WHAT DREAMS MAY COME

I heard the calm sea even before I tasted it. Yes, I relished the moist, dense, salted air with mouthfuls of breaths. And there was that smell, that raw, seaweed aroma that brought with it another kind of scent; a scent too familiar, too nostalgic—the fragrance of my fathers’ heady cologne.

I opened my eyes; a seven-year-old me was holding my father’s hand, the ankles of his trousers rolled up to his calves as he held my hand while I pulled him towards the sea. I laughed as the waves rolled under my feet, and the soft sand slipped, squishing between my toes, creating an illusion of the moving Earth.

Papa laughed along and picked me in his arms, taking me back to the resort, where the Flamingos strolled around the lagoon. I look at him and sulk, making a pout he adored.

You have been gone so long, why didn’t you call. I have been waiting.” I complained as he put me down by the lagoon, pointing to a pair of pink flamingos that made me squeal with delight.

Papa, will we come here again?” I asked him as I tried to near one of the pink, exquisite birds.

He nodded with enthusiasm and kissed me, “Every year if you like it so much here.” he said. I needed nothing more. I looked around for my mother, who was approaching me with a camera in her hand. She tried to take a few pictures with the flamingos and me in the same frame.

I clapped, and just then I slipped into the lagoon, sinking lower and lower into the depths of the water. I struggled to breathe, flapped my arms to get to the surface but was drowning fast, and when I thought this is the end, a hand grabbed my shirt and pulled me out.

I woke up from my dream struggling for breath, covered in sweat as I looked around madly for my father. He was not there; he was nowhere, but in my thoughts, in my memories and my heart.

I went to Fishermans Cove, a resort in Mahabalipuram with my parents as a kid. On the same trip, I drowned in a swimming pool, and my father pulled me out. I had seen flamingos for the first time in my life there and had believed we would visit it again and again. I know I won’t go there ever again, and flamingos will always bring back a slight smile to my face.

The days I miss my father too much, he comes to visit me in my dreams. I guess the only lesson here is that those who die never really leave us behind. A part of them lives inside us, forever.

 

MEMORY GAME – III

Dr. Rajan didn’t allow her to speak anymore and when she was a bit stable, he drove her home himself.

After sometime, at home, Neha was lying on her bed, in her bedroom pretending to be asleep. Her family surrounded her, asking Rajan about her health, her well being and yet she was pretending to be asleep. She was not ready to say she was fine, not yet.

Rajan reassured his concerned family and ushered everybody out, to let Neha rest a while. They filed out one by one, her Grand Mother-in-Law, Mother-in-Law, Father-in-Law and Sister-in-Law who carried her 18-month-old nephew, Neeraj with her.

Rajan was the only one left behind, he kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear, “Sleep, I have important surgery scheduled, I will be back soon.” with these words he left the room after closing the lights and shutting her door.

A couple of minutes later, when Neha was sure she was alone, and no one was coming back, she opened her eyes and sat up in her bed, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her palms. She had a severe headache; she hoped to pass out again; the waking reality was too harsh to face.

Denial was always her best friend. She used it as a shield when her family died in the Mumbai riots of 1992, but she was saved by the police along with her 5 year old brother and put into an orphanage. The 7 year old Neha told herself they were just lost; her family will come back and find her. It will be a lovely reunion. She loved fairytales, and this was only a Hansel and Gretel kind of event. They would be back home soon enough.

She used denial again when three years later, her brother was never found one evening in a game of Hide and Seek with other kids at the orphanage. She kept looking for him under the beds, in the closets, on the terrace but he was never found again. She convinced herself he was like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up and one day he would come to Neverland.

Again denial came to her rescue when she was molested by a man in the park where she went for a stroll at the tender age of 15. She told herself she was sleeping like Aurora, and someday she would wake up, and all this will turn out to be a nightmare.

