Posted in Cultures, Short Stories

Candle Light

I opened the door. I had left the house to find relief downstairs from the oven that it had become. But the electricity still hadn’t returned. The faint light from the corridor that illuminated the house revealed tan leather shoes near the shoe closet. Not in it, but near it. Dad was home.
I shut the door, flipped a few switches just in case electricity had made a sudden appearance, and then trudged dejectedly towards the room. ‘There’s no electricity’, I declared, even though I was pretty sure Dad had figured that out since the last half an hour of lying on the bed in darkness. I sat on the bed next to Dad. ‘How am I supposed to study now?’ I asked. (I assume) he smiled and replied saying, ‘We have candles in the house’. I involuntarily let out a snort of contempt. In the pale glow seeping in through the windows thanks to the streetlights, I saw my dad half rise from the bed and turn towards me. ‘Why are you laughing? Seriously! There is nothing better than to study by the light of a candle. Do you know why?’ he asked. I nodded harder than Noddy, and said, ‘Yes, yes. Lamp, knowledge, light, enlightenment. Metaphors. I know all that.’ At this, my dad got up completely, sat up straight and leaned forward. ‘No’, he said.
‘A lamp or candle’s light lets out a single flame in a dark room. That single flame illuminates only the immediate area surrounding it, and not the entire room. If you study under candle light then the flame will only illuminate the book. Everything else will remain dark, and therefore there will be no distractions.’
I just stared at him as this sunk in. And I realized that this was the more traditional and probably the most effective way of ensuring ‘out of sight, out of mind’. No wonder we heard all these stories growing up of the generation before us who studied under candle light or ‘burned the midnight oil’ and ended up successful. Our generation has practically everything but maybe that’s our bane. Switching off your phone and keeping it on the table next to you doesn’t do the trick, but keeping it on airplane mode in some other room of the house does. Switching the TV or laptop off does nothing to help you study. But cutting off the cable does. Closing your door and sitting in your room may still not help you. But studying in the dark under a single candle flame might.

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Of my two years in boarding school, he was in one. In the beginning, I would’ve described him as a pompous, narcissistic brat. And he was. An NRI from a well-to-do family with a high-end fancy DSLR camera. He probably had costly branded clothes as well, but since we were always in one or the other of our three school uniforms, clothes didn’t really matter.

I couldn’t pinpoint a certain moment where we became friends, nor could I explain how or why we became friends. I have random flashes of him strutting around with his camera in hand, trying to flirt with random (or all) girls. I remember him walking into the empty class I sat in during my free lectures. I was pretending to study while actually reading Percy Jackson on my laptop. It began with him asking me what I was doing, catching me in my pretence and then sitting next to me to do his own reading. Eventually, we started spending all our free periods together in that empty classroom. I would sit on the bench with my laptop and he would sit on the floor beside me. We would do our respective work. An occasional doubt would be asked and answered. A random fact or quote would be shared. Calculators and pens would be shared. And if he felt bored, he would find a way to annoy me. Typically, he would keep pressing the button of my laptop’s CD drives so it would pop out and I would be forced to push it back in. Only for him to do it all over again.
In the middle of calculus and Shakespeare, we swapped life stories. I learnt about the life he used to live, the life he wanted to live and the life he would probably end up living. I learned about the mistakes he had made and the mistakes he kept repeating.

I guess it’s something to do with boarding schools. Or maybe our particular one. It broke you. It brought you down. And once there was nothing left, it created a brand new you. I didn’t want to be a brand new me. Neither did he. We just wanted to be better versions of ourselves. We weren’t broken pots that needed to be remade. We were decent pots who just wanted to be painted well. And in that fight of ours with the world we were living in, we found a friendship that fuelled our resilience.

Then I left. I graduated but he still had one more year to go. When I visited school a few months later for our annual week celebrations, we spent all of two days together. It was like I’d never gone away, except that now I was allowed to visit the boy’s dorm because I was an alumnus. We spent the entire time catching up and walking around campus reliving memories. When he graduated the year after me, he came to study in Pune. And in the one year that he lived there, he visited Thane twice. Once, just to hang out, check out my house, eat my food and meet my family. The other time he came all the way over from Pune for a day and a night even though I couldn’t host him – all because that day was debatably one of the important days in my entire life. And the best or worst part of it is that he didn’t think it was a big deal. For him, he wouldn’t have done anything differently. It was an important day in my life, and I needed a friendly face who wouldn’t judge me no matter how I performed. I needed him, and he was there. No questions asked.

And that’s what makes him one of the most beautiful people I know. He’s not without faults. But he is unquestionably the best friend one could ever have. He’s not without mistakes. But he learns from them. He is my harshest critic. But he doesn’t judge me for the things I do. He always forgets to message. But I know that if I needed him, he would cross the oceans to be with me. And one day, I hope I can do the same for him.

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Most Memorable Birthday

Shivam and his parents had a deal. Every year at his birthday, Shivam could ask for any gift that he wanted. Shivam would to tell his parents what he wanted one month before his birthday, and they would get it for him. This year, Shivam wanted the giant Lego set that he had seen at the mall. So, on his birthday, everyone got ready to go to the mall and buy Shivam his Lego set.

In the store, just as they had picked out the Lego set and were waiting at the cashier’s, Shivam saw a small box of Lego characters. It was a limited edition collection of many different Lego people that could be mix-matched and assembled. Never in his life had Shivam wanted something so much. He knew, nonetheless, that his parents wouldn’t agree to let him have this gift as well. He had already gotten what he originally wanted.

Resigned to his fate, Shivam took his gift from the cashier and headed out. As he was leaving the store, Shivam saw Rs 500 note fallen on the ground. Quickly, Shivam picked it up and turned around to see who it belonged to. As he turned, his eyes fell on the gorgeous Lego character box that he had wanted only a while ago. His greed got the better of him. Shivam pocketed the Rs 500 note silently and walked out of the store.

Meanwhile, his parents had no clue what had happened. On their way out, Shivam told his parents that he had forgotten something inside the store and rushed back in after giving his excuse. He quickly picked up the little Lego box, took it to the cashier and stood in line for payment. 
As he stood there, he heard a little boy crying loudly. The little boy’s parents were trying to console him, but he kept crying. The cashier went over to the little boy and asked him what was wrong. The little boy told the cashier that he had saved Rs 500 over the year to be able to buy a toy today but he had lost the note. Now the little boy wouldn’t be able to buy the gift that he had saved money all year to buy.

Hearing this story, Shivam felt very guilty. He had parents who were willing to buy him anything he wanted. Moreover, he already had his birthday gift. Because of his greediness, he was about to deprive this little boy of his gift. Shivam quickly put the Lego box back on its shelf. He walked over to the crying boy, handed over the money and informed them that he had found the money fallen on the ground.

By this time, Shivam’s parents had come looking for him. They witnessed this entire incident. Not only were the little boy’s parents grateful to Shivam for saving their day, but Shivam’s parents were also proud of their son.

It was only later that Shivam told his parents the truth about the money and the little boy. His parents told Shivam that he had done the right thing by returning the money to the little boy. That evening during his birthday party, Shivam got one more gift from his parents. They gifted him the small Lego set he chose not to buy as a reward for his honesty.
Published in Balvihar, January 2017 edition