The 3 Mistakes of My Life
A Story about Business, Cricket and Religion

Chetan Bhagat

Rupa & Co

Acknowledgements
My readers, you that is, to whom I owe all my success and motivation. My life belongs to you now, and serving you is the most meaningful thing I can do with my life. I want to share something with you. I am very ambitious in my writing goals. However, I don't want to be India's most admired writer. I just want to be India's most loved writer. Admiration passes, love endures. To Shinie Antony, a friend who has been with me all these years and who critically reviews my work and ensures that it is fit for my reader's consumption. My family, which continues to support me in all my ventures. Specially, my brother Ketan Bhagat for his critical feedback from Sydney and cricket freak brother-in-law Anand Suryanaryan who told me more about cricket than anyone else would have. The people of Gujarat, in particular Ahmedabad, where I spent some of the most wonderful and formative years of my life. My publishers Rupa and Co, who have fulfilled all my dreams and continue to pursue the goal of making India read. My friends in the film industry, who have given me a new platform to tell my stories from, and who teach me new things everyday, in particular Atul Agnihotri, Raju Hirani, Alvira Khan, Sharman Joshi, Vipul Shah, Imtiaz Ali, Shirish Kunder, Farah Khan and Salman Khan. The Madras Players and Evam Theatre Group, who turned my stories into wonderful plays. My friends in the media, especially those who have understood my intentions for my country and are with me. My colleagues at Deutsche Bank, my friends in Mumbai and Hong Kong. God, who continues to look after me despite my flaws.

I am a good businessman because I have little emotion. Anusha is my wife. I'm an ordinary boy in Ahmedabad who read your books.40 p. My suicide is not a sentimental decision. As many around me know. This is no knee -jerk reaction. I have no regrets either. he expected me to have a nice weekend. I pointed to the monitor. I had promised to go furniture shopping with her – a promise that was made ten weekends ago. Yet. ‘One. I waited over three years. Two. Hey. I had no choice left. in Ahmedabad a young 'ordinary' boy had popped nineteen sleeping pills while typing out a mail to me. But after he refused my offer yesterday. Regards Businessman 17. I broke into a cold sweat. Five full stops already I made th re e mis tak e s . 18.com Subject: A final note Dear Chetan This email is a combined suicide note and a confession letter. Maybe I'd have wanted to talk to Vidya once more – but that doesn't seem like such a good idea right now.which is taking a sleeping pill everytime I end a sentence . I don 't wan t t o go in t o details.Prologue It is not everyday you sit in front of your computer on a Saturday morning and get an email like this: From: Ahd_businessman@gmail. Are you even aware that you have a family?' Anusha said. you wake up late. And somehow I felt I could write to you after that. But I felt like I had to tell someone. The coffee refused to go down my throat. I have let people down and have no reason to live. . watched Ish's silent face everyday. Have a nice weekend. She took my coffee mug away and jiggled the back of my chair. you look worried?’ she said.m. you plant yourself in front of the computer first thing in the morning.com Sent: 12/28/2005 11. Somewhere. You have ways to improve as an author but you do write decent books. I can't really tell anyone what I am doing to myself . 19. Sorry to bother you with this. You don't know me. ‘We need dining chairs. To: info@chetanbhagat. I kept my coffee cup down and counted.so I thought I would tell you. In case it isn't obvious enough from the authoritative tone.

I was blabbering. 10.' I said.' I said. The prof had asked a good question. This is Chetan Bhagat calling. `It is addressed to me. And who do we know in Ahmedabad?' `We met in Ahmedabad. Why the hell did I write books – to get into this? 'We can check hospitals.m. You are a writer now. I checked the time. I told him about the course he took for us. 'Oh that Chetan Bhagat. in Singapore. the daal is burning.m.' There are advantages in having a wife smarter than you. `Think.30 a.00 a.' he said. `We've got to let someone know. remember?' Anusha said. `Prof Basant. a simple one. and how w e had voted him the friendliest professor in the campus.' Prof said. 'No name. Had to be the prof. Hey wait. 'I can ask a few students. `Hello?' a sleepy voice answered.' she said. no?' 'Yes sir. 'He could be in a hospital somewhere in Ahmedabad. this boy has a Gmail account. It is a bad idea to mess with a prof early in the morning. I guess we really did need write extra chairs. Maybe he is dead. Your old student. Yes.' `How? I don't know where the hell it came from. eh?' he said as he read the mail. ‘So?’ `Call the institute. . 'Oh no. 'that is all we know.' `You sure this is real?' she said. She looked pretty shaken up too. I searched the institute numbers on the Internet and called. maybe he is on Orkut as well. Hi. I wanted help – for the boy and me. 'Ok. Bad start. He would have just checked in.' 'So why are you writing books?' 'Tough question. His parents maybe.' 'Or-what?' Life is tough when you are always talking to people smarter than you.' I said. But a name surely helps. `This is not spam.' I said. like he knew a million of them. Prof Basant or someone. sir. An operator connected me to Prof Basant's residence.' she sniffed and left the room.' I said. Why are you calling me so early on a Saturday?' I told him why and forwarded the email to him. a quiver in her voice.' I stalled. we'd been classmates at IIM-A years ago. remember?' `Who?' he said with a clear lack of curiosity in his voice. Or maybe he is at home and this was a hoax. A pointless statement.`Businessman?' she said as she finished reading the mail.' My wife pulled a stool to sit down. I thought. in India. And it is from Ahmedabad. I could never be a detective. 'that one. Flattery didn't help much either. 7.

Michel's boss was due from New York. Now you are telling me about his hobbies. For three consecutive nights last week I had worked until 1:00 a.' she said. Patel. The name only says G. 'Aha.' I said. 'I will get some students. If he is a member and we are lucky.m. I will. His name is Govind Patel. business. I had to finish an office presentation. sir. suspected of sleeping pill overdose.' 'Good. My phone rang at 1. let's find your boy. written exclusively to me. I don't bite back.m. Hoping to impress him Michel asked me to make a presentation of the group. but had gotten only halfway. Thoughts darted through my head..'You are so out of touch. Patel. Anyway. Gmail users sign up there. We will call you if we find anything. 'And how is Anusha? You guys bunked my classes for dates and flow forget me. I refused breakfast. I had just reached the Orkut site when Prof Basant exclaimed. A second-year student of mine found him.' my wife said. My boss. There is a brief profile here. I opened the office presentation.' 'What are you talking about Prof Basant? I woke up to a suicide note.. then. Interests are cricket.. though regretted it moments later – as hunger and anxiety did not go well together. We will search for a new young patient called G. sir. Chetan. Patel was dead? And why am I becoming so involved here? I took a reluctant shower.' 'She is fine. I always felt she was smarter than you. Doesn't seem like he uses Orkut much though.' ‘And?' .33 p. Besides furniture shopping. Don't take it the wrong way.' A pause. `Hello.' the prof said and hung up. but found myself unable to type a single word. Should I call some hospitals myself? What if Prof Basant dozed off again? What if he could not collect the students? What if G.' I said and stared at the computer again. ok? 'Yes. Ahmedabad Businessman. Can you help me or. mathematics and friends.' Prof Basant's voice was unmistakable. with fifty charts. 'This is a suggestion. we can check his profile. 'We have a match at Civil Hospital. Orkut is a networking site.' I heard him clicking keys and sat before my own PC. I looked at her. twenty-five years of age. 'Yes. 'Just an option. breathing properly after a long time. But do consider taking a bath. yes. I think she is overcautious sometimes.

'No. Must be in shock. he just emailed you. The more you probe. Maybe I was sounding crazy. It is a government hospital. Will ask a student to check again in the evening. 'I have to go. Should we take six or eight?' She moved towards an oak-wood set. What do you expect? Anyway. 'What about your presentation? Michel will kill you. you are a free man now. was relieved that the boy was safe. this boy had sent me his last words.' I stayed silent. However. You really don't need to get involved. Ok.' I did not meet her eye.' I said. the more the chances of the police harassing you. low marks or drugs. 'My mind keeps going back. Anusha.' . One dining table could fold four times over and become a coffee table – pretty neat. We ate lunch in the food court next to Ikea. These things happen all the time. of all the people in the world. I called the Civil Hospital. they will flush his stomach and send him home. I shouldn't get involved. 'Where? To the office. ‘Are you nuts?’ I think it is only in my generation that Indian women started slamming their husbands. everyone was right. India is a big country. Six chairs would be enough. don't get too involved. 'You will find out eventually.' I said. But yet. I protested that we rarely had so many guests at home. But won't talk. I did my shopping.' she tossed back and then selected six chairs. 'Nothing. 'I want to know what happened to the twenty-five-year-old businessman.‘And he is alive. too. 'The marginal capacity utilisation of the two chairs would be less than ten per cent. I won't worry too much now. I want to go to Ahmedabad. My mind strayed back to the businessman.' I muttered.' my wife said. I couldn't help but get involved. Even to his family. Your ID is on your book cover. 'C'mon.' 'But what is his story? What happened?' All that I don't know. Yes.' Next. the operator did not know about the case and there was no facility to transfer the line to the ward either. Listen.’ ‘What are the doctors saying?’ I said. 'You men are least helpful. I want to meet Govind Patel. She then announced the plan for the day – the dining chair hunt. Must be one of those crazy reasons of youth – rejection in love. We reached Ikea at around three o'clock and browsed through the space-saving dining sets. Let him recover.' I told my wife as I played with my lemon rice. It would begin at Ikea on Alexandra Road.

Finally. Sometimes.. I looked at the boy again. I had two instant urges – one.m. I guess. I shook hands and sat down. `So.' He sighed. Cables from the instruments disappeared into the man I had travelled thousands of miles to see – Govind Patel. today. you find me?' he said. `Destined to.' I said. I should not have written that mail. to ask him what happened and two. `Shut up. Sorry.' `You would have done the same. He had a wheatish complexion and bushy eyebrows.. `Hi. She knew I would not talk sense until I had met the boy. the writer you wrote to. She looked so sleep-deprived. A nurse came in and told his mother to go home. I entered the room the nurses had led me to. Chetan Bhagat . it is important to know what happened. He took a hard look at me and then turned his gaze sideways. What's in it for you? And why should I waste my time telling you anything?' .. `Don't look at me like that. but she refused to budge. 'Well. Ten different instruments beeped and LED lights flickered at regular intervals. finding it difficult to speak.. I stayed in the room. To me. My face was argument enough. `Why? What can you do about it? You can't change what happened. I noticed the curly hair first.' he said. You should not have done what you did. She left at 11. `You don't just listen to stories to change the past.' My wife looked at me.' `Why? What happened to you?' `It doesn't matter! We fell silent as his mother returned with tea.' She dialled the Singapore Airlines number and handed me the phone. people only do things out of self-interest.' I said. I greeted her as she went out to get tea. promising the doctor I would leave soon. if you were in my place. `I have no regrets. There is nothing heroic in this.' I said. 'you must be angry.. there is only one direct flight at 6 p. shifting in his bed. the doctor had to intervene. His thin lips had turned dry because of the medicines.m. You can check the tickets.' `I am a businessman.' ‘Forget the mail. How did . `O .' he said. unsure if he could place me. once we were alone. she could use a sleeping pill herself.. He won't get promoted unless he impresses his boss.'I know. Cowards pop pills.' he said tiredly. His mother came into the room. The eerie silence and the darkness made my footsteps sound loud.30 p. tell me your story. to slap him.

' I said. The clock showed midnight. And why would anyone care? My story is not trendy or sexy like the IITs and call centres. pitching my voice to the maximum allowed in a hospital. Everyone had behaved nicely with him today. We became quiet. There. `Because I will want to tell others. the best ones in the world. I located you and flew out within hours of your mail. that was my incentive. I considered slapping him again.' I said. ‘ I do know what a friend is.I stared at the soft-skinned face that hid such hardness inside. I stood up and turned away from him. but found it difficult to be patient. He sat there stunned. `I think they will care. I sat down next to him. The heater and our conversation kept the room warm.' I tried. this arrogance is part of your business? Can't you talk to me like a friend? Do you even know what a friend is?' A nurse came peeking into the room on hearing my loud voice. 'You chose to send your last mail to me.' `No one gives a fuck about me. `Listen. You still question if I care? And now this cocky attitude. ‘I know what a friend is. Because I had two.' .' I said. That does not seem right.' he said at last. 'a young person tried to kill himself.' He removed the quilt covering his chest. That means at a certain level you trusted me.

but Ishaan signalled me to leave it alone. Of course. Omi nodded. That is why I moved. they panic. we didn't meet today to see this match.One India vs South Africa 4th ODI. We were not going to indulge until the fate of the match was decided. Omi and I.25 runs required per over. with seven wickets in hand. India's score a ball ago was 256-2 after forty-five overs. 'Anyway. so reason number two did not really hold much weight. not able to resist doing a mathematical calculation. because I had my correspondence exams in two days. I reached for my tea cup. Omi and I kept our tea cups aside and looked suitably mournful. Jadeja came to the crease and added six more runs. 'It is 5. and two. chiding him for his shallow sensory pleasure in a moment of national grief. I had wasted the whole day watching the match on TV instead. Vadodra 17 March 2000 Over 45 `Why the fuck did you have to move?' Ishaan's scream drowned out the stadium din on the TV. We have to decide what Mr Ishaan is doing about his future. Ishaan was pissed with us anyway. now at this stage. there is so much maths in it. We were in Ishaan's house — Ishaan. with eight wickets to spare and Tendulkar on the crease. as he normally does to whatever Ishaan has to say about cricket. right?' I said. That is one reason I like cricket. India 262/3. 'The khakra's crispy. `Huh?' I said. because we didn't have money.' `Tendulkar's gone. The guy did his job. But we could not go . don't you dare move now. Ishaan glared at Omi. just two hours away from Ahmedabad. Ishaan's mom had brought in tea and khakra for us. His dad had already sarcastically commented. Twenty-seven runs in five overs.' Ishaan said. I needed to sit them down to talk about our lives. Tendulkar goes. 'You don't know this team. 'Cut a cake today to celebrate one year of your uselessness. Twenty-one more runs to win in four overs. And that explained the frowns on Ishaan's forehead. Ishaan had always avoided this topic ever since he ran away from NDA a year ago. End of forty-six overs. Over 46 'He made 122. The crowd clapped as Tendulkar made his exit.' However. A cakewalk. 'It is more comfortable to snack on the sofa. I had shifted up to a sofa from the floor. It isn't about the average.' Omi said. Just a few final closing shots left.' I looked at the TV. . Of course. against cricket. I hope you realise. Nobody moves for the next five overs. The odds were still in India's favour. We were chasing 283 to win. but Tendulkar was out. Why are you getting so worked up?' I asked during a commercial break.' I said. Fuck. Omi.one. The match was in Vadodra. today I had a plan. It is like the queen bee is dead. and the hive loses order. life is second priority.

He proceeded to strike the headlight with his bat. Let's go to Gopi. The Esteem halted in front of Ish.' Ish said. We ran out the house. The horn of a car broke our conversation. What would he tell his daddy about his broken car and face? Ish's dad heard the commotion and came out of the house. anything.' Ish said. 'Yes. 'What's your problem.' Ish said.' Ish's dad said. blood spurting out of his nose. We don't have a lot of choice. He used to be in coaching classes with her. Ish went to the driver. Ish grabbed the boy's head from behind and smashed his face into the bonnet.' the boy said.' Ish said and unhooked his bat stuck in the windscreen.' Ish said as he saw India hit a four. stop it! Look. . do we?' 'All of us? Me. 'What's up?' 'Bloody son of a rich dad. 'Gopi? Who's paying?' I was interrupted as the match began. beep. 'I said leave him. He kicked the boy's face with his knee and released him. He stepped outside and came to the front. Ish stood in front of the car and asked the boy to stop. you play a critical role Omi. Beep. looking out the window. staring avidly at a pimple cream commercial. beep. The silver Esteem circled the pol and came back for another round of serenading. 'Later when Ishaan? I have an idea that works for all of us. Omi picked up the bat and smashed the windscreen. The boy shivered in pain and fear. an adolescent. However. 'What the hell! I am going to teach this bastard a lesson. over dinner. 'Excuse me.' Ish said. Comes and circles around our house everyday' 'Why?' I said. 'You tell me what's up? You like pressing horns?' Ish said. the car came near the house again. I don't want to miss this match. The glass broke into a million pieces. 'And what do you think you are doing?' Ish's dad asked him. your headlight is hanging out. Ish held the boy in an elbow lock. The boy kneeled on the floor and sucked in air. Ok. 'Teaching him a lesson. 'Leave him. The last kick from Ish had smeared the blood from his nose across his face. She complained about him there too. 'Damn. But later when Ish? When?' 'Oh. the match is starting. beep. 'what's going on here?' 'He has been troubling Vidya since last week. too?' Omi quizzed. this time we needed Omi. Ish gripped him tighter. 'For Vidya.' Ishaan said.' Ish's dad shouted. already excited. Ish picked up his bat. Beep. The glass broke and the bulb hung out. The boy was struggling to breathe. Idiots like him love to be part of something. beep.'Later. A car zoomed outside the pol. People on the street gathered around as there is nothing quite as entertaining as a street fight.' 'Really?' the boy said and shut off the ignition. Ish grabbed his collar and gave six non-stop slaps across his face.

' Ish's dad said to the beeping driver. what's another day?' Ish's father said and the neighbours half-nodded their heads in sympathy. but it is the only chip on my shoulder. who folded his hands. one that should have stopped by thirteen. But still. Dancing after an Indian victory was a ritual we had started when we were eleven. Ishaan's dad works in the telephone exchange. Seeing that no one cared about his apology. even though Ishaan and Omi aren't particularly wealthy. and the little bit of money I make from tuitions helps us get by.' Omi repeated what he read on the TV screen. Ok. 'You go now. He wouldn't have much of a career otherwise. Everything in my world fell between this distance. jigging like juveniles. I didn't know the reason. they are a lot better off than me and my mom. the salary is modest. someone had to.' I love idiots.'Really. My mother made it better than Ishaan's mom.' One sidelong glance at his dad and Ish walked back home. while some say he became stupid after a cork ball hit him on the head in Class VI. I am easily the poorest of the three (though I will be the richest one day). India won and Ish didn't get that upset. after repeating the maths compartment exam twice. We missed the final five overs of the match. Ishaan is not an idiot. 'Match. The narrow lanes of the old city were bustling with the evening crowd. Of course. so we won. And that does not pay well either. especially maths. For instance. Ran away from the army of his own country and then wants to teach lessons to others! He and his loafer friends hanging around the house all day long. and while they have lots of phones in the house. Ish turned away. 'Where the hell are you going now?' Ish's dad said.did it really need jumping around?  I walked back home. it would have been too much for him to express such original insight. My house and Ishaan's were only half a kilometre apart. I have this chip on my shoulder. I passed by the Nana Park. It does sound a bit conceited. there was a pretty good probability . 'Gopi on me tonight. Some say Omi was born stupid. when will you learn your lessons?' Ish's dad said to him. Actually. Hence. but I did know that maybe the best idea for him would be to become a priest. yes. Ish's dad turned to his neighbours. so my plan was the best one. and I am good at it. At least not as much as Omi. yes. My mom runs a small Gujarati snacks business. 'When you've wasted your entire life. 'We won. We were professionals after all. which actually belongs to Omi's mom's family for generations. extra packed with kids playing . Luckily. Why? You want to curse me some more?' Ish said. given that he barely scraped through Class XII. ok?' I said as Ishaan and Omi were still dancing. here we were at twenty-one. we won the series 3-1. In mathematical terms. 'For one whole year he's been sitting at home. he trudged back to his car. But he didn't want to be a priest. Omi's dad is the priest of the Swamibhakti temple. but that's about it. 'I'll go home to change and then we will go to Gopi.' Ishaan jumped. It is just that both of them suck at studies. However. I ate the khakra. 'Yes.

I know Belrampur is not Bandra. I guess they do acknowledge that at one level the India of the big cities is fake. There are things about my small town neighbourhood that I want to change. I know it is not one of those hip cities like Delhi. But I guess if you have to emphasise the importance of something. but now we prefer the abandoned bank branch compound near my home. I am from the old city of Amdavad and proud of it. Like the theory about Omi becoming stupid because a cricket ball hit him. while the old city finds it difficult to get rubbish cleared on time. Ahmedabad is my city. The new city across the other side of the Sabarmati river has gleaming glass and steel buildings. I don't see anything wrong with that. Ahmedabad is the sixth largest city in India. Yes. I want to change another thing. We still come here sometimes. For one. I know people in these cities think of Ahmedabad as a small town. only I studied while Ish and Omi ran to the park at every opportunity. Or even if you do. Food is a passion here. turning in the pol towards Omi's temple. over fifteen years ago. the whole old city could be a lot cleaner. Nana Park is where I had first met Ishaan and Omi. I believed him. A scent of fried coriander and garlic filled the narrow room. Like most neighbourhood kids. As I entered the by lane. I stepped out of Qazi and continued my way home. A tennis ball landed at my feet. I played here almost every day of my school life. as he would not have survived in the neighbourhood if he served beef.cricket as India had won the match. I feel the same about Ahmedabad. I want to stop the gossip theories people come up with about other people. with a population of over five million. we called it Omi's temple because he lived there. People here get drunk on food. a bigger feast than usual as India had won the match. There was no dramatic moment that marked the start of our friendship. and the food was fantastic there as well. I could tell you that Ahmedabad has better multiplexes than Delhi or nicer roads than Bombay or better restaurants than Bangalore . We don't have as many fashion shows and we still like our women to wear clothes. you consider it the best city in the world. but every pol in Belrampur talks . But we had promised Gopi to Omi. though that is not really the case. Of course. Of course. you won't give a damn. There is no basis for it. especially as Gujarat is a dry state. The owner assured us 'small mutton'. Maybe we sized each other up as the only six-year-olds in the ground and started playing together.but you will not believe me. A sweaty twelve-year-old boy came running to me. Bombay or Bangalore. Yes. but the official name was the Swamibhakti temple. of course) for the cheap food and extraordinary mutton. Ishaan and I came here sometimes (without telling Omi. Three bicycles tried to overtake each other in the narrow by lane. It is strange. it is way behind the rest of Ahmedabad. then it probably isn't as important in the first place. hundred metres down Nana Park. but why should I defend being called a small-town-person as if it is a bad thing? A funny thing about small towns is that people say it is the real India. implying goat and not beef. I picked up the ball for him. we went to the Belrampur Municipal School. two people fought over garbage disposal around the crammed pol. I had to step inside Qazi restaurant to let them pass. but if you have had happy times in a city for a long time. In some ways. The cook prepared dinner. I wanted to eat here instead of Gopi.

Dad's departure was followed by months of crying with every lady in every pol coming down to sympathise with her. Still. her maroon saree draped along her head and hands folded. It wasn't until I turned fifteen and understood how the world worked that I could coax her into opening the snacks business. we went to a secondhand sofa. Even though I was an agnostic. I studied as much as I could. I saw Omi's dad from a distance. I was never good with emotional stuff.. Of course. there was something amazing about his face . Ish cannot handle unquestioned authority. we graduated to cooler.the first mistake a small business can make. Omi's maternal uncle. For me. his eyes closed as he chanted the mantras. He was dressed in a white dhoti and saffron scarf. Dad left mom and me over ten years ago. For once. it was a poor neighbourhood. I love logic and those subjects have no place for emotion. the rest of it was that all her jewellery was officially sold by then. Of course. It would not be the first time though. Emotional people make terrible businessmen. Still. Life became good. I think human beings waste too much time on emotions. for we found out he had a second wife across town. The prime example is my mother. so people could not pay much. I love maths. I know for a fact that it is not true. His eyes. She spent another year consulting astrologers as to which planet caused dad to move out. The loud rhythmic chime of the bell interrupted my thoughts. Thereafter. were transfixed in genuine admiration for the idols of Krishna and Radha. the daily aarti time. my coaxing was part of it. Her snacks were great. too. I reached Omi's temple. The news of my score spread across pols.m.about it. Next to her was Bittoo Mama. another thousand bucks a month was a lifestyle changing event for us. and emphasis on studies was low with more teachers bunking classes than students. The home spending money was often mixed with the business money. From chairs. and when would that position change.tuitions. what I want to stop the most . Omi's mother was beside him. Meanwhile. Omi would get into trouble for reaching the aarti late. I checked my watch. Along with khaman and khakra. trigonometry and algebra became sources of income in the Patel household. I was the only maths tutor in Belrampur.m. As far as I can remember. she would keep no accounts. . and bad maths scores had reached epidemic proportions. Our school was not Oxford. She would sell on credit and buy on cash . and we had a new source of income .the weirdest theory that I became emotionless the day dad left us. Or the theory that Ish was thrown out of NDA and did not run away. I topped maths every single year. it was 6 p. His huge biceps seemed even larger with his folded hands. the gossip vine helped. he could not stand some Major ordering him around for the next two decades of his life. No wonder he was among the most liked people in the community. it was no big deal. People thought I was gifted when I hit a hundred in maths in class X. a string of grandaunts came to live with her as she could not bring herself to stay alone. From fan. and we frequently had months where the choice was to buy either rice for our consumption or black pepper for the papads. So he paid the penalty. cited personal reasons like ailing parents or something and ran right back to Belrampur.it had genuine feeling for the God he prayed to. And of course. Next. but she was no businessman. and even though he was really excited about the army (which was his only option). as matches in Nana Park were at a crucial stage around 6 p.

walking in. not earning it under some boss or getting a handout. and even though Ish was top class in Belrampur. She had just finished loading a hired auto with fresh dhokla for a marriage party. That was why I dreamt my biggest dream . Without dad around.' I said. put it back in the business. I removed my shoes to get ready for a shower. My mother knew it was futile arguing with me. we won.' I said. With money came not only things like coolers and sofas but also the most important stuff . I am going out with Ish and Omi to Gopi. Ish could not make his dream of being in the Indian cricket team real. Shopkeepers no longer avoided us.cooking. it was amazing how much say I had in the house.' mom vowed. I could decide my fate. how many students to teach. he was no Tendulkar. we love business. My love for business began when I first started tuitions. to crores and then to hundreds of crores. Don't buy useless things. She took out a dhokla piece from the auto for me.snucking out something from a customer order. And Ambadadis love it more than anything else. It was amazing to see money build up. But I would build it slowly and make my dream come true. What do you get at Gopi that I can't give you at home?' Peace and quiet. relatives reinvited us to weddings and our landlord's visit did not throw us into turmoil. She stood outside the house. In Ahmedabad.to be a big businessman one day.' . Gujarat is the only state in India where people tend to respect you more if you have a business than if you are in service. I can always see the match in colour in Ishaan's house. but that was a stupid dream to begin with. my mother could delegate routine tasks like delivery and focus on her core competence . The homes in our pol required light even during daytime. And I only hoped Ish and Omi would listen to my proposition as well. And I want to talk to them about my new business. service is for the weak. If you make extra money. Finally. 'you need a bigger grinder urgently. 'How was the match?' mom said as I reached home. I wanted to say.' She left the room. The only hitch was my lack of capital. 'No. "Want to eat anything?' my mother voiced her most quoted line from the kitchen. Sure.I was making money. to lakhs. I came out of the shower and dressed again. Bad business . how many hours per class . Nail-biting finish. My dream was more realistic. 'No need. I will get you a colour TV. 'If I have a good Diwali season. 'No.it was my decision. There is something about Gujaratis. And then there was the thrill .' 'Gopi? Why? I make the same things. 'It's Ish's treat. the small one is all wobbly' 'I will buy the TV if only the business makes extra money.' she said.respect. The rest of the country dreams about a cushy job that gives a steady salary and provides stability. From a turnover of thousands. I switched on the tubelight inside. I would start slow and then grow my business. 'Great match. To be in the top eleven of a country of a billion people was in many ways an impossible dream.

' my mother came out of the kitchen.' My mother pulled my cheeks. And stop calling me Mr Accounts. I hate a display of emotion more than emotion itself. Chunks of dough stuck to my face.'So you are not repeating the engineering entrance. 'Be whatever. 'I'll pay for the tea. Not that I felt any emotion. 'I am not paying for tea. Maths honours was a stupid course to take from an economic point of view. One of them was me not making it to a good engineering college. One hour at Bittoo Mama's home gym. Omi?' Omi laughed. There is no way Gopi could make money off him. I have already done two years of college. 'You can take a year to prepare. My heart is in business. 'Relax. We'll talk over tea.' Ish told Omi. People argued less on a full stomach. 'Ninth. Guys.' 'Yes. it just did not seem like the right trade. 'Aamras. friends. 'It is ok.' Ish said. 'I don't want to be an engineer.' Ish said as he scooped up the last spoon of aamras. 'Whatever. you really need to listen today.' I ordered tea while the waiter cleared our plates. Ish and I nodded for the same. but who gives a job to a maths graduate?' It was true. You do this everyday like me and you can hog without worry. Who cares? It is a buffet. 'Two hundred push-ups. mom. 'I better go.' My mother felt guilty about a million things. Can you pass the ghee please?' 'All that food. I am serious. what's up? I'm listening. we have money now.' I said. It has to be bad for you. I needed a degree and I can get it without studying much. 'So. I didn't make it to IIT or any of the top institutes. Right.' Omi said.' I said. Mr Accounts can't even take a joke. mom. I hated it. continue tuitions and think about business.' Omi said to the waiter.' She hugged me. Plus.' I said. I can't change that.'  That is your tenth chapatti. I could do maths honours right here in Amdavad University. Tuitions and supporting my mom's business meant I could study less for the entrance exams.' Ishaan protested. I did make it to a far-flung college in Kutch.' People like Omi are no-profit customers. and ras malai.' I said. cricket at Nana Park and mom for that. What do you plan to do with your life? We are not kids anymore. man. The Kutch college did not even guarantee a job. but it wasn't worth it to leave my tuition income. . Stop taking tuitions for a while. 'Eat your food first. You are always my son first. She raised dough-covered hands. 'Ten rounds of Nana Park. My treat is limited to a thali. I was only joking. One more and I will be a graduate. Thanks. 'I am a businessman. Ish.

' 'A cricket shop in a temple complex?' Ish questioned. nice to get your attention. 'Not again. I deliberately left for the rest room. 'What?' both of them said in unison.' Omi said.' Ish waved a hand. do you think you can arrange that? Without that our plan is«a nonstarter. You can be a priest. Omi?' 'Car accessories.' 'You mean the Kuber sweet shop that just closed? The temple trust will rent it out soon. 'Yes.' I said. And the other one . 'I know. so I need Omi's help. Ish.' I said. when he had no life ahead.'Unfortunately. twice.' I began. maybe do an NIIT computer course first. The champion batsman of Belrampur would become an insurance salesman. 'It will be a small retail store. Or should I take an insurance job? What do you think?' I saw Ish's face. Next to the flower and puja shops.' 'What?' Ish said. 'There you go. 'Wait. I was sick of parenting them. but Mama looks after the shops. Now can I talk?' 'Sure. but what about us?' I don't want to be a priest. Money for a shop deposit is a problem. And it is part of the temple land. And normally they let it out to something related to temple activities.' Ish's silence meant he was listening to me. 'I can't do that man.' I said and paused for breath. He said there is big money in that. then. What is that anyway?' Ish shrugged.' Ish said and sighed. 'And you got a compartment in Class XII. 'I want to start a business. 'Ok. Will we pay rent?' . And the crazy one after that. No thanks. he wanted to insure other people's lives. After all he runs the temple trust. we will open the shop right inside the Swami temple complex. I will apply for jobs. Omi.' 'He does. we will focus on that. Omi. 'What is a cricket shop?' 'A sports store really. What was it the last time? A fruit dealership? Ugh! I can't be weighing watermelons all day. hoping I'd come up with a great option from Santa's goodie bag. He tried to smile. but I saw the pain. 'What? Put seat covers all day. why do you oppose me even before I start? This time I have something that will interest you. Omi looked at me. But you have to convince your dad.' Omi said listlessly. 'Then.' Omi said as he slurped his dessert. Belrampur kids had grown up applauding his boundaries at Nana Park. 'Cricket. 'So what the fuck do you want to do? Beg people to buy insurance? Or sell credit cards at street corners? You. But now. 'We are going to open a cricket shop.' Ish said. But since cricket is the most popular game in Belrampur.' 'Mine?' Omi said.stock broker. 'But how?' Omi interrogated when I returned. are a military school dropout. 1 noticed an empty shop there.

You think I will let you handle cash? So. What choice do they have anyway?' 'Where will we get what we sell?' Ish said. Ellis Bridge is the nearest. I can't do it without partners.' Omi said. We need a two-month waiver. 'Not at first but the shop is outside the temple.' Omi smiled. 'See. 'Good question. The waiter had cleared our tea and presented the bill. If we have the space. 'I'm in. As word spreads. 'Here you go Mr Accounts. but a cricket shop in a temple complex? Who will buy? Seventy-year-old aunties who come for kirtan will want willow bats?' Ish scoffed. I'll focus on the cricket.is there any sports shop in Belrampur?' 'Not really.' 'And that is where Ish comes in. By Gopi protocol. Omi hi-fived me and Ish joined in. 'How about Team India Cricket Shop?' Ish suggested. we are good to go without cash.' Ish said. Yes. Slowly.' I said as the auto stopped near my pol in Belrampur.' 'I won't handle money. his mind was working. the temple is a family place. I really want to run a business. Kids are among the most bored people in temples. man. 'Guys. 'What are we going to call it?' Omi said in the auto.' I sighed.' I said.'Yes. it will. we had to be out of the restaurant in two minutes. we sell the stock at a loss and I'll cover the rest through my tuition savings. right?' Ish said. guys. 'There's a sports equipment supplier in Vastrapur who will give us a month's credit. But it will work. please.' I appealed to Ish. I smiled. It's cricket.' Ish said.' 'I'll have to go through mom. But think . he was coming around.' Omi said. And you can give playing tips to every kid who comes to buy from us. that's number one. 'Sorry to ask again. 'Ask Ish. our reputation will build. 'That is why so many balloon wallahs hover outside. 'I don't have to be a priest and I get to work from home. are we partners?' I stretched out my liand. Good. 'Great name. And we cannot pay the deposit. If Ish named it. I'm so in.' 'But what about Christian or Muslim kids? They won't come. 'Of course.' I said and watched Ish smile for the first time that evening. I need you for this. Where are they going to hang out?' 'It is true. they will come. You don't even get leather balls. People know you were a good player. 'But not immediately. A cricket shop by a temple does sound strange. .' Both of them remained silent.' Ish said and passed his share. 'Worst case.' 'But what if it doesn't run?' Ish asked with scepticism. Number two. If you put your heart into it. 'Two rupees fifty paise each. he would feel more connected to the project.

We had painted it blue . The boy looked at tennis balls and bounced a few of them.' I told my business partners.' she pulled his elbow and took him out. They still visualised Ish as an army officer. 'How much for the balls?' The boy moved to local balls. 'Where is mummy?' 'There. The excited painter from Shahpur had thrown in the faces of Tendulkar and Ganguly for free. 'Mummy. 'Move the counter in. He nodded. My mother and Omi's family were visibly happy while Ish's parents were silent. Omi's forehead broke into sweat as he lifted the bulky counter-top yet again to move it back an inch. Satellite was an upmarket neighbourhood on the other side of the Sabarmati river. I shook my head.' the elder boy said. 'Satellite. They. I stepped out of the shop and crossed the road for the tenth time to look at the board. but it all added to the charm. 'Eight bucks for Arrow.' Omi's mother said before she left. Ganguly had a squint and Tendulkar's lips looked bee-stung. we will sell.Two The Team India Cricket Shop opened with the smashing of a coconut on the morning of 29 April 2000. 'What are you doing in the old city?' Ish said. kids played cricket with them. 'How much for tennis balls?' one boy said. 'There you are Sonu. It was six feet wide and two feet tall. The boys moved to the local basket. we had the letters 'Team India Cricket Shop' in the colours of the Indian flag. not a shopkeeper in Belrampur. 'Don't worry. the shutter won't close. it was just us in our twenty-feet-by-ten-feet shop. Clearly this was a pricesensitive customer.the colour of the Indian team. Our first customer came at 12 noon. Soon. 'It's beautiful. . Two young brothers wearing branded clothes came to the shop. 'So where do you play cricket?' Ish asked them.' Ish screamed at Omi. His mother came running into our shop.' he said. Pushy meant desperate. We made our first sale soon after. In the centre. The three of us sprung into action.' Omi said as he joined me in looking at the board. 'Should I ask him what he wants?' Omi whispered to me. six bucks for the local basket there.' he pointed in the general direction of the other temple shops.' Ish said. ball' was all he could say about his potential purchase. 'You have money?' 'Mummy has. You want one?' I said. He bounced five different ones on the ground. 'Eight bucks. stupid boy. An under-ten boy strolled to the front of our store as his mother bought puja flowers. While no one played tennis in Belrampur. 'May Laxmi shower all blessings on you hardworking boys. All our immediate families had come. I picked up the balls he had bounced and placed them in the basket. started the ball-bouncing routine again as my heart wept.

We source from Kashmiri suppliers. I had bought them directly from a Kashmiri supplier in Law Garden. too. A grown-up man asking an eleven-year-old if he was a bowler or batsman was a huge honour. Ish turned to Chinu. I picked the right size for the boy. why buy something from this temple shop. 'And now. 'What are you. but the best we could hope to sell here. 'You already have a bat. Ish turned to me and signalled silence.' 'My birthday present. 'Huh?' Harsh said. I went to the stack of willow bats. 'Er. Chinu?' 'All-rounder. She took out a twenty-rupee note and asked me to give two. Harsh took a stance on the empty space in front of the shop. 'You like shots?' Ish asked. and told him to balance the weight evenly on the legs. 'Defensive or attack?' Ish asked as if he was interviewing Tendulkar on ESPN. Size six and two hundred bucks. 'How much is this?' she said. Ish moved over and gently straightened Harsh's back.' 'It is excellent quality.' Harsh cajoled. Notice Tendulkar.' Harsh said. You bowler or batsman?' Ish said. It is Harsh bhaiya's birthday. 'Aunty' eyed us with suspicion. 'Show me your stance. every chance of pockets being loaded. We will go to the Navrangpura market. he keeps one leg fixed. 'Two hundred rupees. 'Mummy. too. 'First me. Not top of the line.' Chinu said.'We came to the temple. mummy. he leaned his entire weight on the bat while standing. your anchor. 'Happy birthday.' 'This one is better for my stance. I am more of a batsman. Take my word.' Their parents finally found our shop. . 'Give me some tips. 'You want to see bats?' I asked from the cash counter. It was time to go to the temple. I want the ball. 'Six rupees. mummy. That is your support. Show me your bowling grip. Which kid didn't? Harsh nodded. of course. 'How much?' his mother said.' I said. 'I want the bat.' the younger boy said. It meant he was now old enough to be specialised. 'Too expensive. mummy. He turned to nie and asked for a bat. And it was a birthday.' An awestruck Harsh air-struck a few strokes. we are not getting a bat. The temple was ancient and drew in people from the new city.' the younger one whined.' Harsh said.' Ish said. even though he may not have thought about it. Harsh. whenever you attack. No Harsh.' Harsh took a stance again. please. He had improved with the lesson but his mother ignored him. Old city doesn't have good quality.' Harsh said. aunty. The boys shook their heads.' Ish said. He moved his wrist upwards. Harsh looked up at Ishaan. I realised we had struck real-estate gold. Please. 'Great. Chinu.' Ish said.' Chinu said promptly. Like every kid. use the front leg to move forward but do not forget the back leg. 'Yes but beta.

