He wakes up before the crack of dawn, and he rubs his eyes, which are tired, the eyelids rubbed raw from rubbing them all day. He doesn’t sleep much, but how can he, when he has a family of five to support? He wakes up at the crack of dawn, and changes into a clean – clean is a relative term – cleaner shalwaar kameez. He walks into the kitchen, where he can smell the fried potatoes, and hear the sizzling of the oil. His wife has been up an hour before him, and she sleeps even less than he does. She is just finishing up the final batch of samosas. He kisses her on the neck, one of the few interactions they have, one of the final displays of intimacy, even though they love each other as much as before. They just don’t have the strength or the energy anymore.
Satire on drawing room discussions and the pointlessness of...
“This is a bloody yahoodi saazish (Zionist conspiracy),” the university professor booms, face red “These bomb blasts are inspired by the yahoodis, in an attempt to destabilize this country. What does Pakistan mean? Pure land. What is our main religion? Islam. We are the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. They are trying to destabilize us, and look how well it’s working. The terrorists are Muslims, all the yahoodis have to do is provide the funding to these groups, and brainwash them.”
Calibri is even carved in the fossilized footsteps of dinosaurs so that when they would step on the ground, before archaeologists would discover them, the dinosaurs would have explained what they weighed, what species they were from, the mighty T-Rex or the majestic Brontosaurus, or the massive Triceratops, even what they had for dinner that day.
It was a flood, a deluge.
He loved the monsoon, and she loved the monsoon. In some weird way, that made her worthy of love in his eyes. Not many people loved the rain, and he failed to understand why. ‘You’ll get wet, but you do when you are showing anyways. What is the big deal?’
As if a sign of God’s anger, of His wrath. Or was it His sadness at seeing the state of the world.
She was not religious. She did not need to be. He was not religious either. His religion was in excellence. Hers was, well he didn’t know that yet. But she radiated noor, holy light, she was beautiful, and to him she was the most beautiful person he had ever met. When he first saw her, she was shy, and meek, bringing samosas. But there was a twinkle in her eyes, one that signified her everlasting mischief, and he loved that about her.
Everything burns, in the end, everything comes crashing down.
He watched the candle flicker, hot wax, slowly dripping from its side. Sensually. Softly, smoothly. As it entered the plate, the contact with the water, emitted a small hiss. He loved fire, he loved how it seemed to be alive, how it burned, and glowered, how it was red, orange, and yellow, all flickering and swaying with its own light. He loved how he could almost see images in its core.
One of our writers pens down a harrowing fictional account depicting how bomb blasts can affect people in Pakistan.
He could see the fire being born in the car. He could see it engulfing the car. He saw the explosion. Shards of metal flew in all directions. The ball of fire expanded as the car exploded and engulfed everything around it in it’s searing embrace.
King to C8.
“Ah. Castling. Nice.”
They’d been at this for years. Both had been fairly decent at chess in the start – and even now, they would tell you they were only just decent for whatever reasons. In reality though, they were masterminds. They slept chess, dreamed chess, breathed chess and even ate chess. It was their sustenance not the food that now tasted like ash.
They would make great and terrible politicians. For their pieces were people, the ground their board. Woe be to the world if either took up the trade.
They had played countless, seemingly endless games. And even though their bodies were decaying with the sins of age, their minds were getting stronger and smart.
Pawn to A1. Promotion to Queen.
If someone were to ask you to write 500 words on a samosa, what would you say? Would you think it was easy or would say you couldn’t do it? If it’s the former, then give it a shot, if it’s the latter, try regardless. It is incredibly difficult to write 500 words on a samosa. Then again, I am kind of cheating by counting this. Only 68 words so far.
What is a samosa? And why do I seem obsessed with it? Well, other than the fact that I am a desi and we take our food very seriously, a samosa is the best thing you can possibly imagine. Potato chips pale in comparison to them. Heck, they aren’t even in the same league. Samosas are a world class snack. And so versatile, you can eat them with ketchup, I personally wouldn’t do it, but they taste good with ketchup, with mint chutney, yum mint chutney… with almost anything you can think of.
Bite into one, and you feel the crunchiness making echoes across the caverns of your mouth. Each bite is one avalanche from the triangle that makes up this delicious treat. And then the pieces of friend bread fall onto your tongue. Hot, cold, it makes no difference. If heaven were to be described in one food, your tongue would immediately say samosa. Past the bread, you move on to the filling. Whether it’s meat or potato, something about being deep fried encased in a layer of bread, makes the perfect ratio between whatever filling you put in it, and cooks them just the right amount. The potato to spice ratio you cannot do wrong when you put the mix in a samosa.
Have you ever seen it being made? Thin strips of the samosa covering being layered, cut, and put next to one another. The mix being made, let’s go with potatoes for the mix for now. Mashed up, spiced up, mixed in a bowl, and then carelessly, generously lathered onto one of the triangular cuts of the covering. The other one sits on top, and then some more layers are added.
Deep fried, you can hear the pot sizzling, the samosas going from caterpillar to butterfly. Not the best comparison? Yeah, probably not. From pasteurized milk to cheese. How’s that? Still a class apart, but that’s the second-best thing. Turning whatever cheese comes from into cheese, that addictive substance we all love.
