L to R: Mahrukh, Faaiz, Fahar, Sara (Core Council)

“Without further delay….aghhh…ummmm…I would to….aghhhhhh….call Sir Salman onstage to say a……….few words”, were the two lines I had to say immediately after taking the charge of Head Boy but my voice trembled to such an extent that my moment of joy was overshadowed by my inability to speak few words properly. Despite having a fair share of stage time previously by featuring in both Urdu and French annual plays along with the role of an orator on Misbah’s arrival to our school, this was undoubtedly one of the worst ‘performances’ I gave standing behind the podium facing the entire student body of nearly nine-hundred students. The only positive aspect of this was that my best friend, Deputy Head Boy Fahar Laqa also lost his calm, fumbling while reading the two lines meant for him. No! I am not one of those who gets happy at the failure of his friends. I was just happy as now both of us would sit together, admit our flaws, and come up with a way to deal with it. While almost everyone ignored our flaws, celebrating our oath-taking, imagining an ideal future for the school, I whispered to Fahar, “Both of us were miserable yar. Kuch Karna ho ga”. With a meek smile, he nodded and what followed later, till the very last day in the Student Council, are memories to remember with fondness and a sense of self-satisfaction.

To make it easier to understand, it’s better to shed some light on the system of our school. While there was a Student Council, there were four members whom we termed as “CORE COUNCIL” consisting of a Head Boy along with his Deputy and a Head Girl accompanied by her Deputy. For every event at school, they were meant to be on the stage, acting as the hosts. Since Fahar and I used to be doing everything together, even our judgments on people were relatively similar. With Mahrukh (Head Girl) we initially imagined that it won’t be too difficult for her to speak naturally on the stage as she was fairly impressive when it came to improvising even if she messed up, plus was quite fluent in speaking English. On the other hand, for someone who scared me for quite a while, narrating stories of driving tanks, Sara Hussain was someone who radiated confidence and quite frankly we waited years to see how she would handle a situation where she messed up but we were left disappointed as that never really happened. One similarity we did find between the two was that we believed they lie about not preparing their speeches a day before as they always were spot-on with their articulation and verbal-expressions. So yeah we did imagine them to be SNAKES (the commonly used word at LUMS) but once we got to know them better, we had to reject our former beliefs.

Since the very first event on the stage, the drama that erupted seemed to fascinate me as, I, having the common *PHUPPO* trait, loved exaggerating them. Our first event (High Achievers Ceremony) concluded with us fairly satisfied with ourselves until Miss Farzeen arrived. While she had pointed out numerous flaws, the most interesting one was Fahar’s social distancing rule. That man was ahead of his time, keeping a distance from Sara which wasn’t spared by Miss Farzeen. Pretty sure she would be praising Fahar’s wisdom now as distancing saves lives. While she identified a minor flaw that there was a noticeable distance between the two deputies, I exaggerated it by passing on comments that the distance was so much that even I could’ve stood between them. Well, Fahar was already embarrassed with this criticism from the teacher, questioning his “sharafat”, I made life worse for him by joking in front of Sara on this matter. On the other hand, there were some differences between Fahar and me, and social distancing was one of them. While he preferred slipping away from the center of the rostrum, I dreamt of being the center of attention at all costs. So for that, as claimed by Mahrukh (I still won’t accept it), would elbow her just to stay in the center. If this was the case, she should’ve just understood and stepped aside but no, she fought back with counter elbowing. As a result, whenever we used to go backstage, both would accuse the other of elbowing them.

The expressions on our face over the two years also changed considerably. At the very beginning, overcome with excessive tension and planning in advance, I did not have the best face on the stage. To properly define how I looked, I resembled a kid who lost his mommy at a market, someone who is imagining his dad scolding him after telling him he left his school bag at home, in short someone who is just about to cry. Quite a lot of memes were made as a result. My buddy Fahar resembled the groom sitting at his ‘Valima’, trying his best to prove that the family of the bride hasn’t made a mistake in selecting him. And as for Sara, well she looked as if she is judging everyone coming on the stage. Over time, I finally realized that the most aesthetic pictures for your WhatsApp display picture came on the stage where you seemed important and the lights made you look better. Therefore, I decided to carry a cheesy smile, making sure I get the best possible pictures. It’s another story that despite my best efforts in cropping Mahrukh out of them for my DP, somehow a lock of her hair would remain, inviting criticism from some distant relatives, compelling me to remove it. It’s funny how most of my relatives actually don’t talk to me but are always up-to-date on my pictures across various social media platforms.