We are forty-four bucks in profit. so forty bucks profit. Done. 'I'll come to your shop on my happy birthday. The first three stacks were fifteen hundred rupees each . The bat cost us a hundred and sixty. We moved the bats and the ball baskets inside and closed shop at 7. The tug connected to aunty's purse. The remaining four thousand was to be retained in the business.. which opened and brought out two hundred-rupee notes. man.' I placed my empty plate back a the stall. mummy. 'What?' .' Ish said with as much heart as Omi's dad said his prayers.' Ish waved to Harsh. 'Yes! You are amazing. four and five hundred. At four bucks a plate.' Three Months Later 'Eight thousand three. If he practices. this isn't real profit. he will be good. if only to meet Ish and ge tips on cricket. not bad at all. 'Don't be depressing.' I said as I emptied the cashier's box.'I was the team captain for all municipal schools in the area.' Harsh said and tugged at her saree. 'Do I get to take some money home? I really want to give mom my first salary. I exclaimed mentally. "Wait. 'The kid is a quick learner.' Chinu said. 'So we get our share now?' Omi said excitedly. I could expense it to the business. And . I didn't mind as it helped us pass the time. Of course. I divided the money into four stacks.' I said.the money each of us could take home. Some came even without money. we need to keep a war chest in case we want to renovate the store. I have expansion plans. I have personally chosen the bats. 'Please. This is contribution.' I said and hi-fived everyone. after the puja. his mother will stuff him with studies the moment he reaches Class X. The dull aspect of opening a shop is boredom. 'This is our profit for the first three months after paying rent. 'What do you mean retained? What do we need to retain it for?' Ish questioned even as Omi happily counted his notes. 'We made forty bucks on the bat and four on the two balls.00 p.' I said.' I was super-pleased. To celebrate our opening we chose the chana-bhatura stall.' We sold some candy and two more balls in the next two hours.m. champ.. Don't you want a better glass countertop? Or nice lighting?' Ish shook his head. 'Ish.' Omi said as he tucked in half a chili with his hot bhatura.' Ish said. 'Goodbye. we are in business. Our total profit for the day was fifty bucks. aunty. The summer vacations had started and India had won the one-day series with South Africa.. The only stance he will take is to sit on a desk with his books. Not bad. We earn th< rent first and then we will see. 'Congrats guys. Ish. We opened from nine to seven. Our shop had opened at an opportune< time. We had closed the deal of the day. sir. Kids with lots of time and patriotism flocked to Team India Cricket Shop the day they received their pocket money. and even with twenty customers a day it meant only around two customers an hour. 'Sure we do.

'Shah Electronics will give us on instalment if we pay a down-payment of four thousand.' Ish said. What we sell is being used by kids in Nana Park. but we need to increase the revenue. I shook my head and outlined my strategy for increasing revenues.' Ish and I had argued about this before. a proper shop. hut we can't grow unless we move to a new city location. Omi tossed in his money as well. Ish. I saw an easy opportunity.' 'I said this is a sports store. Target for next quarter is twenty thousand bucks.' 'Here?' 'Yes. no?' Ish said.. Our shop has been doing good business. What about you?' Ish said. 'I am going to start offering maths tuitions again.' 'I don't want this short-sighted mentality. I have to watch matches.' 'I like it here. a couple here. But we buy a TV. 'This is our neighbourhood. I don't want kids to think about studies when they come here. I want to get to fifty thousand a quarter.' 'No way. If you don't grow in business. 'I agree to the notebooks. . Omi.' Omi said. Just the shop is so boring. Why not do cricket coaching for a fee?' 'Me? I am not that good man. Young people like to shop in swanky malls. And where? In the temple?' 'No. Three thousand a month is nothing.' 'It is ok.' Omi said. I had to surrender to fools.' Omi and Ish looked at me like I was the hungriest shark in the world. here is a deal. but it is a dead asset. We have a long way to go. If you book early.' 'Why? Aren't we making enough?' Omi said. and by next year have one more store. I knew why Ish grumbled. It doesn't earn.' He threw his share of cash at me. 'We can never make enough.' 'Renting? But we already have a shop.' They ignored me as they discussed TV brands.' Ish said. 'It is Govind's bullshit. 'What?' 'Kids love your cricket tips. 'No Ish. And Ish doesn't let me keep notebooks and pencils.' 'Another shop? What? We will not be working together?' Omi said. you can get a discount on renting a shop. only notebooks.'There is a new shopping mall under construction at Navrangpura char rasta. That is the future. I am making sure we have a solid healthy business. 'Will you do coaching classes?' I asked Ish. We have only started and he already aspires to be Ambani. I will open a store in a mall. 'Ok. listening to matches on radio during shop hours was no fun. 'Yes. not textbooks mind you. 'C'mon guys. you can give fitness training to the students. the TV belongs to the business. Can't we just buy a TV?' Ish said. we will do it in the abandoned SBI compound.. He was excited about making kids do push-ups. As usual.' 'Well. but Ish protested every time. We keep the four thousand for business. or in the SBI compound itself while you guys give cricket coaching. 'Ok.' 'So more work for us. I don't care. He wanted to buy a TV for the shop. here take my fifteen hundred. you stagnate. puzzled and irritated at the same time.

Cricket Coaching and Maths Tuitions available'. it also said 'Stationery. Under the 'Team India Cricket Shop'. but I had diversified my product offering. I had to admit. I changed the board on the shop. I tossed in my fifteen hundred. it made the day go by much quicker. I may not have diversified geographically. we would all sit there until a customer arrived. We set it permanently at the sports channel. Omi brought mats and cushions and spread them in front of the TV.'Yeah. and we bought a TV the same day. On match days. . too. at least I will get to hit the pitch.' Ish said.

ruffling the boy's hair. 'You want to sign up for cricket tuitions. Shuttle cocks needed to be replaced. Thirteen-year-old Tapan was one of the best bowlers of his age in the Belrampur Municipal School. He wouldn't come here.' Ish insisted. Just joined our school. Of course. this is the third ball in two weeks. Ish will teach you. he played at the district level. 'Should we do greeting cards?' I wondered as I opened a sample packet left by a supplier.Three Apart from cricket. It won't be much of a game otherwise.chart paper. 'It is ok.' Ish said. someone buying a ball would buy a notebook. but every kid needed notebooks. No sports coaching. We should always win. 'Well. given the higher demand and my track record. right?' Tapan said. maps of India. rackets needed rewiring and badminton rackets didn't last as long as cricket bats. It is only after you open a shop that you realise the length and breadth of the Indian student industry. gum bottles. Ish nodded. 'This is in-swinger. You should come see him. . In fact. 'You see this. Ball keeps getting lost with his shots. batsman. 'Ali? New student? Haven't seen him here. have a good game. She said I can only take tuitions for studies. and this is off-swinger.' Ish said. Soon. badminton was the other popular game in Belrampur. pens and pencils. We kept the cricket coaching and tuitions at the same price -250 rupees a month. We had few Muslim customers. Only some kids played sports. School stationery became the other hit item in the following weeks.' I said and closed the cash box. the girls only played badminton.' I could not help pitching our other service. That is why India doesn't win every match. water bottles and tiffin boxes. They kept stuff on credit and returnable basis . Why did he move to our school?' Tapan grumbled as he rubbed the ball on his shorts. 'It is that nightmare Ali. Ish gripped the cricket ball and showed him the wrist movement. and parents never said no to that. However. By the way. 'Mummy will not allow. Ish used the compound grounds for the two students who signed up for cricket tuitions. suppliers came to us themselves. Ish has this ridiculous theory that India should win every match. people in Belrampur did not give each other greeting cards. Customers for maths tuitions were easier to get. We offered a total solution. we still spent most of our time in the shop.' Tapan said. cards had solid margins. What's up Tapan?' Ish asked a regular customer. Most of them used other Hindu boys to make their purchases. All good players visited our store and Ish knew them personally. They were the best players in the Belrampur Municipal School and had fought with their parents to let them try coaching for three months. Yes. I taught at the SBI compound building in the mornings.' Ish said after Tapan left. 'Yes. Many times. 'Our country has a billion people. It was an excellent turnover business. or the other way round. At five-rupee retail price and two-rupee cost price. we don't have to.

'Where were you. 'Where is my son Omi?' Bittoo Mama entered our shop at (losing time and proceeded to hug his nephew. 'Well. What an experience! Here. c'mon this is outside the temple. But if it is sports coaching. And then the spark will begin to die. Omi and Ish had gripped me tight from both sides until I relented. I have mine.' 'Whatever.' 'That is not true. They are they only people Ij see with passion. He held a box of sweets in a red velvet cloth.' I shrugged. we have them covered. they dance. Look at them. Fresh from Baroda. He had a red tikka in the middle of his forehead.' Omi lied point-blank.. Ish wore his old sneakers. have some besan ladoos. you saw that kid.' 'Other shopkeepers are useless baniyas so you will also become like them? Do you do puja every morning before you open?' 'Yes. At least remove your shoes. I ordered a Frooti. light a lamp.' Bittoo Mama said. Parents will spend thousands teaching kids useless trigonometry and calculus they will never use in real life.'Statistically impossible.' . they will turn into depressed adults. with Parekh-ji. Omi? Wearing shoes?' Bittoo Mama's eyes were lined with kohl. 'Your shop is in a temple. ok. 'Of course. Their bats will be replaced with physics books.' Mama said. Australia should be a rounding error. Ish pulled out stools and we sat outside. I like being with them. Mama?' Omi said. Or the way they want to learn to bowl better. None of the other shopkeepers wear. When India wins.' 'It is not about the business Govind. he had never visited us.' I laughed. I wore fake Reebok slippers.' 'Why? Australia has twenty million people. 'I toured all over Gujarat. 'You are Hindu hoys.' 'Don't worry. I picked a ladoo.' 'Then why are most grown-ups so grumpy? Why can't they smile more often and be excited like those kids at Nana Park?' 'Can you stop being grumpy now and help me clean the shop?'  'Ok. referring to Ish and me. Plus. You have your shop in such a pure place. we will do a booze party. They have a fire in their eyes before every little match at Nana Park. Mama. Statistically. We have fifty times the people. so fifty times the talent. So there is no way we should be defeated by them.. Really. 'Mama?' Omi squeaked. my friend. Our shop now offers both.' 'Then why?' I said. in two years time they will reach Class X. 'You also. Yet they win almost every match. it is considered a waste of money. Since the shop opened. Govind. 'What is this. cricket is India's only game while Australia has rugby and football and whatever. and you are wearing shoes? A Brahmin priest's boy?' 'Mama..' 'These kids. I looked at my feet. Ish. thirteen-year-olds holding their bats with pride. is this just about money for you?' 'Money is nice.. Soon. Everyone needs a passion.

' Omi looked at me. I see in you the potential to teach Hindu pride to young people. Why did I have to or not have to believe in something? Ish offered the Frooti to Bittoo Mama. that is an atheist. he knows the CM or something. . 'Thanks.' Bittoo said.' Bittoo Mama said. He is confused. 'Agno. I don't know.. 'Parekh-ji is a senior Hindu party leader. Mama?' 'Parekh-ji not only knows the CM. He lifted the red velvet cloth and unwrapped a three-foot-long brass trishul. He said. You should come too. I now paid full rent every month to be in this shop. 'What about you?' Mama asked Ish. "if we have more people like Bittoo. How come some people are so good at being polite. It sounds great. I had come to invite you and look at you. I want to invite you to a grand feast to Parekh-ji's house. We are not just priests who speak memorised lines at ceremonies.' 'Govind what?' 'Govind Patel. But get in touch with the greater responsibilities we have.' I said.. I'm working full time. And he heads the biggest temple trust in Baroda.' 'I am not telling you to leave everything. 'What is your name?' 'Govind. 'It's beautiful." He made me the recruitment in-charge for young people in Ahmedabad. I pray and everything. 'No.. 'Agnostic means maybe God exists. He said in me he sees the party's future.' 'You young kids. 'What. Mama. Nobody told me how to run my business. 'It is a gift from Parekh-ji. Yeah right only when six balls were left in a match. I worked day and night.' Ish said. Ish. We visited every district in Gujarat. people will be proud to be Hindu again. 'And I told Parekh-ji about you. 'such a shame. Omi. but also talks to him twice a day. Mama took a large sip and shifted his gaze to Omi and Ish As far as he was concerned I did not exist.' Ish and I looked at Omi for footnotes.' I clarified. Mama. not to perform rituals. Next Monday in Gandhinagar.' I said. Its sharp blades glinted under the shop's tubelight. 'Don't worry about Govind.' 'Hindu.' Omi said. We have to make sure India's future generation understands Hindutva properly. It softened him a little. Mama. blasphemous me got no invitation. irritated as I wanted to shut the shop and go home. maybe he doesn't. but I don't know if we can. 'Hindu.' 'But Mama. 'Doesn't believe in God? What kind of friends do you have Omi?' Mama was aghast.. What did you want to invite us for Mama?' Omi said. Mama looked surprised.' Ish said. no?' '1 am agnostic.' Of course.?' 'He is not sure if there is God or not. Where did you get it from?' Omi queried.' Ish explained.' I hate it when people take my religious status for confusion.'We come here to work. I turned my gaze away.

son. now an abandoned bank customer service area. the data room and the locker room. It is bloody hard to get alcohol in Ahmedabad. This used to be an old man's haveli. where we kept everything from Maggi noodles to boxes of crackers to burst when India won a match. huge by Belrampur standards. Many young. Mama looked at me. Of course. greedy.' 'I will come if Govind comes. miser.' I said. Another person may see the abandoned SBI branch as an eerie party venue.Romy Bhai .' Ish stayed hesitant. I'll give Omi the address. SBI realised that a tiny by lane in Belrampur was a terrible branch location. The owner's family filed a lawsuit after he died. Do you know where Parekh-ji went to college? Cambridge. I had stapled ten hundred-rupee notes. Romi Bhai left the beer -wrapped in rags . 'But you should come too.agreed to supply a crate of extra strong beer for a thousand bucks. I thought. The court official kept a key with Omi's dad. In his eyes. One of my contacts . Ish. This is a way of life. We need young blood. He had a big hotel business in America. 'Huh? This isn't politics. traditional man who will force you to read scriptures. 'Well. the family obtained a court injunction that the bank could not use the property for profit. for the Cambridge college team.at the SBI compound entrance. on the day of the party. which he sold and came back.'Why? Don't worry. let alone bulky bottles of beer.' 'I don't like politics. a trustworthy man in the area. I did organise an all-expense-paid booze party to motivate my partners at the shop.' 'I will come. it is not just priests.' 'I didn't say that. I came to invite the three of you in the first place. They vacated the premises and gave the keys to the court. He talks your language. The property was a six-hundred square yard plot. Meanwhile. I took out the bottle opener from the kitchen shelf. working people will also come.' said Ish the idiot. Thereafter. 'All three of you.' Omi said. Oh.' Mama stood up. and he used to play cricket too.'  People called me Mr Accounts. and then Harvard. The three bedrooms on the first floor were the branch manager's office. I dragged the cloth package inside and placed the bottles in the three ice-filled buckets I had kept in the kitchen. The dispute still unresolved. But the fact is. 'Then come. It is the grandest house in Gandhinagar. At 7 p. you think Parekh-ji is some old.m.' Ish said. Oh. The front entrance directly opened into the living room. I was the reason why Hindu culture had deteriorated lately. This was done in case officials needed to view it and the court was closed. no one ever came and Omi had access to the keys. On the third page of the newspaper. the bank opened a branch in the haveli. The owner could not repay and the bank foreclosed the property. 'Oh. anything. forget it. The branch . He nodded and left. I came to the gate and gave Romi Bhai the day's newspaper. He only said he doesn't believe in God.

Omi then prayed for forgiveness before drinking alcohol.' 1 said. 'Nah. we have distributed 18. Ish turned silent. 'But those are the matches that fucking mattered. Looks like the school has your worthy successor. our practice pitch. the beer did not taste half as bad.600 rupees.' 'Where does he play?' I enquired through a mouthful of bhujia. dear shareholders and partners.' Ish said as he picked up a bottle. Wow. 'I think we should thank our sponsors for tonight . Three customers have mentioned him. and let's say cheers to the second bottle. 'Is that relevant? They say he has excellent timing. In seven months of operation.600 is for entertainment like tonight. 'So late. you were out of form. 'Stop talking like your Mama?' Ish scolded. As part of the bank branch.' Ish said and paused again.' 'Sorry. and tasted only slightly better than phenyl. 'The Muslim boy?' Omi said. 'No. As did everyone's mood. I take delivery. And the remaining 2. In its prime.' I said. He made apologies about his dad holding him back to clean the temple.30. 'Omi here?' Ish said as he opened the packet. right? Now can we flip the topic?' Omi backed off and I gladly changed the subject. I rotated the beer bottles in the ice bucket to make them equally cold. 'In our school. 'Succeeding Ish is hard. If you filled your mouth with bhujia. It was bitter.' I took out the second bottle for each of us from the ice bucket. Kids say his most common shot is a six. 'No one forgets the two ducks in the state selection trials either. the taste improved considerably after half a bottle. 'Screw that.' Omi said. nobody makes fake beer. We hung out most in the haveli's backyard.000 is for the Navrangpura shop deposit. Ish walked into the bank. partners. Spurious alcohol is a real issue in Ahmedabad. 'Remember the hundred against Mahip Municipal School. watching cricket highlights. We paused for a moment.' Ish corrected. 'Should we open a bottle?' 'No. Of which. 'I want to see this Ali kid. man. We had parked ourselves on the sofas in the old customer waiting area downstairs. Ish went to the kitchen to get some bhujia. clean up the place and wait for my lords to arrive. it was the lawn of a rich family. I would not have said it. It is just strong.The Team India Cricket Shop. strong beer. We kept our cricket kit in the otherwise empty safe.' 'Partners. man. our profit is 42. 'Cheers!' all of us said as we took a big sip. I reclined on the sofa.' Omi stood up and patted Ish's back again. thank you. in sixty-three balls? No one forgets that innings. 'It is 8. In fact.' Omi said. So. as if the ten-year-old match had ended minutes ago. I am the only fool.' 'Let's go check him out.' I said. . "What is this? Is this genuine stuff?' Ish asked. wait. It was a sensitive topic and if it was not for the beer.000 to the partners and 22.manager's office had a giant six-feet vault. it was an under-utilised parking lot and now.' Omi arrived in ten minutes.' Ish said.

' 'I teach younger kids though. 'Ok. man. class five to eight. 'What?' 'There is someone who wants maths tuitions. Cold water splashed on the floor as we tugged at the bottle.' 'What?' I said.' 'No. Tuesday then. no Monday is Parekh-ji's feast. 'No.' He came forward to give me a hug.' Ish said and took a big sip. You come home. Just try she needs any help she can get. Damn. I am full.' 'You don't need maths to become a doctor.' I took a breath.' I couldn't wait to move to Navrangpura. Vidya to join medical college? Is she that old now?' 'Almost eighteen. She is dropping a year now to prepare for the medical entrance. 'Take it. but the entrance exams do.. 'Parekh ji is supposed to be a great man. he released it.' Ish said. now can you answer one maths question.' 'Your sister?' 'She finished Class XII.' I lunged for the ice bucket. trying to remember what I knew of Vidya. who else can I trust?' 'If it is your sister. Say seven in the evening?' 'Sure. Ish dived in as well.' I said to Ish. When do we start?' 'Can you start Monday .' 'Anyway. I am not in touch..' I said nothing for a while. Mr Accounts.' Omi said. but who does it belong to. 'Shut up. We drank three each. Stud-boy. 'Will you do me one more favour buddy?' Ish said. What would I do without you?' . Omi what the fuck are we going to do there?' 'The things we do to keep your Mama happy. 'The question is not where the tenth one is.. Come for me this time. 'And I always listen to you guys.' Ish said.. which was little. Where is the tenth one?' Ish stood up swaying.'Stud-boy.' I said as Ish interrupted me. I stood as well. After a ten-second tiff. Her course is more advanced. 'What?' 'You ordered a crate with ten bottles. dude. Mr Accounts. Seven students already. Oh. 'Wow. but genuine enough. It is for your sister. 'This business and its profit is all owed to Stud-boy. dude. 'It is Vidya. And she is awful at it. standing up.' 'But you got a fucking century in that subject. Give me a hug. then I mean. Mr Govind Patel. Thank you.. Because of you this dropout military cadet has a future. Ish. I'll move some classes.. You are the best man. Don't worry we will pay you. buddy. I'll do it. And so does this fool who'd be otherwise jingling bells in the temple all his life.. 'What are you thinking. It was drunk affection. Maybe I should have accepted a fee. 'So is she going to come to the bank?' 'Dad will never send her out alone. Ok.' Ish slurred. dude.. I know.

'What? I am not. Parekh-ji wore a saffron dhoti and white shirt. which looked quite comfortable.. one grey-saffron and one baldsaffron. but there was juice of every fruit imaginable. We moved to the massive food counter. Ish?' Everyone shushed as Parekh-ji came to the centre of the living room. a poli-priest. 'Or that is what he says to be humble.' From an aarti plate.Four We reached Parekh-ji's residence at around eight in the evening. There was no alcohol. 'The people in saffron are priests or other holy men from around the city. Bittoo Mama tugged at Omi's elbow and asked us to join the saffron set. everyone had either grey hair or no hair It looked like a marriage party where only the priests were invited Most of them carried some form of accessory like a trishul or a rudraksha or a holy book.' Omi said and showed us how to wrap it around our neck. 'Can you be more respectful? And what is this T-shirt.' Ish said. There were fifty guests dressed in either white or saffron. He knows the politicians really well. Bittoo Mama came with three saffron scarves and handed them to us. he put big red tikkas on our foreheads.' I deduced..' I protested to Omi. Two armed guards manning the front gate let us in after checking our names. Considering Omi met these kind of people often. Why aren't you eating any dimsums?' 'I don't like Chinese. Ish and 1 exchanged a what-are-we-doing-here glance. The people in white are the political party people. But actually. A Gujarati feast consisted of every vegetarian snack known to man. I took a jain pizza and looked around the massive living room. 'It is quite simple. The entrance of the house had an elaborate rangoli. Omi went to meet a group of two bald-whites. 'And who is Parekh-ji?' 'Well. just wear it. We sat there.' 'So he is a hybrid. the saffrons separated from the whites and sat down in two neat sections.' Omi said. you regret you have only one stomach.' Bittoo Mama met us at the door. what a gathering. 'Where the hell do we sit?' Ish said as he turned to me. 'The food is excellent. Ish looked oddly out of place with his skull and crossbones. looking like the protagonists of those ugly duckling stories in our mismatched clothes. no?' Omi returned. 'See. 'Who are these people?' I asked idly. sort of a perfect crowd blend. Like a shoal of fishes. Ish passed his Jain-dimsum to Omi. He signalled everyone to sit down on the carpet. he had one Of the highest per-capita-blessings ratio in India. But still people keep saying it.' Omi said.. He touched their feet and everyone blessed him.. He carried a red velvet cushion with him. dozens of lamps and fresh flowers. he is a guide. Apart from us. Food in Gujarat was always good. He told us Parekh-ji would make a speech after dinner. too. I had worn a blue Tshirt and couldn't find my colour zone. 'Shh . black Metallica T-shirt. .. At parties like this. 'Have dinner before the talk begins. he is the chairperson of the main temple 1 rust.

who brought them. Just pure simple politics. We nodded back. 'It is politics. But they won't give it to us. We need them badly. Omi gave him a dirty look. But if I as a Hindu want justice. 'They teach us acceptance of all faiths. the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. but they say we are hardliners. 'And right now.' Parekh-ji continued: 'I don't even want to go into who this country belongs to. The Gita tells Arjun to fight a virtuous war. I looked around while everyone chanted in Sanskrit. Even though I found the whole gathering and the magic red cushion a bit over the top. So at some point we are meant to fight back. So. a temple where one of our most revered gods was born. the Hindu religion teaches us to bear a lot. More Hindu kids sleep hungry every night than Muslim. He will support our candidate Hasmukh-ji for the election next year. They teach us patience. but the Hindu does not assert himself. welcome to my humble home.at your service. They call themselves secular. 250 years by the British. Thousands of years ago.' Vigorous nods shook the crowd.' Parekh-ji said. Parekh-ji continued. I see that injustice again. We said we will move the mosque respectfully. why do you know so many politicians? I say. Not any temple. Because the poor Hindu is accustomed to being ruled by someone else . to accept. Let us bow to them and seek blessings. even if those faiths do not accept us. I don't have the answers. Parekh-ji. 'Our scriptures tell us not to harm others. 'They say to me. valid even today. Bittoo is working hard for the party. When is that point is something to think about. that was considered unreasonable.' Everyone bowed to a group of six saffrons holding trishuls. The priests nodded.' Ish whispered in my ear. Parekh-ji's logic was flawless. Is this justice? Should we keep bearing it? I am just an old man.Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. half white . today's discussion is "How much bearing is enough? Until when does a Hindu keep bearing pain?'" Everyone nodded. 'Devotees. Thanks to Bittoo Mama. Everyone closed their eyes. They have returned from kar seva in Ayodhya for over a month. but they say Muslims are downtrodden.700 years by Muslims. 'We also have some young people today. 'Welcome devotees. There was pin-drop silence. apart from me. but they give preference to the Muslims? We fight for equal treatment and are called communal? The most brutal terrorists are Muslim. Hindus being asked to compromise.' Parekh-ji stopped to have a glass of water.' Parekh-ji said. Ish cracked his knuckle once. but that was suppressed. And what other way is there to get involved than join politics? So. man. My knees were stiff with pain from sitting cross-legged. here I am half saffron. They ended their chants after a minute and Parekh-ji began his speech. And today you great men pass on these values to society. I wondered if I should stop bearing pain right then and stretch my legs.' Everyone looked at us and gave smiling nods. I want to especially welcome the team on the right from the Sindhipur temple. round the corner. But no. I need to get involved in how the country is rum. our wise men thought of such wonderful values. I didn't want to join politics. Hindus asked for the resurrection of one temple. But what makes me sad is that we are not even treated as equals. We are independent now. We tried to submit proof. 'At the same time.' . gesturing at the priests. I am a servant of God. to bear. And we do bear a lot.

Her room had the typical girlie look . I looked at the stars above and thought of the man on the velvet cushion. And you might say a hundred bad things about a businessman. I couldn't help but notice that her childlike face was in the process of turning into a beautiful woman's.' 'Trigonometry?' 'Whatever.' 'Calculus?' She raised her eyebrows as if I had mentioned a horror movie. It was strange. we don't elect the pseudo-secular parties. 'So which areas of maths are you strong in?' 'None really. I don't like maths much. We are not communal. on Tuesday. 'Really?' I said. We won't stand for hypocrisy or unfairness. Stuffed toys and posters with cheesy messages like 'I am the boss' adorned the walls of the room. extra cute and extra pink.' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. We are a state of businessmen. 'But there is hope. She sat at her study table. What were they thinking? Language is too easy. And if we react.' 'Fun?' she said with a disgusted expression. Ish came out. and depressed by it. I positively hate maths.The audience gave a mini applause. I used the break to step out into the front garden of Parekh-ji's house and sit on an intricately carved swing. including Omi. everyday.' She sat up straight and shook her head. 'You here?' 'Can we go home?' I said. Between an electric shock or a maths test. disturbed at such indifference to my favourite subject. I would trade my maths problems for that walk. Parekh-ji spoke inside for ten more minutes. Who cares if sin theta is different from cos theta? Who wants to know the expansion of the sum of cubes?' . how the world works. For me it occupies a place right up there with cockroaches and lizards. I will choose the former.Gujarat. He knows how the parts add up. I sat on the chair. it is because we have been bearing pain for a long time. followed by two bhajans by a couple of priests from Bhuj. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time. 'Actually. we are honest. Her brown eyes looked at me with full attention. I was both attracted to and repelled by him. That is why.' 'Hmmm. I get disgusted. 'Yes.' she said. nauseated. Ish and I were too overfed to react. 'You don't like it much or you don't understand a few things and so you don't like it yet? Maths can be fun you know. so let's make up some creepy symbols and manipulate them to haunt every generation of kids. 'Let me make myself clear.' The audience broke into full applause. 'Algebra?' 'Nope. After his speech there were a few more closing mantras. You know where this hope comes from . inaudible to me.m. I heard some people have to walk two miles to get water in Rajasthan. but you cannot deny that a businessman sees reality.extra clean.  I reached Ishaan's house at 7 p. Maths is the worst thing ever invented by man.

A viral infection is fun. See I already have them.' 'I saw your medical entrance exam course. 'is easily the most fun. I wanted to come to the point. probability. Medicine is the other choice and my exit pass.' 'Oh ho ho. She had applied a glittery silver-white nailpolish only on the outer edge of the nails. But they have this medical entrance exam and. I am not just approaching it. maths means vomit so that is ruled out.. How can I tame a wild beast? 'What?' 'Goosebumps. 'See this. struggled with it. Statistics is another ten per cent.' I said.' I said. No equations here. of course. Her hand had deep lines. I have lived. She kept two pens parallel to the notebook. Looks like there are a few scoring areas that are relatively easier.' 'Like what?' 'Like what what?' 'What everyday problems can you solve?' she quizzed.'Wow. it is for a prestigious course like medicine or engineering. I had the urge to get up and run away. this subject does not go away. I know you scored a hundred and you are in love with it. in most parts of the world maths means only one thing to students. Her fingers seemed long as they were so thin. compromised.' 'I think you are approaching it the wrong way. I have nightmares about surprise maths tests. You want to be a doctor I heard.' she said. Most clueless. I thought the little pink dots on her skin were more from her emotional outburst than maths. 'Nothing.' 'I want to go to a college in Mumbai. But mom and dad won't let me. probably.' 'Excuse me?' 'I want to get out of Ahmedabad. Unless. It is a troubled relationship we have shared for years.' I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. with an exceptionally long lifeline. then getting a tooth extraction is fun. which topic would you like to start with?' 'Anything without equations.' she said and took out a brand new exercise book. .. People have nightmares about monsters. 'And fun? If maths is fun. But remember. not to make you like it. Engineering has maths. 'This and permutations will be twenty-five per cent of the maths exam. My job is to teach you maths. that's some reaction. How do women come up with these ideas? 'What?' she said as I checked out her arm for a moment too long. don't go there.' I opened the medical exam entrance guide and turned it towards her. She opened the first page of the probability chapter like she was the most diligent student in India.' 1 said. I also noticed her thin arm. my mouth still open. I say this because you can actually use the concepts in probability to solve everyday problems. Rabies shots are fun. 'So. I immediately opened a textbook. 'Probability. so can we start with this?' 'Sure. It was so fair you could see three veins running across. And since I had only an hour and the tutorial equivalent of climbing Everest barefoot. From classes one to twelve. pulling her kameez sleeve up to her elbow. brushing aside a strand of hair.' She stopped to breathe.

. Now let's say I take all the cards and put them in a sack. On the opposite wall were posters of Westlife.' she smiled fondly at the phone. Let's look at the denominator. 'See. But the basic concept needs to be understood first. How ma different coloured cards can come out if I pull one?' 'Five?' 'Yep.' I said and wrote down.' I ignored the information overload. 'See those cards?' 'They are birthday cards from my school friends. I don't like to have too much tea.' I said as I wrote the lines: Probability = No of times something you want happens / No of times something can happen 'How come there are no symbols?' she said.' I said and placed the pen back on the table. She's stupid. Most are white. you are going ahead. but let's see. I dumbed down the problem for her and she duh-ed me. I told you probability is interesting. so let's use this example to start the basic premise of probability. her eyes asking 'so?' 'Cool. ignoring my compliment. She rushed to her bedside table to pick up the phone. What is the chance?' 'I don't know. twenty?' 'Yes. 'My school friend. though.' 'Oh me neither. She reread what I wrote for a few moments.' I said. 'Say there are twenty of them. How many different cards can come out if I put out one card from the stack of twenty?' 'Er . Some are coloured. The probability is 0. it's not that hard when you focus. Hrithik Roshan.25. She dropped her pen and leaped to her phone. Then I pull out one card.'Well.' 'Ok. there.' I was interrupted by two beeps on her cellphone. or twenty-five per cent.' she said. tucked in pink bedsheets. Next to them was a wall of greeting cards. 'And now the numerator. Some attitude. I want a coloured card. let's do another one.' 'Duh!' she said. 'Ok. scanning the cards. of course. Good. five.25 'There you go. And so let's apply our wordy formula. How many?' 'Five coloured ones. Probability can be defined as. She sat on the bed and read her message. 'We will get there.. Backstreet Boys. Probability = No of times something you want happens (5) / No of times something can happen (20) So. 'See. You like coffee?' 'I like probability and you should too. probability = 5/20 = 0. But the exam problems are harder. 'That is simple. 'Let us say we have a jar with four red and six blue marbles. Good job!' I praised her as she solved a problem. 'You want tea?' she said. 'Hypothetical.' she said at last. 'No thanks. I had my birthday two months ago. Can we do the next problem?' Her cellphone beeped again. I kept silent and waited for her to come back.' I finished three more problems in the next half an hour. what is the probability the card is coloured?' 'Why would you put them in a sack?' she said.' I looked around for a11 easy example. I controlled my irritation. I like coffee. And you didn't vomit. . I noticed her impeccably done-up room.

I have turned down many students for this class.. Especially those who hate maths.' She was zapped at my firmness.' she said. 'Sorry. But I am no Mr Nice.' she said as she stopped her hand midway. and I hate people who are not focused. 'I will go if you don't concentrate. 'We only have an hour. Do your fun activities later.' 'I said sorry' She picked up her pen again and opened the cap in disgust. No SMS-ing in my class. .. 'It's just.' I said.'Leave it..

Ish's frustration showed in this delivery. Come.' 'Relax Paras.' a voice said from the centre of the crowd.six! Ish looked at Ali and nodded in appreciation. . It is a slow day anyway. We reached our school's familiar grounds. Ali took two steps forward and smash! The ball went high and reached past the ground. doe-eyed boy play. Omi had already stepped out. The crowd clapped as Ish took a short run-up. The boy could play. He strained hard to look at the bowler. Omi became the wicket keeper. The ball surged high as Ish and I looked at it for its three seconds of flight . He always plays marbles. The crowd clapped. partially due to the sun but also in irritation for not receiving a real delivery. Some kids volunteered to be fielders. I locked the cashbox and told the owner of the flower shop next to ours to keep watch. Thwack. I think he was trying to control his reaction for Ish's sake. Now. Ish gave a half smile. A grown man bowling pace to a twelve-year-old is silly. almost malnourished boy sat on the ground. He took his longest run-up yet and ran forward with full force. The slow ball pitched midway and took its time to reach the crease. I couldn't understand the fuss in seeing this delicate. at the umpire's slot. I stood near the bowler's end. how can I close business?' I said. 'Just play. It deserved punishment.' lsh said as he slipped on his chappals. Ish's run-up was fake. 'I don't want to play now.' The kid sucked in air after every word. 'He doesn't play cricket that often. He had come running from the Belrampur Municipal School and was insisting we go with him. his face covered with his hands. but his pride. Ali moved his bat in a smooth movement and connected. He changed his grip and did some upper body twists. The crowd backed off. A thin. almost hitting a classroom window.' Ish said to Ali and gave the fielder a glare. Ali the freak. For the next ball.' a kid fielding at mid-on shouted and distracted Ali. 'Ali. Ali took the crease. Ali took a stance again and scrunched his face..' 'Let's go. Ish rubbed the ball on his pants thrice.' lsh told the panting boy. The ball bounced to Ali's shoulder. The bat reached almost two-thirds his height.. He grunted when the ball left his hand. Ish looked at the boy and bowled a simple lollipop delivery. 'Now? It is only four. Ali the freak.Five You. Ali's bat had not hit the ball. lsh bhaiya. The ball went fast. girlie features be damned! The medium pace ball rose high on the bounce and smash! Another six. as he stopped near me. I'lease come today.Ish looked molested. Twenty boys circled Ali. Ish took an eight step run-up. but was a full toss. Must. 'He is a freak. Ali spun on one leg as if in a dance and connected . three sixes . Is. Ish took an eleven-step run-up for the next ball.six! Three balls. Omi's mouth was open but he focused on wicket-keeping.

.' 1 mumbled.' Ish declared as he finished his fifty morning pushups. Rolling them in his hand. he left the ground. in the air-conditioned mall.between the students' leaving and the shop's opening. He also belted out Hanuman-ji's forty verses along with the exercise. right? No way. I couldn't do much apart from making my best cup of ginger tea in the bank kitchen. but I did. Omi looked at Ish and me. 'It can't be just luck. He is just fucking good. but not so bad either. 'Where is the fucking ball?' 'They are trying to find it.' . Caffeine ran in Ish's family veins though. I get a headache. But he just. Omi shook his head. I remembered Vidya offering me tea. I loved this little morning break . 'These Muslim kids man. But he is good. I want to coach him. 'If the builder accepts forty as deposit.' Ish hissed as the ball came rolling back to him. I nodded my head towards a plate of biscuits. which he ignored. At least to me.. Ali took out some marbles that resembled his eyes.. Omi moved on to sit-ups. Actually. Can I go back now?' Ali said. 'Four sixes.. 'I told you. 'No wonder they call him a freak. I shrugged. Three more months. I have never seen anyone play like that. I assured myself.. 'Tea.' Omi said and gulped the remainder of his milk.' 'Don't know if he is a freak. 'Can I go?' We nodded. 'What happened?' Omi was the first to reach him. From his pocket. man. My best friend had laced serious mental trauma yesterday. 'I told you. 'Shut up. Incredible!' Omi said. coach?' I jeered lightly. I wondered if the Ali episode would cause permanent damage to Ish's appetite. I knew I shouldn't have. 'Sorry. And these days I only thought about the new shop. Ali stood. I can secure the Navrangpura lease by year end.. 'Twenty-five thousand rupees saved already. 'Still thinking of Ali?' Omi said to Ish. You want to buy one from my shop. He came and sat next to me on the bank's backyard floor.' Ish answered his own qestions.I laughed. 'Here are your shop's keys. He opened a polypack of milk and put it to his mouth. just. he didn't have much tea. Mama. Omi continued to complete his hundred. his childish voice almost in tears.' I announced and handed Ish his cup. It gave me time to think.' I repeated my dream dialogue inside my head for the hundredth time. 'Shut up. duh-ing me. wiping his milk moustache. 'You guys ate all the biscuits?' Omi came to us as he finished his exercise. You never know what.' Ish said. 'He is amazing. 'Nothing.' I said. Like me. 'I cannot believe it.' Words failed Ish. We are moving to our shop in Navrangpura. tea?' I offered.' I poured myself another cup of tea. Ish was about to take a run-up when Ali sat down at his crease. Ish continued to talk to himself as I tuned myself out. 'What?' Ish demanded in disgust. and fifteen thousand more by December. To see the school cricket champion of my batch raped so in public by a mere boy of twelve was too funny. only to me. no? Freak!' Paras ran up to us. I didn't bowl my best. Stupid girl.

' Ish said. I want to teach him. He can't play beyond four balls.' Omi murmured.' I told Ish. For coaching class. 'I have heard the name somewhere. but yes. Ish and Omi just exchanged stares.' Dr Verma said and switched on his torch out of habit.' 'Let's go open the shop first. idiot) for him. 'What happened?' . His once black hair had turned white.. 'Shh. 'Two dozen if you come for one cricket coaching class in the morning. His wrinkles had multiplied since I last met him three years ago. ★ No cricket. nice to have someone young in my clinic for a change.. a reward for every sixer.' Ali protested for the fifth time. 'What? You will teach that mullah kid?' Omi's face turned worrisome. 'I will teach the best player in Belrampur.' 'Omi is right. 'Special blue ones from Jaipur. 'Your choice. 'His head was hurting after four balls.  'Welcome.' 'Give me abba's name and address. ask abba. like always. 'We also need to go to the doctor. He rubbed his fifty-year-old eyes. 'Naseer Alam. 'And who is this little tiger? Open your mouth.' Ish said.' I said. forget sports. Old age sucks.' Ish said. I want a doctor to see him before we begin practicing.'Sure. That kid has serious potential. If! Bittoo Mama finds out. don't tempt fate.' 'Team India?' I suggested. and a foot-stomping no to meeting the doctor. Ultimately. They can barely teach the course there.' 'You'll have to talk to his parents if you want him to pay.' Ali looked at me with his two green marbles.' I cajoled. 'Doctor is fine. Let's go. 'I am not going to any Muslim house.' 'Don't overreact. It's business time.' Dr Verma removed his spectacles. for Indian parents cricket equals time waste. 'Doctor?' I said. he will kick us out of the shop.' 'We are not teaching a Muslim kid.' Omi vetoed. He won't know. I like marbles.. 'Naseer Alam. Omi gave in to Ish. We just teach him at the bank. 'Bittoo Mama will kill me. For the rest of the argument. We need the shop for a few more months. Make sure he never comes near the temple.' Ali repeated.' Omi said almost hysterically. third house on the ground floor. 'Our shop has marbles. 'I'll teach him for free.' I said..' 'What name did you say?' Omi said. You could help him.' I said. Ish took four chocolates (at the shop's expense.' I said. They'll ruin him in that school.' I said. 'Dr Verma's clinic is in the next pol. but Ish ignored him. You know like. But I can't recall.' Ish said. One dozen for you if you come to the doctor. He is just across the street. 'But still. seventh pol.' 'Then we'll go to his house. as long as he pays.' Ish said. Ali accepted the chocolates but said no to cricket coaching. baba. 'I am not going.