At this point, her psyche was fragile and flexible at the same time. She needed direction, motivation, a soothing presence and like heaven-sent Shraddha Ji entered her life. Neha was supposed to spend one hour with the lady twice a week. Initially, she was closed and cocooned, never talking much but with the kind and comfortable demeanour of Shraddha, Neha started to speak to her. Tell her about her pain, her expectations, her shattered past and aimless future. Shraddha knew the girl had been through a lot and with her calming voice and affectionate warmth, she mentored Neha into a stronger version of herself. She encouraged her to be more social and less secluded, to make friends, to get a college degree and make an independent life for herself.

Neha finally accepted that no fairytales are happening for her. She turned eighteen and got admission in a college on her merit. With little help and recommendation from Shraddha Ji, she took up residence in a girls hostel and a small job as the library assistant that earned her enough to pay for her hostel, food and some basic needs. She was studying hard and getting facilitated with scholarships and had stopped hoping for any fairytales, deciding to be her own knight in shining armour and make a good life for herself.

But the fairytale did happen when she least expected it. Sourabh came into her life like Prince Charming and swept her off her feet. She fell for him head over heels, and he turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her.

He was the college alumni and had come for a guest lecture on the subject of History. She loved the way he touched some untapped topics and went to him after the class with some doubts. He had invited her for a cup of coffee with him in the college canteen, and she came to know more about his personal History than her subject. He was 27 years old and was assistant to a known historian who couldn’t come for the lecture and sent him instead.

That first meeting turned into many sessions that turned into dates, and eventually, they became inseparable. She poured her heart and soul to him, he shared everything about himself, and they didn’t hesitate to accept they were deeply in love and committed to each other for the rest of their lives.

She called him Rishi instead of Sourabh with fond love. He loved her with all his heart and accepted her painful past with the same willingness as Prince Charming received Cinderella. Here was her fairytale at last. Her hero had arrived.

Sourabh decided to get married as soon as she finished college. He spoke to his mother who denied to accept an orphan girl with no background as her daughter-in-law. The mother-son duo had a fallout and Sourabh decided to marry Neha against the wishes of his mother.

Neha, on the other hand, feared he might leave her and decided to end her life if that happened. He reprimanded her severely for having such thoughts and to assure her he decided to marry her in the court of law. The date was chosen, Sourabh chose to bring a colleague/friend, Shubham as witness and Neha picked Shraddha Ji as her witness who was not only her closest friend but also her mentor.

On D-Day, Neha wore a red saree gifted by her Rishi and added his favourite jasmine flowers to her hair along with some red glass bangles in her Henna decorated hands. She sat in the waiting area of the marriage lawyer’s office along with her witness, waiting for Sourabh impatiently, fidgeting with the thin gold ring in her palm, one she bought for him with her savings. One by one other couple went in and came out wearing that beautiful, glowing smile of a newlywed couples on their faces. Neha kept looking at her watch, but Sourabh never came, their names were called, and he was not there.

Neha’s heart sank. She was not ready to believe that her Rishi would ditch her. It was closing time when Sourabh’s friend Shubham came running to her. She looked around him; Sourabh was not with him; she felt weak in her knees and mouth went dry.

Shubham looked haggard and cried as he broke the news to Neha, “Neha!!!” Sourabh….” he couldn’t go on, and Neha knew her fairytale has ended, “Sourabh died in a car crash while he was coming to pick me.” These words hit Neha like a physical blow, and the Earth slipped from under her feet. There was no Happily Ever Afters in her life.

She fell on the floor in a heap, like a puppet with strings cut and fainted. She had a nervous breakdown. Her mind couldn’t take the pain, and she passed out. Something rolled away from her open palm, and Shubham picked it up. It was a golden ring, one she was going to slip on her Rishi’s finger when they exchanged vows.

BE A LITTLE FRENCH

Hey Guys! How are you all? Long time no see. Well, my bad, apologies. So how are you all fairing through this Corona outbreak? I know, I know, it’s tough. Nah, don’t worry, this article is not another tedious and tiresome read about the pandemic. This about a small passion some of us share. The passion for discovering and learning new words.

So how many of you already know the meaning of ‘Deja Vu?’ Alright, many of you already know it, for those who don’t, let me tell you. Deja Vu is a feeling you get when you feel you have already done something before or been to a place before when you haven’t. I get it a lot; it’s pleasant and unnerving at the same time.

