Augmented Reality

Image Credits: augment.com

The meteoric technological advancements in the last couple of decades have opened a broad spectrum of opportunities for development in every aspect of life. A significant portion of this change can be attributed to Virtual Reality. It is a computational and cognitive force that can be employed in educational programs, medical research, military applications, construction theories, gaming industry, featured marketing presentations and countless other fields.

Multi-dimensional lifelike holographic projections in real-time can broaden the horizons of game development and user experience. It opens new dimensions in the cinematic and entertainment industries. It also assists in providing firsthand experience to the apprentices in the education department with the erudite. Surgeons can practice there nascent and embryonic skills with lifelike projections of human anatomy in a virtual environment. Space travel can be simulated for commercially providing a feel of the cosmos to the general public. Projects like virtual shopping malls are also under ongoing development.

It is a promising prospect that may transform the world as we know it, however, developing a whole separate environment can be logistically demanding, burdensome and commercially expensive. A more viable option is Augmented Reality.

Augmented reality is a concoction of elements developed virtually and superimposed on a digitally processed replica of the real world locale. While VR allows users to wholly immerse in a digitally produced reality, AR presents an amalgam of virtual elements with components of real life. With a head-mounted optical display of Google glasses and an autonomous car like Waymo, many more projects are being pursued in AR.

Augmented Reality can help with providing a 3D heads-up display, a real-time virtual model of streets with to-the-scale projections of the surrounding and a visual inertial odometer to prevent distance errors and to provide an enhancement to the traditional Global Positioning System (GPS). Interior decorators can try different combinations of furniture sets in a 3D cyanotype of a room, effectively eliminating the guesswork. In urban planning, authorities and community leaders can effectively evaluate the various combinations of architectural structures and simulate their effect on the environment and traffic using AR. New constructions can also be simulated with the existing structures to provide assistance to build, design and construct them when remodeling cities. It can be applied to any field in the education department, Students can study the design of any part with a holographic projection and a functioning simulation; be it a V-12 engine, a human heart or the structural positioning of domes and arches.

AR can assist in registering a virtual presence in the physical space during calls, taking video calls to a whole other level. Lectures too will be made with a virtual presence in classrooms. It will also change the way strategies are made in war zones and help in simulations of effective deployment of troops in various terrains. Target practice will become more sophisticated with the digital monitoring of real-life effects of damage and the efficiency of defense. 3D heads-up display can equip aircraft with terrain management and a list of possible threats assisting aerial warfare.

The holographic reality is relatively in its infancy but the leading entrepreneurs find it capable of bringing a whirlwind of change with adequate development and investments that are already being made to sufficiently help it develop and prosper.

By: Arif Khan

(First printed in ‘Fiction 2018’)

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The Evolution Of Western Calligraphy

The modern colonial era brought with it the English language that today, has become a lingua franca or a “common tongue” and is widely-understood and spoken by over a billion people in the world. Although we have our own native languages, we all seem to understand this 1400-year-old development to some extent (or else you wouldn’t be reading this right now). As a magazine that has been sporting beautiful pieces of writing in English year after year, it is only fair Fiction gets an article that talks about the medium of its type.

English wasn’t actually the language of the Englishmen. It was originally called Anglish and was brought to Great Britain by the people of a Germanic tribe called the Angles, during the fourth century. Anglish was a traveling language and gained more words with the increasing colonization that greatly affected the original version. It was about this time, that the letterforms reached the point they are at today. Letters that were engraved into edifices and monuments back then, offer modern-day designers their calligraphic inspiration.

A Broad Timeline of Penmanship

Uncial Calligraphy

Credits: Yusra Sheikh

Uncial was used in the earliest books and manuscripts around the fourth century. At this point of time, the archaic Latin script replaced the futhorc runes and papyrus scrolls were replaced by more durable surfaces like animal skin which were treated to provide a more comfortable writing experience for the stronger strokes of the Uncial. It was written by pens made of hardened feathers that were shaped into writing tools according to the requirements of the script. These quills gave the calligraphy its characteristic thick and thin strokes and were used for centuries. Uncial consists of mostly rounded lettering which makes the script look magnificent. These letters were used for salient headings and documents. It is specifically a majuscule style. This means that it does not have the concept of small letters and consists of only capitals which evolved over the course of four centuries.

