Fiction

‘What If—’ to ‘I Can’

by Uddipana Tamuli

October 12, 2003

“I didn’t mean to kill her. I…I didn’t mean to kill that supreme part of myself whom, at times, I believed to be someone to be counted upon, someone to be leaned on when I found myself sinking in the quicksand of a fear of mediocrity. Mediocrity, ah! I remember now, how long had this thing managed to keep me wedged between my baseless omnipotence over nothing and despondency. I remember now, how long had mediocrity kept me shelled in, back when I was an elementary schooler.

What a rush it was! A rush to outperform in exams when little did I know that Life itself was an ultimate examination… A rush to sink in with the crowd of school groups for just a little attention when little did I know that psychologically, Attention adds weight to our emotional baggage. A rush to secure the best ranks in School House Boards, a rush to be a part of the biggest friend circle in tuition groups, A rush to get the most of attention from the most-respected mentors…What a rush it was!

But in the end of this rollercoaster ride of being a schooler,

I’ve self-excavated and realized a fact that I should’ve realized a lot earlier,

I own myself.”

“Whom are you talking to, Ashwini?”, a familiar voice echoed around the dark corner of the spacious library.

Ashwini froze. She gasped and put a slender hand over her mouth. She jerked backwards instinctively and turned back. Her eyes widened by whom she saw.

” Uh… umm, no—I was just—”, before she could finish, she was interrupted by the person.

“Talking rubbish to yourself, I assume?”

“No… It wasn’t all rubbish, I was just reading a chapter from the library’s new shelf of self-help books, you see. As a bibliophile, I like reading out stories aloud to myself to understand better, you see”, Ashwini tried to put a sweet smile on her face, but her voice evidently trailed-off and she felt her thighs numbed out. How in the world could she be so careless and that too in a high school library, with the most renowned disciplinarian in school around?

It was Mr Umashankar Prasad Maheshwaraay, or to name like the other high-schoolers do when they caricature the School Staff, U.P.S—which information-technologically means, An uninterruptible power source. If anything, this terminology best describes his fierce attitude and strong perspectives of viewing anything important.

He has been working as a Mathematics teacher in our school for more than a decade now, and has the highest record of handling the notorious of batches of students every year. If you think that’s not much, he even owns the highest record of being one of the few teachers managing to make his way through thick and thin in our school, when most of the teachers had resigned when they were given the responsibility of handling the notorious of batches. You think that’s impolite to say as a student? Honestly, it isn’t just some of the students who are aware of these facts, it’s the whole school!

“Oh, Is that so? So you were reading a book out loud to yourself, right? Child, if this is really so, why can’t I see any book on your hands? My eye sight isn’t that bad though my eyes are myopic, and so I am sure about not seeing you dropping any book right at the moment I came in. So don’t lose your time giving me that excuse, do you understand?”, his voice striked through her ear canals like a sharp knife through butter and her heart pounded like a jackhammer not knowing how to revert to that.

Taking in a gulp of air, she said,

“S-s-sorry… s-sir”, her voice began to quiver like a novice telemarketer in her very first sales call. Her eyes were bleary, too wet to even look straight into his eyes.

By degrees, she looked up only to find her teacher gone. There was an unexpected silence surrounding her, a silence which was capable of inducing madness.

She sighed. She rubbed her eyes and wiped off the tears before they were just about to fall down her cheeks making their way through her chin and finally resting on her collarbone.

“Sigh”, she sighed again, but this time in a sense of relief.

~*Trrrrrr-rrrrrr-iiinnnggg*~

There goes the bell, she whispered under her breath.

She hurried down the stairs, making her way through the crowds of students and groups of duos in the corridor.

She made her way out as soon as she could to not make her father wait, because if she did, she was aware of the consequences.

Breathing in a gulp of air, she stepped out of the gate, and there he was, her father. A precisely fitted lush green coat with soft pink pinstripes gave him an elegant look, his red-tinted chic eyeglasses added just the right amount of decency to his look. He looked at Ashwini with his eyebrows lowered and drawn together as if he was looking down to any cypher and not his own daughter. He pointed his index finger to the back door of the car. Ashwini followed his finger indication, and got up in the car.

Her home was a few kilometers away from school, which took and hour and a half to reach.

The first thirty minutes in the car were silent, obsolete. Then out of a sudden, her father said, “When you get back home, head straight to your room and get ready. Guests will be visiting us in a while, and you dare not blurt your future Arts stream ideas out to them if they ask you anything about it, do you understand?”

