It was an unusually chilly September night. Unrelenting rains had made weather a nightmare. Another unfair unnecessary struggle the poor had to endure. The poor suffer, not because they are the victims of fate. The poor suffer, not because nobody helped them- it’s because they just don’t know how to help themselves. Take for instance, me. I am poor. But I know how to help myself. I was going to start my own business. I was going to be a big businessman. The next Dheerubhai Ambani. The next Bill Gates.

I was going to start a small fast food business on the footpath next to the entrance of a prestigious man’s home. The man was a wildly sought after Math private tutor and he was fat. Huge. Giant Meatball. The Fat tutor taught Math in four different locations in a single day- and as a result, he was generally late for his classes- which meant that the kids had time to kill. Studying would’ve been a good way to kill time. Eating junk food was better- and I would be there, a mere five steps away from them, selling all their favorite poisons.

All the preparations had been made. My dream was slowly coming true- my family would finally give the respect I deserve; the whole city will recognize me. And not look down on me like I’m a thief.

I had promised the fat tutor his favorite snack and a few big currency Notes, every day and he, in turn, agreed to come late, regularly. I had got the push cart- most of the cooking vessels, bought ingredients for three days with all my saved money, with my wife’s blessings. All that remained was an approval from the local cop. He realized the brilliant money-making potential in my scheme- and needed a little moolah, to assure me that it would be me who’d be running the business near the fat tutor’s house and not some other guy who would be willing to pay the cop more money.

The only problem was that I did not have money for the cop.

Neither my employer- the local landlord nor my dad who worked for the landlord helped me. They had plenty of cash to spare- just that they didn’t have any cash to spare for me. No surprises there. I had always found a way to feed my mouth- this time I had to find a way to fuel my dreams. With Lord Ganesha’s help, I could do anything.

Not that I knew Lord Ganesha personally- I just knew where He stacked His cash- in a donation box near the Narrow Street. Every year the local kids would establish an idol of Lord Ganesha during September for a few days, conduct prayers, sacred rituals like Homas, organize entertainment for the God and the believers, and later collect money from the believers, as donation, like a sort of reimbursement for all the expenses incurred for conducting the Lord Ganesha festival.

And I knew where this donation box was hidden at this late hour in the night- the cop would be plenty pleased with me and my donation for him.

The boys usually make a temporary abode, from coconut branches & wooden poles, for the Lord Ganesha on the Narrow Street and sleep in this abode every night, till the festival I over. This they do to guard the abode from miscreants, vandals, dogs and thieves like me. But I knew these boys personally. And they were as lazy as anybody of this new generation.

I lighted my beedi (a cheap Indian Cigarette) as I walked towards the Narrow Street. The chilly wind made the beedi to burn erratically- like all my previous dreams. Not this one, I promised myself. I am not going to be who I am for long- tonight will be my last loot.

Except for a cricket from an unknown location, there was no sound. The chilly wind made no noise. My heart never raced anymore as it used to during my first robbery job. I was calm. Composed. I noticed the sleep movements of the boys from the distance. They were in deep sleep- probably tired after all the ghost stories they tell each other, during such camping occasions. I took cat-like steps towards the entrance of the abode. It was dark, so I had to be extra careful in my steps. Behind the Lord’s idol, on a chair, was hidden the donation box.

I wrapped my hands around the donation box like it was my long lost child and slowly walked away from the abode. Thank You, Ganesha! With every step taking me farther from the Lord, I felt happier. One more step. One more step. One more! Almost! Almost!

“YOU!!!” I heard a kid’s loud voice. It was a familiar voice. I was busted.

I turned around. And found the landlord’s twelve year old son. He had recognized me.

“That’s Ganesha’s money!” he said, “To buy him sweets and fruits!”

“Look son,” I said, “Everybody is feeding Ganesha nowadays, so don’t worry. He won’t go hungry. But do you know who’ll go hungry if I don’t take this box? My pregnant wife…”

“But my dad pays you… and your father. Your mother and your wife they also earn by making Beedis!”

