Thursday, May 29, 2014


The six of us split from a larger group of former classmates, an island from a continent.

We walked towards the sea, only to be confronted by a ridge that was most definitely not there the last time I was there - a neat little embankment of loosely packed wet sand. One fell, one slid down it like a skateboarder. The rest of us leapt, wind whistling in our ears, late evening sun beating down our necks.

Shoes and sandals thrown aside and jeans rolled up, our feet embraced the waves - becoming a part of the sea and the sand’s eternal dance of melding and parting, union and separation.

And as we sifted sand through our toes, huddled together, hands linked, breathing in the humid, salty air, a bubble took form in my heart. A tiny speck of elation that grew, grew, grew until it enveloped all of me, all of us.

For a moment that had no beginning and no end, we were the world, the world was us.

We were limitless.

2 a.m. My sister and I had tiptoed downstairs for a drink of water when she clapped her hands to her mouth and whipped towards the washbasin. And promptly vomited.

I stood rooted to my spot, my mind scrambling to make sense of whathowwhy mustbesomethingsheate BUT WHAT chips!noodles? compressed into one thought.

In the faint light streaming from the kitchen, everything came into sharp focus. The arch of her spine as she doubled over the edge of the basin, two curves perpendicular to each other. Her quivering frame, ashen face, trembling lips. The creases in her forehead as she threw up. The carroty tinge to the puke. Its pungent smell wafting towards me.

My own stomach heaving, rolling. Trying to ward off the nausea.

And then, after a moment that seemed to stretch out forever, my hands moving forward. One pulling back her frizzy mess of hair from her face, the other rubbing her back in what I hoped was a soothing motion. Me murmuring it’s okay get it out you’re fine, random words of comfort tumbling out.

And I dreaded the coming of the next day, because she’d be curled up on the sheets, ill and frail, and the house would mourn its life and soul - if only for a day.

In one brief second, bitterness and fury swirled into a Molotov cocktail on the verge of exploding. I could’ve laid waste to the entire podium then and there, leaving nothing of the flat, droning voices, the smug smiles, the flimsy trophies, the holier-than-thou attitude. Nothing but ash and dust.

It was a felicitation ceremony for the top-scorers of the 12th grade examinations, organized by the City Corporation. Invites had gone out to every school in the corporation limits, including mine and my best friend’s.

A couple of speeches into the programme, came the news: students from private/unaided schools wouldn’t be awarded individual trophies, only a collective one for the school.

It didn’t matter that we’d studied the same freaking syllabus as the government/aided school students. It didn’t matter that we’d put our life and soul into the being the best. It didn’t matter that we’d walked the tightrope between the curriculum and extra-curricular activities. It didn’t matter that the two of us were among the handful who’d scored 1200/1200.

No, all that mattered was that we were private school kids, which automatically equalled rich, privileged, cocky, spoilt brats who’d been served life on a silver platter. No matter how far from true it was.

But I did not explode.

Instead, something unspooled within me in that moment, some weird emotion that was outrage and sadness and pity and awareness rolled into one. All my life, I’d yearned for approval. Thirsted for recognition, validation. And now, at the end of my life as a school student, I’d been slapped in the face by my own desire.

Not any more.

From now on, I would validate myself.

(A few minutes later, defiance ringing in every stride, my best friend and I marched out of the auditorium, our heads held high, our school trophies left unclaimed.)

I can’t make out the contours of even a single cloud.

Today, the sky is just a single expanse of dappled light, letting loose its grief and rage; each thunderclap a guttural scream ripped out from its throat but appearing to come from everywhere - from above, from below, from the middle-ground in between fluid sky and solid earth, and from the very centre of the earth, rippling, vibrating... every inch of the ground left trembling.

For a moment, I feel a strange kinship with the sky, united as we were by our disposition to shed tears both in sadness and in anger. But mine are always hot, boiling - born from that molten iron core where all sense of being wronged and being in the wrong froth and churn and steam. The sky’s tears are icy, as if they were from a place where all feeling was frozen over. A melting glacier flooding the world.

Then my eyes catch a faint yet fiery streak of burnished gold - a lone, veined branch of lightning illuminated against the quick flash of frigid silver, kick-starting a cascade of moments. Surprise. Fear. Awe. That shrinking feeling when faced with something larger than life.

Moment after moment after moment, one domino knocking the next into the next into the next.

At four in the morning, my fingers stumble across the keyboard in an awkward rhythm of tap-tap-tap pause tap pause tap-tap. My eyes are rimmed with the beginnings of sleep. But I keep typing anyway, determined to capture as much as I can. Moments in words. Fireflies in jars.

And, for one fleeting second, I see myself.

In the timeline of the universe, I am just a moment.


  1. Beautiful words. You must be starting college this year, no? All the best!

    Sania @ Fragile Words

    1. Thank you, Sania, for the review and the wishes! :)

  2. What a rich tapestry of words!! glad to be reading this...better not say anything to stain any of its beauty.

    1. Aww Vinaya, you always make me blush. I think anything you say only adds to it :) Thank you!!!

  3. That was beautiful, Zainab. Best of Luck for college this year. <3