I wrote my quarterly exams well, and so did Basha. I heard
that Vandhana too, did well. She still refused to make it
up with me though. I tried talking to her in school, but
she refused to acknowledge my greetings. I went over to
her home once and when she saw me coming, she slammed the
front door shut. I tried accosting her when she went to
the colony grocery store. She refused to budge. So I gave
"Write to her," Sethu suggested. I said no. I
thought only lovers wrote to each other even if they met
everyday. I concentrated on cricket and hanging out with
A couple of months later, I met Pravallika when she was
coming from Vandhana's house. "Hi," she greeted.
"How are you?" I enquired.
"How is she?" I asked.
"She, who?" she shot back. She knew who I was
"Vandhana," I mumbled.
"She is fine. She is going to Charan's house right
now," she said.
"Charan?" My blood pressure shot up.
"Yes, he's her classmate. They are preparing together
for the mid-terms."
I was infuriated. Who the hell is this Charan?
"Bye, Sunnu," she said and she left. I was agitated
over the whole thing.
I told Basha about this at the practice. "Oh no!"
"You know, Sunnu, she is down at the moment. If that
wise guy shows some sympathy or even pretends to be sympathetic,
she will fall for him flat."
"What do you mean by fall?" I asked.
"In love, my friend. Women are strange creatures,
you know." I didn't know. I decided to take this up
myself. It was between Vandhana and me.
The next day, I walked into her home, and found a smart
looking guy sitting in the hall.
"Yes?" he asked me.
"Vandhana?" I asked.
"Please wait, she'll be here." She came out and
was surprised to find me there.
"Hi, remember me?" I added some sarcasm.
"Hi." She had a serious expression on her face.
"You must be Sunnu, right?" the guy asked me.
"And you are Charan, right?"
"Yes," he replied and we shook hands. She was
watching all this, bewildered.
"Am I disturbing you guys, or something?" I asked
them. Her face flushed red.
She was embarrassed.
"No, we were just about to start with our revision,"
"Can I have a minute with you, please?" I asked.
"No, I am not interested," she mumbled.
"You mean to say, this is it? All the sweet talk about
friendship and all?" I persisted.
"See, you lied and I hate liars!"
"You never gave me a chance to explain myself, Vandhana!"
I almost screamed.
"Sunnu, I don't have the time to go through this all
over again. Now, if you will excuse us, we have a lot to
There it was. The last nail in the coffin. She was so arrogant.
She had insulted me in front of a stranger. I vowed that
I would never see her again. I met Pravallika again after
a week. She stopped me when I tried to ignore her.
"Sunnu, I know that you are hurt."
"I am not hurt, Prav."
"Ok, now, just know this. She regretted what she did
to you that day, in front of Charan.
"How sweet," I couldn't suppress my sarcasm.
"Don't think I'm here to mediate and all. I just hate
to see you sad. That's all."
Wow! "Why?" I exclaimed.
"Because you are like a brother to me."
In my mind, I saw a highway, and a board on it read 'emotional
entanglement ahead.' "Thanks," I said. She smiled
I was in my own world now, far from girls. I ran into Pravallika
now and then. She even tied raakhi on me. Our annual exams
approached and I was glued to my books. Dad didn't even
allow me to walk Mickey. I studied hard. Sundar was doing
fine in his eleventh standard. Prabhu and he were planning
a trip to Chittoor in the summer vacation. I wrote to Sruthi
about everything that happened in my life. In the beginning,
she used to write back, but later on her letters dried up
and so I stopped writing to her. I don't know why Sruthi
stopped being in touch with me to this day. When I mentioned
this to Basha, he just shrugged and gave me that wry smile
and said, "Women! You know." Basha stayed with
me in the nights and we studied till midnight. Occasionally
we diverted our concentration and did small talk. He was
careful enough to not to mention Vandhana in our conversations.