“Yes, papa”, came the short and straight answer.

A hard and cold stroke of airbrushed past her eyes, which reminded her of the depth of helplessness she was victimized with. She was tired of convincing and requesting her parents for a thing that actually, should be in accordance with what she desires.

She doesn’t live in a culture filled with volatility, uncertainty and insecurity! Then, why is she down on this helplessness, this plight?

For months, she has been coaxing her parents to let her opt for the Arts stream over Science. And every time she told this to her parents, their gaze remained downward.

At times, she even gathered the courage to ask her father about the same, but every time the answer was,

“With Arts, you can never bag the success which you desire for, my dear. Go with science, once you complete your HS, we’ll get you admitted to a medical college and there you’ll have it! You’ll be successful.”

Medical science? She isn’t interested in medical science, and if it doesn’t interest her, needless to say, there should be no point in dealing with it.

This was her motto.

Every time she tries to trust-walk with her own perspectives, she is kept shelled in.

April 23, 2004

It was the last day of the two-weeks long matriculation.

The school bell rang louder than usual.

Beads of perspiration flowed down Ashwini’s forehead as she headed towards the campus gate.

Groups of students’ duos and trios crowded near the garden seats.

Amidst all the loudness of voices around, her inner silence felt louder. A silence with hints of a fear of losing oneself, a silence capable to induce the loudness around.

*Tap-tap*

Someone tapped Ashwini’s shoulder from behind.

Ashwin felt a warmth on her shoulder which she had never experienced before and instinctively, turned around to see who was behind.

A lot more beads of perspiration began to flow in irregular directions all over her face after she saw U. P. S right in front her, standing in an unusual manner, like the ones shown in Charlie Chaplin comedy movies.

“Good day, Ashwini. How was your paper, today? Easy enough to pass, I assume?”, he asked her in his everyday-ironic tone of voice.

” Y-y-yes s-sir. The paper was good.”, came the short but precise reply.

“Well then, this was your final paper. And you have got just some months to decide upon a conclusion for your future plans, you are ready for that, aren’t you?”, he asked.

” I guess I am, sir.”, lied Ashwini. Sigh, lying was the only way to lean on when the home truth couldn’t be shared.

“You really are, aren’t you? Because if you are ready, that’s good. And if you aren’t, that’s not a problem too.”, he exclaimed.

Huh? Not being ready to decide upon this big thing is not a problem too?!, Ashwini thought to herself. She recalled all the times when she was a sixth-grader and became the laughing stock in class just because she couldn’t decide upon an aim. She recalled the times when she was forced to make up her mind to finalize the Science stream for HS as her decision by her parents. She recalled the times when her friends taunted her for taking part in school music clubs because music clubs were for mediocre students and that’s what they thought about school clubs.

And now, just a few months before her new journey from a school to a college, what the most renowned teacher in school tells her is that not being ready to take up any decisions in this warped time is not a problem…?

“Umm… pardon, what do you mean sir?”, she asked with a perplexed expression.

“I mean exactly what you just heard.

Child, do you remember, a few months back, I caught you talking to yourself in the library?

Now if you’re thinking about what has that got to do with your future plans, let me bring it to the clear. Child, back when I heard you talking to yourself, instantly I remembered my ninth-grade school days when I was so worried about my future plans, the same way as you are now.

Back then, everything looked unsettled and everyone…disturbing. My father was out of town on official grounds, and so I lived with my mother. She too worked in the local elementary school and was quite serious about my academics. I had a great interest in learning to play Violin, and master the Bhatkhandee Violin courses, as a child.

Though we had the money to own one, my parents didn’t let me. They refused to buy me a Violin and even refused to let me play with the other children in our neighbourhood.

So every time I used to hear them play outside my window, I felt the depth of being kept shelled in when it was high time for me to fly out to the world.

Soon, melancholy hit me hard like it was supposed to. I became even stricter to things which I wasn’t supposed to be at all. I forgot sympathy. I forgot that kindness was free. And, ultimately, I was victimized by self-centeredness.

