“Can we talk?”

These three words had taken them both by surprise. Vikram and Shobhna haven’t ‘Talked’ in ages. The real, heartfelt, profound talk at least. All they had were monologues, meaningless prattle maintaining false intimacy at business dinners and company parties they hosted or attended as guests for the sake of public image.

But today was different, today he wasn’t the business magnate, and she wasn’t a woman trying to save her identity under the heavy burden of being the socialite wife of Mr Vikram Shah. Today they were merely a couple, parents who were desperately failing the capacity of parenthood. 

Mr Vikram Shah entered his home that day as a caring husband and a helpless father, and Shobhna greeted him like a loving wife and a concerned mother. They gave Punit what he wanted, not out of dread of his outbursts or of injuring his pseudo ego but out of one last, desperate attempt to put some sense of humility and modesty into their son. The son who assumed he was somehow entitled to all things he desired by default and was clouded enough by his wrong judgement to the limit of believing he deserved it on merit and virtue. 

Vikram was fretful that night; he gave Punit what he wanted, but he was questioning himself. Was I wrong in giving in to his demands? Will, it put a positive spin on his overbearing and domineering attitude? Where did I go wrong as a father in bringing him up? Maybe I should have sent him to a boarding school when he was still a kid; it would have kept him grounded and humble. Will he ever become the man I want him to be, the man who will be taking over my business empire after me, at least half of it? 

Shobhna, on the other hand, was thinking of a solution. How do I make Punit see others as equals and not undeserving obstacles? How should I teach him the value of being a self-made man rather than being a man of self-esteem? How should I bring him to understand the concept of healthy competition and sportsmanship? 

They both had another dilemma at their minds, about Aman. He must be knowing by now that the academy has changed its decision about captaincy, and he surely must be feeling dejected and victimised. This will sow seeds of enmity between Aman and Punit even deeper. They were both teenagers, and it was not an easy time on them. 

By morning she had come up with the perfect solution, one that would make Punit see that privileges come at a cost and there are no free lunches in life, would bring justice and fairness to Aman and would reintroduce Vikram to his son Punit.

On the other hand, there was a joyful atmosphere in Aman’s household. He read the final list of the team members playing for RPCA and smiled to see he was Vice-Captain while Punit was appointed captain once again. He knew why, he knew money, power and influence go a long way and who could deny the son of the trustee. Manan thumped his back and congratulated him, but Mudit couldn’t resist asking Aman if he wasn’t enraged.

“I am not enraged bro, but I am concerned. I want RPCA to bring the cup home this time and am hoping against hope that Punit would play with his head on his shoulders this time. If we can do that, I am a happy man.”

The next day they were all called by Mr Sharma for their first net practice at the academy as the tournaments weren’t far. He told them to make rounds of the ground for a warm-up and called Aman aside to talk. Punit saw this and smirked before running off with the others. 

“Aman, I know you are a sensible boy, and I owe you an apology. I shouldn’t have given you high hopes when I couldn’t make it happen for you.” Mr Sharma’s eyes were downcast.

“Please, Sir, you are my mentor, you don’t need to apologise to me for anything. Whatever I am, I am because of you, your guidance. I know you too have specific protocols to follow and if you believe in my capabilities, then I would do good as vice-captain also. I would make you proud.” Aman said with a smile.

Mr Sharma thumped Aman’s back and nodded in tacit understanding. Aman ran away to catch up with the others. Aman crossed Punit while running and heard him murmur “Loser”. Aman ran faster and put enough distance between himself and Punit. 

After than run they all lined up in front of the coach and he announced the team. He was standing with a mic at a raised podium, “And one last thing…” He said,

“This year our trustees have added certain…” Mr Sharma paused to find the right word, “Clause to the rules and regulations as to make sure all the players are treated fairly and the everyone plays in the best interest of the team keeping personal scores aside.”

There was a murmur in the players, each one wondering what these clauses are.

Mr Sharma’s voice came back over the mic, “These are as follows:

  1. Like football this time in cricket too every player would be given two yellow cards for foul play, and a third foul would mean a red card that is suspension for three upcoming matches. 
  2. Any bullying, swagger or ruffian behaviour among team members off the field will be treated and dealt severely.
  3. If any player tries to be self-centred and performs an individualistic play, he will be permanently barred from the team. 

That will be all. Start the practice. Punit, Aman, you two are openers so better get synchronised.”

All the players went to the field among whispers and murmurs, and both Aman and Punit knew it was about the new protocols, all of which were explicitly fashioned to restraint Punit’s ego.