She was, according to the school gossip, 'going around'
with Charan. I was hurt, but never showed it out. I still
had hope that she would not do such things without telling
me. Biju and Sethu came home once in a while. We planned
to learn swimming that summer. Barney's Dad had a huge farm
a kilometre away from the Colony. It had a huge irrigation
well and we planned to learn swimming there.
Pravallika dropped by occasionally. Mom liked her. She
bought cookies for Mickey. She loved dogs. She embarrassed
me by calling me her brother, but I got used to it. She
was very mischievous. She made fun of Basha's hairstyle
and I laughed at her jokes. Basha didn't get along fine
with girls. He became very shy, but he gave lectures on
how to handle women and all that. What no one noticed was
that, at the back of my mind, thoughts of Vandhana were
nagging me. I didn't quite realise it myself at first. Later,
I understood that I missed her. We used to cross each other
once in a while, but I never looked at her. I suspected
that Pravallika was delivering all the information about
me to her. I bumped into her on the day of my first exam
in school. Charan was beside her.
"All the best!" I wished her.
"Thanks, good luck to you too," she said.
I noticed a faint hint of longing in her eyes.
Summer vacation started, and it started off on a sad note.
Vandhana was going to Bangalore for the vacation. I waited
for her to come to me and make it up. Nothing happened.
So, as planned, we started taking swimming classes from
Barny - Mr. Know-it-all. Basha, Sethu, Biju, Suresh and
I went swimming everyday. Dad didn't know about this. He
would have broken our necks if he had come to know about
it, as it was dangerous to swim in the irrigation wells.
Firstly, they were very deep, and some of them produced
toxic gases at times. So, Dad warned us against swimming
in irrigation wells. But actually, not all the wells were
dangerous. They were deep, but if you have an experienced
instructor, it is all right to jump and learn.
The water was light - green in colour and transparent.
We could actually see Barny's pet turtle move about in the
bed. At first, we learnt to swim with the aid of car tubes,
filled with air. We wrapped them around our waists and dived.
Initially I was very scared, but I got used to going a few
feet deep and emerging back, gasping for breath.
I realised that swimming is in the mind. If you are scared,
you'll never be able to learn. We used to cling onto our
tubes, afraid that somehow they might slip away. Barny was
an expert swimmer. He guided the five of us. After a few
weeks, we were confident of jumping in without the tubes
and we finally overcame the fear. We knew how to swim now!
It was a great feeling to have overcome the fear and achieved
this feat. Next, we learnt the various diving techniques.
The pumpkin was one of them. You jump from the top, with
your arms wrapped around your knees. You drop into the middle
of the well, like a pumpkin. The crowbar was another technique.
You just jump straight down, with your body absolutely still.
Your arms glued to your sides, with your feet pointing down,
you slice through the water and go in deep. Diving headfirst
was a problem. Whenever we tried it, our bellies smacked
the surface of the water hard and that hurt. We learnt how
to bend and move our bodies gracefully, with our arms together
and dive in, like an arrow. We couldn't thank Barny enough.
Lots of cricket happened too. We played in a lot of tournaments.
I divided my time between cricket and swimming. I was the
number one bowler of Durga Colony now. We played against
local teams as well as with teams from far off places like
Vellore, Tirupathi and Madanapalle. In one of the tournaments,
we met Babu's team in the finals. It was real fun. Although
we were friends, there was fierce competition between us.
I hated the way he smashed me all over the ground. The final
victory was mine though when I bowled him with a beauty.
They won the match as our batting crumbled. I was happy
that I was doing a lot these days. We even camped on the
Turtle Neck. It was beautiful. Lying down, facing the stars
on top of the hill, with the bonfire making shadows on the
rocks around us. Sethu was a bit scared about the whole
thing, but got used to it soon. Biju brought parathas from
home and I took potato curry. Barny bought cookies, tea
powder and milk. We made our own tea at midnight. We chatted,
sipping the tea and shouted at the shooting stars that fell
across every now and then. I took Mickey along with me.
