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Marie Skłodowska Curie: The woman that defied ‘normal’

By: Johann

Cancer awareness day is recognised every year on November 7 in honor of Marie Curie, who was born on the day. Her story will long be remembered, not only because of the countless breakthroughs on the scientific front but also for the role she played in breaking the stereotype of what a woman can do. Her contribution goes much further than what can be put in words, but in an attempt to pay my tributes, I will try my hardest.

To start her story, we must travel to Warsaw Poland, a time where the nation was in the throes of nationalism and affectation. It was a time of radical change and transitions. Poland was not an independent country and was partitioned by Austria, Russia, and Prussia. To a young Marie Curie, whose family came from the poorest sections of society, the nation seemed to be a prisoner in chains. As she grew, so did the nationalist movement. Like her parents, she was a patriot and held the same pro-polish sentiments, which were in part, responsible for the family’s financial woes.  At 24, she left for Paris, as the University of Warsaw did not accept women. Since women and academic work were frowned upon in Poland, she fell behind, due to which she went out in search of actual laboratory experience. As fate would have it, she met Pierre Curie. Together, they opened up the world of science and changed its face. In 1911, she received the Nobel prize in chemistry, becoming the first person to do so.

On the occasion of Cancer awareness day, her scientific work takes on an even greater significance. As knowledge on radioactivity grew, radiotherapy was introduced as a possible means to cure cancer and is used in nearly 40% of all successful cancer treatments today. In World war I, she famously donated her Nobel prizes to raise funds to diagnose soldiers. However, being unaware of the harmful effects of radiation on herself, often kept Radium in her pockets or in a desk drawer. In line with her life, even her death has standardised several safety procedures that continue to save lives. The next time you hear of a person being treated for cancer, your mind will return to the amazing woman who made it all possible.

In the societal sphere, she broke down barriers, both in Poland and around the world. Peers were forced to stand up and take notice of her work. The Polish government was made to rue the fact that none of her scientific accomplishments could be affiliated with them. Without being the torchbearer, Curie was like the smoke that rises before the fire. Without her contribution, it could well have set back women’s movements a couple of decades.

Perhaps what makes her so appealing and intriguing to the young scientist is the simple romanticism that surrounded her like a halo. Her work was often conducted in wooden sheds, under skylight roofs, with her soulmate. It is the very fabric of what an aspiring scientist’s dreams are made of. It is this level of Utopian fanaticism that carves a niche in the mind of everyone that knows her story. Even the fact that she named Polonium in honor of her homeland and her work with radioactive elements caused her lifelong health issues can’t help but stick in your mind. People can see themselves in the person that was bundled up in the freezing attic in Paris, skipping sleep and meals to study. There are real movie protagonist vibes that one cannot help but feel empowered by.

In her story, there is renowned hope and belief that the grind eventually does cut it. And long after she has parted ways with her mortal self, her legacy continues to live on and inspire. Marie Curie is everything a student who is starting out dreams to be. And for all her contributions to Physics and Chemistry, while she was alive, there is a sense of irony that she cannot witness how her grit and dedication are saving lives all around the world. Finally, and perhaps most importantly (if there wasn’t enough already), there will never be a number for the number of lives of women she has changed just by being that hard worker who never gave up.

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The Thrilling Touchdown

by:Aasika

On the bustling dawn of June 24, 1982, the magnificent British airways flight 9 bearing 247 lives set off for its long journey piercing through several time zones from Heathrow, London to Auckland, New Zealand. Akin any other day, as the flight picked its customary route devoid of menace to Auckland, it was expected to perform halts at Bombay, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Perth, Melbourne to unload and load passengers before finally arriving in Auckland.

Moments after the plane landed in Kuala Lumpur, the aircraft fuelers barged into the runway and emptied 100 tons of fuel into its tank and the weary flight crew was relieved by the consummate captain Eric Moody, the avid first officer Roger Greaves, and a new cabin crew before it took off again to resume to Auckland. The passengers were experiencing a smooth flight and relishing the cozy inflight services. After ensuring that the midnight sky is lucid and the weather conditions are pleasant, Eric showed himself out of the cockpit to spend a penny.

The captain’s run to the comfort room was intruded on when the first officer called him out. Sensing the seriousness in Roger’s tone, Eric strode towards the cockpit. On his way back, the first red flag arose. Eric espied patterns of fumes escaping the ventilation duct. Given that the crew members were permitted to smoke in the plane until the late 1980s, the captain initially disregarded the smoke. Seconds later, the intensity of the smoke made it challenging for the captain to ignore it like a cigar corollary. The pilot slid the cockpit door open, still perplexed from trying to discover the source of the smoke.

