the floor. It was like your secrets suddenly being revealed to the world of what you’re not sure yourself. She hurriedly started picking up the things and stuffing them in her bag, too embarrassed to even look at what might even have fallen. The white guy beside her grunted before bowing down and helping her pick up a few things for her. ‘I’m really sorry’, she kept muttering to him, ‘so sorry, please don’t bother’, until he got embarrassed and turned the other way completely facing his back on her. The only other person who was now helping her pick her stuff up was an old man sitting right in front of her, who had left his seat slowly and come down on his knees to help pick up her things. She repeated her lines, ‘please don’t bother’ as she put her wallet and several colored pens back in the bag. He merely waved his hand and smiled like it didn’t matter anything for him. She turned red and looked down for more dropped things, not knowing what to say. Several moments passed between them silently collecting things and putting them back in her bag. ‘You are lucky this one didn’t break dear.’ The old man nodded towards an old watch—leather belted, brown dialed. ‘You should wear it, not tuck it away in that purse of yours.’ He smiled and his whole face smiled with him. ‘Flaunt it like the young lady you are.’ How can two people from two different worlds resemble each other so much? She thought.

She looked at the watch and then him, ‘it’s too precious’, she smiled and put it back in her bag. He smiled and nodded. ‘Hmmmm. Hmm.’ He almost said to himself and then struggled to get up from the floor with the help of his wooden cane.

She felt guilty.

‘May I help you getting up, erm, sir?’

‘That would be very kind of you dear.’ His head was bowed in a struggle to get up.

She quickly got up and took an arm of his while he put the rest of his weight on the cane and tried to get up. ‘There there. I got it.’ The old man sighed as he sat back on his seat. She could see how his wrinkles had doubled from this physical activity of getting up from the floor.

He reminded her of her dada so much.

————

He always had that white beard for as long as she could remember. It led her into believing that all the grandfathers of the world had long white beards—like it was a pre-requisite. So when her friend Sara took her once to her place to meet Sara’s grandfather, she told her that Sara was mistaken and that it could not be her dada. Sara was furious. ‘But how can he be your dada when he doesn’t have a white beard?’ Maryam had asked her.

Going to their village was the favorite time of the year for Maryam (and her siblings). For Maryam’s two brothers, it would mean more Cricket. For their oldest sister Aashi, it would mean cousins. For Maryam, it would mean more time with dada jaan.

Dada had been a retired school headmaster which was why he enjoyed a certain status in the bigger part of the neighborhood if not the whole village. He had a strong built, and a loud rattling voice when angry which scared all his children (even to this day) and grandchildren if he ever made use of it. Ali, Maryam’s five year old cousin used to hide, even when Dada would laugh, because ‘it vibrates my skin’, Ali would say.

Dada had a room right in the center of the house, with a full view of the square courtyard. Tall windows of his room would open in the large airy courtyard while the door would open to a corridor whose other end would steep into a set of an old wooden staircase towards the roof. Since the house was built during pre-partition days, dada feared that the roof of the house had outlived its life and needed to be renewed. And so dada was also the guardian of the roof. Any movement of any kind towards the wooden stairs by the kids and dada’s voice would rattle, ‘LARKAY!’ (always larkay never larki–he always thought only boys could disobey him) enough to explode your heart out with scare. And then he would scream ‘Nalaaik’ until he would hear the hurried footsteps running away out of the corridor, into the courtyard and out of earshot. He would also hear the laughter along with the fading footsteps but no one knew Dada would smile to himself later. Maryam’s cousins would often play this game of sneaking to the roof as a dare by making it there without warning Dada. But Dada never let them win.

For Maryam, her Dada was the best teacher ever—he had taught her something she had feared she could never learn. When Maryam was eight, all her friends knew how to read time except her; she was worried she would never learn how to tell time. Her father would buy her digital watches because she couldn’t read time from the analog ones until one fine winter morning Maryam was sitting on the windowsill of his room watching her Dada weaving an old charpoy with jute strings.