Multani.' 'I bowled four balls to him.' Dr Multani paused for a sip of water and continued.' lsh said. I can take you tomorrow if you want. 'Some people are just talented. He slid his hands into his pocket. 'Does what?' Dr Verma said. However. He slammed sixes on all of them. 'This is more complicated than the usual viral fever.' Ali said.' Dr Multani said and munched a kliakra. you didn't do a conscious think to duck away.' Dr Multani said. but proving to be a gift for cricket.' I chimed in. 'Questions?' 'This boy is gifted in cricket. Omi ducked. The Matrix style MRI.iid. 'Eyesight is fantastic. 'I recommend you meet my friend Dr Multani from the city hospital. for a little headache. Play marbles in the garden outside if you want. Dr Verma gave me a stern glance to stop. He kept quiet until Ali left. He is an eye specialist and used to be a team doctor for a baseball team in USA.' We nodded. 'Unbelievable but true. 'Ish is right.' Dr Multani paused to open . 'I miss my sports-doctor days. 'You like cricket. I haven't met him for a year. The doctor put his torch down. 'Fascinating. He did every test imaginable .'Nothing's wrong. What happened after the four balls. It is an aberration in medical terms. He had spent two hours with Ali. except if we touch something too hot or too cold.' Dr Multani lifted a round glass paper weight from I lis table and pretended to hurl it at Omi. 'Also. the boy is exceptionally gifted. 'The boy has hyper-reflex. Verma. I heard the rustle of marbles. In fact.' Ish said. a blood test. Thus. 'It is not just a headache. where Ali had to lie down head first inside a chamber. it just happened. He knew lsh was one of the best players in the neighbourhood. 'Hyper reflex. We have some questions. This love for Amdavad made me give up a lot. 'It matters little in everyday life.1 few reports and picked up another khakra. Are we done?' Ali said and yawned. 'What?' Dr Verma said. 'When I ihrow this at you. He said his head hurt' Dr Verma turned to Ali.' Dr Verma s. a computerised hand-eye coordination exam. Ali said. my head starts hurting. 'Almost. in sports it is crucial. . 'Let us check your eyes.' Ish said.' Dr Verma said. baba?' 'Whenever I play with concentration. He ordered tea and khakra for all of us. what do you do? You reflexively try to prevent 1 he attack. proved most useful.a fitness check.' Dr Verma said and stood up to go" to the testing room. 'That was some work. I want to know how he does it. he sat down after four balls.' Dr Multani said only one word as he held up Mi's MRI scan. I didn't give you an advance warning and everything happened in a split second. I reached for my wallet. baba?' 'No. retinal scans.' 'How?' I blurted.' I )r Multani said. What was in those tests that said Ali could smash any bowler to bits.' 'Hyper what?' Omi echoed. returning.

I can't. His headaches are a problem. 'He doesn't hit much. 'Well.analysed. 'His reflexes are at least ten times better than ours. for instance. but his brain saw its path easily. Ali uses the first.' 'But I bowled fast. if you hit him with a fast ball he will get hurt. Like it was a soft throw. The energy in that ball is mostly yours. And Omi will help. Ali doesn't need to. Apart from reflex action. And then there is a separate.' Dr Multani sighed. He needs to stay in the game. His first. 'Dr Multani. He has to survive Until his brain gets refreshed to use the gift again. We definitely had to use the first way of thinking to understand it. analysed mode . the human brain makes decisions in two other ways. Dr Multani picked up the MRI scan again. Sports has moments that requires you to think in every possible way .' 'Yes.' 'Can that happen?' Ish said. 'Yes. in urgent situations. 'Ali's brain is fascinating. 'So Ali has good reflexes. Some may call it a defect. But there is more. 'Not to this degree.' 'But how can he hit so far?' Ish said. However. second and even the third reflex way of thinking is fused. but his brain can register it and act accordingly. so I suggest you don't make a big noise about it' 'He is Indian team material. I don't think he ever runs between the wickets. as it analyses fast.' the iloctor said.. 'To him a pace delivery is slow motion?' Ish tried again. Normally.' Ish vowed. 'Only to his brain. the brain chooses the shortcut way.ilso tires quickly. He is weak. One is the long. His response time is as fast as that of a reflex action. under a training regimen. almost malnourished. quick-think or reflex. A normal player needs years of practice to ensure his second way gets as accurate to play well. the brain short-circuits the thinking process and acts. 'Dr Verma. That's it?' Ish said.' And Ali?' Ish said. Call it a quick-think mode.' We nodded as Dr Multani continued: 'In reflex action. And he has to learn the other aspects of cricket. If it is hard to visualise . the long way is used and we are aware of it. I am going to coach him. Omi will make him eat and make him fit.' 'No. this boy's brain is wired differently. You may think he hit that superfast delivery of yours by luck.the problem goes through a rigorous analysis in our brain and we decide the course of action.' It look us a minute to digest Dr Multani's words. not at the moment.. He was using a catapult to shoot one marble to hit another one. But sometimes. Of course. While his brain can analyse fast. you know he is.' .I looked at Ali outside from the window.' 'Have you seen other gifted players like him?' I wanted to know. yet his decision making is as accurate as the analysed mode. forget try to catch it. The boy has no stamina. imagine that Ali sees the ball in slow motion A normal player will use the second or third way of thinking to hit a fast ball. He changes direction of the already fast ball. the response time is superfast. He can just about duck.' Omi refused as all looked at him. it . That is his gift.' Ish said. second way that's faster but less accurate. tell I hem why I can't.

Used to be a firebrand once.' Ish said. Here.'Because he's a Muslim. 'Ali. time to go. three. Sometimes I feel I run a gossip centre. that Naseer? Yes. 'Shut up. Ish looked at Dr Verma. 'They'll ruin him. 'I agree. gave Ish a disapproving glance and left the room. Ali looked away from his game and saw the marbles midair. 'How about the state academy?' Dr Verma said. two. Moved from a pure Muslim to a secular party. surprised. He remained in his squat position and raised his left hand high. Muslim and poor.' We left the clinic. 'He is too young. catch. he is in politics full time now. Omi stood up.' 'Oh. You see what we have here?' Ish spoke. he used to campaign in the university elections. but I have heard that he has toned down. And he is untrained. He caught every single one of them. that's the issue then. Omi. When the time comes. I'd suggest you keep this boy and his talent under wraps for now.like a magic wand his left hand moved.' 'Yes. 'I found out after you guys left yesterday. we will see. . Multani. not a clinic' Dr Verma chuckled. One. I had thrown them purposely apart.' Omi said quickly. I took out four marbles from my pocket and called Ali.' Dr Multani paused. remember Naseer from the Muslim University? Ali is his son.' 'I don't want to teach him.' I threw the four marbles high in the air towards him. four . A priest's son teaching a Muslim boy. 'Anyway.' Dr Verma said.

' his dad said as he opened the door. wearing a brown-Coloured salwar suit.' Ish said ignoring my words. I think Indian mothers have two tasks . 'What will he do with cricket coaching? Already school is difficult for him after the madrasa.Six He won't agree.. 'Really. I told you. 'I am Ishaan. I can't. I spoke to him already. remember?' 'Come in. This is the first time Ali is studying maths. 'For free?' I mouthed to him. there are cracks on the ceiling. And I can't even afford a maths tutor.. Does it look like the house of a person who can afford cricket coaching?' 'We won't be charging Ali..' Ali huffed.' Ish protested. they came to play cricket at the school.to tell children to eat more or study more. 'What?' Ali's dad and I said together. He got hundred per cent marks in the Class XII board exam. I noticed his father's nameplate had a motif of the secular political party.' Ish began after Ali left the room with his mom.' I said. 'Yes abba.. but a hundred per cent off is insane. I can't. I glared at Ish. And who are you gentlemen?' he said.' Ish said. Even though a dupatta covered most of her face. Ali. ok? Can you let me talk?' Ish said with great politeness. They have a sports shop.' I double glared at Ish. which contrasted with his white beard and a tight skullcap of lace material.. Ish glanced at me with disdain as if I had shot down his mission to Mars.' Ish said. brought in glasses of roohafza. underlining the absurd age difference. 'How can I teach for free? I have paying students waiting. Ali's mother. If you allow him cricket coaching with us. I hate it when he gives discounts at the shop. but this is how I earn my living. 'We wanted to talk about coaching Ali.' I said. I was fully booked in tuitions and I already taught his clown of a sister for free.' Ali's dad said in a muffled voice. She scolded Ali for not studying for his test the next day. 'But Ish. so late again. He wore an impeccable black achkan.. 'Just take it from my salary. in a desperate attempt to salvage my asshole image. He lived in a particularly squalid pol. We are Ali's friends. we will teach him maths for free. And this is Govind and Omi.' 'Govind teaches maths. We are not interested. I could make out that she must've been at least twenty years younger than her husband. 'look. 'Look above. We sat in the living room. 'Cricket coaching? No. thanks. 'But uncle. There is this room and one other tiny room that I have taken on rent.' 'Friends?' Ali's dad said. 'Maybe we can do a combined deal. which meant Ali came late in his life. He looked around sixty. 'I am sorry. We reached the end of Belrampur to get to his house. 'I will pay whatever I can.' Ali's dad said and pointed to the roof.' Ish said.' I said. Ali pressed the bell.' Ali's dad said.. .' Ali's dad said in a tone that was more conclusive than discussion oriented. he is the best in Belrampur.

' 'You play cricket?' Ali's father said. one for the three of us and another for Ali's dad. . but I wanted to get something for the free maths-andcricket coaching programme. How much do you charge?' 'Four hun.' I said. For us.' Omi said.. I gave the briefest nod possible. The plates had simple food chapattis. I had to teach her again the next day. 'Not really. a massive maths tuition chain outside every madrasa. Omi took one.' 'That's strange.' I said. please. He died six months ago. He drank a glass of water. 'When I retired from university. 'Ali has a gift. hospitality is important. This is all we have today. offering him some bananas. 'The food looks great. horrified at the idea of eating in a Muslim home. have some more chapattis. and gobbled it in three bites. I am a priest's son. You are our mehmaan.I wanted to get up and leave. He did not touch the food. At least have some fruit. so I put him there.' 'I don't eat meat.' Ali's dad said as he spooned in daal.' Ali's dad implored as we stood up to leave. a five-degree tilt. you didn't eat anything..' To share a single plate is strangely intimate. I had to leave the campus quarters.. but not the years of medical expenses that wiped me out. I miss him.' Omi said. 'He was unwell for a long time. 'Why are you so keen to teach Ali cricket?' Ali's dad said. The question was enough to light up Ish's face. we studied there for twelve years. His long fingers reminded me of his sister's. 'Right. even Omi because he did whatever everyone else was doing anyway. I would have done it earlier. Omi sat down. Their role is confined to teaching Islamic culture. Dig in guys. examined it. In this day and age. 'Yes. I thought of a business opportunity. An awkward pause followed. lsh and I broke off the same chapatti. You see how he blossoms with my training. I am sorry. 'Madrasas were not even supposed to be schools. Damn. Govind?' he said to me last. He spoke animatedly. no. I insist. 'Sorry I can't offer you meat. The Belrampur Municipal School was close. The party wanted me to move here. Ish jumped in.' Ali's dad said. 'Not in this one. 'They don't teach maths in madrasas?' I asked for the sake of conversation and mathematics.' I would have disagreed.' 'And that's why you had him switch schools?' lsh said.' 'Oh. 'Omi.' I started to say but Ish interrupted with 'Why don't we start and see how it goes?' Everyone nodded. Here. but my father was adamant Ali goes to a madrasa. daal and a potato-cauliflower vegetable. 'Stay for dinner. I get a small retirement pension. Is it good?' 'Yes. We sat on the living room floor. 'No. 'Maths and science are forbidden. 'Please.' Ali's dad said.' Ali's father said. Ali's mom brought us two extra large plates.' Ish said.

' 'That is not proven.' 'It has. have a banana.' Omi said. 'But if you have never played it. 'It's ok. 'What preference have we given?' Ali's dad said. son?' Ali's dad said. I rarely get young people to talk to.' 'It's more than that.' 'We won't hold that against you. we must be doing something right. 'Why can't you let us make a temple in Ayodhya?' Omi said. Ish pulled Omi's elbow to make him sit down.' 'You won't rule Gujarat anymore. 'Here. 'The communal parties aren't perfect either.' . I was in a hardline party. offended. Suck-up politics. 'Because there is a mosque there already' 'But there was a temple there before. Don't even try to convert people from our party to yours. Now Ish.' Omi said.' Omi said fiercely. we are leaving or not?' 'Omi. 'There you go.' I don't care. but when he did. Omi sat down and Ish massaged his shoulder. Let him speak his mind. I won't.' Ali's dad said and paused to reflect.' 'Incorrect. 'Omi.' I said. 'yes.' 'Bittoo is your Mama?' Ali's dad said. but none like Ali. 'But it's just a game.' Ish said. It is suck-ular party. 'How does that matter. you call us communal.' Ali's dad said. behave yourself. son. but it is secular.' 'Whatever.' Ish soothed. we came for Ali. it took several pacifying tactics to get him back to normal. Here is the bias. One guy hits a ball with a stick. Why?' Omi said. I know you are hungry.' Ali's dad said.' Ali's father grinned. The government keeps hiding those reports. you will never understand. 'Would you like to come and visit our party sometime?' Omi suddenly stood up.' Ali's dad said. I made a few mistakes too. Because we can see through your hypocrisy. And a suck-up party will never win in Belrampur. 'Do you know who you are talking to? I am Pandit Shastri's son. If Bittoo Mama finds out I am here. You have seen the Swami temple in Belrampur or not?' His voice was loud..' 'Calm down. but took the banana.' Ali's dad said. I've seen players.. the rest run around to stop it. No wonder Muslims like you flock there. Your party gives preference to Muslims. that is all you know. Let's go.' Ish said passionately. I don't have anything to say. 'He is your opposition. 'You are telling me to come visit your party? I am a Hindu. Let him play marbles and fail maths. son. Omi resisted.'In school and now I have a sports store. 'Ours is a secular party. 'I am also new to secular politics. 'You know I am a member of the secular party?' 'We saw the sign. Sit down.' lsh said. Ish.' 'It is not secular. But why are you so against us? The party has ruled the country for forty years. Omi rarely flared up. I guess even Ali's dad loved to argue. stop.

We walked out of Ali's house. "Give us that site. they forget the real issue . probably feeling ashamed at having raised his voice.why didn't the manager provide-two plates of food?' I noticed Ali's dad's face. but. the fight is created. Our cause is labelled communal. somewhere deep down. I will walk you boys to the main road. India is a free country. spend more time playing politics than working for the country. was Omi's passion religion? Or maybe. he was confused and trying to find his passion. and we will move the mosque respectfully next door.' Ali's father said.they know this too well. I trust you with my son. it is not Cool to talk about it. Parekh-ji is right. taking sides. you think they don't feel anything? Why do you think people listen to Parekh-ji? because somewhere deep down. lsh confirmed the practice time . you should know." But you can't even do that.' I wasn't sure if Omi really believed in what he said. there was a wise man somewhere. But because Hindus don't talk. He taught you all this?' Ali's dad almost smirked. But Ali's dad was not finished. because at one level.'Whatever. did he also feel like Bittoo Mama? If Ish's passion was cricket and my passion was business. The two guys get busy fighting. he strikes a chord. 'He didn't teach us. We know which religion is extreme.' Ali's dad said. 'You still fine with sending your son?' I asked Ali's dad. You have a right to your views. even if it is not talked about' A lot of Hindus vote for us. A common chord of resentment is brewing Mr Naseer. 'Don't be silly. they too. 'I am not particularly fond of my own party' 'Really?' I said when no one said anything. but don't get extreme. wondering if he had changed his mind after Omi's outbursts. what hope does a Hindu have in this country?' 'Oh. That is what is missing in this country. 'Can we please make a pact to not discuss politics?' Ish pleaded as he signalled a timeout. 'Good point. causing divides . My only advice is Hinduism is a great religion. the majority. perhaps Parekh-ji gave him a sense of purpose and importance.7 a. you must fight the other guy. It is not an ordinary place.' 'Son. don't tell me about being extreme. or if he was revising lessons given by Parekh-ji.' I said. Ali's dad spoke again.' All of us nodded to say goodnight. We are communicating our differences. . We said. like all political parties. We believe it is the birthplace of our lord.m. He never spoke about this to Ish and me. Behind the beard and the moustache. like most people. so it is Parekh-ji. 'It is like two customers go to a restaurant and the manager gives them only one plate of food. 'Yes. Omi held his head down. 'But slowly they will see the truth. can't have that one little request fulfilled. and some people tell them to make amends and eat half plate each. Creating differences. 'Come. And unlike us who never took him seriously. It's ok. And if you want to eat. In all this. And we. That is why I am never big on religion or politics.' | We stood up to leave and reached the door. I like to take a walk after dinner.' 'Hah.

Paresh and Naveen. there is no fire brigade to check it. 'You know I used to teach zoology in college. His decision on how many rounds the kids must run was arbitrary.' Even Omi had to laugh.' Ali said.' Ali heaved. females. like cricket. after the fight. I think he enjoyed this first dose of power everyday. They kiss each other. These reconciliatory mechanisms are essential. The maths textbook was for Class VII. on the lips. To make sure the fight gets resolved and the pack stays together.. His face was hot and red. it leads to another and so on... 'That there are no reconciliatory mechanisms. They were both Ali's age but looked stronger. Omi smirked. He wanted I lis after-dinner paan. Just by not talking about it. 'Can't we just play?' Ali said. However. They will fight. male chimpanzees of the same pack fight violently with each other .. How are you going to run between the wickets? How are you going to field?' 'That is why . Keep the books away. 'You have to warm up. 'No. The boy looked startled by the sudden instruction. Youl can't really check it. and doesn't come out until it is too late. 'And I once read about chimpanzee fights that may be relevant here.. buddy.' 'Chimpanzee fights?' 'Yes. run around the backyard twenty times. take any husband and wife. Ali came on time in a white kurta pajama. The image of kissing chimpanzees stayed with me all night. 'Boys. In fact.' Ish said as we waved goodbye. The notebooks were blank. whatever.' Ish said. 'Tell Ali to be on time. Ali had more than warmed up. can't . two other kids had also come for cricket practice. The resentment brews and brews.' Ish ordered in his drill sergeant voice. 'Yes. It is.. Ali chose an empty locker and put down his books. ‘Cricket first.for food.' Ish said. with hugs. 'Buddy. any long-term relationship requires this. He held his maths books in one hand and his cricket bat in the other. the differences do not go away. I went upstairs to the vault to look at Ali's books. they go through a strange ritual. people here do hundred rounds.' Ali's dad said. 'I .'Once a fight is created. run. I don't . so that means if politicians fuel a fire.' lsh said. However. I came out to the first floor balcony. 'Yes. People feel inside. but Omi is right. still trying to catch his breath.. The problem in Indian Hindu-Muslim rivalry is not that that one is right and the other is wrong. 'What?' Ish said as Ali stopped after five rounds. I figured out why Ali's dad had come with us.. later they will make up.’ Ish said. . The students were on their morning jog.. I took him upstairs and opened the vault. but looked untouched.' 'Any?' Ish said.. presents or kind understanding words. 'So Hindus and Muslims should kiss?' I said.' We had reached the main road and stopped next to a paan shop. It sounds harsh. the point is this ritual was created by nature. and hurt each other emotionally.

' Omi said. I'aresh took a three-step run-up and bowled. I did not mean to. Naveen you be in Ali's team and bat first. I told him to simplify 24/64 and he started dividing the numerator and denominator by two again and again. He could catch only when the ball came close to him. 'Give it to your stick insect. If the ball goes out and hits someone. and tore it open with his mouth.. 'Shut up.' Omi said.'Paresh. We'll bowl first. Ali never moved from his position. very near tears.' I told a sweaty 'Ali. I can't do anything else. let's play.' Ish smiled. 'All right. 'For what?' Ish said. I know you can do that. Now why don't you bowl?' Ali didn't bat anymore that day. especially because he was an animal when it came to cricket. Omi shoved the milk packet near Ali and left.' Ish said. However. Ali looked puzzled at the reprimand. 'Any questions on cricket. 'We will teach you. Ish kept the practice simple for the next half an hour and tried not to scream.' Ish said. He lobbed the ball high and expected everyone to catch. but Ali's laziness meant they could score only one. the ball rose and hurled towards the first floor. you are with me.' Paresh said. Ali still looked surprised. It was on fractions and decimals. Omi brought two polypacks of milk. You want to make him a player or not?' 'You give him yourself. I am sorry. his father had tried his best. 'Hey. one more. I ducked in the first floor balcony. It was an easy two runs. He brought his books down and opened the first chapter of his maths book. Hey Ali. 'This is not a cricket ground. We will study in the backyard. The latter was tough.' Ali froze. 'Have you seen his arms? They are thinner than the wicket. champ?' . 'That is all I know.' Naveen took the crease and Ali became the runner. he lacked the intuition he had in hitting sixes in mathematics. Learn the other aspects of the game.' Ish clapped his hands. Ish did catch and field practice.' he gave one to Ish. Of course. 'You have done some fractions before?' I said. Ish stood in the middle with the bat as everyone bowled to him. Ali struck. Naveen struck on Paresh's fourth ball. 'See you at the shop.. The ball went past me and hit the branch manager's office window. He nodded. 'Thanks.. We are playing in a bank. who will be responsible? What if things break? Who will pay?' Ish shouted.' Ish told me and turned to Ali. 'And here. 'Here. Ish ran to get the ball.' Ali's voice cracked. after taking a big sip. 'That was a good shot.After exercises. 'Ok. when Ali had hit a six off his first ball. what? You hero or something?' Ish ran to Ali. Paresh had the same shocked expression as Ish. listen. 'Get your books from upstairs.

whatever. We remained poor. Winning a seat is not that easy. Nobody took risks or stuck their neck out. I nodded. that the clueless Sixties to Eighties generation is now old. Tanks and thinktanks. It was exam time and business was modest. 'Not all that bad. 'No. These secular guys are good. Now who the fuck pays for Mama's snacks? The rent is not that cheap.' Bittoo Mama's voice made us all sit up. 'Keep your questions to maths.' Ish said. we played good cricket. I opened the cash box and took some coins.' Mama said.' he said and left.' I said. bro. Just one corrupt banana republic marketed by the leaders as this new socialist.' Omi said as he pulled out a stool. Our nap was soon interrupted. 'Get something to eat as well. We are so ready. not that way. man. But the Nineties and the. what do they say.' 'Zeroes. electing the same control freaks who did nothing for the country. 'That's how you score. closing my eyes. When rent is cheap. These thirty years are an embarrassment for India.'Why do people run between the wickets to score runs?' Ali said. intellectual nation.. Mama. well done. I clapped.' 'Fuck off. you are the intellectual. The Zeroes think different. Now can we rest until the next pesky kid comes. 'We won the World Cup in 1983. 'Wow.' Ish said as we lay down in the shop.' Omi said. nothing else. It's the rule. 'We will. 'And guess who was at the top? Which party? Secular nonsense again. 'Anyway. kept fighting wars.' Ish said.' 'Yeah. Omi snoozed while Ish and 1 had our usual philosophical discussion. Mama?' Omi said as he took the tea glasses off the crate and passed them around. A nap was a great way to kill time during slow afternoons. elections next year and Gujarat is ours. but that's about it. wisdom is free at the Team India Cricket Shop. nibbling the end of his pen. your right-wing types didn't exactly get their act together cither. Now what the hell was he doing here? 'It is slow this time of the day.' 'Yeah.' I said. My point is. opening one eye. Your friends can come too. The young generation from the Sixties to the Eighties is the worst India ever had. Can't have a discussion around here. shopkeepers Will sleep. yuck. 'Lying down. We had spread a mat on the shop's floor. I mean why run across and risk getting out for one or two runs when you can hit six with one shot?' Ish scratched his head. 'No. screw politics. But we are being run by old fogeys who never did anything worthwhile in their primetime. People's dream job was a government job. You think only you are the intellectual type.' Ish said. 'Well. I am just a cricket coach. He signalled me to get tea. I thought as I left the shop with a fake smile. 'You come help me if it is slow in the afternoons..' 'What do you want me to do. Mama was telling Omi.' Omi joined in.' Ish grumbled. I am the sleepy type. You wait and see. The Doordarshan generation is running the Star TV generation. . I returned with tea for everyone. and running the country.  'I have figured it out.' Ish said.

'Good. the rent we pay is fair. If you see young people at the temple. really? Where. 'If Omi wasn't there. 'How much is the deposit?' Mama said. just before we moved to the Navrangpura mall.' I said without thinking. 'But this isn't about religion. organising rallies. Smartass. 'We will make the deposit next month. You can take your shop back then. Possession when it opens in three months. I'd get you kicked out. given the philosophy of the party. 'What? Now you are quiet. I am agnostic. I wanted to tell him only at l lie last minute. 'Look at his pride! This two-bit shop and a giant ego.' Omi said. And given the location.' I said. I alone am enough.' Omi said.' 'I'll come next time. It is about justice. nobody would give him that stature. disgusted. we need people to help us in publicity. And considering we gave you this shop at such a low rent. A cheaper rent was the least he could do. This two-bit shop is about to move to a prime location sports store.'We have to mobilise young people. even if it is slow. Mama. Omi nodded. right?' Omi said. There is work to be done. remember?' I said. I had dreamt of this expression lor months. Omi was a friend.' 'It is not your shop. warn them against the hypocrites.' . I'll see you. but given his qualifications. tell them about our party.' Mama said. too. 'Let me know when you want me. I could see the point in targeting temple visitors. Dhiraj was Mama's fourteenyear-old son and Omi's cousin. you wouldn't be able to save this much.' I said. At least one person. Omi's mother gave it to us. 'And you. to break the ever escalating tension between Mama and me. I couldn't help it.' I stood up.' he said. Tell them our philosophy. If you were paying the market rent of two. 'You pay one thousand a month for this shop. 'Forty thousand. Dhiraj will come as well. 'continue your rest. that was supposed to be my excuse. Sure. Govind?' Mama said.' 'What?' Mama exclaimed.' 'There will be no need. 'Oh. Tell them about me. During campaign time. still reading the register.' I said. you owe US something.' Mama said. Hut I was sick of his patronising tone. you will pull a hand-cart with these bats and balls?' Mama said. 'We are moving to Navrangpura mall. Mama. Mama's mouth remained open. eh?' Mama stood up. What was I supposed to do? Jump and grab his feet? I was also giving his nephew employment and an equal share in my business. 'You will come?' Mama turned to Ish. 'I am not into that sort of stuff. 'Tell others. 'Someone has to man the shop. should they be pitched to join politics? I opened the accounts register to distract myself. We saved it. But when someone comes to pray. Yes.' Ish said. We are leaving soon anyway. I kept quiet. Mama. 'Really?' Mama turned to Omi.

Ish raised his middle finger as Mama left. . Then we lay down and went back to sleep.

more to improve communication than the sight of her smudged eyes. It is afternoon already.' I said. Actually. 'well done' or made a 'star' against their answers. I normally taught young kids. I told you last time. Once.' I said. 'I am fine. 'Nothing.' 'No problem. 'You want to go wash your face?' I said. I thought of a suitable response to a fake 'nothing'. 'Excuse me. I couldn't see her face as we sat side by side. but I knew she'd just cried when she lifted a hand to wipe an eye.' I said as I finished reviewing her work. I opened her tuition notebook. unable to respond. the brown was more prominent on her fair face. she had to . But why wasn't she saying anything. so she is too busy to type a line?' I wished that woman would SMS her so we could start class. this time her eyeliner gone and the whole face wet. It's Garima and her. I almost wrote 'good' out of habit.. 'Next time I will tell her I have something really important to I talk about and not call her for two days. We have to do more complex problems today and. measure the strength of their friendship by the power of the emotionally manipulative games they could play with each other.’ 'But I am not disturbed. she wasn't dumb at maths as she came across on first impression.' 'Why don't you SMS her instead?' 'I am not doing that.' 'Garima?' 'Yes. She always does that.' she said.. forget it. and she hasn't. 'She is in this hi-fi PR job. and they loved it if I made comments like 'good'. 'She told me last night she would SMS me in the morning. it meant 'a lot and don't get me started'. A girl's 'nothing' usually means 'a lot'. I repeat only some girls. 'Listen. we can't have a productive class if you are disturbed. She said she would. I am a tutor. I am feeling better. And so she should. She had the same eyes as her brother. When she applied her mind. and ticked her notebook. 'You did them all?' She shook her head.Seven 'Have you done the sums I gave you?' Vidya nodded. So what happened in problem eight?' I said. But Vidya was no kid. Thanks for listening. not a consoler. She came back.' I looked at her eyes. my cousin and best friend in Bombay. 'Should we start?' 'Yeah. 'How many did you do?' She showed me seven fingers. Some. 'You did quite well. She probably had an outburst of tears. But she rarely applied it for more than five minutes.' 'I don't remember. Her eyelashes were wet. We immersed ourselves into probability for the next half an hour. well. seven out of ten weren't bad.' she said and ran to the bathroom. 'Your second problem is correct too. 'What's up?' I said.' she said in a broken voice. Ok.. However. right?' I looked at her blankly. Let's get started.

'Are there?' 'Yes. I'll get the bill. But the people who set these exam papers.' 'Well. Ask your parents if they will pay for them. Still. I pulled my hand away.change her pen. I can get them for you if you want. They go into concepts. Think about this. we only have twenty minutes more. we plowed along. we have no choice. Do they just cram up reactions? Or do they ever get fascinated by it? Do they ever see a marble statue and wonder.' I didn't know what to say to this girl. do you?' I said. I wanted to keep the break productive. I wonder if they ever are curious about chemistry anymore. Maybe I should have stuck to teaching seven-year-olds. 'What is this?' 'What?' I said. it sucks. but inside this statue there are protons buzzing and electrons madly spinning. But the way they teach it. In fifteen minutes. 'That's quite amazing.' 'What?' . they have thousands of multiple choice questions. 'There are some good reference books outside your textbooks for science. You figure them out and then you are good enough to be a doctor. If it is for studies. reproducing and dying right on us. I have never done so much maths continuously in my life. There are very few good colleges and competition is tough.' *Of course. 'Can we agree to a five-minute break during class? One shouldn't study maths that long. it all appears static. I wished they would be as lit up when I taught her probability. That's not how I look at science. taken aback by her contact. because that comes in the exam every single year.' I told her. Do you know there are communities of bacteria living here? There are millions of individual life forms -eating. 'Or let's talk of biology. she needed a cushion behind her back. After that her mother sent in tea and biscuits and she had to sip it every thirty seconds.' I said. Yet.' I know. It has to be bad for you.' I looked into her bright eyes. Forty minutes into the class.' She kept her pen aside and opened her hair. we never wonder. Can we take a break?' 'Vidya. But can I come along with you?' 'No. 'How is your preparation for other subjects? You don't hate science. they spend like crazy. I like science. isn't it?' I said. 'Like what?' 'Like the medical entrance guides. you get them in the Law Garden book market. she pulled her chair back.' Vidya said. A strand fell on my arm. 'This is your skin.' she said and touched my arm. Why? We only care about cramming up an epidermal layer diagram. they will pay. 'My head is throbbing now. She stood up straight and blinked her eyes. you don't have to. Then she had to reopen and fasten her hairclip.

'I figured out a way to rein in Ali. Students who prepared for medical entrance don't exactly wear coloured lip gloss. I was walking out when Ish came home. Her bandhini orange and red dupatta had tiny brass bells at the end. One good way old people get away with leching is by branding you their son or daughter. She was probably the best looking customer to visit that month.' 'You silly or what? It will be a nice break. Then he is like any of us. 'That's the bookshop. rubbing her lips with her fingers. No. He knew my name ever since I scored a hundred in the board exam.' I said.' he said. excuse me. 'Garima. 'Hey. 'It's lip gloss. My head buzzed like those electrons inside the marble statue in Omi's temple. We have taken a fifteen-minute break. but looking at Ish right then made my heart beat fast. I thought.' I finished a set of exercises and gave her ten problems as homework. but I am sure anyone who clears the engineering and medical entrance exams in the city has visited the bookstore.' I said as the shopkeeper scanned Vidya up and down. overzealous students who'd never have enough of quantum physics or calculus. But that would be stupid. Let's do the rest of the sums. Some students are special.' I nodded. In the newspaper interview I had . I didn't have to explain everything to him. have to go. They don't provide statistics. She rushed to grab it. We'll go together.' said Ish. The middle-aged shopkeeper looked at Vidya through his glasses. Listen. I didn't know why. I took rapid strides and was out of his sight. good class? She is a duffer. must be tough. 'Not bad. Is it too much?' she said self-consciously. Nearly all customers were sleep deprived. I scolded myself. his body covered in sweat after practice. right?' Ish chuckled. Her lips shone and I couldn't help staring at them. ★ She was dressed in a white chikan salwar kameez on the day of our Law Garden trip. ever look at her face. 'The other boys get pissed though. 'You bet. Don't worry.' I said and wondered how much longer I had to be with him and why the hell did I feel so guilty? 'Yeah. They think I have a special place for this student. I didn't have a special student.' With that.'In case you are thinking how much I will spend. There was a hint of extra make-up. 'How?' 'I let him hit his four sixes first. 'Govind beta. so nice to see you. For a nanosecond I felt he was making a dig at me.' Ish said. 'Ahem. I wondered if I should tell him about my plan to go to Law Garden with Vidya to buy books. she is a quick learner. The University Bookstore in Navrangpura was a temple for all muggers in the city.' 'Fine. Mom needs help with a big wedding order. They made a sound everytime she moved her hand. 'They are kids. Her phone beeped as I stood up to leave. Her upper lip had a near invisible mole on the right. this was about Ali.' Ish added.' I said as we reached the store. I pulled my gaze away and looked for autos on the street. Never.' she said and I shut the door behind me.

yes.L. They solve a certain number of problems. The shopkeeper raised an eyebrow. . 'Flip through it. red and white balls on the cover.' Vidya took the book in her hand. 'Guides are a short cut. Khanna?' I could see his displeasure in me calling him uncle. Just the table of contents depressed me.' Vidya agreed. I would have done more small talk.recommended his shop. 'Well. let's buy it. And uncle.' the shopkeeper said.' The shopkeeper brought out the orange and black cover Resnick and Halliday. taken aback by my abruptness. 'You have organic chemistry by L. I haven't seen a thicker book and every page is filled with the hardest maths problems in the world.L Khanna could do this to the students of our country. I didn't even want him to look at Vidya. His assistants pulled out the yellow and black tome. Yes. the four fingers fell short. and in physics. 'I won't understand it. totally ignoring my comment. 'What is this?' Vidya said and tried to lift the book with her left hand. It's too hi-fi for me. He was asking me about the girl. I am fine. finishing her scan.' he screamed . for maths do you have M. I saw that book at my friend's place once. This one explains the principles. In fact. have you ever read Resnick and Halliday?' 'Oh. Why do these old people poke their nose in our affairs so much? Like. Now if Resnick and Halliday is scary. Khanna is the Exorcist. see if you like it. I take tuitions.Wade?' I said. 'Chemistry book.' I said as I tapped the cover and gave it to Vidya. You need to understand the concepts.' 'What is this "hi-fi"? It is in your course. 'No. what is this? An assault weapon?' 'It covers every topic. you will understand it. See this is the reason why people think Ahmedabad is a small town despite the multiplexes. seriously. I still get a twenty-five per cent discount on every purchase. something possible only in physics books.L. 'Maths Khanna.' I said and measured the thickness with the fingers of my right hand.it one of his five assistants. He nodded his head in approval. 'Other organic chemistry books have too much to memorise. 'This is a good book.' she said. 'Good. the cover was scary and dull at the same time. But if you want to. 'Student. It is the mentality of the people. She used both hands and finally took it six inches off the ground. She couldn't. Her red nail polish was the same colour as the atoms on the cover. would we care if he hung out with three grandmas? 'If you say it is good.' I whispered to satisfy his curiosity lest he gave up sleeping for the rest of his life.' I said. 'Don't they have some guides or something?' she said.' the shopkeeper shouted. She turned a few pages. but I wanted to avoid talking about Vidya. 'Of course. M.G. He displayed the cutting for two years after that. but someone needed to remind him. my voice stern.' I said. It was amusing that a person with a friendly name like M. you have to study it.

Sure. She ordered a Den's special pizza. 'Are we allowed to talk about anything apart from science subjects?' 'Of course. She wore three rings. We kept quiet and started eating it. The great thing about girls is that even during pauses in the conversation you can look at them and not get bored. I would never get a good price for cricket balls.She held her hand sideways over mine to assist. or worst case join his hand to ours to check the thickness. 'Now what?' she said. The pizza arrived. and (4) you are a girl. I am famished. I took the least visible seat in Dairy Den. She didn't need to as her phone beeped louder than a fire alarm everytime there was one.' I reassured her. multi-coloured stones.(1) I am your teacher (2) you are my best friend's sister (3) you are younger than me. She looked sideways as she became conscious of two boys on a faraway table staring at her. 'I am starving. so that it would not fall on the pizza and touch the cheese.' she said. We paid for the books and came out of the shop. She tied her hair.' I said. as preferred by Ambavadis. I had the urge to go see it.' I said. But I couldn't match the drama-queen in histrionics. If a supplier saw me at Dairy Den. 'Can someone explain to me why seventeen-year-olds are made to read MSc books in this country?' I shrugged. She raised her eyebrows. She kept her dupatta away from the table and on the chair. It wasn't surprising. 'Don't worry. 'Well. Why are there so few pretty girls? Why hadn't evolution figured it out that men liked pretty women and turned them all out that way? She checked her phone for any new SMSs. All dishes were vegetarian.' She kept a hand on her stomach. 'We are not that far apart in age. 'These books look really advanced. They didn't notice me. 'You are a big bore. I'm hungry.' she said.' she said. She pulled back her sleeve and lifted a slice of pizza. but one could never be too careful. I would be like any other trendy young boy in Ahmedabad. considering she was the best looking girl in Dairy Den by a huge margin. 'tough. isn't it?' 'Tough? Give me one reason why?' 'I will give you four . what's up?' she broke the silence. 'They are MSc books. I pulled my hand out. for the medical entrance you only have to study a few topics. I looked at her. We could be friends. let's go home. 'Six.' I said. each with different designs and tiny. I felt hungry too. 'So. aren't you?' she said. it is six fingers thick. pointing to the plastic bag. My new shop was two hundred metres away. which had every topping available in Dairy Den's kitchen.' I said and looked for an auto. you know.' . She used her fingers to lift the strands of cheese that had fallen out and placed them back on the slice. Seriously. no one from our gossip-loving pol came to this hip teen joint. lest uncle raise his eyebrows again. I had no answers for lazy students. 'Nothing. 'Dairy Den is round the corner.' she said softly. I glared at the boys at the other table. We walked on the Navrangpura main road. 'Excuse me?' I said. Finally she took a bite.

it takes a few steps to get them to the point. She had this habit of soothing people by touching them. 'So. 'Backup what?' 'You. 'How?' she egged me on. You have thought it out. Though 1 am sure you would have got in. you became a backup friend. who do you do it with?' 'I don't need to rant about my friends.' If she applied as much brain in maths. 'But seriously. too.' She nodded. She laughed. I loved that nod. I told her about my dream . or talks to me like I am some naive small town girl. Vidya was supposed to be Ish's little sister who played with dolls. How I had expanded the business to offer tuitions and coaching. rant about them.' 'Like Garima and I are really close. venting. i 'Navrangpura. 'near here?' 'Yes. like this. And finally. no one could stop her from becoming a surgeon. So. Ish and Omi are really close. Girls talk in circles.' I said. I turned determinedly to the pizza instead. Where did she learn to talk like that? 'Sorry. 'It tells me something. She saw the glitter in my eyes. . would not open M. you have considered a potential friendship.' she said. 'Good you never did engineering. talking about it to you. Can't get numbers out of my system. I hate it. 'C'mon. Khanna to save her life.' she said and tapped my hand. but she is still my best friend. For once. as I could see it reflected in hers.' I said. even though she is a much closer friend of mine. 'I am kidding. 'Sorry for the list. Or may be they do. They don't know how to talk. makes me feel better. c'mon.I felt stupid stating my reasons in bullet points.. She laughed at me rather than with me. I felt the urge to look at her face again. I meant Ish and Omi are your best friends. you should have a backup friend. but they don't understand the passion I bring to it. are they perfect?' 'No one is perfect. female touches excite more than soothe. as my chest expanded four inches.' I remained silent. That means. someone had nodded at something I felt so deeply about. But Vidya who could micro-analyse relationships for hours.' 'And?' I said. But sometimes she ignores me. and how I managed everything. Over the last few scraps of pizza. I told her about our shop. but with sick people like me.' My mouth fell open at her last word. We talk twice a day. 'Sometimes I don't think they understand business. But if you have to bitch .L. With normal people it would've been ok. Like an algebra problem. So it's complicated.' she said.' she said.to get out of the old city and have a new shop in an air-conditioned mall.' I said. I told her about Ish's irritating habit of giving discounts to kids and Omi's dumbness in anything remotely connected to numbers. And I can forgive her. oops.' I paused. There is a reason why nerds can't impress girls. Like you have known each other since you were sperm.. I told her everything. what's the one rant you have about your best friends?' 'My friends are my business partners. 'And.

