Categories
Fiction Narration Story

Happy Birthday!

The sun’s rays pierced through the plate-glass window of my flat, penetrating right into my eyes, rudely awakening me from my sleep. Mom used to constantly scold me for not sleeping facing the sun, years back when I was a child. Even though I used to disobey her back then, I started following every word of her advice, including this one, once I had moved away from home. My tummy rumbled as I slowly made my way out of bed. It had reason to be upset, for, it has been surviving on liquids for the past couple of days. I took a cursory glance at my watch to check the time, only to realize that it didn’t have a watch any more. It, along with my iPhone 4S now rested at a local shop, and had helped me survive the past couple of weeks. I fished my old Nokia  from underneath my pillow. It quietly announced that the time was 9.30 AM. Quite early, by my current standards. Nearly two months back, at the same time, I would be taking time off to enjoy the breathtaking view of Singapore, from my cabin in my company’s 24th floor office…

Those days were long gone. Life turned upside down overnight, thanks to a monster called recession. One night, I was partying with my friends at the Acid Bar, and the very next morning, I get the pink slip… Life does work in mysterious ways. Everyone was ‘shocked’ (at least, apparently so) by my exit from the company. I was billed as the rising star, the next in line to be the CEO. All those dreams were shattered, in a face-saving act by my boss, who decided to save his skin by putting all his blames on me. The damage was done; the black mark on my career was permanent. No other company would offer me a job, my boss had pulled his strings to ensure just that. The fighter that I was, I decided to fight back with a vengeance. In the past two months, I had knocked the doors of every consulting company that had its offices in the island-country. Their replies weren’t that disheartening though. All of them said, they would they ‘consider’ me, and that they would present my case in the forthcoming board meeting (which never happened). And whenever I called them back, they said they were still ‘considering’. Despite the failure of every ‘consideration’ – I never lost heart. I always believed in my values and in Krishna.

It seems that Lord Almighty too had left me out in the cold.

I noticed a blinking message icon on the top left of my Nokia. My inbox was full, thanks to SMS remainders from the bank, asking me to pay up the latest installment of my home loan. I never even bothered to open any of those messages – they are going to kick me out anyway. I should survive till then, somehow. While clearing the pending messages, the phone beeped. There were a couple of incoming messages. I shrugged and opened the latest text. Thank God, it wasn’t another ‘gentle reminder’. It was a text from her.

HBD. 🙂

It took me a second to decode the acronym.

And yet another, to remind me it was this day, 28 years back, that I was born.

She was the only person, apart from my mom, who religiously remembered my birthday. I never thought she would wish me on my birthday, even after we broke up last month. I was genuinely touched, and I badly wanted to reply, with a hundred :-* smileys’ to say that I still loved her with all my heart! Mom too must have tried to call me, only in vain. My mobile connection was quietly deactivated by Singtel last week. Thankfully, they still allowed incoming messages.

I could literally hear my tummy’s rumble this time. Must grab something. I did a quick search for my purse and found it exactly where I had left it: atop my shelf. I approached it with alacrity. I did remember seeing a $10 note last night. It was all what was left from the $600 I’d got from selling my iPhone and watch. It should get me something. SOMETHING. I opened the purse with expectation.

It was empty.

I checked again – I was damn sure that I did see the note inside. Hell, I literally survived on water and orange juice for the past couple of days, so that I could eat something solid today! That hope too was gone. I felt dizzy, probably from staying hungry. I quietly slumped down on the floor. The purse slid away from my hand and fell down. I could feel my head throbbing. I stared at my purse, which was flooded with $1000 notes at one time. It was months now since it saw even a $500. Suddenly, I noticed part of a red coloured paper jutting out from an inner-chamber, near my credit cards. I quickly took the purse and emptied my five hugely-overdrawn credit cards. I had the surprise of my life!

There, underneath the cards, lay a crumpled $100 note!

Snippets of memory started trickling in. I had kept that $100 note underneath my cards about six months back. My purse was so stacked with notes that there wasn’t any space to keep the $100 note I got as change from buying groceries. Left with no other option, I removed my Platinum Visa card and stuffed the note into that pouch, and had forgotten about it!

I thanked every God I knew for giving me the ultimate birthday gift!

