Mamma came into the room again and this time she switched on ALL the lights in the room, including the bright table lamp next to Anvita. Then she pulled the blanket off the protesting thirteen year old’s face. Anvita had to give in now, lest face the very extreme of Mumma’s trick, pouring of cold water on the face.Realising there was no room for escape, she surrendered and got up.

Anvu (her pet name) got up and noticed it was already 7:15, which meant she had just twenty-five minutes to get ready and catch the school bus that normally reached their apartment in uptown Gurugram by 7:45. Despite trying hard, she could not convince Papa and Mumma on reasons of studying late night. It was not for chatting with friends or watching videos, it was being in the ‘Zone of maximum productivity’. While the teachers were not sure about the ‘zone’ thing, they did agree that teenagers mostly prefer studying late night, instead of early morning. The old adage, “Early to bed and Early to rise”, was probably meant for the old people like (Papa) !

As she got ready after a quick shower, she noticed the crease on the skirt was not gone despite the amateurish ironing that she did on it the previous night. After Mumma coaxed her, she had agreed to iron her uniform twice a week. This was to prepare for adversity, when the maid suddenly takes a ‘sick leave’.

Preeti handed Anvita her goody bag of snacks and water bottle as she entered the elevator. She quickly kissed Anvita and went in for the second innings of her every morning match. Fortunately for her, Aahan’s school started an hour after Anvita’s, allowing her some breathing space in-between, just enough to have her cup of chai with the morning newspaper.

As Anvi( for her friends) reached the bus stop, she heard Mitali and Krish chatting. Apparently there was word about Kritika Ma’am, the English teacher who taught the 7th and the 8th grades, was leaving school in middle of the term. Mitali, who was in Anvita’s class, was fond of Kritika Ma’am and was particularly sad about the news.The 8th grade had anyways started on a sour note, as Gauri Ma’am and Rahul Sir, two of the popular teachers had left school for various reasons. The talk was of school management struggling to hold back teachers who were being enticed with handsome offers from new schools cropping up in the Millenium City.

Mitali soon forgot about Kritika Ma’am when Anvita reminded her about the Physics homework. She had planned to do the last few questions in the morning but completely forgot. Anvita reassured her, as they boarded the bus, that she would get time to complete in school, just before assembly time. Homework had increased for them ever since they got into middle school. Anvita smiled to herself, how the homework had been the last activity she completed previous night and had almost forgotten it herself. Some of the students like Mitali, who took private tuitions had less time for homework in week days.

The bus conductor reminded students to wear seat-belts. Seat-belts, along-with the live tracking app, were among the few security features made mandatory by the school. Kids could not jump around between the seats now. They had to stay glued to their seats all through the ride. Of course, this would not prevent paper planes flying around or for the candies tossed around. But most of the ‘masti’ was reserved for the late afternoon ride back from school, because in mornings, most of the kids preferred a quick nap or just look out of the window and observe the morning chaos on Gurugram roads.

As she reached into her classroom, she noticed the desk which was generally occupied by Karan was vacant. When he had called Anvita last night, he had not hinted about missing school the next day.With the early onset of winter, there were increased cases of flu and viral fever. Mumma had cautioned Anvita and given her the jacket, in case she felt cold in school. They were fortunate to have warm drinking water at the water station in school. She overheard Devika mention to Mitali that Karan had texted her in the morning about not coming to school. Anvita was jealous of the fact that while Karan would ask her for help on study matters, he would do all the fun talk with Devika. She was not clear on what was their relationship. She was especially concerned about the version in the ‘gossip trails’, as that invariably prevailed as the ‘likely truth’.

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

– Winston S Churchill

The first two periods of English and Maths went off in a breeze. Breeze similar to that was blowing from outside the classroom. And Anvita’s attention to the window was directed by the sudden remark of the Physics teacher, Shukla Sir ” Would you please share with all of us Ayaan, what is so attractive outside, that you are not able to take your eyes off from the Window.?”. It was not just Anvita, but the whole class was now looking at poor Ayaan, a very happy-go-lucky guy, always read with a joke or mischief, who had hard time getting serious about studies. Three years into middle school now, teachers and even his own parents were totally amazed how he had made it this far, as his mind was still of a primary school kid. In heart of hearts, Anvita wanted to be like Ayaan, totally carefree, do what you feel like and just speak your heart out. But she was not sure if it was because she was a girl or it was in her DNA, that she would prefer being quite, rather than speaking her heart out. While her close friends understood this about her, others were generally left confused.

“To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.”

– Reba Mc Entire.

The moment the bell rang for the lunch break, Anvita along with Mitali and Kritika proceeded to the lunch room. There was talk about the new Ranbir-Alia movie hitting the screens later that week. Anvita was a die hard fan of both. Nowadays, the toss up was between watching the movie with your friends or with your parents. It got tougher in case of Alia Bhat or Aamir Khan movies as Mumma (Preeti) was a big Alia Bhat fan and her Dad had not missed any Aamir Khan movie, all were seen First-Day-First-Show. God knows how he could ever manage that in his times, Anvita would wonder. On a weekday morning, for a kid to be found in a movie theatre, would mean grounding for a week, nowadays!

