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Still Jam in a Still Jar | Harshini Dhiyaa Velsamy

This essay is one of the winning entries of the inaugural edition of “First Word 2022, the Undergraduate Writing Programme’s (UWP) essay prize for Ashokans in their first year of undergraduate studies.

The air is sticky like jam remnants stuck in my fingers after heaping an enormous amount on toast for breakfast. It is saturated with hopes that summer would be filled with happiness— No. The air is thick with the rotting stench of heartbreak and no hope of anything.’ 

Summer four years back could have been dramatic. I can almost hear the house flies buzzing around my probably uneaten mangoes. 

‘I don’t know what is happening. But he’s like my personal Orion constellation, that only I get to connect the stars.’ 

Summer two years back could have still been dramatic. I can almost see the stars twinkling and the meteor showers early in the morning. But he was nothing special. He left three days after I told him that my favorite constellation was Orion. 

‘Like I said, this year is weird. I sound delusional. But the poems I write about him are way better than anything I’ve written this year.’

Summer a year back must have been actually dramatic for me to be able to just state the facts. I can almost feel the precarious air on my skin as my brain worked overtime solving physics problems and composing odes to the new guy whose sudden friendliness posed a critical threat to my romanticize-even-the-rock-on-the-sidewalk heart. But he was just a normal boy. He stayed a year longer after I didn’t speak a word to him. 

‘One year later, I am still in the same rabbit hole. I really should write from the beginning but I am tired. Honestly, I don’t even want to write it because it is like an assignment with no due date. And everyone knows what that means. Never write it.’

Summer this year is the least dramatic summer ever. I can smell the disappointment as the wet summer rains begin. It cools down before the heat ratchets up. It’s been three months since I’ve actually written anything honest. Amma just came by and read the last diary entry and said, “You’ve an actual physics assignment with no exact deadline. Maybe you should work on it instead of this.” She speaks the truth. What’s the use of daydreaming about the beach when you’re 141 kilometers away from it?

But the beach 141 kilometers away is actual freedom. The beach has a pavement next to it for cycling till the salt air rusts my bicycle as I pretend to not feel time pass by. The beach lets me run along the shores without expectations or repayments. Night or day it stays. But night or day, it’s just there. That’s the crux of my problem with this summer. 

The summer I turned eighteen is the summer I turned and looked at my problems eye to eye. I suddenly realized that I can’t move anymore because time has decided to stand still for months. I am no closer to writing the poem that I had promised my brother. I am no closer to finding the internship I actually want. I am no closer to being the responsible adult my Amma wants me to be. I am also no closer to doing anything I want to get done. Appa is especially frustrated about my driver’s licence issue or rather with my distracted brain reading anything but the readings necessary to get through the coming year in university. 

There’s a jar of jam and a jar of peanut butter on the bottom shelf right next to the mangoes. The cold water I am drinking right now is weirdly molten. I imagine it moving sluggishly down my throat, much like my morning exercise. Drenched in hatred. Hatred towards the season, hatred towards my inability to raise my spirits and greet new ideas, hatred towards the new guy with his nose high in the air who has me still stuck on him for two years. 

I hate the word still. For example, the jar of jam is still the same jar from two years ago. Sure, it’s a new batch of mango and honey jam made this year but it’s still the same container. Why didn’t Amma change it? Even the word ‘jam’ means stuck.

I hate the jam still staring at the pointless direction my mind has taken me in. There is a housefly buzzing near my ear and it’s a miracle that I don’t scream. If I did, the neighbors would hear it and would confirm that I was not okay—as if they needed any more confirmation after watching me try to move my scooter without a key last week.

I spend the next two hours working with my brother on his project so that at least he would move forward instead of listening to the half-insane voice in his head urging him to break the jar of jam and anger Amma. The sun drags itself down the sky and painfully rolls the clouds out of the way for the stars to flaunt their success in being the highest-reaching points (according to the motivational quotes, at least). Orion is lopsided and I stare at him till I hear him bring his club smashing down right next to me.

The jam jar is on the ground, tiny glass pieces reflecting the pale moon outside. My brother looks at it, his eyes widened in terror. Amma rushes to the kitchen and her distressed noise stirs the humid air. My brother swaddles her with apologies as I bend to help Amma clean it up. We quickly clear the glass pieces and mop the tiles. Now, the pale moon is less distorted on the floor. 

Next morning, I pick up the peanut butter and notice an empty spot next to it. The jam is gone for now. I skip through the morning no longer feeling like I must wade through a puddle to get our scooter out of the parking lot. There’s an old copy of Alice in Wonderland at my desk right now as I write this. The guy with a personality like the beach 141 kilometers away asks me if I love blue or red. There’s also a diary entry dated today. He also says that he may like any beach. He also says that he sometimes feels like he wants to swim right in the middle of the ocean and never return.

I tell him that he can’t return to where he was before. Literally.  I don’t tell him that I want to make some new jam in a new jar. I might tell him if there are mangoes for some jam tomorrow. 

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka