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 dont want to be Indias most admired writer. I just want to be Indias 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 readers 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.


It is not everyday you sit in front of your computer on a Saturday morning and get an email like this:
From: Sent: 12/28/2005 11.40 p.m. To: Subject: A final note Dear Chetan This email is a combined suicide note and a confession letter. I have let people down and have no reason to live. You dont know me. Im an ordinary boy in Ahmedabad who read your books. And somehow I felt I could write to you after that. I cant really tell anyone what I am doing to myself - which is taking a sleeping pill everytime I end a sentence - so I thought I would tell you.

I kept my coffee cup down and counted. Five full stops already
I made three mistakes; I dont want to go into details. My suicide is not a sentimental decision. As many around me know, I am a good businessman because I have little emotion. This is no knee-jerk reaction. I waited over three years, watched Ishs silent face everyday. But after he refused my offer yesterday, I had no choice left. I have no regrets either. Maybe Id have wanted to talk to Vidya once more – but that doesnt seem like such a good idea right now. Sorry to bother you with this. But I felt like I had to tell someone. You have ways to improve as an author but you do write decent books. Have a nice weekend. Regards Businessman

17, 18, 19. Somewhere, in Ahmedabad a young ordinary boy had popped nineteen sleeping pills while typing out a mail to me. Yet, he expected me to have a nice weekend. The coffee refused to go down my throat. I broke into a cold sweat.

One, you wake up late. Two, you plant yourself in front of the computer first thing in the morning. Are you even aware that you have a family? Anusha said. In case it isnt obvious enough from the authoritative tone, Anusha is my wife. I had promised to go furniture shopping with her – a promise that was made ten weekends ago. She took my coffee mug away and jiggled the back of my chair. We need dining chairs. Hey, you look worried? she said. I pointed to the monitor.Businessman? she said as she finished reading the mail. She looked pretty shaken up too. And it is from Ahmedabad, I said, that is all we know. You sure this is real? she said, a quiver in her voice. This is not spam, I said. It is addressed to me. My wife pulled a stool to sit down. I guess we really did need write extra chairs. Think, she said. Weve got to let someone know. His parents maybe. How? I dont know where the hell it came from, I said. And who do we know in Ahmedabad? We met in Ahmedabad, remember? Anusha said. A pointless statement, I thought. Yes, wed been classmates at IIM-A years ago. So? Call the institute. Prof Basant or someone, she sniffed and left the room. Oh no, the daal is burning. There are advantages in having a wife smarter than you. I could never be a detective. I searched the institute numbers on the Internet and called. An operator connected me to Prof Basants residence. I checked the time, 10.00 a.m. in Singapore, 7.30 a.m. in India. It is a bad idea to mess with a prof early in the morning. Hello? a sleepy voice answered. Had to be the prof. Prof Basant, Hi. This is Chetan Bhagat calling. Your old student, remember? Who? he said with a clear lack of curiosity in his voice. Bad start. I told him about the course he took for us, and how we had voted him the friendliest professor in the campus. Flattery didnt help much either. Oh that Chetan Bhagat, he said, like he knew a million of them. You are a writer now, no? Yes sir, I said, that one.So why are you writing books? Tough question, sir, I stalled. Ok, a simple one. Why are you calling me so early on a Saturday? I told him why and forwarded the email to him. No name, eh? he said as he read the mail. He could be in a hospital somewhere in Ahmedabad. He would have just checked in. Maybe he is dead. Or maybe he is at home and this was a hoax, I said.

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

What do you expect? Anyway. But what is his story? What happened? All that I dont know. he just emailed you. I called the Civil Hospital. Ok. low marks or drugs. Nothing. Let him recover. We have a match at Civil Hospital. A second-year student of mine found him. And?And he is alive. I shouldnt get involved. Hello. What are the doctors saying? I said. I muttered. Where? To the office. Cmon. Next. She then announced the plan for the day – the dining chair hunt. Listen. this boy had sent me his last words. But wont talk. India is a big country. too. My mind strayed back to the businessman.m. I told my wife as I played with my lemon rice. I did my shopping. Must be in shock. One dining table could fold four times over and become a coffee table – pretty neat. Will ask a student to check again in the evening. the operator did not know about the case and there was no facility to transfer the line to the ward either. she tossed back and then selected six chairs. It would begin at Ikea on Alexandra Road. The more you probe. dont get too involved. These things happen all the time. I want to know what happened to the twenty-five-year-old businessman. You men are least helpful. I wont worry too much now. everyone was right. of all the people in the world. Yes. I said. Even to his family. The marginal capacity utilisation of the two chairs would be less than ten per cent. they will flush his stomach and send him home. It is a government hospital. the more the chances of the police harassing you. You really dont need to get involved. Six chairs would be enough. However. Should we take six or eight? She moved towards an oak-wood set. I protested that we rarely had so many guests at home. I stayed silent. twenty-five years of age. I have to go. you are a free man now. Must be one of those crazy reasons of youth – rejection in love. You will find out eventually.33 p.My phone rang at 1. . was relieved that the boy was safe. But yet. We reached Ikea at around three oclock and browsed through the space-saving dining sets. Prof Basants voice was unmistakable. Your ID is on your book cover. I couldnt help but get involved. Anusha. We ate lunch in the food court next to Ikea. my wife said. His name is Govind Patel.

Maybe I was sounding crazy. Sorry. O . His mother came into the room. Ten different instruments beeped and LED lights flickered at regular intervals. to slap him. She left at 11. Forget the mail. if you were in my place. .. I looked at the boy again. He took a hard look at me and then turned his gaze sideways. There is nothing heroic in this. there is only one direct flight at 6 p. Shut up.. He wont get promoted unless he impresses his boss. shifting in his bed.m. promising the doctor I would leave soon.. he said.No. She looked so sleep-deprived. He sighed. I did not meet her eye.m. unsure if he could place me. but she refused to budge. I said. My wife looked at me. I noticed the curly hair first. You would have done the same. you find me? he said. My mind keeps going back. the writer you wrote to.30 p. The eerie silence and the darkness made my footsteps sound loud. I want to meet Govind Patel. he said. A nurse came in and told his mother to go home. Dont look at me like that. I said. I stayed in the room. I entered the room the nurses had led me to. I shook hands and sat down. I said. I guess. Hi. tell me your story. Cables from the instruments disappeared into the man I had travelled thousands of miles to see – Govind Patel.. You should not have done what you did. today.. Destined to. Are you nuts? I think it is only in my generation that Indian women started slamming their husbands.I know. Well. I had two instant urges – one. I greeted her as she went out to get tea. the doctor had to intervene. I should not have written that mail. I want to go to Ahmedabad. His thin lips had turned dry because of the medicines. What about your presentation? Michel will kill you. So. I have no regrets. I said. How did . she could use a sleeping pill herself.. She knew I would not talk sense until I had met the boy. Cowards pop pills. She dialled the Singapore Airlines number and handed me the phone. to ask him what happened and two. My face was argument enough. He had a wheatish complexion and bushy eyebrows. You can check the tickets. finding it difficult to speak. once we were alone. Why? What happened to you? It doesnt matter! We fell silent as his mother returned with tea. Chetan Bhagat . you must be angry. Finally.

I said. The clock showed midnight. I located you and flew out within hours of your mail. pitching my voice to the maximum allowed in a hospital. a young person tried to kill himself. Tendulkars gone. And that explained the frowns on Ishaans forehead. people only do things out of selfinterest. He removed the quilt covering his chest. There. Vadodra 17 March 2000 Over 45 Why the fuck did you have to move? Ishaans scream drowned out the stadium din on the TV. He sat there stunned. Listen. Twenty-seven runs in five overs. It is more comfortable to snack on the sofa. That does not seem right. that was my incentive. I know what a friend is. . One India vs South Africa 4th ODI. with eight wickets to spare and Tendulkar on the crease. but Tendulkar was out. Because I had two. And why would anyone care? My story is not trendy or sexy like the IITs and call centres. this arrogance is part of your business? Cant 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. he said at last. I said. the best ones in the world. now at this stage. but found it difficult to be patient. I think they will care. I considered slapping him again. Omi. Fuck. I tried. Whats in it for you? And why should I waste my time telling you anything?I stared at the soft-skinned face that hid such hardness inside.Why? What can you do about it? You cant change what happened. I am a businessman. You chose to send your last mail to me. I looked at the TV. A cakewalk. Omi and I. You dont just listen to stories to change the past. We became quiet. Ishaans mom had brought in tea and khakra for us. You still question if I care? And now this cocky attitude. I had shifted up to a sofa from the floor. I said. We were chasing 283 to win. The odds were still in Indias favour. Because I will want to tell others. To me. Huh? I said. I sat down next to him. Indias score a ball ago was 256-2 after forty-five overs. That means at a certain level you trusted me. I stood up and turned away from him. That is why I moved. it is important to know what happened. I do know what a friend is. No one gives a fuck about me. We were in Ishaans house — Ishaan. Everyone had behaved nicely with him today. Sometimes. he said tiredly. dont you dare move now. Nobody moves for the next five overs. The heater and our conversation kept the room warm.

Over 46 He made 122. today I had a plan. you play a critical role Omi. The match was in Vadodra. Omi said. stop it! Look. The horn of a car broke our conversation. Whats up? Bloody son of a rich dad. Lets go to Gopi. this time we needed Omi. I dont want to miss this match. We were not going to indulge until the fate of the match was decided. anything. I reached for my tea cup. The silver Esteem circled the pol and came back for another round of serenading. over dinner. blood spurting out of his nose. Later when Ishaan? I have an idea that works for all of us. Ish said. A car zoomed outside the pol. beep. We have to decide what Mr Ishaan is doing about his future. against cricket. life is second priority. and two. beep. India 262/3. do we? All of us? Me. Beep. Why are you getting so worked up? I asked during a commercial break. He stepped outside and came to the front. we didnt meet today to see this match. Damn. Really? the boy said and shut off the ignition. He used to be in coaching classes with her. Ish said as he saw India hit a four. I needed to sit them down to talk about our lives. Ish went to the driver. the car came near the house again. That is one reason I like cricket. Cut a cake today to celebrate one year of your uselessness. However. Ishaan said. It is like the queen bee is dead. because we didnt have money.The khakras crispy. Beep. beep. Ish said. We dont have a lot of choice. I had wasted the whole day watching the match on TV instead. The Esteem halted in front of Ish. Excuse me. Gopi? Whos paying? I was interrupted as the match began. not able to resist doing a mathematical calculation. Ish said. already excited. Ishaan was pissed with us anyway. right? I an adolescent. just two hours away from Ahmedabad. Of course. chiding him for his shallow sensory pleasure in a moment of national grief. Of course. with seven wickets in hand. Ishaan glared at Omi. What the hell! I am going to teach this bastard a lesson. His dad had already sarcastically commented. Omi and I kept our tea cups aside and looked suitably mournful. Tendulkar goes. . Ish stood in front of the car and asked the boy to stop. they panic. there is so much maths in it. Comes and circles around our house everyday Why? I said. You dont know this team. Later. the match is starting. I hope you realise. But we could not go . so reason number two did not really hold much weight. Jadeja came to the crease and added six more runs. It is 5. Ishaan said. End of forty-six overs. too? Omi quizzed. We ran out the house. because I had my correspondence exams in two days. Ish grabbed the boys head from behind and smashed his face into the bonnet. your headlight is hanging out. beep.25 runs required per over. Idiots like him love to be part of something. He proceeded to strike the headlight with his bat. looking out the window. the boy said. Ok. but Ishaan signalled me to leave it alone. She complained about him there too. However. The glass broke and the bulb hung out. It isnt about the average. Anyway. Omi nodded. Yes. I said. and the hive loses order. Just a few final closing shots left. For Vidya. staring avidly at a pimple cream commercial. The crowd clapped as Tendulkar made his exit. Ish picked up his bat. You tell me whats up? You like pressing horns? Ish said. Ishaan had always avoided this topic ever since he ran away from NDA a year ago. The guy did his job. as he normally does to whatever Ishaan has to say about cricket. Whats your problem. Twenty-one more runs to win in four overs. But later when Ish? When? Oh.

who folded his hands. someone had to. Omi repeated what he read on the TV screen. One sidelong glance at his dad and Ish walked back home. He kicked the boys face with his knee and released him. I am easily the poorest of the three (though I will be the richest one day). When youve wasted your entire life. I have this chip on my shoulder. Ish said.Really. Ishs dad shouted. You go now. Ishs dad said. Dancing after an Indian victory was a ritual we had started when we were eleven. he trudged back to his car. one that should have stopped by thirteen. However. My mom runs a small Gujarati snacks business. yes. I didnt know the reason. after repeating the maths compartment exam twice. For instance. but I did know that maybe the best idea for him would be to become a priest. whats going on here? He has been troubling Vidya since last week. And what do you think you are doing? Ishs dad asked him. People on the street gathered around as there is nothing quite as entertaining as a street fight. What would he tell his daddy about his broken car and face? Ishs dad heard the commotion and came out of the house. Match. But still. Ish turned away. even though Ishaan and Omi arent particularly wealthy. But he didnt want to be a priest. when will you learn your lessons? Ishs dad said to him. India won and Ish didnt get that upset. ok? I said as Ishaan and Omi were still dancing. The last kick from Ish had smeared the blood from his nose across his face. Ishs dad turned to his neighbours. The boy was struggling to breathe.Ish grabbed his collar and gave six non-stop slaps across his face. Teaching him a lesson. I said leave him. In . It is just that both of them suck at studies. Ishaan is not an idiot. given that he barely scraped through Class XII. Ill go home to change and then we will go to Gopi. they are a lot better off than me and my mom. We were professionals after all. For one whole year hes been sitting at home. And that does not pay well either. it would have been too much for him to express such original insight. Gopi on me tonight. Seeing that no one cared about his apology. Ish said and unhooked his bat stuck in the windscreen. Some say Omi was born stupid. here we were at twenty-one. so my plan was the best one. we won the series 3-1. The glass broke into a million pieces. so we won. We missed the final five overs of the match. while some say he became stupid after a cork ball hit him on the head in Class VI. 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. I ate the khakra. but thats about it. Ish gripped him tighter. He wouldnt have much of a career otherwise. Hence. At least not as much as Omi. Actually. Yes. My mother made it better than Ishaans mom. jigging like juveniles. Why? You want to curse me some more? Ish said. The boy kneeled on the floor and sucked in air. Where the hell are you going now? Ishs dad said. Luckily. but it is the only chip on my shoulder. and the little bit of money I make from tuitions helps us get by. The boy shivered in pain and fear. and I am good at it. and while they have lots of phones in the house. yes. I love idiots. the salary is modest. Omi picked up the bat and smashed the windscreen. It does sound a bit conceited. Ishs dad said to the beeping driver. We won. whats another day? Ishs father said and the neighbours half-nodded their heads in sympathy. especially maths. which actually belongs to Omis moms family for generations. Ok. Leave him. Omis dad is the priest of the Swamibhakti temple. Ish held the boy in an elbow lock. Ishaan jumped. Ishaans dad works in the telephone exchange. Of course.

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

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

I could do maths honours right here in Amdavad University. I needed a degree and I can get it without studying much. I removed my shoes to get ready for a shower. One more and I will be a graduate.respect. The rest of the country dreams about a cushy job that gives a steady salary and provides stability. I would start slow and then grow my business. No need. One of them was me not making it to a good engineering college. but that was a stupid dream to begin with. Stop taking tuitions for a while. Sure. how many hours per class . The homes in our pol required light even during daytime. Its Ishs treat. the small one is all wobbly I will buy the TV if only the business makes extra money. Without dad around. In Ahmedabad. It was amazing to see money build up. And Ambadadis love it more than anything else. I could decide my fate. I have already done two years of college. Dont buy useless things. The Kutch college did not even guarantee a be a big businessman one day. My mother felt guilty about a million things. And I want to talk to them about my new business. I said. I will get you a colour TV. service is for the weak. I came out of the shower and dressed again. She raised dough-covered hands. to crores and then to hundreds of crores. I wanted to say. Gopi? Why? I make the same things. continue tuitions and think about business. No. "Want to eat anything? my mother voiced her most quoted line from the kitchen. I did make it to a far-flung college in Kutch. I am going out with Ish and Omi to was my decision. But I would build it slowly and make my dream come true. If you make extra money. You can take a year to prepare. It is ok. Not that I felt any emotion. The only hitch was my lack of capital. 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. No.I switched on the tubelight inside. Yes. we have money now. he was no Tendulkar. My mother knew it was futile arguing with me. and even though Ish was top class in Belrampur.I was making money. relatives reinvited us to weddings and our landlords visit did not throw us into turmoil. my mother came out of the kitchen. mom. you need a bigger grinder urgently. My dream was more realistic. to lakhs. put it back in the business. it just did not seem like the right trade. I dont want to be an engineer. how many students to teach. cricket at Nana Park and mom for that. . There is something about Gujaratis. Ish could not make his dream of being in the Indian cricket team real. I am a businessman. That was why I dreamt my biggest dream . I can always see the match in colour in Ishaans house. Plus. So you are not repeating the engineering entrance. My heart is in business. Tuitions and supporting my moms business meant I could study less for the entrance exams. To be in the top eleven of a country of a billion people was in many ways an impossible dream. but who gives a job to a maths graduate? It was true. Shopkeepers no longer avoided us. it was amazing how much say I had in the house. mom vowed. she said. If I have a good Diwali season. What do you get at Gopi that I cant give you at home? Peace and quiet. And I only hoped Ish and Omi would listen to my proposition as well. friends. we love business. She left the room. mom. I didnt make it to IIT or any of the top institutes. From a turnover of thousands. Maths honours was a stupid course to take from an economic point of view. but it wasnt worth it to leave my tuition income. My love for business began when I first started tuitions. And then there was the thrill . not earning it under some boss or getting a handout. I cant change that. With money came not only things like coolers and sofas but also the most important stuff . I said.

He said there is big money in that. Cricket. Ishaan protested. I said. you really need to listen today. I said. Can you pass the ghee please? All that food. Ill pay for the tea. Well talk over tea. You are always my son first. and ras malai. But how? Omi interrogated when I returned. No thanks. Ish said as he scooped up the last spoon of aamras. Ish waved a hand. Omi said as he slurped his dessert. The champion batsman of Belrampur would become an insurance salesman. I said. He tried to smile. Ninth. Then. There is no way Gopi could make money off him. Ish said. What do you plan to do with your life? We are not kids anymore. Belrampur kids had grown up applauding his boundaries at Nana Park. Or should I take an insurance job? What do you think? I saw Ishs face.My mother pulled my cheeks. What? Put seat covers all day. Now can I talk? Sure. Whatever. People like Omi are no-profit customers. Omi? Car accessories. I was sick of parenting them. What was it the last time? A fruit dealership? Ugh! I cant be weighing watermelons all day. I deliberately left for the rest room. I was only joking. I will apply for jobs. Two hundred push-ups. whats up? Im listening. Be whatever. What? Ish said. we will focus on that. I hated it. Chunks of dough stuck to my face. What is that anyway? Ish shrugged. Ishs silence meant he was listening to me. but what about us? I dont want to be a priest. when he had no life ahead.stock broker. Right. Unfortunately. nice to get your attention. Ish said. Eat your food first. What is a cricket shop? A sports store really. I cant do that man. Omi? Omi laughed. Ish told Omi. Omi said listlessly. man. I hate a display of emotion more than emotion itself. She hugged me. Omi said. My treat is limited to a thali. I said. Relax. Aamras. why do you oppose me even before I start? This time I have something that will interest you. Omi said to the waiter. You can be a priest. But now. So. I am not paying for tea. I said. . And you got a compartment in Class XII. There you go. Not again. I ordered tea while the waiter cleared our plates. I am serious. We are going to open a cricket shop. are a military school dropout. I better go. Omi looked at me. twice. But since cricket is the most popular game in Belrampur. One hour at Bittoo Mamas home gym. I want to start a business. So what the fuck do you want to do? Beg people to buy insurance? Or sell credit cards at street corners? You. I began. People argued less on a full stomach. What? both of them said in unison. Ish said and sighed. Omi. And the other one . Ish and I nodded for the same. Mr Accounts cant even take a joke. but I saw the pain. It has to be bad for you. Who cares? It is a buffet. maybe do an NIIT computer course first. hoping Id come up with a great option from Santas goodie bag. Ok.  That is your tenth chapatti. then. Ish. Ish. Guys. I said and paused for breath. You do this everyday like me and you can hog without worry. Thanks. And the crazy one after that. Ten rounds of Nana Park. And stop calling me Mr Accounts. he wanted to insure other peoples lives.

Not at first but the shop is outside the temple. I sighed. A cricket shop in a temple complex? Ish questioned. Ish said. You think I will let you handle cash? So. Im in. guys. right? Ish said. Good. As word spreads. If you put your heart into it.It will be a small retail store. Good question. Omi said. do you think you can arrange that? Without that our plan is«a nonstarter. A cricket shop by a temple does sound strange. Ill focus on the cricket. Two rupees fifty paise each. What are we going to call it? Omi said in the auto. 1 noticed an empty shop there. Theres a sports equipment supplier in Vastrapur who will give us a months credit. Next to the flower and puja shops. But it will work. You dont even get leather balls. Kids are among the most bored people in temples. I said as the auto stopped near my pol in Belrampur. Omi said. After all he runs the temple trust. You mean the Kuber sweet shop that just closed? The temple trust will rent it out soon. thats number one. I said and watched Ish smile for the first time that evening. I wont handle money. If we have the space. And it is part of the temple land. Two . I appealed to Ish. And you can give playing tips to every kid who comes to buy from us. I need you for this. How about Team India Cricket Shop? Ish suggested. Will we pay rent? Yes. but Mama looks after the shops. Yes. Yes. Its cricket. man. Ish said and passed his share. so I need Omis help. it will. And we cannot pay the deposit. Omi hi-fived me and Ish joined in. our reputation will build. Of course. but a cricket shop in a temple complex? Who will buy? Seventyyear-old aunties who come for kirtan will want willow bats? Ish scoffed. Omi said. Omi smiled. And normally they let it out to something related to temple activities. we will open the shop right inside the Swami temple complex. Money for a shop deposit is a problem. they will come. That is why so many balloon wallahs hover outside. Wait. are we partners? I stretched out my liand. he was coming around. Number two. I smiled. I said. I dont have to be a priest and I get to work from home. Ill have to go through mom. If Ish named it. Here you go Mr Accounts. we are good to go without cash. People know you were a good player. Ellis Bridge is the nearest. But not immediately. What choice do they have anyway? Where will we get what we sell? Ish said. He does. Both of them remained silent. the temple is a family place. Guys. Slowly. I really want to run a business. The waiter had cleared our tea and presented the bill. Im so in. See. we sell the stock at a loss and Ill cover the rest through my tuition savings. By Gopi protocol. But think . Where are they going to hang out? It is true. Sorry to ask again. I cant do it without partners. But what about Christian or Muslim kids? They wont come. Omi. he would feel more connected to the project. Ish said. his mind was working. we had to be out of the restaurant in two minutes. And that is where Ish comes in. Mine? Omi said. please. But you have to convince your dad. Great name. I know. But what if it doesnt run? Ish asked with scepticism. Ask there any sports shop in Belrampur? Not really. We need a two-month waiver. Worst case.

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

Ish said with as much heart as Omis dad said his prayers. aunty. after the puja. I had bought them directly from a Kashmiri supplier in Law Garden. Please. but the best we could hope to sell here. why buy something from this temple shop. The bat cost us a hundred and sixty. Harsh took a stance again. Goodbye. She took out a twenty-rupee note and asked me to give two. If he practices. I picked the right size for the boy. Omi said as he tucked in half a chili with his hot bhatura. Ish said. Do I get to take some money home? I really want to give mom my first salary. Mummy. Not top of the line. so forty bucks profit. Ish moved over and gently straightened Harshs back. which opened and brought out two hundred-rupee notes. It was time to go to the temple. We source from Kashmiri suppliers. he leaned his entire weight on the bat while standing. How much is this? she said. Please. He had improved with the lesson but his mother ignored him.m. Ish turned to Chinu. The kid is a quick learner. I could expense it to the business. he keeps one leg fixed. Huh? Harsh said. I said. Chinu. your anchor. You already have a bat. whenever you attack. Show me your stance. Harsh said. too. Great. An awestruck Harsh air-struck a few strokes. Chinu said promptly. Too expensive. We are forty-four bucks in profit.Defensive or attack? Ish asked as if he was interviewing Tendulkar on ESPN. please. Chinu said. I went to the stack of willow bats. Which kid didnt? Harsh nodded. Old city doesnt have good quality. Harsh said. mummy. First me. We moved the bats and the ball baskets inside and closed shop at 7. Notice Tendulkar. Ish said. No Harsh.. Harsh took a stance on the empty space in front of the shop. Two hundred rupees. Ish said. What are you. We will go to the Navrangpura market. sir. I was the team captain for all municipal schools in the area. Their parents finally found our shop. champ. You like shots? Ish asked. man. My birthday present. aunty. Ish. He moved his wrist upwards. Harsh said and tugged at her saree. Of course.00 p. Ish said. I said. Our total profit for the day was fifty bucks. Done. I have personally chosen the bats. Chinu? All-rounder. We sold some candy and two more balls in the next two hours. And now. Yes! You are amazing. use the front leg to move forward but do not forget the back leg. Take my word. Ill come to your shop on my happy birthday. To celebrate our opening we chose the chanabhatura stall. I exclaimed mentally. He turned to nie and asked for a bat. and told him to balance the weight evenly on the legs. Chinu said. I want the bat. Like every kid. How much? his mother said. his mother will stuff him with studies the moment he reaches Class X. We made forty bucks on the bat and four on the two balls. Aunty eyed us with suspicion. Yes but beta. he will be good. Ish waved to Harsh. Harsh cajoled. The only stance he will take is to sit on a desk with his books. The tug connected to auntys purse. Dont be depressing. It is excellent quality. we are not getting a bat. . We had closed the deal of the day. Show me your bowling grip. the younger one whined. This one is better for my stance. That is your support. Size six and two hundred bucks. At four bucks a plate. of course. Six rupees. mummy. I said and hi-fived everyone. mummy. mummy. Give me some tips. I want the ball.

Cant we just buy a TV? Ish said. What? There is a new shopping mall under construction at Navrangpura char rasta. It doesnt earn. but we need to increase the revenue. We have a long way to go. Not bad. And . He wanted to buy a TV for the shop. Congrats guys. I said as I emptied the cashiers box. If you dont grow in business. The remaining four thousand was to be retained in the business. No way.. This is our neighbourhood. only notebooks. As usual. here is a deal. I saw an easy opportunity. Ish said. Sure we do. the TV belongs to the business. not bad at all.the money each of us could take home. Yes. here take my fifteen hundred. If you book early. we are in business. He threw his share of cash at me. I said this is a sports store.. listening to matches on radio during shop hours was no fun. I knew why Ish grumbled. So we get our share now? Omi said excitedly. I dont care. I divided the money into four stacks. hut we cant grow unless we move to a new city location. But we buy a TV. Ish. I agree to the notebooks. Ish and I had argued about this before. Another shop? What? We will not be working together? Omi said. if only to meet Ish and ge tips on cricket. I like it here. No Ish. but Ish protested every time. I placed my empty plate back a the stall. Our shop had opened at an opportune< time. . Our shop has been doing good business. you can get a discount on renting a shop. This is our profit for the first three months after paying rent. I had to surrender to fools. Some came even without money. The first three stacks were fifteen hundred rupees each . Omi tossed in his money as well.. a proper shop. We opened from nine to seven. I said. The summer vacations had started and India had won the one-day series with South Africa. The dull aspect of opening a shop is boredom. We have only started and he already aspires to be Ambani. That is the future. Well. Ish said. Omi said. Target for next quarter is twenty thousand bucks. and even with twenty customers a day it meant only around two customers an hour. Young people like to shop in swanky malls. Three thousand a month is nothing. I have to watch matches. no? Ish said. And Ish doesnt let me keep notebooks and pencils. Kids with lots of time and patriotism flocked to Team India Cricket Shop the day they received their pocket money. We keep the four thousand for business. I didnt mind as it helped us pass the time. It is Govinds bullshit. What we sell is being used by kids in Nana Park. puzzled and irritated at the same time. we need to keep a war chest in case we want to renovate the store."Wait. This is contribution. I have expansion plans. and by next year have one more store. this isnt real profit. Three Months Later Eight thousand three. Dont you want a better glass countertop? Or nice lighting? Ish shook his head. Ok. Shah Electronics will give us on instalment if we pay a down-payment of four thousand. I dont want kids to think about studies when they come here. you stagnate. I dont want this short-sighted mentality. We earn th< rent first and then we will see. I was super-pleased. What do you mean retained? What do we need to retain it for? Ish questioned even as Omi happily counted his notes.. I will open a store in a mall. Renting? But we already have a shop. but it is a dead asset. not textbooks mind you. Ok. four and five hundred.

. given the higher demand and my track record. And where? In the temple? No. School stationery became the other hit item in the following weeks. I want to get to fifty thousand a quarter. Will you do coaching classes? I asked Ish. He wouldnt come here. you can give fitness training to the students. Yeah. Ish used the compound grounds for the two students who signed up for cricket tuitions. I had to admit. Customers for maths tuitions were easier to get. We offered a total solution. pens and pencils. What about you? Ish said. By the way. We kept the cricket coaching and tuitions at the same price -250 rupees a month. Only some kids played sports. He was excited about making kids do push-ups. I am making sure we have a solid healthy business. gum bottles. On match days. However. Of course. Ish gripped the cricket ball and showed him the wrist movement. It was an excellent turnover business. Ball keeps getting lost with his shots. but I had diversified my product offering. Ish said. Cmon guys. batsman. Omi and Ish looked at me like I was the hungriest shark in the world. Why not do cricket coaching for a fee? Me? I am not that good man. at least I will get to hit the pitch. Whats up Tapan? Ish asked a regular customer. suppliers came to us themselves. we will do it in the abandoned SBI compound. Omi. Here? Yes. They kept stuff on credit and returnable basis . I tossed in my fifteen hundred. someone buying a ball would buy a notebook. What? Kids love your cricket tips. or the other way round. maps of India. Shuttle cocks needed to be replaced. At five-rupee retail price and two-rupee cost price. we still spent most of our time in the shop. Three Apart from cricket. I am going to start offering maths tuitions again.They ignored me as they discussed TV brands. the girls only played badminton. Many times. rackets needed rewiring and badminton rackets didnt last as long as cricket bats. I shook my head and outlined my strategy for increasing revenues. Omi said. Soon. In fact. and we bought a TV the same day. Why? Arent we making enough? Omi said. It is only after you open a shop that you realise the length and breadth of the Indian student industry. It is ok. I changed the board on the shop. We can never make enough. Should we do greeting cards? I wondered as I opened a sample packet left by a supplier. You should come see him. and parents never said no to that. We set it permanently at the sports channel. Ish said. Just joined our school. Ali? New student? Havent seen him here. All good players visited our store and Ish knew them personally. this is the third ball in two weeks. Thirteen-year-old Tapan was one of the best bowlers of his age in the Belrampur Municipal School. but every kid needed notebooks. too. a couple here. So more work for us. They were the best players in the Belrampur Municipal School and had fought with their parents to let them try coaching for three months. I taught at the SBI compound building in the mornings. cards had solid margins. or in the SBI compound itself while you guys give cricket coaching. Yes. it made the day go by much quicker. I may not have diversified geographically. This is in-swinger. It is that nightmare Ali. we would all sit there until a customer arrived. badminton was the other popular game in Belrampur. it also said Stationery. water bottles and tiffin boxes.chart paper. Why did he move to our school? Tapan grumbled as he rubbed the ball on his shorts. Omi brought mats and cushions and spread them in front of the TV. right? Tapan said. and this is off-swinger. Under the Team India Cricket Shop. Cricket Coaching and Maths Tuitions available. Just the shop is so boring. Ish. people in Belrampur did not give each other greeting cards.

