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Goa, wow! Someone has a good life,' Vidya said with a pin in her mouth. She
stood on a stool in her room, fixing a poster of Aamir Khan in Dil Chahta Hai on
the wall. I, her tutor, held the pin tray. So much for my position of authority.
'Goa is your brother's idea. I really don't need this break from work,' I said.
'Of course, you do,' she said as she stepped down. 'It will help you get over the
'What will help me get over the earthquake is work, and the money I make to
pay back those loans. This trip is costing us three thousand bucks.' I came back
to her desk.
She took her seat, opened her book and slapped each page as she turned it
'Can you act more interested?'
'I am not a good actor,' she said.
"Very funny. So did you do the calculus chapter in your so-called self-study
'I did self-study as you did not have time for me,' she said.
'Anyway, I don't understand it. As usual, I suck. What is all this "dx dt", and
why are they so many scary symbols?'
'Vidya, you are appearing for medical entrance. Don't talk like...,' I stopped
mid-sentence. I opened the calculus chapter. Some spoilt brats have to be
spoonfed even the basics.
'Don't talk like what?'
'Like a duffer. Now pay attention.'
'I am not a duffer. Just go to Goa, manage your business, make money, insult
people who don't salivate for maths and don't make any time for friends. I can
The last word 'fine' had the loudest volume.
'Excuse me. Is there a problem?' I said after a pause.
'Yes, calculus problems. Can we please start?'
I explained calculus to her for an hour. 'Try the exercises in the end. And read
the next chapter by the time I come back,' I said as I finished class.
She kept quiet.
'Vidya, why is it that sometimes making you talk is like extracting teeth.'
I am like this only, you have a problem? Only you have the right to ignore
people?' she threw back. Her eyes turned moist and her long fingers trembled.
Before moisture turned to rain, I had to exit.
'I'll be back in four days,' I said as I headed to the door. 'Who cares?' she said
from behind me.
'Eat on time and don't stay up late,' said Ali's dad as the train signal went off.
Ali was too excited to care for his dad's instructions. He reserved the top berth
for himself and climbed up. Omi said his pre-journey prayers.
'Ali's ammi doesn't care. He is a piece of my heart,' Ali's dad said and his eyes
became moist. 'Sometimes I wish I had not married again.'
I wrapped the cash and tickets in plastic and placed it inside my socks.
Travelling with a twelve-year-old, and two other grownup kids, this responsibility
had to fall on me.
'It is ok, chacha. See now you can go to your election rally in Baroda,' I said.
'That's right. I cannot leave Ali with his ammi for four days.' 'Are you getting a
ticket this year,' I said as I chained our suitcase to the lower berth. The train
began to move.
'No, no. I am not that senior in the party. But I will be helping l he Belrampur
candidate. Ali beta,' don't jump between berths, Ali...,' his voice trailed off as the
train picked speed.
Ish pulled Ali's arm and drew him into his lap. 'Say bye properly,' Ish said.
'Khuda Hafiz, abba,' Ali called out as the train left for sunnier climes.
'Organisers. We have to meet the organisers. Let us go in,' I said. A hairy arm
stopped me. The arm belonged to a security guard outside the VIP stand.
'Thirty thousand people here want to go in there. Who are you? Autograph
'Say it,' Ish said to me in a hushed voice.
'Get your senior. I want to talk to him.'
'Why?' the hairy guard said.
I flashed out a card. It said 'Zuben Singh, Chairman, Wilson Sport,' Pandit-ji
had once met the chairman of the biggest sports company in India. I had
borrowed the card from his trunk.
I own Wilson Sports. We want to talk about some endorsement deals. Now will
you cooperate or...'
The security guard broke into a sweat and called his manager, I repeated the
story to him. He called the senior-most security person who came in a suit. I
made a fake phone call pretending to talk about ten-crore-rupees business
orders. He remained sceptical, I ended another call in Gujarati and his face
'Gujarati?' he said.
I stared at him, trying to decipher the better answer. In India you don't know
whether someone will like you or hate you because you are from a certain place.
'Yes,' I said guardedly.
'Oh, how are you?' he said in Gujarati. Thank God for India's various regional
I just landed from Ahmedabad,' I said.
'Why have you come without an appointment?' he said.
'I came to see the match. I saw the Australians play and thought maybe we
could find a brand ambassador.'
'Why Australian? Why don't you take an Indian?'
A totally irrelevant question, but it hinted at his growing belief is us. 'Can't
afford the Indian team. The good players are too expensive. The bad ones, well,
tell me, will you buy a bat endorsed by Ajit Agarkar?'
The guard nodded. He spoke into a microphone hanging from his ear and
turned to us.
'One of you stay with us,' the security head said.
'He will,' I said and pointed to Omi.
'One guard will accompany you. What about the kid? He has
'Oh yes, he is in the campaign. You see, we are doing a coach and student
The gates creaked open. The guards frisked us to the point of molestation.
