Okay, I have to be completely honest with you guys. This chapter is not the most exciting. The plot still hasn't developed much, but there is more interaction between characters. I feel like I need to build the characters and their relationships up first, and then I'll be able to include interesting events. Anyway, don't worry guys....something huge is about to happen in Chapter 3!
Btw, MUCH shorter than the first one!
Chapter 2: Harmony and Discord
There were twenty minutes to go before class would start. Samira (Amrita Rao) was seated in the front row of the classroom with her planner open in front of her. One male student, the only other person there, was silently skimming through a textbook in the back of the room.
It was Tuesday afternoon, and Samira's second day as a university student. After three intense science lectures and one grueling lab over the past day and a half, she was eager for something a bit lighter. The course that was about to begin was offered by the South Asia Studies department and entitled "The Indian American Identity." It had been recommended to Aditya by a friend, and he had convinced both Zaid and Samira to take it with him. If nothing else, Samira was content with the opportunity to spend time with her two most favorite guys.
As she lifted her pen after writing "Study Chemistry 5-6 PM" in her planner, Samira heard a familiar voice in the hallway outside the door. Near the doorway stood two figures, both dressed in baggy cargo shorts and t-shirts, carrying identical skateboards. Recognizing them as her roommate Carissa Green (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and Carissa's boyfriend Gavin Martin (Zac Efron), Samira smiled. She watched as Gavin brushed Carissa's hair away from her face and tenderly kissed her. Then Carissa walked inside the classroom, and Gavin left to find his own class.
"Aren't you two adorable?" Samira commented as Carissa took the seat to her right, sliding her skateboard under the chair. "Is Gavin's next class in this building?"
Carissa shook her head. "It's in Williams Hall."
"So let me get this straight. He walked all the way across campus to drop you off at your class, and now he's heading back towards the dorms for his next class? Talk about inefficiency."
"Just wait until you fall in love, Samira," Carissa replied, rather dreamily. "It won't seem so outrageous."
Samira giggled back. "Maybe I'm just not cut out for romance. But hey, I never got a chance to ask you about last night. Did he like his birthday present?"
Carissa grinned and began to tell Samira about her dinner date with Gavin the preceding evening.
Samira and Carissa were so comfortable in their interaction with one another that it was hard to believe they had met only four days ago. In many ways, they were polar opposites, and each an enigma in herself. Samira was outwardly very feminine and almost fragile in appearance, yet a two minute conversation with her would convince anyone that she was a lot tougher than she appeared, her practicality and righteousness serving as her source of strength. In contrast, Carissa exhibited the facade of a carefree tomboy, yet she had an exceptionally gentle temperament and was drawn to all things romantic and idealistic.
As she finished filling Samira in on the details of her date, Carissa's eyes happen to fall on the lone student sitting in the back.
"Hi Karan," she called out to him.
Karan(Arjun Bijlani, Mayank) looked up from his book and gave her a half smile. After a simple "hi", he returned to his reading. Samira gave Carissa a curious look.
"He went to my high school," Carissa explained. "One year ahead of us." She leaned in to whisper in Samira's ear. "He's always been a bit of a loner. The word around school was that he thinks he's too smart for friends."
Samira nodded, pondering over this for a moment. Then she changed the subject, asking Carissa about her classes. It wasn't that she doubted Carissa's description, but Samira preferred to make her own judgments about her classmates.
As the girls chatted, Zaid (Ranbir Kapoor) was making his way down the hallway toward the classroom. Turning a corner, he almost ran into Aditya (Mohit Sehgal, Samrat) who had stopped in the hall to tie his shoe.
"Oh, hey Adi," Zaid greeted him as Aditya rose from his kneeling position.
"Zaid?!" Aditya responded in exaggerated surprise. "Here already? Teri tabiyat to theek hai?" He pretended to feel Zaid's forehead for signs of a fever.
Zaid rolled his eyes. "Adi."
"You're fifteen minutes early, dude. What happened to walking in just as lecture begins?"
"You forget that Her Highness, the Queen of Punctuality will be there. I can't risk the possibility of being late to this class."
"Ah, the five foot-tall younger sister. What a frightening image." Aditya sniggered at the thought.
"Tu nahin samjhega. Samira has a way of making me feel guilty for even the tiniest transgressions. Trust me. You don't want to be at the receiving end of one of her guilt trips."
Laughing, Aditya opened the door to the classroom, and they spotted Samira in the front row. Before they had even set foot in the room, Samira was staring reproachfully at Zaid, her arms crossed in front of her.
"What did you do now?" Aditya asked Zaid in an undertone as they stayed rooted in the doorway.
"No idea," Zaid whispered back. "Maybe I should drop this class. Here I thought taking a class with my sister might be fun."
The two of them hesistantly approached the desks. Zaid sat down directly behind his sister and Aditya took the seat to his right, behind Carissa.