As Eric entered the cockpit, he was hustled out of his thoughts as he witnessed the concerned first officer’s fixated look on the windshield of the plane which was now being ambushed by flashes of light. The captain calmed the perturbed first officer by explaining that the flashes are a resultant of the “Elmo’s fire” phenomenon which is caused by the thunder clouds producing static electricity and dismisses the arisen second red flag as well. When the metal surface of an aircraft comes in contact with the static electricity created by the thunder clouds, Elmo’s fire phenomenon occurs.

The pilots then cautiously checked the radar in anticipation of spotting the thunder cloud liable for this but to their astonishment, no such cloud was found anywhere around the airplane’s vicinity. This added up to the captain’s perplexity as now he hasn’t the faintest notion of what causes the light flashes. After exchanging glances of bafflement and letting out sighs of exasperation, the duo took a beat to process whatever had happened till now but certainly, they were not mentally prepared to process the series of events that’s about to transpire in the next few minutes.

The plane was approaching Jakarta and it was 8:40 PM in Jakarta now, and the amount of smoke entering the cabin was swiftly increasing. This issue started to create fret and panic among the passengers. The temperature in the cabin began augmenting exponentially and the people in the plane started sweating profusely and experienced breathing discomforts. Furthermore, the passengers seated beside the window witnessed weird sparks in the wings. All of this happened in a span of two minutes only and put the cabin in complete chaos and the attendants attempted their best to comfort the passengers.

At 8:42 PM, the captain received an alert call from the first engineer officer who stated that the plane’s fourth engine was on fire and instructed to shut it down immediately. Only now did the captain fathom the predicament their flight is in. It was 8:43 PM and the captain received another warning call stating that their second engine had failed as well. Taken aback by the instantaneous turn of events, before he could even have a moment to loosen up and clear his head, he received a couple more warning calls stating that the airplane’s first and third engine had failed as well.

Several thousand feet above the ground, the flight was now levitating with no functioning engines, or, the flight was now gradually falling. The first officer quickly garnered the facts, did the math, and eventually concluded that the plane can fly for another 23 minutes and that it is capable of covering only 168 kilometers more and the pilots hoped to find an airport to land in that range. The Jakarta airport happened to be the closest.

The captain contacted the Jakarta airport immediately and explained the criticality of their situation. The air traffic controllers meticulously listened and also enlightened him that currently, they were hovering over the Java Island area which is comprised of a multitude of mountains, and insinuated that they fly at least 11,500 ft above sea level to prevent collisions and reach the airport. Haplessly, the current rate of descent which the plane is undergoing makes it improbable to fly the plane at the required altitude and make the cut.  

The pilots looked around in hopes to sight an acreage to safely land the plane and the Indian Ocean turns out to be their only option. The pilots geared up to perform the intentional water touchdown right after the captain performed one more futile attempt to restart their engines. Even though the captain’s landing announcement rendered momentary solace for the passengers, their apprehension returned when they saw the flight’s engines on fire through the windows.

Individual apprehension transformed into mass hysteria in the cabin and the passengers were having a hard time pulling themselves together. Families snuggled together, the parents protectively embraced their children, youngsters supportively held the arms of their paramours, the elderly faithfully chanted prayers and the others in utter despair started writing for their loved ones.

Just when the passengers were dwelling in the presumption that their circumstance couldn’t deteriorate any further, the cabin started depressurizing and the lights in the cabin started flickering. Next, the oxygen level in the cabin instantly dropped and commenced another commotion as the passengers jostled to grab themselves an oxygen mask. However, the depressurization formed in the cabin was so high that not even the masks could avail the asphyxiation experienced by the members in the plane.

Acknowledging the jeopardy caused by the depressurization, the captain performs a nosedive by motioning the plane perpendicularly down and descends to an altitude of 13,500 ft now. Only now did the oxygen level in the cabin normalize and the passengers in the plane were able to breathe properly. Around 8:56 PM, the captain made one last attempt to start the fourth engine and to his surprise, the fourth engine started and miraculously so did the other three engines.

The captain’s ecstasy at that moment was inexplicable. At the current low-end altitude at which the plane was flying, the mountains were still a peril. So, the captain deftly lifted the plane to a decent sea level to elude the mountains. Minutes after the lift, Elmo’s fire phenomenon recurred and the second engine failed again. Not desiring the other obnoxious series of events to repeat and before the other three engines could fail, he steered back the plane to a lower altitude of 12,000 ft. 