Finally, we made it to the enclosure. We walked through
the posh, red fibre-glass seats and sat down in an empty row. We had the best
view in the stadium. We came after the Indian innings had ended. Australia
would bat now. Apart from the batsmen on
crease, their team would be in the stands soon.
'Omi will be ok?' Ish whispered. I nodded.
'We will wait for the Australian team to come, ok?' I said to the security guard
lest he became suspicious again. He nodded.
'Are you from Gujarat?' Ish asked him.
'No,' the guard said. He looked upset, as if a Gujarati girl broke his heart.
'Hey, look slowly five rows behind,' Ish said.
I turned. There was a young Sikh boy in a burgundy turban wearing the Indian
'Sharandeep Singh, the twelfth man. He may be in the team noon. Should I go
shake his hand?'
'Don't be nuts. One suspicion you are star-struck and they will kick our asses
out of here,' I said.
'Can I take that?' Ali said as waiters in white uniforms walked a round with
'Pretend you own a two-hundred-crore company. Go for it Ali,' I said.
Soon we were all drinking Fanta in tall glasses. Thank God lor sponsors.
Murmurs rippled in our stand. Everyone turned back to see men in yellow
dresses emerge from the dressing room. Ish clutched my hand tight as he saw the
Australian team members. They came and sat two rows ahead of us.
'That is Steve Waugh, the Australian captain,' Ish whispered in my ear. I could
hear his heart beat through his mouth.
I nodded and a deep breath. Yes, everyone was there - Bevan, Lehman,
Symonds and even McGrath. But we didn't come here to check out the Australian
team like awestruck fans. We were he for a purpose.
'Ish bhaiya, there is Ponting, in the pads. He is one down,' Ali's scream ruined
my effort to act placid.
A few people noticed, but looked away as Ali was a kid. True VIPs never
screamed at stars even though they liked to hang around them.
A young white man, whom I did not recognise came and sat one row ahead of
us. He wore the Australian team shirt, but had a pair of casual khaki shorts on.
With curly hair and deep blue eyes, he could not be more than twenty.
The VIPs clapped as Adam Gilchrist hit a six. In the general stalls, there was a
silence of misery. Ish wanted to curse the bowler, but sense prevailed and he kept
The Australian team hi-fived at the six. The curly haired boy-man in f&nt
pumped his fists.
Ali finished his third Fanta.
'Go talk. I have done my job,' I prompted Ish.
'After a few overs, let the match settle,' Ish said.
Australia lost their first wicket of Hayden at a score of seventy and there was a
dignified applause in the VIP enclosure. Ponting was cheered by teammates as he
went out to take the crease. Srinath dismissed Ponting three balls later.
Ish could not contain himself any longer. 'Yes, go Srinath go,' Ish cheered as I
stopped him from standing up on his chair. A few people smirked at the quality of
lowlife making it to the VIP stands these days. Bevan, already padded up, left for
his innings. The curly haired boy-man turned around to look at Ish.
'Go, India go. We can do this. Series win, c'mon we are 2-2,' Ish said to himself.
The boy-man stared at us. Ish became conscious.
'It's ok. Good on ya, mate!' he said.
'Sorry, we...,' I said.
'I'd do the same thing if it were my team,' he said. Here was a chance to talk.
Maybe he was a team member's brother or something.
I nudged Ish with my elbow.
'Hi,' Ish said. 'I'm Ishaan, we have come from Ahmedabad in Gujarat. And he is
Zubin, he owns Wilson sports. And this here
'Good to see you Hi, I am Fred. Fred Li.' 'You play in the team?' I asked Fred.
'Not right now, back problem. But yes, started playing for Australia a year ago.'
'Bowler, pace,' Fred answered.
'Fred, we need to talk. About this boy. We really need to talk,' Ish said, his
breath short with excitement.
'Sure mate, I'll come on over,' Fred said and lunged over to sit next to Ish.
The security guard relaxed as he saw us with someone white. We must be
important enough after all.
Ish finished his story in an hour.
'You want me to test him? Mate, you should show him to your selectors or
'Trust me, if Indian selectors were up to the job, we wouldn't lose so many
matches to a country with one-fiftieth the people. No offence.'
'We are a tough team to beat. There are several reasons for that,' Fred said
'Well, that is why I want you to test him. I have groomed him for almost a year
now, and will continue to do so. We travelled twenty-four hours to meet someone
in your team because I trust you.'
'And what would that do? What if I told he was good?'
'If you say the boy has world-class potential, I will give up my life to get him out
there, I swear. Please, just bowl a few balls to him.'
'Mate, if I started doing that to everyone that came along...'
'I beg you, Fred. Sportsman to sportsman. Or rather, small sportsman to big
Fred stared at Ish with unblinking blue eyes.
