won't forget your help though." He gives me a mock salute. Then, they are gone.
I really don't like unnecessary violence. Arguments can be resolved with words, with reasoning. And if that means I sound boring and "nerdy", as Tenzin says, so be it.
I am back in Bombay for the summer hols. But this time I also take every opportunity I get to play cricket. Today I am at a practice session at the Cricket Club of India —the CCI as it's called. Dad's a member here. The story goes that the erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala—a princely Indian state—had created this club so Indians too could play cricket. Most clubs those days only permitted entry to Europeans.
Today, the heat wafts up from the ground, and the pitch shimmers in the morning sunlight. It's hot, already. But that doesn't stop us die-hard fans of the game. I walk to the crease, dressed in the mandatory flannels. Even for informal sessions, the club insists we wear white trousers and shirt, helmet, and cricket pads.
"Hey, your bro's come to watch you play." My fellow batsman points to where a group of figures are watching us from the sidelines.
"Who?" I don't recognise the figures from this distance.
"Vishal … Your brother?" he prompts.
"Ah!" I squint against the sun shining off the grass to make out the features of my brother. It's the first time I've seen Vishal on this trip back.
No longer does he tag along with me, trying to win my attention. He's got a life of his own now. At fourteen, he too has grown, but he is still a foot shorter than me. Got his own friends, he has. All uniformly dressed in baggy jeans with the waistband hanging low enough for their butt cracks to be seen. One of them wears dreadlocks hanging to his waist. The other two have large fluffy hair worn in the style of popular Bollywood heroes. Even at this distance Vishal looks different. As always, he wears his hair really short, almost military cut in its precision. He's also dressed in his usual faded blue denims and cut-off black T-shirt.
I raise a hand in greeting. No reply. Strange. I want to call out to him, but just then the umpire calls the start of the game and I take guard.
We've been playing for nearly three hours. It's almost lunchtime. The sun is right overhead. And I'd thought it had been hot earlier. Now it's blistering. The heat shimmers up from the pitch. My mouth parched, sweat pours out of my skin only to instantly dry off. A long cold shower—that's all I want, and lots of iced water. I've drunk my way through at least three litres of water in the last three hours, and yet my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth … Damn shirt's stuck to my back too. Can I go back to St James? And play in the cool air of the Himalayas? I am homesick. Not even a week back and I want to return. What's home anyway? There or here?
When we break for lunch, I walk to the clubhouse. Gesturing to the others to proceed, I stop by Vishal. All through the game he's been watching me.
"Hey, Bro. How are you?" I greet him, and slap him on the back.
No response. He's not exactly happy to see me, and I'm not sure why. It's only been a year. He's got that look on his face. Half-lost. Half-defiant. He wore the same look when Dad brought him home all those years ago.
"You're looking good, Vishal." I try to draw him out of his moody silence.
"You're sweating like a pig." His voice is harsh, tinged with that peculiar breaking-at-the-edge tone which marks the onset of puberty.
I shrug. "It's hot."
"Very different from St James, isn't it? This?" He looks around, then back at me. "Slumming it, are we?"
I don't rise to the bait. Is that what it's about? Me going to St James. And he still in Bombay. He misses me. Yes. That's it.
"Why are you so angry, Vishal?"
"Why shouldn't I be?" There's heat in his voice. He's looking at me like he wants to hit me, his body tensed, ready to spring. "You ran away, left me here to face them on my own."