Short Story: Tara (Star/They)
This is a short story about an alien child growing up in Bangladesh.
It’s a stormy night in a rural area of Bangladesh. Members of a household are preparing for the storm by closing windows, shutting doors, etc. The household consists of an old mother, her son, daughter-in-law and young daughter.
There is a knock at the outside door. The startled family discuss whether they should open it. Upon hearing a woman’s plea, they become worried that it’s a ploy set by robbers. Then a baby’s cry is heard. The old mother doesn’t wait for any more discussion and runs to open the door.
A beautiful, well-dressed woman cradling a baby steps in and thanks the old mother. The household members are confused and doubtful as to the nature of her visit. The woman, eerily calm, explains that she just needs shelter from the storm and will depart when it ends.
The old mother gets busy arranging for light refreshments. Others huddle around her to discuss whether they are in any danger. The old mother ignores all comments and sets tea and biscuits for the stranger.
After this moment of distraction, they come back to the woman only to find her gone and the baby laid down with a small locket next to him. A loud bang of the outside door shocks them into understanding that the woman has gone out into the storm. The daughter runs to the door and looks out. But it’s too late and she has vanished.
They peer at the baby. It’s a healthy infant boy. They examine the simple locket with a worthless stone without understanding it’s significance. The daughter-in-law argues that it must be an illegitimate child and the woman has abandoned him here. The son complains as to what to do with him. The old mother looks off into the storm wondering.
The next morning, after much argument, the son forcefully settles that the authorities should be notified. He brings police officers who note down the details of this unusual circumstance. Their tendency is to think the child illegitimate. At the end of the meeting when it comes to deciding what to do with the child, the son urges the police to take the child. The daughter-in-law chimes in her approval while the old mother expresses her disagreements. The police refuse to take responsibility noting their ineptness as child caretakers and urge the family to keep him. The old woman agrees despite complaints from her son and daughter-in-law.
Later, the older mother is drying the child after giving him a bath. She reminisces to her young daughter about old stories of the Gods leaving diamonds to paupers. A twinkle in the child’s dark eyes shines bright, hence she names him Tara.
Seven years passes…
Tara is at school, staring out the window at a butterfly larva moving about a flower. He is entranced. A loud noise startles him. The math teacher has arrived. Noticeably agitated, the teacher assigns the class to add from 1 to 100 thinking the assignment would occupy the students the entire session. Then he goes outside to chat with another teacher next door.
[animation: As Tara stares at 1 and 100, the numbers leap off the blackboard and starts adding themselves. 100 by itself, 1 & 99 is 100, 2 & 98 is 100,… until 100+4900+50=5050]
Visually seeing the answer quickly, Tara writes it on his slate and puts it on the teacher’s desk. Amidst his talk with the other teacher, the math teacher notices Tara handing in his slate. He is surprised that a student is already done. He annoyingly comes in and warns Tara that a hurried wrong answer will get him punishment and advises to take his time. Tara casually, without a hint of pride or arrogance, says that it’s correct. The teacher tells him to go back to his chair and sit quietly. Tara goes back to watching the butterfly larva outside the window.
The recess bells rings and the teacher walks in. The children are eager to hurry outside to play. The teacher stops them to check their answers. He menacingly first checks Tara’s noting that he would probably receive the first beating since he answered so quickly and will most likely be wrong. But instead, he is dumbfounded to see the correct answer. He cannot imagine just how the answer could’ve been gotten so quickly. He distractedly let’s everyone go.
As they get outside in the field, Tara’s friend Tokon asks how he got the answer. Tara shows him how marking the soil with a stick. A few others also hover around to learn. The class captain and first boy, Farhad, disrupts their gathering erasing Tara’s writings and claims he knew the answer just as quickly but didn’t want to disturb the teacher as Tara disrespectfully did. Farhad leaves with his companions giving Tara an envious stare.
Tara arrives home with his friend Tokon. He runs and hugs the old mother whom he calls Nani. Nani sends Tokon off to his own home, compassionately berating him for not thinking of his mother. His Khalamoni (Nani’s young daughter) bathes Tara. Nani feeds him as Khalamoni fans him and he tells them about school. Nani and Khalamoni exchange a worried look but congratulate him on his accomplishment.