'I played for my district, too. Never had the guidance to go further,' Ish
continued. 'I wasted my studies, fought with my parents, threw away my career
for this game. This means everything to me. Not everyone coming to you will be
Fred smiled at that. 'Mate, you Indians are good at this emotional stuff. Trust
me, I gave up a lot for this game, too.'
'So you agree?'
'Four balls, no more. After the match. Stay nearby,' 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.'
Ish's smile froze. I can't do that. I can't wish against India.'
'Kidding mate. You guys are better at emotions. But we take the-piss better,'
Half the Aussie lingo was beyond me, but we smiled anyway.
'Call our friend, we need him,' I said firmly to the guard.
Two minutes later, Omi joined us. He came in so thirsty he grabbed Ali's drink.
'What the hell were you guys doing? 1 waited two hours?'
'Making friends,' I said, smiling back at Fred as Australia hit a four.
Australia won the match, but Ish didn't have time for remorse. He had to pad
We came to the ground half an hour after the final match ceremonies.
'He is a pace bowler.' Ish turned to Ali, 'Do you want a helmet?'
Ali shook his head.
'Wear it.' Ish strapped the helmet on to Ali's head.
'Ready, mate?' Fred called from the bowler's end.
Ali nodded. Ish took the wicketkeeper's place. Fred took a ten-step run-up with
a ferocious expression. The ball zoomed past Ali. Ish stepped back to catch it.
'Gifted?' Fred said to me as he prepared another run-up.
'Hey, what's up Ali?' Ish said.
'I cannot see. The ball is white. And the foreigner makes scary faces.'
'Ignore the face. Look at the ball,' Ish said as he pulled out the helmet. Omi ran
to adjust the black screen on the boundary.
Fred bowled a perfect second delivery. Ali struck this time. The bat deflected
the ball forty-five degrees. The ball stayed low but did not bounce until it crossed
the boundary. Six.
'Bloody hell! Where did that come from?' Fred said.
'Two more balls,' I said. I was aware of what was happening inside Fred's head.
The feeling of being trampled, mutiliated and vanquished by a mere boy had only
Fred's third ball went for a four and the last one for a six. His face looked more
humiliated than scary. And no matter how many times he said 'mate', his tone
had turned from calm to anxious. He looked like someone who had been shaken
of all his convictions about cricket.
'How did he do that?' Fred muttered, tugging at his curly hair.
We looked at Ali. He sat down on the floor and held his head.
'You ok?' Ish said. The pressure had gotten to Ali. 'What's up?' Fred said.
'Being extra focused takes a lot out of him. He needs to recoup after a few big
hits. I taught him to play a full innings in the neighbourhood but today...'
'Stress, mate, all that travel and you shove a scary white guy in his face,' Fred
'He has to face this,' Ish said. He bent down to remove Ali's pads.
'Yep, needs stamina and training, but will go places,' Fred said.
'You think so?' 'That's Fred's verdict.'
'Hey guys can you hang on, I need to make a call.' Fred said and stepped away
to dial a number on his cellphone. I couldn't hear Fred but he had a ten-minute
animated conversation before he returned to us.
'Thanks, Fred,' Ish said. I could see the pride in Ish's face.
Goodonya. Why don't you guys bring him down to Australia for a while? Hang
out and practice in my academy,' Fred invited like going to Australia was as
simple as taking an auto to Navrangpura. 'Really?' Ish said.
Yeah right, I thought. We had scraped to get second-class tickets for Goa. We
were leaving the same night to save money. Yet, Ish wanted to go to Australia.
'We can't, Fred,' I intervened.
'Why?' Fred asked.
'Can't afford it. I don't own a cricket business.' 'What?'
'I run a small cricket shop. We lied to get into your enclosure for this.'
The air became tense.
'Holy Moly,' Fred smiled, 'You guys! Some gumption. Anyway, I am no rich guy
either like your Indian team players. So that's cool by me. But you could have got
into trouble there if caught.'
'I had to make sure Ali gets tested by the best,' Ish said.
'Then get him to Australia. I leave India tomorrow. How big is your business?'
'It is kind of small,' Ish said. 'And tickets are expensive.'
'Well, one of my ex-girlfriends works with Qantas. Let me see what I can do,'
Fred said as we walked back. 'It is just Ish and Ali right?'
'That's fine,' I said quickly.
'No, we are partners Fred. Either we all come together or not. We need four
tickets,' Ish said.
'Hang on,' Fred said as he stepped away to make another
'All right,' Fred said as he returned, 'I can do four tickets.' 'Wow,' Ish exclaimed,
'look Ali, this is because of you.'
'But July is better,' Fred said, 'it is winter in Australia and tickets are cheaper.'
'July works,' I said. 'We can't come in the summer vacation, that's peak sales
I figured apart from the tickets, there would be expense on passports, visas and
living expenses during the trip. I needed some time to save for that. I didn't have
to do it, but it's not every day you get to go international.
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