After a quick lunch of nutritious but sort-of-bland food, they proceeded to the chemistry lab for some experiments. Anvita loved chemistry and the lab allowed them chance to put to practice what they were learning. Anvita was glad to be in the lab and do something practical. At times, in the classroom, her mind would wander when she could not grasp what was being discussed. Always having been a bit ‘conscious’ she would decide against asking the teacher in the class. She preferred meeting her after class and clarifying. Next period, PE was also Anvita’s favourite. She was improving in both basketball and tennis and it was time when she had to choose only one of them. “You don’t have time for two tuitions, how can you devote time for two different sports that demand so much attention?” Mumma questioned her the previous weekend. The blank look on Anvita’s face was considered as an agreement and she had given up basketball, for now.

The last event of the day at school was a small skit the students were practicing for the upcoming annual day. They had decided to have this one specially for the village folk nearby. As part of the community service initiative, school invited kids from the neighbouring village to be witness the final dress rehearsal. Apart from the main program, they were to have an additional skit this time, which, through a girl child Meera, was to depict the strong will of village kids to get education, despite the economic hardship. Anvita very closely identified with the cause and had taken the lead in getting this skit to be a part of the annual day.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ’I will try again tomorrow’.”

– Mary Anne Radmacher

As they packed their bags and proceeded towards the bus, Mitali reminded Anvita to collect back her mobile phone from the class-teacher, Deepti Ma’am. It has been a year now that strict regulations were enforced on mobile phone usage. Students who got them to school for connectivity needs on the way back home, had to deposit them with the class teacher during school. Anvita quickly checked the messages and was excited to see that Mumma had okayed the sleep-over with Shreya, her old friend, now in London, who was in town for the Winter break, in the weekend. Shreya had been one of many of her “BFF” but it had been difficult to stay connected regularly, once she moved to London. However, when Shreya was in town, they would have a great time during the sleep overs, catching up on the lost time and would spend hours talking about a lot of things including nothing !

Once back home, Anvita rushed into her room, changed and sat comfortably on the living room couch in front of the television. It was her ‘chill zone’ for the next thirty minutes. Screen time was closely monitored due to the increased usage of laptops in school and she was not allowed to watch beyond the stipulated time during weekdays. After watching an episode of “Friends” while munching a light sandwich, Anvita was tempted to watch the next one, when Preeti walked into the room and switched off the television. Rules-are-Rules (No rules is only for Netflix employees!).

The evening routine whisked off before Anvita even had time to think. An hour long of homework followed by Piano classes at the academy nearby where Preeti would drop her and Peyush (Dad) would pick her up before the family gathered on the dinner table by 7:30pm. As they were about the finish dinner, Peyush got a video call on his phone from his mother and after saying hello, he quickly passed on the phone to Anvita. She would look forward to these occasional calls with the grandchildren. As health did not permit frequent travel, the video call had got them closer somehow. While still talking to Dadi, Anvita proceeded towards the elevator. Anvita would love the occasional post dinner strolls with Daddy in the apartment lawns, where he would talk about his day at work. But the best part of those walks was when they would have some random fun conversation and they would have a hearty laugh about it.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”– Albert Einstein

Back home, as she checked her phone before getting back to her homework, she noticed there was a message from Karan with a cheerful selfie on snapchat. He looked lot better than what he had described his state the previous evening. Feeling good about the same, she put on her ‘happy times’ playlist on iTunes. She had been wanting to update the same for a while, but was always running short of time. There was a message from Mitali on the upcoming Ed Sheeran concert in Mumbai that she too was so so wanting to go for, but had no idea if she would be allowed to travel with her friends. It was irony that some of the best music concerts happened only in Mumbai or Bangalore and not in Delhi.

As Anvita tucked herself in the bed by ten-thirty, after saying prayers, she reflected on the day gone by. In the frenzied world that she was living, the day was so full of action and moving around and very little time to ‘think and reflect’ on what she was doing and more importantly, WHY she was doing it. It did not help matters that while she would not enjoy a particular subject at school, she could not articulate WHY she did not like it and what she would study instead.

The biggest challenge of growing up is we all don’t grow equally. Something so obvious to her friend would be totally baffling to her. Of course, at times it would be the other way around and it was she who would have the ‘top of the world’ feel. What she was clear was the independent life that she wished to lead as an adult, but was not sure if she had it in her to manage it all.

A few years back, it was lot nicer as she would study with Daddy or Mumma on her homework. Life was less busier in primary school. Call it luck or whatever, parents were also lot more relaxed in the evenings. But with the growing infusion of technology, she was spending more time with Google and Wikipedia and getting answers by herself on the topics that were new to her.

She loved all her friends but was not sure who all loved her the same way and would be around when she really needed them. While she knew that everyone had the right to be as temperamental as herself, she was never clear of who was her ‘real’ friend. As she was thinking this, images of all her friends, including those in Primary school, flashed in her mind. And it brought a subtle smile on her face, reminding of her old mischievous self; the mischief which at sometime, disappeared amidst the study pressure and burden of expectations which now she treated as ‘the new normal’.While swaying in these myriad set of memories, she did not realise when she fell asleep, with yet another day coming to an end.