From here on Tara displays amazing mathematical abilities that astonish his friends and his teachers. Although he is bad at every other subject, he displays a keen interest in mathematics, science and nature. He also gets known for being absent minded.
Some example of his mathematical feats…
- rapid math tricks
a. quick multiplication of large numbers with 4, 5, 11, squares, etc.
- being able to calculate height of trees using the shadow (when a Frisbee is stuck)
- being able to calculate tall building
- (more can be added)
But his character of sharing his knowledge of how he actually does such amazing feats evokes jealousy in Farhad.
Another seven years passes…
Tara is now 14. Again he is staring at something. Tokon runs to him saying a new science teacher has arrived. But Tara doesn’t want to go. He is worried about his experiment. Tokon asks what crazy experiment he is doing now? Tara explains that he has been growing a plant in a dark box using only green light, hoping it would grow faster since all plants are green. But it’s not working. In fact the plant is dying and he can’t figure out why.
Tokon, not understanding, simply brushes off the subject and again talks about the new science teacher and that he is doing magic tricks. Tara is intrigued and runs to school with Tokon.
There’s a butterfly larva on the plant that Tara was looking at. The larva is finishing engulfing itself in it’s cocoon.
The new science teacher is a young, jovial man. He is a new teacher in every sense of the word with a passion for teaching. He is surrounded by students to whom he is showing “magic”. He tells them that there is no difference between science and magic. Magic becomes science once the trick is revealed. Hence he calls his brand of magic, “natural magic”, and everyone can learn how to do it. Tara is intrigued.
Some example of “natural magic” the teacher exhibits…
- magnetic pencil
a. two against each other [muscle tension] / a pencil sticks to his open hand
- swinging a bucket of water on top of his head without spilling a drop on himself [centrifugal force]
- moving a coin on top of an empty cold coke bottle without touching it [condensation]
- (more can be added)
The teacher tells them that there is an explanation for everything and instructs them to ask any question. A few students ask this or that questions that the teacher answers easily. Tara asks why plants don’t grow in green light. Everyone is confused.
Understanding that he hasn’t explained about his experiment, he quickly tries to ask a different question hoping it’ll be better received by everyone. So, he asks why the sky is blue. Everyone laughs at the silly question but this attracts the teacher’s attention and he berates everyone for ridiculing curiosity. He says that both questions are related but a bit complicated because it deals with light refraction, how rainbows are created. He says he cannot explain it right then but promises that it’ll be the first topic they cover in science class.
The group breaks up. Everyone goes their way. Tara, Tokon and a few others hang around to help the teacher put away his things. They are introduced and Tokon boasts that Tara is the best student in math and can do many calculations in his head. The teacher curiously tests him and is pleased.
Later in science class Masterji (teacher) talks about light refraction and answers Tara’s two questions.
[animation: Light from the Sun comes down to Earth in a rainbow spectrum. All the lights get thru to the surface except blue which, for it’s smallest wavelength, bounce in the atmosphere. Again all the light hits the surface of a plant leaf and only the green bounces off into a human eye.]
Masterji explains that light we see is a mixture of many lights with different wavelengths which causes them to be seen as different colors. The shortest wavelength, blue, gets easily bounced around in the atmosphere causing the sky to seem blue. But at sunrise or sunset when sunlight is coming in at an angle, it has to go through a lot more atmosphere, causing more wavelengths of light to be bounced around, like red, orange, purple, etc. That’s why during those times the sky is filled with myriad of colors.
Additionally, since what we see is the light that gets bounced around, we assign colors to objects by the color it is not absorbing. Hence, plants look green because it’s not absorbing green.
Tara always has questions outside the curriculum. Everyone ignores such questions but Masterji is encouraging. They form an intimate relationship whereby Masterji answers many of Tara’s questions after school is over for most. Tokon also joins in their many sittings.
Some of the things they discuss…
- speed of light and sound in thunder, why we see it first before hearing it
- sounds Doppler effect of a passing ambulance
- (more can be added)
Masterji visits Tara’s house some times to give Tara extra lessons or just to discuss things. Khalamoni looks on admiringly. Masterji, a young man himself, steals a look or two in her direction. They slowly develop intimate feelings for each other. Everyone misses the long stares she gives Masterji, but not Tokon. He even once points it out to Tara as they have a secret laugh about it.