Bittoo Mama said. He held a box of sweets in a red velvet cloth. Where were you. I like being with them. You want to sign up for cricket tuitions. They are they only people Ij see with passion. Omi lied point-blank. Your shop is in a temple. he played at the district level. Yes. Statistically impossible. ruffling the boys hair. you saw that kid. Their bats will be replaced with physics books. he had never visited us. Other shopkeepers are useless baniyas so you will also become like them? Do you do puja every morning before you open? Yes. I looked at my feet. is this just about money for you? Money is nice. Why? Australia has twenty million people. Look at them. have a good game... Omi? Wearing shoes? Bittoo Mamas eyes were lined with kohl. we dont have to. It is not about the business Govind. You see this. Mama? Omi squeaked.. That is why India doesnt win every match. I picked a ladoo. Fresh from Baroda. I said and closed the cash box. We should always win. These kids. and you are wearing shoes? A Brahmin priests boy? Mama. Really. So there is no way we should be defeated by them. Ish insisted. so fifty times the talent. Then why are most grown-ups so grumpy? Why cant 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. No sports coaching. we will do a booze party. Australia should be a rounding error. thirteen-year-olds holding their bats with pride. It is ok. I wore fake Reebok slippers. Statistically. they will turn into depressed adults. have some besan ladoos. And then the spark will begin to die. Ish. Well. Mama. I toured all over Gujarat. with Parekh-ji. Mama? Omi said. Most of them used other Hindu boys to make their purchases.Ish nodded. Whatever. Our country has a billion people. ok. None of the other shopkeepers wear. She said I can only take tuitions for studies. I ordered a Frooti. Parents will spend thousands teaching kids useless trigonometry and calculus they will never use in real life. Soon. Then why? I said. we have them covered. Everyone needs a passion. Mummy will not allow. Ish has this ridiculous theory that India should win every match. They have a fire in their eyes before every little match at Nana Park. It wont be much of a game otherwise. Since the shop opened. I have mine. in two years time they will reach Class X. they dance. Dont worry. I could not help pitching our other service. cmon this is outside the temple. What an experience! Here. . Plus. Ish will teach you. Omi and Ish had gripped me tight from both sides until I relented. my friend. We had few Muslim customers. But if it is sports coaching. Our shop now offers both. Well. When India wins. He had a red tikka in the middle of his forehead. it is considered a waste of money. cricket is Indias only game while Australia has rugby and football and whatever. What is this. I laughed. Yet they win almost every match. Where is my son Omi? Bittoo Mama entered our shop at (losing time and proceeded to hug his nephew. Tapan said. Ish said. Of course. That is not true. We have fifty times the people. I shrugged. Ish pulled out stools and we sat outside. Ish wore his old sneakers. Ish said after Tapan left.. Govind. Or the way they want to learn to bowl better.

I said.You also. Mama said. working people will also come. Huh? This isnt politics. Hindu. You have your shop in such a pure place. Parekh-ji is a senior Hindu party leader. It sounds great. Hindu. Agnostic means maybe God exists. Mama looked surprised. "if we have more people like Bittoo. What. Its beautiful.. But get in touch with the greater responsibilities we have. traditional man who will force you to read scriptures. But Mama. It softened him a little. Mama. And I told Parekh-ji about you. Omi said. Its sharp blades glinted under the shops tubelight. I see in you the potential to teach Hindu pride to young people. Many young. Of course. Thanks. and then Harvard. not to perform rituals. such a shame. Ish. And he heads the biggest temple trust in Baroda. Yeah right only when six balls were left in a match. maybe he doesnt. We have to make sure Indias future generation understands Hindutva properly. which he sold and came back. Im working full time. referring to Ish and me. Ish explained. How come some people are so good at being polite. But you should come too. He . He said in me he sees the partys future. You should come too. No. What about you? Mama asked Ish. I worked day and night. What did you want to invite us for Mama? Omi said. Mama. Why did I have to or not have to believe in something? Ish offered the Frooti to Bittoo Mama. Doesnt believe in God? What kind of friends do you have Omi? Mama was aghast. What is your name? Govind. I dont know.. Oh. I pray and everything. I said. Ish said. Do you know where Parekh-ji went to college? Cambridge. it is not just priests.. You are Hindu hoys. I had come to invite you and look at you. At least remove your shoes. but also talks to him twice a day.. We come here to work. Bittoo said. but I dont know if we can. I want to invite you to a grand feast to Parekh-jis house. Mama. no? 1 am agnostic. I will come. Bittoo Mama said. I dont like politics. Next Monday in Gandhinagar. This is a way of life. He said. Ish said.? He is not sure if there is God or not. We are not just priests who speak memorised lines at ceremonies. Omi. You young kids. you think Parekh-ji is some old. Why? Dont worry. Omi looked at me. people will be proud to be Hindu again. Agno. He had a big hotel business in America. We need young blood. that is an atheist. He lifted the red velvet cloth and unwrapped a three-foot-long brass trishul. It is a gift from Parekh-ji. Mama took a large sip and shifted his gaze to Omi and Ish As far as he was concerned I did not exist. I turned my gaze away. We visited every district in Gujarat. Nobody told me how to run my business. Omi said. Where did you get it from? Omi queried. Ish and I looked at Omi for footnotes. Mama? Parekh-ji not only knows the CM. Ish said. I now paid full rent every month to be in this shop. he knows the CM or something. Govind what? Govind Patel. light a lamp. I hate it when people take my religious status for confusion. I clarified. Dont worry about Govind. irritated as I wanted to shut the shop and go home. Ish stayed hesitant. He is confused. blasphemous me got no invitation. Ish. I am not telling you to leave everything. son." He made me the recruitment incharge for young people in Ahmedabad.

Another person may see the abandoned SBI branch as an eerie party venue. I came to the gate and gave Romi Bhai the days newspaper. I took out the bottle opener from the kitchen shelf. All three of you. He nodded and left. anything. man. This used to be an old mans haveli. on the day of the party. Ill give Omi the address. I had stapled ten hundred-rupee notes. As part of the bank branch. where we kept everything from Maggi noodles to boxes of crackers to burst when India won a match. forget it. We had parked ourselves on the sofas in the old customer waiting area downstairs. Ish walked into the bank.agreed to supply a crate of extra strong beer for a thousand bucks. We hung out most in the havelis backyard. On the third page of the newspaper. I did organise an all-expense-paid booze party to motivate my partners at the shop. I came to invite the three of you in the first place. I dragged the cloth package inside and placed the bottles in the three ice-filled buckets I had kept in the kitchen. Oh. The court official kept a key with Omis dad. Well. Romi Bhai left the beer -wrapped in rags . the family obtained a court injunction that the bank could not use the property for profit. and he used to play cricket too. partners.talks your language. I take delivery. Of course. Sorry. Omi arrived in ten minutes. The three bedrooms on the first floor were the branch managers office. The owner could not repay and the bank foreclosed the property. Mama looked at me. Ish corrected. the bank opened a branch in the haveli. miser. it was the lawn of a rich family. In its prime. The owners family filed a lawsuit after he died. The dispute still unresolved. watching cricket highlights. our practice pitch. let alone bulky bottles of beer. He made apologies about his dad holding him back to clean the temple. clean up the place and wait for my lords to arrive. Ish went to the kitchen to get some bhujia. Mama stood up. I thought.30. I said. said Ish the idiot. The front entrance directly opened into the living room. No. the data room and the locker room. The property was a six-hundred square yard plot. huge by Belrampur standards. Meanwhile. I said. wait. The branch managers office had a giant six-feet vault. They vacated the premises and gave the keys to the court. Wow. He only said he doesnt believe in God. We kept our cricket kit in the otherwise empty safe. Thereafter. strong beer. .at the SBI compound entrance. This was done in case officials needed to view it and the court was closed. So late. Partners. In his eyes. I rotated the beer bottles in the ice bucket to make them equally cold. At 7 p. for the Cambridge college team. It is 8. Should we open a bottle? No. I am the only fool. I reclined on the sofa. Oh. SBI realised that a tiny by lane in Belrampur was a terrible branch location.Romy Bhai . One of my contacts . it was an under-utilised parking lot and now. Omi then prayed for forgiveness before drinking alcohol. no one ever came and Omi had access to the keys. greedy. I didnt say that. But the fact is. It is bloody hard to get alcohol in Ahmedabad. It is the grandest house in Gandhinagar.  People called me Mr Accounts. Then come. I was the reason why Hindu culture had deteriorated lately. I will come if Govind comes. Ish said as he picked up a bottle. Omi here? Ish said as he opened the packet. now an abandoned bank customer service area. a trustworthy man in the area.m.

It is for your sister. And the remaining 2. I want to see this Ali kid. I said nothing for a while.. in sixty-three balls? No one forgets that innings. This business and its profit is all owed to Stud-boy. Three customers have mentioned him. Where does he play? I enquired through a mouthful of bhujia.600 rupees. Stud-boy. Vidya to join medical college? Is she that old now? Almost eighteen. And she is awful at it. Lets go check him out. Ish slurred.000 is for the Navrangpura shop deposit. Mr Govind Patel. You are the best man. Omi stood up and patted Ishs back again. Omi said. we have distributed 18.000 to the partners and 22. the beer did not taste half as bad. As did everyones mood. Spurious alcohol is a real issue in Ahmedabad. Stop talking like your Mama? Ish scolded. thank you. I would not have said it. "What is this? Is this genuine stuff? Ish asked.. our profit is 42. the taste improved considerably after half a bottle. Mr Accounts.. but the entrance exams do. And so does this fool whod be otherwise jingling bells in the temple all his life. standing up. Looks like the school has your worthy successor. I think we should thank our sponsors for tonight . In seven months of operation. dude. Dont worry we will pay you. Screw that. I teach younger kids though. class five to eight. He came forward to give me a hug. It was a sensitive topic and if it was not for the beer. Seven students already. Succeeding Ish is hard. If you filled your mouth with bhujia. Nah. So. It is just strong. and lets say cheers to the second bottle. Your sister? She finished Class XII. The Muslim boy? Omi said.The Team India Cricket Shop. We paused for a moment. which was little. dude. Oh. as if the ten-year-old match had ended minutes ago. and tasted only slightly better than phenyl. 1 said. buddy. you were out of form. Of which. Ish said and paused again. Ok. man. Omi said. Ish said and took a big sip. Shut up. I said. trying to remember what I knew of Vidya. Give me a hug. Ish turned silent. dear shareholders and partners. No. No. What are you thinking. I took out the second bottle for each of us from the ice bucket. Stud-boy. You dont need maths to become a doctor. But those are the matches that fucking mattered. Will you do me one more favour buddy? Ish said. In our school. It was bitter. When do we start? . Just try she needs any help she can get. Kids say his most common shot is a six. I am not in touch. It was drunk affection. What? There is someone who wants maths tuitions. Ish said. then I mean. man. But you got a fucking century in that subject. Ill do it. Is that relevant? They say he has excellent timing. I took a breath. Ish. It is Vidya. Because of you this dropout military cadet has a future. I am full. She is dropping a year now to prepare for the medical entrance. but genuine enough.Cheers! all of us said as we took a big sip. Remember the hundred against Mahip Municipal School. nobody makes fake beer. No one forgets the two ducks in the state selection trials either. Wow.. Thank you. In fact.. who else can I trust? If it is your sister. Ish said. Her course is more advanced.600 is for entertainment like tonight. right? Now can we flip the topic? Omi backed off and I gladly changed the subject.. I said as Ish interrupted me. I know.

dude. Ok. Cold water splashed on the floor as we tugged at the bottle. What? I said. no Monday is Parekh-jis feast. I stood as well. Omi what the fuck are we going to do there? The things we do to keep your Mama happy. Mr Accounts. Maybe I should have accepted a fee. So is she going to come to the bank? Dad will never send her out alone. We drank three each. Ill move some classes. And I always listen to you guys. Ish dived in as well. Parekh ji is supposed to be a great man. What would I do without you? . Ish said. The question is not where the tenth one is. Where is the tenth one? Ish stood up swaying. he released it. You come home. Damn. now can you answer one maths question. Omi said. What? You ordered a crate with ten bottles. Anyway. Take it. Come for me this time. Say seven in the evening? Sure. but who does it belong to. I lunged for the ice bucket. After a ten-second tiff.. I said to Ish. Tuesday then. I couldnt wait to move to Navrangpura..Can you start Monday .

Ish and 1 exchanged a what-are-we-doing-here glance. He told us Parekh-ji would make a speech after dinner. what a gathering. And who is Parekh-ji? Well. Ish? Everyone shushed as Parekh-ji came to the centre of the living room. I want to especially welcome the team on the right from the Sindhipur temple. one grey-saffron and one baldsaffron. They have returned from kar seva in Ayodhya for over a month. just wear it. I had worn a blue T-shirt and couldnt find my colour zone. He carried a red velvet cushion with him. Ish passed his Jain-dimsum to Omi. A Gujarati feast consisted of every vegetarian snack known to man. He touched their feet and everyone blessed him.. . I looked around while everyone chanted in Sanskrit. We moved to the massive food counter. but there was juice of every fruit imaginable. We need them badly. Considering Omi met these kind of people often. Apart from us. Omi said. So he is a hybrid. What? I am not. The people in white are the political party people. Shh . you regret you have only one stomach. Everyone bowed to a group of six saffrons holding trishuls. I took a jain pizza and looked around the massive living room. Like a shoal of fishes. Or that is what he says to be humble. Who are these people? I asked idly. But still people keep saying it. Welcome devotees. Omi went to meet a group of two bald-whites. he is a guide. looking like the protagonists of those ugly duckling stories in our mismatched clothes. Omi said and showed us how to wrap it around our neck. welcome to my humble home. which looked quite comfortable. See. Let us bow to them and seek blessings. But actually. black Metallica T-shirt. At parties like this. They ended their chants after a minute and Parekh-ji began his speech. I deduced. Omi gave him a dirty look. a poli-priest. Ish cracked his knuckle once. He knows the politicians really well. Everyone closed their eyes. Ish said. Bittoo Mama came with three saffron scarves and handed them to us. He signalled everyone to sit down on the carpet. From an aarti plate. Parekh-ji continued. Food in Gujarat was always good. Why arent you eating any dimsums? I dont like Chinese. Bittoo is working hard for the party.Four We reached Parekh-jis residence at around eight in the evening. apart from me. There were fifty guests dressed in either white or saffron. The food is excellent. Have dinner before the talk begins. There was pin-drop silence. who brought them. the saffrons separated from the whites and sat down in two neat sections. he is the chairperson of the main temple 1 rust.. sort of a perfect crowd blend. dozens of lamps and fresh flowers. Bittoo Mama tugged at Omis elbow and asked us to join the saffron set. Two armed guards manning the front gate let us in after checking our names.. It is quite simple. Parekh-ji wore a saffron dhoti and white shirt. 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. The entrance of the house had an elaborate rangoli.. Thanks to Bittoo Mama. We also have some young people today. The people in saffron are priests or other holy men from around the city. He will support our candidate Hasmukh-ji for the election next year. Ish looked oddly out of place with his skull and crossbones. Parekhji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. too. I protested to Omi. Bittoo Mama met us at the door. There was no alcohol.. Where the hell do we sit? Ish said as he turned to me. he had one Of the highest per-capita-blessings ratio in India. Can you be more respectful? And what is this T-shirt. no? Omi returned. he put big red tikkas on our foreheads. Omi said. We sat there.

We tried to submit proof. Thousands of years your service. The Gita tells Arjun to fight a virtuous war. Hindus asked for the resurrection of one temple. gesturing at the priests. but the Hindu does not assert himself. And you might say a hundred bad things about a businessman. Stuffed toys and posters with cheesy messages like I am the boss adorned the walls of the room.extra clean.  I reached Ishaans house at 7 p. Ish whispered in my ear. We are not communal. our wise men thought of such wonderful values. We are independent now.m. 250 years by the British. They call themselves secular.Gujarat. And what other way is there to get involved than join politics? So. The audience gave a mini applause. I used the break to step out into the front garden of Parekh-jis house and sit on an intricately carved swing. But no. The audience broke into full applause. round the corner. Parekh-ji. Because the poor Hindu is accustomed to being ruled by someone else . we are honest. My knees were stiff with pain from sitting cross-legged. I am a servant of God. He knows how the parts add up. followed by two bhajans by a couple of priests from Bhuj. I dont have the answers. Ish and I were too overfed to react. man. Parekh-ji said. Parekh-ji spoke inside for ten more minutes. that was considered unreasonable. You here? Can we go home? I said. Is this justice? Should we keep bearing it? I am just an old man. We are a state of businessmen. I wondered if I should stop bearing pain right then and stretch my legs.Everyone looked at us and gave smiling nods. Ish came out. Parekh-ji said.700 years by Muslims. So. it is because we have been bearing pain for a long time. valid even today. but you cannot deny that a businessman sees reality. Her room had the typical girlie look . So at some point we are meant to fight back. At the same time. Hindus being asked to compromise. but they say we are hardliners. The priests nodded. we dont elect the pseudo-secular parties. I looked at the stars above and thought of the man on the velvet cushion. including Omi. She sat at her study table. After his speech there were a few more closing mantras. Parekh-ji continued: I dont even want to go into who this country belongs to. but they say Muslims are downtrodden. Even though I found the whole gathering and the magic red cushion a bit over the top. to accept. We nodded back. But if I as a Hindu want justice. More Hindu kids sleep hungry every night than Muslim. Devotees. I . how the world works. todays discussion is "How much bearing is enough? Until when does a Hindu keep bearing pain?" Everyone nodded. inaudible to me. We said we will move the mosque respectfully. But they wont give it to us. And we do bear a lot. here I am half saffron. We wont stand for hypocrisy or unfairness. Parekh-jis logic was flawless. Vigorous nods shook the crowd. extra cute and extra pink. You know where this hope comes from . And today you great men pass on these values to society. They teach us patience. half white . I didnt want to join politics. Just pure simple politics. That is why. Not any temple. a temple where one of our most revered gods was born. to bear. but that was suppressed. even if those faiths do not accept us. They teach us acceptance of all faiths. And right now. the Hindu religion teaches us to bear a lot. It is politics. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time. They say to me. I see that injustice again. I was both attracted to and repelled by him. Our scriptures tell us not to harm others. When is that point is something to think about. It was strange. on Tuesday. the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. And if we react. why do you know so many politicians? I say. But what makes me sad is that we are not even treated as equals. I need to get involved in how the country is rum. Parekh-ji stopped to have a glass of water. but they give preference to the Muslims? We fight for equal treatment and are called communal? The most brutal terrorists are Muslim. But there is hope.

I think you are approaching it the wrong way. Really? I said. Hmmm. pulling her kameez sleeve up to her elbow. She sat up straight and shook her head. maths means vomit so that is ruled out. But mom and dad wont let me. I heard some people have to walk two miles to get water in Rajasthan. She stopped to breathe. I also noticed her thin arm. You dont like it much or you dont understand a few things and so you dont like it yet? Maths can be fun you know. I know you scored a hundred and you are in love with it. So which areas of maths are you strong in? None really. then getting a tooth extraction is fun. It is a troubled relationship we have shared for years. Let me make myself clear. so lets make up some creepy symbols and manipulate them to haunt every generation of kids. See I already have them. Maths is the worst thing ever invented by man. this subject does not go away. struggled with it. I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. I thought the little pink dots on her skin were more from her emotional outburst than maths. Nothing. I will choose the former. Fun? she said with a disgusted expression. with an exceptionally long lifeline. 1 said. she said. Oh ho ho. Engineering has maths. . Her brown eyes looked at me with full attention. dont go there. disturbed at such indifference to my favourite subject. But remember. I positively hate maths. my mouth still open. and depressed by it.. How can I tame a wild beast? What? Goosebumps. Who cares if sin theta is different from cos theta? Who wants to know the expansion of the sum of cubes? Wow. I am not just approaching it. People have nightmares about monsters. Medicine is the other choice and my exit pass. I have lived. Actually. And fun? If maths is fun. What were they thinking? Language is too easy. she said. in most parts of the world maths means only one thing to students. How do women come up with these ideas? What? she said as I checked out her arm for a moment too long. Yes. I dont like maths much. not to make you like it. Her hand had deep lines. Trigonometry? Whatever. From classes one to twelve. Between an electric shock or a maths test. Excuse me? I want to get out of Ahmedabad.. I have nightmares about surprise maths tests. I immediately opened a textbook. I get disgusted. Algebra? Nope. it is for a prestigious course like medicine or engineering. My job is to teach you maths. She had applied a glittery silver-white nailpolish only on the outer edge of the nails. You want to be a doctor I heard. compromised. I couldnt help but notice that her childlike face was in the process of turning into a beautiful womans. Unless. of course. I had the urge to get up and run away.sat on the chair. Her fingers seemed long as they were so thin. Rabies shots are fun. everyday. A viral infection is fun. For me it occupies a place right up there with cockroaches and lizards. thats some reaction. Calculus? She raised her eyebrows as if I had mentioned a horror movie. nauseated. It was so fair you could see three veins running across. But they have this medical entrance exam and. I would trade my maths problems for that walk. I want to go to a college in Mumbai.

there. Most clueless. so lets use this example to start the basic premise of probability.. Now lets say I take all the cards and put them in a sack. That is simple. On the opposite wall were posters of Westlife. I want a coloured card. I noticed her impeccably done-up room. I said and wrote down. of course. Duh! she said. probably. though. she said. . Hrithik Roshan. so can we start with this? Sure. How many? Five coloured ones. I controlled my irritation. And you didnt vomit. How many different cards can come out if I put out one card from the stack of twenty? Er . I told you probability is interesting. is easily the most fun. But the basic concept needs to be understood first. She reread what I wrote for a few moments. you are going ahead. But the exam problems are harder. scanning the cards. twenty? Yes. Looks like there are a few scoring areas that are relatively easier. she said at last. what is the probability the card is coloured? Why would you put them in a sack? she said. Some are coloured. How ma different coloured cards can come out if I pull one? Five? Yep. Next to them was a wall of greeting cards.I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. She kept two pens parallel to the notebook. I saw your medical entrance exam course. Most are white. five. Statistics is another ten per cent. tucked in pink bedsheets. She opened the first page of the probability chapter like she was the most diligent student in India. No equations here. probability. which topic would you like to start with? Anything without equations. Hypothetical. See this. brushing aside a strand of hair. she said and took out a brand new exercise book. We will get there. I looked around for a11 easy example. Lets look at the denominator. So. I said. I ignored the information overload. I opened the medical exam entrance guide and turned it towards her. Ok. her eyes asking so? Cool. probability = 5/20 = 0. Probability can be defined as. The probability is 0. Well. or twenty-five per cent. This and permutations will be twenty-five per cent of the maths exam. See. I said and placed the pen back on the table. Backstreet Boys. 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. What is the chance? I dont know. Probability = No of times something you want happens (5) / No of times something can happen (20) So. I dumbed down the problem for her and she duh-ed me. And now the numerator.. but lets see. Probability. I wanted to come to the point. Some attitude. I had my birthday two months ago. I said. Like what? Like what what? What everyday problems can you solve? she quizzed. Good. See those cards? They are birthday cards from my school friends.25 There you go. And since I had only an hour and the tutorial equivalent of climbing Everest barefoot. Then I pull out one card. I say this because you can actually use the concepts in probability to solve everyday problems.25. And so lets apply our wordy formula. Say there are twenty of them.

The slow ball pitched midway and took its time to reach the crease. I dont want to play now. The ball surged high as Ish and I looked at it for its three seconds of flight . and I hate people who are not focused. We only have an hour. Some kids volunteered to be fielders. I couldnt understand the fuss in seeing this delicate. I think he was trying to control his reaction for Ishs sake. Ok. Sorry. Ali spun on one leg as if in a dance and connected . Alis bat had not hit the ball. Ish took an eight step run-up. She rushed to her bedside table to pick up the phone. Ilease come today. as he stopped near me. lets do another one. Twenty boys circled Ali. Ish took an eleven-step run-up for the next ball. He strained hard to look at the bowler. You like coffee? I like probability and you should too. The bat reached almost two-thirds his height. No thanks. Lets go. The crowd clapped. Is. Ali took the crease. The boy could play. how can I close business? I said. . Leave it. Relax Paras. He always plays marbles.six! Ish looked at Ali and nodded in appreciation. The ball bounced to Alis shoulder. The kid sucked in air after every word. lsh said as he slipped on his chappals.six! Three balls. I have turned down many students for this class.Ish looked molested. Omi had already stepped out. Do your fun activities later. almost malnourished boy sat on the ground. Ali took a stance again and scrunched his face. No SMS-ing in my class. Thwack. girlie features be damned! The medium pace ball rose high on the bounce and smash! Another six.. three sixes . I like coffee. I finished three more problems in the next half an hour. I said. I said.. I dont like to have too much tea. Five You. ignoring my compliment. I kept silent and waited for her to come back. The crowd backed off. Ishs run-up was fake. she said. Must. She sat on the bed and read her message. Oh me neither. I locked the cashbox and told the owner of the flower shop next to ours to keep watch. She was zapped at my firmness. Come. I said sorry She picked up her pen again and opened the cap in disgust. But I am no Mr Nice. a voice said from the centre of the crowd. partially due to the sun but also in irritation for not receiving a real delivery.. She dropped her pen and leaped to her phone. Ali. Omi became the wicket keeper. The crowd clapped as Ish took a short run-up. lsh told the panting boy. Let us say we have a jar with four red and six blue marbles. Good job! I praised her as she solved a problem.I was interrupted by two beeps on her cellphone. but his pride. I stood near the bowlers end. We reached our schools familiar grounds. Shes stupid. For the next ball. its not that hard when you focus. A grown man bowling pace to a twelve-year-old is silly. I will go if you dont concentrate. My school friend. she smiled fondly at the phone. Ali moved his bat in a smooth movement and connected. He doesnt play cricket that often. Now? It is only four. You want tea? she said. Ish looked at the boy and bowled a simple lollipop delivery. lsh bhaiya. his face covered with his hands. It is a slow day anyway. Its just. A thin. she said as she stopped her hand midway. See. Omis mouth was open but he focused on wicket-keeping. He grunted when the ball left his hand. Especially those who hate maths. doe-eyed boy play. at the umpires slot.. He had come running from the Belrampur Municipal School and was insisting we go with him. Now.. Ish gave a half smile. Can we do the next problem? Her cellphone beeped again.

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

Naseer Alam.  Welcome. Ish said. If! Bittoo Mama finds out. forget sports. nice to have someone young in my clinic for a change. I said. Ali looked at me with his two green marbles. I will teach the best player in Belrampur. Ish said. . ask abba. Doctor is fine. he sat down after four balls. but yes. idiot) for him. We are not teaching a Muslim kid. You like cricket. lsh said. They can barely teach the course there. Lets go. Ali said. Team India? I suggested. Make sure he never comes near the temple. What name did you say? Omi said.. Theyll ruin him in that school. seventh pol. His head was hurting after four balls. I chimed in.What? You will teach that mullah kid? Omis face turned worrisome. His once black hair had turned white. He is just across the street. Shh. Dr Verma removed his spectacles. Questions? This boy is gifted in cricket. What? Dr Verma said. He said his head hurt Dr Verma turned to Ali. Ish took four chocolates (at the shops expense. I cajoled. third house on the ground floor. We just teach him at the bank. baba? No. What happened? Nothings wrong. Ill teach him for free. Doctor? I said. for Indian parents cricket equals time waste. I like marbles. You know like. Also. Ali accepted the chocolates but said no to cricket coaching. Omi said almost hysterically. We need the shop for a few more months. Ish said. Ish said. Omi murmured. We also need to go to the doctor. like always. Unbelievable but true. One dozen for you if you come to the doctor. Some people are just talented. Ish said. Give me abbas name and address. His wrinkles had multiplied since I last met him three years ago. We have some questions. For coaching class. Omi gave in to Ish. I said. Bittoo Mama will kill me. a reward for every sixer. Two dozen if you come for one cricket coaching class in the morning. Then well go to his house. baba. He wont know. Dont overreact. I want to teach him. Does what? Dr Verma said. He slammed sixes on all of them. The doctor put his torch down. I said. Ish and Omi just exchanged stares. Omi vetoed. dont tempt fate. I said. Omi is right. Naseer Alam. Dr Verma said and switched on his torch out of habit. Special blue ones from Jaipur. Dr Vermas clinic is in the next pol. I am not going. He rubbed his fifty-year-old eyes. I have heard the name somewhere. I said.. I bowled four balls to him. Ali protested for the fifth time. Ish said. That kid has serious potential. Your choice. and a foot-stomping no to meeting the doctor.. Ish said. Ultimately. Youll have to talk to his parents if you want him to pay. Old age sucks. Ali repeated. but Ish ignored him. But I cant recall. Lets go open the shop first. And who is this little tiger? Open your mouth. I want to know how he does it. Our shop has marbles. I am not going to any Muslim house. he will kick us out of the shop. For the rest of the argument.. But still. He knew lsh was one of the best players in the neighbourhood. Its business time. ★ No cricket. I want a doctor to see him before we begin practicing.