Carolingian Calligraphy

Credits: Yusra Sheikh

The changes in the style of writing were very subtle in the centuries following the origins of Uncial. However, by the eighth century, the ascenders and descenders became more emphasized, leading to an entirely different script. Carolingian was developed in Tours, France during the reign of Emperor Charlemagne (742 – 814 AD) and was thus named after the expanded Frankish state that he founded. In the 10th century, English scribes refashioned their scripts to use Carolingian for their books. It became a European standard and can be discerned in the majority of the Holy texts from the period between the eighth to the twelfth century. Edward Johnston, the man regarded as the father of modern calligraphy, considered Carolingian as the foundation script for beginners to learn calligraphy, in the twentieth century. This is why Carolingian is also known as the Foundational Hand. It consisted of both minuscules (small letters) as well as majuscules. Similar to its predecessor, the Carolingian script also possesses the roundness of letters, however, the ascenders and descenders are elongated and more accented to create distinctions between the form of lettering.

Blackletter or Gothic Calligraphy

Credits: Yusra Sheikh

It was in the twelfth century that the lettering took a new course, as the very rounded letters became narrower and more angular, giving rise to Blackletter calligraphy. The issue with Carolingian was how time-consuming it was to craft large amounts of text. In the eleventh century, the tasks of scribes started deviating from writing just the Holy Bible and other religious scriptures, to books for the newfound universities, at the time. Although Carolingian was preferable and approachable, writers had to now use variations of it to make the transcribing process faster and more efficient. Blackletter thus became a popular, yet less legible version of Carolingian in western Europe and spread fast in the following years. In the southern parts of Europe, however, the shift wasn’t as dramatic. They preferred Rotunda, which was a slightly rounded Blackletter, and was even considered an entirely separate script, although both originated from the same ancestor.

Copperplate Calligraphy

Credits: Yusra Sheikh

Italics caught on during the Renaissance as the long-standing thick-edged quill was replaced by a fine-tip metal nib. This nib looked similar to the flint tool that was used to engrave copper plates; hence the name of the lettering. Originating in the seventeenth century, Copperplate or Roundhand as it was also called, began to quickly replace the bold lettering for books and other official documents as the standard writing technique. With a pointed nib and hairline strokes, Copperplate could be written very subtly or even exaggerated with the more prominent variation of thick and thin lines, depending on context and was used throughout the nineteenth century.

Modern Hand Lettering

Credits: Yusra Sheikh

In modern times, enthusiasts and professional calligraphers use different kinds of tools to accomplish specific styles, variations and even mixtures of scripts. Hand lettering has become very popular amongst the younger generations, however, it is very different from the calligraphy we had seen in the preceding centuries. With the advancement of technology and the creation of calligraphic typefaces like Palatino in the mid-twentieth century, actual calligraphy had shifted to becoming more of an art than a practical writing technique. Modern hand lettering is not very restrictive, rather more free-flowing as compared to ancestral scripts. Every practitioner has their own style which reflects the uniqueness of the work. Unlike calligraphy, hand lettering does not require a specific kind of pen, a certain angle of inclination or nib widths to measure for script accuracy. We now have digital fonts for all that precision and although some people still practice calligraphy by hand to keep the art alive and increase the value of the writing, most people prefer the ease and originality that comes with hand lettering.

By: Aisha Aijaz

(First printed in ‘Fiction 2018’)

A Necessity Named Laughter

Have you ever spent a day having cracked not even a single laugh? If yes, then I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring back memories of tough times. Laughing is very important. It’s like…very very important. If you don’t laugh, it’s bad. Don’t worry, I’ve got better ways to make you understand this.

Looking at the biological stuff involved with laughter, it has a number of benefits. We already know that different parts of the brain are responsible for various emotions. Laughter engages a number of areas of the brain at once. It stimulates the release of endorphins, which help reduce the sensation of pain. It has been shown to cause reductions in stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. Laughter also boosts the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T-cells, leading to a stronger immune system.

Laughter often works to manage delicate and serious moments too. More than simply an external behavior, laughter is highly communicative, and helps accomplish actions and regulate relationships.