I quickly ran, and changed into a shirt and a pair of jeans – prized possessions of mine, and rushed out of my flat. Despite having had nothing for the past couple of days, I managed to run as fast as I could to the nearest hotel – a Chinese restaurant next to my flat. My tummy craved for their delicious noodles, and I was about to eat like a king! Passers-by were staring at me, I was pushing my way through the crowd, fighting my hunger, desperate to enjoy my own birthday treat!

As I was about to into walk into the restaurant, panting, I felt a tug on my jeans. I turned to see a small girl, maybe 7-8 years old, pulling my jeans. She was a cute little child, looking at me with tears streaming down from her eyes. I leaned down, and ruffled her hair, like I normally do with kids.

“Hello darling! Why’re you crying?” I asked.

She pointed her fingers towards the hotel. Three muscular men, similarly dressed in waiters’ attire were running down the aisle pointing at the girl. One of the ran towards me, and grabbed the girl by her wrist, and started shouting at her in Mandarin. Another guy raised her hand and was going to slap her. I was alarmed. I quickly pulled the girl back from the ruffians and asked them what was wrong. Apparently, the girl, who was a beggar, had eaten from the restaurant and tried escaping without paying the bill. They were chasing the girl, who ran to me and hid behind me.

I tried reasoning with the ruffians, but they wouldn’t listen. Using my broken mandarin, I somehow convinced them that the matter could be settled, only if they would calm down.

“The girl ate noodles worth $85. We need her to pay up, or we’re going to the police.” one of them managed to speak in broken English.

I looked at the girl, who was now weeping. I saw myself in her. I would have probably done the same thing, if I hadn’t found the $100 note. And I’d probably end up in jail too, for stealing food. I didn’t want this little girl to end up in some dingy children’s home for a mistake any human in her situation would make. My tummy started rumbling louder. I decided to ignore it once again. Another day of liquids wouldn’t kill me, after all.

I paid the sole $100 note to the ruffians, who quickly went to the counter and gave me the change. I took the girl to an ice cream vendor nearby and bought her a chocolate ice cream for $15.  As she finished eating, I patted her and turned to walk back to my flat. As I was walking back, I heard a faint voice, saying “Happy Birthday”. Shocked, I turned back.

There girl had gone.

My tummy stopped rumbling.

P.S. Inspired from Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer‘s ‘Janmadinam’.

Categories
Engineering Fiction Life Narration Story

Six Point Someone (Three Backpapers Attached)

[All names, characters and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. Identification with actual persons, places and products is neither intended nor should be inferred. If you tend to do so, chances are that your inference could be purely coincidental. However, if your sense-of-identification is a notch too strong and you start accusing this author of blatant plagiarism, it is probable that you suffer from a severe case of cognitive dissonance and/or you are a conspiracy theorist. Should the aforementioned situation arise; the author strongly recommends you to consult a psychiatrist pronto.]

Once, a child was born in the country of India. Now, that’s nothing new, for; more than a hundred thousand children take birth each day in the ghettos of this country. This child (henceforth christened ‘X’) however was better off than a good number of his 99,999 contemporaries, his parents being highly-successful and renowned engineers. Eons before X was even conceived, his parents had lofty ambitions about him. Together, they dreamt about their would-be son ‘Engineer X’ pioneering NASA’s pilot, manned-mission to Mars some thirty years down the line. X would marry an engineer and their children would also be engineers (who would first set foot on Jupiter, at 2090!) They cherished the very thought of originating a true-blue engineer family-tree. In a bid to entrench their son’s NASA-future, X’s parents actually played a (scratchy) videotape recording of Armstrong’s & Aldrin’s “Small step for man & Giant leap for mankind” exactly when X was being conceived (possibly to give a bombastic start to his résumé!)

Pangs of having been subjected to the moon-mission video in the primal phase of his embryonic avatar perhaps, our friend was not exactly brilliant by modern parlance, where brilliance is often synonymous with an eminent academic record. He was more of your average, buck-toothed, next-door-geek. Though he had an unassailable memory and an IQ of 129, he despised the very idea of sitting long hours before the books, mugging facts and figures. X was obsessed with analytical and logical problems since childhood. Right from his pre-teen years, he made friends with the computer. When his friends would spend long hours playing NFS or Counter Strike, X would be busy coding. X’s parents did not particularly endorse this trait of his. They argued that his coding skills, which might eventually induce a host of problems ranging from myopia to cyber crime, would be detrimental to his NASA admission. Consequently X witnessed a massacre of his Gatesian dreams, dutifully aided by his dad’s multi-encrypted passwords on the PC which steadfastly resisted his frail brute force attacks.