After tackling several other hindrances, the flight finally approached the Jakarta airport. The fact that Elmo’s fire obfuscated the windshield and the landing wheels weren’t functioning perfectly didn’t make their landing any easier but the pilot succeeded in making a not-so-smooth yet safe touchdown. Thrilled by the successful landing the crew members let out sighs of relief and giggles of happiness and the passengers safely exited the plane with no major injuries.

Later, the investigators came up with plausible theories to explain the weird behavior of the aircraft. The airplane happened to have flown right over the Mount Galuggung Volcano. The ashes from this Volcano had formed a cloud at that particular altitude in the atmosphere where the plane was flying. Since the ashes were dry, the layer was invisible on the radar and the pilots were ignorant of the existent threat. The ashes of this Volcano, when it encompassed the aircraft, was liable for all the factors from Elmo’s fire to the engine failures. 

This route to Auckland was shut down for a while after this incident. A couple of days later, after a Singapore airlines flight encountered the same issue while flying over java island, this route has been permanently banned and an alternative has been provided for the pilots to fly.

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Pronounsville

by:Tharun

There once lived a people, in a quaint little town. Called by the name Pronounsville, on no map could the place be found. The people couldn’t care less about, because neither was anyone moving in and nor anyone moving out.

Every facility here was common for all, be it the gym, the school, or the newly opened mall. The people of Pronounsville were an interesting lot. “Our is the mechanic, sturdy and tall.”, shouted out Them, spouse to It and chairperson at the Pronounsville Town Hall.

“Nothing in this town is owned, yet nothing is free ”, is the motto every Provillian follows to the T. Everyone looks out for Eachother, partially because Eachother makes Everyone’s heartbeat with glee. “Please do not mistake us for communists!”, peeped out Who, trying a hand at comedy.

But just as every happy story has to come to a close, the people of Pronounsville were leading down a rocky road. Out of nowhere, Us, the gatekeeper of the town heard a knock on the door. “Can I get your name to alert the chairperson?”, asked Us with an unassuming force. “The name is I. That’d do the job I suppose.”

“Pronounsville is a place unknown to most and visited by none”, said a puzzled Them, trying to put together one and one. “We have our own means and sources to get the job done.” We? “Yes of course! It’s not just I who’s come. Along with I are Me and Myself, and we’re here to have some fun.”

“The town’s motto is quite nice and sweet. But if I were, to be honest, this motto has become slightly obsolete.” For the first time ever, the Provillians were outraged and fuming with heat. “Please do not get offended, by all of this nothing personal do we mean. With Me in town, I (and) Myself will spruce things up and get Provillians back on their own two feet!” 

As naive as they come, Provillians entrusted the trio to complete the task. With no one to object and no one to ask, Me, Myself, and I tore the town apart. Now nothing was common and nothing was shared, “mine is mine and yours is yours” was the new motto to chant.

Soon enough Pronounsville fell out of rhyme.

I was oblivious.

Nothing mattered to Me.

There wasn’t anyone but Myself to blame. In the process of playing with Prounsville’s future, I had forgotten the name of the game.

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MEASURING IN LIGHT

by: Sutanuka

The light at the end of the tunnel didn’t really make sense to me until I was at the end of the tunnel. When you are at the tunnel, it feels like a long stretch of black cloth wrapped around everything you can lay your eyes on. It’s stretchable and it stretches and stretches.

Subconsciously, I had started to count kindness on my fingers. If you were like me, you barely got enough of it to fill in one hand, but I took what I could; I still do. I had learned to lick it in scraps, taking whatever I could and storing it in a jar made of hope and I took a bit more out of it than I should have every time I was told I wasn’t enough. Which was every day.

 The jar didn’t last long enough and there were cracks on the glass. I was not enough. Every fiber of my being was one touch away from being enough but I never could touch it.

 Enough.

Whatever that is.

 I was always short of being the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the perfect person. I was always tugging it with my thread but those always tore in the middle and I was adrift again. In the emptiness of not enough and never enough and less than.  I was drowning in that vacuum. Years from then I still am not enough for anyone, and even when they tell me that I am, I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop – which I know it will – for them to realize that I have pieces missing from when I left them in my previous life. Or maybe the one before that.

But this is not what I am writing this for. I remember when I was fifteen and in a terrible place all around, I asked myself to rebel. One December, I wrote in this ratty tissue paper that I need to dye my hair a bright pink or orange – a color that my elders hated – for me to finally give that fifteen-year-old peace.