Now laughing doesn’t come hard. All it takes is a good company, a fun atmosphere or just any TV sitcom.

In fact, you can develop your own sense of humor too. Some ways to do that include:

– Laughing at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously and laugh out at embarrassing situations (but don’t overdo it, that’s just weird).

– Looking for the humor in a bad situation, and uncovering the irony and absurdity of life. When something negative happens, try to find a way to make it a humorous anecdote that will make others laugh.

– Trying to avoid negative people. Don’t dwell on news, stories, or conversations that make you sad or unhappy.

– Finding your inner child. Observe children around you, and try to emulate them—after all, they are the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing at ordinary things.

All in all, laughter is a necessity of life. It boosts a number of areas directly related to your performance in daily life, and boosts your physical and mental health. This builds up your creativity and helps loosen stress, enabling you to live a light and joyful life. Laughter takes you to a higher place where you can view the world from a more relaxed, positive and joyful perspective. So what are you waiting for?

Probably for this article to end…

By: Hammad Mohammad Shakir

Accident Or Murder?

It was a perfect day for the final between FC Warington(FCW) and Bradfield FC(BFC). Clear sky, a fully packed stadium, and both teams full of confidence – what else could a football fan ask for?

The game started with referee’s first blast on the whistle. Both teams vied superbly well for the ball. It was a clear instruction from both the managers, “You draw the first blood – the kill is yours.” Whether this was code or something else, no one knew, but the players’ attitude and mindset clearly indicated that whoever took away the first goal would be in the driver seat.

Everything was fine for first 20 minutes. FCW had made some good chances and taken the advantage, ending the ball in the back of net; they were leading 1-0. FCW players’ might have thought about sitting back and defending to take the glory home, but BFC had other plans. Within 5 minutes of the first goal, BFC pulled one back and got the must needed equalizer, making the scoreboard show 1-1. At this time came in a potential move for the trophy, BFC’s left winger made an almost perfect cross, right across the face of FCW’s goal, and FCB’s center forward somehow did manage to guide the ball in with his chest; quite a unorthodox technique, but it went through. As pundits say, anything that would help sneak nearer to glory is always welcomed in this world – so was this.

BFC’s team players huddled in celebration, their manager jumped in excitement, and the stadium that went silent after the equalizer, once again found its voice, and fans were on their feet, cheering. However, amidst all the excitement, what caught everybody’s attention was the fact that the scorer was not moving. In fact, he had not even gotten up from the ground. At once, the referee made the sign for medical help. Players surrounded him, but none knew at that time that he was never going to get up.

Image Credits: wisegeek.com

The medical assistant checked his pulse, as his body was not responding and he found no pulse. At once, the match was abandoned, and police detectives, along with the crime lab, arrived at the scene. The coroner pronounced the player to be dead. “What, seriously? On-field, how could he, a perfectly healthy player, be gone just when he struck the ball in the net?” ran the thoughts in almost everyone’s mind. What had happened there could only be found out after complete investigation; but the news was a big shock to the football world. Though the match was only at zone level, it received extensive press coverage due to this incident. It was in all the newspapers, and became the reporters’ top priority.

Forensics declared that the player was doped with a substance for enhanced agility. On the other hand, the Zonal Football organization claimed that all the players had passed the dope test, and nothing was found on anybody, else they wouldn’t have been allowed to play. Now, the question was this – when and how did this substance enter the striker’s body?

Then began the real investigation at a faster pace. The detectives checked the camera reels again and again, but the only thing they found was the time he went to the manager, just for once, maybe for some instruction. But then what?

Call it luck or great observation skills, as one of the detectives found a busted balloon on the ground, near the dugout, during search. That was quite unusual. Sent to the forensics, it turned out that the balloon was filled with the same doping chemical, and had burst due to the high temperature. Seemingly an accident, it was clearly taking the shape of murder.

After this, the tapes were checked once again. This time, they spotted a person in a black hoodie put his hand round the manager of BFC, and had something in his hand that looked like the balloon, but his face could not be seen. Playing the same segment of tape 4-5 times, the detectives caught  a glimpse of the hand having a ‘/ ’ shaped cut and a cat’s tattoo. Checking it with the immediate relation’s of the striker, it turned out that the face under the black hoodie was not male, but that of a female, aged about 22, whom the striker was dating at that time.