‘Maryam what time does the clock say child?’, he asked as he pulled the jute strings.

Maryam looked inside the room at the clock, ‘Dada it’s a clock with hands. I can’t tell.’

Dada smiled at her. ‘Let’s see. Tell me the position of the fat small hand and the tall thin hand.’ Maryam squinted back in the room. Determined to give Dada the most accurate positions of both hands, she told him, ‘the fat hand is between 10 and 11, and the tall hand is about to leave 6, and the other tall thin hand is now on 3. And now it’s on 4. And—‘

Dada laughed. ‘My dear, this hand keeps on moving. You won’t be able to catch it my child.’ His firm hands patted the jute strings on the charpoy, ‘it’s around half past 10 in the morning. In your digital watch, you call it 10:30 am.’

‘But it’s very difficult to read what the hands are pointing.’ Maryam looked again inside the room from the window and back at her dada. Dada laughed. ‘Then we shall make it easy for our Maryam. Run, bring my watch on the side table.’ So Maryam jumped from the window sill inside the room and brought his watch to him. It was an antique watch with a big brown dial and a brown leather belt. Dada told her the composition of twenty four hours, minutes in each hour and seconds in each minute. He showed her how each number contained five minutes in it if we looked from the point of view of minute hand and how it contained five seconds if we looked at it from the perspective of the seconds-hand. By eleven in the morning, Maryam proudly told him the time in his watch.

‘And for that you get a little gift,’ he told her and gave her his brown belted watch that she carried with her to this day.

Dada also reminded Maryam of Santa Claus sometimes from her story books, only better. All the grandchildren would gather around Dada at night in his room after Isha prayers to listen to a story—a different story each night, and candies afterwards—don’t tell your mothers, he would wink. Dada told the children stories of Adam, of Noah and Abraham, of Ismail and Ishaq, Moosa, Yousuf, Younis, Issa, Muhammad and his companions. It was these stories that built up Maryam’s interest in comparative religions later to pursue her higher studies into.

‘My grandfather gifted me this when I was a child.’ She looked at the old man now reading his newspaper. He looked up. ‘Did you say something child?’ He looked at her through his round shiny spectacles.

‘My grandfather gifted me this watch when I was a little girl,’ she said and smiled. ‘You remind me of him very much.’

‘Then it must be my lucky day, my dear girl,’ he said and folded his newspaper. The Tube stopped and a few people got out. The old lady sitting beside him moved towards the door. ‘Tell me about him.’ He smiled and patted the empty seat beside him. His wedding ring glinted in his old wrinkly left hand.

And so she told him the stories of her dada. Of their house in the village, of his laugh, of his milky white beard, and the candies he used to give to his grandchildren—their little secret—while the parents had no idea. The old man smiled and nodded.

‘I’m just going to pick him up from Heathrow today.’ She told him excitedly. ‘His flight is in two hours. He’s coming to see me on my graduation.’ Her eyes shined.

‘Well, he’s a lucky man.’ He patted her on her hand.

The train began to slow down again. ‘That would be my stop, I’m afraid.’ The old man slowly started to stand up, the cane clutched in his left hand and the newspaper in the right. She stood up, took his right arm gently and walked him towards the door. ‘Thank you for your help Sir,’ she said. ‘With the bag I mean,’ she quickly added. ‘I hope I see you again, I guess? Somewhere?’ she smiled awkwardly. ‘Around here I think?’ She didn’t know what to say. So she smiled again.

He nodded and smiled for a long time. His face pale beard shining in the station lights, his round glasses reflecting her warm embarrassed smile, ‘we all want lovely little grandchildren like you, don’t we?’

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Myth

 The sky was cloudless today and he wondered why. Although he was here to explore, but he knew the moods of weather. Not only was the sky cloudless, it was blazing blue. But this was neither shocking nor disappointing for him. This meant more daylight, more time to explore. Sitting outside a small dhaba in Paras, owned by two Balti brothers, he took the first sip of chai and swallowed his buttered paratha. The chai was too strong for his taste but he drank on. The weather too was a little too cold for his Karachiite standards on an October morning. He felt he still needed one more layer of clothing over his shawl and windbreaker. But oh well.