We nodded as Dr Multani continued: In reflex action. How? I blurted. Multani. Dr Multani said and munched a kliakra. the long way is used and we are aware of it. in sports it is crucial. Apart from reflex action. Normally. Ali said. Dr Multani paused for a sip of water and continued. Verma. But there is more. Omi ducked. Dr Multani paused to open . second way thats faster but less accurate. I can take you tomorrow if you want. I )r Multani said. You may think he hit that superfast delivery of yours by luck. Ish is right.This is more complicated than the usual viral fever. Like it was a soft throw. a computerised hand-eye coordination exam. yet his decision making is as accurate as the analysed mode. the human brain makes decisions in two other ways. Are we done? Ali said and yawned. Eyesight is fantastic. Let us check your eyes. He did every test imaginable . Dr Verma said and stood up to go" to the testing room. analysed mode . When I ihrow this at you. the boy is exceptionally gifted. Call it a quickthink mode. I reached for my wallet. the brain chooses the shortcut way. Dr Multani said. but his brain saw its path easily. It is an aberration in medical terms. One is the long. I havent met him for a year. And then there is a separate. He had spent two hours with Ali. Dr Multani lifted a round glass paper weight from I lis table and pretended to hurl it at Omi. I miss my sports-doctor days. Play marbles in the garden outside if you want. Thus. The Matrix style MRI. quickthink or reflex. Dr Multani said only one word as he held up Mis MRI scan. Dr Multani picked up the MRI scan again. except if we touch something too hot or too cold.1 few reports and picked up another khakra. And Ali? Ish said. for a little headache.analysed.a fitness check. What happened after the four balls. Dr Verma s. you didnt do a conscious think to duck away. I recommend you meet my friend Dr Multani from the city hospital. So Ali has good reflexes. What was in those tests that said Ali could smash any bowler to bits. He kept quiet until Ali left. forget try to catch it. We nodded. It is not just a headache. the brain short-circuits the thinking process and acts. it just happened. retinal scans. a blood test. baba? Whenever I play with concentration. Alis brain is fascinating. Dr Verma gave me a stern glance to stop. second and even the third reflex way of thinking is fused. The boy has hyper-reflex. However. His response time is as fast as that of a reflex action. In fact. He is an eye specialist and used to be a team doctor for a baseball team in USA. But I bowled fast. His first. . but proving to be a gift for cricket. Thats it? Ish said. Almost. That was some work. my head starts hurting. However. proved most useful. I heard the rustle of marbles. returning. He was using a catapult to shoot one marble to hit another one. what do you do? You reflexively try to prevent 1 he attack.the problem goes through a rigorous analysis in our brain and we decide the course of action. But sometimes. His reflexes are at least ten times better than ours. where Ali had to lie down head first inside a chamber. Fascinating. in urgent situations. I looked at Ali outside from the window. Hyper reflex. Sports has moments that requires you to think in every possible way . He ordered tea and khakra for all of us. the response time is superfast. He slid his hands into his pocket. This love for Amdavad made me give up a lot. He can just about duck. It matters little in everyday life. Hyper what? Omi echoed. I didnt give you an advance warning and everything happened in a split second.iid. Dr Verma said.

if you hit him with a fast ball he will get hurt. Omi refused as all looked at him. Multani. he is in politics full time now. It look us a minute to digest Dr Multanis words. I cant. I had thrown them purposely apart. Here. Yes. it . One. Only to his brain. To him a pace delivery is slow motion? Ish tried again. this boys brain is wired differently. He changes direction of the already fast ball. And he has to learn the other aspects of cricket. He is weak. Dr Multani. Because hes a Muslim. He is too young. A normal player needs years of practice to ensure his second way gets as accurate to play well. Id suggest you keep this boy and his talent under wraps for now. Have you seen other gifted players like him? I wanted to know. Omi will make him eat and make him fit. almost malnourished. You see what we have here? Ish spoke. That is his gift. two. Moved from a pure Muslim to a secular party. three. Dr Multani sighed. How about the state academy? Dr Verma said. he used to campaign in the university elections. The boy has no stamina. the iloctor said. Shut up. four . remember Naseer from the Muslim University? Ali is his son. not a clinic Dr Verma chuckled. I agree. And Omi will help. time to go. so I suggest you dont make a big noise about it He is Indian team material. Ali uses the first. Not to this degree. And he is untrained. Yes. Some may call it a defect. Ish looked at Dr Verma. His headaches are a problem. We left the clinic.. Ish said. A priests son teaching a Muslim boy. under a training regimen. 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. you know he is. we will see. Ish vowed. but his brain can register it and act accordingly. but I have heard that he has toned a magic wand his left hand moved. Used to be a firebrand once. not at the moment.ilso tires quickly. thats the issue then. Can that happen? Ish said. Oh. When the time comes. that Naseer? Yes. surprised. Ali. He remained in his squat position and raised his left hand high. Of course. I found out after you guys left yesterday. Anyway. He doesnt hit much. The energy in that ball is mostly yours. Omi said quickly. If it is hard to visualise . Theyll ruin him. Omi stood up. Ali looked away from his game and saw the marbles midair. Dr Verma. Well. as it analyses fast. We definitely had to use the first way of thinking to understand it.Yes. tell I hem why I cant. Ali doesnt need to. Dr Verma said. I took out four marbles from my pocket and called Ali. Muslim and poor. He needs to stay in the game. He has to survive Until his brain gets refreshed to use the gift again. Ish said. I threw the four marbles high in the air towards him. catch. Sometimes I feel I run a gossip centre. Dr Multani paused. But how can he hit so far? Ish said. I am going to coach him. No. While his brain can analyse fast. He caught every single one of them. . for instance.. Omi. I dont think he ever runs between the wickets. I dont want to teach him. gave Ish a disapproving glance and left the room.

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

Ours is a secular party. Ish jumped in. One guy hits a ball with a stick. Why are you so keen to teach Ali cricket? Alis dad said. It is not secular. no. Not really. Alis dad said as he spooned in daal. Alis dad said. Please. I insist. I miss him. In school and now I have a sports store. I said. The question was enough to light up Ishs face. have some more chapattis. Thats strange. He did not touch the food.. For us. I dont eat meat. you didnt eat anything. Sorry I cant offer you meat.chapattis. Is it good? Yes. I said. Ali has a gift. At least have some fruit. Ish pulled Omis elbow to make him sit down. but not the years of medical expenses that wiped me out. lsh said. that is all you know. behave yourself. I would have disagreed. we are leaving or not? Omi. examined it. Their role is confined to teaching Islamic culture. I had to leave the campus quarters. He died six months ago. daal and a potato-cauliflower vegetable. I had to teach her again the next day. but none like Ali. a massive maths tuition chain outside every madrasa. The Belrampur Municipal School was close. He spoke animatedly. Alis father said. Omi sat down. They dont teach maths in madrasas? I asked for the sake of conversation and mathematics. You play cricket? Alis father said. so I put him there. His long fingers reminded me of his sisters. You see how he blossoms with my training. It is suck-ular party. When I retired from university. You know I am a member of the secular party? We saw the sign. Here. Let him play marbles and fail maths. No wonder Muslims like you flock there. The party wanted me to move here. Alis mom brought us two extra large plates. But its just a game. Bittoo is your Mama? Alis dad said. If Bittoo Mama finds out I am here. Maths and science are forbidden. To share a single plate is strangely intimate. I would have done it earlier. offended. I dont care. Its more than that. We wont hold that against you. Now Ish. the rest run around to stop it. And thats why you had him switch schools? lsh said. I am a priests son. offering him some bananas. Omi took one. Yes. Suck-up politics. Ish said passionately. you will never understand. Alis dad said. You are telling me to come visit your party? I am a Hindu. You are our mehmaan. Oh. He drank a glass of water. The plates had simple food . In this day and age. I thought of a business opportunity. one for the three of us and another for Alis dad. Dig in guys. lsh and I broke off the same chapatti. and gobbled it in three bites. Not in this one. . Damn. Alis dad said. hospitality is important. But if you have never played it. horrified at the idea of eating in a Muslim home. we studied there for twelve years. Madrasas were not even supposed to be schools. Omi said. I am sorry. Omi said. An awkward pause followed. We sat on the living room floor.No. I said. Ish said. son? Alis dad said. Alis father grinned. Do you know who you are talking to? I am Pandit Shastris son. Ive seen players. we came for Ali. but my father was adamant Ali goes to a madrasa. You have seen the Swami temple in Belrampur or not? His voice was loud. Omi. How does that matter.. The food looks great. but I wanted to get something for the free maths-andcricket coaching programme. This is all we have today. Would you like to come and visit our party sometime? Omi suddenly stood up. He was unwell for a long time.

Alis father said. I wasnt sure if Omi really believed in what he said. And a suck-up party will never win in Belrampur. We believe it is the birthplace of our lord. I was in a hardline party. he strikes a chord. it is not Cool to talk about it. he was confused and trying to find his passion. You have a right to your views.7 a. Incorrect. I am also new to secular politics. Omi rarely flared up. somewhere deep down.He is your opposition. And we. it took several pacifying tactics to get him back to normal. like most people. but took the banana. yes. Because we can see through your hypocrisy. I made a few mistakes too. Alis dad said and paused to reflect. Calm down. Omi said. stop. Your party gives preference to Muslims. A common chord of resentment is brewing Mr Naseer. I will walk you boys to the main road. I wont. cant have that one little request fulfilled. India is a free country. Dont be silly. wondering if he had changed his mind after Omis outbursts. We said. dont tell me about being extreme. did he also feel like Bittoo Mama? If Ishs passion was cricket and my passion was business. have a banana. The communal parties arent perfect either. Let him speak his mind. but it is secular. Omi resisted. I know you are hungry. We are communicating our differences. Whatever. Here. Its ok. Because there is a mosque there already But there was a temple there before. But because Hindus dont talk.m. He taught you all this? Alis dad almost smirked. The government keeps hiding those reports. There you go. Omi said fiercely. I rarely get young people to talk to. Alis dad said. Why cant you let us make a temple in Ayodhya? Omi said. Here is the bias. Dont even try to convert people from our party to yours. Parekh-ji is right. Ish soothed. You still fine with sending your son? I asked Alis dad. That is not proven. He didnt teach us. Its ok. . I guess even Alis dad loved to argue. Lets go. Alis dad said. Son. son. And unlike us who never took him seriously. was Omis passion religion? Or maybe. I dont have anything to say. you should know. Our cause is labelled communal. even if it is not talked about A lot of Hindus vote for us. What preference have we given? Alis dad said. but when he did. Hah. Alis dad said. But why are you so against us? The party has ruled the country for forty years. Omi. Why? Omi said. Omi said. what hope does a Hindu have in this country? Oh. but dont get extreme. | We stood up to leave and reached the door. Sit down. But slowly they will see the truth. Come. you call us communal. That is what is missing in this country. Can we please make a pact to not discuss politics? Ish pleaded as he signalled a timeout. the majority. or if he was revising lessons given by Parekh-ji." But you cant even do that. Ish. I trust you with my son. My only advice is Hinduism is a great religion. perhaps Parekh-ji gave him a sense of purpose and importance. We know which religion is extreme. son. and we will move the mosque respectfully next door. we must be doing something right. He never spoke about this to Ish and me. Omi sat down and Ish massaged his shoulder. so it is Parekh-ji. It is not an ordinary place. It has. You wont rule Gujarat anymore. Ish said. but. "Give us that site. Whatever. lsh confirmed the practice time . I like to take a walk after dinner. Alis dad said. you think they dont feel anything? Why do you think people listen to Parekh-ji? because somewhere deep down.

Behind the beard and the moustache. You know I used to teach zoology in college. I went upstairs to the vault to look at Alis books.We walked out of Alis house. Good point.. They kiss each other. on the lips. like all political parties. Yes. Any? Ish said. The image of kissing chimpanzees stayed with me all night. lsh said. females. Alis dad said. His decision on how many rounds the kids must run was arbitrary. they go through a strange ritual. causing divides . Ish said. I took him upstairs and opened the vault. Ish said as we waved goodbye. So Hindus and Muslims should kiss? I said. They were both Alis age but looked stronger. The resentment brews and brews. The two guys get busy fighting. To make sure the fight gets resolved and the pack stays together. Creating differences. I am not particularly fond of my own party Really? I said when no one said anything. The notebooks were blank. And I once read about chimpanzee fights that may be relevant here. Omi held his head down. Cricket first. run around the backyard twenty times. taking sides. In fact. Tell Ali to be on time. with hugs. Youl cant really check it. He wanted I lis after-dinner paan. Keep the books away. two other kids had also come for cricket practice. after the fight. because at one level. Ali came on time in a white kurta pajama. In all this. and some people tell them to make amends and eat half plate each. but Omi is right. It sounds harsh. The maths textbook was for Class VII. there was a wise man somewhere. But Alis dad was not finished. Ali chose an empty locker and put down his books. Paresh and Naveen. I said. These reconciliatory mechanisms are essential. male chimpanzees of the same pack fight violently with each other .why didnt the manager provide-two plates of food? I noticed Alis dads face. Ish said. What? Ish said as Ali stopped after five rounds.they know this too well.. so that means if politicians fuel a fire. and hurt each other emotionally. Yes. presents or kind understanding words. Boys. The problem in Indian Hindu-Muslim rivalry is not that that one is right and the other is wrong. That is why I am never big on religion or politics. It is. All of us nodded to say goodnight. That there are no reconciliatory mechanisms. I figured out why Alis dad had come with us. the point is this ritual was created by nature. . and doesnt come out until it is too late. He held his maths books in one hand and his cricket bat in the other. you must fight the other guy. Once a fight is created. The boy looked startled by the sudden instruction. No. They will fight. but looked untouched. The students were on their morning jog. And if you want to eat. probably feeling ashamed at having raised his voice. it leads to another and so on. they too. Just by not talking about it. take any husband and wife. I came out to the first floor balcony. Even Omi had to laugh. later they will make up. We had reached the main road and stopped next to a paan shop. Yes. spend more time playing politics than working for the country. It is like two customers go to a restaurant and the manager gives them only one plate of food. the fight is created. there is no fire brigade to check it.for food. they forget the real issue . Alis dad spoke again. I think he enjoyed this first dose of power everyday. Chimpanzee fights? Yes. However. Ish ordered in his drill sergeant voice. However. People feel inside. whatever. the differences do not go away. any long-term relationship requires this.

... Ish smiled. His face was hot and red. That is all I know. Keep your questions to maths. you are with me. Paresh had the same shocked expression as Ish. Get your books from upstairs. We will study in the backyard. run. Cant we just play? Ali said. This is not a cricket ground. If the ball goes out and hits someone. Omi brought two polypacks of milk. Omi said. Ish kept the practice simple for the next half an hour and tried not to scream. when Ali had hit a six off his first ball. Ish stood in the middle with the bat as everyone bowled to him. You want to make him a player or not? You give him yourself. I dont . We will teach you. Buddy. Ali froze. listen. Omi smirked. Thanks. Ish said. and tore it open with his mouth. Give it to your stick insect. Ali struck. It was an easy two runs. However. Ish clapped his hands. He lobbed the ball high and expected everyone to catch. 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. I did not mean to. That was a good shot. Here. Ish told me and turned to Ali. He nodded.Paresh.After exercises. Ish ran to get the ball. All right. You have to warm up... Omi shoved the milk packet near Ali and left. Ish said. like cricket. champ? Why do people run between the wickets to score runs? Ali said. Well bowl first. Ali never moved from his position. not that way. How are you going to run between the wickets? How are you going to field? That is why . Its the rule. For what? Ish said. Naveen took the crease and Ali became the runner. Omi said. Iaresh took a three-step run-up and bowled. And here.. Paresh said. buddy. No. Thats how you score. We are playing in a bank. especially because he was an animal when it came to cricket. I told him to simplify 24/64 and he started dividing the numerator and denominator by two again and again. Ok. The latter was tough. Of course. Ish did catch and field practice. Shut up. nibbling the end of his pen. what? You hero or something? Ish ran to Ali. See you at the shop. I am sorry. Naveen struck on Pareshs fourth ball. very near tears. .I . Ish said. Hey Ali. I ducked in the first floor balcony. Now why dont you bowl? Ali didnt bat anymore that day. I cant do anything else. Ali looked puzzled at the reprimand. cant . people here do hundred rounds. Alis voice cracked. the ball rose and hurled towards the first floor. Hey.. but Alis laziness meant they could score only one. still trying to catch his breath. It was on fractions and decimals. Naveen you be in Alis team and bat first. You have done some fractions before? I said. Ali said. I know you can do that. Ali heaved. Ish said. he said and left. I told a sweaty Ali. The ball went past me and hit the branch managers office window. lets play. who will be responsible? What if things break? Who will pay? Ish shouted. after taking a big sip.... Have you seen his arms? They are thinner than the wicket. he lacked the intuition he had in hitting sixes in mathematics. Any questions on cricket.. he gave one to Ish. Ali had more than warmed up. He could catch only when the ball came close to him. one more. Learn the other aspects of the game. Ali still looked surprised. He brought his books down and opened the first chapter of his maths book. his father had tried his best.

A nap was a great way to kill time during slow afternoons. well done. But we are being run by old fogeys who never did anything worthwhile in their primetime. We remained poor. Winning a seat is not that easy. And considering we gave you this shop at such a low rent. given the philosophy of the party. There is work to be done. You come help me if it is slow in the afternoons. tell them about our party. It was exam time and business was modest. still reading the register. Our nap was soon interrupted.. Yeah. I stood up. The young generation from the Sixties to the Eighties is the worst India ever had. I am agnostic. Anyway. I said. I opened the cash box and took some coins. Govind? Mama said. what do they say. Now what the hell was he doing here? It is slow this time of the day. Ish said as we lay down in the shop. Mama? Omi said as he took the tea glasses off the crate and passed them around. The Zeroes think different. Peoples dream job was a government job. My point is. It is about justice. I could see the point in targeting temple visitors. screw politics. opening one eye. I nodded. elections next year and Gujarat is ours. nothing else. We have to mobilise young people. We will. you are the intellectual. I am the sleepy type. Zeroes. . Tanks and thinktanks. Cant have a discussion around here. Mama. that was supposed to be my excuse. disgusted. But the Nineties and the. we played good cricket. Bittoo Mamas voice made us all sit up. Wow. We had spread a mat on the shops floor. But this isnt about religion. Yes. Omi said as he pulled out a stool. I thought as I left the shop with a fake smile. Someone has to man the shop. wisdom is free at the Team India Cricket Shop. But when someone comes to pray. intellectual nation. Your friends can come too. Now who the fuck pays for Mamas snacks? The rent is not that cheap. should they be pitched to join politics? I opened the accounts register to distract myself. I said. The Doordarshan generation is running the Star TV generation. Just one corrupt banana republic marketed by the leaders as this new socialist. He signalled me to get tea. Ish said. whatever. Omi joined in. Well. If you see young people at the temple. Get something to eat as well. Mama said. Ish said. And guess who was at the top? Which party? Secular nonsense again. that the clueless Sixties to Eighties generation is now old. Mama. We won the World Cup in 1983. When rent is cheap. Ish said. Omi snoozed while Ish and 1 had our usual philosophical discussion. warn them against the hypocrites. bro. No. kept fighting wars. I am just a cricket coach. organising rallies. but thats about it. Omi said. Lying down. Smartass. yuck. Ish grumbled. shopkeepers Will sleep. Yeah. Fuck off. Ish said. Ill come next time. You think only you are the intellectual type. I clapped. your right-wing types didnt exactly get their act together cither. Not all that bad. And you. During campaign time. Tell them our philosophy. What do you want me to do. Mama was telling Omi. Nobody took risks or stuck their neck out. Now can we rest until the next pesky kid comes. we need people to help us in publicity. and running the country. man.. even if it is slow. closing my eyes. too. We are so ready. Omi said. remember? I said. I am not into that sort of stuff. You wait and see. These thirty years are an embarrassment for India. I have figured it out. electing the same control freaks who did nothing for the country. You will come? Mama turned to Ish. I returned with tea for everyone. Tell others. you owe US something. Tell them about me. At least one person. These secular guys are good.

Omi nodded. and ticked her notebook. I am a tutor. just before we moved to the Navrangpura mall. I said. nobody would give him that stature. he said. But why wasnt she saying anything. Ish raised his middle finger as Mama left. Mama. right? Omi said. not a consoler. but given his qualifications. you wouldnt be able to save this much. If Omi wasnt there. I kept quiet. Lets get started. I alone am enough. She came back. You want to go wash your face? I said. well done or made a star against their answers. She had the same eyes as her brother. You did quite well. Mama said. We are leaving soon anyway. This two-bit shop is about to move to a prime location sports store. What? Mama exclaimed. she said in a broken voice. Mama said. I had dreamt of this expression lor months. We are moving to Navrangpura mall. to break the ever escalating tension between Mama and me. How many did you do? She showed me seven fingers. this time her eyeliner gone and the whole face wet.It is not your shop. Oh. Excuse me. There will be no need. Whats up? I said. 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. Dhiraj will come as well. you will pull a hand-cart with these bats and balls? Mama said. Ill see you. Dhiraj was Mamas fourteen-yearold son and Omis cousin. Nothing. it meant a lot and dont get me started. Your second problem is correct too. A cheaper rent was the least he could do. the rent we pay is fair. I thought of a suitable response to a fake nothing. Let me know when you want me. However. seven out of ten werent bad. Then we lay down and went back to sleep. I couldnt help it. the brown was more prominent on her fair face. Ok. I said as I finished reviewing her work. more to improve communication than the sight of her smudged eyes. I said. I said without thinking. I said. A girls nothing usually means a lot. Mamas mouth remained open. If you were paying the market rent of two. continue your rest. I said. I normally taught young kids. eh? Mama stood up. Omis mother gave it to us. But Vidya was no kid. Really? Mama turned to Omi. You can take your shop back then. And given the location. I am fine. Omi said. really? Where. Her eyelashes were wet. I almost wrote good out of habit. You did them all? She shook her head. I wanted to tell him only at l lie last minute. Good. Sure. and they loved it if I made comments like good. she said and ran to the bathroom. Seven Have you done the sums I gave you? Vidya nodded. How much is the deposit? Mama said. Possession when it opens in three months. We saved it. She probably had an outburst of tears. We will make the deposit next month. I opened her tuition notebook. Mama. Forty thousand. Actually. Hut I was sick of his patronising tone. Omi was a friend. I couldnt see her face as we sat side by side. . You pay one thousand a month for this shop. but I knew shed just cried when she lifted a hand to wipe an eye. Id get you kicked out. I looked at her eyes. Look at his pride! This two-bit shop and a giant ego. What? Now you are quiet.

I know. No problem. I told you last time. she had to change her pen. Next time I will tell her I have something really important to I talk about and not call her for two days. unable to respond. Some. they have thousands of multiple choice questions. It is afternoon already. And so she should. Then she had to reopen and fasten her hairclip. How is your preparation for other subjects? You dont hate science. it all appears static. she wasnt dumb at maths as she came across on first impression. I said. I looked into her bright eyes. In fifteen minutes. Can we agree to a five-minute break during class? One shouldnt study maths that long. Why? We only care about cramming up an epidermal layer diagram. You figure them out and then you are good enough to be a doctor. so she is too busy to type a line? I wished that woman would SMS her so we could start class. Can we take a break? Vidya. I didnt know what to say to this girl. I repeat only some girls. But the way they teach it. But the people who set these exam papers. she needed a cushion behind her back. she said. This is your skin. Thats not how I look at science. She said she would. Why dont you SMS her instead? I am not doing that. Should we start? Yeah. When she applied her mind. But I am not disturbed. I wonder if they ever are curious about chemistry anymore. taken aback by her contact. My head is throbbing now. I wanted to keep the break productive. she pulled her chair back. because that comes in the exam every single year.Listen. reproducing and dying right on us. I dont remember. . I like science. So what happened in problem eight? I said. right? I looked at her blankly. she said and touched my arm. we only have twenty minutes more. We have to do more complex problems today and. What is this? What? I said. But she rarely applied it for more than five minutes. There are very few good colleges and competition is tough. I wished they would be as lit up when I taught her probability. Its Garima and her. we cant have a productive class if you are disturbed. it sucks. I said. She is in this hi-fi PR job.. Well. She always does that. we never wonder. and she hasnt. we have no choice. We immersed ourselves into probability for the next half an hour. Vidya said. we plowed along. Forty minutes into the class. She stood up straight and blinked her eyes. She kept her pen aside and opened her hair. isnt it? I said. Maybe I should have stuck to teaching sevenyear-olds. Like what? Like the medical entrance guides. It has to be bad for you. well. Do they just cram up reactions? Or do they ever get fascinated by it? Do they ever see a marble statue and wonder. Thats quite amazing. She told me last night she would SMS me in the morning. I am feeling better. I pulled my hand away. Thanks for listening. forget it. Once. Do you know there are communities of bacteria living here? There are millions of individual life forms -eating. do you? I said. After that her mother sent in tea and biscuits and she had to sip it every thirty seconds. Still. Yet. but inside this statue there are protons buzzing and electrons madly spinning.. Garima? Yes. Or lets talk of biology.. my cousin and best friend in Bombay. Think about this. A strand fell on my arm. measure the strength of their friendship by the power of the emotionally manipulative games they could play with each other. I have never done so much maths continuously in my life.

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

You have organic chemistry by L.G.Wade? I said. I would have done more small talk, but I wanted to avoid talking about Vidya. In fact, I didnt even want him to look at Vidya. Well, yes, the shopkeeper said, taken aback by my abruptness. Chemistry book, red and white balls on the cover, he screamed .it one of his five assistants. This is a good book, I said as I tapped the cover and gave it to Vidya. Other organic chemistry books have too much to memorise. This one explains the principles. Vidya took the book in her hand. Her red nail polish was the same colour as the atoms on the cover. Flip through it, see if you like it, I said. She turned a few pages. The shopkeeper raised an eyebrow. He was asking me about the girl. See this is the reason why people think Ahmedabad is a small town despite the multiplexes. It is the mentality of the people. Student, I take tuitions, I whispered to satisfy his curiosity lest he gave up sleeping for the rest of his life. He nodded his head in approval. Why do these old people poke their nose in our affairs so much? Like, would we care if he hung out with three grandmas? If you say it is good, I am fine, she said, finishing her scan. Good, and in physics, have you ever read Resnick and Halliday? Oh, I saw that book at my friends place once. Just the table of contents depressed me. Its too hi-fi for me. What is this "hi-fi"? It is in your course, you have to study it, I said, my voice stern. Dont they have some guides or something? she said, totally ignoring my comment. Guides are a short cut. They solve a certain number of problems. You need to understand the concepts. The shopkeeper brought out the orange and black cover Resnick and Halliday. Yes, the cover was scary and dull at the same time, something possible only in physics books. I wont understand it. But if you want to, lets buy it, Vidya agreed. Of course, you will understand it. And uncle, for maths do you have M.L. Khanna? I could see his displeasure in me calling him uncle, but someone needed to remind him. Maths Khanna, the shopkeeper shouted. His assistants pulled out the yellow and black tome. Now if Resnick and Halliday is scary, M.L. Khanna is the Exorcist. I havent seen a thicker book and every page is filled with the hardest maths problems in the world. It was amusing that a person with a friendly name like M.L Khanna could do this to the students of our country. What is this? Vidya said and tried to lift the book with her left hand. She couldnt. She used both hands and finally took it six inches off the ground. No, seriously, what is this? An assault weapon? It covers every topic, I said and measured the thickness with the fingers of my right hand, the four fingers fell short. She held her hand sideways over mine to assist. Six, it is six fingers thick, she said softly. I pulled my hand out, lest uncle raise his eyebrows again, or worst case join his hand to ours to check the thickness. Dont worry, for the medical entrance you only have to study a few topics, I reassured her. We paid for the books and came out of the shop. We walked on the Navrangpura main road. My new shop was two hundred metres away. I had the urge to go see it. Now what? she said. Nothing, lets go home, I said and looked for an auto. You are a big bore, arent you? she said. Excuse me? I said. Dairy Den is round the corner. Im hungry, she said.

I am starving. Seriously, I am famished. She kept a hand on her stomach. She wore three rings, each with different designs and tiny, multi-coloured stones. I took the least visible seat in Dairy Den. Sure, no one from our gossip-loving pol came to this hip teen joint, but one could never be too careful. If a supplier saw me at Dairy Den, I would be like any other trendy young boy in Ahmedabad. I would never get a good price for cricket balls. I felt hungry too. But I couldnt match the drama-queen in histrionics. She ordered a Dens special pizza, which had every topping available in Dairy Dens kitchen. All dishes were vegetarian, as preferred by Ambavadis. These books look really advanced, she said, pointing to the plastic bag. They are MSc books, I said. She raised her eyebrows. Can someone explain to me why seventeen-year-olds are made to read MSc books in this country? I shrugged. I had no answers for lazy students. The pizza arrived. We kept quiet and started eating it. I looked at her. She tied her hair, so that it would not fall on the pizza and touch the cheese. She kept her dupatta away from the table and on the chair. The great thing about girls is that even during pauses in the conversation you can look at them and not get bored. She looked sideways as she became conscious of two boys on a faraway table staring at her. It wasnt surprising, considering she was the best looking girl in Dairy Den by a huge margin. Why are there so few pretty girls? Why hadnt 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 didnt need to as her phone beeped louder than a fire alarm everytime there was one. She pulled back her sleeve and lifted a slice of pizza. She used her fingers to lift the strands of cheese that had fallen out and placed them back on the slice. Finally she took a bite. So, whats up? she broke the silence. Are we allowed to talk about anything apart from science subjects? Of course, I said. I glared at the boys at the other table. They didnt notice me. We are not that far apart in age. We could be friends, you know, she said. Well, I said, tough, isnt it? Tough? Give me one reason why? I will give you four - (1) I am your teacher (2) you are my best friends sister (3) you are younger than me, and (4) you are a girl. I felt stupid stating my reasons in bullet points. There is a reason why nerds cant impress girls. They dont know how to talk. She laughed at me rather than with me. Sorry for the list. Cant get numbers out of my system, I said. She laughed. It tells me something. You have thought it out. That means, you have considered a potential friendship. I remained silent. I am kidding, she said and tapped my hand. She had this habit of soothing people by touching them. With normal people it wouldve been ok, but with sick people like me, female touches excite more than soothe. I felt the urge to look at her face again. I turned determinedly to the pizza instead. But seriously, you should have a backup friend, she said. Backup what? You, Ish and Omi are really close. Like you have known each other since you were sperm. My mouth fell open at her last word. Vidya was supposed to be Ishs little sister who played with dolls. Where did she learn to talk like that? Sorry, I meant Ish and Omi are your best friends. But if you have to bitch ... oops, rant about them, who do you do it with? I dont need to rant about my friends, I said. Cmon, are they perfect? No one is perfect. Like Garima and I are really close. We talk twice a day. But sometimes she ignores me, or talks to me like I am some naive small town girl. I hate it, but she is still my best friend.

Pandit-ji said as he came into the warehouse. I told her about my dream . I said. cmon. I said. no one could stop her from becoming a surgeon. whats the one rant you have about your best friends? My friends are my business partners. He offered us green almonds. Papa is getting dressed. and these need repairs. a girl responded as Ishaan rang the bell of our suppliers home. my best customer. makes me feel better. I loved that nod. Giriraj Pandit. fresh after a bath. Kashmiris are so fair complexioned. How? she egged me on. And I can forgive her. Until five years ago. And. Girls talk in circles. I mentally repeated the four reasons and poked the pile of books. But Vidya who could micro-analyse relationships for hours. We went to the garage and sat on wooden stools. Are you nuts? Fair-complexioned. had his one-room house right next to it.And? I said. I paused. someone had nodded at something I felt so deeply about. Sometimes I dont think they understand business. I chided myself. venting. More than me. Everybody welcomes you. would not open M. So. Ish dumped the bats for repair on the floor. Today be felt blessed being a small supplier in Ahmedabad with his family still alive. If she applied as much brain in maths. she said. I said to make innocuous conversation. The owner. So its complicated. She nodded. you can wait in the garage. And leaving mom and her business alone was not an option. demand will be good. I cant see myself in an office. you need to be friends with these books. Good you never did engineering. he said and opened a wooden trunk. Or may be they do. handing us the key to Pandit-jis warehouse store. Khanna to save her life. he owned a large bat factory in Kashmir. and how I managed everything. as my chest expanded four inches. For once. She saw the glitter in my eyes. opened the door. I told her about our shop. It is nice to be a buyer in business.  get out of the old city and have a new shop in an airconditioned mall. the India-Australia series is coming. talking about it to you. Govind bhai. I told her everything. You like her. I said. And finally.L. How I had expanded the business to offer tuitions and coaching. she said. eh? Ish began to laugh. I had opened up more than I ever had to anyone in my life. like this. near here? Yes. Take a dozen Govind bhai. Not in the old city. I said and asked for the bill. as I could see it reflected in hers. but they dont understand the passion I bring to it. too. We need six bats. Saira. I told her about Ishs irritating habit of giving discounts to kids and Omis dumbness in anything remotely connected to numbers. We had come to purchase new bats and get old ones repaired. This wasnt right. Ish grinned. So. The Pandit Sports Goods Suppliers was located in Ellis Bridge. Like an algebra problem. she said. Over the last few scraps of pizza. . Though 1 am sure you would have got in. That was before he was kicked out of his hometown by militants who gave him the choice of saving his neck or his factory. even though she is a much closer friend of mine. you became a backup friend. it takes a few steps to get them to the point. supplier Pandit-jis eighteen-year-old daughter. i Navrangpura.

