"Everyone is an integer". It was that simple. Everybody he knew and everybody he did not. Parents, friends, relatives, foes, colleagues, mere acquaintances, strangers, and himself. At the end of the day, for him all of them were integers. No more, no less. Apart from his picture perfect razor sharp memory K had his tools to remember the integers around him. His life was a simple system that the numbers kept in a state of perpetual motion. The arithmetic of the numbers around him drove his actions and they in turn motored the arithmetic. He reached his office before time as usual and looked across at the thirty odd cubicles. Most of them empty. He was used to it. He had a corner seat. To his left sat Cheshta who was always there when he reached office or for that matter when he left. He didn't like her. He shared pleasantries with her and thought, "47". To his right was Samandar who as usual was not there. He looked at the empty chair and the chaotic desk. He got himself a cup of tea and walked towards his desk, "-12". He looked around and when he was convinced that no one was watching he spilled the entire cup of tea on the chair. He smiled and got back to his seat, "-10". He had just returned from his hometown Lucknow after a week long vacation.
Anwar had spent most of his life in Lucknow and if it was any consolation he died there. He inherited his dad's grocery shop that was located in Aminabad market and that's where his dead body was found. His throat had been slit and the excessive bleeding had resulted in his death. A piece of paper resembling a receipt was stapled to his left ear. "Total = 80*(1.13)22 = 1171 Balance = 0". The local police were going to have a hard time to decipher the note. If only they had paid attention to Mathematics. Just a couple of blocks from Anwar’s house lived Mrs. Verma, a widow and a retired teacher. On the day Anwar's dead body was found she received a message on her phone that one lakh Indian rupees had been deposited into her bank account. She was pleasantly surprised and called up the bank to confirm and enquire about the transaction. The bank told her that the money was deposited in cash and on the deposit form someone had written some numbers. "Total = 20*(1.13)22 = 294 Paid = 50 Balance = 244". She used to be a history teacher and to expect her to make sense of that was asking a bit too much.
K's forte was numbers and basic arithmetic. He always felt out of place at work. He had no idea how he had ended up working for a software company writing hundreds of lines of gibberish code day in and day out. Money makes the world go round. There was no one who would pay him as much as he made sitting comfortably in his air conditioned office pursuing the goal of his life. He would spend hours in office plotting the path towards the ultimate goal. The goal to achieve a perfect zero. Besides there was Cheshta. He didn't like her one bit but she was instrumental in his ability to spend hours away from work and trod towards his goal. Cheshta was his exact opposite. A 'born to program' programmer who could account for five person days worth of work in half a day. A soft corner for K in her heart she was always around him eager to help him and own up his office tasks.
She loved him and he loved an opportunity to not write software code. Apart from being a gifted programmer Cheshta had the persona to pull men towards her. She wasn't a beauty queen but her dignified demeanour, almond eyes, a caring nature, an ever smiling face and cushy voice had always been a winner amongst men. Everyone in the office at one point or the other had skipped a heartbeat in a conversation with her. Everyone but K. She didn't understand how she fell for someone like K who for most part of the day was lost within himself and despite her best efforts was indifferent to the fact that she was seated next to him. May be that was exactly what pulled her towards him. She had done everything she could do to let him know the state of her heart but it was as if K was blind to all her hints. She got a better opportunity in a different firm which would result in her moving away from him. It gave her the required courage to open her heart out in front of K. "It's now or never". She planned the words while K was away on his vacation chasing the perfect zero. "K, let's have lunch together today. I have got homemade chicken curry for you". She knew K wouldn't be able to resist the offer. "OK" K said and punched in some keys on his mobile phone. His phone was inseparable from him. It was less of a phone and more of an extension of his hand. It was always with him and he had the habit of constantly punching onto it. She found it annoying and it was hard to imagine what exactly he used the phone for as he didn't seem to be the two hundred text messages in a day kind of a person. There was something truly esoteric about him.