' I said.' I said. supplier Pandit-ji's eighteen-year-old daughter. eh?' Ish began to laugh. He opened the bat. I chided myself.' I said. the IndiaAustralia series is coming. 'The best of the lot for you Govind bhai.' 'They are all living in that room?' Ish was curious.' Pandit-ji sighed and took out the bats for repair from the gunny bag. We went to the garage and sat on wooden stools. 'Take a dozen Govind bhai. 'last and final.' she said. had his one-room house right next to it. 'You like her. 'How much. Are you nuts?' 'Fair-complexioned. you can wait in the garage. Ish examined the bat. This wasn't right. We had come to purchase new bats and get old ones repaired. Everybody welcomes you. . Sometimes hat makers used artificial fragrance to make new bats smell good. 'What to do? He had a bungalow in Srinagar and a fifty-year. you need to be friends with these books. He offered us green almonds.' Pandit-ji smiled heartily. opened the door.' I said and asked for the bill. It is nice to be a buyer in business. Today be felt blessed being a small supplier in Ahmedabad with his family still alive. Now. The owner.' I said.' a girl responded as Ishaan rang the bell of our supplier's home. And leaving mom and her business alone was not an option. 'Kashmiris are so fair complexioned.' Ish grinned. That was before he was kicked out of his hometown by militants who gave him the choice of saving his neck or his factory. fresh after a bath. Until five years ago.' 'Not in the old city. He opened the wooden trunk and took out a bat wrapped in plastic. he owned a large bat factory in Kashmir. I mentally repeated the four reasons and poked the pile of books. It smelled of fresh willow. 'Govind bhai. He went to the box and checked the other bats for cracks and chips. Giriraj Pandit. Ish dumped the bats for repair on the floor. I have five more mouths to feed until he finds a job and place. demand will be good.' he swore.' 'Joking?' 'Never. 'Three hundred. My cousin's family has arrived from Kashmir. Saira.' 'Govind bhai. 'Papa is getting dressed. it is a bit tough right now. 'We need six bats.  'Coming. they've lost everything. see what times have come to.' he said and opened a wooden trunk.'I can't see myself in an office. 'More than me. The Pandit Sports Goods Suppliers was located in Ellis Bridge. 'Two hundred fifty.' Pandit-ji said as he came into the warehouse.' I said to make innocuous conversation. kicked out of our own homes. old almond business. handing us the key to Pandit-ji's warehouse store.' I had opened up more than I ever had to anyone in my life. and these need repairs. hut Pandit-ji was the real deal. my best customer.

Pandit-ji took the money. We settled for two hundred and seventy after some more haggling. but imagined that transacting in lakhs and crores wouldn't be that different. I could never understand this absolute faith that believers possess. Maybe I missed something by being agnostic. brushed it against the mini-temple in his godown and put it in his pocket. His God had made him pay a big price in life.' I said and took out the money. but he still felt grateful to him. . 'Done. I dealt in thousands now.I hated sympathy in business deals.

What is the point of marbles?' Ish said as he signalled him to take the crease. 'I want to go.' Ali's self-control had become better after training for a few months. he could sharpen his focus to use his gift. the ball Hew out of the bank.' Ish screamed from his position at the umpire. Once Ali faced five balls in a restrained manner. 'Hey. Three balls later. One of the three other boys became the bowler.20 a. Ish rued spoiling the boy with gifts . I need to get good before my school match. Like his spirit. 'We will start with catching practice. He gained the strength to hit the ball rather than rely on momentum. Ali whacked it hard. He didn't. Ali didn't hit any big shots. walked to the crease without looking up. rubbing his shoulder. Disconcerted by this insolence. . The trick was to use his ability at a lever that scored yet sustained him at the crease. Paras batted a catch towards Ali. 'You are wearing kurta pajama. 'You dreaming?' 'I want to leave early. Paras to bat.' 'And what about cricket?' Ali shrugged.' Ish said. brand new from Kashmir. 'First you come late. Ish unwrapped a new bat for him. One ball an over worked well. Ish bhaiya. Ish allowed Ali to bat again upon Paras' insistence. woke up late.' Ali took the bat.. Ish had taught him to play defensive and avoid getting out. Ali. Ali's stamina had improved. With better diet and exercise. catch. Every delayed minute made Ish more pissed. Two steps and he could have caught the ball.sometimes kits. 'Switch.' Ali stared at Ish with his green eyes.' Ali said. 'Hey.' Paras said and gave Ali the bat. he threw the bat on| the crease. watch it.. 'Can I leave early today?' 'Why?' Ish snapped.' Ish shouted after three overs. bat. where is your kit?' Ish screamed as Ali walked in at 7.' Paras said as he came close to Ali.' Ish shook Ali's shoulder hard. 'Hey. 'No he has to field. give them catches. 'Sorry.' Ish said. and the ball landed on the ground. whose hands were busy tightening the cords of his pajama. I know he wants to bat. I didn't get time and. 'For you. When Ali finished his rounds. The ball thunked down on the ground. He noticed Ish staring at him and lifted up his hand in a cursory manner.' 'Here Ali.m.' Ish said and stood in the centre of the bank's courtyard. Ali. Like it?' Ali nodded without interest. Paras set up a catch for Ali again. Ali had one hand in his pocket.' The ball arrived. sometimes bats. no shots. Ish now wanted him to get to two balls an over. 'There is a marble competition in my pol. And I want to practice more catches. gentle to the left. Ali to field. Disappointed.Eight Ali reached practice twenty minutes late. 'Lift it for I'aras. 'It is ok. 'Finish practice first.' 'Do your rounds. It is a new bat. then you want to go early. 'You sleeping or what?' Ish said but Ali ignored him.

'Brat.' 'Ali.' Ish said. Ouch. don't want to field. kids and their bitter truth. yet. Ish kept quiet.' Ali said. I wasn't sure if it was tears.' Ish spat out. 'I don't like him. we practice tomorrow. 'It is so fucking unfair. 'But did you see his attitude? "You never became great.' Ish shouted. We did have a kerosene stove. let's go up. I exhaled a deep breath as everyone left. 'I shouldn't have hit him. 'Ali behave. Now go home.' Ali glared back at me. Everyone stood erect as they heard the slap. He has it in him to make to the national team.' Ali said.. Ali sat up on the ground and sucked his breath to fight tears. 'He does. Ish froze. I tried to hug him.' I said. 'No. can you order another LPG cylinder.' I said. 'I don't want to do sums. This one is almost over. quiet buddy. Don't take him seriously. 'Go play your fucking marbles. Ish's right hand swung and slapped Ali's face hard. but it was a pain to cook on that. I gave up my future for this game. we have to. He pushed me away.' Ish said.' I said to Ish after everyone left. I felt it was stupid of Ish to argue with a twelve-year-old. But all he wants to do is play his fucking marbles. I nodded. 'Well. Oops. And you have this kid who is born with this talent he doesn't even care about.'I don't care about your stupid marble tournament. thinks he has a gift. This is no way to speak to your coach.' Ish to said. 'hey. We came to the cashier's waiting area to sit on the sofas. Ali broke into tears." Can you imagine if I had said it to my coach?' 'He is just a twelve-year-old. as I had never seen Ish cry. crying as he kicked me with his tiny legs. 'Everyone go home. 'Go away. Maybe God sent me here to be everyone's parent. He held back something. wrong thing to say to a kid who had just been whacked.' .. Come. 'Yeah. still in tears. We locked the bank's main door and the gate and walked towards our shop. I made lemonade in the kitchen to calm Ish down Ish stood next to me.' he said after drinking half a glass. you also never became great. go inside the bank.' Ali said.' 'He doesn't care man. 'I slaved for years.' I said. we will do some fun sums. Nothing came of it. His arm trembled. The impact and shock made Ali fall on the ground. as his less-strict maths tutor. No marble player ever became great.. Don't want to do sums. I ran behind to pull Ish's elbow.' Ish finished his drink and tossed the plastic glass in the kitchen sink.' Ish said and deposited a slap again.' 'He enjoys marbles. I don't want you.' I said.' I said and passed him his drink. ★ 'What the fuck is wrong with you? He is a kid. 'Ish. He doesn't enjoy cricket.' I said. With perfect timing like Ali's bat. I bent down to pick up Ali. Lazy freak show wants to play marbles all day.

A ten-year-old came with thirty coins to buy a cricket ball. 'I don't know.' Ish said and continued to sulk about Ali in the corner. that's like saying Vidya is the Preity Zinta of our pol. We came close to our shop.' I said. Right now he is the marble champ in his pol and loves that position. Ali missed us. everyday. Omi had reached before us and swept the floor. but have no gifts.' 'You are talented. Ish went inside. even my future. Who cares?' 'What?' I said and couldn't control a smile. too. 'A leather ball is twenty-five bucks.'What do you mean nothing came of it? You were the best player in school for years. And then comes this marble player who has this freakish gift.' 'Not enough. and I keep teasing her on it. practice and more practice. Otherwise. Not as much as Ali. 'Why does God do this Govind?' Ish said. Once he experiences the same success in cricket. His mother told us he cried for two hours that day and never attended the marble tournament. in this world the rich would remain rich and the poor would remain poor. Today was one of those days. our aunt once called her that.' I said. He missed coming to coaching.' I said as I finished the painful task of counting the coins. 'Take it. and now that I think of it. helps to make the world fair. 'Do what?' 'Give so much talent to some people. I put a finger on my lips to signal Omi to be quiet. two dozen marbles and a new sports cap to woo Ali back.woke up at 4 a. training for hours. We reached the shop.' Ish said. 'So why doesn't he care? Marbles? Can you believe the boy is more interested in marbles?' 'He hasn't seen what he can get out of cricket. 'Nothing. I had to try and answer every silly question of his. Ali had an . I could never see the ball and whack it like Ali. 'Then come later. The temple dome became visible.  It took Ish one box of chocolates. I pushed myself . 'Good practice?' Omi asked idly as he ordered tea. Why Govind?' Continuing my job as the parent of my friends. You will turn him into a player Ish. I love this game. 'I broke the piggy bank. in Belrampur Municipal School. I don't have anymore. You only have twenty-one. He hadn't come for practice the next two days either. God gives talent so that the ordinary person can become extraordinary. 'Fuck you Ish.m. he was a four ball freak show. but he had promised his Mama to attend the morning rallies at least twice a week. I gave up studies. And people like me have none.' the boy said very seriously.' Ish said and gave the boy the ball.' 'Yeah. he will value his gift Until now. I reflected on my own statement a little. 'Fuck you businessman. This unfair talent actually creates a balance. His mood lightened up a little. Talent is the only way the poor can become rich. The boy grabbed it and ran away. Ish's guilt pangs had turned into an obsession.' I said as Ish interrupted me.' I said.

It was a bottle of coconut oil. 'He will be a player like India never had. probably the dumbest thing to say but it changed the topic. a bit of organic chemistry for my head. 'Yes. It is Einstein's birthday.' 'What day?' 'Pi Day. 'Oops. If they reject him. '14 March. I thought I'll oil my hair. It sounded a bit mad. 'Nothing. 'I tried. He will go for selections. 'No way. Pi approximates to 3. All too melodramatic if you ask me. I didn't look there at all. 'What?' I stood up in reflex. isn't it?' 'A day for Pi? How can you have a day for something so horrible?' . Maybe this will help. Vidya. I would have lost my temper again. The tug was totally due to me. 'When is your birthday?' she said.' she said and bent down. That should help.' she said. How can a grown-up woman wear something that says 'fairy queen'? How can anyone wear something that says 'fairy queen'? 'I pray everyday. Self-consciously she tugged at the T-shirt's neckline as she sat back up. He touched Ish's feet and said sorry for insulting his guru.  'Excuses don't clear exams.' I said. this time more serious. If they accept him.' 'Really? You confident he will make it. nothing like reading organic chemistry yourself. Cool.' I said. If you study this. 'Pi Day. I had crossed that threshold. 'Coconut oil. Ish said he'd cut off his hand rather than hit him again.' she said and pushed back her open hair. fortunately closed. and Ish mellowed somewhat. too. as a bottle fell over on the ground.' I opened the chemistry book again. 'Don't talk about Ali's gift at all. You see.' Omi said. There is an optimal time for looking at women before it gets counted as a stare.14 so 14 March is the same date.apology ready . they will make him play useless matches for several years. he is going to be disappointed forever. Ali's cricket improved. and other students suggested we take him to the district trials.probably stage-managed by his mother. but we had seen Ali demolish the best of bowlers. 'Don't leave it to God.' she said and lifted the blue bottle. the selection people will destroy him. Nothing else will. it will help. The point was Ali came back. Ish hugged him and Have the gifts. My gaze lasted a quarter second more than necessary. Ish vetoed the idea.' Ish wiped his lassi moustache. Maybe if she didn't look like a cute ragdoll in those clothes. but only the big one . She had not bathed. passing us lassi in steel glasses after practice.' I replied.' I flipped the book's pages to see how benzene became oxidised. She nodded and moved her chair. She had a track pant on that I think she had been wearing since she was thirteen and a pink T-shirt that said 'fairy queen' or something. even if for a few balls.the national team. but she thought I did. I felt sick. Two more years and Ish could well be right. I looked at her face.' Ish announced. I didn't know whether to laugh or flip my fuse again at her nonchalance. I don't trust anyone.

'So much easier for you to achieve your passions. 'Ok.' She turned to look at me. Just above the back of my neck.'Excuse me? It is an important day for maths lovers. 'Fifty thousand bucks. we should study now.' I said. I thought. holding up the cap in my hand even though my wrist ached. I am your tutor. yes at the roots. that's enough. 'Great.' 'Yeah.' she giggled.' 'Why not?' 'People label you a geek.' she said. dipped her fingers in the oil and applied it to her head. 'Well.' she said.' she said. She placed her left foot on her lap. I dipped my index finger in the oil and brought it to her neck. We never make it public though. there are no dream tutors.' My tongue slipped like it was coated in that oil as I tried to speak.' 'Yeah. I paid the deposit and three months advance rent. tying back her hair and placing the chemistry book at the centre of the table.' 'Are you not my friend?' 'Well.' I said. I noticed the tiny teddy bears all over her pajamas. 'Say something. 'Not here. And as far as I know. You do it yourself now. 'There. The best maths tutor in town had become a champi man. I am not your teacher.' she said.' she said. I followed her instructions in a daze. She pulled the oil bottle cap close. hopefully my brain would have woken up now. you can say you love music but you can't say you feel the same way for maths. please. your maths tutor.. 'How's the new shop coming?' she said. I should lump these lessons even if I have no interest in them whatsoever as that is what all good Indian students do?' . She held up the cap of the oil bottle. '1 don't want to study this. sort-of-friend. We will have the best location in the mall' 'I can't wait. almost done.' She told me to dip three fingers instead of one and press harder. what is your role as my teacher? Teach me how to reach my dreams or how to be a drone?' I kept quiet. You can say you love literature. I won't be allowed to open such a shop. rubbing oil vigorously. 'Two more months. "Vidya.. 'It tickles.' 'Ok. Higher. 'Vidya. what do you think I should do? Crush my passion and surround myself with hydrocarbon molecules forever?' I kept quiet. 'I wish I were a boy. I will hold the cap for you. sort of. I kept quiet. What the hell.' 'That you are. 'Can you help me oil my hair? I can't reach the back. yeah.' She twisted on her chair so her back faced me.' she giggled again. cash. 'Why? Easier to oil hair?' I said. as your teacher my role is.

' she said. Weren't we all conceived in a moment of passion?' I looked at her innocent -looking face. maybe I do. 'How?' 'What makes the cage? Your parents. but not to cut cadavers. . but you have a nice. right? Do you have to listen to them all the time?' 'Of course not. 'In that case.' Too late I realised I had used the F-word.' I banged my fist on the table. 'The problem is you think I am this geek who solves probability problems for thrills. 'my tutor-friend. passion should win. oiled brain that is not pea-sized like a bird's.' she said. but that is not all of me. big. 'Then do it.' 'Cursing is an act of passion. 'Passion versus parents is a tough call.' 'Really? Wow. it is a job. break the cage.I kept quiet.' 'Exactly.' I said and collected myself. I want to go to Mumbai. Ok. 'What?' she prodded me again. So use it to find the key out. so you are in a cage. shocked.' I smiled and turned away from her. But never fucking accuse me of crushing your passion. Humanity wouldn't have progressed if people listened to their parents all the time. This girl is out of control. 'Sorry for the language. Don't give me this wish-I-was-a-boy and I'm-trapped-in-a-cage nonsense. I want to study PR. I've been lying to them since I was five. 'So there you go. I am a tutor.' I said. Maybe it isn't such a good idea to get her out of her cage. Our parents are not innocent either. But if you have to choose. I want to make an admission to you.' 'Medical college is one key. but not for me. Well.

Nine 26 January is a happy day for all Indians. Can't the world let a businessman sleep on a rare holiday. My mother was fine too. I borrowed ten thousand from my mother. A strange silence followed the earthquake. 'Govind. what was this? Nightmares? I stood up and went to the window. Of course. it is a guaranteed holiday in the first month of the year. 'Why?' 'The building might collapse. I had invested a hundred and ten thousand rupees.' 'What?' I said and ducked under the side table kept by the window in reflex.' 'I don't think so. It started in Bhuj. . paintings and lampshades. The room furniture. 'Govind. 'Is it a bomb?' a man spoke to the other in whispers. 'Govind. The street was full of people. Ish's dad refused to give any money. Three TV antennas horn the opposite building fell down. It had fallen on the floor. fan and windows vibrated violently. I did not know n then. lay on the floor. I rubbed my eyes.' I screamed. purely as a loan. Whether or not you feel patriotic. 'Stop shaking me mom. I dreamed of my chain of stores the whole night. My business had already reached lakhs.' she screamed back. I want to sleep.' I screamed. we had spent another sixty thousand to fit out the interiors.' she said. Should we do a turf carpet throughout? Now that would be cool for a sports shop. 'hide under the table. The tremors lasted for forty-five seconds. I remember thinking it would be the last holiday at our temple shop since we were scheduled to move to the new mall on Valentine's Day. 'you ok?' I came out to the living room. 'Mom.' I said as my mother dragged me out in my pajamas. Everything on the wall -I alendars.' my mother came and hugged me. the most destructive and longest forty-five seconds of my life. A telephone pole broke and collapsed on the ground. It's coming on TV. 'Bad?' the other man said. I lay in bed with my thoughts. I was fine. Yes. don't move. I opened my eyes. The night before Republic Day. 'Let's get out.' my mother screamed from the other room. But mom didn't shake me. Apart from the deposit.' a man on the street said. People on the street ran haphazardly in random directions. Omi. I moved on my own. 'Earthquake.' I said after ten more minutes had passed. My bed went back and forth too. 'It is gone. I could see the havoc outside. took the rest in loan from Bittoo Mama. I looked at the wall clock. even though I had said no. It is an earthquake.

. Yes. it opens and you can look at what is inside. 'Reports suggest that while most of Ahmedabad is safe. No one in the crowd noticed me. my shop.' I said and wore my slippers. imagine the situation in Bhuj. 'Where is the building?' I said to myself as I kept circling my lane. which continued for the next few years. Those images had not come for years. rubble and more rubble. I decided to run the seven-kilometre stretch. It epicentred in Bhuj. but everytime a new entry has to be added. The police pulled out a labourer. Every channel covered the earthquake. Unrelated images of the day my dad left us flashed in my head. The whole city was shut. 'I have to go out. The sight of blood made me vomit. Some said more earthquakes could come. Almost every building had their windows broken.. 'No.' is all 1 said as I ran out of the house. I retreated.' 'Where?' 'Navrangpura . I felt intense thirst. I gasped for breath as I ran the last hundred metres. I think the brain has a special box where it keeps crappy memories. finally. The new city areas like Satellite suffered heavy damage.. 'My shop mom. No. Signs of plush shops lay on the road. but I only saw rubble. I couldn't find any autos or buses. 'What?' my mother said as she brought me tea and toast. Cement hags had fallen on him and crushed his legs. Meanwhile.. The mayhem on the street and the broken signs made it hard to identify addresses... One lakh and ten thousand. Did I miss the building? I said as I reached my lane. ultra-modern building would have earthquake safety features. My mother's silent tears for the next few hours. I just wanted that to be ok. I felt anger at my dad. I grabbed it with my left hand and sat on a broken bench to keep my consciousness. I saw the devastation en-route. I entered Navrangpura. I reasoned that my new. Stories rippled through the street. It stays shut. no. Are you mad?' she said. I don't know why that past scene came to me. with bruises all over.' the reporter said as tingles went down my spine. no. the number spun in my head. I re-entered my house after two hours and switched on the TV. A few parts of Ahmedabad reported property damage. the foundation of our building. We stood out for an hour. Those buildings that were under construction had crumbled to rubble. Some said India had tested a nuclear bomb.' I mumbled to myself. totally misplaced as I should have felt anger at the . rumours and gossip spread fast.. I found it. Sweat covered my entire body. now. catching my breath. My stomach hurt. though it affected many parts of Gujarat.. I had to see if my new store was ok. or for that matter any in our pol had not come loose. many new and upcoming buildings have suffered severe damage. I could not concentrate. I looked for water. Only that the six storeys that were intact a day ago had now turned into a concrete heap.'We felt the tremors hundreds of kilometres away.' another old man said. The look on his face as he shut the living room door on the way out. It took me an hour to get there.

'Don't worry. Two years of scrimping and saving. 'It's ok buddy. Maybe this was God's way of saying something . 'Govind.' I broke down. He screamed in my ear when I finally noticed him. but this was unfair. 'We lost everything. People must have thought I had lost a child. He'd never seen me like that too. The builder would have run away. I kept looking at the rubble like I had for the last four hours. I couldn't make out his face.that we shouldn't have these malls. Let's go. But when a businessman loses his business. 'Govind. for betting so much money. I was agnostic. Anger for making the first big mistake of my life.' 'We are finished Ish. 'We are cursed man. Ish held me and let me use his shirt to absorb my tears. it is similar. I could blame the builder of the Navrangpura mall. Then why did my fucking mall collapse? What did he make it with? Sand? I needed someone to blame. I wanted my shop. let's go home' Ish said.' someone tapped my shoulder. we could sue the builder.. my heart said. something. I don't know why I thought of God. My heart beat at double the normal rate. now licked the ground. And no one would get their money back. He never shortened my name before. I think the rest of the Ambavadis didn't either. 'we can't do anything. I never cried when my hand had got burnt one Diwali and Dr Verma had TO give me sedatives to go to sleep. let's go home.' Ish said. twenty years of dreams . We have to go. For the hundredyear-old buildings in the old city pols remained standing. I will work on the roadside. But who else do you blame earthquakes on? Of course. But then. 'What the hell are you doing here man? It is dangerous to be out.. and threw it at an already smashed window. I never cried when I couldn't join engineering college. Look.' Ish said. 'Govi. or anyone's face. The remaining glass broke into little bits.all wiped away in twenty seconds. God will protect us. My body trembled with violent intensity. But that day. It is one thing when you take a business risk and suffer a loss. Their CEO and parent had broken down.earthquake. Govind.' Ish said. 'Oh really. especially since I didn't eat anything else for the next two days.' I said as Ish dragged me away to an auto. It helped. We were destined to remain a small town and we shouldn't even try to be like the big cities. my head said. The 'Navrangpura Mall's' neon sign. I never cried when India lost a match. when God slapped my city for no reason. I cried and cried. I didn't need sympathy. 'What are you doing? Haven't we seen enough destruction?' said someone next to me. . Ish bought a Frooti to calm me. Surely.' I said. I needed to hit someone. I don't want to see that smug look on Bittoo Mama's face. I saved. then who the hell sent it in the first place?' I said and pushed the stranger away. this? Ish. Someone out there needed to realise this was fucking unfair. our business collapsed even before IT opened. Or at myself. I lifted a brick. I never cried when we barely made any money for the first three months of business. And we took loans. and I saved and I fucking saved. I never cried the day my father left us.' Ish said. once placed at the top of the six floor building. feeling moist in my eyes for the first time in a decade. Omi's two-hundredyear-old temple stood intact.

' Dr Verma shrugged. I kept quiet. And they say. The clock showed three in the afternoon. selfish scheme of things. And the other thing is.' Dr Verma checked my pulse. 'You can talk. 'I didn't expect this from you. and for the next four my body felt stone cold. a true Navaldhari businessman is one who can rise after being razed to the ground nine times. Everyone around me was giving me advice.' There is no businessman in this world who has never lost money. still horizontal on bed.I found out later that over thirty thousand people lost their lives. 'Your fever is gone. There is no one who has learnt to ride a bicycle without falling off. But that is how maths works . Somehow our grandfathers believed in cement more than the new mall owners.' 'I have lost a lot. but age is on your side. It's all part of the game. I lost more money in one stroke than my business ever earned. ninety per cent of homes were destroyed. Who would buy sports stuff after an earthquake? 'Hope to see you out of bed tomorrow. good advice actually. hundreds is a rounding error. who are they?' 'Navaldharis is a hardcore entrepreneur community in Gujarat Everyone there does business.' Dr Verma said and left. the quake damaged a million structures. ★ I had not left home for a week. Ahmedabad had better luck. Overall in Gujarat. I lay on the bed. why did this liappen? Do you know our school is now a refugee camp?' 'Yes. you have seen less money. You have no kids to feed. In the narrow. 'You haven't gone to the shop?' I shook my head. They said only a few hundred people died in Ahmedabad compared to tens of thousands elsewhere. For the first three days I had burning fever. It is funny when hundreds of people dying is tagged with 'only'.' 'I am in debt. I kept staring at it until four. You are young. That is a stadium full of people.compared to thirty thousand. I suffered the most. you will earn It all back. . you have no household to maintain.' I said. In the large scheme of things. But I was in no mood to listen. You * an live without it. turning my face to the wall. One of those million structures included my future shop.' 'No. they want their kids to serve others all their lives to get a safe salary. This earthquake. the Ty channels said. The new city lost only fifty multi-storey buildings. I was in no mood for anything. and hopes and aspirations all shattered in forty* five seconds. Doctor. There is no one who has loved without getting hurt. my loss was statistically irrelevant. Compared to Gujarat. staring at the ceiling. So scared of losing money. 'Stop talking like middle-class parents. The shop? It would remain closed for a week more. Each of those people would have had families.' 'Yes. and what are the refugees doing? Lying in bed or trying to recover?' I tuned out the doctor. I haven't put a thermometer in your mouth. The old city fared better than the new city. You have heard of Navaldharis Dr Verma said.' I don't feel like doing anything. Schools and hospitals flattened to the ground. 'I'm scared. In Bhuj.

. Khanna tome to me. Vidya It's not very good. 1 cannot fully understand ycrur loss. but I assure time will heal the wound. Actually. 'What are you doing here?' I pulled up my quilt to hide my pajamas and vest attire. I had to re-accept liittoo Mama's smug face. too. I like the tag.' she murmured. I am sorry about the sort-of friend. but 1 can try. 'I'll leave now. aren't you lucky you weren't in the shop already when it happened? Imagine the lives lost if the mall was open?' She had a point. sitting down on a chair next to my bed.' She extended the voluminous M. you should see bhaiya struggle with the accounts at home. I mimed to her for a shirt. She. Makes it clear that studies are first. There may be no answers. It isn't your fault. I shoved the shirt aside and opened the book. Modesty vs Curiosity.. Sometimes life throws curve balls and you question why. of course. My mother came in the room with two cups of tea. Khanna and kept the card under my pillow. in case it wasn't clear to me.' 'Of course. And what was with I he sir? She had the thick MX. Khanna book and a notebook in her hand. Thought I'd come here and ask since you were not well. I returned her M.' she said. Think about this. 'Life goes on.' I called out.L. A handmade. Khanna in another. 'Ish said you haven't come to the shop.L. The card had a hand-drawn cartoon of a boy lying in bed. Insidf it said: 'Get Well Soon' in the cheesiest kiddy font imaginable. She had labelled it Govind. About my classes. Here is wishing you a heartfelt 'get well soon'. I am just. Maybe an airconditioned mall is not for me. looked impeccable in her maroon and orange salwar kameez with matching mirror-work dupatta. 'I like it.' I said.L. A poem underneath said: To my maths tutor/ passion guide/ sort-of-friend. I am sure you will get 1 here one day.' she giggled. 'Maths is what I told my mom. It has to. Govind sir. Take tuitions for him.' Vidya's cheeky voice in my home sounded so strange that I sprang up on bed. it is. I wanted to give you this...' 'I'll be there next Wednesday. 'You want a shirt?' she said. 'How are you doing?' I overcame my urge to turn to the wall. I held my shirt ill one hand and the M. 'I got stuck with some sums. Ish and Omi met me every evening but never mentioned it.' 'The shop is open?' I said. I had to get over this.'May I come in. Your poorest performing student. 'Yeah. no rush really. What was that for? To solve problems while bedridden? My mother returned with a shirt and left. right?' I nodded. 'It's ok. making my entire signalling exercise futile. pink greeting card fell out. 'What sums?' I asked curtly after mom left.

And you are the smartest of us. 'Not really. Ish pulled at my pillow to be more comfortable.' I said. This shop in the temple .' Omi said.' 'We have to pay his loan back fast. rather than yearn for more. it was his sister. I was a disaster as a businessman.. you don't have to do anything.'Nice girl.' Ish said.' I told the wall. trying to appear light hearted. Maybe one day I could create businesses and be hands-off. I finally saw the sense inherent in the Hindu philosophy of being satisfied with what one had. 'Don't worry. 'And that means?' 'It is understood we need to help him in his campaign. surprised. None of your business.. 'Nothing.' I felt I had to apologise. After they left. but for the first time believable. 'See you tomorrow. 'Wait.' Ish said and sat next to me on the bed. 'We'll get over this.Stop it'. I read the card eight times before falling asleep. but Omi interrupted me.' I was not sure if his last line was correct anymore. I pulled out the card again and smoothed the ceases. We have to. India is not a place for dreams. 'Pandit's daughter. 'The loans . My break from work brought out hidden skills in my friends. 'And? What is it? A two for one sale?' 'We haven't given any discounts all week. '.' my mother said carefully. to release my death grip on the pillow. 'Card?' Omi said.. 'Come back. I checked myself from dreaming again. Horrible student.. Save a few calculation errors. had their prices right and had offered no discounts.' Ish said.' I said. 'What's that?' Ish said and smiled as he saw an inch of pink paper under my pillow.. Omi pointed at Ish. but a survival mantra in a country where desires are routinely crushed. 'No conditions?' I said.' I said. The shop was clean and things were easy to find. 'You like her?' 'No. 'You sound better. sitting on the pillow as a desperate measure. It's all my fault. They tabulated daily sales. 'Yes. I joined in the laughter to encourage the deception.' I said. 'Mama said we can continue to use the shop. Of course it was his business. they managed the accounts just fine. My heart beat fast as I pinned the pillow down hard.' Omi said. It wasn't some cool philosophy that ancient sages invented.' Ish said.' Ish and Omi came at night when I had finished my unappetising dinner of boiled vegetables.' Ish looked me in the eye. 'How are you running the shop?' my energetic voice surprised them. Especially when you have failed once. 'Are you sure?' Ish came to tickle me. 'I am sorry I invested. 'Who is doing the accounts?' I said and sat up.' I said.' I said. Omi and I will help. I said. 'Mixing business with pleasure?' Ish said and laughed. 'We did it together as business partners. jamming the pillow with my elbow. 'Whatever. from my cousin. Brave words. isn't it?' Omi chuckled.

They tasted delicious. 'We are going to Ayodhya for a reason. Despite this soft discrimination. Parekh-ji had sent truckloads of grain. They can put it in their backyard. 'Only a marketing strategy for a small campaign. 'I mean after you restore the business. Two more to go. no.' 'How was your trip?' Omi said.was my destiny. and earning that meagre income from it my karma. One-days?' 'Five of them. the new post-quake Govind no longer saw Mama as hostile. a Muslim family would rarely go there for help. In my earlier avatar. I breathed out.' Omi said. this was my cue to frown. More was not meant to be. 'Misery everywhere. placing a brown bag on the counter. and now the India-Australia series. What's happening in the series?' I said. These Australians are made of something else. Mama. . I think samosas are the best snack known to man. 'No. but he did not hear me. 'We'll close the camp in three weeks. hot. Sympathy for people fighting for Ayodhya would be automatic. But with that. We looked puzzled. 'and I can go back to my main cause.' 'I'd love to know how the Australians do it. The next one is in Calcutta. anyone could seek refuge. But how much can Parekh-ji do?' Mama had stayed up nights to set up the makeshift relief camp at the Belrampur school. But first the earthquake. It's fine. 'I wouldn't get my hopes high.' he said. 'India lost the first test. Even if they did. No one would say no to a spoonful of soil from Ayodhya.' he said. You guys should join.' I picked up another samosa. We will go to every Hindu house in Belrampur and ask them if they want a spoon of mud from Rama's birthplace in their house.' Omi said.' Mama said. Mama's arrival broke up our chat. We sat in the sunny courtyard having tea and samosas. A great idea from Parekh-ji. 'Damn. 'My son is coming with me to Ayodhya. yet to start. Ayodhya. Mama noted the cynicism in my expression.' Mama sighed. We will get gunnybags full of soil from there. 'Is there any project after 1 he camp?' 'Oh yes. Mama had just returned from Bhuj.' Ish said. 'Try to forget what happened.' Mama said to Omi. pulses and other supplies. careful. However. about your loan. Technically. they were inadvertently buying into the cause. 'I have never seen such devastation.' Ish said from his corner. to comment about the grease spoiling the counter.' Ish said. camp managers handed out rations but emphasised that everyone in the camp was a Hindu.' Omi said.' The camp had won Mama many fans in the neighbourhood.' I saw Parekh-ji's twisted but impeccable logic.' I turned to him. 'People really don't have a reason to play anymore. And sympathy converted well into votes. 'Samosas. felt better and opened the cash drawer. mix it with plants or whatever. He saw our reluctant faces and added. the new-me found it a noble exercise. I had lost track of the cricket schedule. People had finally begun to move out and regain their lives. 'Mama. 'Pretty low for two weeks.' 'We can help here. We need camps all over Gujarat. The other party does it at a far bigger scale. the spoonful of mud campaign. However.

' Ish said. Mama introduced himself to Pandit-ji.. One of the students we coach is playing.' 'Son. to a cricket match. right?' Mama stood up to hug us. 'And ask ma to make him some turmeric milk. 'I'm just less agnostic now. You have saved our livelihood. whatever he wants..' but Mama cut me again. 'Will they hurt me again?' Ali said.' Ish said. kissing Ali's forehead. castes and sub-castes. I felt sick owing people money. Pandit-ji panted. We needed a miracle to move that many goods. 'A sports shop closed down. you keep half and give me half.' 'I have no cash either.' Omi said. our celebratory mood dampened as the opposing team's captain kicked Ali in the knee before running away. The guy could not pay.'It's ok. 'Yes. How can you be indebted to your father?' 'Business is down. 'My sons. However. I realise my destiny is this shop. Ish looked pleased that the training was finally showing results.' 'Who's asking you for cash now? Just keep it in your shop. Omi downed the shutters of the shop. his white face a rosy red. business is terrible. we are forever indebted. 'We are all like that when young. but on the revised loan instalments.. Politics confuses me.' I said as I offered him a samosa. He paid me with trunks full of goods. I'll send one more trunk. I need cash. 'You have to go somewhere?' Mama said. exchanging hometowns. Mama. Don't worry about that idiot from that stupid team.' 1 said. 'I can't comment.' A man dragged a heavy wooden trunk into our shop. 'No. Pay when you can. Omi signalled and all of us bent to touch Mama's feet. What say?' I took in the trunks as I had no risk. Panditji?' I said. I am sorry. 1 was arrogant. this is the best news I've heard today. We will help you. You creamed them. 'Pandit-ji.' Ish said to Ali.' . rude and disrespectful. I half-heartedly hugged him back. I wasn't aware that the second test match of the India Australia series would be one. 'We are late. Ish would make a good father. Omi picked up a limping Ali.' Ish whispered. And now you are members of our party. Whatever sells. Not like his own father who never said one pleasant sentence. because I will hurt them before anyone touches you.' Mama said as he held a palm over our heads and blessed us. 'Something good has come out of all this loss. Of course. Just this one trunk is worth ten thousand. They started talking like grown-ups do.' Mama said. But you have started believing in God?' Mama said and beamed. sons. 'Mama. You faced a calamity. avoiding Ali's name. 'Forget it. Ali lasted eight overs. We returned from a neighbourhood match. 'Who's that? Oh.' 'You are my kids. He arranged the trunk on the floor. but loud enough for Mama and Pandit-ji to hear. 'I'll take him to the shop. so I thought I will bring this to you. You guys get dinner. Maybe God intended it this way and I accept it.' I said. Ali's side had won with him scoring the highest. I have six more at home.

man.' .'I want kebabs. 'Kebabs? In the shop?' I hesitated. Omi was really missing a lot in life. His face glowed behind the smoke of roasting kebabs at Qazi dhaba. 'So?' I said.' The smell of chicken tikka filled my nostrils. 'Fine. He plays along until time comes for the big hits. Fielding sucks. right?' Ish said as the waiter packed our order of rumali rotis.' Ish said.' Omi said. just don't tell anyone. 'He is ready to meet the Australians. 'For what?' I asked. 'He's ready.' Ali said promptly. He is ready. he is perfect. lamb skewers and chicken tikka with onions and green chutney. 'Australia is touring India at present. but other than that. 'Did you see him play? He can wait. run and support others.

' Ish said. Hello. I remember every day of that match. An elderly woman stood at the counter with a puja thali in her hand. A small boy accompanied the lady. sometimes miracles do too. Ish said. Ish continued with his weird and highly improbable ideas of making Ali meet the Australian team." How do you intend to meet them?' I mocked. check this kid out. I want to attend the bhajans inside and Babloo wants to see the match. 'The one-day series will continue for the next two months. She sensed my hesitation. 'Of course. scowling. 'Yes. the second test match of the India-Australia series was the magic cure for the quake. 'Yes?' 'Can my grandson watch it with you for a while?' she said. We never had good suppliers for sports.' 'How?' Omi said as he sat down with us. 'I don't know. 'They are in India. 'We will go see a match. I am Mrs Ganguly by the way. 'There is no money for trips. 'If it does.' 'Of course. then we could.' I said. upset at the score more than me.' Ish said. Fuck. Ish and I exchanged a round of dirty looks. if you can visit me sometime. We did not supply to schools. 11-15 March 2001 Day 1 Most of the time crap happens in life. On the first day at tea. I stood up from the floor. 'When are we ever going to get a chance like this?' 'Is he mad?' Omi asked me. He pointed to the Australian team batting on the screen. The boy came in and sat before the TV. business is never going to pick up. I said if. I am the principal of the Kendriya Vidyalaya on Ellisbridge. guys. Ish and I sat on the floor in front of the TV.Ten India vs Australia Test Match Kolkata. 'Don't watch from so close Babloo. Then what? Knock on Hayden's door and say. Australia's score was 193/1. However. Everybody thinks we are government so they try and rip us off. he is. 'We'll buy something. Maybe a one-day. I also need advice on buying cricket equipment for my school. 'Bowl better.' Ish opened the door wider.' 'Excuse me. he can come in.' 'School?' I said. "Hey. 'Meet the Australians?' Omi said as he dusted the counter. I was never keen on random people coming into our shop to spend their time.' I said as I saw the score. 'They are raping us again. You supply to schools. are you watching the India-Australia match?' a lady's voice interrupted us. To us.' Ish said. 'So we go see a match.' Ish turned to the screen. . If business picks up. no?' The answer was no. 'I want to get their opinion on Ali. What will you do by meeting them? Really?' I joined in.

