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The Degree

The Degree

7 mins 12.4K 7 mins 12.4K

“Good night, Anil. I’m way too sleepy now.”

“Same here”. A white lie, he knew, but then he couldn’t have said the truth to either. “Good night”. He hung up and whispered a prayer for Zaara’s well-being. After all, it was their last conversation. Anil collected his thoughts. He had another one hour to live, so he had to make the most of it. He took up his diary. Opened the last page. He would write a long letter. He wondered who the addressee should be –his diary? Zaara? Papa? Or no one. That would be best.

For all the people he had loved had chosen to keep away. Memories flooded him, some bitter, some painful, some sweet, some exciting. Zaara’s radiant face peeped at him from one of the high school photographs. His hands-on her shoulders. She holding his hands tightly as if she’d never let him go. But she had to.

And that was when the trouble began for Anil. That’s what makes him want to end his life tonight.

He ran through all the good ol’ days… while reading his diary. The first day he had met Zaara, how he won her over, and how she stole away his heart with her killer smile. The endless hours they sat together and blabbered. How everyone teased them in class and yet they would not bother.

Times had changed, much water had flown down the bridge. Zaara and Anil graduated in mathematics from St. Xavier’s, but the fairy tale love story seemed to be nearing a dead end.

For Zaara was a gold medallist. She passed with cum laude in every exam, gaining entry at Stanford for her doctorate. Anil was not very different. Yet he was. For he wasn’t as ambitious. A doctorate degree mattered. Not which university he was getting it from. He had applied at Stanford but with his meager amount of research papers, he wouldn’t get through. His father reinforced this belief in him.

“You can’t do this Anil, she has such a bright future out in the west and you just want her back here so that you have peace. How selfish can you get?”

 “I am not being selfish Dad.”

”You are.”

“It’s not just for me. She can’t live without me.” “You will never study hard enough to be at Stanford with her. Anil, I won’t have it.”. “I won’t be jobless”. “What more you will do in the US with M.Sc. from DU?”

“I….could teach school children” he stammered. He knew it wasn’t going to work out with dad, might even make things worse for him. And it did.

After all, for a doctor, his school teacher's son marrying a mathematician was way too intolerable.

He sharpened it. It seemed perfect. It could slice anything, even diamonds. He slashed through the diamond ring he bought for her engagement. If she wasn’t going to be his, no one was going to be. He dropped the idea of writing the letter. Letting Zaara know that he was a son of a man who felt marriage was seventy percent based on University degrees was unthinkable. Moreover, she adored him like anything. His dad adored her too.

He started sipping the vodka bottle on his bed, his first and the last.

Death must be so beautiful. Lying in the soft brown earth, with grasses waving above one’s head and listening to silence. To have no yesterday and no tomorrow.

Oscar Wilde was so true, he thought.

He looked at the time, 10 to 12. Another 10 minutes.….then it would be all over. Thoughts came rushing to his head. Zaara had made him promise never to down more than half a bottle of Vodka in one month. He had planned to down one full bottle in 10 minutes. What was a promise to a man who was going to kill himself in no time? After a pint of it was down his throat, Anil felt something on his hand. Another hand soft and tender, it squeezed his. He squeezed it back. It was Zaara’s hand no doubt. No living being ever caressed him the way she did. He looked up searching for one last sight of her. Willed himself to reach for the diary on the bed table. One last glimpse of her face before he was going to leave the world.

2 minutes to 12, she was jumping on one foot to the other with excitement. His 25th birthday. What a momentous event. Just another year and then they would always be together. Eating, walking, and loveliest of all, sleeping too. Zaara was all smiles, waiting to wish him.

Anil could no longer budge. His hands refused to do anything more than run the knife over his fingers. He gazed at her face and let the blood flow. One minute to 12, the time had come he thought. He saw Zaara before his eyes. She herself. He smiled at her, passion glowing in his eyes. Then he brought the knife down…….

“I was standing all alone.. …. The phone rang. The knife stopped just a millimeter above his neck. Zaara’s face showed on the phone screen. “you could just drop the knife on your neck, it would end it all”.

“But you can’t commit three murders at the same time!”  

“Why three? I am just killing myself and leaving everyone in peace.”

“You think they’d be in peace? Life will be a living hell for them.”

“But it’s living hell for me if I live on.”

“If God wanted you to come away, he‘d have given you power off button.”

And it went on…….. the eternal struggle between the heart and mind. His heart won the war. Anil grabbed the phone, like a man woken up from a nightmare.

“Happy Birthday Chhotu!”

“Thank you.”

“Had you slept off?”

“No dear, I was…” should I tell her? No, it would be too hard. “I was waiting for someone to call.”

“Oh, someone else, you mean” she teased.

“Of course, not”

“Me, then?”

“No one else calls in the dead of the night.”

“Anil, just another year”

“For?” His heart pounded furiously, lured by a dream too good to be true.

“Oh God, don’t tell me you didn’t get it.”

“I.. really mean it?” he stammered.

“Anil, don’t be a fool. Of course, I do…that is, if you are willing If you aren’t… well..” she faltered “Life will be a burden.”

He listened with bated breath.

“This is more than I could wish for, Zaara! But….But?”

“Dad doesn’t want us to.” “Why?” He swallowed. ”I’m underqualified.”

“Gadha, you’re coming to Stanford for sure.” ”Oh no. How can I?” ”You’ll see. Whether you do or not makes no difference to me anyway. I know you’ll do wonders. You’ll make DU proud. Stanford doesn’t make geniuses. It only discovers them.”

“And I am coming home tomorrow.”

He was speechless.

“Really, couldn’t you have told me earlier? I could have…..” Anil’s voice rose in excitement.

“No ‘could haves’, young man. I am taking you somewhere.”

Anil rose from the bed, dazed. The blood from his fingers had soaked through the blue silk scarf he had bought for her. He would gift it to her tomorrow. After all, the blood had gone unnoticed. Tonight he would sleep soundly for the first time in years.


Anil woke up with a start. Zaara, resplendent in a wine-colored dress rattled the window next to him. She smiled. He opened the window and before she knew it, he lifted her in.

He ran his hand over her face. It was still as tender. She enveloped him.

“Let’s go then.” ”Where?” Anil felt he was seeing a dream. ”Pind Balluchi”

Anil changed in a jiffy. He was going out with Zaara after ages.

He gave her a scarf. She was in raptures….but suddenly he saw her face fall.

The mouthful of rogan josh stayed in her mouth, as she stopped chewing.

 “Not as pretty as you, I’m afraid….”


 ”Yes, dear?”

“Why were you cutting yourself last night?” She held up his fingers and the little bloodstain on the scarf.

Anil gulped. ”My hand….got trapped on the lift” he stammered.

“Don’t lie. Anil, the blood flowed from the lift to the scarf on your bed. And you slept with a knife for company.”

He hid his face. ”You can’t hide anything from me.” Zaara held him tight.

“I…was depressed.”

 ”Promise me you’ll never do that again.”

“I promise…as as long as you be with me.”

”That I will….till death do us part.”

They stood in front of the window in Pind Balluchi, watching the rain softly falling. Showering blessings from heaven.

Years later in the US, Mrs. Zaara Sharma came home with a broad smile on her face…Anil handed a letter to his father.

“It’s …..”Dr. Sharma cried in delight. “Your son has made DU proud…..with just 15 papers of research he’s got so far….they said the papers are path-breaking…” she beamed…Dr. Sharma let the tears flow down his cheeks.

It was a letter of special appreciation from Stanford. For Dr. Anil Sharma, a professor at Harvard University.

Finally, life was bliss.

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