Zero to Ghastly by Shaurya Arya


From zero to 100 in six seconds… the ad I saw on TV yesterday comes to me. 

But if zero is me at my most optimistic and 100 is when my mind takes a ghastly turn and enters a world of frightening cynicism, you can say the above line accurately describes my emotional state right now. 

It’s 1:30 a.m. I crawled under the duvet three hours ago, hoping to sleep earlier so I could wake up earlier than usual in the morning. But, of course, sleep eluded me. No surprises there. It was a good day today. I got a promotion – say hello to the new Assistant Creative Director! – along with a fat pay raise at work. Went out with my buddies for drinks in the evening, drank just enough to not let the inebriation disable me from driving back. Even though we must have drunk a bucketful, I was back home by 10. And, despite today’s excitement still coursing through me, I thought of calling it a day relatively earlier. Tomorrow, I’d go to the lake in the morning and sit in the quiet for a while. 

So, I changed into my pyjamas, pulled the covers over me, turned the air conditioner to a comfortable 25 degrees Celsius, and shut my eyes. Of course, my mind was someplace else – thinking of the applause as I was called to the front of the meeting to be bestowed with my recognition. The recognition that was four years in the making. 

And this is where all the trouble begins.

In the quiet hours of the night, when your mind ventures into the darkest recesses of your memories, pulling out the ones you’d not thought for some time now, things can get… unpleasant. Revisiting today’s celebratory occasion took me back to the eighth grade, when I’d been called to the front of the class to read out the midterm scores to everyone. Nervous and sweating under my shirt, I started. 

Public speaking, even though all I had to do on this occasion was read out the scores from a sheet to a class of thirty five, terrifies me to this day. 

Twenty five students in, I started getting comfortable. I read out my scores, and then the girl whose roll number followed mine. But – I can only attribute what happened next to a lapse in attention – I used my last name instead of hers. Josenne Ayad (Ayad being my last name) instead of Josenne Padal. The minute I said it, a weight dropped in my stomach. A wave of Ooooo came from the class. A few sniggered. The teacher asked everyone to shush. I didn’t dare look up. I completed the entire list, speaking the remaining eight names slowly. Carefully. 

After sitting back in my seat, I turned to the visibly enraged Josenne. I mouthed a sorry, but she only turned around.

An incident like this in middle school can spread like wildfire. As I walked to my bus after the last period, someone called me Mr. Padal (which was Josenne’s last name). I heard things are getting interesting, this someone said. Just before boarding the bus, Josenne’s boyfriend – whose anger was conspicuous, and perhaps understandable – grabbed me and roughed me up a little. I got scratches on my arms, but how could I convince him it was an honest mistake? 

And, even a year later, after being harassed by almost the entire middle school (Mrs. Ayad, Mrs. Ayad, where’s the mister?) when she came up to me in the middle of the football field while I was goalkeeping and struck a tight one across my face (birthing another frustrating comment – Mrs. Ayad can sure fight! – which lived until we graduated three years later), did I dare retaliate? 

Of course not. 

That incident left me ravaged; the shock, the humiliation, and, though nowhere as significant but still present, the physical hurt. Till then, I had always thought of myself ridiculously highly for not letting things get to me. Even when my neighbour, Mr. Nura, called my family despicable names when his son accused me of stealing his cricket ball, I didn’t bat an eye. If he’s that way, it’s his problem, I told my mum when she asked why I didn’t retaliate.

But being slapped in front of fifty kids, that too for an honest mistake, was unjust. I remember asking my head of department to be allowed to go home earlier that day. I had to fake a stomach ache, which I did effortlessly. The next day when I returned to class – there was only so much feigning I could do at home – I was met with sympathy, pity and… piercing daggers, for the lack of a better phrase, from Josenne. 

And yet what I haven’t been able to forget is the image of Mr. Boyfriend; sitting at the back of the class, that villainous smirk on his face. How much I’ve imagined – to the point I even started dreaming it in the years that followed – walking up to him and wiping that sickening smirk off of his face; of finally unleashing that bottled up, supressed rage I’ve been living with all these years and… 

And doing something instead of just lowering my head, while a few made remarks (What happened, Mr. Padal, missus giving you a difficult time?), and going to my seat. If only I knew then how this singular event would torment me for years to come as I live ruefully…

But ifs are only as good as a mirage in the open desert. 

Back to the present, despite the blinding rage enveloping me, crushing me, I realise how one of the proudest days of my life had turned into an unpleasant one. 

From zero to 100…

I feel a sharp prick in my palm. I’ve unknowingly dug my nails into my flesh, and a tiny bead of red appears. 

The past is an ugly place to be in.


Shaurya Arya-Kanojia authored his debut novella, End of the Rope , in 2019. He likes sports (cricket, mostly), eating out, and watching reruns of The Office and Everybody Loves Raymond. He tweets @shauryaticks and is @main.hoon.ek.sharara on Instagram.


  1. Love the narrative. Keep it up. More power to your writing.


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