Taken in interrogation, she revealed that she killed him because of his cheating habit. “Isn’t that the most ineligible reason? You could have left him, couldn’t you?” asked one of the detectives. She didn’t reply to that, and her face gave the detective a hunch that she was hiding something. Upon further investigation, detectives found a diary in striker’s house. The information in his diary portrayed a clearer picture.

The actual story was other way round – she was a member of the gang  that was involved in selling drugs to innocent student of college and high school, which had a cat-face as their logo. After a bit of sternness, she caved in and told the truth that she used to lure innocent students in the dark world of drugs, and since she was a girl, it was easier for her. However, she didn’t know that caught in her web was also the striker’s younger cousin brother. The striker saved  him, and was going to give her in to the police, which would have led to her being killed by her own gang, to avoid any danger. So, she decided  on sacrificing him in her place. She had studied medicine at a younger age, and knew very well about dopes and their usage. Being his girlfriend, she was allowed to stay in the dugout.

It still wasn’t clear to the detectives as to how she was sure of him going to the manager, to which they got the answer from her that she wasn’t. She had tried this 7 times before, but with no success. Finally, she got the chance she was waiting for. As the manager called the striker for instructions, she carried the water-bottle and the weapon (the balloon) to him. The shaking of the balloon caused the additive kept with dope to heat it. With the excuse of wiping off his sweat, she made him sniff the dope from the balloon, which was in steam form by then, as the chemical reaction had converted the liquid dope to steam.

Just one sniff of the mixture, and her work was done. In five minutes, he took the shot and fell to his death. The murder would have been imposed as an accident, and she would have walked straight out of it, but her luck ran out when she threw the balloon on ground only, maybe in haste.

Even after the mystery was unraveled, and the guilty put behind bars, this incident shook the entire football world, and this matter kept circling in newspapers for a long time.

By: Priyansh Taneja

Dark : A Sci-fi thriller, with a tinge of Horror

Image Credits: juiceonline.com

“The question is not where. But when.”

This is as intriguing a tagline as can be, for a web series. I’m talking about Dark, the first German Netflix Original series. It is a sci-fi thriller, with a background score so ominous that you can easily mistake it for a horror show.

A quote by Albert Einstein flashes on the screen at the very beginning of the series, “The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Combine that with the tagline in the poster, and you don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes to figure out that this series revolves around time travel.

The show is set in Winden, a small town in Germany, that is struggling to come to terms with the inexplicable disappearance of two kids. The pilot starts with a monologue declaring that “everything is connected”, and you slowly realize its significance as the story unfolds, revealing the double lives and intricate secrets of the people belonging to the four families at the core of the plot. The story spans over three timelines: 1953, 1986 and 2019. Everything is indeed connected, as not only the events of the past affect the future, but also the other way round. I won’t delve deeper into the plot details, in order to keep this review spoiler free.

There are times when the series gives off a Stranger Things vibe, which is unavoidable, as both the shows are set in small towns, both deal with missing children, both have a touch of the supernatural, and so on. However, these similarities lie merely on the surface, and as you go deeper, Stranger Things seems like a light-hearted comedy in comparison. Not kidding.

There are some fascinating paradoxes on display as well. As is usually the case with time travel, a character goes back in time to change an event in hopes of changing the future, but in the process, unknowingly becomes the reason for the event occurring  in the first place. You guessed it – classic Predestination paradox.

To put it bluntly, Dark is like a jigsaw puzzle, and  you see the plotlines making sense as the series evolves. The reveals are so aptly written that even if you predict some of them, you will still marvel at their sheer improbability. It is one of those shows in which you think you know a character, but then he or she goes ahead and does something really unexpected, just because the plot requires  him or her to do so; thus reigniting the debate in most time travel flicks – can we really change our future, or is it all pre-decided? Guess we’ll never know for sure.

The first few episodes can be a bit difficult to watch, with the gloomy setup combined with a foreboding background score always keeping you on your toes, but as the puzzle pieces start falling in place, and the story  begins to make some sense, you might just find yourself getting hooked. If you’re looking for something fun and relaxing to pass the weekend, I suggest you stay away, but if elaborate conundrums and unfathomable plot twists are your thing, this one is right up your alley.

