By Shuvi Jha
“New Year, New Me” was the only thing tumbling inside my head as I decided, spontaneously and on the toilet, where admittedly a shocking number of my ideas originate, that it was time for me to get my shit together. No more sleeping past 1 a.m., no more drinking Coke to stay awake and no more listening to Spotify when doing homework.
I decided it was time for me to create a schedule for the semester. The plan was this — come home from school, take an hour-long break watching whatever foreign TV show I was currently obsessing over (hint: it’s a Danish show called “The Rain”), spend three hours finishing all my homework and then study for any upcoming tests.
To my astonishment, the plan worked surprisingly well. “New Year, New Me” was, for the first time, a reality — that is, until Jan. 16.
On that day, a Wednesday, a storm ripped through the Bay Area. Several neighborhoods in Cupertino lost power, some for just a couple of seconds, others for 30 minutes and the most unlucky ones for hours. I was among the most unlucky. Of course. At around 6:30 p.m., the lights in my house went out. The WiFi was no longer working. The stove wouldn’t turn on, so I had to eat my pasta cold. But that wasn’t my biggest worry.
What frightened me the most was my inability to follow my perfectly-planned out schedule and study for my math test the next day. I am in Calculus; gone are the days where I could half-heartedly look over the pages of my textbook and somehow end up doing well on an exam. From the get-go, I knew that if I didn’t study, there was a very real chance that I would fail the test. And how could I have studied in the absolute darkness, when even the flashlight couldn’t help me see beyond my desk?
The realization of this fact sunk in quickly, and when it did, the results were not pretty. With tears streaming down my face, I ran to my mother, pleading her to take me to the Cupertino library. My mom, the biggest supporter in my life, agreed. And so I went to the library, with my large pile of worksheets and an embarrassing polka-dotted umbrella, thinking to myself that this was perhaps the worst day of my entire life.
It turned out to be one of the most introspective days of my life, because at the library, I saw a book featuring an image of a smiling South Asian boy. Seeing his school uniform, a blue shirt and navy shorts, I was immediately reminded of a picture I had seen earlier this year of my father donning a similar uniform on his way to school.
The photo made me smile, but more importantly, it reminded me of my father’s experiences as a young child. Born in Baijani, a village located in the North Indian state of Bihar, my dad was, from the start, the golden boy. He did well academically, socially and athletically.
What few knew at the time, however, was that my dad would wake up at 4 a.m. each day, go to the rooftop and begin his studies. Unlike most people, he didn’t start his homework in the evening; he simply couldn’t because there was no lightbulb in his house.
So each day, when the entire village was silent with only the sounds of crickets chirping in the background, my dad would study in the morning — with no complaints, no objections and no problems at all. In fact, he tells me that those were the happiest times of his life, when his biggest worry was academics and he was with his mom, his dad and his three younger siblings.
To my father, happiness is a skill, one that takes years to practice and master. And yet, he believes that it is one of the only things in the universe that is accessible to everyone, regardless of one’s socioeconomic status, race or gender.
“Aap kaheen bhee kabhee bhee khushee ko pa sakate hain,” my father often says. “You can find happiness anywhere, anytime.”
There, in the library with my books sprawled across the table, the meaning of these words finally dawned on me. Here I was, a healthy 16-year-old with a roof above my head and food on my plate, complaining about not being able to study in the dark. Never mind that others across the Bay Area were facing landslides or house flooding, or that across the world, boys and girls studied without light every day, or that some girls aren’t even allowed to go to school purely because they’re female. But no, it was absolutely tragic that I couldn’t study math.
Eventually, I put the book down in the allocated spot of the Children’s library. Then, I went back to studying math. Only this time, I knew that it wasn’t the worst day of my life, and that thankfully, I had never truly had a “worst day” in the 16 years of my existence.