“My father gambles a lot & he never wins- and he has a huge debt… Whatever money comes, it goes…”

“Why don’t you work somewhere else, where you’ll earn more then?”

“I’m an illiterate- like my parents and wife. They ask for a 10th Pass certificate, whereas I can’t even sign my name!”

“But that doesn’t mean you have to steal! That too from Ganesha! That’s not fair!” he said.

“Fair? Fair! Nothing in this world is fair! When you and your older siblings were kids, you had a toy room bigger than my house! See these scars? My father used to beat me up just for looking at you kids playing! For just watching you play and I was getting beaten up! I wanted to play too, instead of cleaning up after your cows and sheep and dogs! So one day, I took your brother’s bicycle… Took it far away from here and played with it for a while and I returned it- and nobody knew better. And I didn’t even get beaten up… This is what I am doing with this donation box… I am taking it for now… Nobody needs this straight away… And I’ll return it back soon…”

“Ganesha will need it….”

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The flowchart:ZRZQNBBSV6R9


All my life, I always found myself doing the exact same thing my friends were doing. They went to some random school- I followed them there. They decided that they needed tutoring- so did I. They decided to play cricket- and so did I. They started liking pretty girls- and surprise surprise, I too started liking girls, the prettier ones. I could have liked the so the called ugly ones- but my friends didn’t like them, and hence, I had to dislike them too. I was just another sheep among the herd.

On hearing this particular “funny” comment of mine, my mom talked me into agreeing to marry some pretty girl. Obviously, most of my self-professed sane friends had taken up the herculean task of marrying- and I had to follow suit. I didn’t find this funny at all!

My mom said that, like I never used to be alone, and preferred combined studies for all the Home-Works the teacher used to give me, for all the exams I used to prepare for; in the same way I needed combined effort to do all the Home-Work of washing vessels and for the all the exams I’ll be facing in my Life- I would need somebody… I needed to combine my efforts with a great girl… Just like the rest of my friends.

But I knew in my heart that I was not like my most friends. I never made quick decisions like them. I was never in a hurry. I enjoyed my food slowly. I liked to talk slowly. I enjoyed slow, old movies, not the new racy raunchy thrillers. I liked playing chess slowly- I hated the rapid chess players more than cleaning my room. I was slow in my emotions- and I was slow in understanding my own emotions. I never immediately knew how to feel in the big moments of life- I was emotionless for the first ten minutes, as I witnessed India winning the T20 World Cup. So you can imagine, I did not know how I should feel or say in one very alien situation like this- meeting some random girl, the village match-maker had chosen for me.

I was quietly sitting, confused, trying to keep a smile on my face and understand the environment around me. I felt charged emotions around me- expectations, anxiety, fear, joy and love. I had only seen the girl’s photo so far and now I was looking at her feet. I was too shy to look straight in her eyes.

My mom stroked my hair gently- “Look at her! Silly Boy!”

Everybody around me laughed, including her. I could distinguish her young lively merry laughter from all the many old dry mirth. There was no ridicule in her voice- perhaps just a little bit of curiosity. She wasn’t worried about this whole situation as much as I was. This may not be her first time, like it was mine, I concluded.

I slowly raised my head, capturing in my mind the dazzling Mysore silk and gold ornaments covering her beautiful body. I never thought about this before- looking at a girl, and looking for a soul-mate. I had never done this. But now in this moment of grandeur, I felt that my eyes were looking at a goddess of grace, of charm, of beauty. She was breath-taking, Love personified- and still she humbly smiled at my mortal gaze on her divinity.

I was looking in her eyes- there was nothing else I wanted to see. I had seen her sweet dimpled chin, her rosy shiny lips, the strange curve of her wicked smile, her long thin nose- I had seen them all- they were all charming- but her big brown eyes- they were teasing me, tormenting me- daring me to break the eye-contact & look anywhere else. And I couldn’t dare. She knew that I was at her total mercy. She realized this- her eyes were smiling- no they were dancing. Why were they so happy? How did I suddenly become so… so infatuated, with a mad rush of wanting to marry her? No, I needed to marry her!

“Well?” my mom asked.

