The Road Less Travelled

The Road Less Travelled

The Suicide Note

Almost as an afterthought,
With my head in death’s jaw,
I nurse the wounds I earned,
Chasing dreams I never saw.
I am not an escapist,
Nor a coward am I,
But you continue to say I failed,
Never really bothering, why?
Let’s put an end to this debate
Once and for all,
Let me take the onus
And blame, for my own fall.

Chapter 1

The auditorium was teeming with nervous whispers. The audience of ten year olds amusedly glanced at the faces of the participants on the podium. The annual interschool spin- a-yarn contest had concluded, throwing up two major contenders for the winning position. One was eloquence personified; the other was spontaneous and witty.

The comparer sounded dramatic, as she attempted to build suspense. Suddenly someone mumbled something about one of the participants. A prattling wave of murmurs washed over the chirpy audience. All eyes were suddenly riveted in the direction of the guest judge, Ms Sharada Gokhale. 

Sharada scanned the score column once again. One of the two candidates had a clear lead of one point. The problem was whether she should go with the scores of the co-judges. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to silence the inner turmoil. She bit her lip at the annoying turn of events. The school principal had called her in the morning requesting, rather, commanding her to fill in her absence as a judge for the interschool event. Being the vice principal, she had been the natural choice for proxy. She jerked open her eyes and made two corrections in the score-sheet, one against each of the two names.

Rising up from her chair, she plastered a stern smile on her face. The rapture of applause welcomed the winner, an in-house student. Silver Oaks School walked away with the trophy, third time in a row.

The visitor participants applauded reluctantly, clapping the back of the charismatic boy who had been judged the second best. 

“Say cheese!”


The customary photograph that would make its way into the school album was unique this time. The first runner-up had a wider grin than the winner, as he revelled in the energy on-stage.

Sharada hurried to the car parking, dodging acquaintances with a hurried smile. Her son was waiting for her, ecstatic. She ruffled his hair and smiled apologetically. 

He placed the trophy on the dash board. It read, ‘Amol Gokhale, Bishop Cotton School, First runner-up.’

Sharada tuned into the radio as she steered on the highway. The last notes of the chorus trailed

‘Wo toh hai albela,

Hazaaron mein akela…’

“I know you were far better. The hosts had leaked the cue. The winning speech had nothing extempore about it! But had I chosen you, there would have been allegations of partiality.  I had to choose…”

None of these words escaped Sharada’s lips. She glanced at her son. There was a glint in his eyes. She had seen it before, with his stage performances. For him, being on stage and voicing his words was a thrill beyond rewards.

“I know you enjoyed it. Now let’s get back to studying some real stuff. Academics come first, right son?”

The smile on Amol’s face vanished, as if wiped clean. 

The advertisement board underneath a streetlight read,

‘Gokhale  tuition classes- Where winners are born.’ He saw his father’s photograph adjacent to it, giving a thumbs-up.

January 8th, 2008

Dear diary,

My car runs fast,
Whizzing past roadside trees,
I watch from the window,
Tapping my clueless feet.
It takes an abrupt turn; I let out a sigh,
When will I get to be on the driver’s seat?

Chapter 2
Always Late

Amol could hear laughter ringing from the fourth floor. He glanced at the hoarding above. A  life-size photograph of a student from his father’s academy, posing with a thumbs-up gesture. Under it was written- All India Rank 2, National Eligibility Entrance Test.

He parked his two-wheeler hastily, among the hundred others and rushed as the lift doors closed behind him. 

Flashy fliers were pasted with glue onto the walls of the lift. An advertisement claiming to cure piles and infertility. Another about a short cut to make quick money. And one more, ‘Gokhale coaching academy for medical and engineering toppers.’

Amol glanced at his watch. He was fifteen minutes late.

He peeked in from the door. Nishaad Sir was scribbling symbols on the whiteboard with a blue marker pen. The frequent usage of the constant 9.8 on the board told him that a sum on gravity was being solved. 

The air-conditioned room seemed to welcome him as much as the thought of solving physics problems repelled him.

“Ah, Amol. Get in!” Nishaad Sir beckoned him with smiling eyes.

Amol climbed onto a desk in the front row, next to a very dapper looking boy. He glanced at the sea of teenagers seated in the hall. All seemed to be holding it together, dressed smartly, scribbling away, and punching keys on their calculators. A few were blinking drowsily. Most of them seemed fine, like they belonged here.

“Amol , settled?” Nishaad Sir enquired with a bemused smile. “You seem to be getting late these days. Is everything alright?”