But now let me introduce you to something akin yet different. I bet not many of you have heard of the word ‘Jamais vu’.

It is a French word and is an antonym of Deja Vu. It’s the feeling or experience that a person knows or recognizes a situation, but that it still seems very unfamiliar or unknown. A typical example of Jamais vu is when a person momentarily does not remember a word, person, or place that they already know. I have sometimes even forgotten my address while trying to give to delivery boys.

Now, there is one more word from the same family, let me introduce you to the third member too. It is called ‘Presque Vu’. It is the tip of the tongue phenomenon, in which you know that you know something, but can’t quite recall it. It happens so often with movie name and songs.

Let me tell you the etymology of these French words.
‘Vu’ is French and means ‘Seen’, as in deja vu, ‘Deja’ means already seen ‘Before’. In ‘jamais vu’, ‘Jamais’, also French, means ‘Never’, so never seen (before). ‘Presque’ is French for ‘Almost‘, so almost like I’ve seen this before, but not yet, it’s coming…

So, have fun with these words and be a li’l French.

ERUPT – XI

Reeta turned baffled. She was face to face with a woman of her age who was saying something that Reeta couldn’t hear in all the noise around her. She was scared that this woman was a worker for her husband’s political party and experienced a fight or flight moment. The lady could see the uncertainty in Reeta’s eyes and immediately showed her the ID around her neck. Reeta read it “Meenakshi Maan, Reporter and Journalist, Satyamev Jayate News”. Reeta let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding.

Meenakshi held Reeta’s hand and took her away from the crowd, Reeta allowed herself to be steered, but her eyes were searching for Rex, still doubtful of his presence here. Meenakshi took Reeta to her car, and they both sat inside while Meenakshi drove her to a more deserted street and parked there.

She turned to Reeta, “Hello Ma’am, I am Meenakshi, I mean you no harm, in fact, I wanna help you but first you need to help me.”

Reeta gave her a perplexed look, “What can I do for you? Don’t you know I am mentally unstable!” She said the latter sentence with some bitterness.

“Ma’am we know how the media is portraying your image, and that is why I am here, I want people to see the truth, the whole truth, not just your hubby’s version or people’s viewpoint but your testimony too,” Meenakshi said in an empathetic voice.

“And why should I trust the media with my side of the story when they are the ones to assassinate my character and are all under the influence of my husband’s mighty shadow?” She confronted, Meenakshi gave her an apologetic look.

“Ma’am you can either choose to trust me or choose to send me away, but I promise you whatever you tell me will reach the people word to word. I am a woman too, and I believe there’s more to this episode than what has been told. Let truth reach out, talk to me as a friend, and if you don’t want me to tell another soul, I won’t.” Meenakshi said earnestly, and something in her tone was sincere enough for Reeta to believe her.

She let out a long breath and nodded, “Alright, I will tell you everything, but it shouldn’t be doctored.” Meenakshi nodded and drove Reeta to her studio.

Reeta was sitting in front of the camera, the crew had prepped her up, and she decided to go for it. Meenakshi sat in the chair opposite her, holding her hand, “Once the camera is rolling, you just need to answer my questions and think nothing else.” She said, and Reeta nodded.

She knew what she was going to say would be all over the news like wildfire by the evening and by tomorrow, Jay’s career as a politician would be finished. She asked herself if she was regretting her decision and the voice in her said ‘NO’. She has been silent for entirely too long, it was high time she spoke the truth, or it will suffocate her. Her inner self questioned her if this was her revenge on Jay, and the answer once again was ‘NO’. She was doing this to salvage her soul and body from his abuse.

That night Rex was sitting in front of his TV, watching the breaking news that had been on reruns for hours now, it was the only talk on every channel.

The lady he rescued at the beach had answered all his questions; she had vindicated herself. He was seeing it for the umpteenth time.

Meenakshi: Mrs Reeta Kapoor would you like to tell us about the events of the night you went missing from your home and rescued from a beach house?

