It took me a while to realize that the handful of fiery red trees sprinkled amongst the many, many green ones were not in full bloom but were, in fact, slowly going to sleep for the winter.

The fire of Fall had engulfed almost everything by the time my compass stopped spinning madly, pointing towards What on Earth am I doing here? one moment and This is where I want to be the next.

There are still days that set it aquiver, but those are becoming further and fewer by the week.

This is where I want to be.


Life is a whirlwind today.

Is this really happening?
They hang high in the air for a split second, brilliantly coloured baubles, vivid against the slate grey sky. Then, like rain, they fall to the earth, shattering on impact until the ground, stretching for miles and miles in all directions around me, is littered with the colourful remnants of broken dreams.

Undeterred by the constant bombardment, I continue my search and scan the glittering earth as I walk. I carefully pick my way to avoid treading on the already defeated dreams, but there are so many here that this cannot be completely prevented. The crunch of disappointment, the crinkle of hopelessness issue from under my shoes every few steps.

So many broken dreams. Seven billion people's worth of broken dreams.

This is beginning to feel futile. They all look the same, these dreams. I cannot possibly find my own and attempt to nurture it back to its wholesome form. I cannot tell one apart from the other, for while they might all appear in different shades and colours, they all share a fundamental similarity. They are all worthless, sent here only to be forgotten.

I shake my head. This is futile. Maybe I should forget too, and move on.

I turn on my heel and head back.

I dream anew. Maybe this one will stay airborne. Maybe one day I will be able to return to this land of broken dreams, cradle my old, shattered ones in my hands and fondly remember the times we spent together.
My suitcase stands in the corner of my room, patiently waiting to devour the contents of my closet one day. Everything else is done, the vaccinations, the paperwork, all done. Now we're just waiting. Every night I fall asleep wrapped up in a blanket of hope for the coming morning; every noon, I wake up and as I check the time on my phone, the same blanket becomes a shroud of disappointment.

It's too late in the day. Were today the day, I would have known by now. The office closes after noon. 

I await a call from the US Consulate telling me that my passport is ready with a visa stamped on it and that I may pick it up, a call that is the only thing that stands between me and the kind of education I have been dying to immerse myself in for months.

I have been waiting for over two months now, and the next few days will decide whether or not I will be on board when the plane leaving for St Paul, Minnesota takes off.

Today, however, was different. I woke up at around midday as usual, flung a heavy arm towards the bedside table, plucked my phone from it and saw that it was 12:32 PM. No missed calls from strange numbers. Nothing. But before my blanket became an envelope of tangible, weighty, constricting disappointment, I cast it aside.

There is a certain feeling of liberation that comes with the knowledge that you have done everything necessary to achieve something and now the final outcome depends upon variables you have no control over, and a certain giddy joy that I welcome with open arms. August has not been a kind month. Between wearing away the floor of my room with my incessant pacing and constantly checking the calendar, fearfully ticking each day off, between doctor appointments where I'd be told that stress had made my blood pressure rise and frequent, random outbursts of anger, time has both lingered on forever and rushed by impossibly fast. Now, though, I feel at peace. I have let go.

Life has not been particularly cruel to me now that I look back at the eighteen years I've been around for. In fact - and I say this with both gratitude and a little bit of shame - the cruelest moments of my life have been receiving bad grades or something else along those very lines. In a way, that seems to mean that things have favourable odds of working out for me. But if they don't... I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later.

With that in mind, I think it will be easier for me to bear the brunt of whatever, good or ill, happens, and make the most of my situation. To thrash and cry and vow to be unhappy and unforgiving if things don't go your way is to lose, to fail, to not deserve any more than what you got.

So, dear life, it's your turn to roll the dice. I'll be alright.
She sat on the black leather couch in front of mine. She had a slightly odd hairdo, with her red, short-cropped hair piled to one side of her head, and a Macbook. She, like me, was seventeen, and her name was Anna.

Her twin brother had been diagnosed of autism at a very young age, and her interaction with him was what had led to her great interest in the disorder. She had acquired an internship here, at the MIT Media Labs, and currently had the task of maintaining an up-to-date database containing all important papers that had been published about autism.

"So," she said, looking up at me as she took a short break from work, "where are you from?"

I shifted slightly on my own couch, making an embarrassing squeak as I did so. Should I tell her? Yes? No? How will she react?

"I'm from..." I began. Yes. No. Yes. No. YesNoYesNoYes. "From Pakistan."

"Oh?" she said, eyeing me. Reflexively, I stiffened a little bit. "That is so cool!"
Most of the audience had scurried to the cafe upstairs before the lights had been flicked on, the credits had begun rolling and the half-hour break between the films being played at the film festival had properly begun. By the time we had climbed the flight of stairs leading to the small cafe, there was no space left for us there. We tried awkwardly loitering by a small table laden with board games and little odds and ends for a little while.

Aware of how odd we were looking just standing around like that, we decided to look for somewhere else to sit. He picked up the guitar with a broken string, available for anyone to just grab and play, and headed for the small balcony that functions as the smoking area of the cafe.

I steeled myself. Allergic to cigarette smoke, I usually start coughing rather violently if someone smokes a few yards away. However, this time the choice was between exposure to carcinogens and being left to stand awkwardly by myself with nothing to do other than poking at the dice that lay next to a game of Snakes and Ladders. Obviously, I chose the former, taking a deep breath and letting peer pressure force me into the smoking area.

It wasn't so bad, initially, probably because the balcony was open and fresh air kept wafting in. He began strumming on the guitar. My feet began tapping in time with the rhythm while my hands busied themselves in sending a few dozen texts. It took me a while to realize we had company.

I cannot recall if they'd been sitting there when we walked in, or if they had arrived when I wasn't paying attention, but there were two others with us, a man and a woman.

He was tall and broad and bearded, and wore a very creased pale green kurta. He was standing, leaning on the wall. She was dark and deathly thin and sat with her elbows on the table. A bright red phone lay near her right hand, which was currently occupied.

She was smoking.

I forcibly turned my head away from her and began staring into the depths of a pedestal fan beside me, partly to save the glowing end of her cigarette from one of my death-glares, and partly in an attempt to minimize the smoke that reached my lungs.

The whirring of the fan, the twangs from my companion's guitar, and my own deliberately minimal breathing left my mind in a sort of trance, one where it becomes easy to pay attention to conversations - so easy, in fact, that they become embedded into your memory.

He had missed the film about the Afghani girls who had formed a football team after the Taliban has been forced out of Kabul. She had seen it more than once. She had even worked with the organization that had made the film; she was a freelancer. He was interested and pressed her for information. She gladly gave it. He ran out of questions and the conversation became trivial.

"That's Arabic? What does it say?" he asked. I turned to face the two in time to see him point at a shiny metallic bracelet she wore on her left wrist.

She gave the slightest of shrugs. "Oh, it's just the four Quls."

"So you're religious?"

"I'm an atheist," she replied almost callously, shrugging again.

For a split second, something horribly like seething rage washed over me. Then, as suddenly as it had come, it evaporated, only to be replaced by shame and bewilderment. I was confused about what had just happened to me. Quickly, I reassessed everything that had taken place in the past minute or so to figure out what had enraged me so before asking myself a few questions. Did I have a problem with atheism? No, I replied to myself, I did not. People have the right to believe in or not believe in whatever they like. And yet, something about the woman's callousness had upset me.

It was in that split second that I understood the foundation of all the religious intolerance around us, from the strict, scarily ridiculous Blasphemy laws, to minority discrimination. With something as personal as religion, differences in beliefs can feel a lot like a personal attack.

In the same split second, I also realized the true meaning of religious tolerance. It is not 'religious indifference' which is what, I now understand, most of my non-religious 'secular' friends practice. No, tolerance means accepting that people may do, say, or believe in things that might upset you and also accept that they have the right to do so - unless of course, it's a personal attack, but we're not getting into that - and that while you also have the right to be upset about it, talk about it, or even write a blog post about it, you do not have the right to harm them for their views or force your views on them.

Leaving Lyceum

With close ties to the family that owns and runs the school, as well as a parent who teaches there, I have been acquainted with Lyceum far longer than most of the students who walk its corridors. I have seen the various buildings it has occupied over the years, met with most of the teachers, and watched (almost) every play the students have put on in the past decade.

When I was little, my mother would sometimes pick me up from school and take me to Lyceum if she had unfinished business to complete, an exam to invigilate or a meeting to attend. Sometimes I would tag along when the second-year Biology students went to the beach for their class trip. It was there that I saw the genuine smiles on the students' faces, saw that happy they were and saw, also, the ties between then, bonds which were strong, permanent, palpable. It was there that I fell in love.

It was there that I sealed my fate and decided that Lyceum was for me. 

Two years ago, I walked through the doors of this school expectant. I was ready to make life-long friends, ready for adventure, ready to grow. I was ready for Lyceum. 

Or so I thought. 

In retrospect, I was not. Changes needed to be made.