By: Shayan Ahmad Kamil

(First printed in ‘Fiction 2018’)

Clash Of Dreams

Image Credits: drugfree.org

Noor returned from her tuition class, completely worn out. Fridays were always the most stressful – school from 7:30 AM to 2 PM, and Chemistry tuition from 2:30 PM to 5:30 PM.

“Welcome back, Noor. I’ve heated milk for you. Drink it before it gets cold.” said her mother, who  set down a glass of warm milk on the coffee table, next to a plate of chocolate biscuits. Noor dropped her satchel on the sofa, and sat next to her mother.

“Have you heard about Rani? Her mother was here today. She told me about her latest achievement – a gold medal in the Maths Olympiad.”

“Yes, I heard,” replied Noor, dunking a biscuit in the milk.

“Her parents are very fortunate. They have a gifted child, who brings home wonderful achievements. Not only does Rani score perfect 10s in her exams, but she is also part of the school athletic team. She is bound to get into a top-notch college next year.”

“But she isn’t a person fit to converse with, Ma. She is really big-headed, and always makes fun of her classmates.”

“How does that matter, child? She still wins accolades every now and then,” cried her mother. “Why don’t you see the efforts she puts into her work?”

“Even I work hard, Ma…”

“Really, Noor? Neither do you get grades that can make us proud, nor do you have any extra-curricular achievements to your name.”

“Come on, Ma. Didn’t I get a 9.2 CGPA last term? Besides, what’s the point of extra-curriculars, if I’m not interested in any of the school activities?”

“A 9.2 is not good enough. You need to aim for a 10 this time. Moreover, extra-curriculars are important these days. How else will you distinguish yourself from the crowd?” Noor’s mother clasped her on her shoulder, and added, whilst gazing into her eyes, “with such a lax attitude, you won’t be able to secure a very bright future.”

“I think I’ll go now. I have a lot of homework and study material to cover,” said Noor, removing her mother’s hand from her shoulder. She swallowed the biscuit, gulped down the milk, and walked towards her room, satchel in hand.

Noor had much to do – complete her Biology practical file, study for tomorrow’s Psychology test, and draft out a summary of Macbeth, apart from revising today’s tuition notes. Another busy weekend in store for her.

However, today’s tuition had completely saturated her mind, and was in no mood to start her tasks right away. Moreover, her mother’s lecture had dampened her spirits even more. Noor slammed the door shut, and flopped down on her bed.

What does Ma want from me? Why does she always have to do this – pitting me against everyone else? Does effort only count by how many awards or grades I secure?

With these thoughts racing through her mind, Noor picked up her sketchbook from the study table, and began doodling in it. Today’s comic strip was to be Mr. X, who had to balance school books on a plank, while walking a tightrope. Below the tightrope was a deep pond, with blue sharks eagerly waiting for him to fall.

Satisfied with her doodle, Noor closed her sketchbook, and fished out her school yearbook from her satchel. She had received it only today, and was eager to find her comic submission. Sure enough, there it was, on page 72 – a three-panel comic of Miss Gee, an actress who decides to race against her friends on a bike, on a hot summer day. By the time Gee returns, all her makeup is running down her cheeks, and her hair is dripping with sweat.

Noor giggled at the comic, and gave a wistful sigh. Only her classmates and teachers appreciated her artwork, and recognized her talent. It meant nothing to her mother’s dream – see her daughter take up a course in a reputed medical college, and become a doctor. Dejected, she tucked away the yearbook under the mattress, and sat down at her study table.

Opening her Chemistry textbook, Noor began memorizing formulas from Inorganic Chemistry. Someday, she will muster up the courage to tell her mother about her plans – to enroll in an art college, and become a comic artist. Till then, she will just go with the flow, and continue to work hard – whether others recognize it or not.

By: Mariam Nida Usmani

(First printed in ‘Fiction 2018’)

Sinister Son Of A Southpaw?

Illustration Credits: M.C. Escher

Not literally, with only about a 25% chance of being one if both your parents are too.

Clueless?