. 'You want candy. Australia dragged on their first innings to end at a healthy 445 all out. If we save enough. I will see you then. I was tempted to throw them in for free. we create an Australia every year. 'Sure. Don't people work on computers?' Ish was jumping up and down in excitement.' she said. With a draw there is hope of sales. The board would be in a better mood if India won this match.' I said.' Ish said.' Mrs Ganguly said and left us to ponder over her business proposition. 'Don't watch the TV from so close. Tendulkar scored ten. Ish tore his chapattis with anger over dinner. they cream us. The second day ended with India at 128/8.' 'But. giving me her card. But it wasn't only Ramesh who sucked. 'Who the fuck is this Ramesh? Connection quota. Australia ended the day at 291/8. Something is wrong about this. 'Here.why even bother to come and play with India. A little known Surd called Harbhajan Singh had howled after tea.' Ish said later. see the match?' Ish said. 'These Australians must be thinking . The Indians came out to bat and opener Ramesh got out for no score. Perhaps God listened to Mrs Ganguly's prayers inside. Mrs Ganguly came in two hours later to pick up Babloo. you are great.' 'Great. Nobody went blind watching TV from close. Babloo?' Omi said as we tried our best to impress anyone related to Mrs Ganguly.' I said. I stood up to check the day's accounts. others even less. but she might take it the wrong way. After the mall fiasco. let's go with Ali. 'But we are not suppliers. Ish. Sports is the wrong choice in our country. I wanted to make Ish happy. we have our inhouse advisor Ishaan. we will see you then..' Ish bent forward to kiss the TV. She bought him two tennis balls. Day 2 The only way to describe the second day of the match was 'depressing'. Else we should change our business. Tt has totally turned.' I passed the daal to Omi. I am stretching it out as far as I can. Heck. He is an ex-district level player. Still.' 'Say yes. This is a regular income business.' 'Yes.' I looked at the TV.' 'If I get you this. 'Bhajji. . Why don't you come and tell us how you can help?' We had four days to prepare.' I said. 'They have twenty million people. growing at two per cent a year. Dravid scored the highest at twenty-five. Hey. 'Don't listen to grown-ups all the time. From 291/8. We have one billion. 'In fact. 'So what? You have to swing this for me.'Yes. will you come to Goa?' 'Goa?' I raised my eyebrows. Wickets crumbled and from 193/1. 'Cool.' I said and slipped a candy to Babloo.' Babloo said.' 'Should we open another flower shop? There will always be a demand for that in a temple.' 'Pray for a draw. 'We have a board meeting every Monday. 'It's the last one-day.

An innings defeat looked unlikely. Here is what happened. 'If this match is a draw. but an innings defeat meant empty parks for weeks. Nine of the eleven members of the Australian team took turns bowling.' I said. Adding that to the first innings score of 171. I want to see how our team makes eye contact when they lose so badly. which looked pretty difficult. Ok. India made one change. I will treat you all to dinner. 'See. He needs to be around if we wan a draw. 'The team is full of people with contacts. Everyone is getting their turn today. inventing his own phrases for the moment. The team that had given us a follow-on could not bowl one batsman out. and now l hey ask us to follow on?' 'Should we turn off the TV?' I said. Ish didn't leave the TV even to pee. Day 4 If there was a day that India dominated world cricket. It replaced the opener Ramesh with another new guy called Laxman. India won the World Cup on 25 June 1983 and so that counted. A defeat in a test match was one thing. 'Laxman's job is not done. Day 4 started at 274/4 and ended at 589/4. Kids would rather read textbooks than play cricket and be reminded of India's humiliation. and. He slammed four after four. India struggled to stretch their first innings. I want to see this. For its second innings. They did it in public and they did it the whole day. 'And the Australians have asked India to follow on. that's what the Indian team does.' Ish said. On the fourth day of the Test. 'You were going to see all days anyway. 'We had them by their balls at 291/8. I sighed. they get you involved again.' Omi said. Yes. I would have to prepare for the school meeting by myself. . But the day I'm talking about was when two Indian batsmen made eleven Australian cricketers dance to their tune. He mumbled something about avoiding a follow-on. India stood at a respectable 254/4. 'Wait. too. At the end of the third day. Day 3 The next morning I don't know why we even bothered to switch on the TV.Ish ignored me. But Laxman connected with the ball and bat.' Ish said.' the commentator said and I slapped my forehead.' Ish said at dinner. You are just watching them on TV.' Ish said. Right when you give up hope. Should we close the shop for good? I thought. Why sports? Why cricket? 'That's fucking-follow-on-fantastic. yes. Laxman and Dravid continued to play and added 357 runs for the fifth wicket. That's right.' Ish said as the Indian openers took the crease for the second follow-on innings.' Ish said. but packed up before lunch at 171 all out. The crowd at Eden Gardens became possessed. Please think about our Monday meeting. two dinners. but none of them succeeded in getting a wicket. They chanted Laxman's name enough times to make Steve Waugh visibly grumpy. we could even draw now. He clenched his fist and came dangerously 1 lose to the TV. Why on earth had I started this business? What an idiot I am? Why couldn't I open a sweet shop instead? Indians would always eat sweets. India needed only 20 runs to match Australia's first innings of 445. it was on the fourth day of the match. 'They are not making eye contact.

but statistically speaking. Ok. he wanted a decision.' I said. That was. We should have continued to play. . 'Maybe he has something else in mind. 'Or like if India wins. 'Hey Mr Mathematician. Laxman left at 281 and everyone in the stadium stood up to applaud for his eleven-hour innings. 'He can't be serious. Ganguly really thinks he has a chance to bowl these Australians out?' I said. While we were praying only for a draw two days ago. Ganguly had kept the winning score of 384 required by the Australians at a tantalising level difficult yet possible. 'See.' I said after a ten-minute search. Twice in how long?' Ish said. guess who. He signalled Omi to start urgent.' I joked. 'Twice.' Ish said. Dravid made 155 not out. had 337 runs more than Australia and only one day left in the match. I will sponsor the Goa trip. We hardly sold any of these. 'Only twice?' 'Once in 1894 and then in 1981.Laxman ended the day at 275 not out. special prayers. 'Hope we have some kids back in the park again. 'I can finally sleep in peace. And that they had to make 384 runs in the rest of the day to win the match. The Indian captain Ganguly made a surprise decision. has it happened? Has it ever happened that the side facing a follow-on actually won the match?' Ish said. 'Yep. you will start believing in God?' Omi played along. an Indian victory. 'Is Ganguly mad? It's too risky. I pulled out the cricket data book from the top shelf. After an hour's play for the day. but the publisher insisted we keep a few copies 'Ok.' I said. so it has happened earlier. I'll buy the draw dinners. Now.' I read out loud from the page. 'What?' Omi scratched his head. It meant Australia would have to come back and bat. I wasn't sure of Ganguly's intentions either. but that is not how Australians play. so we lucked out and made a big total to take the game to a draw. Get the draw done and over with. Day 5 Human expectations have no limit. We could have had an innings defeat. eyes glued to screen. he declared the Indian innings at 657/7. the start of the fifth day raised new hopes. England won against. 'Both times.' I said.' Ish said as we downed the shutters of the shop. But why did the captain declare when he could have played on until there was no time left? Unless. Australia.' I said and noticed Omi close his eyes and chant silently. of course.' Ish nodded. Sorry buddy. this match is so over. 'Like the probability is so low that I'd say if India wins. scoring more than what the entire Indian team did in their first innings. We had lots of wickets left. it happens. Ish nodded as the Australian batsman reverted to the crease. 'Twice in the last hundred and ten years. 'How many times?' Ish said. Australians could have played safe and taken the game to a draw.' Ish turned to me. We had a follow-on.

In eight runs. for the miracles you bestow on us. which coincided with our own break.Post-tea The Indian team must have mixed something special in their tea. I had seen Ish watch the men in blue as if he wished he was one of them. It was impossible to hear the TV commentary. I passed out sheets that estimated the school's monthly needs based on eight hundred students. as my pause for effect became too long.' I started. he wanted them to win. A draw would be fine. Ganguly probably did not know the odds. fuck the probability. You are allowed a few celebratory curses when you witness history. It must be miserable to work for anyone else. Day 5 . the last two batsmen were scalped as well. The preparations until two last night better be worth it. I don't like it when people insult mathematics. as the crowds roared everytime an Indian team member's name was announced. Australia 174/8. he didn't have any of his own regrets. 'Ish. The first customer of the great Indian Cricket Season had arrived. 'How much will this cost?' the administrative head said.' the principal said. every placard.' I said. the Surd that Ish kissed on screen (and left saliva marks all over). Then came five deadly overs that included a hattrick from Harbhajan Singh. The lady principal and six teachers sat around a semicircular wooden table. Australia came back and continued to cruise at 166/3. It must be miserable to work here. We may have some customers. not just sell some balls.' I said. every poster and anything combustible besides people was on fire. The office wasin a poor state. but I gave Ish the benefit of doubt. Every now and then. . 'A draw is fine. Ish stood tall. guys. I told myself. He clapped when Ganguly came to accept the trophy. his hands on his hips and looked at the screen. We will take the Australians another time. Pretty soon.' a boy plonked a fifty-rupee note on the counter. we have a match. 'So we have a district-level champion player who can design a package based on your needs and budgets. I thought. The match gets over in a few hours.' I said. I had delivered my first line perfect. don't fucking stand in front of the TV. 'Let's clean up the shop. Like most government offices and buildings old files piled up high on several cupboards. 'Two balls quickly please. with rickety furniture and dusty trophies. I had them laser printed at a computer shop for three rupees a page. But today. Next stop. '161/3.' I pointed at Ish and every teacher looked at him. In Eden Gardens. 'We did some calculations. only jumping. and India won the match in the most spectacular way ever. The worst would be if Australia did score the runs. 'Fuck your statistics man.' Ish reluctantly picked up the mop. I folded my hands and looked at the sky. Thank you God.' Omi read Australia's score at tea.' Ish shouted in jubilation. I thought again. A peon brought samosas and tea for everyone. 'We have come to offer solutions. 'Go on. half of the Australian team was gone. But Ish wasn't standing. Harbhajan. We were in the principal's office in the Kendriya Vidyalaya. I think more than wanting to be them. I could see genuine love in his eyes. took six wickets.I told Omi to stop praying too much. Your average cost will be ten thousand a month. He saw Harbhajan jump and jumped along.

Ish raised a hand to keep me quiet. I took his card. 'From rich families.' He pointed to the samosas on the plate. I mentally said the F-word a few times.' I said. to match the admin head's height. 'Are you teaching your kids a subject called teamwork? Are you teaching them how to chase a goal with passion? Are you teaching them discipline? Are you teaching them focus?' Ish asked. we can do a plan for five thousand a month. 'What are you here to do?' 'To give children an education. 'If everyone thinks that way. We will chase useless first divisions but not spend two samosa plates worth of money on sports. 'And all the education is in these books they read under the plastered roofs? What about the education that comes from sports?' 'What?' the admin head said. Ish took his seat but did not keep quiet. 'Sir. All the teachers stopped eating midway. fifty-somethings stood up to shake hands with me. save this.' the principal said. 'Fine.' the head said with a straight face. Don't you think sport deserves as much as the cost of a fountain pen?' The teachers looked up from their notebooks and exchanged glances. 'Let us hear what they have to say. any business. 'But talent is not distributed only among the rich. I could have killed him. I had thought of an answer for this scenario. C'mon Govind. Eight hundred kids and they want to keep them locked in classes all day. He came for a visit. We have limited resources. signalling him to sit down.' Ish interupped me. You need business. 'It is twelve rupees per child a month.' the administrative head said. 'Sir. This is a Kendriya Vidyalaya. I had become a real businessman. The pass percentage and the first divisions. who will be more successful in life? The kid who knows all the chemical formulae or the one who knows teamwork.' 'Do you know half our classrooms leak in the rain. . no.' We stood up to shake hands. 'I'm not setding for a scaled-down version. 'Frankly. Let's see how it goes. we can scale down. I mentally made a note to order business cards and wondered if I could do the fist pumping now or save it for later. where will India's sportsmen come from?' Ish said. We get judged on our results. so I asked him to sit in this meeting. I took a deep breath. Ish stood up. ten thousand is ok for a trial.' The head took out his glasses and wiped ihem calmly.' the principal introduced. 'Oh. yes. passion. Six educated. This is Mr Bhansali. He shut the notebook and pushed it towards me.'That's too much. 'Sports teaches them all this. Yes.' the principal said. discipline and focus?' 'Sit down. headmaster of the Belapur school. We have to expand the pool. 'If this works.' Jitin-sir.' the head said. 'Should we get shiny balls or fix the leaks?' He stood up to leave. You are on for six months. But he ignored me. I mentally noted his name as he sat down again. son.' the head said. And tell me. Not a private school. 'What are you talking about?' This from one of the teachers. 'Sit down Jitin sir. The pause continued until the principal spoke again. I stamped his foot. why don't you come to a meeting at our Belapur school?' the oldest gentleman in the group said.

Ali was too excited to care for his dad's instructions.' 'I am not a duffer. Now pay attention. 'Excuse me. As usual. I had to exit.' she said as she stepped down. I really don't need this break from work. opened her book and slapped each page as she turned it over. wow! Someone has a good life. 'Can you act more interested?' 'I am not a good actor. This trip is costing us three thousand bucks. manage your business. Can we please start?' I explained calculus to her for an hour.. you do.' said Ali's dad as the train signal went off. and the money I make to pay back those loans.' I said as I finished class.' Vidya said with a pin in her mouth.Eleven Goa. calculus problems. make money. 'Goa is your brother's idea. 'Anyway. Omi said his pre-journey prayers. I suck.' Ali's dad said and his eyes became moist. "Very funny. Before moisture turned to rain.' The last word 'fine' had the loudest volume.' I am like this only.' she said.' she said. I can manage fine.' I said. 'I'll be back in four days. What is all this "dx dt". you have a problem? Only you have the right to ignore people?' she threw back. I.' I said as I headed to the door. Don't talk like. She took her seat. 'Who cares?' she said from behind me. Is there a problem?' I said after a pause. why is it that sometimes making you talk is like extracting teeth. She kept quiet..  'Eat on time and don't stay up late. fixing a poster of Aamir Khan in Dil Chahta Hai on the wall. 'Vidya. I opened the calculus chapter.' . I don't understand it.' 'What will help me get over the earthquake is work. She stood on a stool in her room. And read the next chapter by the time I come back.' I came back to her desk. 'Try the exercises in the end. her tutor. Her eyes turned moist and her long fingers trembled. you are appearing for medical entrance. Just go to Goa.' 'I did self-study as you did not have time for me. So much for my position of authority. 'It will help you get over the earthquake. 'Ali's ammi doesn't care. 'Yes. 'Sometimes I wish I had not married again. Some spoilt brats have to be spoonfed even the basics. 'Don't talk like what?' 'Like a duffer. insult people who don't salivate for maths and don't make any time for friends. 'Of course. He is a piece of my heart. So did you do the calculus chapter in your so-called self-study mode.' I stopped mid-sentence. held the pin tray. and why are they so many scary symbols?' 'Vidya.. He reserved the top berth for himself and climbed up.

' Pandit-ji had once met the chairman of the biggest sports company in India. abba. We have to meet the organisers.. See now you can go to your election rally in Baroda. It said 'Zuben Singh.' don't jump between berths. Let us go in.' 'Why Australian? Why don't you take an Indian?' A totally irrelevant question. We want to talk about some endorsement deals.' The security guard broke into a sweat and called his manager. will you buy a bat endorsed by Ajit Agarkar?' The guard nodded. I flashed out a card. I stared at him. no.. Travelling with a twelve-year-old.. The good players are too expensive.' I said guardedly. 'It is ok.' Ali called out as the train left for sunnier climes. and two other grownup kids. 'Khuda Hafiz. 'Gujarati?' he said. how are you?' he said in Gujarati.' 'Are you getting a ticket this year. 'Can't afford the Indian team. Ali.' his voice trailed off as the train picked speed.' Ish said. but it hinted at his growing belief is us. this responsibility had to fall on me.' I said and pointed to Omi. 'He will. I am not that senior in the party. trying to decipher the better answer.' the security head said. The bad ones. Chairman. chacha. Ish pulled Ali's arm and drew him into his lap.' I said as I chained our suitcase to the lower berth. I repeated the story to him. 'Say bye properly. A hairy arm stopped me. 'Why have you come without an appointment?' he said. I want to talk to him. He spoke into a microphone hanging from his ear and turned to us. Now will you cooperate or.' 'Why?' the hairy guard said. 'No.. 'Yes. I own Wilson Sports. I just landed from Ahmedabad. 'One of you stay with us. I had borrowed the card from his trunk.  'Organisers. I made a fake phone call pretending to talk about ten-crore-rupees business orders.' I said. He remained sceptical. 'Thirty thousand people here want to go in there.' I said. Who are you? Autograph hunters?' 'Say it. The arm belonged to a security guard outside the VIP stand. well.' Ish said to me in a hushed voice. tell me. . I saw the Australians play and thought maybe we could find a brand ambassador.. Ali beta. In India you don't know whether someone will like you or hate you because you are from a certain place. Wilson Sport.I wrapped the cash and tickets in plastic and placed it inside my socks. I ended another call in Gujarati and his face softened. 'That's right. He called the senior-most security person who came in a suit. Thank God for India's various regional clubs. 'Get your senior. The train began to move. 'I came to see the match. 'Oh. But I will be helping l he Belrampur candidate. I cannot leave Ali with his ammi for four days.' I said.

as if a Gujarati girl broke his heart. their team would be in the stands soon. Apart from the batsmen on crease. 'We will wait for the Australian team to come. 'Omi will be ok?' Ish whispered. 'Sharandeep Singh. let the match settle. he could not be more than twenty. 'After a few overs. We were he for a purpose. He looked upset. 'Can I take that?' Ali said as waiters in white uniforms walked a round with soft drinks. Symonds and even McGrath. there is Ponting. ok?' I said to the security guard lest he became suspicious again. he is in the campaign.' I said. 'Hey. I nodded and a deep breath. I nodded. 'That is Steve Waugh. Finally. Should I go shake his hand?' 'Don't be nuts. but looked away as Ali was a kid. everyone was there . Yes. We had the best view in the stadium.Bevan. He wore the Australian team shirt. Murmurs rippled in our stand. whom I did not recognise came and sat one row ahead of us.' Ish whispered in my ear. The curly haired boy-man in f&nt pumped his fists. there was a silence of misery. The guards frisked us to the point of molestation. 'Ish bhaiya. Soon we were all drinking Fanta in tall glasses. Ish wanted to curse the bowler. look slowly five rows behind. But we didn't come here to check out the Australian team like awestruck fans. What about the kid? He has to go?' 'Oh yes. we made it to the enclosure. . One suspicion you are star-struck and they will kick our asses out of here.' I said. The VIPs clapped as Adam Gilchrist hit a six. There was a young Sikh boy in a burgundy turban wearing the Indian team dress. in the pads. Australia would bat now.' Ali's scream ruined my effort to act placid. They came and sat two rows ahead of us.' Ish said. but had a pair of casual khaki shorts on. We came after the Indian innings had ended. but sense prevailed and he kept silent. 'Go talk. Ish clutched my hand tight as he saw the Australian team members. Go for it Ali. With curly hair and deep blue eyes. Ali finished his third Fanta. He is one down. I turned. I have done my job. Everyone turned back to see men in yellow dresses emerge from the dressing room.' the guard said. You see. In the general stalls. True VIPs never screamed at stars even though they liked to hang around them.' Ish said.' I prompted Ish. red fibre-glass seats and sat down in an empty row. the Australian captain. I could hear his heart beat through his mouth.' The gates creaked open. we are doing a coach and student theme. 'Pretend you own a two-hundred-crore company. He may be in the team noon. He nodded. The Australian team hi-fived at the six. Lehman. A few people noticed. A young white man. 'No. Thank God lor sponsors. We walked through the posh.'One guard will accompany you. the twelfth man. 'Are you from Gujarat?' Ish asked him.

I am Fred. I have groomed him for almost a year now.. And he is Zubin. Never had the guidance to go further.' 'Mate. Ish became conscious.' 'Trust me.' Fred stared at Ish with unblinking blue eyes. 'I played for my district. 'I'd do the same thing if it were my team. Or rather.' Fred answered.' I said. 'Hi. pace. We really need to talk.' 'We are a tough team to beat.' Ish cheered as I stopped him from standing up on his chair. I nudged Ish with my elbow. Fred.' Fred smiled at that. No offence. Fred Li.. too. c'mon we are 2-2. 'Fred. 'Well.' Fred said slowly. Please. We must be important enough after all. And this here is Ali. Ponting was cheered by teammates as he went out to take the crease. if I started doing that to everyone that came along. we have come from Ahmedabad in Gujarat. we need to talk. 'I wasted my studies. 'Not right now. Not everyone coming to you will be like that.' Ish said.' 'I beg you. Bevan. if Indian selectors were up to the job. go Srinath go. 'Mate. fought with my parents. back problem. he owns Wilson sports. Srinath dismissed Ponting three balls later. The boy-man stared at us.' Ish said to himself. already padded up. we.' 'Batsman?' 'Bowler.' 'And what would that do? What if I told he was good?' 'If you say the boy has world-class potential. and will continue to do so.' he said.' 'Good to see you Hi. I swear. Ish could not contain himself any longer.' . 'Sure mate. 'It's ok. Ish finished his story in an hour. India go. We can do this. 'Go. just bowl a few balls to him. I will give up my life to get him out there. 'You want me to test him? Mate. The security guard relaxed as he saw us with someone white. But yes. threw away my career for this game. I'll come on over. Maybe he was a team member's brother or something. We travelled twenty-four hours to meet someone in your team because I trust you. you Indians are good at this emotional stuff. A few people smirked at the quality of lowlife making it to the VIP stands these days. you should show him to your selectors or something. Good on ya.' Ish continued. 'I'm Ishaan. The curly haired boy-man turned around to look at Ish. This means everything to me. left for his innings. Sportsman to sportsman... his breath short with excitement. There are several reasons for that. too.. mate!' he said.' Ish said.Australia lost their first wicket of Hayden at a score of seventy and there was a dignified applause in the VIP enclosure. 'Yes. Series win. Trust me. small sportsman to big sportsman. that is why I want you to test him. started playing for Australia a year ago. Here was a chance to talk. 'Sorry.' Fred said and lunged over to sit next to Ish.' 'You play in the team?' I asked Fred. I gave up a lot for this game. About this boy. we wouldn't lose so many matches to a country with one-fiftieth the people.

He needs to recoup after a few big hits. tugging at his curly hair.' Ish's smile froze. needs stamina and training. Ali nodded. We looked at Ali. Two minutes later. Look at the ball. mutiliated and vanquished by a mere boy had only begun. mate. but Ish didn't have time for remorse. 'Ready.' Ish said. 'Do you want a helmet?' Ali shook his head.' Fred said and loped back to his seat. 'And you better hope Australia wins so I remain in a good mood to keep my promise. Omi joined us. Fred's third ball went for a four and the last one for a six. But we take the-piss better. his tone had turned from calm to anxious. 'Hey. Ali struck this time. I can't do that. And no matter how many times he said 'mate'.' 'Kidding mate. all that travel and you shove a scary white guy in his face. Fred bowled a perfect second delivery.' Fred said. I taught him to play a full innings in the neighbourhood but today.. I can't wish against India.' 'Ignore the face. The ball is white.' Ish turned to Ali.' I said. Fred took a ten-step run-up with a ferocious expression. Six. You guys are better at emotions. 'Gifted?' Fred said to me as he prepared another run-up. but will go places. The ball zoomed past Ali.' I said firmly to the guard. We came to the ground half an hour after the final match ceremonies. 'What the hell were you guys doing? 1 waited two hours?' 'Making friends. The pressure had gotten to Ali.'So you agree?' 'Four balls.' Fred winked. Ish took the wicketkeeper's place.' Fred said. 'You think so?' 'That's Fred's verdict. 'He has to face this. The ball stayed low but did not bounce until it crossed the boundary.. but we smiled anyway. His face looked more humiliated than scary. 'He is a pace bowler. And the foreigner makes scary faces.' I said. He bent down to remove Ali's pads. mate?' Fred called from the bowler's end. 'Yep. Omi ran to adjust the black screen on the boundary. The feeling of being trampled. Half the Aussie lingo was beyond me. The bat deflected the ball forty-five degrees.' Ish strapped the helmet on to Ali's head. 'Call our friend. 'Being extra focused takes a lot out of him. After the match. what's up Ali?' Ish said. 'You ok?' Ish said. He sat down on the floor and held his head.' Ish said as he pulled out the helmet. 'What's up?' Fred said. Stay nearby. we need him. 'Two more balls. He had to pad up Ali. Australia won the match.' .' 'Stress. smiling back at Fred as Australia hit a four. Ish stepped back to catch it. 'Wear it. He came in so thirsty he grabbed Ali's drink. 'Bloody hell! Where did that come from?' Fred said. He looked like someone who had been shaken of all his convictions about cricket. 'I cannot see. no more. I was aware of what was happening inside Fred's head. 'How did he do that?' Fred muttered.

I need to make a call. but it's not every day you get to go international. visas and living expenses during the trip. Either we all come together or not.' 'Wow. I leave India tomorrow. 'it is winter in Australia and tickets are cheaper. How big is your business?' 'It is kind of small.' Ish said.' Ali smiled. I don't own a cricket business. We were leaving the same night to save money. Goodonya. 'Hang on. I am no rich guy either like your Indian team players. 'It is just Ish and Ali right?' 'That's fine. So that's cool by me.' 'July works. Fred. 'No.' Fred invited like going to Australia was as simple as taking an auto to Navrangpura.' 'Well. 'Holy Moly. 'We can't come in the summer vacation. I didn't have to do it. 'I can do four tickets. 'You guys! Some gumption. that's peak sales season. Yeah right.' Ish said.' I intervened. . 'Really?' Ish said. we are partners Fred. Anyway.' Fred said and stepped away to dial a number on his cellphone.' 'What?' 'I run a small cricket shop. Let me see what I can do. But you could have got into trouble there if caught.' Fred said. I thought.' I figured apart from the tickets.' I said quickly. 'Can't afford it. Ish wanted to go to Australia.' I said. 'look Ali. there would be expense on passports. 'Then get him to Australia.'Hey guys can you hang on. Yet. Why don't you guys bring him down to Australia for a while? Hang out and practice in my academy. 'But July is better. We lied to get into your enclosure for this.' Ish said. I could see the pride in Ish's face. one of my ex-girlfriends works with Qantas.' Fred said as we walked back. We had scraped to get second-class tickets for Goa. 'All right. 'And tickets are expensive.' Ish exclaimed. 'We can't.' Ish said. I needed some time to save for that. We need four tickets.' Fred said as he returned. Fred.' Fred smiled. 'Thanks.' The air became tense. this is because of you.' Fred said as he stepped away to make another call.' 'I had to make sure Ali gets tested by the best. I couldn't hear Fred but he had a ten-minute animated conversation before he returned to us. 'Why?' Fred asked.

' I said. the rallies will start. 'I have had enough. Let me put the tilak. I love cricket.' 1 said.' Dhiraj said.' 'Hi. I had decided to go into wholesale business. I was quite certain that the recent cricket series would increase demand bigtime. Mama. 'Leave it no. We came out of the godown. Govind. of course. 'Two trips to Ayodhya already. 'It will take weeks to organise this. Mama? You need me?' Omi said. His Spiderman T-shirt and jeans contrasted with the plate of vermillion and saffron paste that he was carrying in his hand. A father does not take rent from his son. But it will be a great store for your shop. 'I have to finish puja. In a few months. 'And speaking of sons.' Mama said. 1 received a call from Pandit-ji a month alter 1 had opened the godown. opening the door of a dilapidated godown.' I said.' he said. 'Rent for the godown.' I said. I want to marry my daughters off and go back to my Kashmir. I could make money.'Dhiraj! Dhiraj!' Dhiraj. here you are. Ishaan and.Twelve There is some junk around here. 'It's fifteen feet by fifteen feet. Sunlight hit the room for the first time in years.' I said.' Mama said.' Mama said and shouted. son. we will need six lights on the ceiling. run along. I had estimated the godown's rent as half of the shop. Mama's fourteen-year-old son.  'Hello. The temple bells made it hard to talk and I had to strain my ears to hear his voice on the horrible line.' I took out ten one-hundred-rupee notes and placed them in Mama's hand. Put tilak on your brothers. stacks of bricks and abandoned masonry. 'So young. Dhiraj put a tilak on Mama's forehead. A good size. We navigated our way through empty gunnybags.' 'I know Pandit-ji. 'How is it going. 'Don't say no. We will repay your loan soon. As long as I could secure goods on credit. I hated such form of benevolence. I have to show Parekh-ji what a brilliant job I can do. you have to give me cricket tips someday' 'Sure. too. what rent do you want for this?' I said. 1 am already obligated to you. 'Nonsense.' Mama said with pride in his voice. 'Flections are only six months away. 'The cricket shop owners. Mama bolted the door.' Mama said.' Mama said. 'Govind. . Pandit-ji? Can you hear me?' 1 said. It had no frontage to make it suitable for retail. I want you to meet my son today. Two rats scurried across on unsteady legs. 'Meet your brothers. Mama said. He had told me this story a dozen nines.' Dhiraj put tilak on our foreheads too. 'Baba.' the boy said in a voice that had just broken into adolescence. Omi. yet he helps me with my campaign after school. 'Mama. Business is looking up. Omi. Ish bhaiya. came running from the temple compound. Mama.

Ish and Omi looked it me in surprise.' said another boy in the park. I could double my money. Experts had called the India-Australia series historic.' I said in a firm voice. I have sold the godown. we deliver in two hours. and 1 kept another ten per cent.' I said.' 'Give me the money by next month. 'Yes. imagine the saving. But if it is one ceremony. worry lines crisscrossed their foreheads.' I told another large shop in Satellite. Retailers never stopped calling. They have two sons.' 'How much is the stock worth?' 'Two lakhs of sale value. What crazy scheme was I up to now? 'One lakh forty is the cost. you can't do business without taking bets. 'Today.' Pandit-ji said. I thought. they want it in style.'Yes. I looked at him. The pent-up cricket fix came out properly only in the vacations.' 1 said to a credit seeker.' 'What?' I said. India had performed great in the recent series.' Pandit-ji said. Do you trust me?' 'Of course. pay now. If I sold it all. No more. but I need a buyer for the goods. puzzled. 'You know what you are doing. 'When can you take the stock? The godown buyer needs possession fast.' he said. Yet. ★ Business exploded in the next three months. right?' Ish was doubtful. 'Is this how Harbhajan grips the ball?' a seven-year-old tried to fit the cricket ball into his tiny fist.' in one ceremony?' 'Yes. 'I've taken over Pandit-ji's business. They will take both my daughters. and now you want to buy it off me at a loss?' i am buying everything. You have no idea who has a thing for whom buddy. 'Oh. The summer vacations would start in a few weeks. The true cost is a round one lakh forty thousand. You want now. both based in London. but last week a nice family came to our house.' 'I'll take it for one lakh. Every Indian kid played cricket in May and June. cash down only. 'No. you can take it for one ten. I said one lakh. When I told Ish and Omi about the deal later. Our wholesale business fared even better.' I said on impulse. Of which retailers like you took twenty per cent margin. 'What? Pandit-ji is going back to Kashmir? Anyway. 'But his daughter is gone. two boxes of balls in City Mall sports shop?' said one.' I said and looked away. The actual matches had taken place during the exams. Call us. Customers at the temple shop tripled. I saw a gold-mine trade. 'Laxman and my batting styles are identical.' Ish reminded me. Ahmedabad has no quality stock. 'You had a thing for her. I do. Want to do it as early as possible. . My risks had let him down before.

That's good enough for me.. So. 'Hey. 'Here is my ten. It took a national holiday on 15 August for us to have a quiet day at the shop. 'There you go.' 'We will repay it .. Just the visas cost three thousand each.' 'Dad is only going to find another reason to curse me. 'C'mon Omi.' Mama had planned his rally on Independence Day.' Ish said.later. 'Hurry up with the accounts. ish.' 1 said as I counted cash. Now if only you don't pay the loan this time. I stood up to do a stock inventory in the godown.' Ish said and tossed the bundle back to me. 'Mama wants us there by four. 'My contribution to the Australia fund. but I couldn't afford to spend so much on a junket. We will repay all by the end of the year. that's easy money..' Ish said. any problem?' I said and realised I had come across too firm. how many loans do we have left?' 'Only twenty thousand more. Omi did deliveries.' I said and locked the safe. We now supplied to four schools. 'Seventy thousand.' Ish said.' I said.' I looked at Ish and Omi. 'C'mon. Look at the sky.' I was interrupted immediately. 'No. 'Take this money home and toss the bundle at your dad.' Ish said as he pulled my arm down. 'I do. at the opposite ends of Nana Park.' Omi said. it was nice to meet Fred and Ali is good. The loan has to be repaid. What if the other expenses end up higher?' .' I faced the two. 'That's right. Super nuts. we have discussed it. while Ish manned the shop.' I said and tossed my bundle too. 'we've got thirty grand done. 'I don't work for money. 'But we will still spend a lot. 'Here's mine. I kept the key in my shirt pocket.' he said.' Ish said. What's more. I'd imagine at least ten thousand a head. if you count the interest. 'We should have kept kites.' 'No way Ish. or forty thousand for the four of us. 'What?' 'Australia. both the rallies took place at the same venue. Yes. Both shrugged. When schools reopened. You need to. 'Nope.' I said.' 'Fred is giving the tickets. But guess what's our profit for the last four months. 'Who decides how to cut this money?' Ish said.' Omi tossed in his bundle. the same day as Ali's dad had planned a speech for his party's candidate.' I said and passed on a bundle of notes to each of them.' I said. too.' 'Well then let's save it for the business and. These guys are nuts. I wanted to go as well. you don't listen. this money is for Australia only' 'Just when the business was looking up! Oh well. he also looked after the monthly supply business. 'We will get there by four.I kept track of cash. Govind. I'm with you guys and don't have to be a priest. Out of which forty thousand will be used to repay our loans. 'Seventy what?' Ish said. The remaining thirty is ours.

'You promised to help Mama. 'Later. Who is the bloody travel agent. his silk badge fluttering in the breeze. He felt important wearing a party badge. a veteran of state politics and a longtime associate of Parekh-ji. ASI. His responsibilities included placing mineral water bottles for everyone sitting on the stage. this was more of a mixed bunch. 'All right. The focus shifts to the kar sevaks as vandals. I thought. Mama was enjoying his five minutes of mike fame before Hasmukh-ji's speech. 'One week. too. ★ Twice.' Ish said. Omi disconnected the phone. 'who know politics and religion are separate. to the other rally. Mama wants you to spy on Ali's dad's rally. 'Yes. Mama had candidate potential. why were so many Hindus sitting here? . I can't leave the business anymore and everyday will be expensive there. We'll take enough theplas and khakras to eat for the stay. though he only had an errand-boy status. Unlike Mama's hundred per cent Hindu. Omi stepped off the stage and came to me. They liked Hasmukh-ji before he had spoken a word. 'Govind. can you come backstage. They dug up the Ayodhya site twice. Hasmukh-ji came to the mike. But the secular government hid it. But the secular party buries that news. 'Gujarat is a place of intelligent people. And Ish. sat centrestage. our dear kar sevaks were pushed into breaking the structure. Hasmukh-ji. The candidate. He requested everyone to close their eyes to say the Gayatri Mantra. let's go to Nana Park now. 'They found a Hari-Vishnu inscription that established without doubt that there was a temple in the past.' I said. But what about that evidence? Can a Hindu in India demand justice or not? Where should we go? To America?' Everyone applauded as Mama left the stage.' 'But why?' I was bewildered. punctuating Mama's words.'We will spend as little as possible. Two hundred people had shown up. Mama had done a good job of publicity. My financially clueless partners looked at me like kids waiting for candy.' Omi said. found temple evidence. thrice. Think about it man. the government's own entity. Fred will arrange the stay. 'As far back as 1978. more due to the poor quality of loudspeakers than the impact of his words. I sat down and sighed. Ish and I sat at one end of the first row. I walked over to the other end of the park. remember?' Omi said. not bad for a neighbourhood gathering.' Ish said as he dialled the agent's number. If the secular party was so proMuslim as Mama suggested. the Australian cricket team.' Ish started cracking knuckles. His voice echoed. Omi stood on stage. The crowd became involved.' Ali's dad was speaking.' Mama raised two lingers. let me bargain with him. here we go. It always worked. Then in 1992. And they found something. the snacks need to be distributed.' I said as I took the phone.' I took a seat in the last row and eyeballed the crowd. The decorations here were less saffron and more white.

Inshallah.' I wanted to tell him it was a terrible idea for him to come to Mama's rally. And don't give me a crazy price. isn't it? Don't worry. 'What the hell are you doing? I sent you to spy and you bring back another spy?' . As the septuagenarian began to talk. in fact. If we truly want to follow our gods. it's sabotage. 1 remembered the kissing chimpanzees and reconciliation mechanisms.' I returned to Ghulam Zian's speech. 'Hey. 'It's back.' 'At the other rally. I shook my head. Your choice. you traitor. I never say no to him. you will go. I kept quiet as we walked back to Mama's rally. What brings you here? Welcome. politics public. tor generations. Ali's father invited the main candidate.' a muscular man led the pack and lifted his chair. But right now. the microphones turned silent and the pedestal fans conked off. please sit down.' 'You speak well. we must keep our religion separate from politics. Sometimes I feel Ishaan bhai is more his father than me. Only chairs that could be thrown everytime the power went off. 'Get lost. Govind bhai.' I murmured without looking at him. Hasmukh-bhai was still on. Goa. I stepped outside.' said another. stayed away from politics in their time. 'Put your hand on your heart. Murmurs ran along the crowd. Ali's abba raised his hand to wave to Mama and Hasmukh-ji. I have no interest in politics. Ali's dad's beard looked extremely out of place.' i am a businessman. Ali's dad spotted me and came over. Politics may be his pastime.' Ali's father came to the stage with folded hands. A few people in the crowd looked at me and Ali's father. with lots of hand gestures. People talked about raiding the Hindu rally.' I said. Tension filled the air. You know Ish's plans to take Ali to Australia?' I said. as the event had its own generators. I called a travel agent.. Why isn't he here?' 'Well he and Omi are.. but for Mama it was lift and death. I guessed he was Hindu. why not now?' Mama saw us from the stage and pointed a finger.' he said. Omi came running to me and grabbed my hand. I wondered if I should run back and warn Mama. Hasmukh-ji stopped talking. 'Yes.' said one person in the crowd. 'He told me. there were no kisses. Australia. I'll go now. 'Let's teach him a lesson.' said a person from the crowd. on stage. Ali mentions Ishaan bhai's name at least ten times everyday. 'How about you?' I said. 'You a party member?' someone asked me. inaayat.'The gods we pray to. 'Let's teach those guys a lesson. I understand. Was it a power failure? No. 'Go away. The Hindu party did it. The power is back. Ali's abba. he kept quiet. The crowd booed at us. welcome. Ladies and gentlemen. Ghulam Zian.' Ali's dad said. Luckily.' He fell into step with me. The fans whirred again. 'We want to apply for four passports and visas to Australia. Religion is private. 'I'll come and say hello to Ishaan bhai. Don't you feel wronged as Hindus? And if we had the best culture and administration thousands of years ago. who is that?' a party worker said.

' I shouted back. I shook my head. I don't give a fuck about this.Ali's dad heard Omi and looked at me. . He gave me an allknowing smile and turned to walk back. I doubt he heard me.