. Ish said and stood in the centre of the banks courtyard. Paras to bat. One ball an over worked well. Ali. kicked out of our own homes. Can I leave early today? Why? Ish snapped. Eight Ali reached practice twenty minutes late. Alis self-control had become better after training for a few months. Do your rounds. Sometimes hat makers used artificial fragrance to make new bats smell good. Every delayed minute made Ish more pissed. There is a marble competition in my pol. he threw the bat on| the crease. I could never understand this absolute faith that believers possess. Paras batted a catch towards Ali. Pandit-ji sighed and took out the bats for repair from the gunny bag. They are all living in that room? Ish was curious. It smelled of fresh willow. Three balls later.. How much. What is the point of marbles? Ish said as he signalled him to take the crease. Like it? Ali nodded without interest. Switch. His God had made him pay a big price in life. Ali didnt hit any big shots. One of the three other boys became the bowler.I hated sympathy in business deals. The trick was to use his ability at a lever that scored yet sustained him at the crease. I have five more mouths to feed until he finds a job and place. no shots. brand new from Kashmir. You sleeping or what? Ish said but Ali ignored him. Ish examined the bat.He opened the wooden trunk and took out a bat wrapped in plastic. Hey. Maybe I missed something by being agnostic. give them catches. Once Ali faced five balls in a restrained manner. For you. Pandit-ji took the money. With better diet and exercise. We will start with catching practice. We settled for two hundred and seventy after some more haggling. I didnt get time and. When Ali finished his rounds. Two hundred fifty. Sorry. Ali to field. My cousins family has arrived from Kashmir.m. where is your kit? Ish screamed as Ali walked in at 7. You are wearing kurta pajama. woke up late. I dealt in thousands now. The best of the lot for you Govind bhai. whose hands were busy tightening the cords of his pajama.20 a. . Ish unwrapped a new bat for him. He opened the bat. Ish shouted after three overs. he could sharpen his focus to use his gift. Hey. Joking? Never. Done. I said. catch. brushed it against the mini-temple in his godown and put it in his pocket. Paras set up a catch for Ali again. Ish said. old almond business. last and final. Ish had taught him to play defensive and avoid getting out. First you come late. but imagined that transacting in lakhs and crores wouldnt be that different. Three hundred. Ish now wanted him to get to two balls an over. but he still felt grateful to him. The ball thunked down on the ground. Govind bhai. Pandit-ji smiled heartily. He gained the strength to hit the ball rather than rely on momentum. I said and took out the money. Now. What to do? He had a bungalow in Srinagar and a fifty-year. Disappointed. hut Pandit-ji was the real deal. watch it. theyve lost everything. I said. see what times have come to. Ali. Alis stamina had improved. Ish screamed from his position at the umpire. And what about cricket? Ali shrugged. he swore. He went to the box and checked the other bats for cracks and chips. It is a new bat. then you want to go early. it is a bit tough right now.

Here Ali. I dont want you. he said after drinking half a glass. Oops. crying as he kicked me with his tiny legs. Ish said. Like his spirit. And I want to practice more catches. Ish said. Paras said and gave Ali the bat. . still in tears. He doesnt enjoy cricket.sometimes kits. as his less-strict maths tutor. The ball arrived. dont want to field. Ish shook Alis shoulder hard. I made lemonade in the kitchen to calm Ish down Ish stood next to me. we have to. Ish kept quiet. can you order another LPG cylinder. we practice tomorrow. Ali stared at Ish with his green eyes. Disconcerted by this insolence. quiet buddy. sometimes bats. I need to get good before my school match.. I bent down to pick up Ali. I dont want to do sums. Ali. Ali said. Yeah. Ish shouted. Lift it for Iaras. Ish allowed Ali to bat again upon Paras insistence. Ali took the bat. Ish froze. He noticed Ish staring at him and lifted up his hand in a cursory manner. Ali behave. I said. I said. Lazy freak show wants to play marbles all day. Maybe God sent me here to be everyones parent. Go away. With perfect timing like Alis bat. ★ What the fuck is wrong with you? He is a kid. He didnt. Paras said as he came close to Ali. bat. as I had never seen Ish cry. Ali whacked it hard. Ish spat out. Brat. Everyone stood erect as they heard the slap. hey. Ish said and deposited a slap again. but it was a pain to cook on that. Ouch. I tried to hug him. and the ball landed on the ground. thinks he has a gift. He doesnt care man. Ish rued spoiling the boy with gifts . I exhaled a deep breath as everyone left. Dont take him seriously. Ali said. Now go home. You dreaming? I want to leave early. Ali said. the ball Hew out of the bank. No. It is ok.Ali had one hand in his pocket. lets go up. Two steps and he could have caught the ball. I wasnt sure if it was tears. you also never became great. I want to go. We locked the banks main door and the gate and walked towards our shop. He held back something. I said to Ish after everyone left. walked to the crease without looking up. Ish finished his drink and tossed the plastic glass in the kitchen sink. But did you see his attitude? "You never became great. gentle to the left. I said and passed him his drink. I dont care about your stupid marble tournament. I nodded. We came to the cashiers waiting area to sit on the sofas. He enjoys marbles. we will do some fun sums. Come. Finish practice first. Ali sat up on the ground and sucked his breath to fight tears. Hey. I ran behind to pull Ishs elbow. Ish bhaiya. Go play your fucking marbles. The impact and shock made Ali fall on the ground." Can you imagine if I had said it to my coach? He is just a twelve-year-old. rubbing his shoulder. This is no way to speak to your coach. I know he wants to bat. Ali said. We did have a kerosene stove. Well. Everyone go home. I said. go inside the bank. yet. No he has to field. Ishs right hand swung and slapped Alis face hard. I said. I felt it was stupid of Ish to argue with a twelve-year-old. But all he wants to do is play his fucking marbles. His arm trembled. Dont want to do sums.. He pushed me away. This one is almost over. Ali broke into tears. I said.. wrong thing to say to a kid who had just been whacked. He has it in him to make to the national team. Ish. No marble player ever became great. He does. Ish to said. I dont like him. kids and their bitter truth. I shouldnt have hit him. Ali glared back at me.

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

 Excuses dont clear exams. Maybe this will help. fortunately closed. Vidya. 14 March. she giggled. That should help. I replied. Vidya. but only the big one the national team. Omi said. She had a track pant on that I think she had been wearing since she was thirteen and a pink Tshirt that said fairy queen or something. When is your birthday? she said. Hows the new shop coming? she said. almost done. she said and bent down. It sounded a bit mad. The best maths tutor in town had become a champi man. Yes. as a bottle fell over on the ground. the selection people will destroy him. No way. but she thought I did. I opened the chemistry book again. passing us lassi in steel glasses after practice. If they reject him. we should study now. Nothing else will. What? I stood up in reflex. I dont trust anyone. it will help. Coconut oil. She had not bathed. I felt sick. you can say you love music but you cant say you feel the same way for maths. isnt it? A day for Pi? How can you have a day for something so horrible? Excuse me? It is an important day for maths lovers. We never make it public though. I flipped the books pages to see how benzene became oxidised. That you are. Pi Day. I had crossed that threshold. He will go for selections. yes at the roots. I would have lost my temper again. nothing like reading organic chemistry yourself. please. You can say you love literature. I said. My gaze lasted a quarter second more than necessary. I tried. He will be a player like India never had. she said. Yeah. It is Einsteins birthday. I thought. Really? You confident he will make it. too. she said and pushed back her open hair. Oops. a bit of organic chemistry for my head. Cool. Not here. Higher. She pulled the oil bottle cap close. My tongue slipped like it was coated in that oil as I tried to speak. She nodded and moved her chair. I didnt look there at all. I followed her instructions in a daze. I didnt know whether to laugh or flip my fuse again at her nonchalance. Can you help me oil my hair? I cant reach the back. I looked at her face. she said and lifted the blue bottle. Ish announced. You see. How can a grown-up woman wear something that says fairy queen? How can anyone wear something that says fairy queen? I pray everyday. What the hell.Ish vetoed the idea. she giggled again. even if for a few balls. She held up the cap of the oil bottle. It tickles. Maybe if she didnt look like a cute ragdoll in those clothes. The tug was totally due to me. Pi approximates to 3. If they accept him. . probably the dumbest thing to say but it changed the topic.14 so 14 March is the same date. What day? Pi Day. they will make him play useless matches for several years. Dont talk about Alis gift at all. Just above the back of my neck. Why not? People label you a geek. It was a bottle of coconut oil. Self-consciously she tugged at the T-shirts neckline as she sat back up. She twisted on her chair so her back faced me. yeah. but we had seen Ali demolish the best of bowlers. I dipped my index finger in the oil and brought it to her neck. Ish wiped his lassi moustache. Dont leave it to God. She told me to dip three fingers instead of one and press harder. If you study this. Nothing. I said. Two more years and Ish could well be right. I thought Ill oil my hair. There is an optimal time for looking at women before it gets counted as a stare. he is going to be disappointed forever.

cash. Well. I wish I were a boy. right? Do you have to listen to them all the time? Of course not. your maths tutor. maybe I do. So use it to find the key out. She turned to look at me. Medical college is one key. In that case.. "Vidya. I said and collected myself. So much easier for you to achieve your passions. I kept quiet.. as your teacher my role is. Our parents are not innocent either. I am your tutor. but not for me. I noticed the tiny teddy bears all over her pajamas. Two more months. what is your role as my teacher? Teach me how to reach my dreams or how to be a drone? I kept quiet. Too late I realised I had used the F-word. Yeah. Then do it. I smiled and turned away from her. I want to go to Mumbai. Nine . She placed her left foot on her lap. I banged my fist on the table. sort-of-friend. but not to cut cadavers. And as far as I know. she said. So there you go. Well. Really? Wow. shocked. Say something. 1 dont want to study this. dipped her fingers in the oil and applied it to her head. I want to study PR. The problem is you think I am this geek who solves probability problems for thrills. But if you have to choose. Dont give me this wish-I-was-a-boy and Imtrapped-in-a-cage nonsense. she said. I am a tutor. I am not your teacher. Why? Easier to oil hair? I said. she said. tying back her hair and placing the chemistry book at the centre of the table. sort of. But never fucking accuse me of crushing your passion. I should lump these lessons even if I have no interest in them whatsoever as that is what all good Indian students do? I kept quiet. What? she prodded me again. what do you think I should do? Crush my passion and surround myself with hydrocarbon molecules forever? I kept quiet. Werent we all conceived in a moment of passion? I looked at her innocent -looking face. I want to make an admission to you. she said. We will have the best location in the mall I cant wait. I said. it is a job. This girl is out of control. Are you not my friend? Well. she said. Ok. thats enough. holding up the cap in my hand even though my wrist ached. but you have a nice. she said. she said. hopefully my brain would have woken up now. Maybe it isnt such a good idea to get her out of her cage. Sorry for the language. big. Ok. Passion versus parents is a tough call. I wont be allowed to open such a shop. You do it yourself now. I said. rubbing oil vigorously. Exactly. my tutor-friend. break the cage. I paid the deposit and three months advance rent. so you are in a cage. Cursing is an act of passion. There. Ok. Ive been lying to them since I was five. Fifty thousand bucks. I will hold the cap for you. oiled brain that is not pea-sized like a birds. but that is not all of me. passion should win.Great. How? What makes the cage? Your parents. Humanity wouldnt have progressed if people listened to their parents all the time. I said. there are no dream tutors.

no. imagine the situation in Bhuj. It had fallen on the floor.. A telephone pole broke and collapsed on the ground. It epicentred in Bhuj. A strange silence followed the earthquake. Omi.. I opened my eyes. I re-entered my house after two hours and switched on the TV. Is it a bomb? a man spoke to the other in whispers. Yes. Every channel covered the earthquake. I rubbed my eyes. dont move. Earthquake. hide under the table. my mother screamed from the other room. It is gone. lay on the floor. It is an earthquake. Bad? the other man said. I was fine. I dont think so. the foundation of our building. No. But mom didnt shake me. or for that matter any in our pol had not come loose. I want to sleep.. I could see the havoc outside. The room furniture. Of course. I had invested a hundred and ten thousand rupees.. No. Ishs dad refused to give any money. fan and windows vibrated violently. I screamed. I said as my mother dragged me out in my pajamas. Why? The building might collapse. a man on the street said. another old man said. though it affected many parts of Gujarat. you ok? I came out to the living room. the reporter said as tingles went down my spine. Govind. Govind. Three TV antennas horn the opposite building fell down. We stood out for an hour. what was this? Nightmares? I stood up and went to the window. my mother came and hugged me. no. Stories rippled through the street.. the most destructive and longest forty-five seconds of my life. We felt the tremors hundreds of kilometres away. My business had already reached lakhs. The tremors lasted for forty-five seconds. The night before Republic Day. . she said. paintings and lampshades. we had spent another sixty thousand to fit out the interiors. Cant the world let a businessman sleep on a rare holiday. I borrowed ten thousand from my mother. Apart from the deposit. People on the street ran haphazardly in random directions. many new and upcoming buildings have suffered severe damage. My bed went back and forth too. purely as a loan. Its coming on TV. I remember thinking it would be the last holiday at our temple shop since we were scheduled to move to the new mall on Valentines Day. I looked at the wall clock. Some said more earthquakes could come. it is a guaranteed holiday in the first month of the year. Meanwhile. I said after ten more minutes had passed. Lets get out. rumours and gossip spread fast.. took the rest in loan from Bittoo Mama. Govind. Mom. I dreamed of my chain of stores the whole night. I moved on my own. I did not know n then. A few parts of Ahmedabad reported property damage. Stop shaking me mom. What? my mother said as she brought me tea and toast. I mumbled to myself. It started in Bhuj. even though I had said no. she screamed back. Whether or not you feel patriotic. I screamed. My mother was fine too.26 January is a happy day for all Indians. I lay in bed with my thoughts. Should we do a turf carpet throughout? Now that would be cool for a sports shop. Some said India had tested a nuclear bomb. Everything on the wall -I alendars. The street was full of people. Reports suggest that while most of Ahmedabad is safe. What? I said and ducked under the side table kept by the window in reflex.

I gasped for breath as I ran the last hundred metres. The remaining glass broke into little bits. I wanted my shop. Are you mad? she said. I could blame the builder of the Navrangpura mall. Ish said. Unrelated images of the day my dad left us flashed in my head. once placed at the top of the six floor building. Where? Navrangpura . for betting so much money. finally. We were destined to remain a small town and we shouldnt even try to be like the big cities. or anyones face. I grabbed it with my left hand and sat on a broken bench to keep my consciousness. The mayhem on the street and the broken signs made it hard to identify addresses. I needed to hit someone. . the number spun in my head. now. Oh really. my head said. Where is the building? I said to myself as I kept circling my lane. I lifted a brick.. Omis two-hundred-year-old temple stood intact. totally misplaced as I should have felt anger at the earthquake. Maybe this was Gods way of saying something . I reasoned that my new. but everytime a new entry has to be added. My stomach hurt. The look on his face as he shut the living room door on the way out.. I said and wore my slippers. which continued for the next few years. then who the hell sent it in the first place? I said and pushed the stranger away. Yes. Or at myself. What are you doing? Havent we seen enough destruction? said someone next to me. But who else do you blame earthquakes on? Of course. I dont know why I thought of God. I retreated. Govind. My body trembled with violent intensity. It took me an hour to get there. I think the brain has a special box where it keeps crappy memories. my shop. My mothers silent tears for the next few hours. I looked for water. Those images had not come for years. Cement hags had fallen on him and crushed his legs. Only that the six storeys that were intact a day ago had now turned into a concrete heap. something. now licked the ground. with bruises all over. someone tapped my shoulder. Govind. I could not concentrate. Sweat covered my entire body. ultra-modern building would have earthquake safety features. I was agnostic. The builder would have run away. we could sue the builder.I have to go out. is all 1 said as I ran out of the house. He screamed in my ear when I finally noticed him. I entered Navrangpura. I saw the devastation en-route. but I only saw rubble. The new city areas like Satellite suffered heavy damage. twenty years of dreams .all wiped away in twenty seconds.that we shouldnt have these malls. Those buildings that were under construction had crumbled to rubble. I didnt need sympathy. No one in the crowd noticed me. I decided to run the seven-kilometre stretch. Surely. I dont know why that past scene came to me. I couldnt make out his face. Then why did my fucking mall collapse? What did he make it with? Sand? I needed someone to blame. catching my breath. One lakh and ten thousand. Signs of plush shops lay on the road. and threw it at an already smashed window. I felt anger at my dad. Anger for making the first big mistake of my life. my heart said. And no one would get their money back. My heart beat at double the normal rate. it opens and you can look at what is inside. The Navrangpura Malls neon sign. The police pulled out a labourer. I felt intense thirst. Did I miss the building? I said as I reached my lane. rubble and more rubble. I just wanted that to be ok. God will protect us. For the hundred-yearold buildings in the old city pols remained standing. The whole city was shut. My shop mom. Almost every building had their windows broken. I had to see if my new store was ok. The sight of blood made me vomit. Two years of scrimping and saving. I found it. It stays shut. I couldnt find any autos or buses. Dont worry.

★ I had not left home for a week. I never cried the day my father left us. ninety per cent of homes were destroyed. One of those million structures included my future shop. they want their kids to serve others all their lives to get a safe salary. Ish said. when God slapped my city for no reason. and I saved and I fucking saved. I never cried when we barely made any money for the first three months of business. and hopes and aspirations all shattered in forty* five seconds. Govind. You can talk. Ahmedabad had better luck. They said only a few hundred people died in Ahmedabad compared to tens of thousands elsewhere. Lets go. We have to go. turning my face to the wall. And we took loans. I think the rest of the Ambavadis didnt either. The old city fared better than the new city. a true Navaldhari businessman is one who can rise after being razed to the ground nine times. our business collapsed even before IT opened. still horizontal on bed. I said. I broke down. lets go home Ish said. Its ok buddy. People must have thought I had lost a child. Someone out there needed to realise this was fucking unfair. I said. feeling moist in my eyes for the first time in a decade.What the hell are you doing here man? It is dangerous to be out. But then. We are finished Ish. selfish scheme of things. it is similar. You have heard of Navaldharis Dr Verma said. lets go home. Somehow our grandfathers believed in cement more than the new mall owners.. Look. Ish held me and let me use his shirt to absorb my tears. Ish said. I saved. Ish said. Doctor. . Each of those people would have had families. Dr Verma checked my pulse. I said as Ish dragged me away to an auto. In the narrow. Dr Verma shrugged. Ish bought a Frooti to calm me. There is no one who has learnt to ride a bicycle without falling off. Its all part of the game. We are cursed man. Your fever is gone. You havent gone to the shop? I shook my head.I found out later that over thirty thousand people lost their lives. I never cried when India lost a match. It helped. I kept looking at the rubble like I had for the last four hours. I cried and cried. my loss was statistically irrelevant. Schools and hospitals flattened to the ground. Govi. I havent put a thermometer in your mouth. But that is how maths works . I dont want to see that smug look on Bittoo Mamas face. He never shortened my name before. hundreds is a rounding error. I lay on the bed. Their CEO and parent had broken down. Im scared.compared to thirty thousand. Hed never seen me like that too. We lost everything. I never cried when I couldnt join engineering college. Overall in Gujarat. In the large scheme of things. but this was unfair.. I will work on the roadside. It is funny when hundreds of people dying is tagged with only. I suffered the most. In Bhuj. But that day. staring at the ceiling. I kept quiet. It is one thing when you take a business risk and suffer a loss. the Ty channels said. who are they? Navaldharis is a hardcore entrepreneur community in Gujarat Everyone there does business. I am in debt. So scared of losing money. The new city lost only fifty multi-storey buildings. I didnt expect this from you. the quake damaged a million structures. I never cried when my hand had got burnt one Diwali and Dr Verma had TO give me sedatives to go to sleep. No. and for the next four my body felt stone cold. we cant do anything. For the first three days I had burning fever. And they say. Compared to Gujarat. But when a businessman loses his business. There is no businessman in this world who has never lost money. That is a stadium full of people. There is no one who has loved without getting hurt. Stop talking like middle-class parents. I lost more money in one stroke than my business ever earned. this? Ish. especially since I didnt eat anything else for the next two days.

I got stuck with some sums. you have no household to maintain. What sums? I asked curtly after mom left. Modesty vs Curiosity. Maths is what I told my mom. The card had a hand-drawn cartoon of a boy lying in bed. good advice actually.L. you have seen less money. I like the tag. Who would buy sports stuff after an earthquake? Hope to see you out of bed tomorrow. A poem underneath said: To my maths tutor/ passion guide/ sort-of-friend. I shoved the shirt aside and opened the book. I am sure you will get 1 here one day. You have no kids to feed. And the other thing is. I had to get over this. The shop is open? I said. Dr Verma said and left. sitting down on a chair next to my bed.. What are you doing here? I pulled up my quilt to hide my pajamas and vest attire. I kept staring at it until four.I have lost a lot. Thought Id come here and ask since you were not well. A handmade. Everyone around me was giving me advice. But I was in no mood to listen. Vidya Its not very good. I had to re-accept liittoo Mamas smug face. Of course. but 1 can try. 1 cannot fully understand ycrur loss.. Think about this. it is. May I come in. in case it wasnt clear to me. You want a shirt? she said. My mother came in the room with two cups of tea. pink greeting card fell out. The shop? It would remain closed for a week more. There may be no answers. I returned her M. Govind sir. It has to.L. You are young. Sometimes life throws curve balls and you question why. Its ok. looked impeccable in her maroon and orange salwar kameez with matching mirror-work dupatta. I like it. It isnt your fault. . right? I nodded. And what was with I he sir? She had the thick MX. arent you lucky you werent in the shop already when it happened? Imagine the lives lost if the mall was open? She had a point. Yes. She. Ish and Omi met me every evening but never mentioned it. I was in no mood for anything. Khanna and kept the card under my pillow. you will earn It all back. but age is on your side. What was that for? To solve problems while bedridden? My mother returned with a shirt and left. she murmured. She had labelled it Govind. Vidyas cheeky voice in my home sounded so strange that I sprang up on bed. Khanna tome to me. Life goes on. but I assure time will heal the wound. I said. Here is wishing you a heartfelt get well soon. I am just. I held my shirt ill one hand and the M. I dont feel like doing anything. I wanted to give you this. This earthquake. and what are the refugees doing? Lying in bed or trying to recover? I tuned out the doctor. Insidf it said: Get Well Soon in the cheesiest kiddy font imaginable. Actually. You * an live without it. I am sorry about the sort-of friend. How are you doing? I overcame my urge to turn to the wall. The clock showed three in the afternoon. making my entire signalling exercise futile. of course.L. Maybe an airconditioned mall is not for me. Ish said you havent come to the shop. She extended the voluminous M. Your poorest performing student. she said. Makes it clear that studies are first.. why did this liappen? Do you know our school is now a refugee camp? Yes. Khanna in another. Khanna book and a notebook in her hand. I mimed to her for a shirt.

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

Damn. You have saved our livelihood. Mama. I saw Parekh-jis twisted but impeccable logic. My son is coming with me to Ayodhya. Omi said. Sympathy for people fighting for Ayodhya would be automatic. Something good has come out of all this loss. I turned to him. rude and disrespectful. But with that. camp managers handed out rations but emphasised that everyone in the camp was a Hindu. Mamas arrival broke up our chat. Ish said. Maybe God intended it this way and I accept it. We sat in the sunny courtyard having tea and samosas. I mean after you restore the business. I said. They tasted delicious. careful. 1 said. Mama said to Omi. I felt sick owing people money.. we are forever indebted. 1 was arrogant. anyone could seek refuge. Mama had just returned from Bhuj. Well close the camp in three weeks.. Mama said. yet to start. I wouldnt get my hopes high. Mama sighed. A great idea from Parekh-ji. Despite this soft discrimination. You are my kids. How can you be indebted to your father? Business is down. They can put it in their backyard. right? Mama stood up to hug us. he said. Ayodhya. And now you are members of our party. Parekh-ji had sent truckloads of grain. pulses and other supplies. Son. Mama said. Its ok. Mama. and I can go back to my main cause. sons.India lost the first test. a Muslim family would rarely go there for help. but Mama cut me again. We will help you. The next one is in Calcutta. Im just less agnostic now. Pay when you can. I picked up another samosa. We need camps all over Gujarat. this was my cue to frown. Technically. I am sorry. The other party does it at a far bigger scale. These Australians are made of something else. And sympathy converted well into votes. Samosas. Whos that? Oh. Id love to know how the Australians do it. the spoonful of mud campaign. this is the best news Ive heard today. they were inadvertently buying into the cause. Mama noted the cynicism in my expression. the new post-quake Govind no longer saw Mama as hostile. to comment about the grease spoiling the counter. Omi said. but on the revised loan instalments. However. Politics confuses me. Try to forget what happened. However. hot. Even if they did. We are going to Ayodhya for a reason. One-days? Five of them. We looked puzzled. You faced a calamity. We can help here.. placing a brown bag on the counter. How was your trip? Omi said. Is there any project after 1 he camp? Oh yes. Two more to go. No one would say no to a spoonful of soil from Ayodhya. but he did not hear me. The camp had won Mama many fans in the neighbourhood. But you have started believing in God? Mama said and beamed. I half-heartedly hugged him back. Mama. I think samosas are the best snack known to man. I have never seen such devastation. People had finally begun to move out and regain their lives. about your loan. You guys should join. Pandit-ji? I said. I realise my destiny is this shop. Forget it. mix it with plants or whatever. I cant comment. the new-me found it a noble exercise. Only a marketing strategy for a small campaign. Misery everywhere. He saw our reluctant faces and added. We are all like that when young. Ish said. We will go to every Hindu house in Belrampur and ask them if they want a spoon of mud from Ramas birthplace in their house. . In my earlier avatar. he said. A man dragged a heavy wooden trunk into our shop. Mama. But how much can Parekh-ji do? Mama had stayed up nights to set up the makeshift relief camp at the Belrampur school. We will get gunnybags full of soil from there.

castes and sub-castes. Yes. The guy could not pay. Omi picked up a limping Ali. Ish continued with his weird and highly improbable ideas of making Ali meet the Australian team. Ali said promptly. I said as I offered him a samosa. So? I said. Omi signalled and all of us bent to touch Mamas feet. man. Just this one trunk is worth ten thousand. Ish looked pleased that the training was finally showing results. They started talking like grown-ups do. They are in India.Pandit-ji panted. I have no cash either. I want kebabs. Mama said as he held a palm over our heads and blessed us. just dont tell anyone. Ish and I sat on the floor in front of the TV. lamb skewers and chicken tikka with onions and green chutney. Ill send one more trunk. Ish said. kissing Alis forehead. You have to go somewhere? Mama said. No. However. Omi was really missing a lot in life. Omi downed the shutters of the shop. Ten India vs Australia Test Match Kolkata. Hes ready. 11-15 March 2001 Day 1 Most of the time crap happens in life. To us. He arranged the trunk on the floor. Ish said. When are we ever going to get a chance like this? Is he mad? Omi asked me. our celebratory mood dampened as the opposing teams captain kicked Ali in the knee before running away. Australia is touring India at present. He paid me with trunks full of goods. because I will hurt them before anyone touches you. Did you see him play? He can wait. We needed a miracle to move that many goods. You creamed them. We returned from a neighbourhood match. Whos asking you for cash now? Just keep it in your shop. Omi said. I remember every day of that match. you keep half and give me half. . I wasnt aware that the second test match of the India Australia series would be one. business is terrible. sometimes miracles do too. His face glowed behind the smoke of roasting kebabs at Qazi dhaba. Ill take him to the shop. You guys get dinner. Of course. whatever he wants. And ask ma to make him some turmeric milk. I have six more at home. For what? I asked. The smell of chicken tikka filled my nostrils. He is ready to meet the Australians. so I thought I will bring this to you. run and support others. Whatever sells. Meet the Australians? Omi said as he dusted the counter. but other than that. Ish whispered. Ish said to Ali. Ish said. Kebabs? In the shop? I hesitated. Fine. However. avoiding Alis name. One of the students we coach is playing. but loud enough for Mama and Pandit-ji to hear. Will they hurt me again? Ali said. Omi said. What say? I took in the trunks as I had no risk. exchanging hometowns. Pandit-ji. Mama introduced himself to Pandit-ji. We are late. he is perfect. He is ready. A sports shop closed down. to a cricket match. Dont worry about that idiot from that stupid team. the second test match of the India-Australia series was the magic cure for the quake. I need cash. Alis side had won with him scoring the highest. He pointed to the Australian team batting on the screen. Ish said. My sons. right? Ish said as the waiter packed our order of rumali rotis. He plays along until time comes for the big hits. Fielding sucks. his white face a rosy red. Ish would make a good father. Not like his own father who never said one pleasant sentence. Ali lasted eight overs.

guys. I will see you then. Babloo said.. then we could. We have a board meeting every Monday. I was tempted to throw them in for free. Dont watch the TV from so close. In fact. upset at the score more than me. will you come to Goa? Goa? I raised my eyebrows. I stood up to check the days accounts. Fuck. I stood up from the floor. check this kid out. I am the principal of the Kendriya Vidyalaya on Ellisbridge. he can come in. Bowl better. I said if. What will you do by meeting them? Really? I joined in. Babloo? Omi said as we tried our best to impress anyone related to Mrs Ganguly. I said as I saw the score. Ish turned to the screen. I want to attend the bhajans inside and Babloo wants to see the match. Ish said. Ish said." How do you intend to meet them? I mocked. This is a regular income business. Then what? Knock on Haydens door and say. She bought him two tennis balls. Ish bent forward to kiss the TV. I dont know. Ish. So we go see a match. I was never keen on random people coming into our shop to spend their time. Say yes. Mrs Ganguly came in two hours later to pick up Babloo. Wickets crumbled and from 193/1.Of course. So what? You have to swing this for me. Dont people work on computers? Ish was jumping up and down in excitement. if you can visit me sometime. Tt has totally turned. I said. scowling. I also need advice on buying cricket equipment for my school. I said. If we save enough. School? I said. Nobody went blind watching TV from close. After the mall fiasco. Mrs Ganguly said and left us to ponder over her business proposition. Cool. Australia ended the day at 291/8. Australias score was 193/1. You supply to schools. If business picks up.. lets go with Ali. How? Omi said as he sat down with us. On the first day at tea. If it does. Ish opened the door wider. "Hey. she said. Hello. no? The answer was no. Dont listen to grown-ups all the time. business is never going to pick up. we have our inhouse advisor Ishaan. he is. Yes. Everybody thinks we are government so they try and rip us off. Excuse me. Maybe a one-day. Dont watch from so close Babloo. They are raping us again. Of course. I want to get their opinion on Ali. giving me her card. Well buy something. The one-day series will continue for the next two months. But. I wanted to make Ish happy. Its the last one-day.Yes. She sensed my hesitation. Ish and I exchanged a round of dirty looks. Yes. I said. but she might take it the wrong way. A little known Surd called Harbhajan Singh had howled after tea. But we are not suppliers. Ish said later. are you watching the India-Australia match? a ladys voice interrupted us. The boy came in and sat before the TV. We never had good suppliers for sports. see the match? Ish said. Perhaps God listened to Mrs Gangulys prayers inside. If I get you this. Yes? Can my grandson watch it with you for a while? she said. We did not supply to schools. Bhajji. Why dont you come and tell us how you can help? . Here. We will go see a match. Ish said. you are great. Hey. Great. An elderly woman stood at the counter with a puja thali in her hand. There is no money for trips. He is an ex-district level player. You want candy. I looked at the TV. I am stretching it out as far as I can. I am Mrs Ganguly by the way. A small boy accompanied the lady.