Sinister and Southpaw are both synonyms for the ‘evil’ ones who write with their ‘wrong’ hand. Over the course of years, the word ‘Sinister’ became associated with left handedness and ‘Dexter’ with right handedness, the words literally translating to evil and skilled respectively.

Being a lefty or a righty might not be that big of a deal in the modern era (except a few cases), but up until a while back it was considered evil, feminine, impure, and even illegal.

Now it may not be an issue for most of us to use that pair of scissors lying around or using a ruler to draw a line across a page, but it’s too right for about 10% of the world’s population; which might not seem like a lot, but that’s about 7.5 million people (once again not a lot).

Smudged handwriting, “How can you write with your left hand like that?”, and fear of clowns are very common for a Southpaw (except the last one, that’s just me). It’s surprising with all the activism going on, how the leftys aren’t out there marching or fighting in court over the injustices they face in this harsh right-handed world.

I’m sure being right-handed has its own numerous advantages (you don’t think twice before strumming a guitar or typing on a keyboard do you?), but being lefty comes with its own set of pros. Southpaws are better at many sports, statistically, have a higher IQ than their right handed counterparts (Northpaws?), better at multi-tasking, and faster at recovering from a stroke (given college, I’d say that’s a huge plus). Leftys usually grow up using both sides of their brain in the righty-dominated world (we really need an activist) giving them an edge over their righty counterpart.

Only up until a while ago, we were considered evil and ‘demonic’; of course it’s a thing of the past in most parts of the world but it sure has left its mark. There are a lot of myths floating around about the Southpaws. They’re often considered emotionally unstable, untrue of course, and are said to scare easy, once again just as untrue (except clowns for me).

Thanking the omnipotent for it not being the 1900s, I believe it’s high time the Sinisters embraced their wrong side and made it left.

By: Tanzilur Rahman

(First printed in ‘Fiction 2018’)

Romping Around Rainbows

Perhaps

Winter had come early that year;

Or mayhap

It was just my heart

That had turned bitter and cold-

Like a night in late December,

Sharp and unforgiving.

For it was a temptation I had given in to;

A mental illness, entrenched and chronic.

Forsaken

Like a pig up for slaughter,

Save that one soul for whom I had sinned.

That immaculate piece of art-

That man

I was not allowed to love.

Natheless,

I hadst fallen for that gent concluded, be it.

Armed unicorns can’t lose a horn

Queer as they may be.

Truth be told,

Hate, not love

Is a choice

And

In the end

Rainbows reign.

 

By: Anonymous

The Shattered Walls Of Reminiscence

Image Credits: Gary Heller

As the sky blue mixed with the red, I entered into the now broken walls of what I used to call home. Running my fingers on the scratched and scraped paint, which was still fresh in my memory, I reminisced my childhood. I picked up the broken frame from the ground as the tear on my cheek rolled down, and managed to mumble the dusty words below the picture – “My Happy Family”. Who knew that this happiness won’t last forever? Who knew we all would be torn apart this way? Who knew?

The roof above my head was gone. The roof of protection, the roof of love and the roof of care…all just vanished into thin air. I sat myself down on what remained of the couch. Although it was now a jumbled mass of wood and springs, nothing could bring me more comfort than this.

Standing at the door to leave once again, just like I did 10 years ago, I looked back, but this time there were no smiling faces to bid farewell to me, no fresh flowers in the vase that used to sit in the corner of the living room, and no happy tears to wipe off my mother’s cheek. It was just me and what remained of a place I used to call my home.

By: Hammad Mohammad Shakir

(First printed in ‘Fiction 2018’)

The Late Train

Image Credits: chasingsummits.com

It was a winter night. The mercury was dipping steadily, and the wind was stinging every exposed inch of the body.

There is something mysteriously beautiful about winters. The eerie calm of the foggy winter nights makes you believe in the inexplicable forces of nature, and the sheer unpredictability of life.

The train was late, as expected. I was sitting on a concrete (and not so comfortable) bench on a deserted platform, all wrapped up from head to toe. I had made myself a makeshift bed right on the freezing concrete bench, and just as I became a little cosy, a computerized female voice boomed on the nearby speakers, “Train No. 12524 is running late by 10 hours, and will be arriving at 1:05 am on Platform No. 13. Any inconvenience caused is deeply regretted.”