I was too busy staring at that honey coloured goddess of beauty.

My mom held my hand, stood up and said, “Looks like he doesn’t like her. It was a waste of time coming this far… Let’s go son…”

“No! Mom! I like her… I really… really like her, really!” I hastily shouted in confusion.

Everybody laughed- including her. How I loved to see her laugh!

My face turned red immediately as I bowed my head low in embarrassment- this emotion came super-fast!

***************************************************************************************************************************************

I soon found myself with her, alone, on a large swing in her garden.

“You realise that I have no say in our wedding?” she told me, frankly and much too quickly.

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I needed money desperately. I wanted to buy that new mobile phone with Facebook “LIKE” button. I could actually physically feel the pressing of “LIKE” button on facebook in that phone! How cool is that! The only problem, my parents won’t give a dime to buy me a bandage even if my heart was cut out with a butcher’s knife! Ok, Ok, I’m exaggerating, but this is how it is, in my home.

To make matters worse, I have a big brother– an intellectual ass. Everybody loves him! Everybody! You won’t believe what he thinks about facebook!  He thinks it brings out the worst in everybody for everybody else to see, publicly- say for example- those attention seeking cry-babies! A perfectly normal guy has this irresistible urge to be “LIKED” by everybody, all the time! He keeps updating about the routine day-to-day things every other minute and expects others to “LIKE” it. What would you say about these status messages of some of my friends- “I just woke up… and farted, thrice- and my mom walked in! It was super LOLz!” or “Thinking that boys and gals are different, yet very same, but different… you know?”

And because of this intellectual ass I can’t enjoy my life! I can’t enjoy facebook! Ignorance was bliss! It’s so true- but this guy doesn’t let me be ignorant- that jack-ass! I want to be ignorant! I want to enjoy my poisons that I’m addicted to- I have many things to do in my life- many serious things, and I need every little escape from this reality that I can afford. And so I super “LIKED” both those status messages. I don’t care if my friends are greedy for attention and are super-asses. They are my friends. They are who I “LIKE”! They make my life “LIKE”able. Not my brother’s philosophies and theories.

And yet, everybody keeps bragging about how great my brother is, even everybody else in his batch of over-achievers in academics, the sheep-geeks, are praised. But the truth is none of them made it big. Not even my brother. He’s just living somewhere doing something that nobody cares. Sure he has a great girl friend and a cool job- but he doesn’t have what I will have. I will make it big. I was going to be a Grandmaster in Chess. I knew it. I was nearly there- and yet, my parents or brother- won’t buy me that one thing that’ll keep me sane- that phone- facebook- anywhere, anytime. I wanted that phone- Desperately. Very desperately.

So I took matters into my own hands. I was forked for money- but I was not check-mated yet. I had my pawns- my ability to be super good in chess. Alas, Chess has no money, you say? Every talent can rake in the moolah- even farting thrice, in front of your mother- can get you money. You just have to think about the how?

As my dear brother once said- Today, the man has made his life so complicated- that it has become infinitely simpler to fool him than it was ever before. This was how I was going to get my dream phone- Using the fact that Ignorance is not always bliss!

There’s this site called zapak.com. It’s a gaming site. They award you points if you beat other human players in the games they are hosting. If you have collected enough points, then you can convert your points to cash and spend the money on e-shopping. And one of the games they hosted was, you guessed it, Chess! Game On was my War-Cry!

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I had friends. And I knew Girls. But the cross of these two hugely different species? Never! But for three weeks in my life, I had what most boys wanted more than blowing up crackers in cow dung- a girl friend. From my personal experience, there was not much difference- you have a girl friend or blow up a cracker in a huge pile of cow dung- the end result was the same. Let me explain…

Once upon a time, there was me…

Well I had just moved to Bangalore and for a month I lived alone- It was like a single goldfish in a water-bowl- Depressing. I needed a room-mate, desperately. I sent out the following ad in the local newspaper.

WANTED: A room-mate. House 10 steps from a cheap bar. Must love Vodka.

I received a lot of calls. Just too many of them. Didn’t realize that a lot of boys loved Vodka! How stupid! I should have been more specific, more demanding- Must love Tandoori Chicken… and Megan Fox.