He thoroughly enjoyed these outings. He kept vigil in the
night, after we dozed off, and as always, he woke me up
exactly at six in the morning by licking my ears. He needed
to be home by six-thirty for his morning walk with Dad.
I was promoted to the ninth standard. So was Basha. Biju
and Sethu were in the seventh. They had to face the common
exams now. Vandhana came back from Bangalore. She was the
Colony beauty and mostly wore jeans and T-shirts nowadays.
I didn't bother to go to her place. Nikil asked me why and
I gave him some excuse or the other to evade him. Pravallika
gave me hints that Vandhana was interested in making it
up with me, but nothing was concrete. What the heck, I didn't
want to talk to someone who slammed doors on me. I didn't
want to be friends with a girl who had the audacity to insult
me in front of a stranger.
"Sunnu, sometimes you have to tone down your self-respect
if you want friends," Pravallika said. I looked at
"Prav, you don't know how it feels when one of your
best friends slams the door on your face."
"Sunnu, I know, but I think you have to initiate the
revival of your friendship with Vandhana."
"I have begged her. The ball is in her court now,
so to say," I said.
It rained that July evening. Somehow, it was a blessing.
I was alone at home. I sat in the veranda and gazed at the
hills behind the Arts College. The rain spread a misty layer
over the hills. The noise of the raindrops hitting against
the roof sounded funny. It stopped raining after an hour
of so. Darkness was fast approaching. I was glued to my
chair, listening to the birds chirping and the rhythmic
sound of the raindrops dripping from the trees into the
small puddles on the ground.
"Hello!" someone called. I stood up. It was Vandhana.
"May I come in?" she cooed. I could hear her
smile within herself.
"Sure, I haven't mastered the art of slamming doors
on my friends' faces yet," I retorted.
"Cut the sarcasm, you idiot!" she screamed, walking
into the house. There was no one at home. "Do you realise
how much I have missed you, Sunnu?" she prevailed.
"That is news to me. By the way, don't you think that
line was meant for Charan?"
She slapped me. I started laughing.
"Shut up!" she screamed, but she couldn't help
it either and started to laugh.
We laughed together. She held my hair, tugged it and said,
"Listen up, smart ass. I am not going to repeat this
again and again. You were and you still are my best friend,
"Ok, ok," I said and added, "I reciprocate".
It was tacitly understood that we were not just friends
anymore. Or at least that was what I thought. It was as
if some imposing and invisible barrier between us had been
blown to pieces. We felt closer now. We belonged now. For
the first time in my life, I realised what it meant to be
in such close proximity of a woman. She seemed more beautiful
now than ever. Her smile generated high voltage electricity
deep inside me. And I was not comfortable with this mysterious,
exciting and deep relationship. I didn't even shake hands
with her nowadays. It was as though she was transformed
into an angel overnight. She had that exuberant glow on
her face. She blushed quite too often these days. She giggled
too often. She became a mysterious girl to me. She was hiding
something from me.
I was going through one of Yendamuri's novel and suddenly
realised that I had a crush on her. Too bad. I didn't want
to go through such silly things in life. I wanted to be
a mature guy. A no nonsense gentleman.... so I started restraining
myself from seeing her. She was mad. "Why are you acting
weird these days?" she asked me once.
"You won't understand now, but when you do, you will
appreciate me." I delivered one more speech.
"Ok, Lord Buddha," she giggled.
I felt strange. It was as if I was suppressing a Himalayan
urge, but I didn't understand what this urge was all about.
It was so confusing. Basha had a stupid moustache now. He
caressed it with his fingers every now and then, and said
in a base voice, "The mark of a man." I sneaked
into dad's room one day and used his shaving set. I tried
to imitate the guys in the commercials. I cut my chin and
wondered when I would be able to have a beard, like those
men in the commercials.