A samosa can bring you back home in seconds. Have you seen the movie Ratatouille? Remember when the critic eats the ratatouille and his mind’s eye takes him years back to when he was a wee lad, and had his mother’s version of the dish. For the first time in that movie, he smiles, and for the first time, he finishes a dish instead of just tasting a bite, his nose held high and proud. He forgets to criticize food, he remembers the simple pleasure of it. No matter where in the world you have a samosa, whether it’s in New York, or from a grocery store in the States, whether it’s in Antarctica, I haven’t had the pleasure of the last, it always seems to draw you back to the first time you had one. The feelings of home. All the memories associated with it, the celebrations, the joy, the happy mumbling of your stomach, the contentment. Associations with Eid, with Holi, with family. That’s what a samosa means to me. Your turn.
Phew, 584 words.
Imagine having your identity questioned, your religion threatened, and mocked. Told it isn’t a religion, it’s an extreme religion, that you or your religion do not count, do not exist. Every day someone pulling of your hijab, or grabbing you by the throat and telling you to get out of their country. Imagine having to work for, with, and around people that do not accept your religion, think it is an aberration, an abomination. Imagine that.
You know, we desis love to complain, criticize everyone and anyone we can behind closed doors. And yeah, it’s horrible what’s happening to Muslims in this country, in America. But I’m not really talking about America. Have we ever thought about the Ahmedis? The people who call themselves Muslim, believe in Allah? Those people? Have we stopped to think about anyone but ourselves? Because as bad as brown people have here, Ahmedis have it worse in our communities, especially in Pakistan. ‘Will not give service to Ahmedis’, outside buildings, ‘Are you an Ahmedi’ on government forms (the underlying implication being that your application will simply not be accepted if you are).
“Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men.”
I close my eyes. And all I see is a board. Granite. Maybe steel. I can’t tell for sure. It’s dark. And it gleams beckoningly in the dark. An invitation that is solemn and foreboding. An invitation that I know I will not be able to resist. An invitation that I may resist. Resist will all my might. But in the end, it is my might that will undo me. One of the items in the Hare PCL-R checklist is ‘Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom’. This twenty-point list is used to ferret out psychopaths. People who score higher on this list are more likely to be psychopaths. And I might resist. I will resist the temptation. But the board will draw me in. As it always does. Perhaps I will get bored of resisting. I do exhibit psychopathy. But I keep it under check.
The board. It gleams. It is sensuous. Cold. Smells of blood and gravel; of wars fought and battles lost. I step out of my shoes and step up onto the board. It feels smooth and like home. Like the carpet you grew up playing on. The soft, plushy carpet. That when you put your bare feet on, you immediately knew you were safe. You knew you were home. The board is my siren. My lovely mistress. It fulfills my needs; my appetites; I devour all that I can from the board. Or is it the other way around?
I inhale in through my nostrils; a remnant from my stress relieving days. Stomach doesn’t expand. I'm still breathing in through my lungs. I try again making a conscious effort to breathe in through my stomach. A stomach has the capacity to hold thrice as much air as the lungs do. And thrice as much air means thrice as much oxygen. As Brad Pitt mentioned in Fight Club, “…oxygen makes you high.” It makes you more relaxed. Which is why breathing is focused on so much in yoga. Most people are walking around breathing the wrong way, can you believe it?
I inhale in through my nostrils. Dust fills them. Not so much that I break out coughing. But enough that I can tell that it is dust. The board is rusty. It hasn’t been brought out in a while. Sometimes, I feel like I am the only one who recognizes it and plays it. But I know deep in my heart, an empty space only good for intuition that there are high-powered psychopaths out there who use the board only they don’t think of it as the board. Each of them has their own term for it.
As I step onto it, it hums. Reminds me of something I once read about how cats humming and purring has the ability to heal your bones. Nature does work wonders. I wonder if we are all pawns in Nature’s game. Or maybe pawns in the game Allah plays with Shaitan. Definitely pawns in that. I would like to be promoted. But I don’t think I have empathy enough. Then again, this lack of empathy would also make me worthy of promotion. Depends on whose piece I am.
It hums. As it recognizes me. It does obviously. I'm such a frequent player. I kneel to the ground, in this case the board, and stroke it to remind it that I'm back. Of course that doesn’t make sense because it hummed in recognition of my presence. But then some attachments don’t make sense.
I need to play. It is in my blood. Not by inheritance. By injection. I have injected so many doses of this heady drug into my system that I am addicted. It is in my blood. And no amount of stomach pumping can take it out. It is in my blood. And it runs through my veins making the crimson liquid more crimson than the darkest shade of crimson created.
I need to play. I need to beat this new opponent who has dared venture into my territory. Who has dared to think that he can slight me and get as far as two feet away from me. This is my board. This is my game.
And it shall always be my game. It has been my game since the beginning. Since I learned to pick up the pieces. And it shall be my game till the end. It was my game when I lost countless times. When I lost to a singular opponent. It was not my plan. I did my best to win every time. But my first opponent; the man who had opened the doors to the heady granite floor of this majestic battlefield; that man beat me every time. I lost countless battles. I suffered from numerous injuries. But I learned what he was trying to teach me. It is ok to lose. And since I learned that, I have lost battles to win wars. Since I realized that, I beat my opponent. And learned the feeling of soaring in the clouds. The feeling of being ‘on top of the world’ as Imagine Dragons put it in the succinct name of their song. Soaring with the birds. Riding on the winds. Being on a magic carpet ride. I was addicted to the feeling. And I still am. But it tastes so much sweeter when you can an unsuspecting opponent. Like a spider that catches a fly in the invisible strands of its web. And the fly knows before it is devoured that it has lost the game of life.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t try to kill people. I merely make their lives so that they remember not to play around with the wrong kind of people. Play around being a loose term to represent mostly as gangsters would say, ‘mess with’. I make their lives miserable. I'm very meticulous that way. After all, what is a man without morals?