Amol nodded. 

“Well, well my Baby Newtons, Miss Gravity is craving for our attention! Let’s see who falls first.”

The class broke into peals of laughter, as they embarked on another problem.

Mr Aniruddh Gokhale sauntered in. The guffaws stopped mid-breath; the smiles arranged themselves into tight lipped silence. 

The two owner partners of Gokhale classes stood in the balcony, sipping their habitual cup of tea, engaged in planning for the mock entrance test next week. Aniruddh was tall, athletic, with an aquiline nose and thin lips. A man of great ambition and few words. Nishaad Phadke was taller, with a slight paunch. His perfectly round face was framed with untamed locks of short curly hair that stood up at odd angles, giving his head a starburst like appearance. His genial smile and ready wit had made him very popular among his students.

Both the men were nearing the fifth decade of their lives and of their friendship. Their business partnership, like their camaraderie, was a perfect balance of yin and yang. From the days of home tuitions to their coaching academy for medical and engineering exams, they had seen it all together.

With their heads down, the students busied themselves in solving the allotted sums in the stipulated time. Amol did the same. Except that he glanced up at his father, looking for warning signs. But engrossed in discussion with Nishaad Sir, he seemed unaware of his son’s late entry to classes for the past month.

September 23rd, 2015

Dear diary,

As I stand on the bridge, whiling away my time,
Folks dive head-on, and swim to targets sublime,
The river-water is turbid, I can see nothing,
And I have never revealed, but swimming is not my thing.
My heart yearns for that small brook, far uphill,
Where the clear waters gurgle, and time stands still,
The climb is steep, but I need not swim,
I could climb anytime, on a whim!

Chapter 3
Status Quo

Answer-sheets lay strewn across the floor. Amol tiptoed across the drawing room, skirting around the papers with his head bent. His father was poring over the mathematics answer sheets, sitting cross legged in the centre of the clutter. Peeking above his reading glasses, Aniruddh opened his mouth to speak, when his wife susurrated in disapproval.

Amol knew his parents were waiting for him, to have dinner together. It was past dinner-time for them. His chemistry class had stretched overtime by an hour. He washed his hands and sat at the dinner table.

The family of three ate in silence. Then, his father asked for a glass of water.

“I corrected your math answer-sheet today. You have scored ninety.”

“Aniruddh, let him finish eating. He must be tired.” 

“Right! He is tired! Why is he tired? Because he attends that dumb school of yours in the morning hours!” His father’s voice boomed across the large dining hall.

“He has to go to school because he is still a school going lad. And he cannot appear for his examinations unless he has the attendance.”His mother’s voice was equally loud, but shaky.

“Attendance, my foot!  I would have managed the attendance if not for your obtuse self. My son is losing out on precious time that his peers use to solve question papers. At his score, there are atleast thirty kids with better score in my class of five hundred! Do you understand where does he stand in the projected state merit list? Or is the calculation too difficult for you biology teachers?”

The vein on his mother’s forehead pulsed in anger. “If only coaching classes like yours let the schools do their jobs! As the principal of the school, I cannot let my own son…”

“Enough Sharada! Don’t get me started on the dubious merit of your school teachers. Just understand one thing clearly. Amol is paying the price for your impractically high moral standards.” His father was livid.

“Amol, the bottom-line is this. Although you are working hard, your efforts are not enough. You have to make a choice here. Are you going to be a mollycoddled kid all your life? Be a go-getter, son! Look at Anouk Saxena, the undisputed topper this year. Look at his grit, his ambition, his confidence. You have to give more than your cent percent. Or are you okay with status quo?”

His father picked his phone, “I will arrange for extra coaching for your weak areas. Let Nishaad handle it, you seem to like his style better.”

Wo toh hai albela, 
Hazaaron mein akela
Sadaa tumne aib dekha
Hunar ko na dekha…’

Clenching his teeth, Aniruddh was about to disconnect the phone call, when Nishaad answered.

“What is with that mothballed caller-tune?”

“Oh, you never know who might need to listen to it. Besides, isn’t it a beautiful song?” Nishaad hummed the tune further.

Clearing the dinner table, Sharada walked away into the kitchen. She swore to herself, she would make a winner out of her son, while upholding her principles. Her son would serve as an example for the coming batches of students, that attending school was not just mandatory, but rewarding as well.