So why did he come to Paras—a small town to the north of Balakot which served as nothing but a route towards further more beautiful north? Why did he come on his own when all he wanted was to forget himself and focus on what lay ahead? Perhaps this was a road to ahead. Perhaps this was the destination. Perhaps this was just the first milestone of accepting things, admitting reality.

This place was neither surreal nor magnificent. There were mountains covered with green moss, a stream of water sprouting here and there eventually flowing into the river. But it was pure—no pretentions. The road outside the small chai shop where he was sitting was broken, but you wouldn’t see the smoke of dust after a vehicle would pass. He could see a rope and wood bridge parallel to the road joining the two sides of a green narrow gushing river which would later join the Indus. But where would this river stream flow after it touched the edge of the road? Did it flow beneath the old metallic road? Did it flow along the road from there on? He didn’t know. He would later take a peek and find out.

But the place did create some stir when he first found out about it. The legend said that Philosopher’s stone was last seen here. That the man who found out about the stone’s reality went a little mad with happiness but then thought about the violence and manslaughter it would cause. The stone made him fear for his life first and then for humanity. By that time he had lost his mind, turned all his metal utensils into gold. That is when he threw the stone in water–nobody knew if it was his madness or himself. That was thousands of years ago.

He did not know which ‘water’ it made reference to. Was it the same river which flowed in front of his eyes right now or had it changed its course, dried up or been long forgotten in the sands of time? Maybe Paras was right there in the same water that flew beneath the road. Maybe if he just tried his luck, the golden-red gleaming stone might find a master after all. Did he know how it looked like? Did he know how big it was— marble sized, pebble sized, fist sized or even bigger?

He didn’t want it for riches or turning into an immortal. No those were vanities. His greed was different. He wanted purpose when everything had failed him. Feelings had just become nouns, people had just become names he once knew, success had become a profanity. This was his first attempt towards a purpose after his perspectives had changed.

He swallowed the last piece of his paratha with a sip of burnt chai and walked towards the edge of the unfenced road. The river did not flow beneath the road from here but flowed along.

This is where it starts. He raised the cup of tea high in his hand and threw it in the flowing river. The white dot of cup touched the surface of water and disappeared.

Amid mountains that surrounded the village and sun that brought the rainbow, Paras looked Beautiful that day.        

And in that moment, I swear I was finite

We all try to live beyond our boundaries sometimes, do weird things just to please the inner child of ours—things that are neither too adventurous nor too scary but they give us a sense of exhilaration anyway.

It had been some time since I’d done something that made me feel like a I was still in my early twenties and not an old mid-thirties hag that had nothing to do in life but follow the same old job routine and read a book every week or watch movie or meet a few old friends and discuss how boring life could be and well, you get the idea.

So this one cold night of January (as cold as it could get in Karachi) on the deserted roads of DHA Phase VIII, around mid-night, while we were riding back home in my friend’s Vigo, she suggested we go sit at the open back of the vehicle to get the feel of winter. We did. Now since the driver had to do some chores from here and there (in Defence), the total ride duration was about half an hour to forty minutes. I had no idea it could get that long. The problem was, I was not wearing anything over my thin chiffon shirt (considering the Karachi weather) and as soon as my friend suggested to 9523-traffic-in-a-foggy-night-55ef158009896sit at the back of the vehicle, I had the fleeting imagine of Emma Watson from Perks of Being a Wallflower—where she stands up at the back of her pickup in flying posture with blaring music in their ears and Charlie looks at her and everything around him and says those infamous lines, ‘and in that moment, I swear we were infinite’—and I thought maybe this could be my chance of being infinite in those empty roads and sodium lights and good company and pleasant music that blared in our ears, but well, this was real life and nothing turns out right in real life, does it? I realized I had more pressing problems at the moment, for instance that the driver had suddenly started speeding up (probably just to give us a feel of what it feels like to have hitting the bloody sea winds in your face when you’re driving parallel to the sea) and was crossing 100 conveniently; my hands were suddenly too numb to hold on the fat iron pipes and my phone at the same time while my friend was shrieking with cold; my delicate glasses which had come loose these days and would fall on the tip of my nose before me realizing they were slipping down on dangerous levels would fly miles away had I even dared to move my face teeny bit here or there rendering me almost blind on the lovely night like that. But most importantly, what spared me from standing up and doing the Emma Watson stunt was the situation of my bowels which had filled me with the pressing need to use the washroom (which I’d been delaying for hours now), what with the cold wind bellowing at me from all directions and the driver’s insistence on continuing with the current speed. Needless to say, I thought I’d pass out of all the stress of gripping the fat cylindrical iron pipe with one hand while clutching my cell phone with the other (I swear at one point I thought I might get thrown away by the wind itself), at the same time focusing on not moving my head or my glasses would fly away and resisting my bowels not to give away at this crucial time or my friend would hate me forever for ruining her brand new Vigo.