At the same time though, I have little to no scruples with this latest opponent. Yes, I sometimes wonder if he will take his life if he loses this game. And I imagine what will happen if I try to be careful. A little while later, I am back to planning along my original lines.
This opponent has many weaknesses that can be exploited. He has a crush on my friend. She is living on my floor next year. That’s one piece he thinks is his but will easily be manipulated to work towards my ends. Well, not easily. This is one very interesting piece with her own little quirks. She cannot be easily manipulated. But she can be manipulated. Or nudged towards where I want her to go. His little bishop is nothing.
His precious little bishop. In the gleaming board, I can see a reflection of what I used to be. It mocks me. The board mocks me. When I lost my sister, my sunshine, was around the time when I was moving to college. It was around the time I was writing my story on Abdul. It was around the time of tragedy. I was drowning in the greenish blue seas of my own suffering without really dying. And I met his bishop. At the time, she was an innocent observer in this game. At the time, the game hadn’t started. But the stone had started rolling down to the starting line. The gun was being loaded with gunpowder.
His precious little bishop. When I met her, I was losing my mind and yet in it more than ever. I was losing, had lost that most human of things, empathy. I made her my sister, at the time unbeknownst to me, a stand-in for the one I had lost. I put her up on a pedestal. Expected her to be someone she was not. And that was my error-des-fatale. She let me down time and again, not because of her but because of the image I had built up of her. When I finally realized that she was not who the pedestal was for, it was too late. Late for what? I'm not sure. I cant express properly in words.
His precious little bishop. When he first met her, he became infatuated. Or he thought she had a crush on him. That’s one of the things that will be his downfall. His arrogance. It blinds him to what the little pieces are doing. And he becomes naught but focused on the stronger ones so to speak. A pawn being led down a path that would lead to its future promotion would escape his notice. He became infatuated. Or thought she was. And tried to convince me to arrange a meeting that would appear to her coincidental. I didn’t want my ‘sister’ to be entrapped in his charms. I gave her less credit than was due to her. I didn’t let that happen. By the time our game had started, he had already befriended her.
His precious little bishop. She will cause him a lot of pain. I only hope that she doesn’t get hurt in the process. Because of the few people I would avoid trying to hurt if I can without ruining the plans in motion, she would be one.
His precious little bishop. She will be living on the same floor as I next year. She will serve as a distraction. On the board, it will seem that my entire focus is on her and so, he shall rush to protect his piece and make sure it is his own. In that, he will lose sight of the rest of the game. And he will come crumbling down. Like the tower of Pisa would in an earthquake. In a flurry of stone and earth.
His precious little bishop. She will be a very useful tool for his downfall.
The board seems even more sinister now, as if it approves of the cruel and emotionless way in which I am using a human as a piece. But then, it was always critical when I was hesitant while using someone like that. And always approved when the hesitation drowned in the endless darkness of its surface.
“Abe ABCD… Chup.” (Shutup, ABCD)
A typical answer that I have sadly gotten used to when I’m in conversations with my friends from the subcontinent about anything related to the subcontinent. Confused? Why recite the first four letters of the alphabet to me? I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t the brightest all throughout primary school, but thankfully I have, by now, learned my alphabets, so there’s no need to teach me. They also aren’t serenading me with the ABCD song (For those that need a trip down memory lane in 3D)
By calling me an ABCD, they’re actually attempting to ridicule me. According to the always reliable Urban Dictionary, ABCD is a derogatory term used for those from the subcontinent who were born or grew up in the United States and are confused about their identity as an American, Indian or both. American Born, Confused Desi. (Desi [d̪eːsi] is a loose term for the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia and their diaspora. For me and the following rant, Desi is centered around India.)
For quite a long time now, here in the States (where I was born and brought up) and in India, people have used that term against me. I’ve grown up with that term. No matter my understanding of the Upanishads, the political Panchayat raj system or even something as basic as knowing the several different national and regional languages used in India, I will, according to them, never be “Indian” enough.
As someone who considers himself as American as Indian (to be honest, a bit more on the latter side), I haven’t come in terms with that word. Why is someone defining my identity for me? Why, even after my knowledge and understanding of the culture, religions, politics, history, and people, will I never be to their standard of “Indian.” Exactly what is the standard of being a true Indian? Is a dark navy 30 page booklet issued by the government of India (a passport), or having a CBSE certificate of passing your exams suffice as a proclamation of being truly Indian? No.
The reality is that it’s in the human nature to do what is better for you, your family and your future. When you get an opportunity to study and grow up in an atmosphere that will enhance your future, knowledge as well as give you a further understanding of the world, you take that opportunity. Just like the 102, 673 Indian-origin students studying in the United States who took the opportunity to expand their opportunities and moved to the States, my family did what was best at that time for my future and career.
