The next day aunt took us - Sundar, Venky, Sruthi and me-
to the Golconda Fort. It is a magnificent monument. It was
a huge place. The fort was built on a hill and its walls
enveloped it. It is believed that if you shout from the
base of the fort where the steps start up the hill, it can
be heard in a particular room, a sentry room obviously,
inside the fort. There was a lot of vegetation around the
fort. I enjoyed the trip. It was not only because of the
sites, but also because of the constant hostilities that
cropped up between Sruthi and me. She made it a point to
turn her head away whenever I glanced at her. Silly girl,
she probably thought I was looking at her. Sundar and Venky
as usual, were rambling away about this and that. Aunt told
us the entire history behind the fort and I was the only
listener. The Nawabs had done a good job.
The next day we went to the zoo. Whatever it is, a zoo
can never replace a jungle. The tigers were restless in
their enclosures. The majestic lion was not in its royal
elements. The elephants appeared to have resigned to their
fate. We also went to the Salarjung Museum, one of the famous
museums in India. The museum displayed the extravagance
of the Nawabs of Hyderabad. I was not interested in checking
out the personal collection of a Nawab, which included guns,
knives, jewels, clothing, paintings and so on. We also went
for a couple of movies that week. Uncle could not make it
to any of the trips, as he was busy with his work. But I
enjoyed going around in the auto-rickshaws. Enjoyed the
ice creams, and also the feel of being rich.
Something told me that Sruthi was itching to take revenge
after that early morning altercation about my touching the
cats. It was only a question of time. I did not know when
the girl would strike. After a week I forgot about it as
I thought I was being paranoid. I miscalculated. After all
the outings that week, aunt decided that we needed to rest
for the weekend. On Sunday morning we watched some cartoons
on the video. After lunch I was reading Tintin, sitting
by the dining table. The phone rang. I picked it up; it
was some friend of Sruthi. She yanked the phone away from
me and gave me a hard stare. She hung up after some time
and walked up to me. I didn't bother to lift my head up
"Don't pick up the phone again," she said.
"Why?" I was puzzled.
"I don't want any of my friends to know that I have
such an ugly cousin who wears trousers stitched from curtain
cloth." That hurt me deeply. I kept quiet.
"And don't touch my comics. I'm very possessive about
them!" she continued.
I lost my patience. She was treating me like dirt. I hated
myself for wearing such shabby clothes. I hated my middle
class tag. I threw the book across the table.
"It is all yours and I promise I won't touch your
things again, ever!"
"How dare you throw my book!" she screamed.
I stood up, reached for the book, held it in my hands and
gave her a big smile.
"Sorry," I said and dropped the book onto the
She was incensed. She took a tablespoon and threw it at
me, with all her strength. I ducked. The spoon was heavy
and it crashed against the showcase, breaking the sliding
glass door. It made a lot of noise. I was shocked and so
was Sruthi. She covered her mouth with her palms in utter
shock. I was about to say something when aunt came running
from the bedroom.
"Who? I want to know who did this?" aunt shouted.
Sruthi had tears in her eyes and I thought she was about
to faint. She pointed a finger at me and wanted to say something.
At that moment I didn't know what happened to me. I felt
sorry for Sruthi. I guessed how important the showcase was
to aunt. I felt strange. I wanted to scream, "She did
it!" and score a resounding victory in this personal
war, but I could not. Sruthi was struggling to find words
and she seemed to be sure that I'm going to tell aunt what
"Who?" shouted aunt.
The silence that followed hung over the three of us like
a huge storm cloud. Sruthi was staring at me, her tears
ready to roll. Her mask of arrogance was blown to smithereens.
She looked like a weak pup, crying for mummy. I realised
that I had scored the personal victory at that precise moment.
There she was, standing like a princess who had lost her
kingdom, like the fox, which had lost its colours.
"It was me." I blurted out.
"You are a very irresponsible young man!" shouted
aunt. "You ought to know how to behave when you are
a guest." That hurt me. "I am going to write to
your mom about this," she continued. I knew that if
mom learned about this, she would be mad as hell. I had
a strange feeling in my gut. Sruthi had a confused look
on her face. She was shocked by my confession I guess. I
was in no mood to appreciate her feelings.
"You have brought shame on to the family." Sundar
started yelling. He went on about how I had blown his reputation
and also about how I broke mom's trust in us. I thought
he was exaggerating a bit, blowing the issue out of proportion.
He was acting like a big guy and he fared miserably. I just
listened to the music. But what hurt me the most was the
fact that aunt did not speak to me during dinner. Uncle
as usual was oblivious to the happenings around him. None
of them spoke to me. They ignored my attempt to start a
conversation. This entire rebuke was being handed down to
me despite my giving a soul-stirring apology to aunt that
afternoon. I was wounded. I went to the terrace, after finishing
dinner fast and excusing myself. I sat there on the terrace
wall, watching the stars that were thrown about in the sky.
Watching the solitary cloud that was desperately trying
to wrestle with the moon. One of the cats purred at me.
I ignored him. I had tears in my eyes. I felt lonely for
the first time since I stepped into Hyderabad. I felt alienated
by my own brother. I thought that this punishment was too
much for such a small crime. I had no business to admit
to a crime that I never committed. I could not figure out
why I wanted to save Sruthi. The expression on her face?
Or maybe I had a thing for her or maybe it was the stupid
movies, I buried my face in my hands. I didn't want to cry,
but I just could not help it. I sobbed silently. I could
hear them downstairs, laughing at some TV show. That only
aggravated my feeling of loneliness. I was alone, yes, damn
it I was alone.
"I am sorry."
The words startled me. I turned around, surprised. She
was standing there. Her feet were drawing lines on the floor.
I just smiled and said, "It's ok, I was rude to you."
"No, you were not ... you are the sweetest and the
nicest guy I've ever seen." Whoa! I was zapped.
"Will you be my friend and allow me to repay your
kindness?" she continued. I felt like the king of the
world, a confused king of the world at that.
"We can't be just friends," I said.
"But why?" she almost screamed with a huge look
of disappointment in her eyes, those beautiful eyes that
mirrored the moon.
"Because we can only be special friends! We are special,
remember?" I managed to say that stupid line somehow.
She broke into a huge smile. "Why not?" she said,
sitting next to me.
She told me about her school, her friends and tennis. We
talked about anything and everything. And nothing. Next
morning, she went and confessed to aunt that she was the
one who was responsible for the broken glass door. Aunt
was so sorry.
She held my face. "Sunnu, you are a sweet boy. Very
few people manage to stay that way, keep it up", she
told me. Sruthi got away as she was honest enough to admit
her crime. Aunt made custard for us, and broke the good
We were going to Bombay in another ten days. Sruthi told
me about Bombay that evening. She had been there twice.
I was told that it was a big city. Sruthi promised not to
leave me alone for even a minute. She knew I was almost
alone. Sundar, as usual, was loafing around with Venky and
I had enough of playing with Bruno and the cats. She said
that the train journey to Bombay was real fun. She was turning
out to be a real special friend. She reminded me of Tom
Sawyer's best friend, Becky. I wrote to mom about the Bombay
trip. She wrote back breaking more good news. Dad was coming
down in the middle of June, which was roughly a month away.
Mom also wrote that I would be getting admission into sixth
standard at St.John's.