Reeta: I wasn’t missing; I left home intentionally. I couldn’t take it anymore, it was suffocating me, and I needed to vent. Neither was I rescued from the beach house; I was safer there than my home, I was taken from there by force.

Meenakshi: What was suffocating you? What made you feel unsafe in your own home?

Reeta: I have been a victim. A victim of physical, mental and emotional abuse. And my tormentor was none other than my husband. I have been tolerating everything silently for years, but that night it just got too much for me, and I decided to leave.

Meenakshi: Are you saying that the soon to be Health Minister Jay Kapoor has been torturing you for years. These are grave accusations.

Reeta: Not just me, he has been unfair to his own country, his people, his values. He has been involved in several scams and crimes I know off. That is one of the reasons he wants people to think I am insane so that no one would believe me.

Meenakshi: Could you be more specific about the nature of these crimes and scams?

Reeta told her everything, everything she said was being telecasted.

Rex knew Jay Kapoor was finished. He looked at the screen, at the woman who was in shambles when he met her. She was showing great strength of character to say those things on television. She had risked everything, her marriage, her safety, her reputation and her character.

Meenakshi: One last question. You were taken from a beach house, and people are saying colourful things about you and the man over there. Would you shed some light on his identity?

Rex saw Reeta look up; he could see her struggling.

Reeta: I met the man the first time that day. He was kind and helpful and took me in as a gesture of humanity. I was passed out on the beach from where he rescued me and took care of me. I know his name, but I won’t tell the world about him. The only thing people need to know is that in a few hours I spent at his place, I came to see a real man for the first time in my life. I wish, I so want Jay had been the man I always wanted him to be, but even so, the thought of cheating on him never came to my mind.

With these words, the interview ended, and the reporter came on the screen with several known faces for a debate.

“Can I get a cup of coffee, please?” Rex heard a voice and spun on the spot. It was Reeta standing on his doorstep, looking tired and forlorn. He opened the grill, and she stepped in.

ERUPT -VI

Rex stood there perplexed, looking down at the passed out woman who was turning into a nuisance with every passing minute. Maybe he had bitten on more than he can chew when he decided to rescue her from the beach. She seemed ungrateful and pretentious and not to mention insensitive. He leaned down and picked her up once again with an exasperated sigh and laid her on the sofa. He tried to rouse her by calling her, ‘Miss…’, several times but she won’t stir.

He lit a cigarette, wondering what to do with the unhinged damsel. She seemed wealthy, educated, sophisticated yet rogue, unruly and demented. He decided he didn’t want her to be in his home anymore; neither did he wanted her mess. He followed his instincts and called the cops.

The cops knew exactly who she was and told Rex to hold her there until they come to pick her up. The police were almost grateful someone tipped them off about the missing woman’s whereabouts as her powerful husband was making their lives a living hell since last night.

They had already been warned to find her by morning or face the consequences. They called Jay Kapoor at once and gave him the good news.

“Sir, we located your wife. She will be home within an hour.” The cop said on the call, relieved to have Jay Kapoor off his neck finally.

“Good, be as discreet as possible while handling this. I don’t want any mess at this time of my career at the hands of my wayward wife.” He said in a commanding voice and hung up.

Meanwhile, Rex smoked another cigarette, wondering who this woman was? The cops were more than happy to pick her up, and they told her to keep her safe until then, but they never mentioned who she was.

He put out his nicotine stick in an astray and emptied the full astray in the bin where he saw the remains of the broken mug lying at the base. He sighed and closed the bin. There goes his dead wife’s coffee mug, thanks to Miss Trouble.

“Hello again,” she said, and he turned to see the woman in the ruined little black dress sitting up on the sofa, pushing back her slovenly hair. He fixed her a piercing gaze.

Reeta could tell his earlier courtesy had vanished. He seemed stoic now. She swallowed and scratched her neck in embarrassment.

“Hello there, Miss….?” He let the question hang there in between them.

Reeta knew it was the time when she has to tell him the truth or let him think she’s a no-good miscreant. She chose the latter; the former option was absurd right now.