An innings defeat looked unlikely. I will treat you all to dinner. I said and slipped a candy to Babloo. I sighed. but an innings defeat meant empty parks for weeks. Ish said. But the day Im talking about was when two Indian batsmen made eleven Australian . I passed the daal to Omi. Yes. the commentator said and I slapped my forehead. Tendulkar scored ten. India made one change. It replaced the opener Ramesh with another new guy called Laxman. India needed only 20 runs to match Australias first innings of 445. You were going to see all days anyway. With a draw there is hope of sales. And the Australians have asked India to follow on. India won the World Cup on 25 June 1983 and so that counted.We had four days to prepare. Heck. and. He needs to be around if we wan a draw. Day 2 The only way to describe the second day of the match was depressing. Something is wrong about this. Day 4 If there was a day that India dominated world cricket. growing at two per cent a year. yes. I want to see this. I want to see how our team makes eye contact when they lose so badly. Adding that to the first innings score of 171. I said. They have twenty million people. Dravid scored the highest at twenty-five. He slammed four after four. we will see you then. I said. He mumbled something about avoiding a follow-on. The board would be in a better mood if India won this match. See. they cream us. I would have to prepare for the school meeting by myself. Day 3 The next morning I dont know why we even bothered to switch on the TV. thats what the Indian team does. we create an Australia every year. We have one billion. Laxmans job is not done. we could even draw now. You are just watching them on TV. inventing his own phrases for the moment. Omi said. which looked pretty difficult. For its second innings. Why sports? Why cricket? Thats fucking-follow-on-fantastic. India stood at a respectable 254/4. A defeat in a test match was one thing. Right when you give up hope. Everyone is getting their turn today. India struggled to stretch their first innings. Should we close the shop for good? I thought. The team is full of people with contacts. Sports is the wrong choice in our country. If this match is a draw. Ish ignored me. They are not making eye contact. Still. Ish said. Ish said. Ish tore his chapattis with anger over dinner. The second day ended with India at 128/8. These Australians must be thinking why even bother to come and play with India. At the end of the third day. and now l hey ask us to follow on? Should we turn off the TV? I said. From 291/8. Sure. it was on the fourth day of the match. We had them by their balls at 291/8. they get you involved again. Should we open another flower shop? There will always be a demand for that in a temple. Pray for a draw. Ish said at dinner. He clenched his fist and came dangerously 1 lose to the TV. But Laxman connected with the ball and bat. Please think about our Monday meeting. Ish said. others even less. Kids would rather read textbooks than play cricket and be reminded of Indias humiliation. but packed up before lunch at 171 all out. But it wasnt only Ramesh who sucked. too. Else we should change our business. Ok. Who the fuck is this Ramesh? Connection quota. Wait. The Indians came out to bat and opener Ramesh got out for no score. two dinners. Why on earth had I started this business? What an idiot I am? Why couldnt I open a sweet shop instead? Indians would always eat sweets. Australia dragged on their first innings to end at a healthy 445 all out. Ish said. Ish said as the Indian openers took the crease for the second follow-on innings.

We had a follow-on. Ganguly really thinks he has a chance to bowl these Australians out? I said. It meant Australia would have to come back and bat. What? Omi scratched his head. you will start believing in God? Omi played along. Hope we have some kids back in the park again. I can finally sleep in peace. Ok. so it has happened earlier. special prayers. so we lucked out and made a big total to take the game to a draw. but that is not how Australians play. I will sponsor the Goa trip. Day 4 started at 274/4 and ended at 589/4. England won against. Australians could have played safe and taken the game to a draw. But why did the captain declare when he could have played on until there was no time left? Unless. I read out loud from the page. had 337 runs more than Australia and only one day left in the match. Ish nodded. Nine of the eleven members of the Australian team took turns bowling. Twice in how long? Ish said. See. Here is what happened. I said after a ten-minute search. I said and noticed Omi close his eyes and chant silently. I wasnt sure of Gangulys intentions either. How many times? Ish said. Dravid made 155 not out. Hey Mr Mathematician.cricketers dance to their tune. . While we were praying only for a draw two days ago. Thats right. I joked. Ill buy the draw dinners.difficult yet possible. Ish nodded as the Australian batsman reverted to the crease. an Indian victory. The Indian captain Ganguly made a surprise decision. of course. Only twice? Once in 1894 and then in 1981. We should have continued to play. He cant be serious. Twice. We hardly sold any of these. I said. That was. guess who. I said. Day 5 Human expectations have no limit. this match is so over. Ish didnt leave the TV even to pee. Ganguly had kept the winning score of 384 required by the Australians at a tantalising level . Like the probability is so low that Id say if India wins. They chanted Laxmans name enough times to make Steve Waugh visibly grumpy. eyes glued to screen. Get the draw done and over with. Ish said as we downed the shutters of the shop. Laxman and Dravid continued to play and added 357 runs for the fifth wicket. he wanted a decision. Yep. I said. Laxman left at 281 and everyone in the stadium stood up to applaud for his eleven-hour innings. Both times. Or like if India wins. On the fourth day of the Test. Is Ganguly mad? Its too risky. he declared the Indian innings at 657/7. The crowd at Eden Gardens became possessed. And that they had to make 384 runs in the rest of the day to win the match. but statistically speaking. They did it in public and they did it the whole day. The team that had given us a follow-on could not bowl one batsman out. I pulled out the cricket data book from the top shelf. He signalled Omi to start urgent. Twice in the last hundred and ten years. Laxman ended the day at 275 not out. Australia. Now. it happens. We could have had an innings defeat. the start of the fifth day raised new hopes. scoring more than what the entire Indian team did in their first innings. Ish turned to me. has it happened? Has it ever happened that the side facing a follow-on actually won the match? Ish said. Sorry buddy. but the publisher insisted we keep a few copies Ok. Maybe he has something else in mind. but none of them succeeded in getting a wicket. After an hours play for the day. We had lots of wickets left. Ish said.

In eight runs. Sir. for the miracles you bestow on us. Pretty soon. the Surd that Ish kissed on screen (and left saliva marks all over). fuck the probability. Two balls quickly please. Thank you God. I had thought of an answer for this scenario. But today. The lady principal and six teachers sat around a semicircular wooden table. . The office wasin a poor state. he didnt have any of his own regrets. I started. I said. I had them laser printed at a computer shop for three rupees a page. as my pause for effect became too long. The preparations until two last night better be worth it. A draw is fine. Every now and then. We did some calculations. I said. Next stop. Go on. I told myself. Ish. I had seen Ish watch the men in blue as if he wished he was one of them. The worst would be if Australia did score the runs. You are allowed a few celebratory curses when you witness history. but I gave Ish the benefit of doubt. I passed out sheets that estimated the schools monthly needs based on eight hundred students. I think more than wanting to be them. we can scale down. Thats too much. I thought. The pass percentage and the first divisions. I folded my hands and looked at the sky. the administrative head said. Ganguly probably did not know the odds. I said. and India won the match in the most spectacular way ever. In Eden Gardens. every placard. How much will this cost? the administrative head said. no. Australia came back and continued to cruise at 166/3. the last two batsmen were scalped as well. 161/3. He saw Harbhajan jump and jumped along. Ish stood tall. Fuck your statistics man. not just sell some balls. the principal said. as the crowds roared everytime an Indian team members name was announced. But Ish wasnt standing. he wanted them to win. Your average cost will be ten thousand a month. A peon brought samosas and tea for everyone. I thought again. half of the Australian team was gone. a boy plonked a fifty-rupee note on the counter. Ish interupped me. Then came five deadly overs that included a hattrick from Harbhajan Singh.Post-tea The Indian team must have mixed something special in their tea. He clapped when Ganguly came to accept the trophy. Lets clean up the shop.I told Omi to stop praying too much. We may have some customers. Omi read Australias score at tea. Ish reluctantly picked up the mop. So we have a district-level champion player who can design a package based on your needs and budgets. Australia 174/8. Day 5 . I took a deep breath. guys. We get judged on our results. with rickety furniture and dusty trophies. It was impossible to hear the TV commentary. We will take the Australians another time. The first customer of the great Indian Cricket Season had arrived. only jumping. We have limited resources. It is twelve rupees per child a month. I could see genuine love in his eyes. We were in the principals office in the Kendriya Vidyalaya. A draw would be fine. we have a match. He shut the notebook and pushed it towards me. Like most government offices and buildings old files piled up high on several cupboards. which coincided with our own break. took six wickets. Frankly. his hands on his hips and looked at the screen. We have come to offer solutions. Ish shouted in jubilation. Harbhajan. It must be miserable to work here. This is a Kendriya Vidyalaya. I had delivered my first line perfect. It must be miserable to work for anyone else. every poster and anything combustible besides people was on fire. the head said. Dont you think sport deserves as much as the cost of a fountain pen? The teachers looked up from their notebooks and exchanged glances. Not a private school. The match gets over in a few hours. I dont like it when people insult mathematics. dont fucking stand in front of the TV. I pointed at Ish and every teacher looked at him.

The pause continued until the principal spoke again. What will help me get over the earthquake is work. I mentally said the F-word a few times. This is Mr Bhansali. I could have killed him. You are on for six months. the principal introduced. wow! Someone has a good life. I did self-study as you did not have time for me. Yes. ten thousand is ok for a trial. she said as she stepped down. fifty-somethings stood up to shake hands with me. He came for a visit. Ish raised a hand to keep me quiet. where will Indias sportsmen come from? Ish said. her tutor. I really dont need this break from work. she said. She stood on a stool in her room. I came back to her desk. It will help you get over the earthquake. But talent is not distributed only among the rich. held the pin tray. Should we get shiny balls or fix the leaks? He stood up to leave. Cmon Govind. passion. to match the admin heads height. And tell me. So did you do the calculus chapter in your so-called self-study mode. This trip is costing us three thousand bucks. Of course. she said. who will be more successful in life? The kid who knows all the chemical formulae or the one who knows teamwork. We stood up to shake hands. we can do a plan for five thousand a month. Sports teaches them all this. Im not setding for a scaled-down version. Jitin-sir. You need business. Fine. I took his card. Sit down Jitin sir. Six educated. We will chase useless first divisions but not spend two samosa plates worth of money on sports. Let us hear what they have to say. Vidya said with a pin in her mouth. so I asked him to sit in this meeting. From rich families. the principal said. save this. . you do. Eleven Goa. son. Ish took his seat but did not keep quiet. "Very funny. Lets see how it goes. We have to expand the pool. She took her seat. why dont you come to a meeting at our Belapur school? the oldest gentleman in the group said. All the teachers stopped eating midway. I mentally made a note to order business cards and wondered if I could do the fist pumping now or save it for later. I had become a real businessman. Ish stood up. But he ignored me. He pointed to the samosas on the plate. The head took out his glasses and wiped ihem calmly. the principal said. Oh. Do you know half our classrooms leak in the rain. Eight hundred kids and they want to keep them locked in classes all day. 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 said.If everyone thinks that way. I mentally noted his name as he sat down again. discipline and focus? Sit down. I stamped his foot. So much for my position of authority. I said. Goa is your brothers idea. yes. fixing a poster of Aamir Khan in Dil Chahta Hai on the wall. signalling him to sit down. Sir. opened her book and slapped each page as she turned it over. the head said with a straight face. headmaster of the Belapur school. and the money I make to pay back those loans. 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. I. Can you act more interested? I am not a good actor. If this works. any business. What are you here to do? To give children an education. What are you talking about? This from one of the teachers. the head said.

Just go to Goa. . calculus problems. See now you can go to your election rally in Baroda. Thats right. chacha. It said Zuben Singh. Now pay attention. Some spoilt brats have to be spoonfed even the basics. Who cares? she said from behind me. What is all this "dx dt". Ish pulled Alis arm and drew him into his lap. I suck. I flashed out a card. She kept quiet. Ish said to me in a hushed voice. Thirty thousand people here want to go in there. I cannot leave Ali with his ammi for four days. I stopped midsentence. Excuse me. make money. No. Khuda Hafiz. Sometimes I wish I had not married again. I am not that senior in the party.. said Alis dad as the train signal went off. We have to meet the organisers. Chairman.Anyway. The train began to move.. Ish said. I had borrowed the card from his trunk. and why are they so many scary symbols? Vidya.. Dont talk like what? Like a duffer. The last word fine had the loudest volume. I opened the calculus chapter. It is ok. The arm belonged to a security guard outside the VIP stand. you are appearing for medical entrance... I repeated the story to him. Is there a problem? I said after a pause. Are you getting a ticket this year. Ill be back in four days. He remained sceptical. Pandit-ji had once met the chairman of the biggest sports company in India. no. I want to talk to him. Ali. Let us go in. As usual. Before moisture turned to rain. I said as I headed to the door. Why? the hairy guard said. Vidya. I own Wilson Sports. I said as I chained our suitcase to the lower berth. I said. Wilson Sport. I had to exit.. abba. He is a piece of my heart. I dont understand it. Alis dad said and his eyes became moist. Yes. I can manage fine. Omi said his pre-journey prayers. Ali called out as the train left for sunnier climes. Say bye properly.  Organisers. Dont talk like. The security guard broke into a sweat and called his manager. Who are you? Autograph hunters? Say it. why is it that sometimes making you talk is like extracting teeth. I made a fake phone call pretending to talk about ten-crore-rupees business orders. Try the exercises in the end. A hairy arm stopped me. He called the senior-most security person who came in a suit. We want to talk about some endorsement deals. dont jump between berths. his voice trailed off as the train picked speed. I said... I am like this only. Get your senior. Now will you cooperate or. Ali was too excited to care for his dads instructions. insult people who dont salivate for maths and dont make any time for friends. Alis ammi doesnt care. Travelling with a twelve-year-old. I am not a duffer.  Eat on time and dont stay up late. manage your business. I ended another call in Gujarati and his face softened. this responsibility had to fall on me. Her eyes turned moist and her long fingers trembled. He reserved the top berth for himself and climbed up. I wrapped the cash and tickets in plastic and placed it inside my socks. Ali beta. And read the next chapter by the time I come back. I said as I finished class. and two other grownup kids. Can we please start? I explained calculus to her for an hour. But I will be helping l he Belrampur candidate. Gujarati? he said. you have a problem? Only you have the right to ignore people? she threw back.

Finally. I saw the Australians play and thought maybe we could find a brand ambassador. the guard said. but it hinted at his growing belief is us. He looked upset. look slowly five rows behind. I said. Go for it Ali. A few people noticed. He will. whom I did not recognise came and sat one row ahead of us. There was a young Sikh boy in a burgundy turban wearing the Indian team dress. in the pads. I just landed from Ahmedabad. Everyone turned back to see men in yellow dresses emerge from the dressing room. I could hear his heart beat through his mouth. Apart from the batsmen on crease. well. He may be in the team noon. there is Ponting. Yes. their team would be in the stands soon. He spoke into a microphone hanging from his ear and turned to us. ok? I said to the security guard lest he became suspicious again. Alis scream ruined my effort to act placid. Are you from Gujarat? Ish asked him. Why Australian? Why dont you take an Indian? A totally irrelevant question. True VIPs never screamed at stars even though they liked to hang around them. We had the best view in the stadium. Australia would bat now. I turned. He nodded. I said and pointed to Omi. Murmurs rippled in our stand. Yes. Ish whispered in my ear. how are you? he said in Gujarati. One suspicion you are star-struck and they will kick our asses out of here. He is one down. I said. You see. We came after the Indian innings had ended. Thank God for Indias various regional clubs. The bad ones. he is in the campaign. We will wait for the Australian team to come. Ish bhaiya. Should I go shake his hand? Dont be nuts. Thank God lor sponsors. everyone was there . What about the kid? He has to go? Oh yes. we are doing a coach and student theme. I came to see the match. Why have you come without an appointment? he said. the security head said. Soon we were all drinking Fanta in tall glasses.I stared at him. Cant afford the Indian team. I nodded and a deep breath. Oh. will you buy a bat endorsed by Ajit Agarkar? The guard nodded. Ish clutched my hand tight as he saw the Australian team members. the twelfth man. I said guardedly. . He wore the Australian team shirt. The gates creaked open. but looked away as Ali was a kid. A young white man. Lehman. I said. No. In India you dont know whether someone will like you or hate you because you are from a certain place. Ish said. Pretend you own a two-hundred-crore company. we made it to the enclosure. red fibre-glass seats and sat down in an empty row. They came and sat two rows ahead of us. as if a Gujarati girl broke his heart.One guard will accompany you. he could not be more than twenty. We were he for a purpose. the Australian captain. Symonds and even McGrath. That is Steve Waugh. but had a pair of casual khaki shorts on. But we didnt come here to check out the Australian team like awestruck fans. Can I take that? Ali said as waiters in white uniforms walked a round with soft drinks. The good players are too expensive. Hey. tell me. Sharandeep Singh. I nodded. The guards frisked us to the point of molestation. Omi will be ok? Ish whispered.Bevan. trying to decipher the better answer. One of you stay with us. With curly hair and deep blue eyes. We walked through the posh.

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

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

And speaking of sons. Twelve There is some junk around here. Two rats scurried across on unsteady legs. opening the door of a dilapidated godown. Ish said. I had to make sure Ali gets tested by the best. Fred. Omi. Goodonya. It is just Ish and Ali right? Thats fine. So thats cool by me. The air became tense. I am no rich guy either like your Indian team players. Mama said. Wow. I need to make a call. Mama said and shouted. Why? Fred asked. We cant. Fred said and stepped away to dial a number on his cellphone. It had no frontage to make it suitable for retail. As long as I could secure goods on credit. I want you to meet my son today. stacks of bricks and abandoned masonry. But July is better. Anyway. Ish exclaimed. July works. I said. Dhiraj said. I could see the pride in Ishs face. No. It will take weeks to organise this. visas and living expenses during the trip. Fred said. look Ali. what rent do you want for this? I said. Fred said as he stepped away to make another call. Yeah right. Ish said. Really? Ish said. Let me put the tilak. I intervened. All right. Mama said. Ish said. I can do four tickets.Dhiraj! Dhiraj! Dhiraj. Fred smiled. Why dont you guys bring him down to Australia for a while? Hang out and practice in my academy. I didnt have to do it. here you are. I thought. Well. Nonsense. there would be expense on passports. Fred. I was quite certain that the recent cricket series would increase demand bigtime. Mama. Baba. We need four tickets. Mamas fourteen-year-old son. we are partners Fred. we will need six lights on the ceiling. but its not every day you get to go international. But it will be a great store for your shop. Holy Moly. His Spiderman T-shirt and jeans contrasted with the plate of vermillion and saffron paste that he was carrying in his hand. I needed some time to save for that. Fred invited like going to Australia was as simple as taking an auto to Navrangpura. it is winter in Australia and tickets are cheaper. I had decided to go into wholesale business. I figured apart from the tickets. Yet. Sunlight hit the room for the first time in years. Fred said as we walked back. Then get him to Australia. . Ish wanted to go to Australia. thats peak sales season. Cant afford it. What? I run a small cricket shop. Mama said. I hated such form of benevolence. We had scraped to get second-class tickets for Goa. And tickets are expensive. came running from the temple compound. I dont own a cricket business. I said. Its fifteen feet by fifteen feet. We lied to get into your enclosure for this. I had estimated the godowns rent as half of the shop.Hey guys can you hang on. Hang on. How big is your business? It is kind of small. Either we all come together or not. A father does not take rent from his son. We navigated our way through empty gunnybags. I couldnt hear Fred but he had a ten-minute animated conversation before he returned to us. Ish said. We cant come in the summer vacation. one of my ex-girlfriends works with Qantas. But you could have got into trouble there if caught. Ali smiled. Thanks. Fred said as he returned. We were leaving the same night to save money. I could make money. I leave India tomorrow. this is because of you. You guys! Some gumption. A good size. I said quickly. Let me see what I can do.

The temple bells made it hard to talk and I had to strain my ears to hear his voice on the horrible line. 1 said. Yet. I have had enough. 1 received a call from Pandit-ji a month alter 1 had opened the godown. Flections are only six months away. Mama said. When can you take the stock? The godown buyer needs possession fast. The true cost is a round one lakh forty thousand. of course. Mama said. Govind. I said in a firm voice. in one ceremony? Yes. They have two sons. I have to finish puja. son. How much is the stock worth? Two lakhs of sale value. Yes. worry lines crisscrossed their foreheads. Want to do it as early as possible. Pandit-ji? Can you hear me? 1 said.  Hello. They will take both my daughters. Dont say no. Mama. I could double my money. Ish and Omi looked it me in surprise. but last week a nice family came to our house. So young. Two trips to Ayodhya already. We came out of the godown. Pandit-ji said. Yes. 1 am already obligated to you. I saw a gold-mine trade. I said. India had performed great in the recent series. But if it is one ceremony. Ishaan and. puzzled. I know Pandit-ji. I said one lakh. and now you want to buy it off me at a loss? i am buying everything. too. Pandit-ji said. I do. But his daughter is gone. In a few months. Dhiraj put tilak on our foreheads too. We will repay your loan soon. right? Ish was doubtful. and 1 kept another ten per cent. Ish reminded me. I said. you can take it for one ten. When I told Ish and Omi about the deal later. If I sold it all. Govind. he said. No more. I said. The summer vacations would start in a few weeks. I want to marry my daughters off and go back to my Kashmir. Hi. I took out ten one-hundred-rupee notes and placed them in Mamas hand. What? I said. I said on impulse. the rallies will start. he said. Mama said with pride in his voice. Put tilak on your brothers. Omi. What crazy scheme was I up to now? One lakh forty is the cost. Leave it no. they want it in style. I looked at him. Give me the money by next month. I have to show Parekh-ji what a brilliant job I can do. imagine the saving.Dhiraj put a tilak on Mamas forehead. Today. Of which retailers like you took twenty per cent margin. Meet your brothers. You know what you are doing. . both based in London. My risks had let him down before. you have to give me cricket tips someday Sure. I said. Ill take it for one lakh. but I need a buyer for the goods. yet he helps me with my campaign after school. Ish bhaiya. How is it going. Do you trust me? Of course. run along. the boy said in a voice that had just broken into adolescence. you cant do business without taking bets. I love cricket. I have sold the godown. The cricket shop owners. Mama. Mama? You need me? Omi said. Rent for the godown. You had a thing for her. Business is looking up. Mama bolted the door. He had told me this story a dozen nines.

. Ish said. Whats more. What? Pandit-ji is going back to Kashmir? Anyway. Both shrugged. we deliver in two hours. Our wholesale business fared even better. I kept the key in my shirt pocket. he said. at the opposite ends of Nana Park. Im with you guys and dont have to be a priest. When schools reopened. Dad is only going to find another reason to curse me. I told another large shop in Satellite. but I couldnt afford to spend so much on a junket. What? Australia. 1 said as I counted cash. Thats right.Oh. Fred is giving the tickets. I do. I dont work for money. I said and locked the safe. cash down only. Super nuts. Laxman and my batting styles are identical. ★ Business exploded in the next three months. I faced the two. Nope. Heres mine. It took a national holiday on 15 August for us to have a quiet day at the shop. Cmon Omi. or forty thousand for the four of us. he also looked after the monthly supply business. You need to. You have no idea who has a thing for whom buddy. But we will still spend a lot. Call us. Mama wants us there by four. Ive taken over Pandit-jis business. I said. Take this money home and toss the bundle at your dad. These guys are nuts. Id imagine at least ten thousand a head. Yes. I kept track of cash. Cmon. Ish said as he pulled my arm down. Out of which forty thousand will be used to repay our loans. I said. But guess whats our profit for the last four months. Just the visas cost three thousand each. while Ish manned the shop. said another boy in the park. Ish said and tossed the bundle back to me. I looked at Ish and Omi. Omi did deliveries. We now supplied to four schools. Seventy thousand. Mama had planned his rally on Independence Day. Is this how Harbhajan grips the ball? a seven-year-old tried to fit the cricket ball into his tiny fist. any problem? I said and realised I had come across too firm. Look at the sky. we have discussed it. pay now. Omi said. The remaining thirty is ours. Omi tossed in his bundle. No. We will repay all by the end of the year. Thats good enough for me. Ahmedabad has no quality stock. thats easy money. Customers at the temple shop tripled. So. Ish said. Experts had called the India-Australia series historic. Hey. Retailers never stopped calling. The pent-up cricket fix came out properly only in the vacations. Who decides how to cut this money? Ish said. Every Indian kid played cricket in May and June. We should have kept kites. 1 said to a credit seeker. the same day as Alis dad had planned a speech for his partys candidate. We will get there by four. I said and looked away. two boxes of balls in City Mall sports shop? said one. too. Seventy what? Ish said. Here is my ten. I thought. I said and passed on a bundle of notes to each of them. if you count the interest. Govind. it was nice to meet Fred and Ali is good. I wanted to go as well. The actual matches had taken place during the exams. both the rallies took place at the same venue. I stood up to do a stock inventory in the godown. Hurry up with the accounts. I said. how many loans do we have left? Only twenty thousand more. You want now. My contribution to the Australia fund.

I said and tossed my bundle too. can you come backstage. They found a Hari-Vishnu inscription that established without doubt that there was a temple in the past. who know politics and religion are separate. Omi stepped off the stage and came to me. Unlike Mamas hundred per cent Hindu. My financially clueless partners looked at me like kids waiting for candy. stayed away from politics in their time. more due to the poor quality of loudspeakers than the impact of his words. the snacks need to be distributed. Hasmukh-ji came to the mike. His voice echoed. Mama wants you to spy on Alis dads rally. No. remember? Omi said. Now if only you dont pay the loan this time. And Ish. not bad for a neighbourhood gathering. I was interrupted immediately. Ish said as he dialled the agents number. It always worked. Gujarat is a place of intelligent people. I guessed he was Hindu. Well take enough theplas and khakras to eat for the stay. lets go to Nana Park now. Mama had candidate potential. But the secular government hid it. Fred will arrange the stay. the Australian cricket team. though he only had an errand-boy status. Mama had done a good job of publicity. The candidate. I said as I took the phone. As far back as 1978. this was more of a mixed bunch. They liked Hasmukh-ji before he had spoken a word. weve got thirty grand done. But the secular party buries that news. But why? I was bewildered.. ASI. I cant leave the business anymore and everyday will be expensive there. He requested everyone to close their eyes to say the Gayatri Mantra. The crowd became involved. the governments own entity. Alis dad was speaking. The loan has to be repaid. I took a seat in the last row and eyeballed the crowd. thrice. ish. The focus shifts to the kar sevaks as vandals. The decorations here were less saffron and more white. Ish said. Think about it man. a veteran of state politics and a longtime associate of Parekh-ji. Yes. We will repay it . politics public. If we truly want to follow our gods. sat centrestage. I sat down and sighed.. And they found something. Two hundred people had shown up. here we go. Ish and I sat at one end of the first row. All right. to the other rally.later. Mama was enjoying his five minutes of mike fame before Hasmukh-jis speech. this money is for Australia only Just when the business was looking up! Oh well. ★ Twice. There you go. why were so many Hindus sitting here? The gods we pray to. One week. What if the other expenses end up higher? We will spend as little as possible. Who is the bloody travel agent. You a party member? someone asked me. Govind.Well then lets save it for the business and. I thought. Then in 1992. Omi said. Ish started cracking knuckles. you dont listen.. Religion is private. Omi stood on stage. Mama raised two lingers. Ish said. I shook my head. I walked over to the other end of the park. I said. You promised to help Mama. Hasmukh-ji. Omi disconnected the phone. too. let me bargain with him. Ish said. we must keep our religion separate from politics. Alis dad said. He felt important wearing a party badge. . our dear kar sevaks were pushed into breaking the structure. If the secular party was so pro-Muslim as Mama suggested. punctuating Mamas words. 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. His responsibilities included placing mineral water bottles for everyone sitting on the stage. They dug up the Ayodhya site twice. his silk badge fluttering in the breeze. found temple evidence. No way Ish. Later.

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

I go to the academy ground in the morning. The first lime I groaned. Ali will practice in his academy for a week. will you miss me? I continued to look down.Thirteen First Goa. Mathematical questions. push-ups and crunches. he will get you whatever you want. You also dont let me down. He is a batsman. all my students do well. So where are you going in Australia? Sydney. Philip will pick you up for the evening practice. Gujarat is not backward. waited six more hours to board a fourteen-hour flight to Sydney via Singapore. too? she asked. We had taken an overnight train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. Take a nap first Id say. philosophical questions. I said and stood up to leave. I said. Five rounds of the academy grounds equaled twenty rounds of Nana Park and fifty rounds of the banks courtyard. So. Vidya. he goes real far. Thirty hours of travel in cramped environments and I wanted to kill myself with sleep. Fred screamed. Where is my bed? I wanted to ask. joggers clogged the pavements. Will you get me something from Australia? Ask your brother. But your books wont be. The next time he said. I patted the khakras in my bag. Lucky bums. one came running to me. mate. So who are the two people going? she said. so we made it in time for practice? Ish looked out at the streets of Sydney. Fred is from there. she laughed. in the morning. We had finished class and I wanted to tell her about my impending absence. no. Vidya would top easy. Cut the drama. I will be stuck in this hellhole home even in college. ★ You guys tired or wanna hit practice? were Freds first words of welcome at the airport. How? Forget it. this is Ali. we are on a tight budget. At 7 a. her eyes the size of the new one-rupee coins. Focus. there was a beefy guy called Peter and a spectacled spinner called Steve. no short-cuts. We couldnt afford any cakes In this town. In an entrance exam for insolence. I opened her guide books. Why are studies so boring? Why do you have to do something so uninteresting to become something in life? Vidya. I clarified. yes. . I restacked the books. I will be away for ten days. Close to the boundary line. No way would I spend more cash than I needed to. Ive put you up in a hostel. We locked eyes again. Anyway. What business do you do? said Vidya. Ali and the three of us are going. we did innumerable sit-ups. Fred said as he stepped on the gas. Vidya. Not two. So. Fred said to the other players who came for practice. Dont let me down. You have a budget for how much you can miss people. Oh. Unlike me. Five rounds everyone. Fred kept his promise when Ish wrote to him again. Do your sums. I cant focus. We received tickets in the mail. Three personal trainers supervised five students each. she said. Guys. Apart from Philip. Maybe I am too forward. Picture-postcard coffee shops advertised delicious muffins. And then I will get married into another hell-hole in some backward part of Gujarat. I said and left. When your brother sets his mind on something. Im sure I will flunk my medical entrance. She nodded as if she understood. After the run. I forgot the other names instantly. I retorted. now Australia. I said.m. The first two hours of our Australian practice was the practice of death. four.