"Kya baat hai, Samira?" Zaid asked cautiously.
"Bhaiya, what did you do with your cell phone? Maryam's been trying to reach you since last night. Na to aap phone utha rahe hain, aur na usko waapis call kar rahe hain. She just called me an hour ago worried that something might have happened to you." Maryam was Zaid and Samira's younger sister, a third year high school student still living with their parents in California.
"Oh no. I think I forgot it in my car last night. Was it something urgent?"
"No," Samira disclosed, "but it easily could have been. How exactly can you go a full day without checking your phone? Itni laparvaayi kyoon, Bhaiya?"
"Achcha baba, I'm sorry. Now tell me, what was Maryam calling about?"
Samira gave in and smiled. "She thought you might be happy to know that she's following in your footsteps. The coach just selected her as the captain of the basketball team."
"Wow, that's awesome!" Zaid responded enthusiastically. "Let me borrow your phone, so I can send her a text."
Samira handed over her phone, and Zaid began typing his message.
"Tell her I said congrats as well," Aditya told him. Aditya had fond memories of playing basketball with Zaid and Maryam during his spring in California and remembered finding Maryam's abilities to be remarkable.
"Oh Adi, I completely forgot," Samira began. "This is my roommate, Carissa. One of her classes was cancelled last minute, so I suggested this one to her. Carissa, this is my brother's roommate Aditya."
"Nice to meet you Aditya," Carissa said.
"The pleasure is all mine," Aditya replied, shaking her hand. "I've been told that the first year girls this year are exceptionally beautiful. I'm really starting to believe the rumor now."
"Adi!" Samira hissed. "She already has a boyfriend."
Aditya grinned. "Well, he's a very lucky guy. I'm sure neither of them would be offended by my innocent compliment. Beauty is meant to be admired and praised."
Carissa smiled approvingly. Just then, the classroom door opened once again. 'Speaking of beauty,' Aditya mused as he recognized the slender form and apprehensive expression of the girl in the doorway. Catching Aditya's eye, Neelam (Sanaya Irani, Gunjan) coyly entered the room and walked toward the desks. Sitting down next to him, she gave him a smile.
"Hi Aditya," she greeted him softly.
"Neelam, right?" Aditya asked. After an affirmative nod from her, he continued. "What a pleasant surprise. I don't think I've ever seen you on campus before. You must be a first year."
Neelam nodded again. "I...was hoping I would run into you," she told him. "I'm sorry about being so rude the other day."
"Don't apologize," he replied. "I could tell that the incident with Mitchell had flustered you. Why don't we try a second introduction? Aditya Basu, second year Political Science major, from Houston, Texas." He held out his hand.
Neelam grinned, taking his hand. "Neelam Mehta, first year Physics major, born and raised here in Philadelphia."
"Physics major, huh? Now I understand the laboratory badge you were wearing the other day."
Neelam smiled, surprised that he still remembered. "I wanted some practical experience during the summer, so my father found me a position. He's a Physics department faculty member here.
"Ah, so science runs in the family."
"I suppose so. Why did you choose Poli Sci?"
Aditya explained to Neelam the passion for politics and debate that he developed during his high school U.S. Government class. Since then, he harbored a strong desire to be a part of the political system and play a role in the progress of the nation.
While Aditya and Neelam discussed their futures and Carissa explained to Zaid the elementary basics of skateboarding, Samira watched the classroom gradually fill with students. A majority of them were South Asian, with Carissa and two others being the exceptions. Despite the common background of most of the students, Samira immediately noted some obvious disparities. Approximately half of them appeared to have grown up in the United States, speaking to each other in flawless English with no accent. The rest were conversing in either Hindi or accented English. It troubled Samira to see that these two communities had formed separate groups. Why did this segregation exist? Was it really true that FOBs and ABCDs couldn't mix? She knew that it wasn't. Aditya had grown up in India and Zaid was born in the US, yet they were unseparable. However, their case seemed to be an exception rather than the rule.
"May I take this seat?"
Pulled out of her contemplation, Samira glanced up at the guy standing to her left. "Rehaan!" she beamed at him. "I didn't know you were in this class."
Rehaan (Shahid Kapoor) dropped down into the seat next to her. "I wasn't expecting to find you here either. How have first two days been for you?"
"Interesting, but exhausting. You?"
"Pretty much the same. I'm really looking forward to checking out the city this weekend. Are you still up for it?"
"Then I should give you my new cell number. I changed it over the weekend."
"Oh?" Samira raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, I was getting a lot of prank calls." He regretted being dishonest with Samira, but dwelling on the true reason for his phone number change was the last thing he wanted to do at the moment. This first week of college was a time to move on with his life. He wasn't about to let the memories of Zeenat's deception get in his way.
As Samira entered Rehaan's new number in her phone, an excited shriek caused everyone in the room to turn toward a girl who had just entered the room.