To help X obtain the best possible school education, his parents admitted him to a Jesuit-run boys’ school – de facto acknowledged as home to the crème de la crème in town. By the time X passed his tenth grade with a heartening 87%, his parents had shed much of their astronomical (pardon the pun) dreams, fully realizing that their son wasn’t exactly NASA material. Nonetheless, they believed he was brimming with potential and started crafting IIT dreams for him.

X was obligingly enrolled for Engineering-Entrance-exam coaching classes at the start of his 11th grade. X wasn’t too enamored, but he gave in realizing that as an engineer he could specialize in his cynosure; computers. Before long, X understood that he wasn’t exactly IIT material. His course material was demanding; he had to put in hours of untiring ‘work’ (read mugging) on a daily basis to crack JEE, the Holy Grail of all entrance exams; not to mention a dozen others. Initially, he did his best to comply with the haranguing schedule, but soon he realized that he was wearing himself out to near-death. Brickbats from parents and instructors alike destroyed his peace of mind. Gradually, X saw a stubborn reluctance to work (mug) cultivate within. He began resorting to rather inventive methods to deceive his tormentors to his favor. To top it all, he developed an obsessive attraction to a stunningly-beautiful girl in one of the coaching classes. Ergo, a once-highly-ranked X saw his position dip to abysmal lows, never to bounce back again.

The retribution came along with X’s results. Our IIT Aspirant secured a measly 82% for his boards, qualifying only in his state entrance exams and that too with an appalling 2000+ rank! X’s parents, who almost expected their son to top the JEE were dismayed beyond proportion. Pipe dreams about their son ruined, they blamed him for bringing all their reputations to peril. Though, with time they more-or-less reconciled with their son’s fate, the debacle saw a pernicious strain build up in the parent-child relationship. Things were worse for X; his classmates, most of them not even half as intelligent as he, bade him goodbye to join prestigious institutions. What’s more, he even ‘lost’ his girl, who probably never knew X existed despite his best ‘efforts’. Besides, X wasn’t quite sure whether the girl would accept his ‘proposal’ going by his looks which were unpalatable even by conservative standards.

After a delayed, three month-long ‘counseling’ process, X got admitted to a mid-ranked Govt. Engineering college in town. X was alacritous when he was allotted the trade Information Technology. Finally, he could dabble with computers! Gatesian dreams returned in full throttle, which saw him pouring over dictionaries coining names for his soon-to-be-launched start-up firm. Sadly for him, it was only the beginning of what would be the worst-phase of his life. The first shock came when he stepped into the portals of the college which looked more like the quintessential primary school, complete with tiled-roofs and ramshackle walls, exactly like those one gets to see in third-world ghettos. After his first month in college, X’s notions about his alma-mater meliorated nevertheless. He realized that beneath the unassuming tiled roofs, functioned a robust institution
which could brag about some of the best teaching faculty, infrastructure & campus placements in the state. The elation, albeit was ephemeral. His course material, though engrossing to some extent, required zilch intellect and maximum mugging! The recognition came with the marks of his first internal examinations for which his performance was dismal in all subjects but Mathematics. Constant reprimands from his Lecturers became part-of-life for X.

Even so, X demanded immense respect and bonhomie from his college mates who were enamored with his refined, euphonic, affable and Jesuit-perfected self. An acclaimed singer and part-time wordsmith, X won numerous accolades in intercollegiate festivals. His Gatesian dreams bought him an entire fan following. Some even acted Venture-Capitalists, agreeing to cough-up money to foot his dreams. For the first time in his life he was being loved and respected for the facets of his life that did not pertain to academics. Throughout the first year of his college life, X worked on improving himself. He got hooked to the habit of reading, devouring almost one book a day. He followed developments in and around the world through television, internet and newspapers and would debate tirelessly on sundry topics from Bush’s incompetence to the perennially-doomed nuclear deal. Having broken into the computer with an indigenous key-logger code snippet, X honed his once-lost coding skills to perfection. X began writing too: his works encouraged by friends & prizes in essay writing competitions.


