This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, place or incident is purely coincidental.
See it just as a story, won’t you?
My father’s bangle shop was in the heart of the Alwar market. Our house was just above the shop, immersed in the sounds, colours, smells and intelligence of a busy bazaar. Growing up there taught me the kind of ever-ready reflex you need in order to know just when to duck, and when to strike. I wouldn’t live in such a place now, no; I’ve taken what I could from there. But back then, it was the only world I wanted.
It is not strange for a person to reminisce about the old days, the childhood dreamlands. You might not be surprised, therefore, when I tell you I took out my old diary on this raving, snowy evening here in Halifax. The Rajasthani dust on its yellowed pages, the memories of an Indian sun, and more, warm my soul like no rum would. I was a keen cataloguer of my exploits back then — filled with a certainty that I would be the Don Corleone of the better part of the world someday, I wanted to chronicle the making of the legend.
Here’s a chapter for you, uncut. Raw. Of the time when we were 12 years old. I, an investment banker, did not become a don, but just look at the potential I had!
12. 12. 84
It’s Dev’s turn next. I could keep it until the end of December, but after today we feel he should take over now only. It’s too risky. Rathod panicked like we expected him to. But it was a good experience for a good cause.
Murgi thinks too much of herself. Boys in class say she’s white and beautiful. The whole 7th class is full of her, in fact. I don’t understand anything about all this. All I care for is that her father keeps the best chickens in the whole of Alwar market. And she had no business shouting out bad things to Rathod like this. He had just gone to deliver a love letter to her for Chamku after all.
Dev and me would never be friends with Chamku. He can’t fight for a peanut, and thinks the gel in his hair is the best thing on this side of the Indian Ocean. Rathod and him live in the police lines, so they keep meeting each other after school too. So anyway. Chamku loves Murgi, he says. He’s even ready to forget they go to different kinds of God’s places. He got Rathod ready to give his love letter to Murgi when he came to visit us. Rathod is a fool, we all know. The weight of his brain must be as little as the weight of his charcoal body. He said he did it for Chamku. I say, “Why do anything where a girl is involved?” Girls stink anyway. They use all kinds of greasy creams and silly lip glosses that make them look like those shiny pigs with an apple in their mouths.
Rathod found her at Hope Circus, and gave her the letter.
“Hey listen. This is from Chamku.”
And he stood there. Dev thinks he didn’t do what he should have done — run as soon as he got the letter off his hand — because he’d never been close enough to a girl to lose reason. Murgi snatched it from him and read it before he could run his famous sprint out.
“Get lost you black dog!” Murgi yelled to our friend black dog. He did what he knew best — he ran to us.
Rathod a black dog? No one calls him that. No one. It is an insult to our gang that needed to be avenged. All for one, one for all.
“Oi Hari. You’re right. Let’s get out the 315. And show it to her,” Dev punched the air.
I went inside. Slipped into my room and opened my small iron trunk that has all my balls and bats and catapults. Until today, under the plywood base, it also had a 315 bore desi tamancha. Our prized possession, handed over generations of bazaar-dwelling heroes. An heirloom with unknown origin and grand futures. It was my turn to keep it until the end of December. But Dev has it now. Will I miss it? Perhaps not.
We charged towards Hope Circus. She went to learn mehndi Rathod told us. The gali was further down, ahead of Hope Circus. We caught her when she was coming out of the mehndi class. Thankfully, there was no one there at the time.
I pointed the pistol at her. “You insulted our friend. Say sorry.” She screamed. I don’t understand the necessity of screaming. It makes the girl look and sound like a banshee (so that makes her a pig-faced banshee with an apple in her mouth), and it causes unnecessary strain to the ears.
“Stop screaming. Just say sorry and we’ll go.”
Dev spotted someone at the starting of the gali. And Murgi did so at the same time.
“Uncle! Uncle! These boys want to kill me with their pistol,” shouted the pig.
The man had come close enough to see us and the tamancha.
“Go away, boys. Don’t scare the girl like that,” he sounded casual as he walked on.
Rathod giggled nervously. The man hadn’t noticed it was the real thing. Fool.
Murgi ran in the same direction and that’s when I remembered there was a police chowki there. It was time for emergency change of plans.
“Rathod, you run home,” I said.
“Arrey, she’s gone to the chowki. She’ll tell the police. Before that, we’ll have to kill her. Dev and me will run faster, get the job done and get back. You’ll get stuck.”
Dev nodded like a true musketeer.
“No!” Rathod had begun to lose it. “They’ll come home. They’ll ask me about you. What will I do? I’ll stay here.”
“Go, you idiot. We’ll handle it from here. There’s no time. Hurry!” Dev pushed him towards the gali‘s exit and ran after me towards the chowki.
“She’ll definitely have to be killed now,” Dev panted.
“Yeah,” I panted back. My glasses were beginning to fog with the heat of the run. I wedged the 315 under my arm and took out the glasses to clean them. The chowki was just a few metres away. Was she already there? What time was it?
“Who’ll do it?”
“Do you want to?”
We ran on.
There was a gali just before the chowki, turning towards the right. I think I saw her frock turning into it. Perhaps she got scared and didn’t go to the police after all? Smart girl.
“Hey Hari. Look she’s turned into that gali.”
“Yeah. Maybe she went to someone’s house.”
“This’ll get messy. Do we want it messy?”
“Nope,” I leaned against the brick wall, arms akimbo. The tamancha in my right hand was fuming with anticipation.
Dev pushed the wall with his left hand, or tried to.
“Let’s keep it clean. We scared her anyway. We’ve avenged our friend,” said I. Everyone relies on me for wisdom. I never disappoint.
We walked back out of the gali, out into the main road, and then to Hope Circus. When we reached there, Dev said, “Maybe we should pass on the 315 now. It’s too risky. She knows.”
“Yeah. Maybe. Here,” I handed it over to him with a heavy heart.
It was an evening well spent. We taught the foolish girl a lesson she’d never forget. We stood up for our friend. I sacrificed my turn. Tomorrow’s going to be another day, another adventure for us — The Invincible.
Hope Circus – Alwar city centre, houses a temple on top
desi tamancha – country-made pistol
mehndi – henna. Girls take lessons for applying the famous henna tattoos on hands and feet.
gali – narrow lane. Not to be confused with gaali (verbal abuse)
police chowki – local police station of a part of a town
Arrey – an exclamation that can mean anything from Oh? to Damn!
Murgi — literally, chicken. She was named thus for many reasons, the most prominent being she was a chick. It’s my very uneducated guess, though. Don’t count on it.
Chamku — a jibe meaning the one who shines. It must be Chamku’s gel-glistening hair that earned him the name. Or his pomp. Who knows?
Rathod — A common Rajasthani surname. No one knows his given name. Yet.
Dev — A very common Indian name, especially if you want to keep it simple.
Hari — Ditto