Last November, when I dyed my hair a bubbly pink, I did not remember the tissue paper letter, I remembered it long after I dyed it brown again. Ever since I go back to that December a lot. I think if I had to pinpoint a moment I knew about the light at the end of the tunnel, it’d be that. It’d be that moment when I was sitting in that salon chair watching my pink hair dry when I swear I could see the light. I could see it bright and clear as a day.

Days pass and night changes and I found people who love me. I am terrified of being alone, of being loveless, of being lonely. My friends like me and it’s been so long since it happened that I fight a dead mountain trying to believe it. I think about them a lot and I turn up clueless when I think, why do like me?

When you see the light at the end, you also look back and see the long way you’ve come, but then you also see the pile of stuff you missed out on. You see how many people love you so dearly, but you also see the mobilized fear of knowing they might not really love you. It’s a double-edged sword and you never really escape it.

I think about that fifteen-year-old often. I think about how in some parallel dimension or multiverse, she’s stepping into the tunnel for the first time, not knowing she’ll spend years there and in some other dimension, she’s stepping into it again until, in a thousand different universes, she’s stepping into it again and again and again and then some. 

I see the light now and it’s golden, like daylight, I see everything around me and I wonder if it’s here to stay. I hope it is.

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Remembered to Forget Tomorrow

by:Siddharth

It was a wonderfully perfect morning. With the sounds of the birds faintly chirping in the distance, the glittering sun rays preparing to spread themselves in various hues of shiny silvers and golds, and the dewdrops over the freshly cut grass in the garden signified the positivity and importance of the day. A boy is sleeping on an extremely comfy bed dreaming about his idea of dreamland when the glittering sun rays peek out of the windows and hits the soft cheeks of the boy. The bright blue eyes open up to the prospect of the perfect morning, one where the sun is as bright as his day and one where the chirping of the birds is as melodious as the tunes in his heart about his day today. Barely able to open his eyes wide the boy wakes up to the sight of the perfect morning according to his imagination. 

He leaps out of bed in excitement and looks forward to the prospect of probably the best day of his life. Just when he is about to go and start his everyday morning routine, he looks at the three suitcases present next to his room’s door and a huge smile shows up on his face. This smile should tell you how happy he is on the prospect of what lies ahead of him today. 

The boy steps out of his room like always and goes on with his morning routine, the same routine he has been following for the past 15 years of his life. It has become second nature to him, but even he knows that this morning is the most special one for him and is cherishing every single moment of this day. He takes a shower and comes out clean and dry, enters his room to wear the special outfit he planned especially for today, grooms himself well and looks at himself in the mirror, and says to himself “You are today’s hero, never forget that !!”. 

You might be wondering why is this boy so happy and proud about today. It’s because the boy is going abroad to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave to do his Undergraduate in MIT Boston, Massachusetts. It was his lifelong dream to go abroad to study, to be around different cultures, and become successful, though he did not evaluate the word ‘successful’. He thought that success is equal to having a degree from a top school abroad, get into a top job and earn loads of money. 

The boy is now ready to leave home to catch his flight to Boston. He is escorted out of the door into his cab by his parents who are sad to see him go but are also happy for him. Because even they know the prosperous future that lay in front of him. As the cab leaves, the parents wave him goodbye. Though in the background, we see the silhouette of a slightly middle-aged man with long hair and a big beard nodding his head and waving his right arm in the air, as a means to say goodbye. This man looks to be having a slight grin on his face and is frustrated with his current life. 

This silhouette was the older self of the boy himself, who was extremely frustrated with life even though he had all the luxuries anyone would ask for. A 4-bedroom duplex in Beverly Hills, 3 ultra-luxurious cars, and a total net worth of about $75 million. 

He achieved all this through sheer determination and hard work, but in the process, he lost out on friends, social gatherings, relationships, family, and so on. Though it did not matter to him during the journey of hustling for this success. Once he achieved whatever he wanted to achieve, he became very lonely because he lost out on all his friends and relationships, so much so that even money and material couldn’t satisfy him. 

The silhouette of the man waving his right arm indicates that the boy had made the right decision, but he lost something truly monumental while chasing after his ambitions and goals. Today was the perfect day but is tomorrow as perfect as today. The boy was truly today’s hero and he never forgot that, but he did forget about his tomorrow. 

