She was one of his favorite teachers. But today she looked a little morose; he could feel that there was some lingering thought eating her up. She was trying to focus on the task at hand, teaching civics to a bunch of young hooligans, but somehow her voice didn’t seem to carry the same enthusiasm today. Suddenly, she closed her book, put the chalk down, and looked down at her notes even though you could tell she was not reading them. She lifted her head up to face the class, “we’re going to do an important exercise today that is not in your textbooks”. “How many of you believe in fate?”, she asked in a slow but serious voice. There was a silence for a few seconds. Nobody knew how to answer; what would she think if they said no, or worse what would she think if they said they didn’t know.
He was young, but he was wise for his age. He had always been the button man for the jock group, all the way until they had exhausted their mediocrity. He was always there to debate the smart kids, all the way until they had used up all their citations. He desperately looked around, hoping that someone from the first row would answer before she would start cold calling on them. Even the smart girl on the front row was silent, a refreshing change he thought to himself. She annoyed him, she was an overachiever, every parent wanted their kids to be like her, he secretly wished that one day she would rot in misery as a bored housewife. The teacher’s gaze moved around the classroom, she was looking into each kid’s eyes before moving to the next one. She was seeking out the ones with a glimmer in their eyes, she could easy glean out the smart-asses from the thinkers.
She finally rested her eyes on him. As if on cue, he stood up before she could finish calling his name. For a second, he was not sure what he would say. His grandmother used to tell him that he was destined for great things, and when his mother would ask him to pray for all the good things in life, he would question her why he had to pray when his fate was already chalked out. She would insist and reprimand him not to question her or god’s hand. He wanted to argue but he knew there his mother’s conditioning was years in the making and not to be undone by someone who wasn’t even shaving yet. His stern physics teacher had just a few months ago beaten down the three laws into his head; if there was no force applied on an object, would it move out of its inertia state because fate intended it to? It was a good question, but he would never dare to ask that for the fear of being mocked for the rest of the year. As with all things, while he was waiting to be called on, he had already started categorizing fate into an appropriate bucket – was it an idea, a religious artifact, a man-created myth, the hand of god, a cosmic force, a psychological concept made to force people into a certain path, or even a thought process embossed in our genetic memory. He felt uneasy, the entire class was looking at him now; he didn’t want to make a fool of himself and at the same time didn’t want to give a ironic answer to his favorite teacher. He finally collected his thoughts, cleared his throat and blurted out his answer.
It had been seventeen years since then. He was now “settled” in life, a good job, a decent car, a nice apartment, good friends, everything was set in place. He had just finished his alternate-day workout at the gym, and was sitting in his balcony cooling down with a bottle of cold water. After all this time, he would stillÂ occasionally think back to that one episode, it was like one of those remnants ofÂ a war that survives every bomb dropped by the enemy. There were a hundred other answers he could have given to that question, but every answer had consequences, consequences that he was not willing to live with. He knew his answer would set in motion a chain of events that would permeate his little fish-bowl and yet he was certain that no force real or cosmic would unsettle him.Â Why in the world had he not just said “I don’t know”.