"Neelam! I have so much to tell you." A girl in a vivid magenta dress and black leggings was standing near the door. She suddenly noticed that all eyes in the room were on her. "Oh, sorry," she apologized nonchalantly and rushed over to Neelam, taking the seat just in front of her.
Neelam stifled a giggle. "What happened, Deepali?"
Deepali(Rati Pandey, Nupur) excitedly told Neelam all about the art class she had just come from. Apparently, it had been one of the best classes of her life. Not only were all her classmates talented artists, but the instructor was also world-renowned and an inspiring role model.
Aditya watched the interaction of the two girls with fascination. He wasn't offended at being interrupted by Deepali's entrance. Instead, he was amused by her carefree attitude and excessive enthusiasm. He figured that this must be the twin sister that Neelam had just been mentioning, but it was a wonder that a set of twins could be so different.
Two minutes before the beginning of class, the entrance of another student caused a stir in the classroom. Hina(Deepika Padukone) strolled in as confident as ever, her dark curls flowing loosely behind her. Her outfit was top-of-the-line trendy and perfectly tailored for her figure. She captured the guys' attention instantaneously, but even the girls were compelled to stop what they were doing and appreciate the image of beauty before them.
Neelam and Deepali greeted her warmly as she approached them.
"How was your pharmaceutical conference?" Neelam asked.
"Wonderful," Hina answered, "but I wished I hadn't missed yesterday's classes. I heard that your father's lecture was excellent."
"Of course it was," Deepali piped. "There's a reason his course is so popular."
"True," Hina laughed. She noticed the instructor, a middle-aged South Asian female, enter the room. "Class is about to begin. I better find a seat."
She spotted the closest open seat next to Zaid and claimed it immediately. As she sat down, she flashed Zaid a smile. He smiled back with a perceptible tenseness in his expression.
Unfortunately for Zaid, this exchange had not gone unnoticed by Aditya or Samira. Samira peered at her brother with curiosity wondering if she was interpreting the situation accurately. Aditya gave her a knowing smile and a wink, and then she knew that she wasn't the only one with the thought.
"Please take your seats everyone. We will be beginning shortly." The instructor's tone was mellow and amiable, and her accent suggested a South Indian background. After a minute, she walked to the board and printed her name neatly in the top left corner - Leah D'Souza.
"My name is Leah D'Souza, and I would prefer you to call me Leah. No formalities necessary in this classroom. I was born and raised in Kerela, a state at the southern tip of India, but my family migrated to New York while I was in high school. After completing my undergraduate education at NYU in South Asian Studies, I had the opportunity to pursue a PhD here at UPenn. I chose to write my thesis on the themes reflected in the writings of Indian diaspora authors. I completed my degree three years ago and then began teaching introductory South Asian studies courses under the guidance of senior professors. This year, I finally have the honor of teaching this brand new course and designing it to be unique and novel. I would like this to be an interactive experience in which you learn not only from me, but also from your peers. And ultimimately, I hope to learn a lot from you as well."
Leah paused for effect and glanced around the room to see if she had everyone's attention. "There will be no exams in this course," she continued. "One-third of your grade will depend on three essays that will be assigned over the course of the semester. The rest will come from group activities. I will divide the class into groups of four or five. You will be required to meet once every two week at a location of your choice, and have an hour long conversation about a topic that I assign. The conversations will be recorded onto an audio cassette or CD which will be handed in to me. Each of you will also write a page long summary of the opinions and arguments that were presented during the conversation and turn those in. Finally, one person from each group will be selected as the spokesperson. This person will present two of the most interesting opinions from their group in front of the class. Any questions so far?"
The class remained silent. "Okay, so I will divide you into groups now. Since this is the first day of class, I will let you out about fifteen minutes early. Until then, I expect you to get to know the members of your group and come up with a general schedule for your meetings. All due dates are printed in your syllabus."
She walked towards the first row of seats and made a gesture towards the four students sitting in the row. "You four will be Group 1." She moved on to the second row and christened them Group 2. The first group consisted of Rehaan, Samira, Carissa and Deepali, while the second one included Hina, Zaid, Aditya and Neelam. As Leah continued to assign groups, Samira glanced down her row. Deepali was the only person she didn't know. That could be remedied promptly.
After much bicker and the screeching of moving desks, the groups finally arranged themselves into circles so they could break the ice. Group 2 got through their introductions quite smoothly and seemed to become comfortable with each other immediately. Since each person was familiar with two of the three other members of the group, no one felt like an outsider.