But there were some very memorable moments on the stage even if they weren’t in my favor. Staring off with practices for the speeches, two particular ones are permanently imprinted on my mind. We were practicing our speeches for the GrammarFest opening ceremony, with Miss Farzeen making life miserable by asking us to repeat a million times. While arguing about our placement behind the podium, Mahrukh exclaimed with a bit of frustration, “Yeh hay Bhi to itna Bara”. Wow, that seemed offensive from many perspectives as a dismayed Faaiz was left lost for words. Was I just body shamed? I mean she couldn’t be referring to my height as Fahar was taller? But Sara never complained? My mind imaging Amir Khan from ‘Taray Zameen Par’ singing, “Kya itna MOOTA hoon main Ma?” Once as a teenager, I dared to call a twenty-six-year-old girl an “Aunty” and the blank face she expressed……I definitely had something similar. Sensing that I may be offended with this comment, Mahrukh tried to offer justification that she meant height-wise. However, trust me, it felt nothing less than a spear in the heart as I kept thinking if I actually need to reduce weight. But Nah, I went back home and saw Mummy prepare Chicken Karahi and all plans for dieting went down the bin. Surprisingly, she referred to this incident with an inside joke type way in her testimonial to be published in the Origami Magazine (If you’re reading this, I have lost weight…..Not MOOTA).

The second memorable incident occurred a day later. So to make our speeches more interactive and natural, I was asked to say, “Okay Mahrukh” at a particular place to make it seem sarcastic. So here I was, trying my best to control my facial expressions but when I repeated it for the first time, Mahrukh started laughing and Miss Farzeen shouted “Badtameez!!!!!!” while hitting my forearm with the papers in her hand. Unaware of what happened, I decided not to protest as maybe I had an accidental slip of the tongue. Repeated this for a second time and both of them started blushing, which was more confusing and my blank face depicted that. Mahrukh then explained that I’m saying it in a flirting way. So now it was my time to blush, realizing my mistake, murmuring “Sorry”. Afterward, I did my level best to avoid making it look like that but the more I tried to change the way I delivered that phrase, the worse it got. I swear even on the actual event day, she nearly let out a burst of laughter as I repeated my mistake and much to my disappointment, the photographer captured that particular moment, reminding me of my mistake for years to come.

Currently, I never feel surprised whenever one of my female friends gets up and declares she find any uncle walking past us as her crush or declaring them hot. I mean if he is a Pathan (preferably), without a bulging out tummy and he has a well-managed beard, they somehow appeal the other gender. While unfortunately, I have none, and the funny part is that I discovered this astonishing truth on the stage of the auditorium at LGS Paragon. It was our open-house and we had to announce the arrival of new teachers to our esteemed faculty staff. After I announced, “Lastly, we would like to call Umer Khan Dawar to say a few words after he agreed to join our A Level faculty”, the 48-year old Pathan stepped onto the stage, dressed in white shalwar-kameez, sleeves rolled up. With his arrival, it was time for us to head towards the backstage. As soon as the curtains prevented students from looking at us, Mahrukh let out a mini scream, shouting, “OMG he is so HOT”. I looked at her, low-key judging her, and then looked back at Umer Khan. In a state of confusion, I asked if she was referring to the teacher onstage. She nodded with a sense of excitement. So after this incident, whenever I hear Aamna, Safa, or anyone else thinking uncles are hot, I always refer back to this particular incident and decide not to judge or argue with them at all.

The backstage itself had many perks which we never really relished. Starting with the mirror right next to Miss Shehnaz’s room, it was always a joy to look at yourself in the mirror, all dressed up, practicing your speech while taking a picture or two, believing it looked cool. Moreover, it was fairly amusing to discover that despite people showing immense calm and cool in front of the audience, they would be giving us the ‘hair-dryer’ treatment backstage. Miss Beenish always used to fix a time for all of us to be present before the meeting and literally 90% of the time Mahrukh would be late. Moreover, on some occasions, she won’t even pick the phone. So guess who had to go and tell Miss Beenish about this? ME! And with everyone watching, she would literally scold the hell out of me, with Sara passing a sly smile but later admitting she has sympathies for me. While during normal school days, I regularly tried to make Miss Beenish understand that it isn’t my fault Uncle Yasin (yes Mahrukh I remember the name by now considering the times he has made me face Miss Beenish) can’t drive fast, she would forget everything on event days and rattle the boy who just had to speak in front of everyone. Plus we would be handed over large bouquets by the school admin to present to Mrs. Ali, our esteemed Chief Guest, on the gate whenever she arrived. Chats outside the auditorium, bitching about the school admin felt great. As we say in Urdu “Dil ki bharas nikali before the event begins”.