At 7 a. too?' she asked. in the morning. four. So where are you going in Australia?' 'Sydney. 'You have a budget for how much you can miss people. 'So who are the two people going?' she said.' I said and left. all my students do well. No way would I spend more cash than I needed to.' 'Gujarat is not backward. What business do you do?' said Vidya. 'Where is my bed?' I wanted to ask.' Fred said as he stepped on the gas. he will get you whatever you want. now Australia. I patted the khakras in my bag. 'Why are studies so boring? Why do you have to do something so uninteresting to become something in life?' 'Vidya.' We locked eyes again. ★ 'You guys tired or wanna hit practice?' were Fred's first words of welcome at the airport. 'So. Vidya would top easy.' I said. no. 'Do your sums. And then I will get married into another hell-hole in some backward part of Gujarat. 'So. Vidya. waited six more hours to board a fourteen-hour flight to Sydney via Singapore. 'Will you get me something from Australia?' 'Ask your brother. I can't focus. Philip will pick you up for the evening practice. 'I go to the academy ground in the morning. We received tickets in the mail. will you miss me?' I continued to look down.' I restacked the books. Ali and the three of us are going. I will be away for ten days. In an entrance exam for insolence.' she said. 'Fred kept his promise when Ish wrote to him again. Don't let me down. so we made it in time for practice?' Ish looked out at the streets of Sydney.' 'Unlike me. But your books won't be.' she laughed. When your brother sets his mind on something. 'Lucky bums. Picture-postcard coffee shops advertised delicious muffins. We had taken an overnight train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai.' I said and stood up to leave. 'Oh. I opened her guide books. She nodded as if she understood.'  . he goes real far. I will be stuck in this hellhole home even in college. We had finished class and I wanted to tell her about my impending absence.' 'You also don't let me down. We couldn't afford any cakes In this town. Vidya. I'm sure I will flunk my medical entrance. joggers clogged the pavements. Focus. philosophical questions.m. 'How?' 'Forget it. Ali will practice in his academy for a week.' I clarified. we are on a tight budget. Mathematical questions. 'Maybe I am too forward.Thirteen First Goa. 'I've put you up in a hostel. Thirty hours of travel in cramped environments and I wanted to kill myself with sleep. Take a nap first I'd say.' I retorted. Fred is from there. her eyes the size of the new one-rupee coins. yes. 'Not two.' I said. 'Anyway.

' Fred clapped his hands.' said Ish. 'He doesn't really bowl. 'Five rounds everyone. Ali's bowling was no match for these state level players. but Fred told him to stay at the slip instead. 'Whinge means. 'Fair dinkum?' Ish looked up from his wooden stool.. and soft drinks 'coldies'. Once the ball came between Philip and me..' Ish said. Roger slammed the ball towards the boundary several times. He is a batsman. you wanted your little discovery to bat. 'Rattle your dags.Guys.' . 'What's burl?' I asked him. 'Onya' was short for 'good on you'. 'He is asking if you are telling the truth. No one had to translate 'hurry up' to me. one came running to me. Close to the boundary line. but I had to field anyway. Apart from Philip. Philip broke into some more slang. bowl. 'You got to siphon the python. What was I doing in the middle of this Australian ground? As the day progressed. Fred. An easy ball was a 'piece of piss'. I threw the ball back. 'I know. Omi and Ali were taking a walk outside the dub. Fred screamed. mate. is it?' It started to get dark. we did innumerable sit-ups.' announced Fred though Ali hadn't batted yet. Five rounds of the academy grounds equaled twenty rounds of Nana Park and fifty rounds of the bank's courtyard. 'You a whinger?' Fred said.. can someone please explain the point of calling a batsman from thousands of miles away and not making him bat?' Fred smiled.' Fred tossed the ball to Ali. give it a burl. The mosquitoes were 'mozzies'. no shortcuts. 'Here. I know what whinge means. mate. Philip took his fielding place at the boundary near me. there was a beefy guy called Peter and a spectacled spinner called Steve. Three personal trainers supervised five students each. and we had a tough time catching it. After the run.' I showed off my newfound linguistic skills.' Ish offered to be the wicket keeper. 'Oh. mate. which meant well done. pushups and crunches. 'When is practice tomorrow.' Philip laughed.. 'Cut the drama.' another fielder shouted at me. What for? So he can hit a few sixes.' We came to the pitch after endurance training. The first lime I groaned.' I said as Ish interrupted me.' Ish said. I forgot the other names instantly. 'Aussie slang. in English if you can. Fred raised his eyebrows at a glum Ish in the locker room. The next time he said. When I took a loo break. I am fine. 'Pack-up time. this is Ali. while a good one 'packed a wallop'. I told them I was no player.' Fred said to the other players who came for practice.. You want the kid to be a show-off from day one?' That's not what I. it means give it a try. so did my Aussie vocabulary.' The first two hours of our Australian practice was the practice of death.

' Michael said.' 'You Indians have good talent. you're controlling the game.. Everyone laughed. NCR 40 Roger said. 'Busy? Never heard a bloke too busy to root. 'No way. Bring it on.' I said.' Everyone looked at us.' Roger said.'  ‘Cheers!’ everyone cried. hugged Fred. I saw Ish's frequent nods. If I don't break their pride. You must have pretty girls all over you in India. "The one in brown. he needs to show the other team who is the boss. he won't last long. I drink two litres of milk everyday. 'Promised the missus some time. I could not hear their conversation However. whatever. 'But you guys are single.. Even though your country treats them like that. 'We don't have girlfriends. mate. she's ain't bad. also known as 'fourex' stubbies. rolling his 'Too busy with work.' Hazel said in a flirtatious tone she passed the plates.' Roger said. 'Oooh.' Fred said. 'Same for Ali. 'Hi!' our server Hazel.' Ish nodded. 'I'll make the week productive. You've got to make sure the batsman know who's the boss. A determined mind can counter a gift.' Omi said. hungry boys.' Michael said as four girls walked in.' 'NCR 10. Everyone roared with laughter. He doesn't just need to hit shots. The Australians mainly ate meat dishes.trust me on that mate. 'She's NCR 0. 'Don't want rooting tips? We are just doing boring coach talk. mate.' Ish sat next to Fred. his biceps flexing. If he isn't humble.' . 'Why not? Indian women are hot. they will stay hoons for the rest of their life.'Mate. We clanged our dark brown bottles of XXXX beer. He admits it. Omi said.' 'Right. but the training .' said Michael.. 'Here you go. I left the Aussie rooting stories and moved to Ish. I see a lot of talent. My players will eventually figure out new ways to bowl to Ali. I'm off like a bride's nightie. But today's lesson was important. 'And the blue one?' Philip said. Everyone laughed.' Ish said. Sportsmen aren't movie stars. well. 'Check those honeys out. The missus won't tolerate me making eyes at anyone else.' Fred's students egged him on after she left. Hi Govind!' Fred had spotted me. The amount of beer yoi need to drink to want to have sex with a girl.. 'If you're the bowler and you've got the ball in your hand. man.' Ish sounded helpless.' Michael said. We had stuck to a pizza as it was the only recognisable choice. 'NCR 5.' 'We are only here for a week. Root meant. A champion has both. 'You got to do more protein. 'What's NCR?' I asked as there was a whiff of maths in the air. Every AIS scholarship kid has tickets on himself.' Fred said. 'NCR is Number of Cans Required.' 'But Fred. too hot to be a waitress. then looked at his watch.' Fred said.. mate.' Roger said.' Fred was saying. 'Michael dated an ugly bitch once. as he ate.

Australia can create legends. Australia does win a lot. as his eyes lit up.' Fred sipped his sparkling water.' 'What are you talking about? These are all cricketing legends Ish said. 'Any famous players from this scholarship programme?' 'Heaps. there is pile of medals for Australia. a tiny number of them are born excellent. I listened as I struggled with the ribbon-like pasta. You take a bit of talent and mould it properly.' He paused. too?' I said.' Fred said. in the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal. Shane Warne. 'You are already a legend. And the best part is to be part of that communit where everyone has a singular commitment to their sport. sports science. in fact. In cricket. Like Tendulkar. the whole legend bit is far-fetched. I'm starting out.' Ish said. But it wasn't always like this. 'Legends . And at the heart of it all. Expert coaching accommodation. though right now you rely on talent more than training. they offer seven hundred scholarships a year. how does the whole sports thing work in Australia.' 'You want to know why Australia always wins?' it doesn't always win.Ish's chest swelled with pride as Fred had called him equal in role. hut also love a fight. I calculated how seven hundred scholarships for twenty million people would equate to for India. Michael Bevan. They get two hundred million dollars of funding| and have excellent facilities.' . 'Hope I get there someday.' Ish asked. thank goodness. 'You mentioned a scholarship yesterday. 'Yes.' Fred laughed. mate. and good stuff happens. And let me tell you boys. Adam Gilchrist.' Ish said. or maybe like Ali. 'Nah. Every Olympics. the domination continues. I can't describe that feeling.' Ish said.. in Sydney 2000. only after USA. it brings out the best. medicine -you name it. Damien Martyn. travel to tournaments.. The waiters cleared our plates as we finished our food. 'Plenty of reasons.' Fred finished his glass of water and continued: 'And today the AIS has hundreds of staff . All these countries have ten times as many people.' 'But you guys did well last year.that's a good word. even if not every time. 'Aussies saw the Montreal fiasco as a national shame. What's that? In fact. 'Not just money. 'Not always. We love to dominate opponents. Russia and China. Australia didn't win a single medal. Fred?' 1 said. That was the equivalent of thirty-five thousad sports scholarships a year for India to match the ratio.' Ish said. Fred.' 'And we can't. 'Well you could. 'What's the scholarship? Money?' Ish wanted to know. mate. How come. It is full on.' 'Yeah. doctors and physios. When there's a challenge. Australia won 56 medals. In that sense.coaches. Ricky Ponting. Fred nodded. 'I know the feeling. they shone as bright.' Fred pushed the spaghetti plate towards me.' 'You have a scholarship. Justin Langer. I remembered something. You have a big population. So the government set up the Australian Institute of Sports or the AIS and initiated the world's best scholarship programme. Even though Ish's eyes aren't blue. Andrew Symonds. Glenn McGrath.

The ball didn't go far. He made the crease but fell with his full body weight coming down on his left ankle. 'Jump.' 'Sunday breakfast is on me. But if you want a career.' Ish said again. And that is what we Indians miss.' 'Forget what?' I said. a paramedic arrived and placed an ice pack on Ali's swollen ankle. At least for now we can call ourselves "legend".respect your body's limits 'I do. However. wanting to kill myself for the game I played that day. 'Everyone. mate. You can't get caught up in the moment so much that you forget. Ali kept the showbiz low and played a steady game. 'Give the game a rest for two days.' Ish said. 'Lucky it is not a fracture or dislocation.' Fred hooked his fingers around the last word. Ali did bat the following days. Every bowler went through the shock of being slammed for sixes. 'Faster. applying painkillers and wrapping a crepe bandage. Ali dived. You leave Sunday evening. 'I had just started my career when my nasty back almost finished it. Lose it.' Ish said.' 'The kid is good. You'll be fine. Ali decided to stay at the crease. Yes. 'imagine what would happen if we could have this kind of training in India. We don't want to dive.'Can't believe the week went by so fast. Looks like a ligament got some wear. 'You are big boys and tough players. You must safeguard it. 'but there was a single there. feeling compelled to speak. Within minutes. mate. Ali leaned on the physio as he tried to hobble. India would dominate and teams like us would be nowhere.' 'The game is not about being macho. he lay on the ground clenching his teeth and holding back tears.' Ish boxed his left palm with his right. '1 made the same mistakes. but. But the head has to be clear during the match. He crossed fifty runs in a couple of innings.' Ish apologised to Fred later in the locker room.' 'Cricket would be finished. get up.' Ish urged from the boundary line. We don't want to take risks. 'Oh.' Ish said.' Fred said.' Fred clapped his hands. 'Run Ali.' Ish screamed. think long term. 'let's sit down. 'don't sleep. and you are gone. On Friday morning Ali hit the ball for a defensive shot.' Ali ran faster as the fielder returned the ball to the bowler. as that is the only job I could get. 'Easy. you must protect your student.' Ish said with a sheepish expression. You want to give it your all.'Yeah. But I can't emphasise it enough . 'Run. As everyone rushed towards him.' the physio said. No time for drama. Guilt bubbled up his eyes.' Ish said. right?' 'Yes.' We sat down on the pitch around Fred in a circle. it is a single. I have a little surprise for him.' Fred said to Ish and signalled for a physio. 'I'd have been selling suits at a store for the rest of my life. he'll play in a few hours.' Ish hung his head low.' 'Don't worry. 'I'd never let Ali get hurt. And Ish. in two days.' He added. 'Forget that you got one fragile body. Ali looked surprised at the instruction hut ran.' ★ . passion is important. I want you guys to meet someone important.

I'd much prefer to see one topless woman every day for hundred days. I'd never look at the Frisbee Ish said. rather than a hundred at once. Wait a minute. she is massive. Ish and Omi soon went for a swim in the sea and to see if wet and topless women looked even hotter wet. But that summer. Something hurt inside me. She wore a shirt on top of her bikini and had her back to me. I saw Omi and Ish splashing in the water at a distance." Ish whistled. 'Wow. 'Check that blonde one. They are strong enough to surf on. 'I could not play with them.' I said and was teased for bringing maths everywhere. probably oil or lotion or any such thing that girls feel is essential to their existence. even though I'd have killed her if she walked around in a bikini. It is funny but the bare-breasts became routine in a few minutes. like oiled fingers in hair. the Pacific Ocean meets the powdery sand to create perfect waves. It was like all the beautiful women in the world emailed each other and decided to meet at Bondi. Six topless women played Frisbee there. They laughed as the pushed each other down. I noticed a brunette in an umbrella next to me. And if you've never seen a topless woman in your life before.' I said. we are a sick bunch. play. I opened my notebook that I carried . That is. My eyes are tired from not blinking. I guess you get used to good things fast. the nicest part about the beach was its people . places like this did things to you. And each one a knockout!' It was true. The brunette rubbed her hair exactly like Vidya. 'This is what heaven must look like. I'd kill her or her brother Ish would kill her? Why should I care? But I did say I would kill her? And why am I thinking of her when there are so many beautiful topless women to distract me right now? And why do I think of her every night before I go to bed? And why does my mind not stop asking stupid questions? If you began to miss a girl thousands of miles away even with naked breasts around you. Wouldn't it be nice if Vidya was here? Isn't this what she longed for most? Freedom above all else? Didn't she have the Bondi spirit. Having grown up in a place where sleeveless blouses cause scandals. 'There must be a hundred women here. There is no pollution. I sat down on the sand.. The sea is visible for miles. wow. Yes. 'You want an umbrella?' I said as we parked ourselves at a scenic spot. At the shore.Bondi beach is so beautiful that it needs a coffee table book of its own. First. tops-off is what an MBA type would call a 'paradigm shift'.those who were not men.' Omi said. 'There are a hundred women here.. Random thoughts circulated in my head. The Australian sky is a different colour from India. those who were women. Her long black hair fell over her thin back. the sky. Oh well when in Disneyland. yet soft enough to make you relax. wow.' Omi pointed out helpfully. you can actually see their ni . I felt like someone pounded my chest. So we have two hundred breasts to look at. It actually looks the same as the sky blue colour in paint shops and is so crisp that your eyes hurt. She applied something in her half. something is seriously wrong. Gorgeous and topless.

C'mon inside.' I said as I collected the change. I found a long strand of hair. 'The water is amazing. Only one person that I knew had long hair. I am diving in again. It didn't belong to Ish or Omi or me. I found a public phone.' I said.' I said without making eye contact. 'No. Water dripped from him and fell on my legs. . catching his breath. I have work. 'You are working on Bondi? Whatever. 'Call who?' 'Suppliers. Omi came running to me. I collected my belongings and walked back to the beach shopping area. I closed my book.' Omi said and ran back to the sea. need some coins.' he said. The notebook I had opened to forget her made me miss her even more. I have to make a call. 'From here? Isn't it expensive?' 'Short call. I dialed her number. I wanted to make a budget for the next three months.everywhere.

that's well. How is the preparation going? Integration is quite important you know. wow.' I said.' Duh! Say something more than borrowing from her phrases.' she said.. From here you can either make fast progress. 'Bhaiya. 'Yes. I. tell me?' Of all the phrases ever said on the phone. Rakhi brother really means 'you can talk to me. champion of nonsensical. the phone consumed coins at a ferocious pace. Or. I thought about leaving the booth. that's . I am in a booth. 'So. So. wow. Her voice became heavy. But you try to call a girl you are not supposed to call for the first time.. her voice careful. You will like this place. I reinserted the coins and dialled again. but don't even freaking think about anything else you .' 'What?' 'Don't ask silly questions. Had she guessed my breath? What is with this kid? 'Hi. I kept adding more change as the damn phone ate a dollar every thirty seconds. you go down to the lowest category invented by Indian women ever .' 'How is Australia? Having fun? Tell me?' I could kill her if she said tell me again. I have never seen a real beach in my life. I thought. She asked the one question I did not want her to ask. I must have come across as a pervert. I gave stupid descriptions. 'Govind?' she said.' I said... To add to the nervousness. I disconnected it. I could not contain myself any longer. As a very good friend.rakhi brother. 'Ok. 'Hello? Ishaan bhaiya?' Vidya said as she picked up the phone. Such a perfect place. can you hear me?' I did the cheesiest thing possible.' A 'very good friend' is a dangerous category with Indian girls.' I said. 'Yeah. and other.. The phone gobbled two dollars worth of coins. Do I have to tell something just because I have called? 'Well. 'Govind. how come you called?' 'Oh nothing. and the sky is endless too. How is it? Does the water never end? Can you keep looking until forever?' 'Yeah. Fuck. monosyllabic responses. It is beautiful.' I said. what the hell was I doing? I called again with fresh coins.Fourteen The phone rang twice. it is nice.' I said. 'Which place? Tell more no? Where are you now?' 'Bondi beach. Of course. She picked up instantly. if you play it wrong.' 'Do you miss me?' 'Vidya. 'Where are Ish and Omi?' 'They are in the water. As a friend. but I could not find anything better to say. I just breathed. I cut the phone again. I hate 'tell me' the most. 'Wow. I saw the international number..' 'I miss you. and not as a tutor. But maybe I should just tell her something. A lot actually.' 'You called about integration?' 'Well.

'Really?' I said. Beep. I also thought how much money telecom companies must make given a tiny call cost me as much as a meal. If you were here. People sit with a glass of beer for hours.' I said.' 'Coins are finished.. No more change. I miss you too. I stuffed some sand in the matchbox and put it in my pocket. A little voice in my mind shouted at me. It threatened me to feed it with more money or my first romantic conversation would be murdered. I passed a trendy outdoor restaurant called Blue Orange Cafe.. I took a match box from the bar and emptied the sticks in a dustbin. 'I have an idea. let's go get lunch. 'I came to meet you. Wow. 'Supplier. I don't like it when people less sensible than me question me. A stupid Australian company called Telstra ruined my first romantic moment. come back soon.' I said. Will you get dry first. Can I borrow a few coins for a Coke. That way I will have a piece of Sydney with me. 'Who did you call?' Omi said. 'Listen. Get me some sand from the beach you are on right now.. 'Can I get you anything from here?' I said. 'Yeah. irritated. but a little something won't hurt. 'Nothing. bring me a matchbox full of sand.. Free. Beep. Someone's missing you. I walked back. Beautiful waitresses scampered around getting people burgers and toasted sandwiches.' Sand? Now that was a weird request. 'And I want to tell you something. I thought about the girl who only wanted sand.' she said. but let's use it to eat lunch.' 'Wow. I have to go now. that's the nicest thing you ever said to me. 'Sure.' she said.' I said. isn't it?' she said. 'What?' Beep. 'Hey. what are you doing this side? The waves are better at the other end. 'tell her you miss her stupid. don't be in a hurry to speak again and ruin the good line. Have some cash left for today. And put some feelings in it if there is space. I had no coins left.' 'Vidya?' ... what are you doing?' Omi said as he emerged from the waves like the world's ugliest mermaid. When you have said something nice. I looked around and bent over. I could actually say what I felt after all.' I said and cleared my throat.' I kept quiet. At least it was cheap. Australians give the word laid-back new meaning. I feel thirsty. The phone display blinked. 'Yeah. 'Yeah.' I said. I walked back to the shore until the surfy water touched my toes. 'Tight budget.' 'Back in three days.' 'Finished?' Omi said.' 'I do. rather.bore'. or you'll be getting rakhis for the rest of your life.' 'Which one?' 'Fuck off Omi. Sydney would be more fun.

'You don't hit upon your best friend's sister.' 'It's not like that. and you broke it. there is a "we-just-look" stage. Will Omi say something stupid to him? No. I had enough of Aussies for a lifetime. It is against the protocol. how far are you guys?' 'What? Hey Omi. A noisy gang played on the pool table near us.' 'C'mon Omi why would I call Vidya?' 'I'm not that stupid. Now tell me.' 'Yes. it wasn't exactly like being hit.' he said as he tried to catch up with me. 'There is an unspoken rule among Indian men. 'It's nothing. 'You can hide if you want. 'Yes.' I interrupted him and pointed to the corner. Then a "hold-hand" stage.' I said. Ok. I had five minutes until Ish came back.. We are here and he has no idea. And what the hell is his business anyway. You never talk about her since you started teaching her. he really has no idea. But I know. 'What?' I said.. go call Ish for lunch. all is good. You just don't. the most common stage in the old city. 'Stage?' I said.' I slid the menu down. what stage are you in the relationship?' Omi said. We walked towards the restaurant with me three steps ahead of him.' 'Protocol? What is this. 'But you let her hit upon you. 'Over there. 'Get lost.' Ish said. Anyway.' 'I didn't.' Omi said and left. We sat facing each other..' 'Well... I hid behind the menu again.' I said. 'And I've noticed. 'Are you intimate with her?' Omi continued. it didn't hurt. Omi and Ish walked in laughing.' I said. 'Don't say it. 'Did you say anything to him?' I said. 'Fuck man. the army? And I didn't hit on her.' 'What rule?' I said and slammed the menu on the table.' .' 'You are. Then a "we-just-talk" stage. We came to Campbell Parade. I played with the toothpicks on the table to avoid eye Contact. It felt good. ok maybe something.’ Omi said.' I said and walked faster. surprised. What a random guess. But nothing to worry about. I went inside 'Hog's Breath Cafe'. ‘I can. I lifted the menu to cover my face and avoid conversation. 'You think I'm stupid?' 'Yeah. 'Hog's Breath? Can you think of a worse name for a restaurant?' Ish said and laughed. Omi was not that stupid.I looked at him dumbstruck. a strip of bars and cafes near the beach. 'I've seen the way you guys look at each other. After five days in this country the name didn't seem weird anymore. You let her. where's the toilet? I have to go siphon the. She hit upon me. It's different between us. Thoughts came to me.' he said. 'Don't lie to me.' I said. Then a.

I really want to get lunch. you don't want to be that boy. Omi and Ali sat at the back in Fred's Saab convertible while I rode in the front.' Ish said.' I said and flipped the menu.. 'Here sports is a national obsession. He cracked a joke with the Aussie guys playing pool. And how old is she? Seventeen?' 'Turns eighteen in a few months. I won't do anything stupid.' 'Then stop teaching her no?' Omi said. Heck.  These houses are huge. Ish came out of the toilet.'Fuck.' Ish leaned forward. Don't worry. people don't even ask what job you do. I stay out of that stuff.' 'Oh great. 'What do you want? Garlic bread is the cheapest item on the menu. 'What's the obsession in your country then?' 'There's a lot of people. I turned to Omi. I don't know why I agreed to teach her in the first place. 'In Australia.' 'Well. even bigger. 'Can we get lunch. 'But most people have modest places. 'I am just saying. Fred had picked us up for breakfast on Sunday. 'What do you play. killing the engine.' Omi said.' Fred said.' I said and looked towards the toilet.' 'Ish.' I screamed across the bar. That's the problem. we don't brag about how much money we make or what car you drive.' Fred said. Or any man who is related to her will.. 'You know stupid. Don't do anything stupid ok?' 'Stupid?' Omi leaned forward to whisper. Just good friends. our last day.' Fred said. 'Just good friends should be a banned phrase. Ish.' he screamed back as he continued to play pool with the Aussie guys. And there's a lot of obsessions. When you think your relationship is different from any other in this world. Ish will kill you. And them together. 'I don't want to talk about it. There is nothing more misleading. I trust you. it's nothing really. 'I love Australia.' 'Whatever.' Fred said. Do you know what people ask the most?' 'What?' Ish said. Cool air blew through our hair as we drove past Sydney's early morning streets. She sucks at maths. that's what they ask. Aussie politics are a joke anyway. Remember that guy in the car? Trust me. that's an advanced stage. 'But religion and politics are pretty big. I wish India approached sports with the same spirit.' I added. or her dad will. . His last phrase bobbed up and down in my head like the surfboards on Bondi beach.' I said as we drove past a rich neighbourhood called Double Bay. You are her teacher damn it. or that car.

thank you.' Fred said. Omi and Ali had hardly spoken during the entire trip. limited. 'He'll become a champion. this is the Australian citizenship forms.' 'So?' Ish said. really good. 'Think about the child's future.. 'His parents will have residency rights. Ali doesn't live in any Australian state.' Mr Cutler said and took out a file. The Aussie accent stumped them. you can . too. 'These are the gentlemen who helped me get your tickets.We parked in an area called Paramatta Park. a lot of people in the world want it. And Ish. Ali's life would transform. 'What?' Ish said as we understood the purpose of Fred inviting us. we are offering Ali an Australian citizenship. Not| my exgirlfriend. His sister as well. who still looked shell-shocked.' Fred introduced us to the two older men. 'And this is the talented boy?' Mr Greener patted All's back. the only way we can do it is this. Over-excitement was a constant problem with Ish. his means are rather. 'Well. 'He'll become Australian?' Omi said.' Ish said as Fred shushed him. . Omi was too busy eating to talk.' Fred said and winked at us. From what I hear.. We went inside the restaurant to find two men waiting for us. It wasn't to just play for a week.' Fred said. can apply. 'Why don't you ask Ali first? It is his life and his decision. 'we should do whatever we can to help' "Thank you.' Mr Cutler said.' Mr Greener laughed in a friendly manner. We will assist you in every way. Chances are good. er." Mr Cutler said. Fred had brought us to Lachan's Restaurant in the Old Colonial House.' Fred winked at Ish. the scholarship holder must be an Australian resident. As you may know. given the great talent. 'You see. Were they going to sponsor Ali? 'If he is as good as Fred and his boys who played with you say you are. 'Or Cutler had to pull serious strings at the immigration department for this.' Mr Cutler cleared his throat. 'Mr Greener is the chairman of the Australian Sports Academy and Mr Cutler is head of the AIS scholarship programme.' I saw Ish s face tighten in anticipation.' Fred buttered some toast 'I told them about AIL How he is good. and how with proper training he has the potential to go really far. 'Yep. 'Well. 'Under AIS rules.' I told Ish. 'Remember my phone calls from Goa? To these gentlemen. He opened it and laid out some forms on the table.' Mr Greener said. I can get Ali selected. or at least a person in the process of becoming a resident' 'Can't we make an exception?' I said. 'the AIS selects from the nominations of the various state academies. 'Good morning Mr Greener and Mr Cutler. as talented as the man above sends them.' Ali and Omi stopped eating as they saw the forms on the table. 'They have a point. your friends here.' Fred said as we settled at the table. 'You love Australia. I nodded. Maybe it was hereditary.' Mr Greener said. too. However. But here. They meant poor.

' Fred said. no pressure.'Yes. The officials tried for another half an hour. 'It will be tough to make it in your country. who will I play for?' Ah said.. A plane flew above us. 'What?' 'I don't want to be Australian in my next life. . I guess. Even if I have a hundred next lives. Your coach knows that. Sportsman spirit. 'But I'm an Indian.' Mr Cutler said.' Ali said. Ali spoke slowly after a pause. I looked up in the sky. Maybe next time. big honour. 'sorry Fred. 'So. We explained the offer in simple terms to Ali while a waiter cleared our plates. I maintained the polite conversation. next life in this case. 'I have a good coach. we will give you the same respect as your own country. Maybe he never meant it to be profound. What you have done for us is huge. Ah . You could be Australian. why bother with us down under?' Fred said and laughed.. Ish beamed at his proudest moment ever. I was glad I was going home tonight. They asked if we could speak to Ali's parents. Not for anyone else.' Mr Cutler said. 'What?' 'I am an Indian. And some good coaching. I want to be Indian in all of them. Ali slid next to Ish and hid against him. He didn't show if he was upset. We do realise that this is a big. turning over both his palms.' Ali said. what do you want?' Ish said. We are a multicultural society. but realised this wasn't going to work after all. but that was his deepest statement yet. 'Never mind mate.' Mr Cutler said. If you can make a billion people proud.' 'But son. Australia.' Ali said and looked at Ish. I want to play for India.' Mr Greener said. but it's not ok if I am not an Indian.' I said. 'I don't want to. 'If I make it to the team. who knows?' Mr Greener said as he slid into the driving seat of his silver Honda Accord. 'But.' Ali said. 'We are sorry. 'But you can become an Australian as well.' Ali said. He leaned forward and put his hand on Ali's shoulder. his face emerging from hiding behind Ish.' 'No worries mate. We saw the officials off to their car. 'No.' Mr Greener said. Your kid is good and he knows it.' Ali said. 'It's ok if I don't become a player.

flipping through her notebook. I stood up to take out the match box from my jeans pocket. ‘Not like her useless brother. He spoke again as I climbed the steps. tuitions. She took the box and slid it open with her thin fingers. A part of me. ‘How is she? Will she make it to the medical entrance?’ 'She is a bright student. 'Blue Orange Cafe. or rather to fill up the silence as I checked her out.Fifteen Vidya. I noticed her dress. foreign returned now. 'Welcome to my al fresco tuition place. She wore a new purple and white bandhini salwar kameez today. Where is Vidya? I looked up at her window as 1 pressed the bell downstairs.. Vidya's thoughts dominated them all. 'I see a mozzie party on top of your head.' I said. smouldering spiral coil. 'The coil is not working.her name rang like an alarm in my head. I froze.' he said as he let me in. Businessmen should not waste time on stupid things like women. dismissing me.' she said. . 'Yeah. I had tons of work. I tried to be normal.' she said. stuck stocks and unattended orders. I climbed up to the terrace.. 'Govind.' She went and sat on a white plastic chair with a table and an extra chair in front 'I had so many doubts. But the other irrational part of me loved it. No matter how close I held them to my chest now. 'You brought my gift. I had opened my cards already. cool. I think they should bottle it and sell it. Why does every male in the family of the girl you care about instil a fear in your soul? 'Uncle. He picked up a newspaper from the coffee table. There were waiting suppliers. Vidya stood there with an air-hostess smile. 'She is upstairs. He buried himself into the newspaper. How was Australia?' 'Great.' she said to break the pause. However. She had her trademark pearl-white nail polish only on the toenail tips. on the terrace. Every girl has a wonderful smell right after a bath. She had freshly bathed. Vidya . 'Hey.' I said. Her hair smelt of a little bit of Dettol soap and well. 'Oh. not after that call. 'Mosquito coil. Vidya. she.' Vidya's dad opened the door. but what do they do about it? I went to the internal staircase to go up to the terrace.' I looked at her. Vidya .' I said as I came up. Smoke came out from under the table. I ran through tomato sellers and marble playing kids to reach her house on time.' 'Mozzie?' 'It is what they call mosquitoes in Australia. And this part controlled me at the moment. her. I also saw her bare feet. I couldn't. what's this?' I said.’ uncle said. had seen them. I bent under the table to see the green.' I said in a small voice. Her necklace had a purple teardrop pendant and matching earrings.' she said.' I said. the logical part. told me this was not a good idea. Why do old people like newspapers so much? They love reading the news.

. five dollars and sixty cents.' she said.. 'It's ok. Look there is a tiny shell inside.' 'Well. 'Did you really miss me?' she said and put her palm on my hand. Ok. sorry. Vidya.loans. The tiny distance made it difficult to ascertain who took the . 'Be serious.. I have my business to focus on and this is really not my thing.' she said and pulled her hair back to tie them with a rubber band.. I don't have time for emotions. 'I feel silly.' I said in a firm voice. 'What?' I said. Or rather.' She stood up and came to my side. this is perfect.' 'Two months. 'So how come you called?' 'I told you. an Australian beach in my hands.. She threw a tiny spit ball in the air.' she wiggled two fingers.' she signalled me to lean forward. Time to bring me another nice gift. Water droplets had passed from her hair to mine. my inner Mr Logical told me. significant reasons exist for me not to indulge in illogical emotions. business and a mother. I nodded. 'It's not ok. She put her finger on my mouth. 'Two months and I will turn eighteen.' she said.' 'Yeah. I couldn't talk when I looked at her. She sat on the flimsy armrest of my plastic chair. Half the mosquitoes hovering over her head had shifted over to mine as well. 'I touched the hot tip.' I said. whatever. My best friend's sister? What the fuck . Soon the gap reduced to zero. 'is it still there in my mouth?' She opened her mouth and brought it close. I don't know if I came towards her or she came towards me.. 'What?' I said and looked at her. The call would have cost something. please continue. I am your teacher. 'Ouch. Her toes touched mine as we inched closer. And I want. Our heads met in a dull thud as we looked into the matchbox's contents. You are not even eighteen. life's best gifts are free. you don't have to be sorry.' I said and regretted talking like an accountant the next second. but. 'I think a mosquito kissed me.'Wow. Vidya. She cupped my face in her palms.' she said. I couldn't talk when she looked at me. oops. I have responsibilities . your brother trusts me as a friend. Time to study. I opened the books. 'Nothing. This is not right. I should have brought something substantial. I pulled it back in reflex. She held it up with pride as if I had presented the queen's stolen diamonds.' she said as she pulled her feet away. enough is enough. 'It’s fine.' she said and spit again.' I said and turned away. Her lips were eight millimetres apart from mine.' she said. 'No. I shouldn't. 'You don't shave that often eh? Ew. 'There you go.' I mumbled.' She giggled. 'and this is not the place anyway. She looked surprised. She asked the dreaded question. 'I am sorry. 'Why am I so cheap?' I said.. the mosquito coil.' I sat back upright. The point is. Anyway. Anyway.

initiative. I felt something warm on my lips and realised that we have come too dose, or maybe too far. We kissed again. The mosquitoes on our respective heads re-joined. I'd love to say I saw stars and heard sweet, music during my first kiss. But the dominating background sounds were (a) Vidya's mom's pressure cooker whistle from downstairs in the kitchen, (b) the campaign sounds from the autos of various parties for the upcoming elections and (c) the constant buzz of the mozzies. But when you are in the middle of a kiss, sound and sight get muted I checked once to see if the other terraces were empty. Then I closed my eyes. 'Vidya, what are we doing,' I said, not letting her go. I couldn't stop. Probability, algebra, trigonometry and calculus - the passion held back in all those classes came blazing out. 'It's fine, it's fine,' she kept reassuring me and kissing me. We broke away from each other because even passionate people need oxygen. She looked at me with a big grin. I packed my pens and books. No maths tonight. 'Why aren't you making eye contact?' She remarked, mischief in her voice. I kept silent. 'You are older than me and a hundred times better than me in maths. But, in some ways, I am way more mature than you.' 'Oh, yeah?' I challenged weakly, collecting the textbooks. She pulled my chin up. 'I am turning eighteen. I can do whatever I want,' she said. The loudspeaker of a campaign auto continued in the background. 'I can vote in that election,' she continued, 'I can have a bank account, I can marry, I can...' 'Study. You can also try to get into a good college,' I interrupted her. She laughed. We stood up and walked over to the watertank on the terrace. We leaned against the tank and saw the sunset. We talked about everything other than maths. I told her about the academy, the dinner with Fred, the blue Australian sky and the loamy water on Bondi beach. She listened in excitement. She said she wished she could have a home on the beach and how she would colour the walls inside pink and yellow. It is amazing how specific girls can get about hypothetical scenarios. 'Want coffee?' she said. 'You'll have to go down?' I said as I held her hand on instinct. A voice in me still protested, but now that voice had no volume. 'No, I have a secret stash under the water tank. Come,' she said and pulled at my hand. The five feet cubical cement water tank was raised from the ground on reinforced concrete pillars. Between the tank and the ground, there was a gap of four feet We could sit on the ground under the tank. 'This is my favourite place since I was a kid,' she said. I bent on my knees and' slid inside, following her. She pulled out a picnic basket. It had a thermos flask, red plastic cups and Marie biscuits. 'Welcome to Vidya's rooftop cafe" sir,' she said and passed me a cup. I looked at her. She is too beautiful to study maths. Maths is for losers like me. I took a sip. My lips still felt the sensation of her lips. I rested on my elbow but the concrete surface hurt. 'I'll get cushions next time,' she said. 'It's fine,' I said.

We finished our coffee and came out. We switched on the terrace bulb. I flipped through the textbook to forget the kisses and coffee. The symbols of integration looked dull for the first time in my life. At one level, maths does suck. 'Thanks,' I said. 'For what?' she said. 'For the coffee and the ... you know.' She leaned forward and kissed my cheek. 'Thanks for the gift, the gift of true close friendship.' True-close-friendship, another hyphenated tag. It meant progress. I came down the steps passed through the living room on the way out. 'What a good, responsible boy. Ish hasn't learnt anything from him,' Vidya's father was saying to his wife as I shut the door behind.

I could have done my accounts much faster if I didn't have the parallel SMS conversation. My phone beeped a fifth time. 'Who the hell are you SMSing?' Omi asked from the counter. It was six in the evening, almost time to shut the shop. Ish had gone to one of the KVs and Omi had to leave soon for the evening aarti. Two dozen invoices, notebooks, pens and a calculator surrounded me. 'Nothing, I am bargaining with a supplier,' I said. I turned the phone to silent mode. 'Call him,' Omi said. 'I'll look desperate. I'd rather he calls first.' 'Do the accounts first, Govind. So many unpaid orders, it is a complete mess,' Omi said, popping a candy from the jar into his mouth. I let it pass. Anything to get his mind off the SMSs. My phone flashed again. itz my bday. i celebr8 my way. u'll get cake or not?? I had saved Vidya's number as 'Supplier Vidyanath' in my phone, in case anyone picked it up. Also, I deleted her messages as soon as I read them. 'I hope you are staying away from Ish's sister?' Omi said. My hands froze as I manipulated the messages. I told myself, It is a coincidence. Omi doesn't know who I am messaging to. Be cool. I replied to the SMS. Ok, u win. will get a small 1 now let me work, you study 2  I kept the phone aside. Smiley faces had entered my life. 'I teach her, Omi. Just a few months for her entrance exams,' I said. I dug myself deep into the paperwork. 'Does she...,' Omi began. 'Can I do the accounts or should we gossip about my students?' I glared at Omi.

