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

Chetan Bhagat

Rupa & Co

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You need to understand the concepts. finishing her scan. Why do these old people poke their nose in our affairs so much? Like. 'Student. His assistants pulled out the yellow and black tome. It is the mentality of the people. I saw that book at my friend's place once. 'Good. I take tuitions.Wade?' I said.' the shopkeeper said. yes. 'Chemistry book. but someone needed to remind him. taken aback by my abruptness. . seriously. I still get a twenty-five per cent discount on every purchase. I haven't seen a thicker book and every page is filled with the hardest maths problems in the world. and in physics. Khanna is the Exorcist. 'You have organic chemistry by L. Now if Resnick and Halliday is scary. It was amusing that a person with a friendly name like M. Yes. M. 'Well. the cover was scary and dull at the same time. let's buy it. In fact. see if you like it. And uncle. 'Maths Khanna. 'Don't they have some guides or something?' she said. 'What is this?' Vidya said and tried to lift the book with her left hand.' she said. This one explains the principles. something possible only in physics books. He nodded his head in approval.' I whispered to satisfy his curiosity lest he gave up sleeping for the rest of his life. have you ever read Resnick and Halliday?' 'Oh. They solve a certain number of problems. Khanna?' I could see his displeasure in me calling him uncle. 'Guides are a short cut.' the shopkeeper shouted.L Khanna could do this to the students of our country. ' one of his five assistants. I didn't even want him to look at Vidya. She couldn't. the four fingers fell short. 'This is a good book.' Vidya took the book in her hand. totally ignoring my comment. The shopkeeper raised an eyebrow. I would have done more small talk.' I said and measured the thickness with the fingers of my right hand. what is this? An assault weapon?' 'It covers every topic.' Vidya agreed. Just the table of contents depressed me. you have to study it. you will understand it. She turned a few pages.G. my voice stern. But if you want to. 'Other organic chemistry books have too much to memorise. red and white balls on the cover.L.' he screamed . Her red nail polish was the same colour as the atoms on the cover. for maths do you have M. He was asking me about the girl. but I wanted to avoid talking about Vidya. 'I won't understand it.' I said. I am fine.' 'What is this "hi-fi"? It is in your course. would we care if he hung out with three grandmas? 'If you say it is good. It's too hi-fi for me.' I said.recommended his shop. 'Flip through it. 'Of course.L. He displayed the cutting for two years after that.' I said as I tapped the cover and gave it to Vidya.' The shopkeeper brought out the orange and black cover Resnick and Halliday. See this is the reason why people think Ahmedabad is a small town despite the multiplexes. She used both hands and finally took it six inches off the ground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

'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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ali's doing physio exercises everyday.' she said. 'Yes. 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. Now can you please turn off the light?' I lay down and thought about them. The operation is over.m. fingers X.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.m. straight 6. I was in the taxi when my phone beeped. I had no message. London is eight hours behind Singapore. 'Can you leave this story for now? You have done what you could. v hit pitch 2mrow I went to office the next day. doc approves ali 2 play. I had an SMS from Govind. It was day time in London. The next morning I woke up early. He could be ready for a batting test anytime. I left office at 8 p.. and 1 checked my phone during my evening coffee at 4 p. ish bowls 2 ali. My wife came to my desk at midnight. He'll tell you if anything happens.! . but they are in London right now.. pls pray.

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