Similarly, one of the most embarrassing moments was when an empty bottle of wine used as props accidentally rolled onto the stage as I ran to retrieve it. Furthermore, by the end of our tenure, we were fairly accustomed to coming to school on the day, only to be told all the plans have been changed overnight and you have thirty minutes to write new ones. That reminds me, imagine playing PlayStation on your couch around 11 p.m., a night before the event, and getting a text “Hey! I was just writing my speech and it has now crossed four pages”. Fuming at this, I would be forced to take a look at the speech I prepared four days earlier of just two pages, scribbling to add more point, in hope of somewhat coming near the length of my counterpart’s speech. The next day, the admin would reject our speeches as we would only have three minutes combined, with Mahrukh writing a new collective one, using different colors to differentiate the dialogues while I helped others with their tasks. It was one of my favorite topics for ranting with Fahar, to be honest.

On our very last day on the stage, a day where emotions were getting the better of us, I got to witness one of the most wholesome acts, something I deemed to be very sweet. When Mahrukh and I were done with our speeches, we took a step back, giving Fahar and Sara the stage to give their last speeches on the graduation. Since the new council had been selected and they were playing a pivotal role in managing the event, quite a lot of them were backstage, eagerly peeking at the stage from a distance. As Sara started her speech, I suddenly heard someone weeping. My first thought was that someone must have slipped or had an accident backstage but it was only moments later when I turned my head to the right side that I saw the real reason. One of Sara’s closest friends (won’t name her as not sure she may want this to be public news) was crying hearing Sara give her last speech. The years of friendship, countless memories forged together, the highs and lows must’ve resurfaced in her mind and the thought of being separated from a great friend got the better of her as her eyes were flooding tears. Once Sara completed her speech, she went backstage embracing her, reminding that leaving school doesn’t mean leaving friends. Well honestly, if I was in Sara’s place, I would’ve started crying alongside my friend but yeah I never had such an opportunity.

Having the privilege of a little brother determined to capture every moment of his brother’s time under the spotlight was nothing less than a blessing. Arham actually acted as our most reliable video maker, as his videos are the only source on the present day to relive those moments. From standing at the podium just before the event began, secretly taking a streak of all the crowd, sweat running down my cheeks with stress after the very first line, taking turns on who would stand on ‘better pictures’ side, acting as the joker in the Core Council Group, every moment was unique and cute in its way. Does anyone remember Sir Salman’s famous “Push and Pull” speech? Controlling laughter at that particular moment was truly the most difficult thing. From being the primary target of Sara’s sarcastic remarks and tank threats (only recently got to know they were lies) to constantly fighting with Mahrukh behind the podium and consistently testing Fahar’s patience, the group that came into existence after some cricket sessions and pathetic ‘stalking’, eventually signed off their term on the stage of LGS Paragon leaving a legacy of coherence and a rare bond of friendship between the Core Council not witnessed before. Starting with immense stress at the prospect of public speaking, it eventually became a habit with Faaiz even dancing on “Cheap Thrills” minutes before ParaKnight Closing Ceremony rather than memorizing lines. I think the biggest compliment for us is that despite the fact my parents regularly visit Paragon on several events, they stand firm that they enjoyed it the most with us on the stage (even though I think they’re biased as I am their son).

The point being here is that life is too short and unpredictable. While I was looking forward to the annual reunion of the Core Council in the summers, with this pandemic, I am not even sure when I will meet my relatives. You need to find happiness in what you do even if it’s your duty. While I was personally scared with the idea of public speaking, it proved to be the reason behind some of the memorable things in life and played a pivotal role in bringing people with different personalities together.

TO THE CORE COUNCIL, I want to tell you that you were AMAZING!

It was a pleasure meeting you all! Until we meet again!

An aspiring writer, with no prior writing experience, talking about his experiences to help others getting bored in Quarantine……….enjoy my short stories!