One time while Tokon is visiting, he teases Khalamoni about liking Masterji. Khalamoni becomes embarrassed and in retaliation tickles Tokon mercilessly. As Tokon is laughing and rolling on the ground, so is Tara. Nani comes in berating her daughter for teasing the children and asks Tara why he is rolling on the floor, Tara simply says that he felt tickled as well.
One day Masterji presents Tara and Tokon with a magnifying glass. They discover many things small in nature like insects and flowers and even grass. At the end of the day when it comes to part, they discuss who should have the magnifying glass. They amicably decide that they will take turns each keeping it for a day. This first day Tara gets to keep it.
Tara comes home unable to part with the magnifying glass. He watches everything with it. Even at dinner he watches the grains of rice and daal to much annoyance to his family. Afterward as the rest of the family is doing other things, he explores things in Nani’s room with the magnifying glass.
He finds an old locket with an ugly stone on it and looks curiously at it. Nani comes to the room and Tara quickly hides the locket. Unseen by everyone, the stone starts to glow slightly. Nani finds what he is hiding and berates him for looking into her things. Khalamoni advises Nani to give him the locket. Nani hesitantly does so because this is the same locket that Tara’s mother had left with him.
A house lizard is passing by and Tara is watching it. He is entranced. The locket starts to glow. Suddenly he sees the world from the house lizard’s point of view. He even sees himself staring down at himself. At his own sight, he is shocked and falls backward coming into himself. He quickly puts down the magnifying glass as if being scared of it.
After he calms down he goes and finds that lizard again, and again he starts seeing things from the lizards point of view. This amuses him. He comes back to himself and looks for other insects.
Morning comes. In the warmth of the Sun, the butterfly is trying to get out of the cocoon.
Tara had fallen asleep holding the magnifying glass. He wakes up excited and can’t wait to tell Nani all about the night before. He runs to her and tries to tear her away from her work to tell her something. She says she is preparing breakfast and will come to him when done. Tara goes back still excited.
But as she re-joins him, he is crying. He can’t say the reason why he is so sad. He doesn’t know why himself. Khalamoni tries to cheer him up but fails. Moments later news arrives of Tokon’s grandmother’s death. Nani and Khalamoni at first express sadness but a bit later exchange looks of worry for Tara. They are obviously thinking back to his strange origin and what other strangeness is to come.
From here on, they do small things to hinder Tara’s time spent with Tokon.
A military jeep pulls up to the school. Couple of intimidating looking CID officers comes out with walkie-talkies in their hands. They approach the Principals office.
Masterji is interrupted by a student running into class exclaiming that some army people has come to the school. Everyone goes to the door and windows. Masterji tries to keep order as he makes his way to the door.
After a while the CID officers come out of the Principals office and leave. Some of the teachers come out of their classes to approach the Principal. He tells all to go back to their classes and that he will talk to them after school. He is visibly worried.
After school there is a teacher’s meeting. The Principal tells them that there is a terrorist threat in the area. The CID apparently received information that a chemical agent may have been released in the area and that it especially effects children therefore they are going to the local schools to warn them and schedule a school wide blood screening to see if anyone was infected. So, all students must be present during screening. Attendance is mandatory.
The teachers are worried. Some accuse the local Madrasa for inviting such attacks. The Principal tries to calm them and tells them not to jump to any conclusion; perhaps there is nothing to worry about. At least the danger isn’t immediate and will not affect everyone and perhaps no one.
At the end of the meeting, Masterji lags behind. He didn’t want to air any doubt in public but asks the Principal in private whether he believes the CID. The Principal offhandedly says there is no reason to doubt them. Masterji points out that chemical weapon doesn’t exactly work like that. They don’t have long lifespan and are inherently weak. They are rather “area denial” weapons than weapons of mass destruction. Understanding of his skepticism, the Principal says that it doesn’t matter whether he believes them or not, but he has to follow orders from government officials.
