I wake up at 7:30 am everyday. There’s too much activity around and I’m a private person. I don’t like anyone watching me sleep, even if it’s a glance in my direction. So I wake up when the maid is about to enter my room. Usually I’m pleased if I am able to jump out of bed when she enters the house, but at the very latest I jump out when she enters my room.
My first trip is to my study table to check my email and make sure UPSC did not release the result at night during my fitful sleep. Then I drift into the kitchen where my mother hands me my cup of tea – sweet and milky in the winters, light and black in the summers. I sit in the drawing room with that day’s Indian Express, just glancing through the headlines. I usually like ginger biscuits to dip into my tea, but my family has raided my stock, so today I have to settle for a Parle G which inevitably breaks and settles down in a lumpy mess at the bottom of my cup. Gross.
I put on my shoes to accompany mother on her morning walk. We leave the house with my sister, who has to walk a little to the end of our lane to catch her school bus. Mother and I proceed to the park and talk about how difficult it is to raise my sister, what with her tantrums and defiance. With my college-educated wisdom, I patiently give my mother tips on how to raise a difficult child. We do some stretches, pluck a few Tulsi leaves from the plant in the park, and return home.
My morning chores include making the beds and packing my parents’ lunches for work. It doesn’t sound like much, but takes up a half hour. I make my own breakfast – cheese tomato sandwich with olives and capsicum, and mustard and barbecue sauce. It’s quite delicious actually and I feel very healthy eating it. I think to myself that I want to transition to becoming vegan, for the sake of the environment, and it would be easy except I don’t know how to give up butter. Cheese I could still force myself to, but butter is life. I make sure to feel extra appreciation for the sandwich in my hand, which is buttered on both sides.
My parents leave for work, I shut the door behind them and go back to check my email for any word from UPSC. None. I think to myself what I should do. Invariably, I open Youtube. I scan through that day’s recommendations. They mostly consist of American talk shows with myriad celebrities, some UPSC prep videos with annoying toppers from last year, and beauty and lifestyle videos which are my shameful indulgence. I open my selection all in new tabs and settle down for the next hour to watch them each in turn. The American talk shows are funny these days on account of Trump. The UPSC prep videos are tired and repetitive. The lifestyle videos allow me to daydream of another world where I have all the time in the world to worry about my hair and my skin and what I eat and what I wear. I love my hair though, so I do take out time to take good care of it. It’s not the best hair in the world, there are more than a few greys on account of all the stress I’ve been under. But I love them locks.
I glance at the clock and it’s 12 noon. I’m a little hungry so I go raid the fridge. Our house is south facing so the balconies are always flooded in sunlight. I take my snack and go out to the balcony. I tie a scarf around my hair to protect it from the sun and sit down on the floor. For the next hour I think. I think about how great life will be in LBSNAA. I think about all the interviews I will give (and some which I will refuse) upon clearing the civil services. I try and draft a speech I will make to future aspirants and the tips that they should keep in mind. More than anything else, I dream about how my life will finally begin once this exam is over and done with. John Lennon’s words creep to mind – Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans – but I dismiss them out of hand. Sitting idly on a balcony, eating a carrot, staring into space like a hobo cannot be my life. This cannot be it.
Before I know it, it’s 2 o’ clock and time for my sister to come home. This is the part I despise, when I have to heat up lunch for both of us, but it’s part of my daily chores. My sister rattles on about what all happened in school that day. I try not to think of what I did all day (nothing). After lunch, she has to take a nap otherwise she gets her dreadful headaches. I return to my computer to quickly check the UPSC website. Nothing. Nada. I return to Youtube. But everything interesting I’ve already watched. So I go switch on the television. Bruce Springsteen’s song comes to mind – 57 channels and nothin’ on. I switch off the TV again.
I return to the book I’ve been reading – The Scope of Happiness, by Vijay Laxmi Pandit. I hope to follow in her footsteps some day. She was the first woman President of the UN General Assembly. I daydream about becoming the first UN Secretary General from India. That would be one for the school textbooks for sure.
The maids come and I have to give them instructions, passed on from my mother. Once they leave, I wake my sister and give her a glass of milk as her evening snack. I take one myself. I’m going to turn vegan soon, I tell myself. Better to stock up on all the calcium now to avoid getting osteoporosis in old age. We eat some buttered bread along with it. Switch on the television in the vain hope of finding something interesting, but no luck. My sister is on her phone, scrolling through Instagram, telling me about the latest Internet sensation (“I can’t believe you haven’t heard of Bea Salt yet! There are so many memes about him!”) I walk around the house, restlessly, aimlessly. I know I should start studying, but I cannot bring myself to it. I check for my result again. Finding nothing else to do, I send a quick, innocuous email to Khushboo, which says a lot but means nothing. It’s just a bait to hear back from her and feel for one minute like I am doing something.
My parents come back late at night, around 8-8:30. They are bankers, which means they are the front line soldiers dealing with demonetisation. I ask them about their day. My mother asks me what I did all day. I mumble a lie about how much I studied. She accepts it but I can see it in her eyes that she is not wholly convinced. But she understands. She’s waiting for the result too.
9 pm is my favourite time of the day. i don’t know the name of the channel but it’s 816 on Tata Sky and the program is called Raina Beeti Jaye. It plays old Hindi songs for the next three hours, with a very elegant commentary from two hosts who speak very polished Hindi. I love listening to them and I love watching the songs.
My chores at night include cooking the rice (we have an automatic rice cooker so it basically means pouring the rice and water in it and shutting the lid), laying the table, and filling up the drinking water. We then sit together as a family at the dinning table and eat dinner together, watching TV. My sister sometimes interjects to talk about her day, and my parents talk banking jargon, but I mostly sit quietly, speaking only when spoken to.
I was at an airport recently and came across a book called the Happiness Project. I read the first 10 pages of it I guess before keeping it back. It was a B-grade book, not worth the attention, but something it said struck a chord – “The days are long but the years are short.” I contemplate that line as I eat my dinner. Another long day gone by. Another to look forward to tomorrow.
And still, no news from UPSC.