December 13th, 2015, 

Dear diary,

I have been pedalling furiously, lest I should drown,
In the hope of bagging the coveted thorny crown,
And ruling the land where I do not belong.
Try as I might, I can’t race ahead,
My last ounce of will, keeps me from dropping dead,
While I struggle to stay afloat,
They name my survival- status quo.

Chapter 4
The Only Explanation

The run up to the exams was a flurry at Gokhale classes. Daily mock tests, answer keys, revisions, confidence pepping sessions…it was nothing short of military training of the mind. Coaches endeavoured to ingrain the question solving abilities and the concepts into the very reflexes of the students. So that they would answer, even if they had a thought block on the big day.

Most of the students coped. A few took to it with gusto, like fish to water. A few had sunken eyes and faded smiles from sleep deprivation. And Amol was lost.

His mother and father lectured him, in turns. 

He obediently continued to work as per the time table they designed for him. His mind wandered often to his diary, where he penned poetry to bare his soul. Sometimes, the words flowed in rhymes and prearranged couplets, faster than he could write. With them flowed tears. All absorbed in the pages of the diary, concealed from all, under his pile of clothes.

“I know you are brilliant. But your performance is pretty mediocre. There is only one explanation. You are not trying hard enough. Focus, Amol, for God sake!”

Amol had no buddies, though he was polite with everyone. Science students in twelfth grade only spoke to friends to clear academic doubts. That was the dictum. The mobile phone was out of bounds; the television set had been detached from its socket a couple of years back, when Amol started coaching for the big exam.

Nishaad Sir spoke to him often. He dropped in to check on him. He would volunteer to the kitchen and himself make some ginger tea for all, inspite of Sharada’s protests.

He had a tender spot for this boy, who had grown before his eyes. He had witnessed Amol’s transformation from an effervescent child prodigy to a painfully quiet brooding young man. He was the only one who had heard Amol recite few of his poems.

Amol called Nishaad Sir often, seemingly to clear doubts in Physics. But that was the last thing on his mind. It was to speak with the man who could make him laugh through his tears. And he loved listening to his signature caller tune, secretly hoping Sir would delay answering the call.

‘Wo toh hai albela…
Fursat mili na tumhein apne jahaan se
Uske bhi dil ka kabhi samajhte kahaan se
Jaana hai jise patthar, heera hai wo to heera
Sada tumne aib dekha, hunar ko na dekha’

Chapter 5 
Walking The Extra Mile

“Toppers do not have any superpowers. But they never give up. They never lose focus. And we at our academy show them the way. Year after year.” The cameras clicked away, the shutters flashed. Aniruddh Gokhale held his student Anouk Saxena , All India Rank 1, by the shoulder. Both of them flashed a thumbs-up for the cameras. Nishaad Sir stood next to them, flashing a proud smile.

After the press meeting, Aniruddh walked to the car park, beaming with pride. Nishaad was waiting in the car. As they drove away, Nishaad inquired,

“How is Amol doing?” 

The triumphant smile on Aniruddh’s face twisted at the corners.

“What is there to do? Just being himself, silent and passive.”

“I think we should go for a re-evaluation of his Maths and physics papers. My boy is brainy. There is absolutely no way he got a measly ninety two percentile!” Aniruddh steered the wheel with undue force, inciting a honk from the car driver in the adjacent lane.

Nishaad reasoned, “ Aniruddh, have you spoken with Amol? What does he want to do further?”

“What is there to ask? With his rank, the college will choose him, and not the other way round.”

April 6th, 2016,

Dear diary,

The path is treacherous, but you must fight with a smile,
And if you do survive, then walk an extra mile.
A mile trampling your dreams,
A mile of muffled screams,
A mile of broken hearts,
A mile of half hearted starts.
I yearned to break the spell, take the road less travelled,
That’s when the curse, to me was unravelled,
It was a tampered map,
That they handed me,
There is only a gap,
Where the other road used to be.

Chapter 6

April 8th, 2016, 5am

Sharada sat in silence, sipping her first cup of tea for the day. This was her golden hour, when she could draw long peaceful breaths, without being cut short by the demands of everyday routine. She had ferociously guarded this time of the day from all intrusion, both external and internal. 

The only time she decided to forgo her precious morning hour was for the past one month. Taking leave from her job as a school principal, she devoted herself single-mindedly to the rigorous preparation that her son needed for his dreaded exams.

Fleeting glimpses of her son as an infant, a toddler and a primary scholar swam before her eyes. Amol had a twinkle in his eye, whip sharp wit and a spring in his step. He was an entertainer, charming people offstage and enthralling audience onstage. He was the happiest when engaged in extracurricular events, be it dramatics, debates, extempore speech or essay writing.