No, I don’t define my understanding of India or being Indian by re-watching Shah Rukh Khan movies or eating rajma chawal. I don’t think that I understand Inda and its plight by watching Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate. I don’t sit back in my comfortable New York City apartment with my feet up on my table as I watch the news that talks about all that is wrong with India and shake my head in agreement. I don’t talk abut about how corrupt and hopeless India is and that nothing can be done about it. Nor do I prophetically talk about all that is wrong about India, and how it can be fixed. But neither do I blindly and patriotically talk about how wonderful India is and chant “Hindustan jindabad” to all the naysayers.
I have been to 23 out of the 29 states in India. And when I say that I’ve gone to these states, I don’t mean just staying at a 5-Star hotel as I enjoy the views or party at clubs. I’ve stayed in cities, districts, and villages in all these states. I’ve spoken to the natives of those areas in different capacities, trying to understand their views, issues and characteristics. I’m not saying that’s enough, it’s nowhere near enough to just visit different parts of India for a short period of time and say you “understand.” That’s never enough. But that doesn’t warrant you to take away my identity, culture and passion. Yes, some might say that calling someone an ABCD isn’t that bad, but you don’t get to decide what is acceptable, especially not while you continuously ridicule someone with that term.
I’m trying. I’m trying to help my people and my nation. I didn’t have to be born and brought up in India to be empathetic towards my own people. I didn’t have to be born and brought up in India to understand the culture, religion and language. I didn’t have to be born and brought up in India to be passionate about my country.
My name is Sudhanshu Chaturbhuj Kaushik. I was born and brought up in Alabama, and I’ve had the honor to experience different cultures and traditions all over the world. I might hold an American passport, but I am just as Indian as any of you will ever be. You can’t take that away from me. I won’t let you.
A cool breeze flew in through the windows and ruffled his hair. He silently listened to the “concert that was going on in his head” as his mother had so aptly dubbed it. The old bus glided through the gate gracefully as befits such an old and noble vehicle, and they were in Aitchison College.
Ahhh… he sighed. Aitchison was his home. It had always been. It always would be. It was not his second home. It was not his home away from home. It was home. And he would always think of it as such.
The huge tires squeaked as the brakes pulled them to a halt and the exhaust pipe let out a sudden burst of air as if burping very loudly.
Acting on impulse, he stood up. Pretending to be oblivious to the stares of his peers, he got out with the Junior School kids in front of the school that he had started his life in his home as. Standing tall, he took a deep breath of fresh, cold air and stared at the building that had in so many ways been the start of his life.
It has changed so much since I was last here. And it does not seem familiar at all.
Nostalgic already, he began walking through the path that took him to the extension of the block where he had started this journey.
And now I am back here again. Hahahaa… Fate is a funny thing.
With two notebooks in his hands; a register and a photocopied version of Janet Frame’s Towards Another Summer, he walked with the Junior School kids in their “coat carpets”.
The stone pathway beneath his feet was a comforting pain, if that made any sense. The cool air blew into his face making him feel as if a refreshing dose of water was being poured over his face slowly soothing and making him alert at the same time. He could see the stone buildings that were in no way similar to the original structure laid down for the college over the centuries. The air smelled of old stone and fresh dew. A new song turned on in his head. Crystallize by Lindsey Stirling. An instrumental. Oh great, he thought to himself sarcastically.
His footsteps were slow and heavy. He walked past the buildings with all their modern touches that seemed at first ugly and ruined the beauty of the majestic college that took pride in its antiquity. Now he accepted them as another phase in the growth of the college, just in the same way that you love your family for who they are; the good and the bad.
A flashback rushed over him in a manner similar to rays of sunlight soothing ones body and making one’s limbs tingle with pleasure.
You see, he had always managed to bag a couple of positions in the swimming competitions at the International School of Choeifat – his old school.
So he was feeling pretty confident. He rolled his arms; others saw him exercising and were awed - just the reaction he had counted on getting from them when he had begun my fake warm up exercises.
The coach, a tall man with a dark complexion and horribly yellow teeth (and a smile similar to that of the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland) that made you nauseous by just looking at them told us to get ready. Looking back, he didn’t know how they had understood a word he said, considering that he had a whistle in his mouth. The whistle blew with a shrill high-pitched sound and they were off.
Imagine a steamroller. Now think of his arms rolling like that. And his arms were pretty flabby. He scrunched his eyes and just concentrated on getting to the finish line. About halfway through, his tensed muscles loosened and he also stopped feeling the friction in the water that comes from a race with a number of other competitors. Lifting his head and looked straight, which is actually harder than it sounds. Everybody was at the finish line. Worse still, they were all staring at him. He lowered his face and completed the remaining half length.
Red faced and embarrassed, he got out of the water, dripping and made his way to the changing rooms.
Sitting on a carpeted floor – which probably had more dust mites than it had children sitting on it – staring in awe at an almost perfect rendition of the world drawn on a blackboard. The room was small; it had previously been a storage room or something of the sort, not a classroom. It had recently taken up the post of a classroom because of the dearth of Pakistan Studies classrooms. The class of 21 was learning geography. The longest river in the world, the largest mountain range, the biggest forest, none of which he really remembered.
Like a faulty faucet, the memories started coming in rushes.