Masterji wonders exactly what the CID are up to…
The day of the blood screening is like any other day at school. Classes are held as scheduled. Some nurses and doctors are gently taking blood from each class of boys in turn in the school yard. When it is Masterji’s classes turn, all the boys go into the yard and he walks over to the main CID officer who is standing off by himself.
Coming closer they recognize each other as university friends from BUET. They intimately greet each other and catch-up with each others lives. The CID officer, Kamal, had gone into Government service after graduating as Masterji went on to become a teacher.
Masterji casually asks Kamal that he knows that they are not looking for chemical weapons and so wants to know exactly what they are looking for. After some side stepping, Kamal reveals the truth. He asks Masterji whether he believes in extra-terrestrial life. Masterji is confused. Yes, he does, but what does that have to do with anything. Kamal relays that there has been some unusual activities all around the world reported by their international partners, NASA and SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). One such location is this village. There is talk of an ET (Extra-Terrestrial) taking the form of a child that lives among them. Masterji laughs it off. He jokingly asks why would Aliens come to Bangladesh of all places. Don’t they only visit the United States?!
Kamal also laughs and jokingly mentions that an ET coming to Bangladesh is not so extraordinary since these days even India have been visited. But slowly he becomes serious again. Kamal tells Masterji to think about what it’d mean if it actually happened. Masterji agrees with the repercussions both global and religious but why would the military try to find it. Wouldn’t it be better to be good hosts to it or just to leave it alone?! The West always tries to kill their visitors, but we are more civilized and know how to treat a guest (ap’payon). We ought to have a different and better reaction than they.
Kamal points out that if something bad ought to happen to such an alien, then the whole world might be in danger of retaliation from an alien race of obvious superior technology.
They part as the last boys are tested including Tara.
Later that day Masterji is meeting with Khalamoni. They are romantically involved and share some love talk.
Khalamoni shares with Masterji that Tara tells her about some waking dreams he has of becoming different animals. They laugh about the child’s imagination.
Masterji asks Khalamoni about Tara’s parents. At first Khalamoni is quiet, but then she tells him the story about Tara’s mysterious origins. Masterji listens intently and begins to figure things out. Tara’s dreams, his unique abilities in math and science…
He slowly realizes that Tara might be whom the CID is looking for and they will soon discover him from the blood test. He reveals his fears to Khalamoni. They waste no time and hurry toward Tara’s home.
That day after school Tara and Tokon goes swimming at a pond. They decide to challenge each other on who can hold their breath the longest. At first, Tara tightly holds his breath, then he starts to look around and gets lost looking at the fishes. His locket starts to glow. For moments he sees the water from the fishes’ point of view and it amuses him. He doesn’t realize that Tokon is looking for him up top.
Unknown to both, the Principal is nearby and sees Tara not coming up for air. He runs to the water to get him out of the water. Tara suddenly comes back into himself as the Principal pulls him up. The Principal berates him for staying under so long. Tara tries to tell him about the lizard and the ant and the fish but the Principal doesn’t want to hear any of his excuses.
Principal forces the two boys home and tells Nani about Tara and Tokon’s playing holding their breath under water. And that Tara was under for a real long time and might have died. Nani uses this excuse to forbid him being friends with Tokon. Tara gets upset and runs away.
Principal takes Tokon home.
In the warm day the butterfly has just emerged from it’s cocoon and is flapping it’s wings to take flight. But some kids are nearby with nets trying to catch it.
Masterji and Khalamoni arrive at Tara’s home. They are looking for Tara. But Tara is nowhere to be found. Nani is upset but not sure why all the worry. Khalamoni explains that some people are looking for Tara and they must hide him.
Tokon arrives, they ask him if he knows where Tara is, he doesn’t know. They start looking for Tara with Tokon’s help. They look high and low calling out his name with no result.
At one time Tokon, tells them that Tara might have gone in an unlikely direction. When asked why he thinks so, he says he just feels it.
They run off in that direction finally finding Tara hunched over in pain. They try to figure out what’s wrong with him, but not sure.
In the distance, they see CID jeeps arriving at Tara’s house. Farhad is with them. Looks like Farhad has helped the CID find Tara’s house. There are some other foreign black jeeps out of which some foreigners come out. Masterji picks up Tara and runs in the opposite direction followed by Tokon and Khalamoni.
