What an Odd Wish List
It is fairly common in these parts to build a tiny little room on the terrace of an already finished house and rent them to needy students or people starting out in a low paying job. They typically have one window, an attached bathroom, and are burning hot in the summer months. I have always found people who live here on the edge, like they are living at the tip of a matchstick; if you rub them the right way they will burst. Tripathi used to live in one of those rooms, may be still does. If Tripathi closed the window, the room became too stuffy and humid and if he opened it, the mosquitoes feasted on him. In the whole room there was only one spot where he could concentrate enough to work.
All Friday evenings suck, he thought as he worked his way through the latest assignment — making a wish list for the recently killed Singh. Singh died yesterday; he was driving to work early morning on a 2-lane freeway without a divider when a car from the incoming lane collided head on. He died instantly. The other driver broke a wrist and was discharged later in the afternoon.
Tripathi was a freelancer till last year but recently got an offer with Government’s IT cell. His job was to create wish lists for dead people based on the notes he received from the management. Ok, I’m sorry, let me back up a bit for I don’t know who you are and when are you reading this. So, this is during the time of big boom of the Wishall — The Wish List app. It was an app to share your wishes, in the fashion of lists, and it allowed you to mark when wishes were completed and to notify your contacts, as if they cared. It also offered a feature where you could draft your wish list and save it in a time capsule which would be released after your death as a way to be remembered ever after. Initially no one cared for the time capsule feature, why care about something which you are not going to use in your lifetime but it became thunderously popular after the death of a movie star. So popular in fact that people started hiring ghost writers to do the job.
That’s how Tripathi started — as a ghost writer. Not that he was particularly good at setting up goals for other people or even for himself but he had stumbled upon a large file containing draft wishes on a torrent sharing website which no one used, so he had pretty much exclusive access to some unique wishes. That movie star’s post life wish list had also triggered another sport — identifying the good citizen — those with wishes of a certain type. This was way too useful for the government to be run without its control and so the government created this secret wing which was not secret at all to manage and publish wish lists for certain people. Soon however, there were just government wish lists. Nobody cared for the average Joe’s list anyway and all the popular figures’ lists were manufactured. Everyone knew that the wish lists were not real, and everyone was okay with it. They still waited for its release post someone’s death. If it was someone real famous, there would be news coverage of the wish list for days, there would be multiple conspiracy theories, lots of shouting and lots of blaming, but no one would acknowledge that this is all made up by the government and not the real wishes of the person, even though like I said, everyone knew that.
Oh and the wishes in the list were boring as fuck because governments have no taste.
Tripathi didn’t know of Singh, but then he didn’t know most of the people he wrote the wishes for. While creating wish lists, Tripathi usually worked off of the synopsis that was given to him — in this case — 43 wishes, and a love for Hindustani and that’s it. 43 is an odd number, he thought, and he was right, literally so, and that coupled with the word Hindustani made for a very doubly odd combination. Typically, the list ran in multiples of 5, and the synopsis included more pointers around the list so that junior staff like Tripathi who were usually responsible for creating the list don’t mess it up.
He texted his co-worker Srivastava for he was little puzzled and also because he was always looking for a way to connect with her while he was working in his favorite place. Do you have a second to talk, he texted. Sure, she replied few minutes later.
“Hey, just a quick question, have you ever worked on a wish list with odd number of items?” He asked after some small talk.
“I have to submit a list tonight, and the synopsis says it has to be 43 items, like why 43, we always get 25, 40, 50, right.”
“Odd like what?” she said, and he could hear nighttime TV news anchors spew venom in the background.
“Yeah” she sighed. “Maybe it’s a typo.” She added “Why care” after a pause to not let her apparent boredom seem like an eyesore. Srivastava didn’t particularly like Tripathi, he was clingy, and he lacked focus. Plus, he was extremely boring.
“ Arre yaar, what if I submit this and then get another email to add remaining 7 in the middle of night.”
“Hmm have you checked with the manager?”
“You know how I feel about talking to him.” She didn’t know, it had never come up. The manager was a fiery mid 30s guy who like most of the department, wasn’t much enthusiastic about Tripathi.
“Hmm you can write up 50 then, submit 43 and if they come back, add the rest.” She said, he could hear channels being flipped in the background.
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking as well” he was not. “But let’s say they actually want 43, what could it mean?” he added.