Fred raised his eyebrows at a glum Ish in the locker room. Ish offered to be the wicket keeper. I know what whinge means. But you guys are single. He doesnt really bowl. If he isnt humble. What was I doing in the middle of this Australian ground? As the day progressed. mate. The mosquitoes were mozzies.  Cheers! everyone cried. NCR 5. Why not? Indian women are hot. The missus wont tolerate me making eyes at anyone else. mate. you wanted your little discovery to bat. announced Fred though Ali hadnt batted yet. If I dont break their pride.. well. but I had to field anyway. . Everyone looked at us. said Ish. he wont last long. Pack-up time. so did my Aussie vocabulary.We came to the pitch after endurance me on that mate. Ill make the week productive.. You a whinger? Fred said. You must have pretty girls all over you in India. give it a burl. I said. Oh. and we had a tough time catching it. another fielder shouted at me. Roger said. Check those honeys out. Michael said as four girls walked in.. Busy? Never heard a bloke too busy to root. Promised the missus some time. rolling his Too busy with work. Fred tossed the ball to Ali. then looked at his watch. Omi said. We are only here for a week. But Fred. too hot to be a waitress. Fred said. Hi! our server Hazel. You got to siphon the python.. What for? So he can hit a few sixes. Philip broke into some more slang. Whinge means. Aussie slang. Fred. I threw the ball back. Fair dinkum? Ish looked up from his wooden stool. mate. Everyone laughed. Even though your country treats them like that. Michael said. Rattle your dags. Fred clapped his hands. An easy ball was a piece of piss. Roger slammed the ball towards the boundary several times. mate. it means give it a try... Fred said. I see a lot of talent. No way. said Michael. Philip took his fielding place at the boundary near me.. Root meant. which meant well done. I am fine. "The one in brown. But todays lesson was important. I told them I was no player. whatever. mate. Mate. in English if you can. We dont have girlfriends. Alis bowling was no match for these state level players. Oooh. You want the kid to be a show-off from day one? Thats not what I. while a good one packed a wallop. No one had to translate hurry up to me. but Fred told him to stay at the slip instead.. Every AIS scholarship kid has tickets on himself. is it? It started to get dark. We clanged our dark brown bottles of XXXX beer. but the training . Ish said. Im off like a brides nightie. When is practice tomorrow. Philip laughed. I showed off my newfound linguistic skills. can someone please explain the point of calling a batsman from thousands of miles away and not making him bat? Fred smiled. He is asking if you are telling the truth. Ish sounded helpless. shes aint bad. Ish said. Once the ball came between Philip and me.. I said as Ish interrupted me. hugged Fred. Whats burl? I asked him. Sportsmen arent movie stars.. and soft drinks coldies. also known as fourex stubbies. Omi and Ali were taking a walk outside the dub. they will stay hoons for the rest of their life. When I took a loo break. Freds students egged him on after she left. I know. bowl. Here. Onya was short for good on you. You Indians have good talent.

hut also love a fight. Yeah. I could not hear their conversation However. Here you go. Ish said. I cant describe that feeling. He doesnt just need to hit shots. It is full on. The waiters cleared our plates as we finished our food. I listened as I struggled with the ribbon-like pasta. You got to do more protein. mate. But it wasnt always like this. they offer seven hundred scholarships a year. Bring it on. Whats that? In fact. When theres a challenge. Not just money. thank goodness. The amount of beer yoi need to drink to want to have sex with a girl. how does the whole sports thing work in Australia. Not always. Ishs chest swelled with pride as Fred had called him equal in role. I saw Ishs frequent nods. The Australians mainly ate meat dishes. Fred pushed the spaghetti plate towards me. Plenty of reasons. Ish said. How come. He admits it.NCR 10. They get two hundred million dollars of funding| and have excellent facilities. And at the heart of it all. they shone as bright. Hi Govind! Fred had spotted me. Fred sipped his sparkling water. Shes NCR 0. Australia does win a lot. Youve got to make sure the batsman know whos the boss. So the government set up the Australian Institute of Sports or the AIS and initiated the worlds best scholarship programme. man. I calculated how seven hundred scholarships for twenty million people would equate to for India. Russia and China. Whats NCR? I asked as there was a whiff of maths in the air. Fred finished his glass of water and continued: And today the AIS has hundreds of staff . Omi said. Michael said. I left the Aussie rooting stories and moved to Ish. in fact. Aussies saw the Montreal fiasco as a national shame. A champion has both. Everyone laughed. I remembered something. My players will eventually figure out new ways to bowl to Ali. We love to dominate opponents. Australia won 56 medals. Even though Ishs eyes arent blue. . Fred said. He paused. Fred? 1 said. That was the equivalent of thirty-five thousad sports scholarships a year for India to match the ratio. Ish said. Dont want rooting tips? We are just doing boring coach talk. In cricket. A determined mind can counter a gift. Every Olympics. travel to tournaments. it brings out the best. in the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal. youre controlling the game. as his eyes lit up. You mentioned a scholarship yesterday. Ish sat next to Fred. And the blue one? Philip said. Everyone roared with laughter. NCR is Number of Cans Required. Hazel said in a flirtatious tone she passed the plates. the domination continues. You want to know why Australia always wins? it doesnt always win. his biceps flexing. Right. We had stuck to a pizza as it was the only recognisable choice. Ish said. even if not every time. Whats the scholarship? Money? Ish wanted to know. Fred was saying. Yes. If youre the bowler and youve got the ball in your hand. in Sydney 2000.coaches. doctors and physios. there is pile of medals for Australia. Fred said. Expert coaching accommodation. And the best part is to be part of that communit where everyone has a singular commitment to their sport. he needs to show the other team who is the boss. Michael dated an ugly bitch once. medicine -you name it. I drink two litres of milk everyday. hungry boys. Australia didnt win a single medal. Roger said. NCR 40 Roger said. sports science. mate. only after USA. All these countries have ten times as many people. Same for Ali. as he ate. But you guys did well last year. I know the feeling. Roger said. Ish nodded.

Michael Bevan. Glenn McGrath. And let me tell you boys. Legends . And that is what we Indians miss. and good stuff happens. Lose it. At least for now we can call ourselves "legend". The game is not about being macho. But if you want a career. Fred said. You have a scholarship. but. or maybe like Ali. Ali leaned on the physio as he tried to hobble. Run. He added. The kid is good. Within minutes.Any famous players from this scholarship programme? Heaps. You are big boys and tough players. Ali dived. Fred. Fred hooked his fingers around the last word. Ish said. Ish urged from the boundary line. he lay on the ground clenching his teeth and holding back tears. passion is important. wanting to kill myself for the game I played that day. He made the crease but fell with his full body weight coming down on his left ankle. Faster. Id have been selling suits at a store for the rest of my life. No time for drama. Guilt bubbled up his eyes. Yeah. You want to give it your all. Justin Langer. India would dominate and teams like us would be nowhere. applying painkillers and wrapping a crepe bandage. the physio said. We dont want to dive. You have a big population. Ali ran faster as the fielder returned the ball to the bowler. Fred said to Ish and signalled for a physio. you must protect your student. feeling compelled to speak. Hope I get there someday. Nah. You leave Sunday evening.. 1 made the same mistakes. What are you talking about? These are all cricketing legends Ish said. the whole legend bit is far-fetched. Fred nodded. Oh. Jump. Ish apologised to Fred later in the locker room. You must safeguard it. Ricky Ponting. Fred clapped his hands. right? . a paramedic arrived and placed an ice pack on Alis swollen ankle. Ish said. Ish said. He crossed fifty runs in a couple of innings. as that is the only job I could get. think long term. Ish hung his head low. Forget what? I said.. hell play in a few hours. As everyone rushed towards him. But I cant emphasise it enough . and you are gone. a tiny number of them are born excellent. it is a single. Shane Warne. In that sense. Fred laughed. mate. Every bowler went through the shock of being slammed for sixes. Australia can create legends. Id never let Ali get hurt. Ali decided to stay at the crease. Cricket would be finished. Give the game a rest for two days. I had just started my career when my nasty back almost finished it. And Ish. Lucky it is not a fracture or dislocation. But the head has to be clear during the match. You are already a legend. Ali kept the showbiz low and played a steady game. lets sit down. Easy. You take a bit of talent and mould it properly. Youll be fine. Damien Martyn. Ish said with a sheepish expression. Forget that you got one fragile body. Run Ali. You cant get caught up in the moment so much that you forget. but there was a single there. though right now you rely on talent more than training. mate. Im starting out. imagine what would happen if we could have this kind of training in India. Yes. Ish said. Dont worry. Ish asked. Everyone. On Friday morning Ali hit the ball for a defensive shot. And we cant.thats a good word. We dont want to take risks. Ish boxed his left palm with his right. We sat down on the pitch around Fred in a circle. I have a little surprise for him. Well you could. Ali looked surprised at the instruction hut ran. The ball didnt go far. Ish screamed. Ali did bat the following days. Adam Gilchrist. Looks like a ligament got some wear. Like Tendulkar. However.respect your bodys limits I do. get up. too? I said. Andrew Symonds. Ish said again. dont sleep.

This is what heaven must look like.Cant believe the week went by so fast. I said. It didnt belong to Ish or Omi or me. Something hurt inside me. Water dripped from him and fell on my legs. I have work." Ish whistled. yet soft enough to make you relax. you can actually see their ni . The sea is visible for miles.. Omi said. Check that blonde one. even though Id have killed her if she walked around in a bikini. She applied something in her half. he said. the Pacific Ocean meets the powdery sand to create perfect waves. something is seriously wrong. Id 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. I said. I could not play with them. Having grown up in a place where sleeveless blouses cause scandals. From here? Isnt it expensive? Short call. tops-off is what an MBA type would call a paradigm shift. Wait a minute. Oh well when in Disneyland. Id never look at the Frisbee Ish said. ★ Bondi beach is so beautiful that it needs a coffee table book of its own. probably oil or lotion or any such thing that girls feel is essential to their existence. Ish said. I closed my book. in two days. They laughed as the pushed each other down. And if youve never seen a topless woman in your life before. And each one a knockout! It was true. There must be a hundred women here. Gorgeous and topless. places like this did things to you. Random thoughts circulated in my head. There are a hundred women here.Yes. I saw Omi and Ish splashing in the water at a distance. rather than a hundred at once. like oiled fingers in hair. those who were women. I want you guys to meet someone important. catching his breath. I said and was teased for bringing maths everywhere. Wow. the nicest part about the beach was its people . wow. I said without making eye contact. It was like all the beautiful women in the world emailed each other and decided to meet at Bondi. First.those who were not men. She wore a shirt on top of her bikini and had her back to me. need some coins. The Australian sky is a different colour from India. . I said as I collected the change. They are strong enough to surf on. the sky. Omi pointed out helpfully. I have to make a call. Ish and Omi soon went for a swim in the sea and to see if wet and topless women looked even hotter wet. Id much prefer to see one topless woman every day for hundred days. The brunette rubbed her hair exactly like Vidya. But that summer. It actually looks the same as the sky blue colour in paint shops and is so crisp that your eyes hurt.. Only one person that I knew had long hair. There is no pollution. Six topless women played Frisbee there. Omi came running to me. The water is amazing. she is massive. You want an umbrella? I said as we parked ourselves at a scenic spot. Wouldnt it be nice if Vidya was here? Isnt this what she longed for most? Freedom above all else? Didnt she have the Bondi spirit. I wanted to make a budget for the next three months. No. Cmon inside. It is funny but the bare-breasts became routine in a few minutes. So we have two hundred breasts to look at. Call who? Suppliers. At the shore. My eyes are tired from not blinking. I opened my notebook that I carried everywhere. I noticed a brunette in an umbrella next to me. wow. I sat down on the sand. we are a sick bunch. play. Her long black hair fell over her thin back. The notebook I had opened to forget her made me miss her even more. I found a long strand of hair. That is. Yes. Sunday breakfast is on me. I guess you get used to good things fast. I felt like someone pounded my chest.

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

Yeah. Who did you call? Omi said. We came to Campbell Parade. Will you get dry first. I slid the menu down. surprised. ok maybe something.. I stuffed some sand in the matchbox and put it in my pocket. he said as he tried to catch up with me. I came to meet you.. And Ive noticed. I said. What? Beep. I passed a trendy outdoor restaurant called Blue Orange Cafe. come back soon.. Get lost. I said. People sit with a glass of beer for hours. No more change. bring me a matchbox full of sand. lets go get lunch. That way I will have a piece of Sydney with me. Its nothing. Cmon Omi why would I call Vidya? Im not that stupid. Sand? Now that was a weird request. but lets use it to eat lunch. and you broke . I said. I said. You can hide if you want. she said. I have to go now. Vidya? I looked at him dumbstruck. After five days in this country the name didnt seem weird anymore. I lifted the menu to cover my face and avoid conversation. You are. but a little something wont hurt. Hey. I said. What? I said. The phone display blinked. what are you doing this side? The waves are better at the other end. A stupid Australian company called Telstra ruined my first romantic moment. I walked back to the shore until the surfy water touched my toes. We walked towards the restaurant with me three steps ahead of him. I miss you too. what are you doing? Omi said as he emerged from the waves like the worlds ugliest mermaid. I thought about the girl who only wanted sand. Tight budget. I walked back. Free. he said. Coins are finished. And put some feelings in it if there is space. I dont like it when people less sensible than me question me. And I want to tell you something. I hid behind the menu again. What a random guess.. she said. Nothing. Listen. We sat facing each other. Have some cash left for today. Yeah... Beep. I feel thirsty. Beep.Can I get you anything from here? I said. rather. I said. Someones missing you. Beautiful waitresses scampered around getting people burgers and toasted sandwiches. At least it was cheap. And what the hell is his business anyway. I looked around and bent over. Get me some sand from the beach you are on right now. Ive seen the way you guys look at each other. Australians give the word laid-back new meaning. I have an idea. Wow. It threatened me to feed it with more money or my first romantic conversation would be murdered. irritated. But nothing to worry about. There is an unspoken rule among Indian men. I said and walked faster. isnt it? she said. Sure. I could actually say what I felt after all. I went inside Hogs Breath Cafe. Dont lie to me. Really? I said. Can I borrow a few coins for a Coke. Supplier. I also thought how much money telecom companies must make given a tiny call cost me as much as a meal. I took a match box from the bar and emptied the sticks in a dustbin. Back in three days. You never talk about her since you started teaching her. a strip of bars and cafes near the beach. Which one? Fuck off Omi. Finished? Omi said. But I know. I said and cleared my throat. I had no coins left. Yeah.

Whatever. Its not like that. Protocol? What is this. I played with the toothpicks on the table to avoid eye Contact. go call Ish for lunch. Oh great. We are here and he has no idea. I wont do anything stupid. Ish. how far are you guys? What? Hey Omi. Now tell me. Or any man who is related to her will. Dont worry. the most common stage in the old city. Are you intimate with her? Omi continued. He cracked a joke with the Aussie guys playing pool. She sucks at maths. Just good friends should be a banned phrase. She hit upon me. or that car. I screamed across the bar. His last phrase bobbed up and down in my head like the surfboards on Bondi beach. Omi said.. Yes. what stage are you in the relationship? Omi said. It is against the protocol. Then stop teaching her no? Omi said.. You just Fuck. Ish said. Ish came out of the toilet. there is a "we-just-look" stage. Dont say it. he screamed back as he continued to play pool with the Aussie guys. Then a "hold-hand" stage. I said. Will Omi say something stupid to him? No. all is good. What do you want? Garlic bread is the cheapest item on the menu. You dont hit upon your best friends sister. I dont want to talk about it. Just good friends.. Stage? I said. Its different between us. or her dad will. Omi said and left. Omi said. You let her. thats an advanced stage. wheres the toilet? I have to go siphon the. What rule? I said and slammed the menu on the table. Then a. I am just saying. Well. Omi and Ish walked in laughing. Remember that guy in the car? Trust me. Thoughts came to me. you dont want to be that boy.. Can we get lunch. he really has no idea.  These houses are huge. Hogs Breath? Can you think of a worse name for a restaurant? Ish said and laughed. Fuck man. Dont do anything stupid ok? Stupid? Omi leaned forward to whisper. Did you say anything to him? I said. the army? And I didnt hit on her. I said and looked towards the toilet. But you let her hit upon you. Well. Over there. I had five minutes until Ish came back. I can.. I interrupted him and pointed to the corner. Yes. I had enough of Aussies for a lifetime. I said and flipped the menu. I didnt. . I said. You think Im stupid? Yeah. I really want to get lunch. Omi was not that stupid. When you think your relationship is different from any other in this world. There is nothing more misleading. I said as we drove past a rich neighbourhood called Double Bay. It felt good. it wasnt exactly like being hit. its nothing really. I turned to Omi. it didnt hurt. You know stupid. And how old is she? Seventeen? Turns eighteen in a few months. Ok. A noisy gang played on the pool table near us.. I trust you. Anyway.. I dont know why I agreed to teach her in the first place. Ish will kill you. Then a "we-just-talk" stage. You are her teacher damn it.

Ali doesnt live in any Australian state. So? Ish said. we dont brag about how much money we make or what car you drive. Omi and Ali had hardly spoken during the entire trip. And them together. even bigger. Mr Greener is the chairman of the Australian Sports Academy and Mr Cutler is head of the AIS scholarship programme. His sister as well. I love Australia. It wasnt to just play for a week. Ish said. Fred said and winked at us. Mr Cutler said and took out a file. What? Ish said as we understood the purpose of Fred inviting us. Fred said. I wish India approached sports with the same spirit. Remember my phone calls from Goa? To these gentlemen. Well. And theres a lot of obsessions. Omi and Ali sat at the back in Freds Saab convertible while I rode in the front.We parked in an area called Paramatta Park. Omi was too busy eating to talk. Not| my ex-girlfriend. can apply. Whats the obsession in your country then? Theres a lot of people. In Australia. or at least a person in the process of becoming a resident Cant we make an exception? I said. Fred said as we settled at the table. the only way we can do it is this. What do you play. . Mr Greener laughed in a friendly manner. and how with proper training he has the potential to go really far. Ish leaned forward. I added. people dont even ask what job you do. And Ish. However. As you may know. Fred winked at Ish. too. But here. Hell become a champion. the scholarship holder must be an Australian resident. a lot of people in the world want it. your friends here. And this is the talented boy? Mr Greener patted Alls back. Fred introduced us to the two older men. Mr Cutler cleared his throat. Hell become Australian? Omi said. Chances are good. Were they going to sponsor Ali? If he is as good as Fred and his boys who played with you say you are. Under AIS rules. His parents will have residency rights. we are offering Ali an Australian citizenship. Here sports is a national obsession. Mr Cutler said. Over-excitement was a constant problem with Ish. the AIS selects from the nominations of the various state academies. as talented as the man above sends them.Fred had picked us up for breakfast on Sunday. thats what they ask. I stay out of that stuff.. I can get Ali selected. We went inside the restaurant to find two men waiting for us. But religion and politics are pretty big. I saw Ish s face tighten in anticipation. He opened it and laid out some forms on the table. killing the engine. Or Cutler had to pull serious strings at the immigration department for this. Ish said as Fred shushed him. Fred said. Good morning Mr Greener and Mr Cutler. we should do whatever we can to help "Thank you. Fred said. You see. Cool air blew through our hair as we drove past Sydneys early morning streets.. Ish. Fred buttered some toast I told them about AIL How he is good. Ali and Omi stopped eating as they saw the forms on the table. Heck. Do you know what people ask the most? What? Ish said. this is the Australian citizenship forms. Aussie politics are a joke anyway. Fred said. really good. Mr Greener said. our last day. thank you. Maybe it was hereditary. You love Australia. Fred said. Fred said. Well. The Aussie accent stumped them. But most people have modest places. These are the gentlemen who helped me get your tickets. Yep. Thats the problem. given the great talent. Fred had brought us to Lachans Restaurant in the Old Colonial House. too. you can . We will assist you in every way.

his face emerging from hiding behind Ish. Yes. I have a good coach. We saw the officials off to their car. But you can become an Australian as well.. I dont want to. What? I dont want to be Australian in my next life. who will I play for? Ah said. er. I was glad I was going home tonight. Your kid is good and he knows it. big honour. but realised this wasnt going to work after all. Mr Cutler said. turning over both his palms. He didnt show if he was upset.. Ali said. I looked up in the sky. Never mind mate. Fifteen Vidya. We explained the offer in simple terms to Ali while a waiter cleared our plates. I guess. Its ok if I dont become a player. I maintained the polite conversation. Where is Vidya? I looked up at her window as 1 pressed the bell downstairs. Vidya . Ali spoke slowly after a pause. tuitions. we will give you the same respect as your own country. Vidyas thoughts dominated them all. Ish beamed at his proudest moment ever. no pressure. Ali slid next to Ish and hid against him. I nodded. They meant poor. next life in this case. It will be tough to make it in your country. Mr Greener said. I want to play for India. From what I hear. Vidya. I want to be Indian in all of them. So. stuck stocks and unattended orders. But. Ali said. If you can make a billion people proud. Mr Greener said. but its not ok if I am not an Indian.. A part of me. Vidyas dad opened the door. Alis life would transform. There were waiting suppliers. What you have done for us is huge. who knows? Mr Greener said as he slid into the driving seat of his silver Honda Accord. sorry Fred. They have a point. He leaned forward and put his hand on Alis shoulder.Think about the childs future. Mr Cutler said.. No. Ali said. The officials tried for another half an hour. I had tons of work. I ran through tomato sellers and marble playing kids to reach her house on time. what do you want? Ish said. told me this was not a good idea. Vidya . I said.her name rang like an alarm in my head. I froze. If I make it to the team. No worries mate. Why dont you ask Ali first? It is his life and his decision. Ali said. Mr Cutler said. Your coach knows that." Mr Cutler said. Australia. his means are rather. Not for anyone else. Why does every male in the family of the girl you care about instil a fear in your soul? Uncle. Govind. why bother with us down under? Fred said and laughed. We are a multicultural society. Fred said. Maybe he never meant it to be profound. A plane flew above us. who still looked shell-shocked. You could be Australian. But son. And some good coaching. but that was his deepest statement yet. But Im an Indian. Maybe next time. Mr Greener said. I said. They asked if we could speak to Alis parents. Ali said. And this part controlled me at the moment. . the logical part. However. What? I am an Indian. Sportsman spirit. But the other irrational part of me loved it. Businessmen should not waste time on stupid things like women. limited. Even if I have a hundred next lives. I told Ish. Ah . Ali said and looked at Ish. We are sorry. We do realise that this is a big.

I said as I came up. She wore a new purple and white bandhini salwar kameez today. my inner Mr Logical told me. she said. I noticed her dress. lifes best gifts are free. The coil is not working.She is upstairs. I should have brought something substantial. Nothing. she signalled me to lean forward. whats this? I said. I think they should bottle it and sell it. she said. she said. Anyway. She had her trademark pearl-white nail polish only on the toenail tips. I said. Time to study. she said as she pulled her feet away. How is she? Will she make it to the medical entrance? She is a bright student. I said. Wow. flipping through her notebook. I touched the hot tip. I couldnt. Did you really miss me? she said and put her palm on my hand. I nodded. enough is enough. I climbed up to the terrace. he said as he let me in. I opened the books. she said. I also saw her bare feet. I stood up to take out the match box from my jeans pocket. I bent under the table to see the green. Half the mosquitoes hovering over her head had shifted over to mine as well. she said. I tried to be normal. the mosquito coil. Yeah. five dollars and sixty cents. she said to break the pause. Hey. Its fine. I said and regretted talking like an accountant the next second. Her toes touched mine as we inched closer. He picked up a newspaper from the coffee table. foreign returned now. Blue Orange Cafe. He spoke again as I climbed the steps. her. she said and pulled her hair back to tie them with a rubber band. She went and sat on a white plastic chair with a table and an extra chair in front I had so many doubts. She held it up with pride as if I had presented the queens stolen diamonds. Not like her useless brother. cool. She asked the dreaded question. The call would have cost something. Welcome to my al fresco tuition place. Ouch. I said. she. He buried himself into the newspaper. Ok. Why do old people like newspapers so much? They love reading the news. Every girl has a wonderful smell right after a bath. You brought my gift. There you go. Water droplets had passed from her hair to mine. How was Australia? Great. an Australian beach in my hands. Our heads met in a dull thud as we looked into the matchboxs contents. Smoke came out from under the table. No matter how close I held them to my chest now. uncle said. dismissing me. I feel silly. Vidya stood there with an air-hostess smile. I see a mozzie party on top of your head. She looked surprised. had seen them. Oh. Mosquito coil. I pulled it back in reflex. but what do they do about it? I went to the internal staircase to go up to the terrace. Yeah. Her hair smelt of a little bit of Dettol soap and well. smouldering spiral coil. I looked at her. Mozzie? It is what they call mosquitoes in Australia. She took the box and slid it open with her thin fingers. on the terrace. not after that call. Her necklace had a purple teardrop pendant and matching earrings. I mumbled. . No. So how come you called? I told you. I said in a small voice. I had opened my cards already. What? I said. or rather to fill up the silence as I checked her out. Look there is a tiny shell inside. this is perfect. I sat back upright. She had freshly bathed. Why am I so cheap? I said.

I couldnt talk when she looked at me. Or rather. You dont shave that often eh? Ew.. She cupped my face in her palms. I said and turned away. Be serious. I think a mosquito kissed me. oops. Two months. What? I said and looked at her. Its not ok. but. I have responsibilities . she said. she wiggled two fingers. and this is not the place anyway. Soon the gap reduced to zero.. business and a mother.. Its ok. I couldnt talk when I looked at her. My best friends sister? What the fuck . your brother trusts me as a friend. Well. She sat on the flimsy armrest of my plastic chair. You are not even eighteen.I am sorry. is it still there in my mouth? She opened her mouth and brought it I have my business to focus on and this is really not my thing.. The tiny distance made it difficult to ascertain who took the . I am your teacher. significant reasons exist for me not to indulge in illogical emotions. The point is. Her lips were eight millimetres apart from mine. Two months and I will turn eighteen. And I want.. I shouldnt. she said. Time to bring me another nice gift. I dont have time for emotions. Vidya. she said and spit again. you dont have to be sorry. She giggled. I said in a firm voice. She put her finger on my mouth.. Anyway. She stood up and came to my side. please continue. sorry.. She threw a tiny spit ball in the air. I dont know if I came towards her or she came towards me. This is not right. whatever. Vidya.

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

Mama said as his phone rang.They are turning into a menace Yes. Reports said thousands may be dead. Omi. I hope you are staying away from Ishs sister? Omi said. I dug myself deep into the paperwork. ★ I could have done my accounts much faster if I didnt have the parallel SMS conversation. in case anyone picked it up. almost time to shut the shop. The world will never be the same again. Id rather he calls first.. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center Twin Towers located in New York. I guarantee you. I said. I deleted her messages as soon as I read them.... i celebr8 my way. yes sir we are ready for the elections Parekh-ji. like someone had cut through loaves of bread. Ish said as he returned to the shop. Omi doesnt know who I am messaging to. Two planes in a row suggest a planned . wiping sweat off his chest. Just a few months for her entrance exams. Omi said. Smiley faces had entered my life. I let it pass.. Omi said. Ish hasnt learnt anything from him. . responsible boy. pens and a calculator surrounded me. soot and concrete dust filled the streets of New York. Everyone in the temple gathered around TV sets where the towers crumbled down again and again in replay. I couldnt hear Parekh-jis words. u win. a military intelligence expert said on the TV. My phone flashed again. Parekh-ji gave him tips on the elections next week. other neighbourhoods need work but you know Hasmukh-ji. his voice subservient. What the. Two dozen invoices. will get a small 1 now let me work. What a good. Vidyas father was saying to his wife as I shut the door behind. I teach her. We half-closed the shutters. Mama said. Omi began... I told myself. Muslim terrorists. Nothing. Parekh-ji? Mama said. Anything to get his mind off the SMSs. I replied to the SMS. Also. Call him. yes. notebooks. He saw the number and stood in attention. It was six in the evening. I am bargaining with a supplier. it is a complete mess. I said. He doesnt spend as much time. My phone beeped a fifth time. the BBC news channel reader said. you study 2  I kept the phone aside. My hands froze as I manipulated the messages. Mama said. Ish had gone to one of the KVs and Omi had to leave soon for the evening aarti. Who the hell are you SMSing? Omi asked from the counter. Be cool. yes. Does she. Can I do the accounts or should we gossip about my students? I glared at Omi. So many unpaid orders. popping a candy from the jar into his mouth. Do the accounts first. It is a coincidence. Switch on the TV fast.terrorist attack. Bittoo Mama stepped away from us. Smoke.. Govind.. I turned the phone to silent mode. Ill look desperate.I came down the steps passed through the living room on the way out. I am watching it. itz my bday. The live visual was incredible even by sci-fi movie standards.Mama came running to our shop.. Belrampur is not a problem . The hundred-storey tall twin towers had deep incisions in the middle. the Israeli prime minister said. Ok. ull get cake or not?? I had saved Vidyas number as Supplier Vidyanath in my phone.