He was an obedient child. A brilliant one. And he had worked hard. She had been certain he would secure an enviable rank, and pleasantly surprise his condescending father.

The results came as a rude shock. Amol had slipped a few notches below his disappointing status quo.

The house was engulfed in gloom, and the silence was deafening. The re-evaluation of answer keys was to happen the next day.

April 8th, 2016, 11am

Almost as an afterthought,
With my head in death’s jaw,
I nurse the wounds I earned,
Chasing dreams I never saw.
I am not an escapist,
Nor a coward am I,
But you continue to say I failed,
Never really bothering, why?
Let’s put an end to this debate
Once and for all,
Let me take the onus
And blame, for my own fall.

Amol placed his diary reverently on his bed, bookmarking his last poem. He combed his unruly mop of hair, for the first time in days. He wore a fresh white T-shirt. 

He did not glance at the mirror.

He picked up his wallet with his ID card tucked in neatly. He mentally calculated the time he would take to reach the railway station. At this time of the day, the trains would be thronging the tracks every moment.

Clickety clack, Clickety clack! 

A shudder ran down his spine. He steadied himself with effort.  His parents were at work and would be home only by evening.

He took one last look at the photographs of his parents in the drawing room. They did not seem to smile all that much anymore.

He was about to lock the door, when he heard a familiar voice singing,

“Wo toh hai albela, 
Hazaaron mein akela…”

Chapter 7
Land ahead

Nishaad Sir walked into the kitchen, to brew tea. 

Amol perched himself on the kitchen counter. None of the two men spoke about where Amol was headed a few minutes back.

“You know Amol, I loved making people laugh. Ever since I started talking, my sole aim was to make people smile, chuckle, and giggle and roll on the floor in fits of laughter. Need I say I was good at it?

Then life happened, I became an engineer. But something was missing. One thing led to another, and I joined Aniruddh in the small office of Gokhale classes. There is nothing new in my story. But I know we were successful because we both did what we loved doing. Aniruddh loves planning, investing, expanding.  And I?  I love an audience. And the challenge of making cynical teenagers laugh over nerve-wrecking problems of physics!

You must tell your parents what you really love doing. They may not understand, but they would atleast know that you are a very different individual than what they assume you to be. They deserve to know you.”

When Aniruddh and Sharada returned in the evening, they saw their son was home. Effervescent, witty and full of life. Suddenly, his marks did not seem all that important to them either. Nishaad Sir left after another cup of ginger tea. He hummed as he went,

“Wo to hai albela…
Bansi ko lakdi sadaa samjhaa kiye tum
Par uske nagmon ki dhun kahaan samajh sake tum
Sadaa tumne aib dekha, hunar ko na dekha…”

April 8th, 2016, 11pm,

Dear diary,

Breathing seems easier now,
I don’t know where, I don’t know how,
But I am now free to fly.
Maybe I’ll steal, a patch of the stream I swam in,
And plaster it on the sky;
And make it rain with verses and songs of hope
On a few such lost souls like me, who struggle to cope,
While I explore the world, for my bit of amethyst.
Breathing is easier now.

October 25th, 2025

Amol posed with his latest book, the third part of the best selling trilogy. Cameras shuttered away.

His phone rang,
‘Wo to hai albela,
Hazaaron mein akela…’

The reporters giggled at the clichéd ringtone, heard on national television. Amol winked, “You never know who needs to listen to that, today.”


Author’s note:

Adolescence is a very tumultuous period in the life of growing children and everyone around them. Unfortunately, while they are still trying to understand themselves, our education system also demands them to take decisions that would dictate their careers and future course of life. To add to it, there are communication gaps between parents and the offspring. Countless creative souls are currently trapped in careers they have no liking for, because of this convoluted scheme of parental pressure, societal norms of ‘settling down’ and lack of guidance to alternate careers. 

We need to reformat our education system such that it exposes our children to various forms of art, sport and skills. Let our children make their choices, let us facilitate their individual growth as parents and teachers. Most importantly, let us welcome evolution of individuals to incorporate newer interests in their lives and design an education system that gives them flexibility to experiment.

Most importantly, let us listen to what our children have to say, with an open mind.

Connect with Penmancy:



Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!

Latest posts by Khushboo Shah (see all)

Let us know what you think about this story.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© Penmancy 2018 All rights reserved.
%d bloggers like this: