“Why do you always sit by the window and smile staring at the stars? What joy do you get from it? Your Sinha aunty suggested I take you to a psychologist in front of a room full of ladies, all from our neighbourhood,” yelled Lata, my confidant first and mother later.
Lata has always been a hyperactive child with an innate ability to stress over the smallest of things. She panicked so much that her school friends distanced themselves from her citing a very puny reason- her stress disorder is contagious.
Twenty years and two children later, Lata is just as hyper and worries just as much. Ask her why she never works on her characteristic trait, “One cannot just do away with something they are born with,” comes the reply.
For as long as I can remember, I have always lived under the well-protected shelter of my loving family. My brother- a little irresponsible, sometimes cranky and often self-centred- is the apple of my eye. From the day I was born till today, he is the face I have woken up to every morning and I would not have it any other way. If my mother showed how to walk, it was Joel (my father fancied Englishmen, hence the name) who taught me how to tip-toe. If Lata got into heated arguments every time someone called me ‘ugly’, Joel inspired me to be comfortable in my skin.
But that was a different brother I had known, times have changed now. I have changed. Lata has changed. Joel has lost himself. He no longer inspires me to rise after every fall, no longer commands me to guard my dreams. Time can be diabolical; it can trick you into believing you don’t matter to your folks. Or, in case of Joel, your folks don’t matter to you.
Adulthood has played a queer game with our family; sleep-overs have replaced family dinners, trips with friends have replaced family vacations. A ruthless urban stranger has replaced Joel.
Just like a bereaved wife finds love in the memories of her deceased spouse, I too found solace in the next best thing to have ever happened to me- writing. Writing, how can a term as simple as this trap you into a utopian world of ecstasy? How do words weave magical traps that engulf you for eternity? I always wondered.
Before I could realize, the dream of being a writer had turned from a mere interest to a hardcore ‘dream’. No, I wouldn’t settle for anything else.
Joel might have undergone drastic changes, hormonal and otherwise, one thing remains constant- his passion for business. He loves numbers. I love words. He fancies himself wearing formals and storming into the chambers of CEOs and CFOs with his bright idea. “I have an idea that will change the face of Indian economy, it will be a path-breaking invention in the world of business,” insists my brother and Lata believes it. She has always managed to turn blind to his faults and overlook his flaws.
My day-dreaming, sitting quietly by the window and minding my own business, may have brought her shame but Joel’s loud and obnoxious claims were never silenced by our mother, because according to her, his ideas only brought glory and good name to the family. And it is their inexplicable confidence in his ‘path-breaking idea’, sans logical backing, that has promoted the duo to take the plunge. Just like me, Jo also wants to give wings to his dreams; he too wants to go aboard.
While my days find me engrossed in preparation, nights are usually tucked under the blanket of writing. I like to borrow someone else’s plight or triumph and add color to it through my imagination.
“I want to be a creative writer, Maa. I will write fiction,” I often tell my mother with pride. Because that’s what it has been for, pride. After years of disappointment in the form of an alcoholic father, writing saved my ship. In the tunnel of darkness, my dream came as a glimmering ray of hope. It offers an escape from a life filled with futility.
My urge to write has reached the level of obsession now. I will go to America. “I will clear the TOEFl test with flying colours and apply to University of Iowa,” I thought to myself.
Not Princeton, not Harvard. I want to get into University of Iowa for two reasons: their creative writing programme tops the world charts as ‘best university for creative writing’ and Lata can afford to pay 10% of its total fees.
“Joel is breaking his head studying for his CAT exams and all you do is day-dream,” concluded my mother. On rare occasions when Joel did sit to study, Lata always sat by his side, fanning him in scorching heat and feeding him dry fruits lest he falls sick before the D day.
While his sincerity is something that the whole of our neighbourhood frowns upon, I will be elated if my brother makes it to whichever university he aspires to be a part of. Because, irresponsible or not, he is still my kin. We had shared the same womb and I still l love him.
On the day of his test he looked astonishingly calm and gave me a nod for a reply when I inquired about his paper.
“It went okay, could have been better,” explained Joel to my mother who, in her head, has already sent him to America.
The river bed looks celestially beautiful on rainy days. I always find myself dumbfound by the enormity of the river post a washout. The banana trees that the storm has uprooted look scary. The droplets follow a chain- from the tip of a larger leaf falls into a relatively smaller one and so on- as if the storm had conspired with them, as if they had known it would happen. As if they had rehearsed for the aftermath.
My groggy eyes cried for sleep but how can I rest when my dream university has just sent me their acceptance letter:
Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that I offer you admission to the Universtiy of Iowa for the class of 2017.
Your thoughtful application and remarkable accomplishments convinced us that you have the intellectual energy, imagination and talent to flourish at UoI…”
Since 2 o’clock I have read the letter like a zillion times still the fact that my dream university thinks I am just as capable and deserving has not sank in yet.
“They will wake up at 9 in the morning. In the pretext of tea party, I am going to surprise them with this news.”
Staggering through rocky lanes and muddy isles, I finally reached my den and climbed up to my room.
“Tomorrow will mark the beginning of a new life- no more haunting memories of my alcoholic father beating me to sleep, no longer hiding behind bushes to save myself from the embarrassment of being yelled at by him- tomorrow will be different,” I assured myself.
I thought I would see no one at home as I had overslept but to my utter surprise, Joel is home and so is my mother Lata. His look suggests he has just won a lottery worth millions of dollars and Maa is staring at him like he is some Bollywood actor. He is happy for something unknown. She is happy because he is happy.
“Maa, Joel, could you guys please sit down for a tad bit? I have something to tell,” I said, suppressing my grin with great effort.
“We have something to tell you too, you will not believe what just happened.”
“What? Is it very important or should I go first? Maa, whatever you both say”, I said.
“I cannot keep it to myself anymore so I am going to go first. No, I think I will burst into tears. Joel, why don’t give your small sister the good news.”
“So..? What Joel”
“I received an email from University of California last night. Their New York campus has accepted my application. Jiniya, I am going to New York. My ideas will finally see light of the day.”
Although it felt like a mighty blow to my stomach, I was genuinely happy for my big brother. This good news brought along the sad realisation that my dream has now been overshadowed by my big brother’s. I knew my dream has to slip out of my palms and I must watch it go, silently. Helplessly.
“Since University of California has a very high fee structure, I have decided to sell this ancestral house and shift back to your grandpa’s. Joel will use all the money for his fees, the surplus amount will be covered by bank. I have already spoken to them,” revealed my mother. I could not believe what I just heard. My father has left nothing and my mother is planning to sell off the only piece of land we have ever owned to pay for his tuition fees, what am I left with? How will I pay for my university degree? What about my dream?
“You can sit at home and write and once I am big and famous, I will help you get your books published. I will go to all the publishers in town and show them your work, till then take care of Maa. Be home and continue writing. You write well,’ said Joel. His happiness knew no boundaries and I did not have the heart to upset him. I was a giver, will always be.
“So what were you saying? What have you got now,” asked my mother.
“Naah…Nothing much…I mean nothing serious. I had taken part in the alumni writing competition and secured 1st position in it,” I lied. I had to.
“See, we always told you you’re gifted, didn’t we?” asked the mother-son duo in unison. “Yes you did, you sure did.”
“You had applied for UoI. What happened?” Joel asked, reluctantly. “They rejected my application.”
“Don’t lose hope, write at home.”
“You won an award for your story. Which one was it for?”
“Fall and fall of a dreamer.”
I slammed the door and disappeared into darkness.