Unfortunately this didn't apply for Deepali. Even after everyone in Group 1 had introduced themselves, she still felt a bit uncomfortable. Samira seemed to know Rehaan and Carissa very well, and the two of them were looking to her to take initiative. Samira had taken out a pack of colored pens and was already writing down notes. Amidst all this, Deepali immediately felt neglected. In addition, Rehaan kept throwing reflective glances at her, as if he were trying to figure her out. He did the same to Carissa a few times, but Deepali was pretty sure she was his main target. This made her even more uncomfortable. Why couldn't he just say what was on his mind?
"So, it seems like our audio recordings and write-ups are due every other Tuesday," Samira informed her group, glancing at the syllabus. "When should we meet?"
"Leaving it for the last weekend would be risky," advised Carissa.
"How about the first weekend then?" Deepali suggested, eager to make her presence felt. "Sunday sometime?"
Carissa shook her head. "I don't think weekends would work. People might be going out of town."
"I'll sure you all can make it back to Philly by Sunday evening to work on a project."
"That's easy to say for someone who lives here," Rehaan commented. "The rest of us have to go out of town to see our families. Carissa's right. We should do it on a weekday."
"Yeah, I agree," Samira assented. "So which day? I think Monday would be good. Best to get things out of the way early in the week."
Deepali only heard the word 'Monday' since she was fuming over Rehaan's comment. He made it sound like she was being self-centered to suggest the weekend in the first place when that had not been her intention at all. But to avoid conflict, Deepali decided to let it go. They all agreed on Monday as the best day to meet, and Samira noted it in her planner.
The instructor walked through the class once more, in order to assign spokespersons for each group. She chose Rehaan from Group 1 and Neelam from Group 2. Neelam's heart raced and her face blanched, but she remained quiet. Speaking in front of a class was her worst nightmare.
Aditya leaned over and whispered in her ear, "Is everything okay?"
Neelam nodded but felt her face burning. How was she going to do this? She didn't want to let her group down or have Aditya consider her a socially inept person. Yet, just the thought of having the eyes of forty students on her was making her sweat.
The other group was still working out logistics. "Where should we meet?" Samira asked.
Once again, Deepali came up with the first suggestion. "How about outdoors at a cafe or in a park?"
"Hmm..." Carissa pondered. "It might be too loud. Shouldn't we be in a quiet place so our recording will be clear."
"Yes, definitely," Rehaan concurred. "I'm with Carissa. It's gotta be indoors."
It took all of Deepali's willpower not to crack her pencil in her hand. What was Rehaan playing at? Why was he trying to make her feel bad?
"Fine," Deepali stated, sternly. "Why don't you guys make all the decisions, and just tell me when you're done?"
Samira's face fell. "Deepali, don't be upset. We're all in this together. We're trying to come up with a plan that works for all of us."
Deepali sighed. "Okay, let me just make one more suggestion. I know you all live in dorms. My family has a pretty decent sized house with a nice, comfortable family room. It's only a few blocks away from campus. Why don't we meet there?"
Samira smiled. "Sounds good to me."
To Deepali's surprise, the other two agreed as well.
Group 2 was having a conflict over how the meetings would be conducted. Hina suggested that each person should be given ten minutes to make their statements, then they could spend the rest of the time discussing the opinions. Aditya flatly refused.
"It's supposed to be a casual conversation," he argued. "It says so here in the syllabus."
Hina heaved a sigh. "But she also said that everyone has to give their opinions. What if one person doesn't get a chance to express themselves during the 'casual conversation?' Then we'll have to go back in the end and make sure they get their share of the time. It could end up taking a lot longer than an hour."
"So what? At least it'll be complete."
"I have more important classes than this. This isn't even a requirement. I don't have time to meet for hours at a time for an elective course."
"Then why don't you drop the class?" Aditya was highly irked by Hina's selfishness. Zaid's crush or not, she was definitely not someone he wanted to work with.
"Come on guys," Zaid attemped to mediate. "Let's not argue over this. We'll try making it a conversation, and if that doesn't work well, we'll ask Leah if there's a better way. Does that sound okay?"
Hina and Aditya reluctantly nodded.
With five minutes remaining, Groups 1 and 2 finally sorted out all their differences and came up with structured plans as to how to go about the group activities. As the rest of her group sat back and relaxed, Samira began to clean up her desk.
"I'll make copies of my notes and give them to you guys on Thursday," she told them as she returned her colored pens to their package.
Abruptly Samira's expression changed to one of panic as she stared at her pens. "Oh no, that's not right." She quickly removed two pens from the package and exchanged their positions. After glancing over them once more, she finally appeared relieved and returned them to her backpack.
Looking up, she found Rehaan watching her interestedly. "I like things in their place," she explained. Rehaan gave her a curious look, but remained quiet.
When the class finally ended, they all felt drained from the planning and arguments. If the first day was so difficult, how would the rest of the semester go? One thing was clear. The personality clashes within the two groups would require a lot of effort and compromise to work through.
1. Just give me your general impression of the chapter.
Edited by SuhanaSafar - 16 May 2009 at 12:49pm