University exams approached fast. X’s buddies dusted open their long-closed books and got down to some serious studying while our friend didn’t even bother. By now, he had totally repudiated the idea of mugging. He spent hours daily with his old friend, the computer. He was in a totally different world; his study skills in abeyance, perniciously rotting in his hedonism. By the time he woke up from his cocoon, it was way too late. With hardly three days left for the exams, there was nothing he could do. His weak, impenitent attempts at pulling himself back to track failed miserably. X was still in blissful idyll, capriciously reaffirming his last-minute-study skills. The exam season lasted a month. The last day of the examinations was a breather for X, haggard after all the pressure they had on him. He knew his scores would be abject in entirety. But for Engineering mathematics & graphics, the content in almost all other papers were based solely on his general knowledge! Had he paid attention a notch more, he could have done better! Dejected, X vowed that he would work hard the next time.

Promises and vows are always made to be broken. The new-broom-sweeps-clean phenomenon didn’t last long in X’s case either. By early third semester, X was back to his old self. His academics did show remarkable improvement all the same, thanks to his proficiency in logic and computers. He topped papers in programming and logic, once more bathing in false glory. Meanwhile, X’s ‘startup-firm’ kick started itself to action. A few successful projects and some money under his belt, X bought his own website-domain and server space. Within months, http://www.thexworld.com/ became a virtual sensation in the World Wide Web. The fully Search Engine Optimized portal saw X’s Google Ad sense account adding zeroes to the right. The geeky Mr. X within no time turned into the hottest kid on the block!

The fall, when it came, was acrimonious to say the least. X’s façade was shredded into pieces with the results of his first year exams. Though X had ninety percent plus marks in Mathematics and an overall percentage close to seventy, he failed in three papers; namely Engineering Physics, Chemistry and Basic Electronics. Of course, they could well be cleared later, but, the failure would long remain a black mark in X’s academic record. It ushered in an end-of-life scenario into his life, well, literally. The day before the results were announced, X encountered a near-fatal automobile accident in which he sustained serious injuries & fractures. His parents were fractious at large thanks to the entire debacle. Though they stood by X, baring a smiling, reassuring façade; they too were downcast with their son, in whose skills they now expressed total incertitude.

The initial surprise and empathy of his friends gradually boiled down to ridicule. When they came to visit X at the hospital with their sardonic glances camouflaged amid sympathies, X realized the true essence of the (refurbished) proverb: “Marks maketh man!” To make things worse, the cheap hosting company which hosted his website went bankrupt, taking his website with it. X even got a life-ban from Google Ad Sense; the geeks at Google had finally realized that those thousand-odd clicks in their ads were the product of a brilliant PHP code! The fiasco shattered X, who for the first time in his life started contemplating suicide.

*********************************

What happened to X after this juncture is purely immaterial. Of course, X gave up his suicide plans; a fit of self-imposed determination and will being the cause. After a month of recuperation, X appeared for his third semester exams, well-equipped this time. He did reasonably well, compared to his classmates for whom it was literal-drubbing. Nevertheless, the relationship with his parents suffered major (and permanent) fallout; they permanently lost faith in their son. The once-hottest-kid-on-the-block regained his geek-next-door avatar.

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Hey, that was just the hors’d’ oeuvre!! Time for some food for thought!

Food for thought | Moral(s) of this story

  1. Unless a school/college student in India has significant mastery over the art of rote-learning, he doesn’t stand a chance of getting ahead in the rat-race! Even the field of engineering, which demands an agile mind, requires a significant (if not total) amount of skill of memorizing concepts and theory spread out in pages of text. Nonetheless, it’s a moot point whether a high-score in such exams, which are more of memory tests, would signify professional competence in one’s field of study.
  1. Though X is an intelligent guy, he fell backward in the rat race solely because the art of mugging was way above him. Had he tackled his exams with more grit and drive, he could easily have mastered his subjects and scored high. Who knows, had he given more impetus to his preparations in his school days, he might even have crossed the hallowed portals of IIT with some luck. Fate, it is! X alone is responsible for the fiasco. In a premise where marks turn out to be the most substantial employability/knowledge gauge, people like X, though competent, would perennially remain at the bottom of the ladder.
  1. Had X’s parents allowed him to join a career of his choice, they would have prevented much heartburn. True that X might get a swanky job by the time he passes out with his computer and language skills; but he might have done better, had he pursued another course of his choice. Their obsession with ‘originating a true-blue engineer family tree’ resulted in the birth another Six Point someone, oh yes, with three back papers!