Apology not accepted! Here I was, excited about going home after a tiring fortnight of semester exams, and meeting my family and friends after almost six months; and Indian railways poured a gallon of freezing water  all over my excitement.

The train finally arrived, in all its glory and grandeur, making me eager once again, in anticipation of my impending departure.

I boarded the train and reached my seat, which was a lower side-berth, having been assigned due to unavailability of my usual choice, the upper berth. I put my luggage under the seat and settled down with a blanket placed over my legs, for an extra ounce of comfort. I took out a novel, bought specially for the train journey, and set about reading the first chapter.

I was halfway through the second page, when a whiff of strong perfume hit my olfactory nerves. I turned around to find a bespectacled girl, dressed in an awful amount of pink, struggling with her luggage. Being the gentleman that I was, I rushed to help her. As it turned out,  her berth was just above mine.  I put her luggage, with some difficulty, on her berth. She thanked me and sat down on the lower one, in front of me. Interestingly, she put her feet inside the blanket too.

I was busy thinking of a perfect conversation starter, when she beat me to it with a not-so-perfect one.

“What are you reading?”

“‘A Prisoner of Birth’ by Jeffrey Archer.”

“Let me guess – it’s not a romantic story,” her tone suddenly turned mischievous, and I saw a hint of a smirk on her face, and a twinkle in her eyes.

“What gave it away?” I was not one to shy away from a battle of wits either.

She started giggling, and tucked a rogue strand of hair that had wandered onto her cheek behind her ear, and asked, “Do you read romantic novels?”

“I used to, but then I got introduced to thrillers, and haven’t bothered going back to the romantic genre.”

“I see. Hey, we haven’t been introduced yet!” she exclaimed. ” I’m Sara, by the way.”

“I’m Shayan.”

The train gave a resounding whistle and started trudging along the platform with the usual squeaking of rails.

“Finally!” she sighed.

“So, where are you going?” I asked, in hope of keeping the conversation alive.

“Lucknow.”

“Hey, that’s too near.” I complained, feigning disappointment.

She giggled. “What about you?”

“Kishanganj.”

“That’s rather far.”

It was, indeed. It took almost 26 hours to reach Kishanganj from Delhi, and the train was already 10 hours late. As we kept talking, however, I realised that I wanted the train to reach Lucknow as late as possible.

We spent the whole night chatting. I found out that she was a bookworm, just like me, and preferred to spend her afternoons wrapped up in a blanket, with a cup of coffee and a good book. The conversation turned from novels to movies, and then to more personal topics. We talked amidst the noisy, yet comforting rustle of the wheels against the tracks; the weirdly catchy tones of the hawkers defying the laws of physics by balancing ridiculously heavy and bulky baskets on their heads; the constant chatter of some women in the other compartment. It was as if our brains were filtering out all the unnecessary information.To see her talking in full flow was a sight for sore eyes.The way she kept touching the tip of her nose, the frequent shuffling of hair, her adorable laugh – all these subtle mannerisms made her attractive without even trying. She was the perfect blend of shy and mischief.

I woke up with a start. We had fallen asleep talking. It was somewhere around 8 in the morning and the winter sun was flickering like a candle running out of wax. She was still sleeping. There was a hint of a smile on her lips. Maybe she was dreaming about something pleasant. I freshened up a bit and returned to the seat to find her awake and gazing out into the trees.

“Good morning,” I said cheerfully.

“Good morning,” she replied, smiling from cheek to cheek.

We sipped masala tea with some Marie Gold biscuits. Talk about bliss! Some small talk ensued reminiscent of a few topics from last night.

The clock struck 9, and the train was just about to reach Lucknow. I reminded her of that, and she started packing her stuff hurriedly. Slowly and gradually, the train graced the platform, amidst the usual commotion of the railway station.

I had never been good at goodbyes. We shared a somewhat hurried and awkward hug, and promised that we would stay in touch. She kept waving me goodbye as the train left the station, and I waved back.

My seat felt weirdly empty. I smiled to myself and returned to my novel, thanking my lucky stars that I had not cancelled my ticket, and had decided to wait for the late train.

By: Shayan Ahmad Kamil

(First printed in ‘Fiction 2018’)