Mama came running to our shop. 'Switch on the TV fast.' 'Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center Twin Towers located in New York,' the BBC news channel reader said. The live visual was incredible even by sci-fi movie standards. The hundred-storey tall twin towers had deep incisions in the middle, like someone had cut through loaves of bread. 'Two planes in a row suggest a planned .terrorist attack,' a military intelligence expert said on the TV. 'The world will never be the same again,' the Israeli prime minister said. We half-closed the shutters. Everyone in the temple gathered around TV sets where the towers crumbled down again and again in replay. Smoke, soot and concrete dust filled the streets of New York. Reports said thousands may be dead. 'What the...,' Ish said as he returned to the shop. 'Muslim terrorists, I guarantee you,' Mama said as his phone rang. He saw the number and stood in attention. 'Parekh-ji?' Mama said, his voice subservient. I couldn't hear Parekh-ji's words. 'I am watching it,' Mama said,'They are turning into a menace Yes, yes sir we are ready for the elections Parekh-ji, yes,' Mama said, wiping sweat off his chest, 'Belrampur is not a problem ... yes, other neighbourhoods need work but you know Hasmukh-ji. He doesn't spend as much time...' Bittoo Mama stepped away from us. Parekh-ji gave him tips on the elections next week. Later at night, pictures of the first suspects were released. Four Muslim boys had joined a flying school a few months back. They had hijacked the plane using office box cutter knives and caused one of the most spectacular man-made disasters of the world. A stick-thin old man called Bin Laden released an amateur video, claiming it was all his big idea. 'What's up?' Omi asked Mama as he ended his call. 'Hasmukh-ji takes everything for granted. He doesn't pound the streets of his constituency.' 'Parekh-ji is not happy?' Omi said. 'He is fine with me. He isn't too worried. The bye-election is only for two seats in Gujarat The real elections are next year.' 'Mama, so next year,' Omi said and patted Mama's back, 'we will have an MLA in the family.' The temple bells rang to signify time for the final aarti. Omi and Mama stood up to leave. 'I have to show Parekh-ji I deserve it. Winning this seat will help,' Mama said. 'You need any more help?' Omi asked. 'You already did so much,' Mama said and kissed Omi, 'but we must put extra effort next week. Parekh-ji said these attacks could work in our favour, Let's tell everyone at the puja.' They left the shop and went inside the temple. 'Your phone flashed. Is it on silent?' Ish said. He collected all the invoices scattered on the ground. We were closing the shop for the night. 'Oh, must be by mistake,' I said and picked it up, 'a supplier is sending me messages'. I opened supplier Vidyanath's message. when I study, I think kisses u and only u, v misses

Parekh-ji looked at us and tried to place us. . Mama needs me. too. Bittoo. 'Hop into the jeep.' Parekh-ji said to Omi. Tempers rose as a few of Mama's team members heckled the drum player. That's my area. grownup man like him to cry.' 'No. hard. Ish and I looked at each other. 'Am I not from a priest's family? Did 1 not go to the sewer-infested lanes of the Muslim pols? Aren't there Hindu voters there? Why didn't he go?' The secular party workers jeered at Mama's team. wooing me.' Mama walked towards Parekh-ji's ear. 'Yes. The two other neighbourhoods given to me.  I knew it. I want to die here. Parekh-ji gave the youngsters a firm glance.' Mama said. Cannot walk the lanes and feels he can win elections by waving from the car.' Mama continued to bawl. normally unaffordable for us.' Mama wiped his face with his hands and continued. We need to talk. We stood outside the counting booths. Parekh-ji lifted Mama up by the shoulders. we won majority votes there. Punish me. However. chip on shoulder about being upper caste. I don't know if he could. A jeep of bodyguards came alongside. Parekh-ji stepped outside. Maybe it was time for Ish and me to vanish. He lay down on the ground and 'I am your guilty man. no. And look. though the secular party had already started rolling drumbeats outside.' Omi said. I guess he wanted us to have a treat at Vishala. I let the greatest man down. there is an ethnic restaurant that serves authentic Gujarati cuisine. Along with a craft museum and village courtyards.' Mama pointed to the ballot boxes. 'Look at the Belrampur votes. 'let's get out of here. Parekh-ji placed both his hands on Mama's head. 'Come. He even met the old ladies. 'And look what happened in the other neighbourhoods.' I said as I locked the cashbox. 'Can Ish and Govind come along? They came to Gandhinagar.' I told Omi in his ear. in the village of Sarkhej. he ran away two hours into the counting.I put the phone in my pocket 'What? Trying to sell you something?' Ish said. 'It's going to get ugly. it was even harder to work for months and lose an election. Electoral officers were still tallying the last few votes. It was hard for a tough. But Hasmukh-ji? Huh.' Mama said. The guards surrounded the area as the Mercedes' door opened. The Vishala Village Restaurant and Utensils Museum is located at the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Mama ran to Parekh-ji.' 'I can't go.' His group of a dozen twenty-something supporters held their heads down. A white Mercedes drove up in-front of the vote-counting station. that old man wouldn't listen. Everyone backed off.' Omi said. his voice heavy. his head still down. 'Come son. That Muslim professor has nothing to do all day. 'Get up. 'Clean sweep for the Hindu party.' he said. His mood alternated between anger and tears. let's go for dinner to Vishala.

dalwada and several other Gujarati snacks.. Our high command in Delhi is not happy with them. The mention of the earthquake still hurt. 'the total number of seats is. Ish and I made valiant inroads into the food. The same school as the current chief minister. dalwada and several other Gujarati snacks. hardworking people like Bittoo tried their best But.' 'What?' Mama said while Omi. With the main election in twelve months. 'Hasmukh-ji's seniority in the party earned him a ticket. 'Now. But he is part of the old school. listen.' Parekh-ji said as he broke his bajra rati.1 Parekh-ji said as he finished his glass of mint chaas. I felt full even before the main course arrived. The same school as the current chief minister. 'Hasmukh-ji's seniority in the party earned him a ticket. We knew they were weak. 'No. We nodded. Of count.' 'What? For losing two seats?' Mama said. The old school put their candidate. Hasmukh-ji's defeat has a back story. 'but like I said. 'things are not as they seem. And Gujarat is vital to our party. it gave a reason to change. I know you boys did too. Gujarat is a place of business.' 'A hundred and eighty plus. But he is part of the old school. the entire party machinery is shaken up.' he turned to us. We might be a Hindu party.' he turned to us. 'The by-elections for these seats came as a boon. ghugra. gota. 'The by-elections for these seats came as a boon. Our high command in Delhi is not happy with them.We took a semi-private room with seating on the clay floor. and don't get so sentimental about politics.' 'What change?' Mama said. Hasmukh-ji's defeat has a back story. "They are replacing the chief minister.. 'No. Parekh-ji said as he finished his glass of mint chaas. hardworking people like Bittoo tried their best But. a dud candidate is a dud candidate.' Parekh-ji lectured Mama. 'things are not as they seem. a dud candidate is a dud candidate. We knew they were weak. The high command did not like the way the administration handled the earthquake. Emotional speeches are fine. Ish and I made valiant inroads into the food.' 'What?' Mama said while Omi. ghugra. I felt full even before the main course arrived.' 'They are not?' Mama echoed stupidly. The old school put their candidate. we had two dozen dishes in front of us. but in your mind always think straight. it is not a lazy place. The mention of the earthquake still hurt. Within minutes.' 'They are not?' Mama echoed stupidly. We gorged on the dhokla. The high command did not like the way the administration handled the earthquake. And the high command finally gets a chance to make a change. Parekh-ji's security staff sat outside. So we lost both the seats. khandvi. We expected it. but it doesn't mean we preach religion all day and do no work. it is not a lazy place. We nodded. gota. but it doesn't mean we preach religion all day and do no work.' We gorged on the dhokla. I know you boys did too. We expected it. Gujarat is a place of business. khandvi. Of count. 'Now. So we lost both the . We can't afford to lose it. People lost a lot in that. People lost a lot in that. listen. 'Eat. near the puppet show for kids. We might be a Hindu party. Their guns made the guest's importance known to the waiters and insured us good service.

'the total number of seats is. We can't afford to lose it.' 'What? For losing two seats?' Mama said..seats.' Parekh-ji said as he broke his bajra rati. 'but like I said.' 'A hundred and eighty plus. And Gujarat is vital to our party. With the main election in twelve months.' 'What change?' Mama said. "They are replacing the chief minister. the entire party machinery is shaken up. . And the high command finally gets a chance to make a change. 'Who will get the aamras for the sahib?' Mama screamed at the waiters.' 'No dessert here or what?' Parekh-ji said as there was a delay after the main courses were cleared.. it gave a reason to change.

' Ish said. 'You like chocolate.Ganguly and Tendulkar. 'Oh. continuing his PhD on the newspapers of India. Miss Eighteen. She wore a shiny red kurti and white pants.everything that he needed to survive for the next eight hours. you've come for that. She's studying on her birthday.' Ish's dad gave his son a dirty look and moved. She stood up from her chair and came next to me to see the cake. dad's fine.' I opened the box.. so it wasn't a big deal. I snuck the rucksack between my arm and side body to keep it horizontal. 'Happy birthday. He took a big bite.' Ish's dad said and left for his bedroom. wish her and all.' Ish grabbed a sandwich and topped it with lots of chips and ketchup. sauce!' Uncle picked up the ketchup bottle from the dining table and banged it as hard as possible on the coffee table in front of his son. 'You've changed since we have had this thing.. Ish's dad sat on the dining table.' Ish said as he saw my nervous expression.' Ish's dad ranted while still reading his paper. my heart beating fast. 'A cake from Ten! Someone is going high-class. pointing to Vidya's room. 'Hey. 'Don't worry. Ish had plonked himself in front of the sofa with sandwiches. Ish pressed the volume button on the TV remote as loud as possible in protest. Sometimes we kissed .' I said. As was often the case when Ish was around. She'll like it.' she teased. Tendulkar struck a four and the monster clapped. the best cake shop in Ahmedabad. I forgot this morning.' I said as I kept the cake box in my rucksack of books. milk. The choice of clothes was a bit over the top but it was ok on a birthday I guess. uncle had a disgusted expression on his face. Vidya turned eighteen on 19 November 2001. India was playing England It Kolkata Eden Gardens in a day-night match. 'Mom. 'No bag please. Ish being in the house made it worse. Can't see the TV.' she said and came forward to kiss me. she had done that since birth. 'Thanks dad.' 'What thing?' I peeped into her big eyes.' Ish said and screamed. 'Tuitions. They have the best. 'This thing. I kept the rucksack upright in my lap until I made it to Vidya's place.' I greeted as I shut the terrace door. dedication dude. 'Sit no. 'Can you move. I climbed the stairs. Seventy no loss after ten overs. I took out the cake and placed it on the white plastic table. She could now officially make her own decisions. 'His mother has made him into a monster. 'India's batting . I had to find mine.Sixteen Where's your smallest chocolate cake?' I was at Navrangpura's Ten. My friend had found bliss. Unofficially..' 'Some people are serious about their lives. chips and biscuits .' Ish said to me. We kissed during almost every class since the last month. Entering Vidya's house while hiding a cake was hard enough. 'Did you know eighteen is the only number that is twice the sum of its digits?' she said.

I nodded. India had hit a six. 'What's that?' 'Who you are. 'You tell me. The last bit of sunlight disappeared as the sky turned dark orange. like these terms that totally go over my head. 'So we are cutting this cake or what?' I said to change the topic.. 'Until then what?' she said after the noise subsided. her face pretty as a song.' I said as we came to a corner. 'Can I tell you something weird?' 'What?' 'When you talk hardcore maths. we didn't kiss at all as she did a mock test. And how to keep what you want without pissing off people too much. 'So my tutor doesn't believe I need to figure out maths problems?' 'Figuring out the maths of life is more important. 'Of course.' she said. 'Let's light all of them.' I said. I took out the packet of eighteen candles that came with the cake. right?' she said and laughed. 'How?' she said as she tugged my hand.. 'Music?' she said. We slid under the water tank and sat on the floor. 'Makes you blush. We took a walk around the perimeter of the terrace. but can't make it zero.' I said. she had a stereo. Somehow. shocked.' 'Is it possible to run away and not piss off my parents?' 'You can minimise the pissed-off state. we took a kissing break every fifteen minutes. your boldness. When we felt guilty. The evening breeze held a chill.' she said as she removed a strand of hair from her face. we balanced mathematics and romance within the hour quite well. Once. never solve it.' I said. 'How will I even get the application fee to apply? How will I support myself in Mumbai?' 'Your parents will eventually come around. my favourite.' she said and passed a couple to me. 'What if someone comes?' . 'should I become a doctor?' I shook my head. I wanted to go switch on the terrace light as it had become dark.' A loud roar went through the pol and startled us. They will pay for your studies..' I said. we kissed.' she said and pulled my hand as she lit the eighteenth candle. However. her hand in take-off motion above her head. follow me to Café Vidya.' 'Vidya. we saw the dome of Omi's temple. We went to the edge of the terrace.' she said. what do you want versus what people expect of you.everytime she solved a problem. we made up for it in the next class where we spent the first ten minutes kissing and the rest discussing her mistakes. 'Then how do I get out?' 'Apply to whichever college and just go.' she said. 'Until then I will support you. so we can have a little party here. We looked into each other's eyes. 'Yes.. with tons of variables and constraints.' she said. At a distance. At other times. She entwined her hands with mine and looked at me. Under the cushions. 'Let it be. Life is an optimisation problem. She had brought six pink cushions and a rug.. We can only optimise life. Until then. She smiled. 'I'll put on Boyzone. When we felt desire. we studied. 'I brought them from my room.' 'It turns me on.

' 'Huh?' I said. they won't run away. after she had done the same to me. I opened the top button of her kurti and slid my fingers inside. feelings. I wished her again and put a piece of cake in her mouth. They never climb up to the terrace. So. She pushed me back on the cushions and brought her mouth close to mine for my share of the cake. And Ish. She released my hand as I sat down again. We went further and further as the tiny cake candles burned out one by one. A voice inside stopped me. Sweat beads glistened on our bodies. desire. No matter what they tell us No matter what they do No matter what they teach us What we believe is true The candle flames appeared to move to the rhythm of the music. Vidya didn't say anything throughout. She cut the cake with the plastic knife that came in the box. I followed her instruction instantly. well there is a match on. It wasn't like she did anything different.' We heard two consecutive roars in the pol.. . 'Vidya. I could have jumped off the terrace if she asked me to. But it was then that I made the second mistake of my life. She kissed me like she never had before. I took my hand out. But she continued to kiss me as she unbuttoned the rest of her top. 'How else do I remove this?' she said. She looked beautiful as the candlelight flickered on her face. and neither did we. I went with the flow. I can't deny what I believe I can't be what I'm not I know this love's forever That's all that matters now I don't know if it was the candlelight or the birthday mood or the cushions or what. A song called 'No matter what' started to play. She took off her kurti. The music continued. apart from one time in the middle. She pulled my fingers towards her again. At this point.' she said. The Indian innings had reached the slog overs.' By this time my hand was in places impossible to withdraw from for any guy. 'Remove your hand. Like with all romantic songs. Her hands came to my shoulders and under my shirt. but there seemed to be more feeling behind it. tugging at my shirt. pointing to her bra. 'Are you going to go down on me?' she said. the lyrics seemed tailor-made for us. I moved my hands to her stomach as she took the bra off and lay on top of me.'Both my parents have bad knees.. nature or whatever else people called the stuff that evaporated human rationality. The music didn't stop. She held it in her mouth and leaned towards me. 'Take it off.

'Eat dinner.' I said. Maybe because I never knew it would be possible for me to feel like this. so cool. but I had tears in my eyes. 'You ok?' I didn't know why. Only four candles remained burning by the time we finished. Govind. Let me do this part. 'Wow. A sense of reality struck as the passion subsided. Fuck. Maybe because I had betrayed my best friend. I normally never cried.' she said and hugged me. The screams from the pols continued as England lost wickets. my mummy has cooked at home as well. but with so many reasons at the same time. I checked my watch. I sat up and dressed. We covered ourselves in my jacket and dug our cold feet inside the lower cushions. Only after we were done did we realise how cold and chilly it really was.' Ish said as I reached downstairs. 'Hey.' she said. Aren't you?' she said. 'I love you. 'I've made special dishes for Vidya's birthday. 'Don't be. I am an adult and am no longer a virgin. fair skin. I'll watch it at home. I looked into her moist eyes. I kept quiet. I am nervous. I had already celebrated her daughter's birthday. She cuddled next to me. 'No aunty. I had overshot the class time by thirty minutes. what are you doing right now? Touching her goosebumps? The voice in me grew stronger. We combined the six cushions to make one mattress and lay on it. We will win this. She felt my body shake. 'No. 'Hey.' Ish's mother said as she set the table.' she said and lifted her arm. What have you done Mr Govind Patel? 'See. I'm the girl. Thank God. 'Such a good boy. it was impossible not to. you missed the best part.' I said as I reached the main door. and came back up.' 'I should get going. We came outside as the moon lit up the terrace.' I said and left. son. 'Say something. 'I am sorry. 'Happy birthday. I still have goosebumps. . Maybe because no one had held me like that ever and asked if I was ok. Stay on. We looked into each other's eyes as we became one.' she said from behind as I opened the terrace door. Little pink bumps dotted her flawless.' she said fondly as I left the house.' she said. Maybe I felt scared.' I said. I'm quite tired. fuck.' 'Don't you like it here?' 'Here? You realise we are on top of your dad and mom and brother?' 'Stop freaking out.I went down. I am so glad this happened.' she said and giggled. fuck.

I held the legs of the stool.' I said as I shifted my cushion for comfort.' I said.' 'It's safe anyway. in an impulsive moment. We had said at home that we had to go and buy a really good maths guide. Several couples held hands. The ribbons fell on his head. another kind of accident can happen. We had come to the Ahmedabad Textile Industries Research Association's (ATIRA) campus lawns. which came in a week. it is shaking.' she said. we did want to celebrate our resurrection after the earthquake a year ago.' 'Like what?' 'Like today is 21 Feb. only five days to my period.' she said. it is a safe day. I never wanted to celebrate Republic Day. Though sometimes. 'Something is late. 'I keep track of a lot of things.' Omi said. I couldn't say that I had made love to her by accident. He stood on his toes on a stool to reach the ceiling.' Mama's entry distracted us all. 'So no problem in using a couple more then?' With that. And I found out exactly five days later. I used a condom. Nine times meant I had lost all benefit of doubt. our score is eight already. ★ 'There is something you should know. Omi toppled from the stool and landed on the floor. dangling his right foot off the stool. 'January 26 preparations? Keep it up. She had SMSed me that we needed to go for an 'urgent walk'. The stool has creaky legs.' she replied. Our business had tripled from a year ago and it all happened from this shop.' I said to Vidya's mom. I wanted to but did not. No one questioned us after that. Fat aunties wearing sarees and sneakers and with a firm resolve to lose weight overtook us. I walked back home with my thoughts. And I have enough now for a while. Nine times in two months. Ish stood next to us with glue and cellotape. 'What's up?' I said and bought a packet of groundnuts. Hence. 'I'll fall. Mama placed a brown bag of samosas and some yellow pamphlets on the table. the point when aunty offered me something to eat or asked me why I worked so hard. We grabbed a samosa each. I always hated that part. whatever that meant.' 'Oh really. We wanted to drop the tricolour ribbons from the ceiling fan. However. 'It's not my fault. 'Are you still embarrassed to buy condoms?' 'I get them from an unknown chemist in Satellite. 'Wow. our score reached nine.' 'You keep track?' I said. The ATIRA lawns in Vastrapur swell with strollers in the evening. 'Oh? So now you trust physics over mathematics?' she said and giggled. We made love on an average of once a week. 'Goodnight aunty.' she climbed over me. She flipped over to rest on her elbows and poked her toes into my shins. 'What exactly are you counting?' I asked idly.Seventeen Hold it tight. 'The number of times we have made love. 'You let go!' he accused me as everyone laughed. We fixed our gaze on the ground and did a slow walk. Though thoughts about that day still made me tremble. . I was relieved to have fully paid off our loans.' Omi warned. You don't do things by accident nine times.

I have my mother to . She sat next to me. Her hands clutched my shirt 'Don't worry. 'My period. Do it. For the most part. it freaks them out. I offered her groundnuts. I slid closer to her on the bench and embraced her. Maths is always horrible at reassuring people. 'Listen Vidya. 'Mine are. Normally I don't care. her face tense. God. 'But what?' she said.' I said and pointed to a bench. why is it so unfair? Why do only I have to deal with this?' she cried. My being close to he had caused this anyway. I wanted to say.{b) Step away and let her be .' I said. (a) Make her laugh . we used protection I know it is not hundred per cent but the probability is so low. struggling for words. hold her and tell her you will be there for her. 'No. (d) Hold her . but hasn't. But I think she knew that. 'why can't you get pregnant at the same time?' Because I am biologically male. I rubbed my hands and took deep breaths. And how does it work with girls? Are they always on time?' I asked. 'Really? How?' I said. the 25th. She kept quiet.' 'Ok but.. Two tears came rolling out of her eyes.. I have big dreams for my business. I debated whether I should put my arm around her. 'And say what? Please check if I am pregnant?' Another P-word to freak men out. I am twenty-two years old. 'Why not?' she retorted. But now that I am with you.I tried to think of what she was referring to. She declined.bad idea. And the anxiety creates more delay' 'Do you want to see a doctor?' I was desperate to suggest a solution. I had nothing of value to offer in the discussion.hell no. 'But we used protection. 'What?' I said. 'What do you mean how? It should have happened yesterday. we used the rhythm method. I had to figure out something. she did not say that 'You can't be pregnant?' I said. Sweat erupted on my forehead like I had jogged thrice around the ATIRA lawns. I found it symbolic of the potential burden in my life. I will be there for you.maybe.' I said. Nobody believed in probability in emotional moments.' Vidya just shook her head and cried. A family walked by. I couldn't..' 'Are you sure?' 'Excuse me? I wouldn't know if it has happened?' she said and stopped to look at me.. even a slight delay scares me. (c) Suggest potential solutions like the A word .' 'Let's sit down. I had created the problem. The man carried a fat boy on his shoulders. She hid her face on my shoulder and cried. The thought train started again. My mind processed the alternatives at lightning speed. No. 'Why. 'And can you be supportive and not hyperventilate. I threw the packet of groundnuts in the dustbin. Nothing in the world was always exactly on time. Men cannot respond when the P-word is being talked about. I meant are you sure it was due on 25th Feb?' 'I am not that bad at maths. moron..no. ok hold her.' she said.

ever? We stood up to walk back after a few minutes. I am eighteen.' I said as we reached the auto stand. But she would tell me if something happened.' I said and passed her a book when she reached home. Apart from the first time several months ago. I opened a calendar and tracked all the past dates of our intimacy. Come to think of it. We kept quiet in the auto for five minutes. 'a bit of pain.' she said. I have to take care of my friends' careers too. She clasped my fingers in the auto. I ignored him.  'What's up?' Ish said as I laid my head on the cashbox early morning. 'Nothing yet'. 'Nothing. 'I don't know. I threw the phone away. I sent a neutral message. . 'Vidya. Pregnancy. The crying had made her eyes wet and face pink. take this maths guide to show at home. Couldn't sleep well. just in case it is not a false alarm. We'll see what we have to do then. 'Here. I can't say what we will do. We kept quiet for the rest of the auto journey. Why can't men stop noticing beauty. 'Let's wait for a day or two more. Her face vacillated from calm to worried.' I said. And I couldn't ask mom anyway. 'Then what?' 'I don't know. nothing else'. in case. She slid away from me. I had used protection every time. you'd better choose the same. Every few hours I had the urge to send Vidya a 'did anything happen' message.' she said. I picked up my phone again. I'm overreacting. I sprang out of bed early morning to SMS her again. What are we going to do? Or should we talk about it later?' 'You tell me.' 'You want me to get an abortion?' 'No. Ish and Omi probably didn't even know the P-word. Please don't talk about it.support. 'Why? Thinking of Pandit-ji's daughter. no. what do you want to do?' When women ask you for your choice. they already have a choice in mind. Vidya and I exchanged ten 'are you asleep' and 'not yet' messages that night. I don't want to think. 'It's probably a false alarm. I said I don't know. Could they be late for any other reason? I didn't know and I could not ask anyone.' she said. She looked even more beautiful. And Vidya? She is only eighteen. I wanted to reach the shop early to take out supplies from the godown. Ok. What's the other option. 'How is it going?'. She couldn't move from one prison to the next. I hated being late anymore. marriage?' 'Excuse me. I don't know how all this works. This is too big a news for me. She has to study more. she replied back. I should have waited for a day or two longer before telling you. The next night I did get some sleep. I just passed out of school. And there was no other woman I knew apart from Vidya. abortion.' Ish laughed. be a PR person or whatever she wants to be. Somehow. I looked into her eyes to find out the answer she expected from me. worst case I have to mention the A-word. Then I had to say it. And if you want to maintain sanity. I had an SMS from her already. I couldn't find it.

Two hours later the whole country had found out.' 'No Mama.' Mama said. Their train was supposed to reach at 5 a. We could eat in peace.' Mama said and took out a kachori. I'll find out. Mama kept two pink paper boxes on the wicket box. 'they are all showing the same thing. yeah. His face became serious.' Mama said.. 'Mama. It tasted delicious. But it is five hours late.' I said and took a bite of a kachori... hundred per cent S6.' We stopped at NDTV. it's fine. 'No. why are you praying while talking to me? Hey. . He had a tikka from the morning prayers on his forehead. The shop's clock said eight o' clock.m. 'Wait. His mouth opened and his eyes darted around. I had noted the PNR number and other details while making the booking. He came out with a notebook.. we have had enough. The shop didn't open until nine. I have to . I had to go anyway. 'I'll come with you?' Omi said.m. Ish and I discussed the delivery plan for the day. 'I had bought hot kachoris for my son and other sevaks. 'What's going on?' I said..' Omi said and went inside the shop. Now what to do? Thought I will have them with you.' Mama said. hello listen . 'I don't know the coach number. 'Stop flipping channels. Now he wants the coach number. I'll get more when they come. 'Ok listen. 'Keep them. Govind. Eat them while they are still hot.Eighteen Are trains ever on time?' Mama's loud voice interrupted us while we were at work. 'Didn't know you boys come here so early. I'll go to the station. I wrapped the boxes back for him. Mama picked up the phone. 'Here.. Mama put his hand on the phone and turned to Omi.' Mama's phone ring interrupted me. come Ish. 'What's up Mama?' Omi said." I screamed at Omi.. Ish dragged out a heavy box of wickets from the godown. 'Had some work in the godown. they were in S6 .' Mama said. Mama took the notebook and spoke on the phone again. you here so early?' Omi said. 'I don't know. 'It is a junior party official in Ayodhya. why are you asking me?' Mama said.. Mama stood up to leave at 9.' The person on the other end hung up the phone. 'I'll get more anyway. hello. it says S6. We ordered tea and sat on the stools outside the shop.' Omi said. 'So leftover breakfast for us?' Omi said and laughed. Mama tried to call the number back but no one picked up.' Mama said.' Mama said and called for the tea-boy again. Mama talked to Omi about their relatives. 'Third round of tea? Ok? Yeah good.30 a.' Mama said and left. I had two kachoris and felt full.. The newsreader repeated the news for the tenth time.. And he isn't telling me why. 'They are absolutely fresh. He put our sevak team in the train the day before.

Omi and I watched TV non-stop. today was different. The bogie contained kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya. mother and Mama's wife. A tea vendor revealed more than the railway official.' Omi said and threw his phone aside. TV channels had reached Godhra station. Let's shut shops and go home. can you hear us?' the newsreader said several times. Of all the days in my life. One rarely heard curse words in the temple.' 'Did she say S6?' Omi said. .' Mama's wife's wails echoed against the temple walls. The passengers shut the metal windows to protect themselves from the stones. 'They burn little kids. And Delhi will suck their dicks. 'The police has arrived and are investigating the matter. but it did not connect. 'They struck America in broad daylight too. 'Early morning in a railway station. From what the channels knew at that point. 'Yes.' the tea vendor said. But at around 8. The railway official avoided controversy. Omi's mother clutched Omi's hand. The mob threw petrol on the bogie and set it on fire. We saw the burnt bogie. I've tried ten times. turning to me.' the florist said.'At least fifty people died and more than a dozen injured when miscreants set fire to a bogie of the Sabarmati Express near the Godhra station in Gujarat on Wednesday morning. Ish and I gathered around them. 'The mob had Muslims.' another shopkeeper said. Only they can comment on this. We came out of the shop. I say get my Dhiraj. He tried Mama's phone again. 'Mama's not picking up. I didn't want to confirm the bad news. 'Get my Dhiraj. Look at their guts. 'What mob is this? Does it look premeditated?' the newsreader asked. All shopkeepers.' the official said as his voice waned.' a florist said.' the newsreader said. 'Did she? My brother is in that bogie. 'Can you tell us what exactly is going on sir?' the newsreader said. I kept quiet.30 in the morning Sabarmati Express arrived at Godhra station. 'There could be a curfew soon. but today was different.' Ish. I can now.' a florist said to his neighbouring mithai shop owner. 'Hello. They had an argument with the Hindu kar sevaks and burnt everyone . 'I'll go to the station and find out. children. 'We have fifty-eight people dead and over twenty injured.' the florist said. the city is not safe. We cancelled all deliveries for the day. see what kind of a community is this. 'and we have just received confirmation that the burnt bogie was S6. a mob stoned a bogie of the Sabarmati Express. as per reports from the Godhra hospital.' The channel dialled in a railway official from Godhra on the phone. 'Don't go.women. The rest of the train had already left for Ahmedabad. Now the fuckers have reached Gujarat.' the official said and continued his story. Every shopkeeper had a tense expression. 'We are still getting reports. Omi came out of the temple with his father.' Omi said and ran out.' Omi said.

' Ali's voice startled us.' Omi said. 'What the hell are you doing here?' Ish said. 'We don't have TV.' I said. I reached home.. Over lunch.' Ish said. 'No.' Omi said and his voice broke. Dhiraj's mother's tears didn't stop.m. 'I'll help them shut the shop.' Omi's father said to Omi. He will come at six. Luckily. 'And your abba?' 'He took ammi to her parents in Surat. Ali was taken aback. 'I lost my brother Govind. I shrugged my shoulders. Omi's phone call woke me up. The phone's clock showed it was 5.' Omi said. 'No.' Ali said and laughed.' Ish said as he downed the shutters. I told my mother what had happened at Godhra.' 'And you didn't go?' Ish said. it's horrible. he went to the party office. . Like they haven't guessed.' 'Nothing. My mother made me swear that I'd never fall in love with a Muslim girl. The news is sketchy. 'Where is Ish?' Omi said. and didn't expect any more. We had to customers that morning.' Omi said. my mother would be worried too. She'd probably he in the kitchen. Don't want to do hundred push-ups for missing practice. Omi. I wondered if I should SMS her again. 'Then come home. He started crying. and took an afternoon nap. But it wasn't the best time. We don't know what happened. 'And you?' Omi said. 'Hey what's up Omi? Got in touch with Mama?' I said and rubbed my eyes. He is devastated. 'How could I? We had practice. He died on the spot.' he said. I felt tired after the two sleepless nights and the events on the TV. 'hey why are you shutting down the shop? My gloves. 'Am taking Ali home. 'You want to come to my place?' Ish said to me.. 'Don't worry. We went back to the shop.' 'It's horrible. 'Mama called. We walked out of the temple compound. We have one at 4.' I said. He wore a yellow T-shirt and an old pair of jeans.The shopkeepers dispersed. preparing dough for the evening dhokla. We had packed the shop by one o'clock.' I said. He told me not to tell his wife or anyone else. I lifted myself off the bed and stood up. 'Come home son. 'Us?' Omi said in a firm voice. you come with us. I'll drop him off when his parents come back.30 p. Don't be alone at home. 'I am getting ready for practice. I shuddered to think we almost took that trip. and Vidya would not be in the best mood anyway. he wasn't wearing his skull cap. 'Is he at home?' I said. 'Do you have gloves Ish bhaiya? Mine are worn out. your parents and aunt need you.' I said. Mama will call back. I wanted to see Vidya. 'I can't keep silent at home and not show it. I have to get out.30 today no?' 'You haven't seen the news?' I said.' Omi looked at me to say something. 'You go Omi. All the workers are with him to support him.

'A building in our pol caught fire. Ish hesitated to pick it up and did so only after half a minute. yes we have bedding here.' Ish said. . I hung up on Ish and switched to the other line. 'The Muslim one at the corner...' Omi said. 'Call them.. Mami is still praying for Dhiraj's safety. I went to the room where we kept books and brought back three Phantom comics. Yes. I put Omi's line on hold and called Ish. It was his dad. We are safe here.' 'Is this the time to practice?' 'What? I became sick of staying at home all day. I'll be back in half an hour.. 'It caught fire? By itself?' I said. 'Ok. 'The mob that burnt the Jamalpur bus. It's strange at home. Omi had cooked potato curry and rice.' Omi's body shook. We'll make something at the bank. which one?' I said. He broke into tears.  'Trouble has started in the city. 'Wow. Ok .' Ish said. Dhiraj is. Govind's would too.' he said.' 'Ish.' I said to Omi.' I said as I left the house. where are you? Why do you take so long to pick up?' 'I am at the bank.. We finished dinner and cleaned the kitchen by eight. I came with Ali to practice. 'That is what dad is hoping. I smiled back at him.. But it could be a Hindu mob. a local TV channel showed it as I left. don't cook for me.. 'really?' 'Yeah. let's hit some balls.' Ish said. 'Mom... 'Rumour or true?' I said. Hindu or Muslim?' 1 said.' I gave Ish a puzzled look. I can't take Ali to his home too. listen.' Omi said. 'Come to the bank..' I said and stopped mid-sentence. 'Oh no. So I said.' Ish said. Dad said stay wherever you are.' Omi said. screw it. 'Ish. I held his hand as he hugged me. I gave them to Ali as he happily read them with his meal. Ali looked at us.' Ish said. Leave now before it gets dark. He picked up after ten rings.' I said.' 'Our moms will worry. We came to the tuition area of the backyard to have our dinner. I could only hear his side of the conversation.. horrible news.. And dad gave me dirty looks because Ali was with me.' 'Come over here then. I'm really scared. I had dinner.'I don't know.' Omi said. Omi told me. I heard a mob burnt two buses down in Jamalpur. 'True.' Ish said. He wants to get out. Mama told him to keep quiet at home. 'I don't know. I promise we won't walk out on the streets . I am at the bank. 'Ok . We sat away from Ali so he could not hear us. We were planning to leave when Ish's phone rang. 'what?' We turned to look at Ish. His parents don't even have a phone. can you stay on the line?' I said. Don't panic.

Ish stood up and wore his shirt. You may have heard about riots several times or even seen them on TV.' Ish said. I woke up again. But to witness them in front of your eyes stuns your senses. I admit it. We went to the branch manager's room on the first floor and shut the door.30 p. Calls to Shiva and Rama combined with drumbeats.' Ish said. We had slept over at the bank several times in the past. Loud chants disrupted my thought. We switched off the lights at 10. A burning man ran across the road.30 p.' We went downstairs. 'Mama is leading the pack.m.' Omi said with an extra-straight face. We sat on couches in the cashier waiting area and played cards after dinner. Omi and Ish surrounded us. Many booze parties had ended with us passing out on the mattresses in the branch manager's room on the first floor. 'Three aces. A crowd of people stood outside. Omi dropped three cards. He sucks at bluff. We went downstairs. The screams mixed with celebratory chants. the crowd moved away while the man lay still. My heart beat in the same irregular way as it did on the day of the earthquake. 'Can we sleep together?' I said.m. 'Come inside. .m. The Hindu mob chased him. 'Let's find out. He picked up Ali from the couch.' Ish tugged hard at my sleeve.I called my mother and told her I would be safe at the bank. legs everything turned cold. My neighbourhood resembled a calamity movie film set. around twenty yards away from us. but could hear the screams of the people inside the pol. I felt super scared. neck. face. I took three quilts and slept in the middle next to Ali. Ali slept soon.' Ish said as he put his arm around me. He stumbled on a stone and fell. Someone shook the main gate of the bank. We heard a shattering noise. Yes. I tapped the cards. 'It's the mob. 'It's fine. one eye still on the keyhole. My body shivered. The nearest flame came from a building fifty yards away. The police will come soon. Ish brought a quilt from the manager's office and tucked him in on a separate sofa. I checked my phone before going to bed. They threw stones on the burning building. 'Who is it. Ish turned the door knob and opened the door. three -I saw three balls of flame across the pols. I don't know which is more dangerous. At 11.' I said. Vidya had given me a missed call.10 p. two. Ish lay next to me anyway. I wondered whether to turn them. By morning it will be ok. My hands. I kept the phone in my pocket. 'Angry-Hindu chants. We climbed the stairs two floors to reach the bank's roof. I switched on the main lobby lights. Let's go to sleep.' We looked at each other. I saw the time . 'come Omi. Ish nodded. I was in no state of mind to call or SMS back. man made this one. One.' Omi said. Ish looked through the keyhole. I had witnessed someone's death for the first time in my life. The mob crowded over him.' Ish said and shook Omi's leg. The city glowed orange in the thick winter night. I couldn't see well. 'What's that?' I said. 'Those are Hindu chants. Nature caused that disaster. Two minutes later.

in a Hindu state. A thick lock kept the gate shut and the mob outside.' Mama said. We stepped back towards the bank. By blood or alcohol. 'Mama.' Ish came next to me. The shaky body movements of the mob showed their intoxication.' Mama said. Get the fucking boy.Nineteen ‘My sons. Nobody will cry today. 'What do you want Mama? Can we talk tomorrow?' I said.. Ish struggled to stand straight. We unlocked the bank's main gate and opened it slightly.’ Mama screamed. the bastards killed my son. While these mother fuckers come and keep killing us over the centuries. I'll slaughter him right here. 'Where is my other son? Open this gate. 'and I know he is here because he is not at his home. 'So leave us Mama. He lifted the torch back.' Ish said. 'Eye for an eye. Mama appeared more stoned than grieved.' Omi said and held back his tears. and let's take Omi inside too.' Mama said as he wouldn't let go of us. In a delicate movement. We just cry. I looked into his cold eyes. your dispute is with his father. We told Omi to hide behind us.' 'Mama. Mother fuckers thought these vegetarian people. I want something today. you know Omi needs to get home.' I whispered in Ish's ear. what will they do? Come let's show them what we can do?' Mama paused to take a sip from his hip flask. but he didn't. Mama opened his arms. Alcohol and marijuana smells reeked from his mouth.' I said. 'But the bastards made a big mistake. I have many people to help me kill the bastards.. I expected him to cry when he saw Omi. Then I will tell you about being drunk. 'My son. He didn't look like a father who had just lost his son. ‘My brother. Come rape us. I won't. In a Hindu country.' Omi said.' 'Kill them.. you are drunk.' the mob replied.' I said. 'I want the boy. He came close to us for a hug. His fire torch fell on the floor.' Mama said and thumped Ish's chest.' Mama said as he couldn't see Omi. 'Nor am I. 'You lose a son first. He held my hand tight. 'we Hindus have only cried. Mama brushed me away. Mama. He held a fire-torch in one hand and a trishul in the other. I don't want Omi. I want that Muslim boy. the fuckers can come and burn our kids in broad daylight.' 'Mama. The blow torches lit up the dried grass on the entrance of the bank. 'What are you whispering?' Mama said and almost lost his balance. 'What?' Ish said. 'No tomorrow. The mob cleared around it. . loot us and burn us. Ish shut the bank gate again and locked it. And we don't do anything. They tried to rape Gujarat today. They think they can terrorise the whole fucking world but we will have no guts to do anything. I don't want any of you. I could not tell. Then I will cry for my son. There is nobody here. 'Don't cry.' Mama screamed and released us. 'I hope they won't expect us to join. He took the three of us in his arms.' Ish said. He turned to address the mob.

'I've taken care of his father,' Mama said, 'and his whore stepmother. I killed them with this.' Mama lifted his trishul to show us. The tips had blood on them. I looked at Ish and Omi. We made an instant decision. We ran inside the bank. I shut the main entrance door and bolted it. I sucked in long, deep breaths. 'Relax, relax ... we have to think,' Ish said. 'I will join them and take them away,' Omi said. 'No, it won't work,' Ish said. 'They killed his parents?' I said and continued to breathe fast. The mob banged against the gate. They didn't like our vanishing manoeuvre. I wondered how long the lock would hold. I sat down on the couch. I had to think despite the deafening gate noise. 'What are our options,' I said. 'We can try to negotiate with them,' I said. Nobody responded. 'They have madness in their eyes, they won't talk,' Omi said. 'We could try and escape. Or fight them,' Ish said. 'You want to fight forty people who are under a spell to murder?' I said. 'Then what?' Ish said. I looked at Ish. For the first time in my life, I had seen him scared. I kept looking at him hoping he would consider all options. Even the worst one. 'Don't even think about giving up Ali,' Ish said to me as his pointed finger poked my chest. 'What else can we offer them?' I said. 'Money?' Ish said as his body shivered, 'you say people always talk if there is money involved.' 'We don't have that much money,' I said. 'But we will make it and give it to them,' Ish said. 'For Mama it is not about the money,' Omi said. 'That is true,' Ish said, 'but if we buy the rest of them, Mama won't be able to do it alone. We need to scatter the crowd.' I paced around the room. We didn't have money. Yes, the rioters would be poor people in the neighbourhood with nothing to lose. But still, how and who would do the talking? 'You are the best at money talk,' Ish said. 'It could backfire. How do I separate Mama from them?' I said. 'I'll do that,' Omi said. We opened the main door again. The crowd stopped banging their trishuls at the front gate lock. 'C'mon son, open the gate. You boys can leave, we will do the rest,' Mama said. 'Mama, I want to talk to you. Just you,' Omi said in a sympathetic voice. 'Sure, open the gate son,' Mama said. I went forward and opened the gate. I raised my hand to calm the crowd. I had to appear confident. 'Move back. Mama wants to talk to his other son,' I said. Omi took Mama to the side and hugged him. Mama consoled him. I looked through the crowd to see any influential person. A man with a turban had six men behind him. He wore a gold chain.