Sitting on a cold stone bench, his every breath fogging up in front of him. Gore block with a watch inlaid into its largest stone arch in front of him; a lush green garden behind him. Waiting for his car to come pick him up because it was “chutti-time”.
Sitting in math class - with an amazing friend - reading teen mystery novels. Hearing a cough. Both of them looking up to see the teacher standing in front of them, arms folded. Her taking their books and placing them on top of a locker which they were not tall enough to reach, despite said friend being one of the tallest people in the entire class.
Faster and faster they came.
Giving up play auditions to go for riding practices.
Falling from a horse one day before the riding competition.
Falling from the same horse the very next day.
Winning the competition.
Graduation from the still-strange Junior School to the mysterious and scary Prep School.
With that, he had reached the point where he turned to the road to his left and started walking on the path next to it. When a car had passed and another was sufficiently far away, he crossed the newly minted road and moved on to where he had started the second phase in his life and the place he actually had memories of.
Walking on the stone path next to the football fields, he took a lungful of the fresh, biting cold morning air.
Wind buffeted him making him rub his hands together and fold his arms against his chest. The cold air left no room for scents of any kind. He heard nothing but a violin playing in the halls of his mind. The Prep School building in front of him; football fields to his left; the riding school to his right.
Such good memories.
Playing basketball with the best of his batch, whatever his games were.
Riding throughout Prep School when most of the eager children had quit.
Becoming Riding Captain.
Drawing for first in the swimming competition.
Becoming a Prep School Prefect; the first from his family.
Bunking for the first time. An assembly. More than half the prefects with him sitting on the steps that led to the first floor. Talking about an ancient PC game – something to do with castles and dragons and whatnot.
Hearing that all the prefects had been called to the headmaster’s office in break. Spending the next four periods in perpetual fear.
Finding out that the meeting was not called to reprimand them, rather to give them a lecture on their duties and responsibilities.
The climax of the song had approached. He looked to his left and saw horses; dozens of horses and little children; some in bright yellow tracksuits and others in the “carpet blazers” that all Aitchisonians were so fond of. Steam was emanating from the sides of the horses. The instructors were “instructing” students.
His entire journey from K4 to H2 had been a culmination of many things but none were as important or as unchanging as his riding experience. With the advantage of knowing riding before entering Aitchison College, he had advanced quickly through the ranks of junior riders.
He had been afraid of the jumps but found in them a pleasure unknown to so many others. The adrenaline rush that coursed through each and every pore of his body when horse and rider were in the air.
Tent pegging. Ahh… wind rushing over his face, making his eyes water. Going at a speed above that of most cars. Feeling the horse panting. A moment, when he and the horse were two parts of the same being. He could even imagine feeling the heart of the horse under him beating. Mere thoughts. There was never time for anything more. The ecstasy that came with picking up a peg. The amount of joy a rectangular cardboard peg contained. Tent pegging. There was nothing quite like it.
He was passing the new Prep School canteen. He walked towards Senior School. As he walked, he stared at the buildings; at the majesty; at the wonder of this institution (a place that had survived two major wars; that had stood while Berlin fell; a place that had stayed whole while the sub-continent was rent apart) a place that he called home. He looked to his right and Aitchison College did not fail to disappoint. He saw a golden sign. Painted on it in blue were the words Bahawalpur House. He had never really known where it was. Just heard about it. Over and again. Despite being in Aitchison for nigh on ten years, he learned something new every single day. It was a school that you could never get enough of.
Too much of a good thing is bad.
Exception: Aitchison College, Lahore
He was at The Old Building (formerly known as Aitchison Hall). He wrenched his headphones out of his ears in respect for the giant of giants, the very first building in Aitchison College where students had classes. He took in the sounds of Aitchison College; birds chirping good morning to his school; squirrels chatting with the trees; gardeners working on the fields they had spent their lives to preserve. The sound of the wind as it blew across his face.
In silence, he walked to the Barry Block and into his classroom.
As he did, thoughts jumbled together in his head; giving him a plethora to ponder over.
What is Aitchison College to me?
It has always been home; how much more is it?
Thinking to the friends he had made, to the experiences he had had, to the facets of his personality that had woken from their slumber because of this school, he found the answer.
Aitchison College is not just a school; it is more than a home; it is a way of life. It is the way of life.
Aitchison College is the breath that wakes Aitchisonians every day,
It is the lullaby to which they go to sleep at night.
Aitchison College is day,
Aitchison College is night.
It is a world set apart from the problems of the outside,
It is the place around which our lives gravitate.
It is Aitchison College.
Bishop to G5.
He was a sociopath. Pathological liar. He loved playing games.
Playing people is like playing chess; you do both for the thrill of seeing a plan come to life or seeing a trap work as you intended. The condition is, you need to realize that the king and the pawn go back to the same box at the end of the game.
He realized that. He played the game for the thrill of it. The pleasure. The euphoria. It was his drug; his ecstasy. And he was hooked. He couldn’t stay away from people for too long.
He loved the game too much.
Knight to F3.
Nothing. He saw nothing in his opponent’s eyes. It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen the move. It was that there was no sign of recognition in his eyes. No fear, no pleasure. Nothing. A perfect poker face. But for the fact that he knew there was no such thing in this game of people.
Knight to F3.