“Miss Gone!” She said, getting up from the sofa and extended her hand towards him. “Thank you for everything, I think I have been enough trouble, will leave you alone now to your birds.” She chipped in with a casual smile, a frail attempt to make an uneventful exit.

He didn’t take her hand and added, “How will you go? You have no money and no car; I think you need help with that. Let me get my car keys.” He played along.

Saying this he went out of the room and noiselessly locked it from outside, somehow his instincts told him she would make a run for it.

Reeta didn’t want a lift. As soon as the door closed, she tried to follow him out but found he had locked it shut. She panicked. Why would he lock her in? She attempted to open the door a few more times before she heard tyres screeching in front of the house, followed by voices.

She understood he had called the cops on her. No, she couldn’t go back. No more of that. She looked around the room and ran to the window overlooking the deck and opened it wide. She was about to jump out when a muscled arm held her wrist and handcuffed her. She turned to look at the cop and gave a shrill scream.

“How dare you!!!???”, She shouted, trying to get away, but the cop held her other hand even harder and cuffed it too.

“Let me goooo…” She cried as two men pulled her back into the room and outside.

Rex watched it in horror. She tried hard to break free crying, “Let me go; you will be sorry for this.” but the cops made her walk to the nearest cop car.

A light flashed and then another. Someone was clicking pictures. The cops looked around frantically for the source of the light while they dragged a resistant Reeta into the car and pushed her in, head first before locking the doors securely.

“Take her to him.”, The officer said to his junior, “I will look for the photographer.”

The junior officer got in the car and drove it away, but not before Rex could see Reeta crying bitterly in the back of the car like a trapped animal. Her state made him wonder if he had given a lamb to the wolf for sacrifice.

The senior officer came to Rex and shook hands with him, “Thank you so much, Sir, we have been on the lookout for ser since yesterday night. You have been a responsible citizen by helping the police; we are grateful for your help.” The cop said with a sincere smile and Rex merely nodded.

“Officer may I ask you a question?”, Rex said.

The officer avoided Rex’s gaze and nodded his head in a yes.

“Who was she? What has she done and where have you taken her?” Rex was blunt and point-blank.

The officer’s amicable smile faded and was replaced by a tight-lipped smirk.

“That’s three questions,” he said pointedly and added, “The less you know, the safer you are.” with these dark words the officer left in search of the man who was clicking pictures.

Rex found it to be disturbingly curious; he also felt a sense of wrongdoing. All night he tried to brush the guilt off and sleep but couldn’t. The woman was on his mind; he felt responsible somehow. Trying to get rid of those thoughts he got up early and picked up the newspaper from his doorstep.

All his questions were answered on the front page with huge headlines and coloured photographs.

DEEP WITHIN – XIII

It was the reunion of the Shah family that brought the winds of change in their household. They made the rule to have breakfasts and dinners together so that they all could stay connected, and there was no communication gap between them. It brought Vikram back to Shobana, made him realise that she can’t do it all alone, she needs him, his support. The frequent fights, the arguments, the rows of heated exchanges died down, and a healthy, happy atmosphere emerged in place of it. And the most significant change was in Punit, who had learned to be kind, yielding, humble. No more tantrums with the maid, no more lashing out at the driver.

He daily went to school and then to the academy for practice. His team was no more doubtful about his position as the captain; they all could see this new person emerging out of Punit who was full of team spirit and dexterity and leadership quality. No one was happier than Mr Sharma; he could see his team winning the cup this year only if Aman was not sitting on the sides and watching the practice instead of being out there on the field. Punit often went to Aman to seek his opinion; his counsel and Aman gave it to him without any regrets. He could see Sanjay and Punit working together well.

It was a week before the tournament; it was Punit’s’ birthday. And unlike every year, where his father threw him a massive party at some exotic destination and invited the rich and the famous of the society, this year Punit wanted a simple get together with his family and friends at his home.

He invited his friends, his cricket team, his coach to his home for the modest party. He even told Aman to bring Manan and Mudit along. By evening Aman was ready, wearing his best shirt and his brother Manan offered him his watch and perfume. Aman didn’t know what could one gift someone who had everything, but he couldn’t go empty-handed and bought a vintage pen from his savings as a gift. He reached Punit’s house and suddenly felt very uncomfortable upon seeing the sprawling mansion. He mustered courage and went inside; people were already gathered inside, and Punit welcomed Aman in with a hug when he saw him limping inside with his foot still in a cast.