Thank God, I didn’t pass out at least. But I didn’t enjoy the cold Karachi night by the sea either. It was such a bloody relief when I saw us entering the gate of our plaza and ran all the way towards the elevator up till the 13th floor straight towards the washroom.

The lesson of the story is that kids, it does not end like the movies. It never ends like the movies.

Author’s note: However, gladly, in between everything that was going on with me, I succeeded in making a small of video of us enjoying the little ride. So at least that’s a pro.   

 

Flight

Violins.
A play in reversal.
The last tea.
Sunshine dripping through the windows.
Clinking of spoons and tea cups.
Violins.
Jacket hugging the chair–picked up,
Footsteps on the wooden floor.
Footsteps following the footsteps.
Violins.
Last day, last night.
Last dance in a quick time lapse,
Violins – bringing back the last 10 years.
Dropped tea cups
Screams and cries
on the thirtieth floor
at 12 am,
blinded by the lights of the skyline.
Violins, hugs and sobs.

Violins

embraces, trembling waves, goodbyes.
Violins
Flights late at night.
Violins,
Farewells,
and never ending sighs.

Violins

Footsteps in another land.

Violins
Nostalgia, pain and frights.

Eulogy

Old songs and farewells. Bomb blasts and taking exams. Hangings and burning alive, cheers and whistles, cries and screams—which ones are happy, which ones, sad. Giving love and taking life, giving life and breaking hearts—this is life? I don’t understand.

Firing for celebration, firing for vengeance—what is the difference, they say, when at the end of the end a mother cries, a child sobs, a lover dies, a story untold.

Life is unfair.

It’s complicated.

Life happens.

Go screw yourself—Because that’s not what a child grows up for.

For the dreams to shatter,

For a heart to break,

For his hero to die,

For the cars to crash,

And his wounds to be told that they’ll never heal?

Devise a new strategy. Tell them they won’t get a new toy if they break this one. Hide his father and tell him he’s dead. Break his heart at an early age so that when it breaks again, it doesn’t break him all over again. Tell him he will never make a pilot, a doctor, an astronaut because you know, he might never will. Why train him to be stupid? Isn’t it what life is?

Ha.

Words. Yes we play with words. We play with words to ruin lives. Kill, slay, slaughter, hang, destroy, demolish and raze people and their hearts. And then we play with hearts to compensate.

But hearts are where God lives. And God you see, has not been happy for a long time.

Epilogue: It’s been days since I’ve tried to form words. But they refuse to come out. There has been chaos around and my heart is a mess. It has just become too hard to cope with all the bloodbath around, people trying to find fault in order to hurt you, and breaking people’s hearts has become the easiest thing to do.  

I’ve tried to word my feelings in the easiest possible way. It has not been easy but I had to let them out.

Chapel Hill Shooting—let’s talk about what was lost.