'Can I talk to you?' I said. The man came to me. He held a fire torch in his hand. My cheek felt the heat. 'Sir, I want to offer you a proposal.' 'What?' 'How many of these men are yours?' 'Ten,' he said, after some hesitation. 'If I promise you ten thousand, can you slowly step back and walk away?' I said. 'Why?' he said. 'Please, don't ask. Consider it an offering. And keep it quiet as I don't have enough for all.' 'Why do you want to save the boy?' he asked. 'Fifteen thousand last. My shop is at the temple. You can ruin it if I don't pay.' The man in the gold chain went back to his group. He spoke to them as they stepped backwards. He turned to me and nodded. Twenty-five per cent of my problem was over. Mama left Omi and came to me. 'What's going on here?' Mama said. He did not notice forty people turning to thirty in his drunk state. 'Mama think again. You have a future in the party. Parekh-ji will not approve of this,' I said. Mama laughed. He took out his mobile phone and dialled a number. 'Parekh-ji won't approve?' Mama said and waited for the phone to be picked up. 'Yes, Parekh-ji, I am well. Don't worry, I will grieve later. Right now it is war time. Oh and someone thinks you are not happy with me ... here talk ... yes talk...' Mama passed his phone. The crowd waited behind us. 'Hello? Who is this,' Parekh-ji's voice came at the other end. 'Govind, Parekh-ji. One of Omi's friends. We came to Vishala with you...,' I said. 'Oh yes. Son, trying day for us Hindus. So are you supporting us?' "This is wrong, sir,' I said, not sure why I called him sir, 'this is wrong.' 'What? The train burning, isn't it?' 'Not that Parekh-ji, they want to kill a boy' 'So what can I do?' he said. 'Stop them.' 'Our job is to listen to people and do what they tell us. Not the other way round.' 'People don't want this,' I said. 'They do. Trust me. Today, the cooker needs a whistle to release the pressure." 'But kids? Women?' I said. 'Doesn't matter. Whatever it takes to quench the hurt feelings. People in pain want to feel better. Unfortunately, today I can't think of a better way.' 'This is a horrible way,' I said. 'This will last a day or two, but if we stifle it, it could explode into a huge civil war.' 'Your party will be blamed for it,' I said, trying to appeal to their self-interest. 'By who? A few pseudos? Not the people of Gujarat. We are making people feel better. They will elect us again and again. You wait and see.' 'Sir, this boy. He could be in the national team someday.' Mama snatched the phone from me. 'Don't worry Parekh-ji, I'll take care of all this. You will be proud of me tomorrow,' Mama said and hung up. I looked around for another mini-leader in the pack. I walked up to him and took him aside.

'Fifteen thousand, you take your people and walk away,' I said. This time my lure did not entice. 'Mama, he is trying to buy me,' the mini-leader screamed at the top of his voice. 'No, no you heard me wrong, what are you mad or something?' I said and moved back towards the bank. 'What's going on Omi? Get the boy here,' Mama screamed. Omi nodded to Mama. He went to the main door. The crowd remained at the gate and only the porch separated us. However, the gate did not have a lock anymore. Omi knocked on the main entrance. Ish opened it after confirming the person. Both of them disappeared inside. I stood alone with the rioters. They suspected me of offering bribes. I wanted to run inside too. However, someone had to keep the crowd out. 'Are they getting him?' Mama asked me. 'I think so,' I said. I offered to check inside as Mama asked twice. I went to the door and knocked. Ish opened it for a nanosecond and I slipped inside. I let out the loudest sigh ever. Ish bolted the door and blocked it with the sofa from the waiting lounge. 'They are waiting. If one of us doesn't show up in two minutes, they will attack,' I said. 'Ali woke up,' Omi said. 'Where is he?' I said. 'I locked him in the manager's room. How many people?' Ish said. 'Thirty,' I said. 'Let's fight,' Ish said.

One fire torch fell on a rioter and he yelped in pain.. 'Ish.' I said. I almost said Vidya. 'We don't have time. 'Coming Mama. 'We are coming!' Mama said as his group pushed the rusted metal gate of the bank open. 'Mama.' I said. Give us five minutes. 'Oh.Twenty Ish. The crowd hurled fire torches at us.' 'Then what is it about? Why should we all die? Only because you love the kid?' 'No. 'I'm not giving him up. Despite three bolts and a sofa in front. 'So what are you trying to say. Fires dotted the neighbourhood skyline. I want to talk to you. they would break it in ten minutes flat. 'Twenty litres each. They stopped throwing torches after that. 'I am not going. 'Omi!' Mama's scream came through the main door. I made Ish sit on the sofa that blocked the main door.' Mama said.' Ish said and stood up. They will get Ali and kill him too.' I said. 'Get him fast. 'Stop shouting Mama.' Ish said. they'd have to break the first floor entrance door and then the flimsy one at the roof.' Mama said. You want to run away. 'Where are you hiding sister-fuckers. So fucking what? What about my mother? What about Omi's parents? What about.. He told us to lift a kerosene canister each.' Ish said as we reached the roof. we would be roasted in blowtorches. I was born without fear.' Omi screamed back. but it can also be quite stupid.. He also picked up three buckets that we used to chill beer. 'Then what?' 'Because he is a national treasure. We will all die. Ish kept Mama engaged.' I said. A mob maybe passionate. But how do we fight them Ish?' Omi said. 'What? We have no time. The crowd became distracted. you are welcome to go too.' Ish said.' Ish said. 'I know. Mama looked up to the roof. can I offer a bit of logic in the current chaos. He led us to the kitchen. We fell in step behind him as we took the steps to the roof. Ish's plan better be good. Open the door and run. This isn't about business. After that.' Ish said. they'd attack the main door. 'Giving up three lives to possibly save one.' I said and turned quiet. We stood two stories high.' he said and turned his back to me. If they weren't. Can you show me the maths in this?' 'Fuck your maths. . The weather didn't feel as cold as a February night should be.' Ish said. 'It's heavy. They came to the porch and banged on the main entrance door. In fifteen minutes. and we are national filth? So maybe one day the kid will hit a few sixes and Indians will waste the day watching TV and get thrills out of it.' Ish said and climbed on the roof ledge. See. But I also know what will happen if we fight thirty people. Nothing reached us. Ish told us to follow him. Omi. That's heavy for sure.

The blowtorches in the rioters' hands acted as the ignition. 'You ok?' Ish screamed. We threw a lot of kerosene. 'Ok. Let's reduce the people further. Ali switched on the phone light.' I ran my fingers through Ali's hair. two. I need to lock you up in the vault.' The remaining people started jabbing trishuls on the main door. Some of them may die. We needed a big strike. 'Ali. Ali awaited him inside and ran to hug him. I popped my body up to count the people. Ish stepped off the ledge. He kept the keys inside his sock. 'Here. you will be fine if you listen to me. we have to cook one more dish in the kitchen.'Say Jai Sri Ram.' Ish shouted. 'we have to hurt some more. 'We have to go down. Meanwhile.' Ali said. .' Ish said. A few drunk members of the mob even bowed to him. three and go. but less than twenty. At least not yet.' Ish said. There's panic downstairs.' Ish said.' Ish said. I will be back soon. 'Some horrible people want to get you. A river of fire fell on the bank's porch. I raised my head high enough to watch the happenings below. We left Ali in the vault and ran to the kitchen. Home was no longer an option. Panic spread in the mob. 'How many ran away?' Ish said. I estimated more than ten.' Ish said. we are hurting people. than get burnt yourself. Will you listen to me?' Ish said. He pointed to the claustrophobic six by six room. Perhaps Siva had come down tonight to bless the rioters.' We came down to the first floor. Ish struck Siva's poses on the ledge. it's going to be fine. 'One. They took a few moments to realise we had attacked them. 'Quite a few. A few mobsters ran out of the bank gate as their clothes caught fire. 'Carry this to the main door. Ish put Ali in the safe. Ali nodded. He gave him a few pillows. The canisters had a narrow neck and the kerosene wouldn't flow out fast. We threw the oil forward to keep it away from the bank building. 'Hold on ok?' Ish said. We hid ourselves under the parapet. Keep the light on. Ish unplugged the LPG cylinder.' Ali said and broke into tears. 'I want to go home to abba.' Ish said. the crowd had to participate. Ish shut the door and locked it. 'I am scared. It worked perfectly. 'There? It's so dark?' Ali said. 'It's dark.' Ish said.' Ish said and gave him his cell-phone. Come fast. 'Don't worry. take my phone. I suppose it is much more fun to burn people. 'No. Ish unlocked the branch manager's office door with the bunch of keys in his pocket. I estimated we had five more minutes before the door gave away. 'I don't care.' I said. Omi and I poured the kerosene out of the canisters into the buckets. 'Are you mad?' I said. Most of the crowd did not know whether we supported them or not. The jabs at the main door continued. 'Ish.' I whispered as Omi and I upturned the buckets. They will never get you there.

I was one step from the top when my ears hurt. 'Hey stop. He took two bombs and opened the fuse to make it last longer. Mama looked up. As the fuse tip turned orange. I looked behind. eight men had entered the bank. I didn't know if any of the rioters remained. Omi nodded. Omi lit a matchstick and took it to the fuse. It vibrated under the impact of the mob's jabs. Ish opened the bolt. His eyes met us. you light and all run up.' they shouted at me as I continued to climb. We kept it under the sofa blocking the main door. One main door bolt became loose. Preventing someone from taking revenge by attacking them ourselves. I think the minileader took the worst hit from the cylinder. Clear?' Ish said to Omi. The erstwhile main door was now an empty gap. I didn't know what we were doing. 'I open. Him and three more men entered the room.' Omi said. I could not tell if they were injured or dead. Maybe he was lucky. Smoke and bits of paper from the old files filled the room.' the mini-leader I had tried to bribe opened the door. The explosion rocked the cupboards on the ground floor as the main door blew away. I had never seen body parts fly in the air. . The crowd banged at the door. 'All gone?' Ish said. The smoke cleared in thirty seconds. The sofa would keep the door in place for a few more seconds. or maybe he had the foresight to send others to open the door first. A few men lay around the room. Ish emptied a box of bombs on the cylinder. I was four steps away from the top when the door came loose.' Ish said as he jumped off the sofa. We usually burst them when India won a match.Omi and I carried the LPG cylinder. Mama entered the room with five other people. Ish came back with boxes of leftover Diwali crackers. Ish and Omi came behind me. The five people ran to the injured in the room. The other eight men couldn't have been much better off. the time we had to save our lives. 'Run. Killing your own people. We ran up the stairs. 'Top shelf. 'Omi where do we keep the fireworks?" Ish said. 'Mother fuckers we won't leave you. Ish climbed on the sofa and tried to get hold of the bolt. I used the two way switch at the top to switch on the ground floor tube light.

Perhaps they were afraid of what we would blow up this time. my phone said as a message arrived. His hands trembled as he shuffled through the cricket equipment we kept in the manager's office. including screaming in agony. Ish dropped the bat on the ground. 'Fuck..' Ish said and tried again. I could hear her cheerful voice even though Ish held the phone. I came close to a cardiac arrest. I noticed his left hand. 'Hey. Give me yours. He turned to the message and went into details. Ish moved the phone away from me. I had to pay for the second mistake of my life. He saw the number.' Vidya rattled off on the other side as she saw my number. you bastards. Beep Beep.' Ish said to me. 'We will not leave. I clenched my teeth and closed my eyes.me. He looked at me in shock. My heartbeat sounded almost as loud as their screams. He dialled it. I deserved this. I fell on the ground. 'Hold these. Love .. Omi and I ran into the branch manager's office and shut the door. Nobody answered. but I felt I had lost the right to say anything. Ish stepped forward towards me as I backtracked until I reached the wall.' Ish said. He dialled the police number. Ish looked at me. cool no? I never thought I'd be celebrating a period. I shrugged my shoulders and reached to take my phone. They continued to threaten us but didn't act. The message came from supplier Vidyanath. By the way. 'Ish I can explain. . even though they didn't bang the door. I felt intense pain.' Ish said as he opened it. He lifted his hand and then . 'It's an SMS. Ish hung up the phone and shook it in frustration.' Mama said. just got my period!! Yippee!! Relieved no? C U soon my hot teacher. stay safe tonight. 'Catch them. 'Open or we will break it. I'll call the police.. Ish gave me a puzzled look. no one is picking up.' I said even though I couldn't.' Mama's voice reverberated through the door. He cut the line and kept the phone in his pocket.slap! slap! He deposited two of them on my face. Ish picked up a bat. Mama and his group had reached the branch manager's office door. For a moment we forgot that we had murderers at our door. Then he made his hand into a fist and punched me hard in the stomach. 'What the hell are you doing?' Omi said even though he understood the situation well. Hey. Ish. I passed my phone to Ish. He and five other men ran up the stairs. 'Vidya?' Ish said as his brows became tense.' Mama screamed. It bled and the kerosene had burnt part of his kurta's left sleeve.' Mama shouted.Twenty One Traitors. 'Ish bhaiya?' she said. 'I don't have my phone.

'Nobody here. My wicket got stuck in his trishul's blades. The three of us were pinned to the wall. One man attacked Ish.' Mama said. I don't know why I said that. My hands shivered as I tackled another fat man. Our conjoined weapons hurled in the air as we tried to extract them apart.' Mama said. 'Go search. 'Hey Ish. Omi had crushed the toes of the fourth man with the bat. The man fell on the floor. Something told me they'd had enough. kill me. not to settle scores.' Omi said and released the bolt. 'Tch. The man grabbed Omi from behind. He kicked me in my right knee and I lost my balance. Ish blocked him with his bat. He threw the empty flask at Ish. Omi lent me a hand. aim is to survive. He ordered his minions to break the door. you want to get killed?' Omi said. thigh and groin. Mama's patience ran out after five minutes.' Omi said. Just tell me.' 'You are not to be trusted. The men hobbled and left the room.' Ish said. Omi kicked his stomach but the fifth man punched hard on Omi's back. A few more jabs and it would open.'Nothing.' Mama said. 'as you can see. I had unprotected sex with a barely legal student and my best friend's sister.' Ish growled. go on. tch. 'Fuck you Mama. I wondered if my intestines had burst. I stood up and leaned on him. 'There is no boy here. come in if you have the guts. 'I told you. Omi handed Ish the bat again. The third man hit Ish on the neck with the blunt end of the trishul.' Mama said. 'I'll let them in anyway. where is the boy. He'll sell us if he could. you can't get free now. selfish bastard. leg. or it will be yours. It hit him in the chest. The three remaining able men had blocked our bodies with their trishuls. I held my wicket tight.' they screamed as they traversed the various rooms of the bank. The man winced as he fell on the floor. Their voice had pain. It must be up there in the top ten morally wrong things one could possibly do. We monitored the door. Fucking businessman. Protocol. 'I didn't do anything wrong. Mama sat on the branch manager's table and looked at us. 'I want blood. Ish fell forward. We lifted our cricket weapons. Mama's five men held up their trishuls.' the man said. Mama kicked them. 'Buffalo.' Ish shouted and walked up to the door.' I said. 'Right now. They pressed their trishuls against the door. .' Omi said. as I have seen.' Omi said and opened the door. He took out his hip flask and had a big sip of whisky. He is a snake. Stupid bastards. 'You want to kill me? Mama. Like playing with fire eh?' Mama said as he sat on the branch manager's table. 'You won't get any boy here. but kept their distance. He came forward and pinned me to the wall. 'Move aside Omi. Give me the boy. Why wait. Ish struck the bat on the man's arm. The man took Ish captive and pushed him against the wall. Two injured men lay on the floor.' Ish said and kicked me in the shins.

'Don't worry I'll tackle him. He pulled Ish's hair hard. The man searching Ish slapped him a few times. 'and what a prize today. He searched my pant pockets and grabbed my groin twice to check.' the man said even as Ish bit his arm. Mama paused and turned to look at us.' Mama said. The sound came from within the vault.' Mama said as he pointed to the wheel shaped lock of the vault. The man searching him ripped off Ish's shirt. 'Don't Mama. I'll root out the clan. but he wouldn't listen.. Mama grabbed my chin and turned my face to him. We don't have the keys. Whenever I tried to squirm.' Mama said from the branch manager's desk. 'So we are idiots isn't it? You don't have the keys.' Mama said. We kept quiet. I guessed Vidya had called to explain things to her brother. Ish kicked hard in the man's shins. Mama reached into Ish's pockets. Ish clenched his teeth and continued to kick. Ish looked away from me. Ish screamed in pain and fell. he jabbed me with his fist. The phone didn't belong to me or Omi. 'I said open this. It had two six inch long keys.' Mama said. 'He is not here.' Mama said.' Ish said. He slapped me once and asked me to turn around. I noticed the blood on Ish's chest. but how did the fucking phone end up inside? Search them.. My head turned to Ish.' the man with Omi said. 'I will.' Mama's minions began the most violent search possible.' my man said and gave up his grip. 'Tell me you bastard. I wanted to do my part to help Ish.' Mama took a minute to figure out the vault keys. The ring didn't come from Mama and his men either. 'Never looted a bank before. It had the vault. Mama took his hands out of the pants and slid it again into Ish's shorts. 'This one needs to be tamed. .' the man with Ish said as he tried to take off Ish's pants.. No keys. He pulled out a bangle sized keyring. His eyes looked defiant even as his body refused to cooperate. 'This one neither. 'This bastard doesn't have it. Mama twirled the key ring in his hand. The sound came from the manager's table. Mama followed the sound. He jabbed the blunt end of the trishul again at his chest wound. The smart boy has spoken. The other men did the same to Omi and Ish. 'Should I help.' I said. Ish's phone rang again. 'This is the bank's vault. His nails poked me as he frisked me from top to bottom. The man searching me ripped open my shirt pocket.' Mama said as a phone ring interrupted him. 'Open this. Ish had worn practice shorts underneath his pants. Mama went to the wall behind the manager's table. I told him I didn't have the keys more than ten times.Mama went close to Ish. Ish lay on the floor taking heavy breaths from his mouth. For my sake. Mama came to Ish. I wanted to do anything to make me less of a creep.' Omi said. He felt something. Father and son. 'Oh yes. he is a child. He took a trishul and poked him in his rib cage. He pinned me to the wall again.

'My Dhiraj was also a child,' Mama said and went to the vault. Ish sat on the floor. The man guarding him suffocated Ish with the trishul rod around his neck. 'Don't touch him. He is national treasure,' Ish growled. The man suffocated him further. 'I'll pay you, whatever you want,' I said. 'Businessman, go sell your mother,' Mama said to me as he turned the wheel of the vault. 'There is the bastard,' Mama said. Mama yanked out Ali from the vault. His thin body in the white kurta pajama shivered intensely. His smudged face told me he had been crying inside. Mama grabbed Ali by the neck and raised him high in the air. 'Ish bhaiya,' Ali said as his legs dangled. 'The more innocent you look now, the bigger devil you will be in ten years,' Mama said and brought Ali down. He released his grip on Ali's neck. 'Stop it Mama,' Omi said as Mama lifted his trishul. 'You won't understand,' Mama said and folded his hands to pray. 'Run Ali, run,' Ish screamed. Ali tried to run out of the room. Mama opened his eyes. He ran after Ali and jabbed the trishul into Ali's ankle. Ali screamed in pain and fell down. Mama kneeled down on the floor next to Ali. 'Don't you try and escape son of a bitch. I can kill you in one clean shot. If you try to be clever I will cut each finger of yours one at a time. Understand?' Mama roared. His eyes were red, the white barely visible. Mama closed his eyes again and mumbled silent chants. He took his folded hands to his forehead and heart and tapped it thrice. He opened his eyes and lifted the trishul. Ali stood up and tried to limp away. Mama lifted the trishul high to strike. 'Mama no,' Omi screamed in his loudest voice. Omi pushed the man blocking him. He ran between Mama and Ali. Mama screamed a chant and struck. 'Stop Mama,' Omi said. Even if Mama wanted to stop, he couldn't. The strike already had momentum. The trishul entered Omi's stomach with a dull thud. 'Oh ... oh,' Omi said as he absorbed what happened first and felt the pain later. Within seconds, a pool of blood covered the floor. Mama and his men looked at each other, trying to make sense of what had occurred. 'Mama, don't do it,' Omi said, still unaware that the trishul blades had penetrated five inches inside him. 'Omi, my son,' Mama said. Omi writhed in pain as Mama yanked the trishul out. I had never seen so much blood. I wanted to puke. My mind went numb. The man who pinned Omi earlier now held Ali tight and came close to Mama. Mama had Omi in his lap. 'Look you animal, what did you do,' Ish screamed. Ish had seen the scene from behind. He never saw the trishul inside him. Only I had seen, and for years later that image would continue to haunt me. 'Call an ambulance you dogs,' Ish screamed. Ish's captor held him super-tight.

Ali put his free hand on Omi's chest. It moved up and down in an asymmetrical manner. Omi held Ali's hand and looked at me. His eyes looked weak. Tears ran across my cheeks. I had no energy to fight the man holding me. I had no energy left to do anything. 'Leave us you bastards,' I cried like a baby. 'You'll be fine my son, I didn't mean to,' Mama said as he brushed Omi's hair. 'He is a good boy Mama, he didn't kill your son. All Muslims are not bad,' Omi said, his voice breaking as he gulped for breath. 'Love you friend,' Omi said as he looked at me, a line that could be termed cheesy if it wasn't his last. His eyes closed. 'Omi, my son, my son,' Mama tried to shake him back to life. 'What? What happened?' Ish said. He had only witnessed the drama from behind. Mama put his head on Omi's chest. Ish started kicking and shoving the man holding him. The man jabbed Ish with his elbow. Ish gripped his trishul rod and pushed back hard until he could slip out. He gave the man a kick in his groin. The man fell down as Ish kicked him again thrice in the same place. Ish pounded his head with his foot until the man became unconscious. Ish ran to Omi. Mama left Omi's body on the ground and stood up. Ish went over and touched Omi's face. He had never touched a dead body before, let alone his friend's. I saw Ish cry for the first time. He sniffed back hard but the tears wouldn't stop. 'See what you made me do you bastard,' Mama said, 'made me kill another son. But I am not weak. I haven't cried yet, look.' Ish ignored Mama. He went through the same numbness I did a few moments ago. He touched Omi's body again and again. 'Hindus are not weak, am I weak?' Mama said as he turned to his men. The men looked nervous, as things had not gone as planned. The man who held Ali's arm looked at Mama, looking for guidance for the next step. 'Hold him back, next to this mother pimping businessman,' Mama said. The man brought Ali next to me and held him back with a trishul. Ish's captor had recovered from the groin attack. He woke up and ran to Ish from behind. He struck the blunt end of the trishul on Ish's head. 'Ah!' Ish said in pain as he fell down, semi-conscious. The man dragged Ish back to the wall. Ish faced Ali and me. 'No more chances,' Mama said as he came in front of Ali. Mama asked Ali's captor to release him. I looked at Ish, around fifteen feet away. His captor looked extra-alert. Ish looked at me. His eyes tried to tell me something. What? I asked myself, What is he trying to say? I squinted my eyes to look at Ish. He moved his eyeballs from centre to left in quick succession. He wanted me to run out and block Mama. Just the way Omi had, unsuccessfully. I examined my captor. He blocked me but his eyes watched Mama and Ali. It is hard to take your eyes of a live murder. I could slip out. However, what was the point of getting killed? 'Get ready you pig,' Mama said as he lifted his trishul and took five steps back. Maybe I could extract myself and try to pull Ali towards me. That way Mama's strike could hit the wall. Ish could push his captor away, come from behind and protect us all. Is that what Ish had tried to say? I had limited data beyond the eye

movement. I had limited time. I couldn't analyse, I had to do first and think later. The exact opposite of when I slept with Vidya. There, I should have thought first and done later. Mama ran towards Ali. I knew I had to get out of the captor's grip, grab Ali and pull him to my side. I got ready to move. However, I looked at Mama. The sight of his huge frame and a sharp weapon sent a fear inside me. And I wasted precious time thinking when I should have acted. Ish and I exchanged another glance and he saw my fear mixed with self-interest. What if the trishul ends in my stomach? The what-ifs made me hesitant, but I snapped myself out of it and made a dive to my left. I grabbed Ali and pulled him towards me. Mama struck, but missed Ali's torso. One blade of the trishul jabbed Ali's wrist. Ali would have been completely unhurt only if I had dived a second earlier. And here it was, something I didn't realise then, the one second delay being the third big mistake of my life. Of course, I didn't know I had made a mistake then. Ish did exactly as I thought, and banged his head against the captor's to set himself free. It would have hurt Ish, but I think Ish was beyond pain right now. Ish took his captor's trishul and struck it into the man's heart. The man screamed once and turned silent. Ish ran to us. 'He's ok, he is ok,' I said turning to Ish. I held Ali tight within me in an embryo position.

There were two captors left and Mama. We did not want to kill anyone. 'We just want to go away,' Ish said as he held his trishul, facing Mama. Mama had a trishul too. Their eyes met. Mama's men watched the impending duel. I ran with Ali to the other end of the room. The men came running after us. 'Stop you bastards,' the men said as we reached the end of the room. One of the men went and bolted the door. Ali lifted a bat from the floor. I picked one too, though not sure if I could really fight right now, Ali winced as his right wrist hurt when he lifted the bat. 'Heh? Want to fight?' the two captors said. Mama and Ish were still in their face off. Each had a stern gaze. Mama rotated his trishul in his hand. One of the men turned to go back to Mama. 'I'll take care of him, you finish the boy Mama,' he said. 'Sure,' Mama said as he moved away. As he left, Mama struck his trishul at Ish's toes. Ish didn't expect it. He lost his balance and fell down next to the manager's desk. 'You are fucking weak, you know that,' Ish said. 'I can finish you now. Thank your stars you were born in a Hindu house,' Mama said as he spat on Ish's face. Mama came to Ali. 'Oh, you want to play eh? You want to play bat ball with me,' Mama said and laughed as Ali held up his bat. 'Move away,' Mama said to his men, 'the boy wants to play. Yeah, you son of a whore, play with me,' Mama said as he danced around Ali, just out of the striking distance of Ali's bat. Ali pranced around as he stumbled on two cricket balls kept on the floor. Mama picked one up.

Ish used it as a stick to get up. Ish threw it again. He didn't give me a dirty look. The ball rolled to Ish. His trishul fell on the floor.'You want me to bowl? Eh? Play bat ball?' Mama said and laughed. Ish stopped.' I said. Ish didn't say anything. 'one last ball before you die?' Mama tossed the ball in his hands.' Ali said to Mama. c'mon Ish. I reached the door. we did it. Another ball lay next to Ali's foot.' Ish said. Ali's eyes met with Ish.' I said as I shook Ish's shoulders from behind. The ball fell on the floor and Ali kicked it to Ish. Mama released the ball in his hand to hold his head. Ali brushed the ball with his feet towards Ish. His eyes shut after five minutes and I checked his pulse. Ali's shots were powerful enough to get balls out of stadiums. he is alive. Internal bleeding had made his forehead dark and swollen. His toes whooshed out blood and he couldn't get up. more in pain than surprise at what he had done. 'We saved him. The captors ran towards Mama. He used a trishul as his walking stick. . Mama fell down. He held his right wrist with his left hand. He hobbled towards the door to leave. Ish threw the ball towards Ali with all his strength. wait for me. Ali. At five feet range. 'Ish. the killer look in Ish's eyes. But why was he behaving like Who was I? Like he had nothing whatsoever to do with me. He turned to me. I am so scared of the bat ball. I'll help you open the door' I said. 'Yeah. and he didn't miss it. Slam! Ali struck the ball with the bat. He left me like I was one of the dead bodies and walked out. Mama lay on the ground. I think he's dead. He had one shot. 'Oh my God. He tossed the ball in one hand and held the trishul in the other. Nobody wanted to go close to check his breath. they hit Mama like exploding bricks. We.' I said. He gave me the look of indifference. Sure. The captor noticed but didn't react. 'It's stopped. The other captor saw the blood gush out.' Ali said. I had let him down for lots of reasons. you need that wrist. Ish came from behind and stabbed one in his neck. keep it alive. 'Oh really?' Mama said and laughed. but something worse than that. Ish's arms wrapped around Ali.' Ali said. Ali gave the briefest nod possible. Ali connected and slam! The ball hit the centre of Mama's forehead. Ali kneeled down on the floor. 'It's hurting a lot Ish bhaiya.' Mama said and pretended to shiver in jest. bowl to me. Ish sat on the floor leaning against the manager's table. 'Oh. Ish lifted the ball in his hand.' Ali said. 'Don't come near me. I had become an expert in dead bodies. Ish turned and started to walk. Ish we saved him. Ish picked up the ball slowly. He opened the bolt and was out of sight in ten seconds. His body still trembled in fear. Ish hand gestured me to get out of the way. Take me home. 'Hey Ish. The ball hit Mama's temple hard. He barely moved. His temple had burst. 'C'mon move that wrist.

. He sat up a little on the bed. Dhiraj and Mama. The early morning sunlight filled the hospital corridors. If he wanted to tell me.Epilogue The heart rate monitor beeped fast. exactly three years. to Vidya.to the shop. The TV channels moved on after the Godhra news and the riots.' 'So did you agree?' . to Ali?' I asked... If I went to meet him. Omi's mother came home. He turned his gaze down and played with the heart rate monitor wire attached on his chest. he'd shut the door on my face. And she wanted to give it to us to keep the memory of her son alive. destroyed they were. I did not prod further. Omi's father cried as five thousand people descended from all over Ahmedabad.' 'Did you speak to Vidya?' Govind shook his head.. just because I am here today' He paused. 'I am fine. She had to be in the hospital for a month! I debated whether to place my hand on Govind's hand lying pale on the covers. 'So what happened in the three years . the temple had visitors from the neighbourhood and the only prayers were for Omi. He didn't make eye contact. Omi had told her it was his favourite place in the world. Everytime I try speaking to him he snubs me. so the shop belonged to Omi's mother now. The nurse came running inside. Mama was gone. I asked someone where to get tea from. He pointed me to the canteen. he would. 'I can't tell you how . I came back with two cups.' Govind said. Her dad slammed her mobile phone to pieces. But my life collapsed. At the funerals. 'I need to find the Singapore Airlines phone number.' Govind ended his story. it was five in the morning. I didn't pop pills then. Govind refused as he wasn't allowed one after a stomach wash. Don't think I am not strong . I nodded and she left the room. Omi's mother became ill after not eating for a week. Ish has not spoken to me again. his gaze and voice both low. She told me to reopen the shop.. I have to confirm my return trip. For weeks. He swallowed a couple of times to keep his composure.. two months and one week ago. I lived through all that. 'Speaking to Vidya was out of question. to change his mood. 'Omi's parents.' Govind said. I checked the time. They put her under house arrest. 'Three months after the incident. I tried to contact Ish. I stepped outside the room. 'I didn't go to the shop for two months.' I said. I gave him a glass of water as his voice faltered. Govind's pulse had crossed 130 beats a minute. 'What did you do?' she said. 'Don't make him exert himself. Just chatting.' The nurse wagged her finger at me. but . 'And from that day.

So I came back to the shop. but my one second of delay cost him his gift. Like I was with my ambition when I wanted to make the mall. spoke. We had defaulted many supply contracts. Then. Why does hospital tea taste like Dettol? 'Ali stays in Ish's house now. so there was only one solution. They are right. That means his ability to turn the bat at the right time is gone. The business was losing money.' 'To bring him up?' I said and took a sip from my cup. It isn't a synthetic skin graft. I am a selfish bastard. I told you.'Initially.' 'What?' 'We split the shop into two. A lot of money. The guilt . I am not a businessman. Ish watches matches alone now. That was the one positive thing for her. too. but didn't want anything to do with me. 'Ali's wrist is damaged. 'But a conscious moment. The nurse agreed and took off the drips and monitor cords attached to him. Govind requested he wanted to use the toilet. I waited anxiously for ten minutes.' 'How much?' . But this time I never replied. His customers often came to my store and vice versa. I couldn't do it. So doctors have to cut up a piece of muscle from the thigh and attach it to the wrist. and never jumps at a six. medical college or not. However. The nurse came to the room for the morning checkup. The trishul gouged out some of the muscle from the wrist.' I reassured. And it costs a bomb. when he returned.. But I had to know.' 'Did you ever contact Vidya again? And what happened to Ali?' I realised I was asking more questions than offering support.. she loves breaking rules and did try to contact me a couple of times from there. you know.. So Vidya did get to fly out of her cage. 'He needs reconstructive surgery.' he said and paused before speaking again. of my part in Mama's death. They wanted her away from me. But we need the money for his wrist operation. I took the left and turned my portion into a student stationery and textbook store. All I wanted to do was make as much money as possible and save it for Ali. I couldn't meet her eye. It was a moment's delay. so he will be brought up well anyway. of celebrating Mama's death. that delay was the third mistake of my life. Omi's mother wanted us both. We offered studies and sports at the same place but we never. She had instructions to never speak to me again.' 'You did your best.' Govind said. of letting Omi die. but a muscle transfer. But she knew nothing of my nightmares and I had to make a living anyway. or when I was with Vidya. Not even when India reached the finals in the 2003 World Cup. not once. 'What kind of operation?' I asked. my mind riven with doubts about his stability. to do a PR course. We put a plywood wall right in the middle. Ish told Omi's mother he Would come. I was selfish. they have to hope that it works. I saved his life. I saw her brother everyday. Ish took the right side and continued the sports shop. 'They sent Vidya to Bombay.. It only happens abroad.

' I sat next to her on the bench. The doctor came to Govind's ward at 7 a. 'You know what he did? He refused to touch my money and wore cricket gloves while handing the envelope back to me. Maybe I had calculated life all wrong. he offered me his cashbox and said he could give me money if I needed it to satisfy my greed.' Govind's voice choked again. 'He is fine. The best deal he has is from a hospital in UK.' 'Can you tell him what happened. just needs some rest. Apart from the nurse. We left the hospital together. I saved another three. 'You ok?' I said. too. 'Such a brave boy I had. I care about Ali. Govind nodded. She looked up. He said he didn't want to get Ali operated with a dishonest man's money. Dr Verma had given me pills as I had trouble sleeping at night. 'Ish? Vidya!' Govind blinked. It was time to quit the equation. 'After three years of saving every rupee I could. That is all I could hear from the thin plywood wall' 'You have the money?' 'Ish saved two lakhs in the past three years.m. I can't take it anymore. 'Does Ish know?' She looked at me sideways. Ish calls my labour dishonest. We waited for Mr Sleepyhead to wake up from his second nap of the day. Govind's mother and I. I said we must act now as it takes nine months to get an appointment at that hospital anyway.' the doctor told me as he drew the curtains. Govind's mother sat on a bench in the corridor.'Don't even talk about the full price. which has promised us an operation for five lakhs. 'By the way. And then he.. The chemicals from the pills had been flushed out of Govind's system. I said let's pool our resources and get Ali operated. 'He thought he was being brave.' He smiled feebly.' I sat on his bed put my hand on his arm. 'They don't talk.' I said. He pulled it away. In fact.. 'I am not dishonest. And I don't only care about money.' Govind voice began to break. Last week I went to him with the money. What happened to him?' she sighed. A lot of people had lost sleep because of his sleeping pills. I'm selfish and have made mistakes. do you know which college Vidya goes to in Bombay?' 'So many visitors? This is a hospital. I left the room and went out. Govind's eyelashes flickered and everyone moved closer to the bed. worried. Govind's hospital room was bustling with people.' I said. Vidya. Ish never told me all this. Govind's mother nodded. not a club..' the nurse grumbled as she changed Govind's bedsheets in the evening. Of course. She had sat in an auto when I spoke again. there were Ish. Ish wrote to every big hospital in the UK and USA for subsidies. . Don't force him to come to the hospital. 'I'd like the patient to sleep for six hours. That day I felt why not sleep once and for all. but I'm not dishonest.

' 'Actually. You don't hurt them more.. it's no longer just for the money. loved her. For me. Govind was due for discharge that evening. 'I left my marketing class halfway. You try to heal it. I only like stories with happy endings. 'You don't have to listen to parents. probably dreading a firecracker of a daughter-in-law like Vidya someday. Govind clasped Ish's hand.' Govind said. exactly a book. looking at Govind.' Govind's mother said.' he said. it is important to me.' Vidya said. Will you help me?' I don't know. Ish wanted the same. there is a way' Govind waited. 'What did your heart want?' Ish stood silent.'There are better ways to attract attention.. 'For what?' 'For dropping by.. Govind's mother looked horrified. Govind's mother went after him and pulled his arm. I l. but I do think you should be friends again. 'Your story. Govind's mother looked shocked. so.' he said emotionally. But what the money is for. I met Govind the next morning. Confident women make terrible daughters-inlaw.' 'Like a book?' 'Yes. "Thanks.' 'Your parents told you not to speak to me again. I don't know how I will ever repay you. 'But that doesn't mean I forgive you for not replying to me.' Vidya said.. But you don't break it off.' 'Remember the kissing chimpanzees?' Govind called after him. My third book. but our country needs to learn. I didn't mean to hurt anyone. too. isn't it strange that all the men in the ward are crying while the women are like. quite forgetting the others. 'Aunty. 'I am sorry. 'When did you come?' Govind asked. three times over?' Govind said.' Ish sniffed hard as he tried to resist tears. together?' Vidya said.' . 'Can you forgive me. Ish remained silent. I never popped anything even when I was most scared. Get Ali all right. it needs to be shared. It is a lesson not only you. right before I left for the airport. Both Govind's and Ish's eyes turned moist. 'You have a pretty happy ending. 'Take the money for Ali. People close to you will hurt you. Ish. you know when. Or for popping these pills.' 'So?' Vidya removed her college bag from her shoulder and placed it on the bed. Govind's mother continued: 'Life will have many setbacks. She placed Ish's hand on Govind's. Ish stopped and looked back at Govind. Ish began to walk out of the room.

' 'You should have faith. Ok? It may mean your effort goes to waste.' he said. She was wearing a green lehanga. But do not release the story until we know about Ali. . Probability is best left to books. They had let me into their world. can't wait for my course to be over in six months. She carried a bouquet. we can work on it. Bombay is nice. 'So I'll go back and we'll be in touch over email. but the success probability is not hundred per cent.' I said and we shook hands. I miss Ahmedabad.' I said. 'Law Garden has the best ones. trapped in the small city or whatever. Pao bhaji tastes much better in Ahmedabad. 'Nice roses.' I said.I don't know yet about Ali.' 'Oh well. but my own is my own. 'I thought you were a Bombay girl.' 'He told you everything? Like everything?' she.' I wanted to chat with her more. but I couldn't overstay. but had to leave. to lift Govind's spirits.' I said. Fifty-fifty is what they told us. He nodded. 'Sure. probably her most cheerful dress. I met Vidya at the hospital entrance as I left. looked shocked.' she said. 'Pretty much. We are going for the operation. 'I agree.

. Would the doctors agree to let him go to the cricket field for a test today? What would happen if he faces a ball after such a long gap? Will the new wrist be too delicate to play sports? Thoughts continued to swirl as I drifted off to sleep. but they are in London right now. I left office at 8 p. My wife came to my desk at midnight. The operation is over. He could be ready for a batting test anytime. It was day time in London. and 1 checked my phone during my evening coffee at 4 p. 'Can you leave this story for now? You have done what you could. straight 6. Now can you please turn off the light?' I lay down and thought about them. He'll tell you if anything happens. v hit pitch 2mrow I went to office the next day. 'Yes. I had no message.m. doc approves ali 2 play. ish bowls 2 ali. Ali's doing physio exercises everyday.' she said. London is eight hours behind Singapore. pls pray.Epilogue II I sat at my home computer in Singapore. ali moves fwd & turns.' 'You have been saying the same thing over and over since last month. fingers X.! . I had an SMS from Govind. I was in the taxi when my phone beeped. The next morning I woke up early.m..

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