The foreigners point a hand device around and points in their direction. Farhad excitedly points in their direction. The CID give immediate chase in their direction but the foreigners take their jeep on the main road hoping to encircle the group of four.
Soon the CID officers are chasing Masterji carrying Tara, Tokon and Khalamoni, yelling and ordering them to stop. Kamal pleading with Masterji to stop. The escaping four come to a river and there seems to be no way around it. They feel defeated, captured.
Tara wakes slightly, he points to the other shore. As he points, the stone of the locket around his neck lights up. Instinctively knowing what Tara is saying, Tokon runs to the water. Masterji and Khalamoni tries to stop him, but to all their amazement he runs on to the surface of the water. He stops amazed and laughs. Tara smiles weakly in turn while trying to stay conscious. Tokon urges them to follow him. Masterji and Khalamoni run onto the water crossing the river.
Just as they reach the middle of the river, Farhad, Kamal and his team arrive at the shore. They are dumbfounded at the scene. Tokon stops to stare and make faces at Farhad and tauntingly turns his back side to them.
Kamal, determined, steps onto the water and he is also able to walk on it. Seeing this Tokon realizes that danger isn’t over and comically runs away. Kamal and his team is now running on the water. Tokon is the last of their group to reach the shore. He isn’t sure why Masterji and Khalamoni are still waiting. They should have been running. Instead they look onto Kamal’s team running on the water.
Masterji nods to Tara. Tara’s locket stops glowing. All of a sudden the water becomes normal and the whole chasing party fall into the water. Tokon jumps up in joy and laughs.
They still hurry and finally arrive at the main road but it’s too late. Anticipating their move, the foreigner’s have already arrived.
Tara asks to be let down. He is still in pain but surprisingly he isn’t scared. He advances toward them. One of the foreigners, a woman, advance toward him with a hand device. Thinking the device might harm Tara, Masterji steps up but Tara halts him with a gesture. The woman quickly checks him from head to foot. She then puts a small helmet-like device on his head. This seems to ease his pain. They take him to the car and bring down the visor over his eyes. He seems to be exchanging information at a very fast pace, as if downloading and uploading.
Masterji, Khalamoni and Tokon are astonished at all this. They realize that the foreigners might not be who they thought they were. They now realize that the foreigners ARE the Aliens. One of the Aliens, a mature man, calmly advance toward them. They have the following exchange…
Alien: Thank you for caring for him. He is been far from home a long time and we’ve come to take him back.
Masterji: But… but you can’t just take him!
Alien: If he stays amongst you, he will suffer and slowly die. Do you want that?!
Masterji: Of course not, but why will he suffer or why will he die?
Alien: Do you know what is the cause of his pain?
Alien: In short, YOU are. The people around him are.
Masterji: (exchanging glances with Khalamoni) I don’t understand…
Alien: The one you know as Tara, at this stage is developing empathy for other living beings around him. He shares their joy and he shares their pain. At first it’s limited to only those he knows but now it’s reaching beyond to the people he doesn’t know. The pain he feels is not his own, but theirs. What do you think will happen when he starts to feel the pain of your village, your country, your world?! Will he survive?!
Tokon: But we all love him. We care for him.
Alien: (smiling) Yes, of course you do. But that’s not enough. Only if you can reduce the pain of all living beings around you can he live among you. But even then, as he matures and grows into adulthood, so will his empathy. There will be a time when it will include the whole world and every living being in it. Can you stop the pain of the entire world?!
Masterji beginning to say something in protest, pauses, thinks and realizes the impossibility of creating a pain free world.
In the mean time, Kamal and his group, now all wet, arrive at the scene dumbstruck. With a look from the Alien and a glow of his locket, they are all immobilized from taking any action.
Khalamoni: But why? Why all this?
Alien: You do not realize that life and intelligence are the same thing, that any life can be molded either naturally over a very long time or artificially in a very short time to become intelligent. Making any organism intelligent is not a difficult task. We have experimented with many and have succeeded with most. But intelligent life is not enough to create more and diverse life to populate the galaxies. In fact, we have witnessed the destructive nature of intelligence beyond a certain point. At first it destroys others for it’s own survival and then it destroys itself until it becomes extinct.