I came to Lyceum slightly smug and quite self-assured. I had topped my class as far back as most people could remember. I had done so effortlessly. I had even been called by the Principal once and, in front of everyone, been declared an asset to the school. My old school. Lyceum, however, was much, much different. Humility was hammered into me as soon as I realized that almost everyone of my new classmates - every God damn one of them - had been just like me. Class toppers, chart toppers, my classes were all full of them. Suddenly I wasn't above standard. I was standard. 

I came to Lyceum with a habit of judging people. Sometimes I would come across a seemingly unremarkable person and instantly deem them unworthy of attending such an institution. You do not belong here, I would think. But then they would go ahead and do or say or write something - anything, a gesture here, a word there - that would blow my mind with its brilliance. I am ashamed to say that this happened many times before my habit deadened. 

I came to Lyceum without a clue of how true friendship worked. I expected people to just click and be friends. Forever. Initially, I had big doubts about the group of people I suddenly found myself with. I found it difficult and uncomfortable to be myself around them for some reason or the other. At times I even considered leaving them altogether and trying my luck elsewhere. But something made me stay. And I'm glad that it did. By the end of my first year, when I had begun to loosen up a little, I realized that I loved them dearly. All of them. It was through this experience that I learnt how to be proactive when it came to making friends and not wait around for it happening by chance. Even today, I surprise myself sometimes by how easily I have started to make friends. There are people out there who I've known for a painfully short time but feel like I have been with for years. 

Once I had been... altered, I became attuned to the magic of Lyceum. It was everywhere, in Bashir Bhai's greasy food, in the constricted corridors, on the benches, under the mooras, everywhere. 

I had what I had asked for, life-long friends (who are permitted to hunt me down and beat me up if I ever lose touch with them), adventures and growth.

I came to Lyceum one person. In less that forty-eight hours, I graduate. I am leaving Lyceum another person.

I am leaving Lyceum, but Lyceum will not leave me. 


You stand back and lean on your dirty shovel, wiping sweat off your forehead with the back of your free hand and stare at the patch of freshly upturned earth a few paces ahead. The deed is done.

And then, one day, your hard work pays off. The vivid green finger of the seed you had sown pokes out of the soil, extending day by day as it struggles to touch the sky. You immediately begin nurturing it. Soon, it unfurls a leaf, and then another one and then one more.

But things begin to go wrong.

You watch in horror as the seedling, tainted by the touch of some fell force, begins to transform into something twisted. Sharp spines and midnight black thorns sprout all over it until it seems jagged enough to cut the very air surrounding it. It grows - fast - but at odd, horribly contorted angles. The flowers it sends out in the dead of winter are dark red, black even, and give off the unmistakable, metallic stench of blood.

What do you do?

What do you do when you begin to grow into the wrong sort of person, the kind of person you never wished to become?

Williams Supplement

Imagine looking through a window at any environment that is particularly significant to you. Reflect on the scene, paying close attention to the relation between what you are seeing and why it is meaningful to you. Please limit your statement to 300 words.

I can feel myself slowly drifting off to sleep as my knees fold to my stomach and my arms curl around them. Without gravity, I am floating, adrift. I am a fetus in the womb again, except this time the womb is a giant construct of steel and circuitry, except that it is hurtling through space, and except that it has windows – no bigger than those in an airplane.

I stare out one such window, as I always do in the moments before I lose myself to sleep. The inky black nothingness provides me with a strange mix of comfort and exhilaration. The sheer sense of scale, the fact that the slice of the universe I can see through the window is enough to fit a few trillion Suns into – an understatement, that – is enough to make anyone dizzy. It is an attestation of the insignificance of what we know about the universe, about the world, about ourselves so far. The endless reaches yet to be explored and the infinite possibilities make my mouth water. I lick my lips just in case; globules of floating saliva are unseemly.

My gaze might as well be sweeping indifferently across my own home-planet, somewhere amid the smattering of white pinpricks. The scale of things dazzles me again. I realize how tiny we really are, how the light from everything humanity has ever known is not even registered by my retina.      

We are microscopic and so are our petty affairs – dirty politics, greed, war. No amount of bloodshed will ever make the universe pause for even a breath. Look at us, squabbling over the speck of dust we inhabit, not seeing all there is to explore, to learn, to understand. We must focus our energies into becoming what we’ve always had the potential to: great. 

I remember how, when someone was looking for something they couldn't find, my grandmother would say, "Look for something else." And sure enough, the moment the house began being dismantled in the search of something else, instead, what had formerly been lost would be immediately found. I remember, also, how I'd be amazed by this phenomenon.

Words, I've learnt, aren't any different from a missing earring, a particularly tattered book, or that one specific pair of woolen socks. You never find the words you need, until, of course, you don't need them anymore.

Edit: Happy New Year, everyone! Here's to a better year, one with more frequent blog-posts.
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