"I thought of many ways of saying it. After thinking of hundreds of ways of expressing what I feel I picked the most cliched of them all. I love you. Will you marry me"? K was enjoying his meal thinking about his vacation that had been one positive step towards his goal. He had not expected the proposal and was clueless on how to handle the awkward moment. He instinctively got up and said "I have some work, I need to go" and rushed out. He came out of the office and lit a cigarette. He neither loved her nor had he ever thought of marrying her. In fact he had decided to stay unmarried all his life. The idea of marriage did not gel well with his thought process. To marry was to sacrifice and you don't sacrifice without a reason. He stubbed out his cigarette and thought of Cheshta. What came to his mind at that moment was what popped up in his mind every time he thought on anyone. A number, "49". Suddenly he had a reason. Marrying her would take him one step closer to his perfect zero goal. There couldn't have been a bigger reason. He quickly bought some flowers from a street vendor and rushed back to the office canteen. He found a crying Cheshta still seated there. "Honey, I rushed out to get these for you. Thanks for your proposal. I can't wait to be married to you". She looked up at the flowers and jumped out of her chair to hug him. K grinned. She held onto him like he was life. K silently slipped his hand in his pocket and got his phone out. "-251" he muttered.
The first year of marriage went by expectedly for Cheshta. It was the joy and agony of knowing a person. Everyone has their quirks and so did K. His affinity to his phone and constant punching on its keys was not a new one. She was OK with this habit but really hated when he would reach out to his phone every time after they made love. His restless brain that always seemed to be processing even when asleep was a constant source of annoyance as well. It was like a thread was running in his brain that he couldn't let go off. He could never loosen up. He gave her space and that for her was the best thing about him. The space at times was a tad too much and would give her an impression that he didn't care but she was happy anyways. She was certain that K would not turn out to be a romanticist. He was not somebody who was going to spring surprises for her. The one year she had spent with him left her totally confused. He was way too unpredictable. There were days when he would ask her out for a fancy dinner out of the blue and then the very next day he would come home having eaten already while she waited for him for dinner. Even when they were out she sensed a certain business like coldness in his demeanour. He always did everything with due diligence giving an impression that he was on an army duty following orders. He was who he was, never did he pretend and she liked this quality. There were no secrets apart from the laptop that K had asked her to stay away from. She didn't even know about its existence till the seventh month when she found him working on the arcane machine. K would keep the laptop locked in a small closet and always keep the keys with him. She had asked him on many occasions about the laptop affair but he would sway away from the question. "It is something very private and I can't share it with you. Not even my parents knew" he told her once. Every now and then she would go through curiosity pangs but would come out better of them. Her one year report card of the marriage was "so far, so good".
Curiosity is a cat that always kills the fairer sex. Cheshta at the end of the day was a girl. One fine day she drove back home after lunch to open up the chapter K had asked her to ignore. She knew that K wouldn't be back for another three hours. She didn't have the key to the closet so she got a key maker with her telling him that the key to the cabinet is lost. The key maker had no reason to doubt her and in less than seven minutes he opened it up. After paying him his fees she got the machine out and sat in the living room with a cup of coffee. The laptop booted up and asked for a password to be entered. She had used K's personal laptop and his office PC many a times to work on his office assignments. She remembered all his passwords and one by one tried them all. On her seventh attempt the laptop obliged and accepted her password. Once she was in she thought for few minutes on whether to move along. "No matter what it is, I will never mention it with him" she thought and started scanning files and folders on the laptop. There was nothing to be found. She had scanned the documents, pictures, music, videos and every other directory. It was then that her eyes fell on an application icon on the desktop. The black desktop contained a handful of common icons and alongside it was an icon that read "BalanceSheet.exe". She double clicked it.