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Teachers Day

by:Aanchal

Ohh well, it’s a teacher’s day. When does it fall? I am neither thankful nor unfeeling that a special day
has been dedicated for teachers, to thank them and to honor them for what they do. That too, the
day falls on the birthday of a very special person, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. No, I am not good at
remembering dates and events (and that is clear from the first line itself), it’s just that I loved his name
and went on to remember this.
My faintest memory of a teacher’s day is us going to school only to find our seniors dressed up as
teachers and taking charge of their duties for the day. All the teachers were sent on a trip to someplace, giving them a break from their schedule, a day to enjoy and have fun. Growing up and
changing schools, I witnessed a change. The teachers were no longer sent to trips, rather we wished
them a “Happy Teacher’s Day” in a monotonous sing-song every time the periods changed and a new
teacher entered the class. And yes, I was one of those enthusiastic kids who would make cards for my
favorite ones, expressing how much I loved them and what their presence meant to me. Our
relations with them kept changing, from us talking about fighting with friends or getting a scolding
from mom to us getting periods and assumed mental breakdowns that we thought we experienced,
to talking about what we dreamt of a university and how we would enjoy the freedom we would be
entitled to (although we didn’t get any freedom, thanks to the pandemic). Every phase began with a
new face, a new personality, but all of them were equally understanding and equally supportive. I can
closely relate to the quote, “We are who we are, because of who they are”.
From scolding us for laughing and talking in class because they thought we were wasting time, to
allowing us to cry silently even when sitting on the first bench because they somehow knew that the
tears were uncontrollable and that it was the only way to let things out. From arguing with them for
giving us fewer marks in tests, to thanking them after a meritorious result on the boards, we all grew up
and so grew the respect for a sometimes-motherly-sometimes-fatherly-and-sometimes-friendly figure
called teacher.
Now, now, I don’t have all the sweet memories of school and teachers. We all have faced some form
of punishment, be it not bringing a notebook or cheating on a test, or not doing homework, and I am
no exception. I have had strong, well-conveyed disagreements. But just one teacher not behaving
properly cannot overshadow the love of all the others, the well-deserving-worth-mentioning ones.
And now I have a change of mind, I am so grateful that they have a special day dedicated for them.
And why just a day? Why not a year, an entire lifetime of thanking those who shaped our lives and
thoughts and to whom excellence and brilliance meant much more than an A+ grade.

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The Elastigirl

by:Rithika

This is not about the movie Incredibles. I repeat this is not about the movie Incredibles. 

Now that that’s clear, I wanted to confess something. Not that I am flexible (cough, cough)  

But

I’ve been feeling quite invincible lately. Not the cocky or arrogant type, but the one that’s been motivating me to try out new and different things. Yesterday afternoon, I solved math problems on my own. That’s a pretty big deal to me. After that, I composed a dance routine to one of my current favorite songs. Which led me to buy a very weird-looking bucket hat. How are these two facts connected? I just thought that the dance would look better with the hat. Then, obviously, I kept scrolling and found a pair of jeans appealing. Something else you should know about me is that I find jeans horribly uncomfortable. Maybe because I’ve not felt very positive about my body. But when I looked at those pants, I was like, “Chuck it, I can rock anything I wear.” 

Yeah, and it gets even crazier after this. 

I tried drawing and then painting the “thing” I drew. This was the peak of my invincible feeling because it’s one of the known facts about me that I’m terrible at drawing. I’ve actually been asked what I was attempting to draw when I was “tracing” out a leaf.  

That’s not the point here. 

I was just thinking that maybe the fact that I’ve accepted the fact that I’m awesome however I am drove me to this feeling. Or maybe I’ve actually realized that, indeed, other people do have lives and they’re not thinking about me. Any aspect of me. So, I can just wear, do, eat, and be however I like. 

I don’t know where I’m exactly going with this, but I’ll keep going on because I need the word count.  

Oh, have I not mentioned that I’ve thought of becoming a stand-up comedian because lately, I’ve been watching a lot of stand-up comedies by various people? When I said this out loud and my brother laughed at my face right away, I became sure that I was meant to be a comedian. Then I realized that my extended family or the society wouldn’t be laughing at my jokes, but at ME if I went through with the idea.  

That invincibility chipped a bit. 

And after this thought, I was sure that my brain had bid adieu. I was thinking of becoming a “foot model” who would be showing off exceptionally large-sized footwear with designs that are not available after a particular size, you understand? But then I realized that I’d have to actually take care of my feet. Regularly get pedicures and stuff. And the train of thought went off the rails. 

What I had concluded, and this is a sane decision, is that first of all, stop underrating yourselves. And secondly that, whatever “peculiar” ideas your brain might come up with, just think it through. Because being engineering students, we all know so much about so many other things that seem very tempting than actually ending up as a legit engineer.

That’s all for the “Trash or Ted Talk?” today, guys. 

