Castles in Whose Air
“Your daughter’s results for the term are great, Mrs. Rai”, said Caesar ma’am, Anokhi’s class teacher. “An A+ in English and Math, B+ in Biology. She has potential to improve in Physics and Chemistry, only a B- there”. Anokhi fidgeted nervously in her seat, she honestly didn’t understand the word ‘potential’. It was a word that cropped up often in her physics class. What was the difference between “Potential” and “Potential Difference” anyway? They all seemed like abstract concepts to her. She lost interest when the explanation that pudgy Mr. Joseph gave didn't seem evident to her at first listen. She sat by the window and looked outside at the large Ashoka trees lining the basketball court. She knew each of the trees’ intricate differences. “Overall, she’s doing great managing her studies with other activities like participating in the school’s cultural activities”, continued Caesar ma’am. Amma and Appa looked satisfied. Anokhi began to think she was off the hook. “Would my parents reward me? If I got good results, I could go to our local book store and buy a book that I wanted. This year, maybe I could ask instead for a library subscription”.
All her friends went to this cool library in town and their lunch breaks were filled with talks about the new books that everyone had read. The school library was her favourite place to be in school but she’d nearly finished reading every last Nancy Drew in it. Nowadays, the girls are getting into Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse from the local library and she wanted in. ‘The only complaint”, said Caesar ma’am, “is that she daydreams a lot. It’s a bit worse this year, she often loses track of what’s being said in class and stares out of the window”. Anokhi’s parents took a mental note of it and took her out to a nice lunch at Eden, the family restaurant in their neighbourhood. After a fabulous meal of a Veg Shashlik, Bharwan Paneer, Sukha Aloo, Dal Makhni and hot parathas, Ma and Pa looked at Anokhi and her younger brother Vivaan. “Both of your teachers had great things to say about you this year. We’re proud of you both. What would you like for this year’s gift?” “LIBRARY SUBSCRIPTION!”, yelled Anokhi and Vivaan, clutching each other’s hands in delight. “And ruin your eyes even more?”, questioned Amma jokingly.
Anokhi was delighted. She loved reading books. She loved to get into the stories with her characters. She truly felt a part of their world and almost hated it when a book ended because she wanted for the stories to go on. What happened afterwards? She started to mentally make a list of all the books she wanted to read. The library only allowed 3 books to be borrowed at a time and both she and Vivaan had to share that quota. It was alright, she reasoned. Vivaan wasn’t like the other boys. He entirely enjoyed all the novels that his friends termed ‘girly’. She also found that his kind of ‘girly’ was different from hers and she usually enjoyed the books he picked out. If it had to come down to it, she'd even let her younger brother pick all the books he wanted.
Anokhi brought her attention back to the table. Vivaan was in the middle of saying something “....data scientist who works on climate change during the day and a hip-hop performer by night”. Anokhi smiled. Vivaan had been saying the same thing every year. He had watched a documentary on how the oceans were filled with plastic five years ago and ever since then, he’d gotten it into his mind to work with data, an idea from his computer science teacher, and apply it to climate change. He balanced this 'geeky' side of him, as his friends would call it, by participating in street hip-hop battles in the neighbourhood and was just as passionate about the dance form. He always considered it just a hobby, though.
Anokhi had at least a 100 ideas a year of what she wanted to become. She wanted to do everything, often combining all her ideas into one ideal dream. Anokhi considered the question for a moment.
Lately, she had been crushing on her handsome ultimate frisbee team member. What if I became a professional athlete, she thought. She had recently joined her team to go play in the International Ultimate Championships that were held in Japan. She could travel, play, meet people around the world. But how long would she do it for? Maybe she should become a fitness trainer. She enjoyed the ways her body responded to exercise. She could learn about how the body worked, the science behind what is good for health and coach people. Ma had a trainer who did that and she was a wonderful, inspiring woman.
“A food scientist”, replied Anokhi. Her brain had already jumped a few thoughts and she had gone from fitness trainer to nutritionist to food scientist. “A food scientist with her own restaurant”, she added. “No, a food scientist with her own cafe which is also a library where people can sit and read the whole day if they want”, she amended. “No - okay, last one - a food scientist with a Michelin star restaurant that also doubles up as a cafe and library where people can come for speciality brewed coffee, a curated book section and in-house designed stationery for both kids and adults. And in the evenings zumba classes happen there”, she finished “Yes, kanna*, why not? You can do anything if you put your mind to it!”, said her mother enthusiastically. “Dream big, darling”, said her father.
Ma and Pa had smiled politely at Caesar ma’am’s last comment about Anokhi’s daydreams and out of duty, had promised to see how to work at it with her. In reality, they knew that Anokhi’s ‘day dream’ character is what made her special. She had a wild imagination that worked faster than she could get words out. She would wake up one morning wanting to become a marine biologist because of the dolphins she saw off the deep and dark blue coast of Jeju Island. She’d spend the next weeks making plans about how her life would pan out when she became a marine biologist. She would start religiously reading about the oceans, coral ecosystems. When taking the ferry across the bay, she’d tell the local fisherman manning the boat that she would make sure that the flamingoes would have a clean place to come to in the local creek. Anokhi really did think she would become a marine biologist.
Until she discovered something else. Anokhi could imagine herself in many different worlds. She had once taken a jewellery making class and insisted that she would become a jewellery designer. Anokhi scrolled for hours on Pinterest, found a tutorial for hex nut bracelets, went to the hardware store and came back with a bag full of hex nuts. Over the next months, she spent all her free time making different kinds of jewellery with hex nuts. She would be an "industrial-chic" designer, she reckoned. She would set up her own jewellery house and become world-renowned like Sabyasaachi. She would go to award functions and red carpets, dressed in the finest of clothes and accept awards. Vivaan once heard her practicing her award speech with one of their parents' wine bottles.
"I want to thank my brother who has always been my first model and has never refused to fashion my designs". Vivaan stopped outside her door and smiled. His sister always thanked him in her speeches. She lived quickly through many different imagined worlds but never too far-removed from reality. He believed she could do all of the things she said wanted to do. He believed her when she said she would set up an alternate-living community where money didn’t exist and they could all live together and be rid of the evils of society. He nodded his head when she once woke him up in the middle of night and asked if he wanted to form a duo with her where she raps and he dances. They could become famous, she said. They’d start out small, on the corner of their street. Some producer would drive past and brake to get out. They would be thrilled that this was a brother-sister act. “Adds to marketing value”, they would hear someone say. They would go on to become the most famed act in the world. They’d go to red carpets and receive awards. Success would be sweet, she told him.
Vivaan nodded along. “Yeah, that sounds great!”, he said to his sister. Encouraged at his approval, Anokhi continued to detail the how's, what's, when's and where's. Vivaan admired his sister for dreaming unhindered. He wished he wasn’t so set on his goal to become a data scientist. It was not that it didn’t excite him. He just knew that he couldn’t entertain the thoughts of these alternate worlds that his sister built as something for himself. He lived in a society where all of his role models were taught to have clear focus. His friends would laugh at him if he dared to make plans for himself like Anokhi did. He didn’t particularly mind. He didn’t even want to think about castles in the air. It is how it is, he told himself.
Anokhi burst into his dressing room. “Are you ready?”, she asked him. “I guess so”, he replied with a small smile. “You guess so?! But you’re the star, Vivaan! You’re the chart topping artist that hundreds of people out there are screaming for! Go show them your moves, give them the songs they’re waiting for!”. “I wish you were in it with me”, said Vivaan, half gloomily. “I am, you duffer! I’m the manager of THE Vivaan. You know, I did dream of being the person behind the scenes of a famous celebrity. You know, making sure that everything runs smoothly so that they can focus on their art. And see, now you’re focussing on your art and how! It’s all because of me.” She winked playfully at him. “Really?”, he asked her. “Really”, she told him, taking him by the shoulders and looking him squarely in the eye.
“We’re ready for you, Vivaan”, called a stage manager. “But it should have been you!”, he said to her as he adjusted jacket. Looking half remorseful, he blew her a kiss and walked out of the door. Soon, she heard his voice over the mic "I want to thank my manager and sister, Anokhi, for being the reason I was accidentally discovered at an underground dance battle. She has always been my first audience and has never refused to come to a concert with me"
Anokhi watched her brother on the big screen in his dressing room and smiled. “But it should have been me”.
*kanna is a term of endearment in the Tamil language.
This post was written in reponse to The InkWell's Prompt "World Building". I've never written fiction before and I'm still a bit nervous about posting this because I know I can never delete it! But who knows, maybe I'd become a famous writer someday with my books on store shelves and then I'd end up thanking The InkWell in my acknowledgements, eh? ;)