Why has he not seen this? Has he given up? Was I wrong? Does he not realize that we’re playing this? Of course he does. Nothing else would make sense. Well… the best I can do is wait. Patience is a virtue that I don’t necessarily possess but I do know how to pretend. And that does a lot towards fooling people.
In his mind, he was rubbing his hands together with glee. On the outside, he was stoic; a weathered rock. They had been going back and forth at it for a while now.
And there it was. His opponent had just made his move.
Ecstasy. Unadulterated joy.
A text to one person and a face-to-face meeting with another and his move was done.
He walked down the leaf–strewn pavement, eyes downcast and lips pursed tightly. The sky was overcast and grey as if reflecting his mood.
Leaves were strewn across his path; the yellow, small leaves of autumn; the large reddish-brown leaves of summer, the fresh green leaves of spring. The pavement was grey stone, which only served to make the leaves seem more beautiful.
The air smelled of fresh pine and tasted of the earthy scent of forests.
A cool air was blowing making the leaves match his pace as he walked with his hands in his pockets.
The ground felt rough but the good way; the kind that makes you feel as if you are being given a foot massage.
He felt all of this but none of it registered in his head. All he could think of was the scene that had just transpired.
A smartly dressed woman led him to a desk where a jovial, jolly woman in a blue suit was seated.
“Hi, are you here for…”
He finished her sentence with a small smile, “Yes.”
She handed him a folder with a yellow paper and a white paper filled with writing in official print, “All right, you need to read this and then put your name and signature at the bottom.”
“Right. No problem.” He picked up a black, slim pen from the collection at the small table with was covered with a cloth made of a soft vellum material.
“Take your time. You can go and fill this there if you want, just be sure to return it to me.”
He took a seat and started reading those documents.
The turmoil in his head interrupted his flow of thought. Anger. Sorrow. His fingers curled up into a fist and skin on his palm turned white. His eyes were blank and emotionless. If he had grey pupils, one would have thought staring into his eyes was like staring into thunderclouds. Alas, his eyes were the black of oil. Or so he thought.
In a bright tone, she asked, “You all done?”
“Yes mam,” said he.
“All right then. Take a seat. I’ll send someone over momentarily.”
A pause. Then he went to the seats that were arranged so methodically and eventually, someone came over.
The rotund lady in the dress said, “Follow me please.”
They went to a hastily set up cubicle not unlike that in a classic, run-off-the-mill office.
Again came that pain of two emotions rolling and tumbling in his head. Bursting to the brim. A brief stab of pain in his head. The real headache would come later. Now, it was just the shock that was slowly sinking in.
“Have you ever had vaccination shots?”
She scratched off a couple of lines.”
“I have asthma.”
She scribbled that down on a yellow notepad in front of her.
“How long have you been living here?”
“I live in Pakistan. I have just come here for a summer program.”
A pause. Then, “Did you get a coupon.”
Imagine a gorilla scratching his head with his hand and with a look of bewilderment on his face. I was totally about to do that. I resisted and then said, “Yes.”
She put on a smile, the sort doctors put on when they are about to tell you that you have a couple of broken bones, had a minor concussion, “but nothing serious.”
She said, “I am sorry but the RSD has Pakistan on high malaria risk so you wont be able to give blood today.”
The smile alone made him want to break something/ anything. Then there was the matter of his country being a malaria risk. Sure. Sad. Disappointing but he could handle it. To top it all, the lady seemed to think that all he had gone there for was to get the free Dave and Buster’s coupon.
Tears were welling up in his eyes as he stood. He held them as long as it took him to get out of the donation area. Then he let them flow. People stared at him but he didn’t care. As he was on the escalator going down, he took the coupon out of his bag. He closed his hand tightly and threw the piece of paper in a nearby bin.
And now, he sits in his room typing furiously on his laptop venting out all his emotions, as he is wont to do, by pouring his heart in a story.
Thoughts flash through your head really fast when you’re getting kicked in the gut. This is a dangerous country.
A 2010 article of Newsweek made international news with the title, “Pakistan is the World’s Most Dangerous Country”. Growing up in Pakistan, I never once experienced a moment of panic. And yet, coming to the United States, I traded my safety for fear and a higher standard of living.
It was a dark, stormy morning, as if it was a foreboding of what was to come. The pavement splashed and pattered as I walked over it. The air tasted moist and damp; It had rained the night before. The smell of weed rang loudly and obnoxiously through the streets. It was a typical autumn morning in New York.
For “the City that Never Sleeps”, New York sounded suspiciously like it was sleeping. The only thing missing from the light and steady breathing of the wind was the snoring of people. The blackness was reminiscent of the view from shuttered eyelids. I learned freshman year: even cities that don’t sleep, in fact do. New York closed its eyes between four and six in the morning. That’s when I used to wake up to study, for the sleeping city provided solace for me. I could enjoy the two hours, left to my own thoughts, because Sinatra’s “concrete jungle” was silent.
At six in the morning, I would go to the gym. A lone rat or two might be scurrying along Washington Square Park. However, the birds would be resting, the weed dealers scarce, the drunk people passed out. The subways did not ring with the whoosh, whoosh of the trains as they passed by vents from below. The NYU gym would open at six-thirty and as I approached it, I would see no sign of active life. New York would be asleep.