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The Stoic overflow

by: Prajjwal

Dinner table conversations at home are often unpleasant. It significantly revolves around how incompetent or inexperienced I am compared to other people of my age. I realized I wasn’t worthy enough to be a boy of my age.

Back in school, I was asked to man up whenever I went to seek help during distressing times. I learned that I should pretend to be fine when I am hurt, deep within.

One day I was shamed for not winning at a competition. I had to digest the fact that defeat was never an option in my life.

There are instances when I preferred to remain silent after listening to triggering statements or derogatory opinions. All credits to my conflict phobia.

Finally, I learned to tune myself with the norms and rules of society so that I could fit in and get some kind of validation for my existence, and this was when stoicism entered like a dreaded monster, extending its bloody hands to cover my mouth and cloud my emotions.

According to Greek philosophy, stoicism refers to the teachings or the ethics designed to lead a happy, virtuous, and wise life. It is regarded as a powerful tool for those in pursuit of perseverance, self-discipline, and master, or in simpler terms, it taught people to be free from any kind of passion, and unmoved by grief or joy. History’s great minds believed in stoicism and sought them out. 

Even though the core idea of stoicism is lucid and relevant, the modern version of it seems hyper-polluted. 

Society’s paradigm is quite a complex subject. As you grow up, you are expected to be the ideal man or woman who is capable of handling responsibilities without any flaws and mold into perfect shapes and sizes to please the people around us. And, this is where the misappropriation begins. You tend to suppress your agonies and hardships without any display of emotions, just so that you can avoid getting called ‘the fussy one’ and when you fail or break down, you silence yourself with phrases like Do not give up, Keep calm and move on when in reality, it just starts to snowball and multiply your miseries. 

The societal norms which define the dichotomy between genders have posed an unspeakable threat to the modern world. At places where patriarchy reigns, you can find a crisis of affection, especially in males. They have no female companionships except for the ones at their home, thereby tricking boys to signal their masculinity. They tend to follow the same rituals for generations unless cooped.

I too am emotionally sterile at times. I constantly worry about the visceral way I cringe when I talk on video calls. I waste my time significantly in “What others might think about me?”, unaware that this very notion has the potential to cripple my existence one day. No wonder, Gen-Z has mistaken the word depression for sadness, failing to realize the existence of a thin line between both. There are days when I feel that I missed a great number of opportunities to express myself, cry, voice out my opinions, vent out my feelings. Maybe I was just afraid of grief, which might make me look weak in front of other people.

It is exhausting to keep up to the expectations of people around us, especially at times when you are grappling with your internal self.  It is worthless to bottle up your emotions and choke yourself with unforeseen consequences. We as humans have the power to express our inner self, vent out our opinions. It has a cathartic effect.

Stoicism is brutal. It is capable of taking a toll on one’s mental health. You may opt for silence, but the echoes inside will remain and thrive, to haunt you forever. 

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A piece of peace

by: Netra

Everything around me was dull. The light glowed dim, at least to my eyes. The pale blue bed sheets, glass tubes and bottles, surrounded by freshly painted walls and no windows intensified the silence surrounding me. The air-conditioned room was unbearably cold. I was claustrophobic, but staying in the room was my choice. It wasn’t my fears that worried me at that moment, it was the expressionless man lying on the bed before me, draped in white hospital gowns, and an inhaler tube plastered into his mouth. It was the first time I’d ever seen my restless, talkative and constantly complaining dad lying still and unresponsive on a hospital bed. He was even more afraid of closed spaces than I was. I felt breathless or had headaches, but my father would puke and panic. I watched silently, internally picturing my dad freak,  jumping out of the bed to open windows and doors in his hospital gown. I smiled, tears welling up in my eyes. 

My father was brain dead. The doctors did say there was a 1% chance that he could survive if a miracle occurred. But thinking practically, I knew that was not possible(despite watching a million k-dramas where brain aneurysm patients somehow survived). A ruptured vessel had completely flooded his brain in blood. Nothing could be fixed. I’d already let my imaginations run wild when I’d heard “ blasted blood vessel”. There was no point crying over spilt blood.  

I scanned my father meticulously, memorizing every inch of colour, texture and hair strands on his body. I needed to remember for almost another 70 years( my father would have been proud if I’d memorized so carefully, inorganic chemistry, for my college entrance exams). I placed my palms into my dads. It was cold but not as cold as a dead person’s. If I turned off the AC, would he become warmer, would life magically flow back into him?  Would he wake up?