So, a countervailing quality is necessary. Empathy is that emergent quality. It connects us beyond our senses. An empathic life nurtures and grows other life, not just itself. Only empathic life can help us populate the Stars. Unfortunately we cannot create empathic life as easily as we can create intelligent life.
You see us and only see our powers that seem magical to you. For instance, this locket looks to you like magic but if you knew of it’s inner workings, you’d see the science and technology behind it. But what makes us unique is not this technology, it’s our empathy for other living beings. It is this empathy that defines our Civilization.
So, while you seek intelligent life, we seek empathic life. Because intelligence without empathy is worse than useless, it’s destructive! We seek life that feels for not only his body or his kin but his species and even all of life itself. Such life knows it’s purpose and can be our partner amidst the Stars.
From time to time we test potential worlds to bring to the Stars. Yours is one among many. And Tara is one among many placed on this planet. We place a child amidst you to learn who and how you are. How preciously you treat it? How nurturing you are to it’s talents? Because if you can’t do this with one of your own, how will you do so with all the diverse life in the Universe?!
Through Tara we will understand where you are at in your development of becoming an empathic life.
Masterji: Did we fail your test?
Alien: Yes, of course. But do not regret it, so did every other country on this planet. With some we had to take back the children earlier than with others. In your case, Tara was the last one. Now that our last child is back, we will leave.
A beam of light has descended in the background from the darkening sky. The other Aliens are stepping into it as the ones previous are slowly pulled up by an invisible force. The Alien turns to leave.
Masterji: It all seems so cold and calculating. Why can’t you help us? You can’t leave us like this?!
Alien: (turning back) You already have the answer. Don’t you remember the times you spent with Tara telling him about things he was curious about, encouraging his talents?! That is all you have to do.
Masterji: But all the other children aren’t as advanced in intelligence as Tara!
Alien: (amused) Oh?! Aren’t they?! You’d be surprised what you’d find if you cared to look closely. In developing your world you focus too much on developing things, dead things. You neglect your most natural resource, life, your children. You just might be surprised what you find in them. For it is they who will take you to the Stars!
The Alien turns and ascends up the beam of light.
Tara, helped by another, comes forward to say his goodbyes to his loved ones. He is healthy, confident and jovial. But he can’t help having tears in his eyes. He tells them now he knows who he is and why he can’t stay with them. He gives Tokon his locket as a keepsake. He thanks Masterji for helping him all this time. And finally, he hugs Khalamoni who can’t bear to let him go but must. Tara tells her that it’s a good thing Nani wasn’t around, or he wouldn’t be able to leave. He asks her to explain everything to Nani and take care of her since he obviously can’t be there for her anymore.
All depart teary eyed, forcing themselves to accept the parting. Tara with the aid of his caretaker goes up the beam of light. It shuts off and there is a rush of air. Kamal and his group are released from their hold.
Kamal, being able to hear everything, tries to comfort Masterji. Farhad who also had listened to their conversation is ashamed for his envy of Tara and all the ensuing rivalry.
Some time later we see Farhad, Tokon and a couple of others huddling around Masterji. They are not in school. Masterji is teaching them about things that he had done with Tara. He is teaching them about the origins of life, evolution and origins of man from Africa.
We see the scene from overhead, it zooms out through the sky and the upper atmosphere until the whole planet can be seen. Tara is in a spaceship looking down through a giant glass window in a botanical garden. He has the following exchange with the older Alien.
Tara: Is that enough?! Is that all you could do for them?
Alien: That’s all we are allowed to do at this point. And yes, it is enough.
Tara: Just a teacher and a few students?!
Alien: That’s been more than plenty in all history. This is how it begins, from here a Civilization may rise. We will be back to test them again. Perhaps not in your life time, but we will be back.
Tara: Will I see them again?
Alien: Chances are not likely. For now, you have their body so you will remember as long as you have it. But no matter which body you change into in the future, there will always be a part of them in you.
The Alien leaves the garden. Tara stares at the planet, a butterfly crosses his gaze, flapping it’s wings as if flying off from Earth towards the Stars…