  1. P. S drew in a gulp of air, with his head lowered which revealed the blue nerves bulging out of his wide forehead.

He continued, “Sorry child, sorry if I am oversharing, but the day when you’ll realize that you don’t enjoy your job will be the day when you’ll self-realize that you didn’t do a good thing when you didn’t listen and trust-walk with your interest. What interests you, is made to be yours, and to understand that better, you’ll need to understand that your fears are always a little bit stronger than your faith. And if you understand that, this roller-coaster ride of a student will definitely be easier on you.

My child, I have seen the powers of fear,

how it creates memory, and silence, and keeps the victims wedged between two dangerous hooks.

Before a hard and cold world places your natural genius into bondage by a riddle of complexity, always remember, you’ll need to listen to yourself first.

I know Ashwini, many of the students, batch after batch, call me names, and oh! How can I forget U. P. S?

You think I don’t know about that, do you?

Well, I do and I don’t mind being taunted my students with any names.

I am happy because I have the ones who can call me names, it’s better than to sit in a hot seat 24×7, following orders and stressing out over anything unimportant. Change the thought of ‘what if’ to a will of ‘I can’.

Teacher as a profession was not what I expected to follow, but as I am here now, I have realized that I am happy.

And, I wouldn’t be telling all this if O didn’t see you in the same state as I was when I was of your age. Ditto!

Time is always reminding us that there are more dreams to be re-discovered, more joys to be celebrated, more love to ourselves to be manifested.

And most importantly, we have our own heart to listen to.”

Ashwini could feel her thighbones freezing after all the things she just heard. She felt an un-experienced firmness that blurred all the reels of memory that was worrying her over and over again. She felt lighter as if something heavy had just dropped off her body. A sudden stroke of keen pure air brushed past her eyes.

“You are right, sir. Thank you.”

Without looking up, she ran up to the car and got up.

Her relatives were visiting her place, and it’ll be like an entire family get-together party.

The clock showed 4:00 pm, and the guests were assembled for a nice talk after their luncheon.

“So what are your next plans for HS, Ashwini?”, came the question from her uncle.

She glared at her parents. Her mother widened her eyes intentionally to not let her sink in the quicksand of the home truth, and her father rolled his eyes off hers, pretending to look all happy-go-lucky, which intentionally was meant for her to understand to handle things out.

Umashankar sir’s words came one after another like movie reels on her mind, and with a sudden fierce intensity not previously seen, she exclaimed,

“I am planning to follow the Arts stream, Mamu. You see, it’s important to enjoy a task when we do one and it’s even more important to listen to ourselves when it’s the right time to do so.”

Without waiting for a second glare at her parents and to listen to how everyone would revert to what she told, she smiled to herself and turned back to head straight to her room.

“U.P.S, I can’t thank you enough for this striking firmness I have in myself today. If anything, I can only re-term your name to Indestructible & Powerful Saviour (U.P.S)”, she whispered under her breath.

March 16, 2018

 “Ma’am, the company has signed in the collaboration papers, they were asking about you too.”

“Okay, good. Did you inform them about the deal?”

“Yes ma’am. I did.”

Allow me to share what happened to Aswini since the time of that most surreal adventure she experienced. I know you’re probably wondering.

Ashwini has become a fabulously wealthy woman who can now stand on her own feet as any medically qualified individual could. She is a proud entrepreneur, having grown a company she founded into an iconic enterprise. She works hard, but she also enjoys her time off a lot.

If anything, there has been a lot of changes in her life now.

There has been a lot of changes, from being a school freak who talks to herself, to a respected company founder and owner.

From sleepwalking with the flock to learning to take each step carefully.

From following what the others have to say about her, to listen to what she has to say about herself,

There has been a lot of changes, indeed.

And as for the Mathematics teacher, if you might be wondering,

He has retired now but is still working being in his 70s.

He is also a firm owner of a non-governmental organization named, Art Is Free.

Moral Of the Story:-

Self-realization and self-excavation are two of the many essentials needed to lead our own lives. Inspiration can come from anywhere, we just have to be good opportunists to find them. Art and talent are free and unchained.

 

About the Author

Uddipana Tamuli is a ninth-grader in Springdale Senior Secondary School, Jorhat, Assam, India. Her co-scholastic interests include swimming, playing the Violin, classical singing, debating, and bibliography. 

 

3 Comments

  1. Rupanjali Bhuyan

    So beautiful and talented piece of art!! Being only a ninth grader she has surpassed even eastablished writers….

  2. Vikash Upadhyay

    This literally made me cry

  3. Priyakshi Ahuja

    Splendid piece of art hats off to this kid

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