Thats my area. must be by mistake. pictures of the first suspects were released. lets get out of here. . His group of a dozen twenty-something supporters held their heads down. Is it on silent? Ish said. hard. chip on shoulder about being upper caste. However. Electoral officers were still tallying the last few votes. Cannot walk the lanes and feels he can win elections by waving from the car. The two other neighbourhoods given to me. though the secular party had already started rolling drumbeats outside. that old man wouldnt listen. A jeep of bodyguards came alongside. That Muslim professor has nothing to do all day. His mood alternated between anger and tears. A stick-thin old man called Bin Laden released an amateur video. It was hard for a tough. Look at the Belrampur votes. He isnt too worried. Your phone flashed. Clean sweep for the Hindu party. A white Mercedes drove up in-front of the vote-counting station. Mama. he ran away two hours into the counting. But Hasmukh-ji? Huh. we won majority votes there. I cant go. Mama said and kissed Omi. And look. Whats up? Omi asked Mama as he ended his call. Parekh-ji is not happy? Omi said. He collected all the invoices scattered on the ground. Its going to get ugly. so next year. He doesnt pound the streets of his constituency. We were closing the shop for the night. Winning this seat will help. Four Muslim boys had joined a flying school a few months back. Parekh-ji stepped outside. Hasmukh-ji takes everything for granted. Tempers rose as a few of Mamas team members heckled the drum player. The guards surrounded the area as the Mercedes door opened. He is fine with me. Omi said. He even met the old ladies. I said and picked it up. I told Omi in his ear. too. You need any more help? Omi asked. They left the shop and went inside the temple. Lets tell everyone at the puja. Am I not from a priests family? Did 1 not go to the sewer-infested lanes of the Muslim pols? Arent there Hindu voters there? Why didnt he go? The secular party workers jeered at Mamas team.  I knew it. when I study. but we must put extra effort next week. The temple bells rang to signify time for the final aarti. it was even harder to work for months and lose an election. Parekh-ji said these attacks could work in our favour. I have to show Parekh-ji I deserve it. Mama pointed to the ballot boxes. v misses I put the phone in my pocket What? Trying to sell you something? Ish said. we will have an MLA in the family. I said as I locked the cashbox. wooing me. And look what happened in the other neighbourhoods. We stood outside the counting booths. You already did so much. Omi and Mama stood up to leave. Omi said and patted Mamas back. claiming it was all his big idea. Mama said. Yes. They had hijacked the plane using office box cutter knives and caused one of the most spectacular man-made disasters of the world.Later at night. Oh. I opened supplier Vidyanaths message. I think kisses u and only u. The bye-election is only for two seats in Gujarat The real elections are next year. grown-up man like him to cry. Mama needs me. Mama wiped his face with his hands and continued. a supplier is sending me messages. Mama said.

it is not a lazy place. We might be a Hindu party. A hundred and eighty plus. The same school as the current chief minister. Of count. Hasmukh-jis defeat has a back story. We gorged on the dhokla. I guess he wanted us to have a treat at Vishala. Gujarat is a place of business. gota. lets go for dinner to Vishala. dalwada and several other Gujarati snacks. The same school as the current chief minister. "They are replacing the chief minister. So we lost both the seats. We nodded. Hasmukh-jis seniority in the party earned him a ticket. What change? Mama said. I felt full even before the main course arrived. near the puppet show for kids. hardworking people like Bittoo tried their best But. Our high command in Delhi is not happy with them. Ish and I made valiant inroads into the food. Get up. Within minutes. a dud candidate is a dud candidate. We need to talk. They are not? Mama echoed stupidly.Mama ran to Parekh-ji. We knew they were weak. listen. What? Mama said while Omi. the entire party machinery is shaken up. I let the greatest man down. I want to die here. we had two dozen dishes in front of us. Come son. Hop into the jeep. And the high command finally gets a chance to make a change. Eat. there is an ethnic restaurant that serves authentic Gujarati cuisine. But he is part of the old school. Parekh-ji placed both his hands on Mamas head. No. Ish and I looked at each other. I felt full even before the main course arrived. Parekh-ji lifted Mama up by the shoulders. Everyone backed off. gota. Come. With the main election in twelve months. They are not? Mama echoed stupidly. his voice heavy. his head still down. But he is part of the old school. Now. No. Mama continued to bawl. Maybe it was time for Ish and me to vanish. We expected it. the total number of seats is. ghugra. Parekh-ji gave the youngsters a firm glance. Emotional speeches are fine. Omi said. normally unaffordable for us. Ish and I made valiant inroads into the food. And Gujarat is vital to our party. Along with a craft museum and village courtyards. The old school put their candidate. it gave a reason to change. Parekh-jis security staff sat outside. People lost a lot in that. but in your mind always think straight. Hasmukh-jis seniority in the party earned him a ticket.1 Parekh-ji said as he finished his glass of mint chaas. Bittoo. no. khandvi.. ghugra. Their guns made the guests importance known to the waiters and insured us good service. The mention of the earthquake still hurt. Parekh-ji looked at us and tried to place us. What? Mama said while Omi. Now. Can Ish and Govind come along? They came to Gandhinagar. he said. We gorged on the dhokla. Mama walked towards Parekh-jis ear. He lay down on the ground and I am your guilty man. Parekh-ji lectured Mama. The high command did not like the way the administration handled the earthquake. Parekh-ji said as he finished his glass of mint chaas. We cant afford to lose it. . Parekh-ji said to Omi.. in the village of Sarkhej. but it doesnt mean we preach religion all day and do no work. The by-elections for these seats came as a boon. We expected it. but like I said. Parekh-ji said as he broke his bajra rati. Our high command in Delhi is not happy with them.We took a semi-private room with seating on the clay floor. khandvi. he turned to us. I dont know if he could. Mama said. listen. dalwada and several other Gujarati snacks. things are not as they seem. What? For losing two seats? Mama said. Punish me. The Vishala Village Restaurant and Utensils Museum is located at the outskirts of Ahmedabad. things are not as they seem. and dont get so sentimental about politics. I know you boys did too. Hasmukh-jis defeat has a back story.

Ish being in the house made it worse. I know you boys did too. People lost a lot in that. Ishs dad ranted while still reading his paper. Happy birthday.. Shes studying on her birthday. She could now officially make her own decisions. . the best cake shop in Ahmedabad. my heart beating fast. Sit no. We knew they were weak. Ish said. Mom. hardworking people like Bittoo tried their best But. Oh. continuing his PhD on the newspapers of India. Tuitions. We might be a Hindu party. Tendulkar struck a four and the monster clapped. dads fine.. 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. Ishs dad sat on the dining table. We nodded. The choice of clothes was a bit over the top but it was ok on a birthday I guess. Entering Vidyas house while hiding a cake was hard enough. The old school put their candidate. He took a big bite. Some people are serious about their lives. uncle had a disgusted expression on his face. A hundred and eighty plus. "They are replacing the chief minister. And the high command finally gets a chance to make a change. I said as I kept the cake box in my rucksack of books. My friend had found bliss. Miss Eighteen. Can you move. Ish said and screamed. Dont worry. No dessert here or what? Parekh-ji said as there was a delay after the main courses were cleared. Who will get the aamras for the sahib? Mama screamed at the waiters. I snuck the rucksack between my arm and side body to keep it horizontal. As was often the case when Ish was around. Ish grabbed a sandwich and topped it with lots of chips and ketchup.everything that he needed to survive for the next eight hours. Ishs dad gave his son a dirty look and moved.. he turned to us. I had to find mine. She wore a shiny red kurti and white pants.Ganguly and Tendulkar. I forgot this morning. dedication dude. Ish had plonked himself in front of the sofa with sandwiches. The high command did not like the way the administration handled the earthquake. Cant see the TV. it is not a lazy place. The by-elections for these seats came as a boon. a dud candidate is a dud candidate. Thanks dad. Ish pressed the volume button on the TV remote as loud as possible in protest. Gujarat is a place of business. the entire party machinery is shaken up. His mother has made him into a monster. With the main election in twelve months. chips and biscuits .. but like I said. Ishs dad said and left for his bedroom. India was playing England It Kolkata Eden Gardens in a day-night match. Ish said as he saw my nervous expression. I kept the rucksack upright in my lap until I made it to Vidyas place. milk. she had done that since birth. the total number of seats is. So we lost both the seats. Vidya turned eighteen on 19 November 2001. Hey. it gave a reason to change. We cant afford to lose it. Indias batting . I climbed the stairs. No bag please. I greeted as I shut the terrace door. Shell like it. but it doesnt mean we preach religion all day and do no work.No. Seventy no loss after ten overs. Did you know eighteen is the only number that is twice the sum of its digits? she said. And Gujarat is vital to our party. youve come for that.. What? For losing two seats? Mama said. Ish said to me. Of count. wish her and all. The mention of the earthquake still hurt. Unofficially. pointing to Vidyas room. I said. Sixteen Wheres your smallest chocolate cake? I was at Navrangpuras Ten. What change? Mama said. Parekh-ji said as he broke his bajra rati.

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

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

Maybe because no one had held me like that ever and asked if I was ok. We will win this. my mummy has cooked at home as well. Only after we were done did we realise how cold and chilly it really was. Seventeen Hold it tight. Im quite tired. I said. she said fondly as I left the house. Maybe I felt scared. She felt my body shake. Thank God. we did want to celebrate our resurrection after the earthquake a year ago. I am sorry. Maybe because I never knew it would be possible for me to feel like this. I should get going. Mamas entry distracted us all. The stool has creaky legs. I had overshot the class time by thirty minutes. She cuddled next to me. what are you doing right now? Touching her goosebumps? The voice in me grew stronger. Ill fall. Though thoughts about that day still made me tremble. No aunty. I was relieved to have fully paid off our loans. We wanted to drop the tricolour ribbons from the ceiling fan. I said. I kept quiet. Eat dinner. it is shaking. Hey. Little pink bumps dotted her flawless. I never wanted to celebrate Republic Day. I love you. Im the girl. Arent you? she said. You let go! he accused me as everyone laughed. A sense of reality struck as the passion subsided. I had already celebrated her daughters birthday. What have you done Mr Govind Patel? See. fuck. However. but with so many reasons at the same time. she said and giggled. Such a good boy. it was impossible not to. He stood on his toes on a stool to reach the ceiling. you missed the best part. We came outside as the moon lit up the terrace. No. Only four candles remained burning by the time we finished. Maybe because I had betrayed my best friend. she said. Omi toppled from the stool and landed on the floor. I am an adult and am no longer a virgin. We covered ourselves in my jacket and dug our cold feet inside the lower cushions. . Dont be. Ish said as I reached downstairs. Stay on. Hey. she said from behind as I opened the terrace door. Happy birthday. fair skin. I said and left. Say something. she said and hugged me. son. Omi warned. and came back up. I looked into her moist eyes. Dont you like it here? Here? You realise we are on top of your dad and mom and brother? Stop freaking out. Ish stood next to us with glue and cellotape. so cool. We combined the six cushions to make one mattress and lay on it. I sat up and dressed. The ribbons fell on his head. January 26 preparations? Keep it up. Fuck. I checked my watch. I held the legs of the stool. Govind. fuck. she said. which came in a week. Wow. I said as I reached the main door. Our business had tripled from a year ago and it all happened from this shop. she said and lifted her arm. I still have goosebumps.I went down. I am so glad this happened. Let me do this part. I am nervous. We looked into each others eyes as we became one. Ive made special dishes for Vidyas birthday. I normally never cried. Ill watch it at home. Omi said. You ok? I didnt know why. I said. dangling his right foot off the stool. The screams from the pols continued as England lost wickets. Ishs mother said as she set the table. Its not my fault. but I had tears in my eyes.

And how does it work with girls? Are they always on time? I asked. I used a condom. Are you sure? Excuse me? I wouldnt know if it has happened? she said and stopped to look at me. Its safe anyway. even a slight delay scares me. What? I said. Hence. I said to Vidyas mom. I said. she did not say that You cant be pregnant? I said. struggling for words. in an impulsive moment. Mine are. the 25th. We made love on an average of once a week. No. The ATIRA lawns in Vastrapur swell with strollers in the evening. whatever that meant. . but hasnt. But now that I am with you. We grabbed a samosa each. I offered her groundnuts. Something is late. She flipped over to rest on her elbows and poked her toes into my shins. I tried to think of what she was referring to. The number of times we have made love. And say what? Please check if I am pregnant? Another P-word to freak men out. No one questioned us after that. she said. We fixed our gaze on the ground and did a slow walk.. the point when aunty offered me something to eat or asked me why I worked so hard. it freaks them out. another kind of accident can happen. Why not? she retorted. And I found out exactly five days later. I said as I shifted my cushion for comfort.. Ok but. But we used protection. I meant are you sure it was due on 25th Feb? I am not that bad at maths. And the anxiety creates more delay Do you want to see a doctor? I was desperate to suggest a solution. Normally I dont care. her face tense. Oh? So now you trust physics over mathematics? she said and giggled. We had said at home that we had to go and buy a really good maths guide.Mama placed a brown bag of samosas and some yellow pamphlets on the table. it is a safe day. What exactly are you counting? I asked idly. she climbed over me. And I have enough now for a while. Whats up? I said and bought a packet of groundnuts. Goodnight aunty. No. Fat aunties wearing sarees and sneakers and with a firm resolve to lose weight overtook us. She had SMSed me that we needed to go for an urgent walk. Really? How? I said. I keep track of a lot of things. she replied. You keep track? I said. She declined.. she said. So no problem in using a couple more then? With that. Several couples held hands. Like what? Like today is 21 Feb. our score reached nine. You dont do things by accident nine times. I couldnt say that I had made love to her by accident. Nothing in the world was always exactly on time. I wanted to but did not. We had come to the Ahmedabad Textile Industries Research Associations (ATIRA) campus lawns. Nine times in two months. our score is eight already. I walked back home with my thoughts. But what? she said. And can you be supportive and not hyperventilate. What do you mean how? It should have happened yesterday. I always hated that part. I had nothing of value to offer in the discussion. I couldnt. I had created the problem. Wow. I rubbed my hands and took deep breaths. Men cannot respond when the P-word is being talked about. Though sometimes. Oh really. For the most part. Are you still embarrassed to buy condoms? I get them from an unknown chemist in Satellite. My period. Sweat erupted on my forehead like I had jogged thrice around the ATIRA lawns. Nine times meant I had lost all benefit of doubt. only five days to my period. she said. ★ There is something you should know.

She clasped my fingers in the auto. she said. why cant you get pregnant at the same time? Because I am biologically male. I ignored him. I had to figure out something. Maths is always horrible at reassuring people. I said. The thought train started again. I couldnt find it. And if you want to maintain sanity. no. I have to take care of my friends careers too. I slid closer to her on the bench and embraced her. I have big dreams for my business. Whats the other option.{b) Step away and let her be . Listen Vidya. (d) Hold her maybe. Im I threw the packet of groundnuts in the dustbin. Vidya and I exchanged ten are you asleep and not yet messages that night. just in case it is not a false alarm. We kept quiet for the rest of the auto journey. in case. Vidya just shook her head and cried. I will be there for you. Well see what we have to do then. She sat next to me. I debated whether I should put my arm around her. Why? Thinking of Pandit-jis daughter.bad idea. Why cant men stop noticing beauty. God. She slid away from me. hold her and tell her you will be there for her. I said and passed her a book when she reached home. But she would tell me if . And Vidya? She is only eighteen. Lets wait for a day or two more. marriage? Excuse me. I should have waited for a day or two longer before telling you. I looked into her eyes to find out the answer she expected from me. I dont know how all this works. I said I dont know. we used the rhythm method. youd better choose the same. why is it so unfair? Why do only I have to deal with this? she cried. I said.Lets sit down. she said. You want me to get an abortion? No. what do you want to do? When women ask you for your choice. Then I had to say it. Why. But I think she knew that. I said as we reached the auto stand. Every few hours I had the urge to send Vidya a did anything happen message. She has to study more. ok hold her. My being close to he had caused this anyway. What are we going to do? Or should we talk about it later? You tell me. ever? We stood up to walk back after a few minutes. Come to think of it. She kept quiet. Its probably a false alarm. The man carried a fat boy on his shoulders. Her face vacillated from calm to worried. I have my mother to support. Pregnancy. I am eighteen. This is too big a news for me.hell no. Then what? I dont know. Vidya. worst case I have to mention the Aword. moron. I dont know.. we used protection I know it is not hundred per cent but the probability is so low. they already have a choice in mind. be a PR person or whatever she wants to be. Ok. Nobody believed in probability in emotional moments.. she said. We kept quiet in the auto for five minutes. The crying had made her eyes wet and face pink. (c) Suggest potential solutions like the A word . Ish laughed. take this maths guide to show at home. I cant say what we will do. Her hands clutched my shirt Dont worry. Please dont talk about it. She hid her face on my shoulder and cried. I said and pointed to a bench. I found it symbolic of the potential burden in my life. I just passed out of school. Nothing. A family walked by. She looked even more beautiful. I wanted to say. Do it. She couldnt move from one prison to the next. abortion. Two tears came rolling out of her eyes. I am twenty-two years old. I dont want to think. (a) Make her laugh . My mind processed the alternatives at lightning speed. Here. Couldnt sleep well.  Whats up? Ish said as I laid my head on the cashbox early morning.

you here so early? Omi said.. The shops clock said eight o clock.m.. I had bought hot kachoris for my son and other sevaks. Mama. I had used protection every time. I had to go anyway. Mama said. Ok listen. Mama said and left. Ill get more when they come. Mama said. I picked up my phone again.. Mama said. Keep them. Mama said and called for the tea-boy again.. . Ill come with you? Omi said. They are absolutely fresh. they are all showing the same thing. I sprang out of bed early morning to SMS her again. it says S6. Could they be late for any other reason? I didnt know and I could not ask anyone.. It tasted delicious.something happened. Ish dragged out a heavy box of wickets from the godown. I sent a neutral message. It is a junior party official in Ayodhya. I dont know the coach number. I said and took a bite of a kachori. its fine. Somehow. We could eat in peace. Wait. come Ish. Omi said. Now what to do? Thought I will have them with you. He put our sevak team in the train the day before..... Mama said. I hated being late anymore.. Whats up Mama? Omi said. I dont know. The shop didnt open until nine. Ill find out. hello listen . He came out with a notebook. nothing else. Eighteen Are trains ever on time? Mamas loud voice interrupted us while we were at work. The person on the other end hung up the phone. His face became serious. a bit of pain. Whats going on? I said. hello. No. why are you praying while talking to me? Hey. Ish and I discussed the delivery plan for the day. His mouth opened and his eyes darted around. Didnt know you boys come here so early. Third round of tea? Ok? Yeah good. And there was no other woman I knew apart from Vidya. Mamas phone ring interrupted me. Omi said and went inside the shop. How is it going?. I had noted the PNR number and other details while making the booking.30 a. He had a tikka from the morning prayers on his forehead. So leftover breakfast for us? Omi said and laughed. she replied back. Mama said. Govind. Now he wants the coach number. And he isnt telling me why." I screamed at Omi.m. Mama stood up to leave at 9. Mama put his hand on the phone and turned to Omi. I wrapped the boxes back for him. No Mama. hundred per cent S6. I had an SMS from her already. Eat them while they are still hot. yeah. Mama talked to Omi about their relatives. why are you asking me? Mama said. I threw the phone away. Mama took the notebook and spoke on the phone again. Mama tried to call the number back but no one picked up. Mama picked up the phone. Mama said and took out a kachori. Ill get more anyway. I had two kachoris and felt full. But it is five hours late. they were in S6 . we have had enough. We ordered tea and sat on the stools outside the shop. I have to . Ish and Omi probably didnt even know the P-word. Nothing yet. The next night I did get some sleep. I opened a calendar and tracked all the past dates of our intimacy. Ill go to the station. Mama kept two pink paper boxes on the wicket box. Two hours later the whole country had found out. Had some work in the godown. I wanted to reach the shop early to take out supplies from the godown. Stop flipping channels. Their train was supposed to reach at 5 a. Here. Apart from the first time several months ago. And I couldnt ask mom anyway.

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

I lost my brother Govind. I reached home. Omi said.. Ish said. you come with us. Leave now before it gets dark. and Vidya would not be in the best mood anyway. dont cook for me. horrible news. Ali said and laughed. No. I said and stopped mid-sentence. Ish. I shrugged my shoulders. my mother would be worried too.. I said. I am getting ready for practice. Omi looked at me to say something. Shed probably he in the kitchen. I put Omis line on hold and called Ish. So I said. I said as I left the house. Mom. You go Omi. I dont know. And you? Omi said. Dont want to do hundred push-ups for missing practice. He wants to get out. We came to the tuition area of the backyard to have our dinner. I said. I said. Us? Omi said in a firm voice. can you stay on the line? I said. Am taking Ali home.30 today no? You havent seen the news? I said. hey why are you shutting down the shop? My gloves. But it wasnt the best time. We have one at 4. he wasnt wearing his skull cap. Luckily. Omi said. I said to Omi. I came with Ali to practice. Ok. Come to the bank.30 p. preparing dough for the evening dhokla. Ish said as he downed the shutters. . You want to come to my place? Ish said to me. Where is Ish? Omi said. And dad gave me dirty looks because Ali was with me. How could I? We had practice. Mama called. he said. Omi said. Is this the time to practice? What? I became sick of staying at home all day. Omi told me. Mama told him to keep quiet at home. Ish. screw it. your parents and aunt need you. He is devastated. Rumour or true? I said. We walked out of the temple compound. No. I have to get out. He picked up after ten rings. Then come home. Its horrible. My mother made me swear that Id never fall in love with a Muslim girl. All the workers are with him to support him. He died on the spot. and took an afternoon nap. Hey whats up Omi? Got in touch with Mama? I said and rubbed my eyes. I lifted myself off the bed and stood up. I wanted to see Vidya.. Like they havent guessed. where are you? Why do you take so long to pick up? I am at the bank.. Omis phone call woke me up. really? Yeah. Well make something at the bank. And your abba? He took ammi to her parents in Surat. Oh no. he went to the party office. I shuddered to think we almost took that trip. I wondered if I should SMS her again. Ill drop him off when his parents come back. I told my mother what had happened at Godhra. I said. I hung up on Ish and switched to the other line. He will come at six. Is he at home? I said. The phones clock showed it was 5. Dont be alone at home. He started crying. Ish said. Omi. Dhiraj is. And you didnt go? Ish said. its horrible.m.. he said.Ali was taken aback. Omi had cooked potato curry and rice. I cant keep silent at home and not show it. We dont have TV. Omi said and his voice broke. Come over here then. He wore a yellow T-shirt and an old pair of jeans. Nothing. lets hit some balls. Over lunch. He told me not to tell his wife or anyone else. I felt tired after the two sleepless nights and the events on the TV.  Trouble has started in the city. I heard a mob burnt two buses down in Jamalpur.

True, a local TV channel showed it as I left, Omi said, Its strange at home. Mami is still praying for Dhirajs safety. Omis body shook. He broke into tears. I held his hand as he hugged me. Ali looked at us. I smiled back at him. I went to the room where we kept books and brought back three Phantom comics. I gave them to Ali as he happily read them with his meal. We sat away from Ali so he could not hear us. The mob that burnt the Jamalpur bus, Hindu or Muslim? 1 said. I dont know, Im really scared, Omi said. We finished dinner and cleaned the kitchen by eight. We were planning to leave when Ishs phone rang. It was his dad. Ish hesitated to pick it up and did so only after half a minute. I had dinner. Ill be back in half an hour..., Ish said, what? We turned to look at Ish. I could only hear his side of the conversation. Ok ... Ok ... listen, I am at the bank. We are safe here. Yes, I promise we wont walk out on the streets ... yes we have bedding here. Dont panic. I gave Ish a puzzled look. A building in our pol caught fire, Ish said. Wow, which one? I said. The Muslim one at the corner, Ish said. It caught fire? By itself? I said. That is what dad is hoping. But it could be a Hindu mob. Dad said stay wherever you are. Our moms will worry. Govinds would too, Omi said. Call them, Ish said, I cant take Ali to his home too. His parents dont even have a phone, Ish said. I called my mother and told her I would be safe at the bank. We had slept over at the bank several times in the past. Many booze parties had ended with us passing out on the mattresses in the branch managers room on the first floor. We sat on couches in the cashier waiting area and played cards after dinner. Ali slept soon. Ish brought a quilt from the managers office and tucked him in on a separate sofa. Omi dropped three cards. Three aces, Omi said with an extra-straight face. He sucks at bluff. I tapped the cards. I wondered whether to turn them. Loud chants disrupted my thought. Whats that? I said. I saw the time - 10 p.m. Those are Hindu chants, Omi said. Angry-Hindu chants, Ish said. Calls to Shiva and Rama combined with drumbeats. We climbed the stairs two floors to reach the banks roof. The city glowed orange in the thick winter night. One, two, three -I saw three balls of flame across the pols. The nearest flame came from a building fifty yards away. A crowd of people stood outside. They threw stones on the burning building. I couldnt see well, but could hear the screams of the people inside the pol. The screams mixed with celebratory chants. You may have heard about riots several times or even seen them on TV. But to witness them in front of your eyes stuns your senses. My neighbourhood resembled a calamity movie film set. A burning man ran across the road. The Hindu mob chased him. He stumbled on a stone and fell, around twenty yards away from us. The mob crowded over him. Two minutes later, the crowd moved away while the man lay still. I had witnessed someones death for the first time in my life. My hands, face, neck, legs - everything turned cold. My heart beat in the same irregular way as it did on the day of the earthquake. Nature caused that disaster, man made this one. I dont know which is more dangerous. Come inside, Ish tugged hard at my sleeve. We went downstairs. My body shivered. Its fine. Lets go to sleep. The police will come soon. By morning it will be ok, Ish said as he put his arm around me. Can we sleep together? I said. Yes, I admit it, I felt super scared.

Ish nodded. He picked up Ali from the couch. We went to the branch managers room on the first floor and shut the door. I checked my phone before going to bed. Vidya had given me a missed call. I was in no state of mind to call or SMS back. Ish lay next to me anyway. I kept the phone in my pocket. I took three quilts and slept in the middle next to Ali. Omi and Ish surrounded us. We switched off the lights at 10.30 p.m. At 11.30 p.m. I woke up again. We heard a shattering noise. Someone shook the main gate of the bank. Who is it, I said. Ish stood up and wore his shirt. Lets find out, Ish said and shook Omis leg, come Omi. We went downstairs. I switched on the main lobby lights. Ish looked through the keyhole. Its the mob, Ish said, one eye still on the keyhole, Mama is leading the pack. We looked at each other. Ish turned the door knob and opened the door.

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

You lose a son first. Then I will tell you about being drunk, Mama said, and I know he is here because he is not at his home. Mama, your dispute is with his father, I said. Ive 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 wont work, Ish said. They killed his parents? I said and continued to breathe fast. The mob banged against the gate. They didnt 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 wont 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. Dont 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 dont 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 wont be able to do it alone. We need to scatter the crowd. I paced around the room. We didnt 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. Ill do that, Omi said. We opened the main door again. The crowd stopped banging their trishuls at the front gate lock. Cmon 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.

Ish opened it after confirming the person. You have a future in the party. This is a horrible way. I offered to check inside as Mama asked twice. I said. They suspected me of offering bribes. Our job is to listen to people and do what they tell us. Whats going on here? Mama said. I said. Why do you want to save the boy? he asked.. here talk . Hello? Who is this. The man in the gold chain went back to his group. the mini-leader screamed at the top of his voice. Parekh-ji will not approve of this." But kids? Women? I said. yes talk. Dont worry Parekh-ji. They do. Trust me. no you heard me wrong. Mama snatched the phone from me. Mama laughed. They will elect us again and again.Please. Parekh-ji. I said. This time my lure did not entice. Fifteen thousand. someone had to keep the crowd out.. Mama said and hung up. isnt it? Not that Parekh-ji.. I stood alone with the rioters. So are you supporting us? "This is wrong. . Ish opened it for a nanosecond and I slipped inside. Govind. We came to Vishala with you. By who? A few pseudos? Not the people of Gujarat. Oh yes. the gate did not have a lock anymore. you take your people and walk away. However. what are you mad or something? I said and moved back towards the bank. Your party will be blamed for it. You can ruin it if I dont pay. Omi knocked on the main entrance. This will last a day or two. He spoke to them as they stepped backwards. Oh and someone thinks you are not happy with me . Sir. I said. Dont worry. Stop them. And keep it quiet as I dont have enough for all. Yes. today I cant think of a better way. not sure why I called him sir. it could explode into a huge civil war. Ill take care of all this. I looked around for another mini-leader in the pack. You will be proud of me tomorrow. I said. You wait and see. Mama left Omi and came to me.. We are making people feel better. Both of them disappeared inside. Doesnt matter. Mama. What? The train burning. No. Parekh-ji. this is wrong. I will grieve later. He turned to me and nodded.. but if we stifle it. Twenty-five per cent of my problem was over. Right now it is war time. People dont want this.. trying to appeal to their self-interest. Consider it an offering. The crowd remained at the gate and only the porch separated us. Mama think again.. they want to kill a boy So what can I do? he said. People in pain want to feel better. Today. he is trying to buy me. Parekh-jis voice came at the other end. Unfortunately. I said.. He did not notice forty people turning to thirty in his drunk state. I said. Mama screamed. Fifteen thousand last. trying day for us Hindus. Whatever it takes to quench the hurt feelings. I walked up to him and took him aside. I said. Mama passed his phone. He went to the main door. One of Omis friends. I am well. He could be in the national team someday. Are they getting him? Mama asked me. He took out his mobile phone and dialled a number. I wanted to run inside too. My shop is at the temple. Son. sir. Whats going on Omi? Get the boy here. Omi nodded to Mama. The crowd waited behind us. dont ask. the cooker needs a whistle to release the pressure.. However. this boy. Parekh-ji wont approve? Mama said and waited for the phone to be picked up. I went to the door and knocked. Not the other way round. I think so.

He told us to lift a kerosene canister each. So fucking what? What about my mother? What about Omis parents? What about. If they werent. Coming Mama. Then what? Because he is a national treasure. Mama looked up to the roof. Ali woke up. How many people? Ish said. I almost said Vidya. At least not yet. I said. Twenty litres each. Where are you hiding sister-fuckers. We dont have time. Where is he? I said. If one of us doesnt show up in two minutes. We stood two stories high. Lets fight. They are waiting. We will all die. Omi screamed back. Its heavy. but it can also be quite stupid. Ish said. They will get Ali and kill him too. They came to the porch and banged on the main entrance door. Then what is it about? Why should we all die? Only because you love the kid? No.. Ish. I said. Ish bolted the door and blocked it with the sofa from the waiting lounge. Ish said.. They stopped throwing torches after that. theyd have to break the first floor entrance door and then the flimsy one at the roof. Ish said and stood up. Meanwhile. But I also know what will happen if we fight thirty people. But how do we fight them Ish? Omi said. We fell in step behind him as we took the steps to the roof. We are coming! Mama said as his group pushed the rusted metal gate of the bank open. Say Jai Sri Ram. Ish said and climbed on the roof ledge. Give us five minutes. So what are you trying to say. One fire torch fell on a rioter and he yelped in pain. I said. I said. The crowd became distracted. Omi said. Mama said. I want to talk to you. Can you show me the maths in this? Fuck your maths. I locked him in the managers room. The weather didnt feel as cold as a February night should be. In fifteen minutes. the crowd had to participate. Open the door and run. Thats heavy for sure. I know. It worked perfectly. Ish said. We needed a big strike. You want to run away. The crowd hurled fire torches at us. Mama. Ish said. Omi. they will attack. I said. 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. Despite three bolts and a sofa in front. they would break it in ten minutes flat. What? We have no time. can I offer a bit of logic in the current chaos.. Ish said. Get him fast. Stop shouting Mama. Omi! Mamas scream came through the main door. The canisters had a narrow neck and the kerosene wouldnt flow out fast.I let out the loudest sigh ever. he said and turned his back to me. I made Ish sit on the sofa that blocked the main door. Omi and I poured the kerosene out of the canisters into the buckets. Im not giving him up. After that. This isnt about business. Thirty. I said. you are welcome to go too. Ish said as we reached the roof. Twenty Ish. I said and turned quiet. A mob maybe passionate. Most of the crowd did not know whether we supported them or not. Nothing reached us. I am not going. we would be roasted in blowtorches. He led us to the kitchen. . Oh. See. Giving up three lives to possibly save one. Fires dotted the neighbourhood skyline. Ish kept Mama engaged. Ish said. I was born without fear. He also picked up three buckets that we used to chill beer. Ish told us to follow him. Ishs plan better be good. theyd attack the main door. Mama said. Ish shouted.