Now, I don’t know why, but she decided to indulge him for few minutes even though she wished to disconnect and watch the news or something.
“It could perhaps be just to show spontaneity — like this person is cool and he listed the exact number of things they needed and did not try to match up to an artificially created limit.” She said.
“ Naah, I think it’s a message.”
“Message? Interesting…” Channel started getting flipped in the background again.
“Do you remember back when sedition stores were all the craze, and we use to have this podcast called Sensational Seditions?”
“Ok so Sensational Seditions recounted old cases from Sedition Store files. It really exposed how elaborate and technically complex some anti-national plots were. So, in one of the episodes, Rathee, the host, invites the National Director of the Sedition Stores, Sharma and Director Sharma says that ‘the seventeen wishes of Rehman, seemed a lot more troubling to us than it did to other people. And it took a lot of effort to get the details behind the number seventeen and the hidden message’. Sharma never said directly but heavily implied that something went wrong with that wish list” He said while he could feel the volume of the TV in background increasing perhaps something on the TV had caught Srivastava’s attention.
“So, for the 43 what have you put down so far? Need some help?” she said lowering the volume of the television, but it was in a tone which signaled let’s-get-this-over-with in blaring red signs.
“Yeah I have made some headway…almost getting there. Thanks.” Tripathi was only mildly disappointed because of her lack of interest, it didn’t bother him much. He liked talking to her and fantasizing afterwards of where this relationship will go all in his favorite spot. The answer to it was probably nowhere, which he was also aware of.
“Hey Tripathi, if you were to make your own wish list, what is the first wish you will add?” she asked taking him by surprise, a rare instance of her taking an interest in him.
“I will …I don’t know — learn more languages?” he said and immediately regretted, I should have picked something very esoteric, he thought. When it came to wish lists, he just worked off the pointers provided and that had dulled his brain like an aged cow sherbet.
“You know what — they were showing a trailer of the documentary on the seventeen wishes of Rehman some time back on TV. What do you think of that?” She said completely oblivious of the discussion few minutes ago.
“Yeah, that’s what I was talking about earlier, no? The mystery of the whole thing?” like I said, being ignored was nothing new for him, he was just happy to continue talking with her.
“Well, they didn’t show the real stuff in the documentary, just made a big deal about the number 17, and how it was a mystery number and all that, but never for once spoke about the actual secret which is what happened to the list writer.”
“Wait, what? What happened to the writer?” Tripathi was always stumbling into well kept open secrets.
“ Kya yaar three days after the list released, he disappeared na. You didn’t know? “
“Umm yeah, oh yeah, that, yeah not too many details though…” he didn’t know a single fucking thing about this but there was no way he could straight up admit it to Srivastava who thought so little of him anyway.
“So, apparently the job was meant for someone else and they gave it to this fresher. Obviously, it was a slip up or some misunderstanding from his superior, the writer then hacked the assignment and copied the wishes from some previous list giving minor tweaks. Due to tight timelines, the list passed QA and all and got released. At least this is the version I have heard.” The channels were again being flipped in the background as she spoke, she was bored probably because of Tripathi’s lack of information.
“So, what did he write for the wishes?”
“Just the usual — nation’s development, travel, army man for a day blah blah.”
“So…I guess he did his job alright?”
“Dude. Are you serious?” she started with a laugh and then the laugh got mixed with an advertisement for a cement company which was developing a strong India.
“No heh heh just kidding.” He had absolutely no idea what the 17 dude did wrong, and he fucking hated himself for it, sidebar googling hadn’t helped either.
“Chal good night, I have morning Yoga tomorrow.” He could hear a prayer being played in the background, and then she hung up.
He decided to open the window, mosquitoes would have tired by now and hopefully left the window area, he thought. Next few hours he tried to do more search on the 17 wishes and the writer, but writer’s information was never public, Srivastava must have gotten it from some internal source.
He was no longer sure on what would be a good wish list anymore. Irrespective, two days later, 43 wishes of Singh were indeed released and they were as boring as ever. We don’t know what happened to Tripathi or if something sinister was supposed to happen to him at all. If you ask me, then of course I don’t think anything happened to Tripathi, well because c’mon, you know nothing was supposed to happen, he did alright. I am pretty sure he is still writing wish lists.
Originally published at http://freakverse.wordpress.com on September 12, 2020.