February 10 2015 was an unfortunate day in the history of the US. On this day, at around 5:11 pm at Chapel Hill North Carolina three Muslim students Deah Barakat 23, his wife Yusor Abu Salha 21 and her sister Razan Abu Salha 19 were all shot dead execution-style by their neighbor Craig Hicks 46, an atheist—motivated by hate crime. I say ‘hate crime’ in the light of the interviews and comments provided by the immediate family and friends to the media, as opposed to a crime motivated by a ‘parking dispute’, an impression given by Hicks’ family (and some media outlets).

According to firsthand accounts of family and friends of the three students, Yusor had been worried about their neighbor for some time, who had appeared at their door several times carrying a gun in his belt and showing annoyance at them. Yusor had also raised her concerns regarding Hicks to her father for Hicks’ attitude towards them for being ‘different’ (implying their faith) from the rest, since both the sisters wore scarves to cover their heads.

But I don’t want to talk about what motivated Hicks to murder the three young, bright and amazing individuals. They were Muslims—which was the major problem—but more than that, they were human beings killed in cold blood depriving the community of the goodness, optimism and exuberance that reflected in their young personalities. I want to talk about Deah who was a basketball fan and student of dentistry at UNC, filled with a passion of helping the Syrian refugees, who was going to embark on a trip to Turkey this summer with donations to help Syrian refugee kids with oral hygiene. Deah, who was 6’3 tall and youngest in his family; Deah, who had recently married Yusor in December 2014 and it had hardly been over a month that both were murdered. Deah, a genuine human being who liked to tweet, post on facebook and instagram and create vines just like most of the kids that age. Deah had a secure and bright future ahead of him. He did not have to die. But he did.

I don’t want to talk about Hicks who thought wearing a scarf was an excuse convincing enough to pull the trigger on the head of a beautiful girl who was too naïve to call the police the first time Hicks appeared at her door with a gun. Her friend Amira Ata had warned her against him but Yusor had debated against the idea. I want to talk about Yusor, who is described by her friends as the sweetest and one of the most helpful people in the community. Yusor, who had also been involved in providing food to the homeless in the community; Yusor who was also helping Deah collect the donations for the Project Refugee Smiles. Yusor did not have to die. She had just been accepted at UNC dental school and was going to begin her new journey this fall. It doesn’t make sense.

I don’t want to talk about self-motivated holier than thou individuals who want to cleanse this world of people belonging to Muslim faith just because they exist. I don’t even want to give any thoughts to those bigots who applaud this condemnable act just because the three students represented a faith. I’d rather talk about the youngest victim Razan, 19, Yusor’s sister who was lively and creative, studying architecture at the University of North Carolina. Razan, who was an exemplary student at her university and was in the dean’s list for the fall semester 2014. Razan, who was working with Global Deaf Muslim to provide free access to Islam for the deaf. Razan had yet to graduate. She had only come to visit her sister when they were all shot dead.

These young people were just like the rest of the Americans, happy, chasing their dreams. And yet they were different—making difference in other peoples’ lives. And they have made a difference, for, the campaign Deah was working for has received donations over $120,000 after his death which was at a brief $16000 till some days ago (as reported by his sister Suzzane Barakat). While some people might have chosen to look at them differently because the sisters covered their heads symbolizing Islam, they were different because honestly, how many young Americans are involved in community social work and charity?

They have made a difference, letting the world know that not all Muslims show tendencies of ISIS or are terrorists. The anger and uproar caused on the social media which led to trends such as #ChapelHillShootings and #MuslimsLivesMatter even days after the tragic incident throughout the world, shows that even though Western Media tended to ignore the issue, the people around the world recognized that the young Muslims lives were not lost in vain and shall keep on lighting the beacon of hope and peace for their families and Muslim communities around the world.

Seasons

Some people remind us of seasons—of the changing time and everything that changes with it.

Monsoon rains that would come in June some time ago when they were with you, have now disappeared, just like they did.

When leaves dry up, turn into yellowish green, and orange and then blow in the streets with howling wind in the fall, that’s when you get a glimpse of them. It’s a depressing scene but when were they ever cheerful? The voice of the winds is harsh but why is it that you always found them considerate and thoughtful even after they left?

Some people remind us of seasons.

A lonely walk on a snowy path in December and they accompany you with their warm hands in yours. They don’t say much so that you can listen to the silence of the snow and the beat of your steps on the ground, but their smile is as warm as a blanket. They might have left the place but have made their mark on your heart.

Some people remind us of seasons.

Of rain and rainbows and then the long awaited sunshine. They are those who dance with you in rain, look for rainbows during the pour, get bored and take them with you. They are those who await sunshine just like they had waited for rain and you.

And when the sun comes out, they would come out and follow its route, but never leave you behind. They would get tanned, burn in the sun until they’ve lost themselves but they would take a part of you with them.

Some people remind us of seasons. When they change, the world changes with them so that nothing remains the same.

Bond

Wax work, floral prints

and white sheets in light,

it doesnt make sense

but they entered suddenly

–and deliberately.

And when I tried to

destroy the base,

they made a comeback

from a coffin–or so it seemed.

It got close, closer than far away

closer than I could imagine

but the bubble had to burst.

There was a time when I was excited

but I knew the long run was

trouble and misery.

I heard what they said

but now I know

they had no idea.

The distances mattered,

and so did the days.

So in the end when

we did not remain,

the idea of intellect

bonded us together.

Dream in a dream

I think it was a dream. But then I could not be so sure. Because one moment it felt like a dream, from someone else’s perspective and the next moment, I was there getting out of my warm car and into the cold winter night.

It was cold, almost 5 degree Celsius but there I was, walking into a fancy Halloween party. The ones that you could see from outside through windows, with shimmery lights fading into the dark. So technically, it must have been October. I strode towards the house and climbed up the front stairs.

Now that I recall, I don’t know whose house was it or who invited me for the party.

I was only wearing a plain black suit but I could see Gandalfs and Batmen and Jasmines, a Dumbledore, a Harry Potter and a fat little dwarf among others. There was Chucky with his knife—a little taller than the actual—and Annabelle, a recent addition to horror tales. For a moment I could not decide where I belonged and so I lingered in the hallway. But then I turned to a corner where I had spotted Bellitrix Lestrange in the bluish darkness. Now, in reality I hate the existence of Belitrix but the fact that I decided to move towards her and not Hermoine (in the far end of the room, also by her own) tells me that this could not be real.

Bellitrix was, Bellitrix. There is no other way to explain it. But she was gentle. Although she did not smile while we talked, she never made me feel intimidated. But she kept hidden in shadows. This concerned me. I feel stupid right now but I tried really hard to make her smile. Maybe I wanted to see whether she her soul too was Bellitrix or not. It’s very hard to understand I know, so I won’t try to explain. It was one of those moments when the lights were changing and I was trying to crack lame jokes that she laughed—a heartless Bellitrix laugh. I swear I heard my heart tremble. I wish I could see her face and not her silhouette then—see whether her laugh reached her eyes. But by the time the lights made their way back, the laugh was gone and so were her expressions—if there were any. She was back to being dry and gentle.

We had drinks soon. As I followed her down the hallway I could faintly smell her—raspberry, herbs and perhaps, burnt wood. I liked thinking of burnt wood then. The drinks were in blue and red. I had never tasted those before. She held a paper cup for me while took a sip from the other. I did not like my blood-red drink but gladly finished it because well—because I was having a drink with her!

I think she read my mind because she smiled at me for the first time without hiding herself behind the dark shadows. And I swear I saw two black teeth between her smile. I needed to know if they were fake and unreal just like her costume or was that really her—the dry-laughed, black toothed Bellitrix. I needed the answers but I couldn’t dare to ask. And so I tried to run away.

She said she would come see me off. I almost did not hear. But she followed anyway. When we came out of the house into the silence, it was snowing—in October. I must be losing myself completely.

She looked at me and then up at the sky for a few seconds before she looked at me again. ‘Amazing isn’t it? What’s been happening tonight?’ She smiled at me. Her teeth didn’t show.

I didn’t know what she had been hinting at. ‘I think I’m just tired tonight. So I’ll go. It was nice meeting you.’ I could only manage.

‘I’ll see you around I guess.’ She said and went back to the illuminated house.

I did not wait to look at her back. And I don’t remember what happened next. I had begun to imagine that it must have been a dream after all

But when I was shopping today for the weekly groceries, days after the Halloween incident, she appeared in my aisle (which was deserted except of course myself), at the far end—I cannot imagine how that might have been—and said, ‘Hi’. She was still dressed as Bellitrix, her hair was as messy as you could imagine. Only she was more cheerful.

I could make up my words together to say hi back. I was struck, dumbfounded.

‘I told you I’ll see you around, didn’t I?’ She said nonchalantly. ‘And oh, by the way, those teeth were fake.’ She smiled her brilliant smile so that all her white teeth showed in the bright light.

I have been trying to remember what happened next.

Revisiting

I step down the stairs. Slowly at first but then quickly because it is 8:30 pm, way past the working hours and building seems almost deserted. It’s a four storey landing for me—the lifts have been closed too—and by the time I reach the ground floor I am almost panting. I walk from inside the building towards the dark marble floored foyer outside.

I need to sign out from my account and then wait for my car at the entrance office of the campus. I am carrying a brown envelope containing exam papers of my students who—I just notice—are in the foyer waiting to go home too—in groups, some them sitting on the wide black marbled stairs, others lying down on the cold floor listening to their friends while remaining, just standing in groups, accompanying their friends. As I walk towards the entrance office I look at them, nod and smile. While a few kids stop saying whatever they’ve been discussing, others keep on going. Suddenly I don’t want to go and sit inside the office anymore.

Only a year ago, I was one of them, a college student coming out of an exam in the evening, laughing with my friends and discussing how I screwed up my paper. I want to be with these kids, laugh the nervous laugh and forget about it a while later, discuss my questions and get excited if my answer matches others’—simple joys of life—but I move on, and walk into the office.

I am reading a book to pass time, a Neil Gaiman book. But it doesn’t help me turn off the excited voices coming from outside. I am neither an introvert nor someone who likes to sit inside. I’m an outdoor person and so I stand up again and walk out under the clear night full of stars while the cool breeze of fall hits my face. Few kids eye the envelope in my hands and whisper. Few others smile when they see me. I ask them about the paper. They smile and say it was alright. Their smile does not reach their eyes. I have to admit the paper was a little tricky. I already feel bad for them. I make a mental note of being easy on them while marking.

It’s never easy teaching kids who are few years younger than you so you have to be careful. Always. Kids are always one step immature than you (even the brilliant ones).  Kids idealize good teachers (of all ages). I hope one day I could proudly call myself a good teacher but until then I can only try to be one. Being an extrovert doesn’t help. You talk to a kid one day randomly before or after class and they could think they are your favorite. The news spreads like fire. Other kids start looking at you from the perspective of liking that one kid (or those few that you’ve been seen talking to) and as soon as you applaud them in class for their performance (again, it’s routine), you are labeled biased. I have witnessed this phenomenon being a student where teachers are called biased because they are seen smiling and talking to kids outside the classroom, whereas they are only being polite. Which is why I always take caution while talking to my students.

I want to sit on one of the wide stairs (which is empty) and enjoy the loud voices of kids, the cool breeze of autumn and the evening in general—it has been more than a year since I have come out of an evening exam, my favorite shift of taking a paper. But I just stroll for a while and decide to go back to the office and wait. I wouldn’t feel easy being there and not talking to kids, and the kids would be too awkward talking to each other in my presence and deciding that they should move to the far end.

By the time my car comes and I walk towards the gate at the far end of the foyer, I notice a couple of kids walking beside me careful not to walk past me. I look at them and smile again. I cannot help it. They smile back and look at each other. Perhaps communicating silently. I am recalling a familiar scene from not long ago.