The nurse had said his sense organs are still functional, so technically he can hear, feel and taste everything but not process it. So, I tried experimenting with his ears first(Yes, I am kind of crazy). My dad had an obsession with radio Indigo 91.9(If you’re a Bangalorean and haven’t vibed to this radio station, shame on you). He would go crazy every time Trevor Daniel’s falling came on the radio. So on a low volume, I played the song and placed the speakers beside his ears. I stared at his eyelids, toes, and fingers expecting at least a slight movement. No Response.

My heart hurt a little. 

Never mind, I told myself, my dad had always been a little deaf. Another ridiculous idea floated into my head.  I wanted to pinch him, if he could wake up, he would wake up then. It felt like committing a crime as I had to avoid the nurse’s eyes. I carefully dug my nails into my dad’s arms and pressed, deeper and deeper, but he didn’t react. I kept pinching, with each pinch, my heart hurt harder. I couldn’t swallow the fact that he wouldn’t wake up. 

 As I was busy secretly pinching my father’s arms, the neurosurgeon appeared.

“Hey, you are the daughter right. Where’s your mom?”

“ She’s waiting outside,” I told him. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, only one person was allowed into the ICU at a time. I felt slightly fortunate, I didn’t have to watch my mom scream and cry in front of me(If there’s one thing that made me cry, it was watching my favourite people cry). But my luck didn’t last long. 

“Oh no, that’s ok,” he looked at the nurse. “Let her in too,” he ordered. 

5 minutes later, my mom appeared. It took 5 minutes because she had to wear the disposable cloak, disposable mask, disposable hat and disposable gloves before entering the ICU. All thanks to the virus crisis. 

My mom, with her red, tear-drenched eyes, walked straight towards my father.

“Wake up, look, your daughters here. Your stupid careless daughter. You don’t want her being careless for the rest of her life. Wake up, watch over her and yell at her till she learns!” (It was just like in the movies).

My heart hurt unbearably now and tears clouded my vision. I silently cried beside my mom, still pinching. I had a long life ahead of me and a lot of new people to meet, but my mom would be so alone. I could tell she was trying to think about anything but the future.  

My mom was being a little scary. The three nights my dad was in the hospital, my mom, who hates being touched, hugged me so tightly while trying to sleep, the fact that there’s a 5% chance that brain aneurysms are genetic seemed to bother her more than it did me, she kept checking on me every 5 minutes. 

Three nights, we let him survive high on medication, so his heart would keep pumping at least until my brother arrived from the US. The last thing any of us wanted was my brother to come home after almost a year to find his dad no more. I wasn’t allowed to tell my brother anything about my dad’s condition either, he was travelling alone, couldn’t risk giving him tragic information. 

At 3 a.m, an hour after my brother visited my dad in the hospital, we were told the medication wasn’t helpful anymore. His pulse dropped rapidly and his heartbeat one last time.

That was the second time in all my life I heard my brother cry. 

“None of you are to blame. He was just unfortunate. He was born with a weak vessel in his brain. Some things can’t be controlled.” The doctor had said. But there must be a reason. Our quest for reason is what makes us human, after all. 

Since there wasn’t any physical sign as the doctor had mentioned, “It is undetectable. It bursts when it bursts”, my mom and I began exploring other kinds of signs. The lockdown was a blessing in disguise so that we could spend more time with him in his last days, maybe we visited our native out of the blue last week because he wanted to meet our relatives one last time, maybe we never celebrated birthdays as the others do because someday someone was going to leave the world on one of our birthdays.

But there was one sign that bothered me the most. It was an incident that happened the day before my dad was taken to the hospital. 

I was filling out details for my college application and I picked up my dad’s phone to get an OTP, that instant his phone shut down and I’d jokingly commented, “ What is this? Get a new phone. This phone looks like it’s going to die any day, just like you.” My dad didn’t like spending on fancy devices. He would spend loads of money on healthy foods and buy himself tons of fancy t-shirts and sports shoes, occasionally get us what we ask for but never upgraded his gadgets unless it falls very behind in technology.

My dad laughed and hit my back,” What did you say? I look like I’m going to die any day huh?”

At that moment it felt like a joke. It was like telling a healthy 6-year-old, he was going to die of a heart attack soon(My dad was nutrition and diet-obsessed and quite healthy for his age).

I replayed this incident in my head countless times and each time felt more bitter than the previous. I knew deep down, this incident had nothing to do with my father’s sudden death but it still bothered me, the absence of signs had made me look at otherwise irrelevant things. My mom didn’t know about this conversation. I wanted to tell her, but I couldn’t. I was too scared. My mom was rational enough to know I was not the one to blame but talking about my dad and death might tear her apart.