My mobile rang. It was from an Unknown Caller. Nothing out of the ordinary. Probably some guy wanting to be 10 steps near a cheap bar. I answered the ring.

And kids- that’s How I met your Mother! Ted Style!!!

Just Kidding!

It was my three-week girlfriend. She just didn’t realize that soon she was going to be my future girl friend, and ex, eventually, when she called me.

Why did she call me? Well, to give me an earful. She was just being a caring samaritan and hence felt the need to tell me that I was the exact reason why India was still a developing country. She asked me what I had to say for myself… I could think of just one thing. I just asked her if she wanted to be my room-mate…

She said- “No!”  Obviously!  Duh! What did you expect, huh? That she said Yes!? Wake up! This is reality! Not my happy fantasy!

Well, an unexpected thing happened anyways. She recognized my voice- apparently I was in her class for three years in high school. Way to go three week girl friend!!! She was the hound of the Baskervilles!

I soon realized who she was and we talked. And talked. And talked…

We met a few times- couple of pseudo-dates, nothing special.

Soon, we began to crawl into each other’s thoughts… like some meaningless vulgar song that gets stuck in your head for days- only with a bigger funny smile on your face. We started dating & got close to each other- but we never kissed. I promise. I wanted to- but without a few drinks on me, I wasn’t much of a self-destructive freak.

I was hoping our meetings would grow to be like those cute romantic comedies- but alas it was all loud comedy for her and silent tragedy for me. No romance for either of us.

Soon the day came when she introduced me to her dad- and he asked my qualifications. We lasted three weeks without knowing each other’s educational background. I was just a Bachelor in Engineering and I had just seven years of wonderful work experience in one of the most prestigious technology companies in the world.

She? She did M.S. @ UCSD, USA.

Good, right? Wrong.

Her dad wasn’t particularly a fan of me. He didn’t seem to be the kind of guy who’d “LIKE” my pictures or status messages on Facebook. He probably would have clicked the “DISLIKE” button if there was one, to my current status message: “Feeling Lucky Tonight!”

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I was hungry, as usual. But I had to meet this man from my past. He was the most sought after man in our village in that past- it was no mystery. He was the village’s only money lender Mr. Rokadpathi, after all.

He was sitting happily in his shop at this hour of the night in a seemingly deserted village. He had become insanely huge and looked very sleepy. He looked like a beggar in those ragged clothes, but he probably was a Crorepathi- an astronomically stingy Millionaire.

“Raam Raam Rokadjee” I greeted him entering his shop.

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I rang the bell. There was no familiar sound of the excited Payal of her that I love so much- the happy song of welcome that I receive when I arrive home after a long hard day at work.

Maybe she’s busy praying. I waited for a few more minutes before knocking again.

Still there was no answer. I was getting worried. She never was late in answering the door for me- she used to say that this was the best part of the day for her- opening the door for me in the evening. That’s why I don’t take the key to the home when I go to office, so that she has to open the door for me…

I heard some noise inside and a little while later the door opened. It was my beloved brother-in-law- I used to lovingly call him Popat.

“Popat! What a pleasant surprise!” I said and proceeded to hug him.

“I’m sorry… but I have… killed her… and I will… have to… kill you too…” he said with moist eyes and a bent head.

What! She’s dead! Dead! This must be a joke! Popat? And he killed her? Never! He loved her so much! In fact he had saved us so many times from those honour-freaks from the village! He gave us heads up hours before they could reach us and we’d run away-to find a new home in a new city.

He’s the only person we trusted from our past- the only person we loved from our village. Popat- and he killed her?! There was no way this happened…

I ran past him- inside the prayer room and found her. Her body lay motionless in a pool of her red warm blood… In the room of God, she was embracing tightly a picture of mine- and that happy picture of mine was covered in her blood and somehow I was still smiling in that picture- it was ironical. It was too painful. My heart hurt- it was getting heavy and soon I could feel the poisonous pain being pumped throughout my body and I… and I didn’t know what to do- the pain was too much…

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