This day, I wasn’t actively thinking about New York being asleep but it was slumbering, true to its unspoken promise. I’d see the random person every now and then, a lone straggler trying to figure out where home was, trying to see through the drunken haze of liquor clouding his eyes. But other than that, nothing.
I had a Crunch gym membership. I wanted to visit all the locations in the city at some point. There’s one that looks like a church from the outside, one that has a view of the Times Square, another that looks like a high-profile bank . Today, I was trying out the one on Leonard Street, near Wall Street. I lived on Union Square. The walk was long, so I had my phone out. My eyes were not exactly glued to it, but comfortably attached to it.
An unfamiliar pattering of feet, one that was not my own, and the splashing of water reached my ears. I looked up. A skinny, tall Caucasian was walking past me. Somewhere in his twenties or thirties? He tottered, small scruffy beard, very skinny, loose, baggy pants. He didn’t seem to be in a state of being physically or mentally capable of harming anyone. Not a threat. I went back to my phone.
My not-very-impressive beard itched on my brown face.
As soon as he was close to me, he rammed into me at a forty-five-degree angle, and I fell down. How hard did I fall? How long did it take? How much did it hurt? The shock of the moment absorbed the pain. My memory flashes between these two scenes as a poorly edited video. One scene. Cut. Next scene. Cut. I ended up on the ground instinctively curled up in a ball.
Kick, kick, kick.
I remember wondering why other people didn’t do anything. Was there no one else on the road? Were the homeless on the streets just numb to this?
Kick, kick, kick.
In 2012, I was about to fly to the United States from a country that had a few years earlier been named by Newsweek as one of the most dangerous countries on the planet. I had never once experienced a moment of fear in Pakistan. Everything I’d been warned about over the months following my acceptance to NYU was reiterated prior to my flight.
Kick, kick, kick.
“Be completely honest at airports. They have all your records and will be suspicious if you say something that didn’t happen,” my parents warned me. As if I wouldn’t, “Be precise or accurate.” Did I really need them to tell me not to lie?
“The people in New York are rude.” I had met some of the kindest people on the streets of New York, people who gave me directions with a smile on their face, and kindness in their voices, and were even too polite to correct my pronunciation of the word Houston.
“Taxi drivers won’t care if they run you over.” I found them to be the nicest and most well-tempered drivers on the road, even when they were being spat on the face by racist, angry, young white men. Those few incidents made my blood boil, as it surely must have made theirs, but those immigrant taxi drivers said absolutely nothing.
“Don’t discuss politics or religion with anyone.” I was too afraid to do that with anyone except my best friends in closed rooms.
“New York is dangerous.”
Kick, kick, kick.
I had never thought about danger until I experienced it.
Thoughts flash through your head really fast when you’re getting kicked in the gut.
The most absurd thing happened. You know how when you’re in a dream, and you hear a voice from everywhere around you. “Wake up, Danish. Wake up.” The voice is coming from the mouth of one of the people in your dreams but the entire world seems to be echoing it. Well, I shouted a loud ‘no’. A ‘no’ that echoed off the sidewalks, bounced off the puddles, jumped off the walls of the buildings. A loud ‘no’. An angry ‘no’. The closest thing it reminded me of was when my dog was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing, “No, Timmy, no.”
Kick, kick, kick.
He stopped. He walked away.
I got up fast. My shirt was twisted, my glasses weren’t on my face, my first thought was for my phone. But the biggest wound of all, the one that would haunt me later, was the stab that the racist had left behind; the idea that even for a country that was as progressive as this one claimed to be, I was not safe just because of the color of my skin.
Should I run after him? I wondered. I really want to. My hands were clenched in anger, in frustration. If I can curl40 pounds, how hard would it be to beat him up? It wasn’t even fair. He threw me to the ground. Why was I even on my phone and not paying attention to my surroundings? My breath slowed. I tasted hot blood on my tongue. My mind was pounding from the rage that was coursing through it. And then: No, what if he has a knife. The kicking is fine, but what if he pulls out a knife, then I’d be done for, I’d be carved up like a turkey. Should I call the police? At 5 in the morning?! I can’t even describe the guy. With my beard, I’d probably get in more trouble than he would. It would waste more time than it’s worth.
I watched his back, as he sauntered away. My heart was pounding, not from fear, but from the anger and the frustration that a skinny, white male could beat me up and I could do nothing about it. My beard began itching and my furious, shaking hands, rubbed the skin underneath it. My breath puffed in snorts and my ears rang with the blood racing through my body. My footsteps made angry, jerky, and fast movements as I walked forward. My nails bit into the palms of my hand. Goosebumps ran across my back. I looked back, he was gone. Fear intermingled with the growing anger. Still glaring at the direction in which my assailant had walked, I realized I did not have my phone.
Had it fallen out when I was being kicked? Had the glass broken? Worse yet, had it fallen in between the cracks in the sidewalk to the subway?
I scrambled for God knows how long, on my knees, looking back every now and then until I found it near a small pond of water on the edge of the sidewalk.
My glasses had fallen from my face to assumed safety and landed a few feet away from me. But they were mistaken about the safety. One side of the frame was broken. I hung the unbroken side onto my shirt, and walked to and into the gym.
