One of Allahabad’s coaching centres, which prepare lakhs of students for the competitive exams that gate a handful of posts in the national or state Civil Services. Image Source.
This is the second in a series of ten microstories. These stories — vignettes, to be accurate — are set from dawn to midnight in an Indian metro. They follow different people in different settings over the course of a single ordinary day. Two of these stories have been published / accepted for publication in literary magazines. I’ll be publishing one piece per day over the next ten days.
Morning’s long for aspirants.
He wakes up at 5am. Makes himself tea. Watches the birds stirring and the trees shivering. Settles down to study by the table-lamp, hunched on the floor, while his three roommates enjoy morning’s seep. After radiating heat all night, morning is when the roof and walls have, at last, cooled a little. In the land of the ever-summer, morning’s the best time to sleep.
Hugging himself, he rocks himself: memorising facts from a pile of cheap-edition exam-prep books. Dubious facts, of dubious value. The paper is bleached blue-white, the ink shows through the page, and the binding-glue smells nasty. For him, books are things to be endured.
She wakes up at 3am. To wash and dry her hip-long hair, then make their breakfast and their lunch – and then do everything he does. She doesn’t rock herself as she studies. She sits still, frowning sceptically. But she memorises, too.
She leaves hostel at 6:30am. A brisk walk.
He leaves at 6:15am. A brisk walk, 1km longer than hers.
They meet at 6:45am, waiting for the coaching-institute to unshutter. Standing a little apart from the gaggle of mostly male aspirants, he and she share the dreams they dreamt last night.
At 9am, out on the road again. A standing breakfast, out of her tiffin-boxes. Standing across the street from the secondary school where they met. Now the road is empty: the school-children sit rocking themselves, and frowning sceptically, through their day’s first lesson.
Breakfast is done. He and she rinse their mouths, and adjust the straps of their sagging backpacks. He thinks: ‘She needs a new backpack. Her birthday is next month.’
Then, a brisk walk to classes at university.
How many years more will they rush around the city? From morning-coaching to university to evening-coaching, and home again to study drowsy after dinner. Rush around the city teeming with aspirants studying. Hoping. Waiting for their lives to begin.
They’re in no hurry. For, meanwhile, they have one another to tell their dreams to.