The first thing that she noticed was the text that was printed on the top left of the window that read "Total Balance: -678". Below that text the application presented her with a view akin to an excel spreadsheet. There were names, hundreds of them in the first column. In front of every name that was presented in a blue font there were three numbers. She could not make heads or tails of those numbers. Upon closer inspection she made out that the third number was the result of subtracting the first two numbers. "Balance Sheet" the name of the application rang in her mind. "What kind of balance sheet is this? What do these numbers mean?". She scrolled down the list of the names. She knew some of those names. Office colleagues, friends, relatives and then to her surprise she saw her name. The three numbers read "2783 2422 361". She gazed at those numbers and raced through a variety of possibilities for the next fifteen minutes but all in vain. She scrolled down further and observed that apart from the names there were other entries in a purple font. Air hostess, doctor, shopkeeper, stranger, taxi driver and some other professions were listed. "This doesn't make any sense" she thought. She also noticed that for five or six names the third number was not the difference of the first two numbers. It was zero. One of those names was K's uncle who she remembered because he had attended their wedding. He had died just a few months ago. She looked at the clock. K would get back anytime after thirty minutes. The numbers in front of her presented a mystery and she was desperate to crack it. Her fidgety fingers clicked upon a name accidentally. Everything was about to fall in place.
Life is a sum of infinite moments one lives so it's not wrong to say that moments makeup a life. Only a few however define it. For K the defining moment came when he was thirteen years old and went to a five day trip organized by his school. As a young kid K was an invisible character always buried deep in his thoughts. He had friends but from a very early age he needed space for himself, a lot of it. His silence and aloofness made him a perfect recipe for jokes amongst his cohorts. On the third night of the trip a bunch of students led by his classmate Anwar unzipped his shorts and tied a thread to his penis while he was fast asleep. They tied the other end of the thread to his shoe. In no time everyone awake gathered around. K the boy woke up and did not read the situation till he came out of his bed. He put his little hands to hide his privates and while everyone around him laughed he cried profusely. The crowd around him was soon dispersed by a school teacher who came running in and hugged the little boy. She took K to her room where he slept in her arms weeping all night. The next morning Shilpi a girl in his class told him that it was Anwar who had planned the mischief. "I will give it back to him one day" K told her. He was simmering inside. On their way back to Lucknow K got involved in a tangle again. He accidentally stepped on Bharat's foot and immediately apologized. Bharat on his part swung his right hand and slapped K hard on his face. Before he could say anything he was slapped again. He looked up to see that it was Anwar who had hit him this time around. The same teacher came to the rescue. She gave Anwar and Bharat a piece of her mind and punished them to stand all the way to Lucknow. K stood there with his left hand of his cheek tasting the warm blood in his mouth. "I will get even with both of you. The scores will be settled" he said to himself and for the second time in the week thanked his history teacher.
"How do you get even with someone?" K twiddled with the question for days. It was a simple question but only at the surface. He knew there was nothing he would be able to do to hurt the two boys in near future. In an ideal world he would tie up Anwar's penis to a thread with his shoe on the other end and have the same set of students laugh around. He would slap both Bharat and Anwar with the same ferocity. The Utopian world however did not exist. He had to do something different in order to get his revenge. That presented a problem in itself. He wanted to settle the score but what was the score? He needed a scale to measure the misdeeds that were conducted towards him so that he could return them in the same quantum. No more, no less. He compared what the two boys had done to him. Both of them had wronged him. In Bharat's case he was instigated when K had stepped on his toes. Anwar on the other hand had planned the night and had no business in the second incident. On a relative scale Anwar had wronged much more. The best thing would have been for K to lay his hands on both of them and hurl some punches. He knew it was out of question as both of them would easily over power him physically. That thought however gave him an idea, quanta, a unit of measurement. "How many punches do you want to throw at Anwar? How many at Bharat"? Eighty for Anwar and fourteen for Bharat. The next thought in his mind was around folks who had helped him. His teacher and Shilpi. He reversed the role. How many punches would he allow both of them to hurl at him for their favours? Twenty for the teacher and one for Shilpi. The first problem was solved. He had the scores.
