1. Of Beginnings and Friendship

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The winds howled as they swiftly swept across the land. Dense nimbus clouds loomed all over the vast city, and the sky was painted a rich shade of grey. It seemed to stretch on for miles on end, making it impossible for the sunshine to penetrate.

One could see occasional flashes of lightning across the sky that was closely followed by the roaring thunder. Tiny yet persistent water droplets fell, drenching the city.

People still scurried about with their activities. Nothing seemed to deter them from their routine work. Having been accustomed to such weather every year, they blended perfectly with the demands of the land. The entire city was working in a complex manner, giving rise to an ethereal, picturesque view.
  
Manha turned away from the window to face her friends. “Eshaal hasn’t arrived yet, and I’m really craving something spicy,” she complained. “Why, oh why did I agree to let her buy the food?” Behind her, the rain water trickled across the tinted glass, and the cold breeze seeped into the building through the ventilation.

Zahra pushed the long table to a side, trying to make more space. She rolled out a carpet, threw some cushions, added a few more things, and managed to successfully change the complete outlook of their staff room in just a few minutes. Impressed, Rida looked up from the balloons she had been blowing. “Very cozy. This department is set. You have my approval. ”

A few minutes later, the door opened and Eshaal stepped in. “I’m back,” she announced, carrying parcels of what appeared to be food, “with all that you grandmas have been craving. And wow, Zahra! You’ve done a great job. I mean, look at our staff room; it looks like a perfect hangout for a rainy day.”
Collecting the bag from Eshaal, Rida immediately started to take out its contents. “You got bhajji too?” she questioned happily.

Eshaal looked up after she had settled in. “Yep. Got samosas and kachoris as well from the uncle on the next street. He makes them just the way we prefer.”

All signs of annoyance disappeared from Manha's face when she heard about the savouries. “Awesome!”

“I know I am.”

“I meant the food, not you.”

“You needn’t hide, dearie. I know you secretly meant me.”

Steady chatter floated amongst the four friends as the wind started to pick up pace outside. The angels in-charge had unleashed the force of nature as per the orders they had received from above. The raindrops started becoming larger and more frequent after that. They started to pound relentlessly on everything that came in their vicinity—nothing was spared. It was no different when it came to the math tuition center nestled in a major part of the city.

“The Next Step” had been something the four friends had come up with back in their graduation days. Knowing how draining the conventional methods of teaching were for the students and how they generally feared math as a subject, they had aimed to develop a methodology that could be a mix of student- and teacher-centered approach. The idea had been to design an effective curriculum, keeping in mind the even more effective role of learners.

Steadily, the four had seen their brain child gain both material and design as they worked on their project at college. The substance had solidified; and by the time they were done with their bachelor’s and had begun on their master’s, the curriculum stood complete. They had not wasted any more time in putting their plan to action. A room had been rented where they could teach. They had tried publicising the place, even put up a board, but a total of only five students arrived for the first two months.

The desi aunties found intense joy in ridiculing them when they had gotten to know about the venture. It had been the hot topic of gossip for several weeks. “Girls running a tuition center? Gah!” The aunties had scoffed. “They could have hired one male teacher at least, but no! They want to do it all on their own. It will come tumbling down the very next month. They could never manage one, I’m telling you.”

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