The first time I had desi food in this city, I was really craving some semblance of home. I didn’t like the way my dorm dining halls closed at 8pm, and yes, I lived in New York, but I was a freshman, I didn’t know how to get my own food. Coming from a desi household, food was a communal thing. Now, I’m thrown into ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ and anonymity is grabbing me by the neck, and choking me. I don’t know how to feel. And that is why I think a lot of desi kids go over to one extreme, that of religion, or the other, that of drugs, drinking, partying, when they land here. First time I had desi food, I was struggling with the concept of not having communal meals anymore. I couldn’t see my father, slowly eating his boiled rice, and healthy things, I couldn’t take to my mother, and tell her about my day, I couldn’t tell the cook how good the food was, and watch her face light up, I couldn’t elbow my brother and show him the invisible half-line of the table, where ‘his side’ of the table started. And couldn’t tell him and his elbows not to encroach on mine.
So the first time I had desi food in the city, I was very sick for home, yes, even for my brother. A little bit. I was so homesick, that as a freshman, I decided to go to Jackson Heights, the essence of all things desi in Amreeka.
I made a plan with friends, because going alone would have just been sad. Sad! I took two of my best friends along, Ammar and Shajeel. We were wearing the fobbiest things, looking so fobby. I cringe but also laugh when Facebook shows me those photos. Because those were days of newness, of adventure. Right now, I can only write about the first time I went to Jackson Heights.
We stepped off the subway station, to a whole new world. The first thing to greet us was a desi barber store, before we even got out of the subway. Just brown people cutting the hair of brown people, prices proclaimed outside the door, very loudly, because they knew they were cheaper those in the city. A flower ship that was desi, and I don’t know how flowers can be desi but it just was. You ever get that feeling? And then we walked outside. Shah Rukh Khan greeted us, sporting a TagHeuer, and my heart leapt for joy. Yes, very fobby. But I was homesick, I missed my mother, I missed my food, can you blame me?
And we walked to the place, fortunately, we knew how to use Google Maps, so it only took us six minutes for a two minute walk (we got lost, a couple of times). But we walk to the store, and my eyes are drawn to the opposite side as often happens in New York - there’s so much to see, your eyes just learn to flit from here to there – and across from Dera, I see a Gourmet. And at this point, my heart is doing cartwheels. How many times do you see a local chain in another country? The same font, the same color, the same setting of mithai in the window. I was so ecstatic, I dragged my weary friends there.
A dark theatre room. It’s inside of a magnificent house. Seven big, plush, reclining seats in it, each with its own holder for drinks, for popcorn, you name it. What they’re being used for right now, the architect might not have envisioned. A phone in one, a book in the other, a glass of water - a glass of water! Sacrilege – where the soda usually would be. Glasses in one. And the person who owns them rubbing his eyes, it’s late in the morning. Or early in the morning, late at night. We’ve been up all night. Waiting for this one moment. But is that really the phrase for this? This one moment? The moment that lasts almost 9 hours. It’s really that long, this game. 50 overs one side, and then however much it takes to bowl the entire team or for them to make the score and more. It’s a long game. You need to have a lot of patience, one would think. But patience is needed only when you don’t enjoy the activity in question. The people watching this match are passionately in love with the game, especially the one being played right now.
It’s only every few years that Pakistan and India, the estranged siblings face each other in cricket. Every few years that both nations can feel so passionately about a matching as they do when these two face. Because yes, cricket is in our blood. It’s in every kid’s childhood, watching TV growing up, watching his elders jump when their team makes a chakka – scores a six – or watching their faces go sour, when it’s a ‘catch-out’. It’s the only time the entire nation unites in pure, unadulterated excitement, excitement that only kids have before they lose it in the dullness of adulthood, and of adult life.
It’s only ever few years that Pakistan and India clash, as two titans once siblings in the pantheon of gods, once one entity, now estranged, and both cast out from Olympus. And this year, this day, it’s here.
I look at the faces around me, excited, worried, but most of all happy to be here. I’m sure they remember the days they watched these specific games with their families, as I do. The nostalgia rushes over me as a wave sweeps over the shore and washes onto it precious things. I look at them, and they all look similar. We’re all brown, we’re all one people. Different countries, different identities, but we are one. We face the same struggles, we literally have the same foods, the same celebrations, same language. One people.
“And it’s a six!” the TV announces excitedly.
Half of us cheer, half of us remain silent. Our time will come.
I look at them, and I close my eyes.
The car ride here was so much fun. Just desi songs, such a fobby playlist, I remember when all of us started singing as soon as Zaalima came on. And I’m sure we all had the same image in our heads, Shah Rukh Khan wooing Mahira in a black shalwaar kameez, looking like only he can look, and her stunning as well. Windows open, wind racing past us, roaring, and yet even it could not drown out our collective, Indian and Pakistani chorus.
I open them again. The match is still playing. Of course it is, why would it go anywhere.
“Catch out, what a spectacular catch by –”
I close my eyes, the card game. The card games. So much fun. Only desi families, and by extension, desi people can be as obnoxious and loud playing cards as we were, and still be friends after. Just so much shouting, and so much drama. There’s a lot of both, and all in card games by desis, ultimatums, and whatnot.
I open them. What? Don’t look at me like that! I love the game, but I’ve been up since five am yesterday. I was tired. I closed my eyes and fell asleep. The game is over. But really, nothing’s changed. We’re all still friends, we’re very generous. Yes, there a few more jokes from one side, but does that really matter?
In the end, we can all still bond over samosas.