There was another problem though. For how long he could keep the fire burning inside? Bharat moved out of the school. Will he even remember three years down the line that he needed to settle these accounts? He had doubts. K did not want the time to heal his wounds. He tore a piece of paper from his notebook and neatly wrote the names and the scores on it. He penned negative numbers for Bharat and Anwar. Positives for the teacher and Shilpi. He didn't know then but that piece of paper was to become version one of his balance sheet.
After a year the balance sheet was no more a piece of paper. It was a notebook. K kept the notebook with him all the time and would try to update it real time. As soon as someone helped him or someone stepped on his toes he would update the score for the individual or create a new entry. He didn't need to check the notebook because of his exceptional memory but he still made a ritual to go through the entries in the notebook every time he got up in the morning. Every time he got an opportunity to settle the score, he did. When he did not he tried to create the opportunity. He stole pens, tore books apart, beat kids whom he could beat, stole lunch boxes, and stuck chewing gums to hair. If he was in debt he offered to do homework, offered his lunch, carry school bags, and gifted pencils. He did whatever possible within his limits to settle the score. An unsettled score kept his brain unsettled.
A lot of things changed when he matured into an adult. He realized that the idea of number of punches as score was amateurish and devised an objective scoring system. He thought about all the worldly transactions and gave them scores that remained in his brain. He applied the annually compounded interest formula after he read it in school. Technology came into foray when he got his first PC in engineering college. What started as a notebook became a notepad file. Then he moved to excel spreadsheets for maintaining scores and doing his calculations. When he learned some basic programming he created the balance sheet application. He added himself as a number to the balance sheet as well. Every time he smoked, he ran for three and a half kilometers. Every time he would stay awake to watch a movie or read a book, he would skip a meal. The list was long. Apart from names he added categories to the sheet. He encountered people from various professions that he didn't know personally. If a doctor was bad to him it was OK if another doctor paid for it. He wrote a set of rules over the twenty years that he had spent living his life by the balance sheet. The balance sheet was a prescription to his actions.
A small dialog opened up. In less than twenty seconds K's little secret was evident to Cheshta. The dialog presented full name, address, phone number and some other basic details of an acquaintance. Below those details was a spreadsheet like view once again. Every row had a transaction, a date and a score associated to it. There were three rows in the view. "Gives me a lift when my car was broke", "Lends me twenty one rupees when I fell short at the lunch counter", and "I buy him lunch". The numbers for the three transactions were three, one and negative four with an overall score of zero. She closed that dialog and clicked on her name in the main screen. The dialog that opened this time had thousands of rows that dated back to five years ago when they had met for the first time. Every instance when she had helped her out at work, got lunch for him, gifted him on his birthday, cooked for him or he took her out, gave her a surprise present, took her to the doctor was mentioned. The list went on and on. It was clear what he was trying to achieve even though it was impossible to comprehend how he arrived at those numbers. She closed that dialog and observed a two small links on the main screen. The first link was "Sync" which she was certain helped him synchronize his mobile phone with the balance sheet. The second link was "Rules". She had ten more minutes. She clicked.
- Everyone can be represented by an integer that is mentioned in this balance sheet.
- Anyone who doesn't exist in the balance sheet is represented by the number zero.
- Every dealing in life with a human is a transaction that would most likely result in a change in the associated number.
- Be objective while scoring. Don't over rate your score or undermine someone else's score.
- A thank you or a sorry doesn't do anyone any good. There is no score associated with them.
- A transaction is always between two people. The credit or debit is not transferable to a friend, or a family member.
- The score can only be transferred when dealing with a category and not a name on the balance sheet.
- If someone dies leaving an unsettled score then he or she is considered a defaulter and their score becomes zero.
- If after the best attempts someone with an unsettled score can't be located, then in 7 years the person can be considered to have defaulted and their score becomes zero.
- If someone goes below the score of -1001 then that person has defaulted beyond the threshold. It's within the right to take their life to set the score to zero.