“Happy Birthday!”, said Aman and presented his wrapped gift to Punit with a shy look.

Punit took it with a polite, “Thank You!” and unwrapped it then and there. Punits’ eyes went wide with happiness, “Whoaa! A vintage pen, I never had one, always used those with refills. How thoughtful Aman” said Punit and gave Aman a small hug. Aman felt relieved and felt at ease as he sat with all others, chatting away and laughing.

Punit got his wish on his birthday; he wanted his house to be filled with laughter and friends and love. A few minutes later, Punit’s’ mother laid the table along with the maid with trays of snacks and sweets and glasses of juices along with bowls of soups. The aroma was mouth-watering; everyone was drawn to the table at once when Mr Vikram Shah very proudly declared, “kids, all the delicacies today are made by my lovely wife who once again proved that women could manage work and home with perfection at the same time. Now! Dig In!” He said with a smile and everyone filled their plates with Cheese Cutlets and Potato Jackets and Sesame Fingers. Punit helped himself, but he didn’t miss the smile his mother gave his father.

Punit introduced Aman to Trisha and Aman couldn’t help but feel awed by her. She was just the opposite of what Punit was; she was minimalist, down to earth and soft-spoken. Her beauty was very different from what he thought about rich girls. She wore absolutely no makeup, and her dress was a conservative one. Trish herself was filling everyone’s plate over and over with food, and she made it a point that Aman didn’t have to get up from his seat, bringing him everything right there.

Time flew by, and it was the time to cut the cake. Trisha had made it herself as she was into baking and was carrying it down the stairs. Everyone was huddled around the photo booth where Punit was clicking pictures, and no one noticed when Trisha twisted her ankle. The cake fell from her hands, she was about to fall the flight of stairs and hit her her head on the wall when Aman instinctively leapt from his chair and climbed the steps in a flash and caught her mid-fall.

Trisha’s cry for help caught everyone’s attention, and they ran to help her, but there she was, sitting on the plastered foot of a very guilty looking Aman who wouldn’t dare look up. Trisha’s father held her hand, and she awkwardly climbed down the stairs, feeling sorry for her cake but thanking Aman over and over again.

“It’s….it’s nothing, please.” He said feeling a little heroic

“Sorry, Bhai, I ruined your cake.”, she told Punit.

He hugged her, “Come on, Trish, I am happy that you are okay.”

Mr Sharma had a patronising look on his face as he asked Aman, “Would you climb down yourself or do you still need help?”, his tone was bordering on a tease.

Aman got up, and everyone clapped for him. They were all happy that he was not hurt after all, and that meant he would be playing in coming games. Punit was laughing along with Sanjay, and all the other team members were whistling and catcalling. It was an embarrassing moment for Aman, but he was happy nonetheless. His whole drama was for a purpose, and the purpose was solved. Mission Accomplished!

It was the first match, RLCA vs PCCI. They were in the dressing room. Mr Sharma was boosting everyone up one last time before the game.

“Punit, you are the Captain, I think you have made a great team and well-structured batting order. I am positive your fielding strategy and balling tactics would go a long way this time. But remember, the rules still apply, so no messing.” He said sternly, and Punit nodded without any rebellion in him.

“Sanjay you are the vice-captain. Remember if Punit is not there for any reason, you will lead your team. This is your chance Sanjay, show them what you have got and project your teamwork.” He told thumping Sanjay’s back, and he nodded with a smile and his hands in his pockets.

“Aman, you are our opening batsman, our star batsman. We are all counting on you. I know you will do your best and help us attain a score PCCI can’t chase. And yes, don’t get distracted by your fans in the stands.” He said with a smile, knowing full well Trisha would be there. Aman blushed and shook hands with Mr Sharma.

They all fell in line and rolled out on the field.

DEEP WITHIN – VII

“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.