It’s been quite a few months, I tried to write it down, tell strangers about it. I couldn’t tell my friends, I was afraid it would make them feel uncomfortable. When I run out of things to do or shows to watch, my thoughts drift to this little piece of peace I will never be able to get back unless I tell my mom. Significant or insignificant, I believed my mom deserved to know. Would telling my mom make me selfish, or would it be the right thing to do?

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No monsters, only man

by:Harika

A few days ago, I was watching the Tokyo Olympics Swimming 100m finals and I was reminded of an incident that happened at our community’s swimming pool probably 5 or 6 years ago. What happened there transformed and shaped many of my opinions on humankind and I can never look at a swimming pool without being reminded of the mortifying sequence of events I had to witness that one dreadful day and I’m writing this because even to this day, I think of the boy who was there to swim just like me but became the victim of humankind’s nefariousness. 

And this is what took place on that one cathartic day.

As I see it, the swimming pool is an aggregation of not just water but a hundred thousand particles ready to conquer your throat and lungs, submerge you to make you their own: drifting, silent, dead. I stand in it, between the colliding currents that sway my knees, the blue grasping at my waist. A few meters away a man is wading through the thrumming liquid, his greying hair spots on his head, his bloated gut a ship’s hairy bow. Behind him a boy stands, his pale face twisted, black hair in wet, drooping spikes.

“Why did you throw your goggles and cap? What are you going to do now?” demands the man, turning to the boy.

The boy stays silent, or he mutters something unheard.

Either way, the man continues. “Listen to me. Your mother…”, and the man stops roaring with fury but I think what he wanted to continue saying was that ‘your mother is observing and listening, she is right over there: shut up, listen and behave. Your mother is watching, get yourself together and start swimming, with or without your gear.’ The breeze twists the other way or the water enters my ears, either way, I am too shocked by what just happened so I don’t hear what the man says.

Maybe the boy is now weeping silently, silver streams of tears bulging scars on his cheek, for the man erupts, waving his arms, “Why are you crying?”

The most entitled question: why are you crying? Why have you handed me a consequence, after I rammed the cause down your very throat?

The man inhales the wind, and in a sudden exhale it bursts out through his mouth. “Are you crying for sympathy? Pity? Let me tell you, boy,” and this he shouts, “the more you beg for the pity the less of it you have! Who will pity you?”

My shoulders shake. The boy, stunned, stands unmoving, his head bowed, his back bare. One day he will thank his wounds for being invisible.

“Retrieve your goggles. Retrieve your cap.” The man grabs the boy by his head. “I want you to succeed! What are you doing? Crying? I don’t want you to be a loser! Loser, do you hear?” The man’s booming voice bounces off the pool walls and pries into the boy’s ears, my ears, everyone’s ears, the ears of my cousin who spoke back to his father, my mother’s friend whose husband who would return home drunk at 3 am, all these generations and all these lives until the last hearing ear has been deafened. In his rage, the man spoke the language of humanity.

Then, the soft afterword. “This is for your own good,” the man finishes, calmed after an outburst. “Retrieve your gear, let’s swim.”

This is the thing with people: they vow on your life, praise Satan, talk about helping you get your life on track while all they do is ruin it, and then end with a smile, saying, “This is for your own good.” No, this isn’t for their own good. The boy is going to remember this incident for a really long time, probably even for his entire life, and even begin to detest swimming. For all I know, he could’ve been an Olympic swimmer if not for the man scaring him for life. And I think to myself, in a barbaric world where people are dreadfully cold, there’s no one who will do anything for ‘your own good’. That is when I came up with survival rules for the boy and for myself; rule number one, I think to myself and the boy, don’t believe him. Rule number two: hate him but don’t fear him. Rule number three: smile at him, smile and obey, smile and listen and nod, this is your life, you can change it but not now. These are the rules of the game.

While I watched the entire incident unfurl in front of me, I haven’t seen the man showing an ounce of love or empathy towards the boy instead all I could see was the man’s envy, anger, and hatred. 

Envy is a vice. Instead of focusing on your own goals, your goal becomes to throw other people’s goals off the rails, and at the end of the day, you gain nothing but a mischievous satisfaction that you have destroyed someone. 

It has been years since the occurrence of this incident but I can still recall the fear in the boy’s eyes. What was supposed to be a fun day at the pool changed my perception of the world entirely and a swimming pool, to me, was never again just an aggregation of water but a hundred thousand particles of human piss, saliva, snot, and tears, scoldings, quiet rivalries, and violent pledges, gushing into your gasping mouth and open throat. 

You swallow it and they make you their own.