- The ultimate goal of life is to strive for a perfect zero. A score of zero across all rows and thus a total balance of zero.
She shut the laptop down and closed the cabinet that locked automatically. Cheshta was bemused as well as fascinated with the entire episode. K was a machine who ran by a set of rules. She loved machines. She decided not to utter a single word related to the laptop. To keep abreast with K's balance sheet she installed a hacking program the next day that would transfer the contents of the balance sheet's database to her personal laptop every time K turned the machine on. Her affection for him only increased with time. For K however the marriage had been a huge mistake. He had become too dependent upon her for his work and he hated that fact. It was too much of a burden for him to maintain the equilibrium he sought because she would always shower him with love and affection and keep her score in high positives. "How am I going to keep her score at par"? Most of his energy was spent in maintaining the balance with her and it had become too difficult for him to focus upon other transactions. He had set himself to get to his goal before forty but it seemed too far now. "It's going to be tough to meet the goal if things don't change. I need to maintain distance". She could observe that K was trying to keep distance with her. She deduced the reason as well but she loved him and could not resist giving him attention.
Five years went by. K had just turned forty and was close to his goal. To obtain a perfect zero for the first time in his life. He had waited for this moment for all his life. During the past few years he had not only tried to cut himself from Cheshta but from the entire world keeping his transactions to bare minimum. Cheshta was in high positive but that was something he could deal with that later. He mostly stayed away from home travelling across the world settling some old scores and ensuring that there were no new credits or debits. One by one he cleared away his credits and debits. He took people, at times strangers out to lunch or dinner, he gifted cheap or expensive stuff, and he helped people in whatever shape or form he could. Two colleagues found themselves behind bars when he reported drunk driving. All kinds of things were stolen or destroyed. He got in touch with few goons and paid them monies to break skulls, legs, arms and bones. Five people were bumped off, two of them personally by him. Approximately seventeen lakh rupees were transferred to numerous bank accounts. A couple of houses were set on fire.
While he was busy running towards his goal all Cheshta could do to keep abreast with his life was to keep an eye on the balance sheet. K could never realize that his laptop was bugged and was sending constant updates to her. She kept a close eye on how K trotted towards his ultimate goal. That balance sheet was her life as well. It was a newspaper that she had to go through multiple times in a day to stay up to date. The number play amazed her. She wished she could tell him how much she liked the balance sheet hypothesis he had devised and how badly she wanted to understand how he ranked. She hated him for leaving her high and dry but couldn't stop loving him. She wanted him to get to perfect zero but whenever he was around all she did was score. She couldn't help it and hated herself for it.
K was one step away from achieving his goal. There was only one blemish. He checked Cheshta's score which with the compounded interest stood at 1003. Everything else was zero including his personal score. He knew he could spend all his life trying to get that number to a zero but it was never going to work. As soon as he was around her out of the natural affection she had for him she would do stuff that would keep her score in the highs. He had only one choice that would settle it once and for all. It was a tough decision but it had to be done to knock off the last remaining debit from the balance sheet. It was the only key to perfect zero's door. He returned home that evening ready to execute his perfect plan.
He searched around in the house looking for her but didn't find her. He took out his phone to call her up and felt a shrieking pain in his stomach. He looked down and saw a knife's edge popping out of his blooded shirt. Blood was spurting out. The knife had been drilled from his back. He fell on the floor before he could turn around. His eyes met with Cheshta who stood there with a chill in her eyes that he had never seen before. "How did you know of my plan?" he asked as he gasped for breath. There was no doubt in his mind that he would die soon.
"What plan are you talking about? I just wanted to ensure that you achieve the perfect zero. You will achieve it in two minutes". K thought for a moment and then closed his eyes. He had a smile on his face. He felt no pain. Later that evening Cheshta marked an entry in her balance sheet. She had waited for this moment for the last two years. Just like K she had achieved a perfect zero.