We came down to the first floor. Ish said. Clear? Ish said to Omi. Theres panic downstairs. Ish said. Ish said. We left Ali in the vault and ran to the kitchen. Lets reduce the people further. I ran my fingers through Alis hair. Ish came back with boxes of leftover Diwali crackers. He took two bombs and opened the fuse to make it last longer. Omi where do we keep the fireworks?" Ish said. I raised my head high enough to watch the happenings below. A few mobsters ran out of the bank gate as their clothes caught fire. Ali. Here. Keep the light on. Omi and I carried the LPG cylinder. Omi lit a matchstick and took it to the fuse. We usually burst them when India won a match. Top shelf. Its dark. One. Ali said. I suppose it is much more fun to burn people. How many ran away? Ish said. I was four steps away from the top when the door came loose. Dont worry. Hold on ok? Ish said. They will never get you there. I dont care. we have to hurt some more. The crowd banged at the door. you will be fine if you listen to me. He pointed to the claustrophobic six by six room. The remaining people started jabbing trishuls on the main door. than get burnt yourself. we are hurting people. take my phone. I popped my body up to count the people. Ish said. There? Its so dark? Ali said. Ish said and gave him his cell-phone. its going to be fine. Some of them may die. You ok? Ish screamed. Ish unplugged the LPG cylinder. We threw the oil forward to keep it away from the bank building. We ran up the stairs. three and go. I said. Carry this to the main door. we have to cook one more dish in the kitchen.Ish struck Sivas poses on the ledge. As the fuse tip turned orange. Omi said. Home was no longer an option. I need to lock you up in the vault. but less than twenty. Run. Ish climbed on the sofa and tried to get hold of the bolt. Ali said and broke into tears. Ish said as he jumped off the sofa. It vibrated under the impact of the mobs jabs. We threw a lot of kerosene. the time we had to save our lives. We kept it under the sofa blocking the main door. Ali switched on the phone light. One main door bolt became loose. The blowtorches in the rioters hands acted as the ignition. Ish said. No. He kept the keys inside his sock. I estimated we had five more minutes before the door gave away. Ish said. Ish stepped off the ledge. Ish shut the door and locked it. Ish. you light and all run up. We hid ourselves under the parapet. Ali nodded. A river of fire fell on the banks porch. I open. . Some horrible people want to get you. Panic spread in the mob. I am scared. Ish unlocked the branch managers office door with the bunch of keys in his pocket. Ok. Ish said. I want to go home to abba. The sofa would keep the door in place for a few more seconds. We have to go down. Perhaps Siva had come down tonight to bless the rioters. two. Are you mad? I said. A few drunk members of the mob even bowed to him. He gave him a few pillows. Omi nodded. I whispered as Omi and I upturned the buckets. Quite a few. Ish put Ali in the safe. I will be back soon. Will you listen to me? Ish said. I estimated more than ten. The jabs at the main door continued. Ish emptied a box of bombs on the cylinder. Ali awaited him inside and ran to hug him. They took a few moments to realise we had attacked them. Come fast. Ish opened the bolt.

I could hear her cheerful voice even though Ish held the phone. Killing your own people. Love . His hands trembled as he shuffled through the cricket equipment we kept in the managers office. Twenty One Traitors. He dialled the police number. Hey. my phone said as a message arrived. Ish said to me. They continued to threaten us but didnt or maybe he had the foresight to send others to open the door first. Fuck. Ish said as he opened it. Mama looked up. Nobody answered. Mama said. Mamas voice reverberated through the door. Hey stop. stay safe tonight. you bastards. Ish looked at me. Perhaps they were afraid of what we would blow up this time. He and five other men ran up the stairs.Mother fuckers we wont leave you. Omi and I ran into the branch managers office and shut the door. Ish said. no one is picking up. I came close to a cardiac arrest. Hold these. I dont have my phone. I was one step from the top when my ears hurt. Vidya rattled off on the other side as she saw my number. I think the mini-leader took the worst hit from the cylinder. He saw the number. Ish hung up the phone and shook it in frustration. I passed my phone to Ish. I didnt know if any of the rioters remained. The explosion rocked the cupboards on the ground floor as the main door blew away. Catch them. I had never seen body parts fly in the air. Preventing someone from taking revenge by attacking them ourselves. I used the two way switch at the top to switch on the ground floor tube light. The smoke cleared in thirty seconds. Mama entered the room with five other people. All gone? Ish said. Open or we will break it. For a moment we forgot that we had murderers at our door. Hey. Mama screamed. I could not tell if they were injured or dead. Vidya? Ish said as his brows became tense. I noticed his left hand. just got my period!! Yippee!! Relieved no? C U soon my hot teacher. He dialled it. The other eight men couldnt have been much better off. A few men lay around the room. Ill call the police. He cut the line and kept the phone in his pocket. Maybe he was lucky. Mama shouted. He turned to the message and went into details. Ish gave me a puzzled look. The five people ran to the injured in the room. We will not leave. Beep Beep. Ish said and tried again. I didnt know what we were doing. Ish moved the phone away from me. the mini-leader I had tried to bribe opened the door. His eyes met us. My heartbeat sounded almost as loud as their screams. Ish stepped forward towards me as I backtracked until I reached the wall. Him and three more men entered the room. Its an SMS. cool no? I never thought Id be celebrating a period. even though they didnt bang the door. Ish picked up a bat. The message came from supplier Vidyanath. Give me yours. Ish bhaiya? she said. I looked behind. It bled and the kerosene had burnt part of his kurtas left sleeve. Ish. He looked at me in shock. I shrugged my shoulders and reached to take my phone. they shouted at me as I continued to climb. Ish and Omi came behind me. By the way. Smoke and bits of paper from the old files filled the room. . The erstwhile main door was now an empty gap. eight men had entered the bank. Mama and his group had reached the branch managers office door.

Nobody here. Omi lent me a hand. There is no boy here. The man winced as he fell on the floor. I dont know why I said that. He threw the empty flask at Ish. It must be up there in the top ten morally wrong things one could possibly do. He came forward and pinned me to the wall. Stupid bastards. Ish said. the man said. Mama said. I will. A few more jabs and it would open. they screamed as they traversed the various rooms of the bank.. Two injured men lay on the floor. Mama said. . Omi had crushed the toes of the fourth man with the bat. Buffalo.. not to settle scores. We lifted our cricket weapons. selfish bastard. but kept their distance. He pulled Ishs hair hard. as you can see. Fuck you Mama. Omi kicked his stomach but the fifth man punched hard on Omis back. Ish said. Omi said. Move aside Omi. Mama said as a phone ring interrupted him. He lifted his hand and then . The third man hit Ish on the neck with the blunt end of the trishul. He is not here. I want blood. leg. It hit him in the chest. Ish dropped the bat on the ground. you want to get killed? Omi said. I said even though I couldnt. Mama went close to Ish. I felt intense pain. We monitored the door. Omi handed Ish the bat again. Ish said and kicked me in the shins. Then he made his hand into a fist and punched me hard in the stomach. The man took Ish captive and pushed him against the wall. He ordered his minions to break the door. including screaming in agony. go on. thigh and groin. Mamas five men held up their trishuls. Our conjoined weapons hurled in the air as we tried to extract them apart. Ish fell forward. Their voice had pain. Ish blocked him with his bat. He is a snake. He kicked me in my right knee and I lost my balance. Omi said and opened the door. but I felt I had lost the right to say anything. My hands shivered as I tackled another fat man. Mama said. you cant get free now. Mama kicked them. Ish growled. I wondered if my intestines had burst. I clenched my teeth and closed my eyes. I had unprotected sex with a barely legal student and my best friends sister. I didnt do anything wrong.Ish I can explain. Ish shouted and walked up to the door. tch. The three of us were pinned to the wall. The man grabbed Omi from behind. I had to pay for the second mistake of my life. Ill let them in anyway. Go search. My wicket got stuck in his trishuls blades. Omi said and released the bolt. What the hell are you doing? Omi said even though he understood the situation well. Hell sell us if he could. Mamas patience ran out after five minutes. Give me the boy. Mama said. Mama said. Omi said. The three remaining able men had blocked our bodies with their trishuls..slap! slap! He deposited two of them on my face. He took out his hip flask and had a big sip of whisky. Right now. Fucking businessman. You wont get any boy here. Something told me theyd had enough... Mama sat on the branch managers table and looked at us. Protocol. The men hobbled and left the room. aim is to survive. The man fell on the floor. Just tell me. where is the boy. or it will be yours. Why wait. come in if you have the guts. You are not to be trusted. One man attacked Ish. Tell me you bastard. I stood up and leaned on him. I held my wicket tight. I deserved this. Nothing. They pressed their trishuls against the door. I told you. Ish struck the bat on the mans arm. as I have seen. You want to kill me? Mama.. I said. Hey Ish. Tch. Like playing with fire eh? Mama said as he sat on the branch managers table. kill me. I fell on the ground.

Oh yes. my man said and gave up his grip. but he wouldnt listen. whatever you want. Ish growled. Mama went to the wall behind the managers table. This is the banks vault. The man searching me ripped open my shirt pocket. For my sake. Mama reached into Ishs pockets. Mama took his hands out of the pants and slid it again into Ishs shorts. Open this. . The sound came from within the vault.The phone didnt belong to me or Omi. Ishs phone rang again. Mama said as he pointed to the wheel shaped lock of the vault. Father and son. Mama said. I wanted to do my part to help Ish. No keys. Ish lay on the floor taking heavy breaths from his mouth. Dont worry Ill tackle him. He pinned me to the wall again. He jabbed the blunt end of the trishul again at his chest wound. Mama took a minute to figure out the vault keys. Should I help. Ish kicked hard in the mans shins. The other men did the same to Omi and Ish. The sound came from the managers table. We dont have the keys. I told him I didnt have the keys more than ten times. Ish looked away from me. The man guarding him suffocated Ish with the trishul rod around his neck. I guessed Vidya had called to explain things to her brother. There is the bastard. he jabbed me with his fist. He pulled out a bangle sized keyring. His eyes looked defiant even as his body refused to cooperate. Whenever I tried to squirm. This one neither. the man with Ish said as he tried to take off Ishs pants. Mama said and went to the vault. He took a trishul and poked him in his rib cage. Dont touch him. The ring didnt come from Mama and his men either. Ish clenched his teeth and continued to kick. I wanted to do anything to make me less of a creep. So we are idiots isnt it? You dont have the keys. The smart boy has spoken. I said open this. go sell your mother. This one needs to be tamed. Mama said from the branch managers desk. This bastard doesnt have it. Omi said. Dont Mama. Mama said. Mama said. Ill pay you. Mama said. Ish screamed in pain and fell. Mama followed the sound. Mama said to me as he turned the wheel of the vault. Ill root out the clan. The man searching him ripped off Ishs shirt. but how did the fucking phone end up inside? Search them. He slapped me once and asked me to turn around. My head turned to Ish. He is national treasure.My Dhiraj was also a child. He searched my pant pockets and grabbed my groin twice to check. he is a child. Mama paused and turned to look at us. Mama came to Ish. The man searching Ish slapped him a few times. Businessman. I said. It had the vault. It had two six inch long keys. His nails poked me as he frisked me from top to bottom. Mama twirled the key ring in his hand. the man with Omi said. Mamas minions began the most violent search possible. Mama grabbed my chin and turned my face to him. He felt something. Ish had worn practice shorts underneath his pants. I noticed the blood on Ishs chest. I said. the man said even as Ish bit his arm. Never looted a bank before. We kept quiet. and what a prize today. Ish sat on the floor. The man suffocated him further.

I can kill you in one clean shot. Ish ran to Omi. His eyes closed. Omi said as he absorbed what happened first and felt the pain later. Stop it Mama. Dont you try and escape son of a bitch. Run Ali. Ish bhaiya. Mama had Omi in his lap. Mama tried to shake him back to life. Mama kneeled down on the floor next to Ali. Ish screamed. His thin body in the white kurta pajama shivered intensely. Mama said. Within seconds. Mama said and brought Ali down. and for years later that image would continue to haunt me. my son. I had no energy to fight the man holding me. Ali said as his legs dangled. He opened his eyes and lifted the trishul. I had no energy left to do anything. Youll be fine my son. I didnt mean to. . The trishul entered Omis stomach with a dull thud. Ali screamed in pain and fell down. Ali put his free hand on Omis chest. The man fell down as Ish kicked him again thrice in the same place. He had only witnessed the drama from behind. The more innocent you look now. his voice breaking as he gulped for breath. Ish pounded his head with his foot until the man became unconscious. Look you animal. Omi screamed in his loudest voice. The strike already had momentum. Only I had seen. He released his grip on Alis neck. oh. Mama no. Mama opened his eyes. Ish started kicking and shoving the man holding him. Omi said. Omi said. He took his folded hands to his forehead and heart and tapped it thrice. dont do it. the white barely visible. I had never seen so much blood. Mama grabbed Ali by the neck and raised him high in the air. His eyes looked weak. Omi said as he looked at me. Love you friend. Mama. Ali tried to run out of the room. If you try to be clever I will cut each finger of yours one at a time. Omi said. All Muslims are not bad. Leave us you bastards. Ish screamed. I wanted to puke. Ish had seen the scene from behind. You wont understand. Ish gripped his trishul rod and pushed back hard until he could slip out. Omi held Alis hand and looked at me. Oh . Mama closed his eyes again and mumbled silent chants. Omi pushed the man blocking him. He is a good boy Mama. I cried like a baby. His eyes were red. Ish screamed. Ali stood up and tried to limp away. the bigger devil you will be in ten years. He never saw the trishul inside him. Even if Mama wanted to stop. what did you do. It moved up and down in an asymmetrical manner. Stop Mama. Understand? Mama roared. a pool of blood covered the floor. He gave the man a kick in his groin.Mama yanked out Ali from the vault. Tears ran across my cheeks. still unaware that the trishul blades had penetrated five inches inside him. Omi writhed in pain as Mama yanked the trishul out. my son. my son. What? What happened? Ish said. Mama said as he brushed Omis hair. His smudged face told me he had been crying inside. Mama screamed a chant and struck. a line that could be termed cheesy if it wasnt his last. He ran after Ali and jabbed the trishul into Alis ankle. Omi said as Mama lifted his trishul. Mama lifted the trishul high to strike. he couldnt.. Omi. Mama said and folded his hands to pray. Mama and his men looked at each other. Mama put his head on Omis chest.. Ishs captor held him super-tight. My mind went numb. he didnt kill your son. The man who pinned Omi earlier now held Ali tight and came close to Mama. Call an ambulance you dogs. Omi. trying to make sense of what had occurred. run. He ran between Mama and Ali. The man jabbed Ish with his elbow.

Is that what Ish had tried to say? I had limited data beyond the eye movement. There. Mama had a trishul too. something I didnt realise then. Ish ignored Mama. I got ready to move. but I snapped myself out of it and made a dive to my left. I had to do first and think later. We just want to go away. That way Mamas strike could hit the wall. Mama said. I held Ali tight within me in an embryo position.Mama left Omis body on the ground and stood up. However. The men looked nervous. Mama asked Alis captor to release him. Ah! Ish said in pain as he fell down. I havent cried yet. He went through the same numbness I did a few moments ago. look. Ishs captor had recovered from the groin attack. Their eyes met. He touched Omis body again and again. He had never touched a dead body before. What? I asked myself. Ish faced Ali and me. He wanted me to run out and block Mama. what was the point of getting killed? Get ready you pig. Ish ran to us. Ish took his captors trishul and struck it into the mans heart. Mama said. I looked at Ish. the one second delay being the third big mistake of my life. ★ There were two captors left and Mama. See what you made me do you bastard. Just the way Omi had. Mama said as he came in front of Ali. One blade of the trishul jabbed Alis wrist. But I am not weak. I grabbed Ali and pulled him towards me. Ish said as he held his trishul. The man who held Alis arm looked at Mama. The man screamed once and turned silent. Hes ok. It would have hurt Ish. However. Hold him back. Ish did exactly as I thought. I looked at Mama. He moved his eyeballs from centre to left in quick succession. facing Mama. and banged his head against the captors to set himself free. I couldnt analyse. No more chances. made me kill another son. It is hard to take your eyes of a live murder. looking for guidance for the next step. am I weak? Mama said as he turned to his men. grab Ali and pull him to my side. . Mama ran towards Ali. I had limited time. Of course. I saw Ish cry for the first time. The man brought Ali next to me and held him back with a trishul. I examined my captor. And I wasted precious time thinking when I should have acted. And here it was. unsuccessfully. What is he trying to say? I squinted my eyes to look at Ish. I could slip out. The exact opposite of when I slept with Vidya. I knew I had to get out of the captors grip. I didnt know I had made a mistake then. I ran with Ali to the other end of the room. The men came running after us. let alone his friends. The man dragged Ish back to the wall. His captor looked extra-alert. His eyes tried to tell me something. Ish looked at me. but I think Ish was beyond pain right now. as things had not gone as planned. come from behind and protect us all. Mamas men watched the impending duel. He struck the blunt end of the trishul on Ishs head. Maybe I could extract myself and try to pull Ali towards me. What if the trishul ends in my stomach? The whatifs made me hesitant. He woke up and ran to Ish from behind. Mama said as he lifted his trishul and took five steps back. The sight of his huge frame and a sharp weapon sent a fear inside me. We did not want to kill anyone. I said turning to Ish. Hindus are not weak. Ish and I exchanged another glance and he saw my fear mixed with self-interest. semi-conscious. He sniffed back hard but the tears wouldnt stop. he is ok. Ali would have been completely unhurt only if I had dived a second earlier. but missed Alis torso. Ish could push his captor away. I should have thought first and done later. Ish went over and touched Omis face. He blocked me but his eyes watched Mama and Ali. next to this mother pimping businessman. around fifteen feet away. Mama struck.

Mama said as he spat on Ishs face. I had become an expert in dead bodies. Ish sat on the floor leaning against the managers table. At five feet range. bowl to me. Ish came from behind and stabbed one in his neck. We saved him. Oh my God. the men said as we reached the end of the room. The captors ran towards Mama. His eyes shut after five minutes and I checked his pulse. His body still trembled in fear. Mama said to his men. Mama said and laughed as Ali held up his bat. I said as I shook Ishs shoulders from behind. Ali said to Mama. Alis eyes met with Ish. Mama picked one up. Slam! Ali struck the ball with the bat. I can finish you now. Ali connected and slam! The ball hit the centre of Mamas forehead. more in pain than surprise at what he had done. Ish said. they hit Mama like exploding bricks. Oh really? Mama said and laughed. the killer look in Ishs eyes. play with me. Nobody wanted to go close to check his breath. The other captor saw the blood gush out. As he left. Ali kneeled down on the floor. Thank your stars you were born in a Hindu house. His toes whooshed out blood and he couldnt get up. Ish threw it again. He used a trishul as his walking stick. Ish lifted the ball in his hand. Heh? Want to fight? the two captors said. His temple had burst. you finish the boy Mama. You are fucking weak. the boy wants to play. Mama rotated his trishul in his hand. just out of the striking distance of Alis bat. The captor noticed but didnt react. Ali gave the briefest nod possible. Oh. one last ball before you die? Mama tossed the ball in his hands. Ali winced as his right wrist hurt when he lifted the bat. One of the men turned to go back to Mama. Ishs arms wrapped around Ali. . he said. Another ball lay next to Alis foot. Oh. I picked one too. Ali pranced around as he stumbled on two cricket balls kept on the floor. I think hes dead. you need that wrist. Ali said. Mama said and pretended to shiver in jest. you know that. Ish we saved him. Alis shots were powerful enough to get balls out of stadiums. keep it alive. Its hurting a lot Ish bhaiya. One of the men went and bolted the door. Ali. The ball rolled to Ish. Ali said. Move away. Yeah. You want me to bowl? Eh? Play bat ball? Mama said and laughed. Cmon move that wrist. He had one shot.Dont come near me. though not sure if I could really fight right now. He held his right wrist with his left hand. Ish said. The ball fell on the floor and Ali kicked it to Ish. Ish threw the ball towards Ali with all his strength. Internal bleeding had made his forehead dark and swollen. He opened the bolt and was out of sight in ten seconds. Sure. Ish picked up the ball slowly. Mama struck his trishul at Ishs toes. He hobbled towards the door to leave. Ill take care of him. Mama and Ish were still in their face off. I said. Its stopped. I am so scared of the bat ball. Ali said. Mama fell down. Mama came to Ali. Take me home. Mama lay on the ground. and he didnt miss it. Ali brushed the ball with his feet towards Ish. Ish used it as a stick to get up. Mama said as he moved away. Mama released the ball in his hand to hold his head. He lost his balance and fell down next to the managers desk.Stop you bastards. Ali lifted a bat from the floor. Yeah. Mama said as he danced around Ali. He barely moved. Ish didnt expect it. His trishul fell on the floor. He tossed the ball in one hand and held the trishul in the other. you son of a whore. The ball hit Mamas temple hard. you want to play eh? You want to play bat ball with me. Each had a stern gaze.

Ish stopped. I stepped outside the room. I said. destroyed they were. Omis father cried as five thousand people descended from all over Ahmedabad. I asked someone where to get tea from. I tried to contact Ish. I gave him a glass of water as his voice faltered. two months and one week ago. but something worse than that. I didnt go to the shop for two months. He pointed me to the canteen. He left me like I was one of the dead bodies and walked out. I had let him down for lots of reasons. I said. Everytime I try speaking to him he snubs me. Ish didnt say anything. I have to confirm my return trip. his gaze and voice both low. We. I nodded and she left the room. The nurse came running inside. Omis parents. Speaking to Vidya was out of question.. exactly three years. They put her under house arrest. but . He sat up a little on the bed. So what happened in the three years . Dhiraj and Mama. For weeks. Ill help you open the door I said. I came back with two cups. I did not prod further. Hey Ish. He gave me the look of indifference. If I went to meet him. to change his the shop. Her dad slammed her mobile phone to pieces. Govind ended his story. Did you speak to Vidya? Govind shook his head. I need to find the Singapore Airlines phone number. The early morning sunlight filled the hospital corridors. She had to be in the hospital for a month! I debated whether to place my hand on Govinds hand lying pale on the covers. Govind refused as he wasnt allowed one after a stomach wash. The nurse wagged her finger at me. wait for me. to Vidya.. I am fine. If he wanted to tell me. He didnt give me a dirty look. Govind said. The TV channels moved on after the Godhra news and the . Sure.. He turned to me. And from that day. Omis mother became ill after not eating for a week.. Ish hand gestured me to get out of the way. He turned his gaze down and played with the heart rate monitor wire attached on his chest. Epilogue The heart rate monitor beeped fast. to Ali? I asked. cmon Ish. Ish has not spoken to me again. I checked the time. Govind said. Just chatting. Govinds pulse had crossed 130 beats a minute. I reached the door. he is alive. he would. I cant tell you how . hed shut the door on my face. What did you do? she said. At the funerals. Ish. But why was he behaving like Who was I? Like he had nothing whatsoever to do with me. He didnt make eye contact. He swallowed a couple of times to keep his composure. Dont make him exert himself. it was five in the morning. we did it. the temple had visitors from the neighbourhood and the only prayers were for Omi. Ish turned and started to walk.

medical college or not. so the shop belonged to Omis mother now. You did your best. of celebrating Mamas death. Govind said. She told me to reopen the shop. 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. That means his ability to turn the bat at the right time is gone. So I came back to the shop. I told you.riots.. We had defaulted many supply contracts. Omis mother wanted us both. The nurse agreed and took off the drips and monitor cords attached to him. But she knew nothing of my nightmares and I had to make a living anyway. But my life collapsed. We offered studies and sports at the same place but we never. But we need the money for his wrist operation. just because I am here today He paused. His customers often came to my store and vice versa. Omis mother came home. Ish took the right side and continued the sports shop. However. I reassured. Alis wrist is damaged. Not even when India reached the finals in the 2003 World Cup. What kind of operation? I asked. so there was only one solution. The guilt . that delay was the third mistake of my life. I saved his life. my mind riven with doubts about his stability. Why does hospital tea taste like Dettol? Ali stays in Ishs house now.. It was a moments delay. A lot of money. They wanted her away from me.. They sent Vidya to Bombay. I couldnt meet her eye. That was the one positive thing for her.. Govind requested he wanted to use the toilet. and never jumps at a six. Omi had told her it was his favourite place in the world. Ish told Omis mother he Would come. so he will be brought up well anyway. Mama was gone. But this time I never replied.. I waited anxiously for ten minutes.. She had instructions to never speak to me again. Dont think I am not strong . So did you agree?Initially. of letting Omi die. The business was losing money. All I wanted to do was make as much money as possible and save it for Ali. But I had to know. spoke. I couldnt do it. Ish watches matches alone now. but didnt want anything to do with me. I didnt pop pills then. To bring him up? I said and took a sip from my cup. to do a PR course. I lived through all that. but my one second of delay cost him his gift. . she loves breaking rules and did try to contact me a couple of times from there. And she wanted to give it to us to keep the memory of her son alive. Three months after the incident. So Vidya did get to fly out of her cage. of my part in Mamas death. I saw her brother everyday. not once. when he returned. The nurse came to the room for the morning checkup. too. We put a plywood wall right in the middle. What? We split the shop into two.

It isnt a synthetic skin graft. The trishul gouged out some of the muscle from the wrist. he offered me his cashbox and said he could give me money if I needed it to satisfy my greed. which has promised us an operation for five lakhs. the doctor told me as he drew the curtains. He thought he was being brave. Maybe I had calculated life all wrong.m. he said and paused before speaking again. I said we must act now as it takes nine months to get an appointment at that hospital anyway.. Then. Ish calls my labour dishonest. It was time to quit the equation. or when I was with Vidya. I said lets pool our resources and get Ali operated. That day I felt why not sleep once and for all. He pulled it away. but a muscle transfer. Govinds voice choked again. worried. I saved another three. Id like the patient to sleep for six hours. Such a brave boy I had. And I dont only care about money. Last week I went to him with the money. After three years of saving every rupee I could. What happened to him? she sighed. Like I was with my ambition when I wanted to make the mall. He needs reconstructive surgery. So doctors have to cut up a piece of muscle from the thigh and attach it to the wrist. I left the room and went out. they have to hope that it works. Govind nodded. I was selfish. That is all I could hear from the thin plywood wall You have the money? Ish saved two lakhs in the past three years. You know what he did? He refused to touch my money and wore cricket gloves while handing the envelope back to me. The chemicals from the pills had been flushed out of Govinds system. He said he didnt want to get Ali operated with a dishonest mans money. He smiled feebly. Dr Verma had given me pills as I had trouble sleeping at night.. Does Ish know? She looked at me sideways. In fact. I sat next to her on the bench. Govinds mother sat on a bench in the corridor. but Im not dishonest. And then he. I said. Im selfish and have made mistakes. I am a selfish bastard. The doctor came to Govinds ward at 7 a. They dont talk.. I am not dishonest. I cant take it anymore. you know. The best deal he has is from a hospital in UK. You ok? I said.But a conscious moment. It only happens abroad. Of course. She looked up. too. They are right. I care about Ali. Ish wrote to every big hospital in the UK and USA for subsidies. I sat on his bed put my hand on his arm. He is fine. just needs some rest. Govind voice began to break. Ish never told me all this. I am not a businessman. And it costs a bomb. How much? Dont even talk about the full price. .

For me. Ish. Govind clasped Ishs hand. together? Vidya said. Ish began to walk out of the room. Ish stopped and looked back at Govind. loved her. But what the money is for. I am sorry. . What did your heart want? Ish stood silent. Both Govinds and Ishs eyes turned moist. Vidya said. Govind said. People close to you will hurt you. I didnt mean to hurt anyone. So? Vidya removed her college bag from her shoulder and placed it on the bed. but I do think you should be friends again. Ish sniffed hard as he tried to resist tears. quite forgetting the others. There are better ways to attract attention. You dont have to listen to parents. Govinds eyelashes flickered and everyone moved closer to the bed. Aunty. Govinds mother continued: Life will have many setbacks. Ish wanted the same. By the way. so. Govinds mother looked shocked. Dont force him to come to the hospital. When did you come? Govind asked. It is a lesson not only you. Ish? Vidya! Govind blinked. Or for popping these pills. I l. Get Ali all right.. there were Ish. She had sat in an auto when I spoke again. it is important to me. Vidya said. But that doesnt mean I forgive you for not replying to me. Your parents told you not to speak to me again. isnt it strange that all the men in the ward are crying while the women are like. Take the money for Ali. She placed Ishs hand on Govinds. Remember the kissing chimpanzees? Govind called after him. You dont hurt them more. I said. Govinds mother nodded. but our country needs to learn. You try to heal it. Apart from the nurse. But you dont break it off. A lot of people had lost sleep because of his sleeping pills. Ish remained silent. Govinds mother said. probably dreading a firecracker of a daughter-in-law like Vidya someday. I never popped anything even when I was most scared. you know when. I left my marketing class halfway. three times over? Govind said. its no longer just for the money.Can you tell him what happened. looking at Govind. too. Vidya. We waited for Mr Sleepyhead to wake up from his second nap of the day. do you know which college Vidya goes to in Bombay? So many visitors? This is a hospital. not a club. the nurse grumbled as she changed Govinds bedsheets in the evening. Govinds mother went after him and pulled his arm.. Govinds hospital room was bustling with people. We left the hospital together. Govinds mother and I. Can you forgive me.

Oh well. he said. I dont know how I will ever repay you. but the success probability is not hundred per cent. Bombay is nice. but had to leave. I agree. But do not release the story until we know about Ali. My wife came to my desk at midnight. Alis doing physio exercises everyday. to lift Govinds spirits. Ok? It may mean your effort goes to waste. I thought you were a Bombay girl. but my own is my own. I wanted to chat with her more. Hell tell you if anything happens. I met Vidya at the hospital entrance as I left. right before I left for the airport. They had let me into their world.I dont know yet about Ali. It was day time in London. For what? For dropping by. I said. Probability is best left to books. We are going for the operation. Can you leave this story for now? You have done what you could.. I said. You have been saying the same thing over and over since last month. I met Govind the next morning. he said. So Ill go back and well be in touch over email. he said emotionally. Like a book? Yes. I said. Fifty-fifty is what they told us. Govind was due for discharge that evening. cant wait for my course to be over in six months. Epilogue II I sat at my home computer in Singapore. Will you help me? I dont know. trapped in the small city or whatever. You should have faith. Nice roses. Pretty much. Sure. but they are in London right now. exactly a book. "Thanks. Actually. She carried a bouquet. probably her most cheerful dress. there is a way Govind waited. She was wearing a green lehanga. Your story. He could be ready for a batting test anytime. Now can you please turn off the light? I lay down and thought about them. but I couldnt overstay. I only like stories with happy endings. Confident women make terrible daughters-in-law. Yes. she said. I miss Ahmedabad. looked shocked. we can work on it. He nodded. You have a pretty happy ending. He told you everything? Like everything? she. Pao bhaji tastes much better in Ahmedabad. 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? . The operation is over..Govinds mother looked horrified. she said. Law Garden has the best ones. My third book. I said and we shook hands. it needs to be shared.

m. straight 6. London is eight hours behind Singapore. The next morning I woke up early. I had an SMS from Govind... and 1 checked my phone during my evening coffee at 4 p. fingers X. ali moves fwd & turns. v hit pitch 2mrow I went to office the next day. I was in the taxi when my phone beeped. ish bowls 2 ali.Will the new wrist be too delicate to play sports? Thoughts continued to swirl as I drifted off to sleep. I had no message.m.! . pls pray. I left office at 8 p. doc approves ali 2 play.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful