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Under Four Feet of�Trouble
As Suresh sat before the home computer with the browser desperately trying to load the engineering results website, he could feel their warm breath washing over the skin of his neck. He turned back to see Mother to the left, dressed in her maroon nightie, frowning at the bright monitor which to her was as incomprehensible as the insides of a television set. For all she knew, he wouldn’t even need to press the refresh button. She would believe anything he said.
To his right, he saw his elder sister Priya. The brilliant student from the best medical college. There wasn’t a single examination in her college which she didn’t top. The only complaint Mother ever had about her was the clothes she wore. Like then, she was wearing a white t-shirt with her black shorts. Priya knew her way around computers just fine, although she’d normally end up using her triple click or quadruple click in a fit of impatience.
Suresh’s fingers lingered over the mouse, his mind divided between his options. Or option. He decided that it was worth a shot. �Ma, the site isn’t opening. Too many people are accessing it.�
�Oh, really?� Priya pushed him aside by his head and reached for the mouse. She pointed the mouse towards the green ‘Go’button on the browser bar and clicked it over and over, eight times in rapid succession.
Suresh tried to move his head off from behind her smooth, bare armpits and turned to his mother. �Ma, it’s not going to open just by clicking on it a million times. You would just be overloading their server with HTTP��
�Keep your trap shut.� Priya said. �I know what I’m doing.� She stood back up and released him from the light smother.
Suresh watched the poor overloaded browser, making multiple attempts to load his results page. The blue progress bar began to move rightwards, and Suresh’s heart exploded for each millimeter they moved. Suresh closed his eyes, shook his head and continued to watch the blue progress bar crawling to the right. �Ma,� he said, turning to his mother. �It didn’t load the first time. It said try again later. Shouldn’t we at least give it some time?�
His mother slapped his head. �No. I want to see your results and I want to see them now, even though you obviously don’t want to see it.�
�Ma, it’s not like that��
�That’s exactly what it is,� she said. �I remember what you were doing on the night of the exam. You were sitting here, browsing some useless websites instead of studying your textbook like I’d told you to.�
�Ma, those were reference websites.�
�You study from reference websites only after you’re done with the textbook fully.� Priya said.
�Why do both of you have to always be on the same side?� Suresh mumbled, as his head sank into his hands.
�Are you telling me that you studied your textbook so thoroughly that you could afford to take the time for extra knowledge?� Priya continued.
�Y�yes.� Suresh shifted nervously.
�Hah! I’ve been watching you this whole semester. Ever since you got the internet, all you’ve ever been doing is browsing and browsing.� Mother said. �I make tea at the night, for you to sit and study, but all you do is browse.�
�He’s either playing those video games or going through useless websites, ma. I can tell.� Priya said. �Should I show her your browsing history?�
�What do you know about browsing history?� Suresh snickered.
Priya pushed him aside again and reached for the keyboard. She swiftly pulled up the browsing history and pointed to the screen, standing tall and triumphant before her mom. �Look ma. This one’s a music website, this one has movies, and oh�what’s this one?� She pointed to an entry that read ‘the milk man.’ �Milk man? Who does he deliver milk to?�
�It’s nothing, okay? Please keep off. What I do with my computer is private.�
�Should we click it and see?� Priya smiled at him and winked.
�No, please!� Suresh reached for his mouse, and clicked on the delete history button.
�I can’t wait to see how you’ve fared in your exams.� Priya laughed.
�When will that website load?� Mother asked.
�It’s at� um� ten per cent.� Suresh reported.
�No, ma. It’s more like forty or fifty.� Priya said. �Watch, it’ll load now.�
Suresh’s 17-year old heart sank into his chest as he watched the website, now loading rapidly. The top and bottom images now appeared on the screen. He closed his eyes and buried himself in the soft chair.
�Here it comes,� Priya said, pointing her fingers at a somewhat uneventful looking screen. The modem churned its way into the servers and somehow managed to conjure up the center of the page. �Yes, see? I told you I could make it work.�
�The results are open?� Mother asked.
�Yes they are, ma.� Priya said.
�What does it say? How did he do?�
�Umm�ma,��Priya said, glancing at the monitor for a moment before turning to Mother. �You might want to sit down,�
�No. Tell me what’s going on.�
�Ma, those are red marks,� she said, pointing to the screen.
�And what do those red marks mean?� Mother asked, her breath slowing down to a near-halt.
Suresh’s throat began to whine, his eyes began to force out tears. He grabbed his legs into his chest and sank further south, because Priya would give her the answer without a moment’s hesitation.
�It means he’s failed, ma.� Priya stated.
�That’s what I thought.� Mother said. �How many subjects?�
�Out of six papers, he’s failed in�� Priya glared at the monitor. �Four.�
�Tell me exactly what he has scored in each one.� Mother said.
Suresh covered his face with his hands and wept. �Why�why the specifics�?�
�Engineering physics, 39 out of 125. Fail. Engineering maths- 22. Fail. Strength of materials-30. Fail. Electronic circuits- 50. Just Passed. Computers and C programming- 80. Pass. Chemistry- 40. Fail.� Priya read out.
�Hmph,� Mother shook her head. �I knew this type of thing would happen. But not four subjects at a time.� A single gleaming tear rolled down her eye.
�Ma, you should sit down. Perhaps I should bring you some water?� Priya placed her hands on Mother’s shoulders.
�Oh, okay.� Mother fell back into the corner of the bed, the corners of her lips bent downwards.
Suresh got up from his chair and looked down at her sad face. �I’m really sorry ma.�
�You’re sorry now. What’s the use?�
�Please, ma. I will re-apply for those exams next semester and clear them.�
�You’re going to pass next semester? Along with six new exams? Hmph.�
�Ma, I will study hard and I will pass them all, I promise!� Suresh broke into a frustrated cry. He knelt before her and grabbed her feet. �Ma, please stop. I will fix all of this.�
Priya entered the room carrying a glass of water, which she promptly handed to Mother. �Here, ma. Have this first.�
�Thanks, Priya.� Mother raised the glass and gulped down all of its contents before handing it back to her daughter.
Suresh lowered his head and reached for her feet again. �Ma, I am sorry about this semester. I will make up for it in the next semester, I swear!�
�Is there even a next semester for losers who fail four subjects?� Priya asked.
�Yes, you get one more chance to make up for it. Failure is not the end of the world, okay?� Suresh said.
As soon as he raised his voice, he felt a set of five toes jab into his neck. Mother was glowering at him, with all the features of her face converging to the center. �Don’t talk back to your sister like that. You don’t have the right.�
�With due respect, ma��
Suresh felt the bottom of Priya’s foot crushing down his head to the floor. �Shut up. She said you don’t have the right to talk back.�
�That’s right.� Mother said. �You have done nothing but bring shame upon our family name.�
�Ma, what does this have to do with our family?�
�Tomorrow the Roshans are going to ask me how you did in the exams. What am I going to tell them? That my son failed in four exams?�
�Ma, you can just tell them that I did badly��
�Their daughter is in the same branch as you, isn’t she? And she was the rank student last time.�
�Ma, all she does is mug up the textbooks front to back and reproduce them verbatim.�
�So what is the right way according to you, you genius? You are going to understand the material and use some mastermind memory techniques? Who cares? What matters are the marks you score. Where are the marks?�
�Ma, I didn’t study so hard this time, but��
�I’ve been seeing you. You didn’t study at all.� Mother said. �It’s like� you don’t even care.�
�So true.� Priya said. �Even if you don’t like your textbooks, you should at least study for gratitude. You know how many loans Ma had to take to pay for engineering college?�
�Oh God, how am I ever going to pay them back?� Mother said, thrusting her head into her hands in despair. �One gem of a daughter, who got into medical college on full scholarship. You, on the other hand, can’t even pass your engineering courses��
�Ma, I can clear these��
�No you won’t!� Mother declared. �You, my son, are unfit to be an engineer.�
�Maaa!� Suresh wailed. �I will be uneducated��
�I don’t care. You are dropping out of college from this year. I am sure you are not capable of passing your exams.�
�Ma! I’d gotten ninety percent in my school exams!�
�But that was school, a long time back. Obviously something has happened to you now, and you are not able to cope.�
�Ma! How can you say such things?�
�And don’t call me ‘ma’ anymore. From now on, I only have a daughter.� Mother gestured for Priya to come closer. She did and Mother stroked her long, flowing hair. �She’s going to become a great Doctor and she will help clear the loans.�
Suresh sank further into the ground, his tears bursting out in all directions. The insides of his throat seemed to solidify in an instant. He opened his eyes, looked at the ground, raised his head by a few inches and threw himself hard at the ground, cracking his skull into the cold floor.
�Oh no you won’t.� Mother said, pushing her bare toes into Suresh’s hair. �You are not going to kill yourself either.�
�What do you expect me to do? You said you are not my ‘ma’ anymore. You disown me; you have made me an orphan!� Suresh said, with his mouth still being smothered into the ground.
�From now on, you are going to be a servant in this house.� Mother said.
�Ma!� Suresh tried to scream but felt another foot jam into the side of his throat.
�Didn’t she already say that you can’t call her ‘ma’?� Priya pointed out.
�I am going to fire the maid servant tomorrow,� Mother said, �because from now on, you are going to do all the work that she does. Sweeping the floor, keeping the house clean, cooking the meals, washing the dishes and clothes, everything.�
�But I don’t know how to do any of those things!�
�Of course you don’t. You have been a spoiled kid for much too long. It’s time for you to live the life you have always been destined for.� Mother said. �I am going to teach you all those things and you will have to do them every day.�
�Shut up!� Priya said, kicking him in his ear, �you stupid man-servant!�
�She kicked me!� Suresh pointed to his sister and looked up to Mother for sympathy, but saw her smiling proudly at her daughter.
�That is exactly the kind of treatment a servant like you deserves.�
�Also, since you won’t be going to college anymore,� Priya said, �I want the keys to your Kinetic Honda.�
�That’s right. Give her your vehicle keys. She has been asking me for a vehicle for so many years, and I never gave one to her�,� Mother stretched out her hand and Priya cupped it in her palms. �I am so sorry, Priya. You were the one who deserved it all along.�
�Thank you, ma.� Priya said.
Suresh receded from them, sliding his head off from under Mother’s feet, to get himself into a kneel before them. They were smiling at each other, consoling each other in the moment of grief. Suresh walked backwards on his knees until he was out of the room. He then got up and headed for the refrigerator. He reached his hands up to its top and picked up the keys to his beloved Kinetic Honda. His brain presented him with flashes of the moments when he first took it to his college. He was one of the only students to arrive with a motor vehicle- the others either walked or used a cycle or rode the dingy college bus. More tears poured out of his eyes, and flowed down smoothly down his already damp cheek, warming up the thin stream.
He walked back towards the room, where Priya and Mother were waiting for him, and both were standing up with their hands on hips. �What took you so long?� Priya asked.
�Here they are, Priya�catch!� Suresh said, tossing the keys over to his big sister.
Priya continued to stand with hands on her hips, making no attempt to catch the keys in her hand. The keys hit her shorts and fell to the floor. Suresh looked up to her face with an avalanche of fear taking over his soul. He saw Priya’s breath deepen- her deliberate exhales and inhales made his skin crawl over his bones. Mother was scowling at the keys on the ground, and her breath seemed to be in perfect sync with Priya’s. �What is this?� Mother asked, pointing at the keys.
�Ma, I just tossed over the keys. I thought Priya would��
�You are a servant in this house. This is not how a servant hands over the keys.� Mother said. �Pick it up and give it to her like a servant should.�
�I will, ma.� Suresh knelt before his elder sister and looked up to her angry expression. He sent forth a pair of shivering hands to pick up the key and then raised them up for his sister to pick up. Priya caught his hand in its entirety and pulled him closer. She then raised one leg and planted it on his shoulder, crushing him down with full force. She took the keys from him, and then forced him further down.
�That,� Priya wiped her foot in her brother’s hair, �is how a servant should behave. Your head, under my foot at all times.�
�And always keep your stupid head bowed down.� Mother said, joining Priya by placing her foot on her son’s head. �You have brought shame to our family. You may never see us eye to eye, ever again.�
Dinner for�Failures
(A few Hindi words you should know before you read this- ‘Malkin’ is a female owner. ‘Naukar’ is a man servant/slave.‘Didi’ is elder sister, but it is acceptable to shorten that to just ‘di’. ‘Ji’ is a salutation like Sir or Madam, applies to both genders.)
Mother and Priya began to grind their feminine toes into Suresh’s head, shamelessly crushing it into the floor and preventing him from speaking a single word. �Ma,� Priya said, �what should this�boy call us?�
�He will address me in the same way the maid addresses me.� Mother said. �From now on, Suresh, you are going to call me malkin.�
�Yes, ma.� Suresh said.
�What did you just say?� Priya giggled, raising her toes and crushing them into the back of his neck.
�I said,� Suresh wiggled under his sister’s feet and managed to kneel. �Yes, Malkin ji.�
�That’s right.� Mother said.
�Malkin ji, I can understand that I failed my engineering courses and I have to be a servant in this house.� Suresh looked down at Mother’s feet as he spoke. �I have failed you as a pupil and as a son��
�That you have.� Mother said.
�I can also understand,� Suresh wept, �that I am going to wash clothes and dishes and do the house work for you. You have reduced me to a man servant.�
�Boy servant.� Priya corrected.
�But malkin ji,� Suresh dived to Mother’s feet and kissed the ring on her toe. �I have only one request. Please tell Priya that she is still my sister, that she can’t disrespect me like this.�
�No.� Mother said. �What respect do you want from your sister? She doesn’t go and fail in four subjects like you, does she?�
�But ma!� Suresh cried, but remembered his predicament before he finished the word, ��lkin ji!�
�From now on,� Mother said, presenting her daughter to the lost son, �Priya is also your owner. You will refer to her as malkin di.�
Suresh looked up to his sister. The corners of her lips stretched into a subtle smile, and her eyes relaxed. Suddenly her legs rose, bringing the bottom of her dusty foot into view. Within split seconds, the foot came crashing into his face. �You can’t look into my eyes. Didn’t my ma tell you as much?� He took a while to recover from his sister’s blow, then looked up to his Mother for a bit of sympathy but she was proudly stroking her daughter’s hair and smiling at her.
�So she can just kick me whenever she wants?�
�Yes. She most certainly can.� Mother said with a proud smile. �Priya my daughter, you must be feeling hungry. It’s almost 9 PM.�
�I am, ma.� Priya said.
�Let us go to the kitchen and have our dinner.� Mom showed Priya the way like she would an esteemed guest who didn’t know the way to the kitchen. The two women were nearly out of the room, when Mother turned back to Suresh. �Hey naukar! What do you think you are still doing there?�
�I’m sorry, malkin ji.� Suresh said, getting up to his feet.
The three of them walked into the kitchen. Mother and Priya were soon seated on the chairs. Suresh casually picked up one of the chairs himself and plopped into it. He began to tap his fingernails into the smooth plywood, and glancing around the room. His eyes then landed on his mother and sister, who were both frowning at him in disgust. �Oh, sorry! I am the naukar in this house.�
�That is what you are.� Mother said. �It’s bad enough that I had to cook today, are you expecting me to serve you also?�
�No, malkin ji. I’m sorry.� Suresh headed for the plates rack and picked up three of them in his hands. He turned back to see his mother shaking her head. He replaced one of the plates and brought two to the table. �So I’m not entitled to dinner?�
�You will serve us first.� Mother said. �Then, we will decide whether or not you get any dinner.� Suresh turned to Priya, who had her tongue stuck out in a mocking smile and was shaking her head. He felt like pointing to her and telling Ma, but that would be an exercise in futility.
Suresh turned back and headed for the cooker. He raised the pressure regulator by its plastic top and watched some steam hiss out of it, dejected and defeated like him. He then turned open the cover, set it aside and gazed at the well-cooked rice and hot potato sambhar pans. Their smell took over the kitchen, causing his stomach to growl with desire, but he crunched his soft belly as if he were telling it to shut up and lay low. There was hardly any chance of getting any food that day, given the mood Mother was in. He rubbed his hands together and sent them into the cooker to bring up the pans, but receded quickly from a burn.
�Hey naukar! Don’t you have any common sense? What do you think those tongs are for?� Mother said.
�Got it, malkin ji.� Suresh used the tongs to lift the pans, and heard Priya giggle in the background.
�You know what would happen if there was an exam on common sense?� Priya asked Mother, suppressing a laugh.
�What?� Mother said, smiling but clueless.
�He would fail!� Priya said.
�Yeah. He would fail anything and everything.� Mother said in a serious tone. �Four subjects. He couldn’t even pass in math, of all subjects.�
�Calm down, ma. He’s our naukar now.� Priya said. Suresh carefully placed the rice and sambhar pans on the table. He then brought over a large metallic spatula and ladle, stuck them into the rice and sambhar respectively. The women were still scowling at him, so he picked up the spatula and served the rice to both their plates.
�Can’t you serve any faster?� Mother asked. �We are hungry!�
�Yes, malkin ji. I’m sorry.� Suresh said, gathering the ladle and serving up the sambhar to their plates. He then stepped back a couple of paces and watched as the women began to eat their dinner. They buried their fingers in the rice and began to mix it up with the spicy curry. �Should I bring spoons too?�
�No.� Priya said. �I prefer it this way, unlike you. Do you remember, ma? He had to keep playing those stupid computer games even while having dinner.�
�Yeah, vividly.� Mother said. �That’s why he always needed a spoon. Not once has in his life has he set foot in this kitchen to help me out.� Her teeth began to over-grind the rice between them. �He’s such a spoiled little buffoon.�
�I just asked if you wanted a spoon,� Suresh mumbled, covering his face with his hands.
�That’s what.� Priya said, digging further into her sumptuous meal. She picked up a piece of potato from her curry, showed it to her mother, whilst glancing at Suresh. �Such fine pieces of potato you’ve made today, ma!� she said.
�Thank you, dear.� Mother said.
�Yummy.� Priya slowly placed the piece on her tongue and ate it, drowning her little brother further into his wet mounds of misery. Suresh swallowed, then turned towards the dustbin and sink but he couldn’t keep it up too long. His eyes went back to his sister eating the potato curry and rice.
�Oye naukar Suresh! What are you looking at?� Priya asked.
�Nothing, Priy�I mean malkin di.�
�Come over here.� Priya ordered, pointing to her feet. �Come to my feet and massage them for me.�
Mother turned to him and nodded along. �Do as your sister says.�
Suresh went closer to his sister and knelt down. He picked up her foot and placed it on his lap. �No,� Priya said. �You were watching me like a dog just now, weren’t you?�
�But you were showing me your food�� Suresh began, but felt his sister’s powerful foot in his mouth before he could finish.
�Shoo!� Priya said, snapping her fingers. �Massage my feet. I got so tired walking home from college today.�
�Aww, my poor daughter.� Mother said. �It’s a good thing that you can go to college in the Kinetic Honda tomorrow.�
�Yeah.� Priya said, moving her head forward to have her hair stroked by mother.
Suresh began to work on didi’s dirty ankles and rubbed the upper surface of her feet. In the darkness under the table all he could see were his sister’s smooth legs and mother’s nightie. There were also a few cobwebs under the table, which seemed to have a mysterious ability to find exactly where his face was and run a cord across his eyes. A dustier version of the sambhar’s aroma taunted him as he toiled away at Priya’s feet.
A sudden snap of the fingers got him started again. �Hey naukar, bring me rice and curds.�
Suresh instinctively tried to stand up, but bumped his head to the wood under the table. �Clumsy oaf!� Mother said. Suresh slithered out from under the table and went to the refrigerator to bring them the curds. He served them rice and poured some curds over it, at which point he saw his sister’s forefinger pointing down. He got himself below the table, picked up Priya’s feet on his lap and continued where he had left off.
The women soon finished their dinner. Priya snapped her fingers and he stood before her, with his body bent over like an eager waiter. �Clear these plates,� Priya said, �and bring us two fingerbowls.�
�Fingerbowls?� Suresh asked. �We’ve never used that in our house.�
�We’ve never had a 24 hour servant before, had we?� Priya said. �Get on it now.�
�Yes, malkin di.� Suresh gathered the plates and put them into the kitchen sink. He then heated a tumbler full of water and poured it into two bowls, along with cut pieces of lemon to serve them to the ladies. He then fetched them a couple of napkins, which they used to dry their hands and mouth.
�Now,� Mother said, pointing to the leftover rice and sambhar. �Keep these in the refrigerator. Tomorrow, you will make vada for me and Priya, so we can enjoy a nice, crispy vada-sambhar.�
�But what about me, ma?� Suresh asked. ��lkin ji?� He could never get used to calling his own mother that.
�You failed in four subjects.� Mother said. �Four.�
�Malkin ji!� Suresh leapt to her feet. �Please, let me have some dinner! Otherwise I will starve to death.�
Mother turned to Priya. �Daughter, I am feeling sleepy. I will leave this decision to you.�
�Oh thank you so much, ma!� Priya hugged Mother. �Good night!�
�Good night, daughter!� Mother said and left the kitchen.
Priya turned to Suresh with a big smile on her face. �Didi!� Suresh bowed down, hesitant to touch her feet. His stomach growled even louder, so he brought his lips to Priya’s feet. �Priya didi! Please let’s stop all this madness. Allow me eat dinner. I beg of you!�
�No.� Priya said. �Suresh, do you think this is all a big joke? Mother was counting on you to pass those exams��
�I know, didi.�
�For the past six months, every single night I’ve been telling you only one thing��
�To pick up my textbooks and study,� Suresh sobbed. �I know, didi. I should have listened��
�But you didn’t. That’s the problem.� Priya shook her head. �You have betrayed her and you’ve betrayed me.�
�Didi! How can you say such�?�
�Stop calling me didi. From now on, it’s like Mother said. You are to call me malkin di.� Priya said.
�Please, malkin di! I will do anything to make it up to you.� Suresh said.
�You know why I was making you massage my feet while I was eating? I wanted to see whether you’ve developed some sense of duty and responsibility. But you did a terrible job with that, too.� Priya said. �Get on them again.�
�Please, malkin di!�
�I said massage my feet. If you don’t do that right, there’s no dinner for you.�
�Okay.� Suresh leapt to her feet and began to rub them. Priya walked over to the table and sat on it, her feet flailing ten inches above the ground. Suresh desperately grabbed on to them and continued the massage, carefully avoiding the bottom of her feet. He grabbed the surface of Priya’s foot and squeezed the ends together, then repeated the same motion a few dozen times. He looked up to see her expressionless face, and tried to do the same thing with more intensity.
�Malkin di?� He finally asked, stretching his exhausted fingers. �Can we say that they’re massaged?�
�Hmm�� Priya wiggled her toes and turned her feet around. �I guess so. Now, I want you to kiss them.�
�Kiss them.� Priya asserted pointing down to the dirty feet. �Hold them in your hands, look into my toes and kiss them until they’re clean.�
�N�no.� Suresh began, but the growl in his stomach had strange acidic warmth this time. �Okay, I will. But if I do this, will I get my dinner?�
�Yes you will.� Priya said. �If my feet are perfectly clean, that is.�
�Okay.� Suresh held one foot, raised it to his face and began to kiss them in desperation. �Blech,� he stopped himself after a few seconds. �Why do they stink so much?�
�Do you want dinner or not?� Priya asked.
�Alright.� Suresh continued to kiss the stinking monstrosity, the complete surface of his tongue now engaged in cleaning her up. He could soon see the black film of sticky dust disappear from the bottom of her feet. �There. I did it.�
�Okay, bring a plate.� Priya said.
�Thank you so much, malkin di.� Suresh fetched the plate and knelt before his sister.
�Keep it down there.� Priya pointed her finger between her knees, down at her feet. Suresh kept his plate there. �Take the rice and sambhar and serve yourself a little.� Priya ordered. Suresh quickly fetched the food and served himself. The plate was now ready to mix and eat.
�Can I eat now, malkin di? Please?�
�You have cleaned up my feet completely, haven’t you?� Priya asked.
�Yes, malkin didi. I have.�
�So, you won’t mind if I do this?� Priya asked, rubbing her toes against each other over the plate. A stream of black dust seemed to pour down on his plate as she did the test.
�I,� Suresh swallowed, �don’t mind.�
�Oh good. Because I still feel they’re a bit dusty there. But since you say they’re not dusty, I will believe you for now.� Priya smiled.
�Tha�thank you.�
�You know what? I’ve had it with your lies and stupidity.� Priya said, lowering herself into the plate. She landed both her feet into Suresh’s dinner, then stomped every grain of rice with her eager feet. �You keep lying like this, that’s why you always fail in everything.�
�Malkin di!� Suresh’s head dropped to the floor, weeping.
�Didn’t you say my feet were completely clean?� Priya asked. �So why can’t you eat your dinner off my feet?�
�No. Shut up. I am going to watch you eat dinner like this. Come on, get to it.� Priya said, dancing her feet around in the plate. Suresh used his right hand to pick up some of the rice on her feet, then slowly placed it in his mouth. They tasted like sambhar and rice, but had a flavor of rotten eggs alongside. Priya watched and laughed as he chewed up the dinner.
�Now,� Priya said once he was done with his food. �I want my feet cleaned up. For real this time.� She jumped back to her seat on the table.
�Okay.� Suresh went forth and began licking her feet like a rabid dog. He watched for and licked every single grain of rice and every drop of the sambhar from her feet. �What about that spot?� Priya would say on occasion. �What about the gap between my toenails and my toes? I don’t want my feet smelling like sambhar when I go to bed now, do I?� She watched and relaxed as her brother licked every inch of her toe without letting up. �Bloody loser who fails in four papers.�
(A key of Hindi words used in this story:
Raddhi�= A business that buys used clothes, newspapers and other objects, sells them to others. Sort of like a pawnshop
Wala�= Man. Therefore, raddhi�wala�= the man who runs that pawnshop.)
�Keep your head low.� Priya said as she guided her little brother into their room. �You are a failure; you won’t raise your head unless I allow you to.�
�Y�Yes, malkin di.� Suresh said, keeping his head below Priya’s legs as he crawled behind her on all fours.
�Did you just smile?� Priya stopped, caught his neck and repeated the question to his face. Even though she wasn’t shouting, he could feel the shape of her words hitting his face and closing his eyes. �I saw you smiling just now.�
�Not at all, di.� Suresh replied.
�Liar. I know you were. What were you smiling about?� Priya asked.
�Nothing, malkin di. I was just glad that it is bedtime.�
�Oh! You think I’m going to let you sleep on your bed?� Priya asked, pointing to his bed on one side of the room.
�I�� Suresh’s head shivered from asking the question, because he knew very well what the answer would be, but his mouth slowly sent out the query anyway, �won’t?�
�No, you won’t.� Priya said. �You actually think losers who fail four subjects will get a nice, warm bed to sleep on?�
�Malkin di, please don’t tell me I’ve lost the right to sleep.� Suresh said, gathering up what seemed like the last few breaths of his life to put together the question. He’d built up some momentum, and was going to continue with a bold statement. �I’m going to tell ma that you aren’t even going to allow me to sleep.�
�Oh you will?� Priya asked, stepping back. �Go ahead. Ask ma.� She switched over to her mocking voice. �What will you say? ‘Ma, I failed four subjects in my engineering. You will have to tell as much to the Roshans when they visit tomorrow. Can I still have my bed to sleep on?’�
�Okay, I know I failed my course but you’re being�,� Suresh said, pausing to a stop.
�I’m being what?� Priya asked. �Unreasonable? Evil?� She smiled. �A monster?�
�What do you want, malkin di?�
Priya took a deep breath and pointed to the right side of the room. �That used to be your side of the room- your bed, your bookshelf, your video game CDs and controllers, and the rest of your stuff.�
�Yes?� Suresh hit his head to the floor, knowing what she would say next.
�I want it all!� Priya smiled. �I want this entire space to be my study.�
�Malkin di!� Suresh said, sniffling up a few tears. �Please let us make these rearrangements tomorrow. It’s 11 PM.�
�That’s okay. I sleep at midnight usually.� Priya said. �We are going to rearrange this room very quietly, right now starting with your bed.� She walked closer to Suresh’s bed, grabbed him by the neck and threw him towards it. �Move that bed next to mine, so I can have a double bed.�
�Priya!� Suresh said, moving his hands around the heavy wood. �I mean, malkin di. These are beautiful, big beds that are large enough for anybody.�
�Well, I came first in class and you are a failure.� Priya said. �So I get extra privileges in this house while you are the lowly naukar. Understood?�
�Yes, malkin di.� Suresh got up and began to move his bed.
�Quietly. Raise it off the floor so it doesn’t make any noise.� Priya specified. Suresh did as he was told. With a mighty heave, he was able to push the beds together to form a gigantic master bed that was seven feet in both width and length. Priya jumped on to the soft beds and made herself comfortable on them, stretching her legs far apart. �See? I could always use the extra space.�
�Yes, malkin di.� Suresh bowed down and cried. He had cried so much that day that she didn’t even notice him cry anymore. In a random afterthought, he even wondered how his eyes could produce that many tears when he hadn’t any water to drink in the last few hours.
�Now.� Priya said, filing her nails on the bed. �Pick up that carton from the ceiling.� She gestured towards a large brown cardboard box at the attic.
�Okay.� Suresh said, eagerly following the first simple order she had ever given him. He was tall enough to reach the attic without a stool and managed to bring the carton down to the floor almost effortlessly.
�Is the box empty?� Priya asked. Suresh opened up the carton and showed her its dark, empty interiors. �Good. Now throw all your engineering textbooks in that.�
�But why, malkin di? They are just sitting there, not troubling you in any way.�
�I could use an extra shelf or two for my books.� Priya said, pointing to a heap of her heavy medical textbooks. �Besides, you won’t need them anymore, will you?�
�That’s right. I’m out of college. I’m an uneducated boy servant.� Suresh mumbled as he tossed his textbooks into the books.
�Ahh, such neat and clean textbooks you have. It’s like they’ve never ever been opened in their span of existence.� Priya laughed.
�They have.�
�Maybe you did just once or twice before the big exams.� Priya said. �And don’t throw them in like that. Don’t you have any sort of respect for Goddess Saraswati at all?�
�What are you saying?� Suresh snickered. �The Goddess is in these books?�
�Hmph! Never mind.� Priya shook her head. �You disrespect the Goddess of Education, and now you have ended up an uneducated boy servant.�
Suresh quietly placed the books in a stack inside the little box and was about to close it shut, when Priya stopped him. �Hey, is there some more room in there?� she asked.
�There is quite a lot, actually.� Suresh reported.
�Awesome.� Priya grinned. �Go over there,� she pointed to his cupboard. Suresh went where she pointed. �Open it up.� He executed as swiftly as she ordered. �Now throw all of your clothes into that box.�
�But malkin di,� the tears resumed flowing out of his eyes. �What am I supposed to wear?�
�Some old dusty rags that nobody wants.� Priya smiled. �Do you keep forgetting that you are a servant in this house?�
�How can I forget?� Suresh said, gathering up the shirt hangers and detaching his shirts from them. �You keep reminding me so much.�
By then, Priya had picked up a textbook and begun to study it, paying no attention whatsoever to anything he said. Suresh picked up the pile of his pants and slowly set them into the cardboard box. He cried more tears as he watched his apparel being gathered up in one place. �Malkin di?� he said, once he was done. Priya gave no reply. She always had the ability to concentrate on her books, despite all the outside distractions. Or at least she pretended to. Suresh went over to her feet and touched her toes. �Malkin di?�
�What?� Priya said, looking over her textbook.
�I finished packing up all my clothes in the box.�
�No you haven’t.� Priya said, resuming her studies.
�But I have, malkin di!� Suresh cried.
�Open up your cupboard and show me.� Priya said. Suresh did as he was told, pointing at empty wooden shelves.
�What about the drawers?� Priya asked.
�But that has only socks and underwear.�
�I want all those,� Priya’s forefinger came into view, �right in the box,� it pointed down.
�I don’t have the right to wear my own underwear?�
�No, you don’t. Now shut up and��
�Oh, alright!� Suresh said, opening up his drawers and emptying their contents into the box. �What do you plan to do with all these, anyway?�
�I will sell it to the raddhi wala, and with the money he gives us I will buy more skirts.� Priya said.
�Short, skimpy ones I presume?�
�Precisely!� Priya smiled.
�Mother doesn’t approve of those, you know.�
�You know what Mother really doesn’t approve?� Priya asked. The siblings spoke the next four words simultaneously. �Failing your engineering courses.�
�Yeah I know.� Suresh said. �The clothes are all in here, malkin di!�
�Actually,� Priya closed up her book and got out of the bed, �they are not.�
�What?� Suresh said. �See this empty cupboard? What more clothes could I possibly have?�
�The stuff you are wearing now.� Priya smiled as she approached her brother.
�Malkin di, are you implying what I think you’re implying?� Suresh sank into the floor, his hands joined together.
�That you should take off all your clothes and undress before me?� Priya smiled. �That’s exactly what I was implying.�
�Please, malkin di. What can you possibly get for these home clothes?�
�That looks like a nice shirt. What is that green logo, there?� Priya examined the chest of the shirt. �Xbox? Is that one of your stupid video games?�
�It’s more like a video game platform��
�I don’t care. It looks good to me.� Priya said. �Must be worth something.�
�But malkin di! I’m your brother. Why on earth would you want to see your own brother naked?�
�I have my reasons,� Priya said, �which I will tell you soon enough. But take off those clothes now and stop arguing with me.�
�Yes, malkin di.� Suresh slid the black t-shirt out from above his head, then stood up and slipped out of his brown shorts.
�Put them all in the box.� Priya said.
�Yes, malkin di.�
�Hmm.� Priya stood still, gazing at her brother’s underwear. She then gestured towards it.
�You want me to take these off?� Suresh asked. Priya nodded. Suresh quickly slid down his underpants in front of his sister even as she began to giggle. In his shame, his body coiled up like a banana as he threw the underpants into the box. Priya had her hand in front of her mouth, trying to control her own laughter. Her eyes blinked hard a few more times, then the hands fell apart and she broke into a hearty laugh.
�Malkin di!� Suresh said, sliding his naked body behind the box. Priya continued to laugh her heart out as she dropped into her bed and pounded her pillows hard. She twitched and turned around, laughing hard through every moment along the way. Teardrops began to form along her eyes from the excessive laughter, which died after many lengthy minutes into a little cough.
�That was hilarious!� Priya said.
�I’m sure mother would allow me to wear clothes if I asked her.� Suresh said, frowning at his big sister.
�Oh you think so? I don’t.�
�We’ll see.� Priya said.
�Why?� Suresh said. �Why would you make me take off my clothes before you?�
�Because you are going to sleep naked on the floor.� Priya said.
�Oh come on! That is unreasonable. Even the maid servant has a bed sheet to sleep on.�
�Does she?� Priya asked. �Who cares? In this house, you have no rights to a bed sheet.�
�But the floor is so cold, malkin di!�
�That is where servants have to sleep in this house.� Priya said. �Cold floors.�
�Hey! My house, my rules.�
�Okay.� Suresh said, plunging his body into the cold floor. �I will sleep like this.�
�Who said you can sleep now?� Priya said. �I only said that is where you will sleep. Future tense.�
�So what should I do now?�
�You made me laugh so hard, I’m going to have a bit of a hard time sleeping.� Priya said.
�So you want me to sing you a lullaby?�
�No.� Priya said, catching her chin in her hands. �Although I will make you do that some other time. For now, I want you to rub the bottoms of my feet until I feel sleepy.�
�What does massaging have to do with sleep?�
�Oh, it’s a theory I’ve read somewhere. You are going to help me experiment whether it works or not.� Priya said.
�Okay. Let’s get on the bed.�
Priya jumped into the bed and stretched out her legs until they reached the bottom. Suresh knelt at the corner of the bed, grabbed his sister’s feet and began to rub their bottoms. He ran his fingers through the arches, applying more pressure on each tour until Priya got bored and began to yawn. She sank into her pillow and looked at the clock- it was 11:30 PM. She set her alarm for six and sat back up.
�Why are you getting up?� Suresh asked, his eyebrows rising far behind the limit they were intended for.
�I am feeling somewhat sleepy. But you are still awake, aren’t you?�
�Yeah. So?�
�I can’t have you awake when I’m asleep. God knows what you will do.�
�Malkin di! You’re my sister. I wouldn’t��
�What if you steal my Kinetic Honda and run out of the house?� Priya said.
�Malkin di! I’m naked,� Suresh said, running his hands through his body.
�Still, I’m going to put you to sleep first.� Priya said. �Get over here.�
�Oh no.� Suresh mumbled as he crawled closer to his sister on all fours.
�You aren’t showing me that funny little thing.� Priya smiled.
�Okay, here.� Suresh sat before her and spread his arms wide apart. �You can see them as much as you want now.� Priya’s leg went back in the air, then swung them across into his balls. Her toes landed right on his testicles, bringing him down to her feet with a weakened �Oomph.� Suresh bent over, curling himself up fully into a ball, his only defense against the devastating kick.
�Show them to me. Again.� Priya ordered.
�Malkin di!� Suresh said, looking up to her. �You just kicked my nuts. Are you trying to kill me?�
�Shut up and show them to me.� Priya said.
�Okay.� Suresh shivered as he got up from the blow. This time he kept his hands ready for action right next to his dick. Priya sent her feet in through his defense like a battering ram and landed them accurately on his balls again, bringing his head to the floor.
�Get up,� she ordered again. Suresh nursed some of the pain to his midsection with his hands, and managed to sit before his sister again. Priya caught his right hand, turned it back up over his head and brought him closer to her body. She did the same with his left hand.
Suresh’s head was forced to look down, with his arms being twisted way over their breaking point. He still forced himself to look up to his sister. She had an evil grin on her face as she expertly trapped him before herself. The horrifying legs went up again and landed hard on his weener. It wasn’t nearly as accurate as her previous attempts, given that she was taking a blind shot but it still hurt him like hell.
Like an army of soldiers, the legs began to work their way deeper and deeper into his stomach and balls. A few dozen kicks later, Suresh began to see black spots covering up much of his vision, even though he was looking at his sister’s smooth legs. The legs became such a blur, so soon, that he couldn’t even make out which one was about to deliver the next kick. Suresh twitched and turned but his sister’s strong grip held him tight in his place to take the punishment. He could feel his testicles shattering into pieces each time she kicked, then magically seemed to coalesce just so the next kick would hurt even more.
Soon, all he could see were spinning black and white shadows, like those of a slowly spinning exhaust fan. He felt his sister’s toes crash into his balls for one last time, before it was all nothing but darkness.
Priya kicked her unconscious brother a couple more times before convincing herself that he was, indeed down. She threw him off, and his body fell down to the floor in one defeated heap. She walked over to the box and picked up her brother’s underwear from it, before sealing it shut with cello tapes. She then picked up his underwear by the outer edge of her fingers and slowly dropped it on her brother’s face.
Priya saw the clock, it was nearly midnight. She saw that her brother was a few inches away from her bed. So she began to kick his body under the bed, until he was fully under it. Satisfied, she turned off the lights and dropped herself diagonally across her double bed, occupying much space in both the beds. She turned around, tucked herself under the warmth of the rug and closed her eyes. A big smile took over her face and she soon began to snore her way into the deepest, most peaceful sleep.
Prayer for�Failures
WARNING: This story contains anti-religious themes.
(Things you should know: Brahmin is a caste in Hindu society. Mantra is a prayer/chant, and Gayatri Mantra is an especially powerful prayer. Janeu is a sacred thread worn across the chest by Brahmins. Puja is worship. Dhoti is a long cotton cloth wrapped around the legs, held in place with a knot at the waist. The kind Gandhi always used to wear.Upanayanam is a rite of passage, when a Brahmin boy becomes a true brahmin, and is presented with the sacred threadjaneu. There are a bunch of Sanskrit words at the end, they’re part of a lengthier prayer- the Gayatri Mantra.)
Suresh’s hands and limbs shivered from the temperature of the floor he was lying on, but his eyes remained shut, stubborn to remain that way. His teeth began to clatter together, in his sleep. He felt a few strands of spider web fiber across his face, as if his face was offering them a fertile land for their growth but his mind refused to lead him out of consciousness at any cost. Never for the life of him would he have imagined sleeping so well on the floor, but the punishment his sister had delivered put him through four hours of sleep with no effort at all, until he was woken up by an adventurous spider crawling its way up his nose.
Suresh’s eyes opened up wide and he began to slap his own nose. He still felt a set of slimy insect feet crawling inside his nose. He twitched his body on the floor, and bumped his head hard into a solid wooden frame less than six inches away from his face. His throat wished to scream, but it had run out of water a long while ago. Suresh began to see where he was. He recognized the wooden frame, now with a dent the shape of his skull as the underside of his own bed. He turned left to see more darkness, then right to see a bit of moonlight seeping in through the window. With a push, he slid his way out from under the bed and began to rapidly slap his nose with both his hands in rapid succession. The damned spider would still not die.
It was time for the last straw. Suresh held the sides of his nose, right where the cartilage ended and the bone began, and crunched them together. He could still feel the crawling spider legs inside his nose, so he slid his hands down his nose and watched the little spider land on his chest. He clasped his fingers together into a fist and beat his own chest like an angry gorilla, killing the little spider with a single blow. Its life, its internal organs and fluids spewed all over his chest, Suresh finally allowed himself to breathe deep. He saw his own reflection in the cupboard’s mirror and blinked a few times. He couldn’t believe what his life had come to.
Ever since the university results web page had opened up with his performance report, things began to slide downhill faster every minute. Mother declared that he wasn’t her son anymore and that she wouldn’t pay for his college. She, along with Priya had turned him into an unpaid man servant, a slave in the house. A slave with no rights to food or drink or his favorite computer video games. Priya had taken over the room, and all his possessions.
He turned back to see the evil big sister, sleeping away in her bed and snoring loud. Suresh stood up and headed for the girl’s feet. He squeezed the knuckles of his right hand, then his left. He tightened his fingers into a fist, but set them loose again. The very sight of his sister boiled his blood. But the thought of attacking her in sleep still felt immoral. Would he stoop so low in his life?
Suresh fell to the corner of room and folded his hands. Whatever he would do, he would consider carefully and take his time. After all, he observed as he watched the ticking clock, it was still just four in the morning. His mind began to evaluate his situation as he sat on the freezing floor. He had failed in four examinations. Never before in his life had he failed. He wasn’t the brightest kid in class, but he used to be above average. But during the second semester, things changed. Mom bought him a computer and internet connection, considering the fact that he was studying computer engineering in college. He could never have imagined being in possession of anything as addictive as that computer. Those wonderful three dimensional games made him forget everything in the world- his friends, his family, his neighbors, that his mom had taken the huge state bank loan, giving up all her jewelry as collateral just to get him into that expensive college.
Suresh watched a tear roll out of his eyes. He deserved to be where he was. But then, his mind turned to the previous night. His sister had mercilessly kicked him on his testicles. Again and again, nonstop. She barely seemed human when she delivered her punishments. Mom had entitled her to give him as much punishment as she felt appropriate. But was she entitled to kick his balls? Men have died from being kicked in the balls. Was his crime so bad, that Priya could just kick him as much as she wanted? Suresh felt his midsection- his balls still hurt from being punished by his sister.
Suresh decided that the punishment was overdone. Priya had gone much too far, and that wouldn’t work anymore. He got up and reached for a cricket bat placed in the attic. He turned towards his sister and raised the bat high in the air. His hands shivered from the pressure of the decision he had taken, then let the bat drop to his sides. After all, Priya was the topper in her medical college. Priya was the last resort, if mom was to have any chance of paying back those loans.
He replaced the bat on the attic and settled at his sister’s feet. He joined his hands, cried a few more tears and kissed her feet. He never enjoyed her company, but he respected her authority and wished he had listened to her when she told him to study his textbooks.
A shiver went up his spine, and Suresh realized that he was fully nude. All his clothes and books were sealed inside a large box next to Priya’s bed. He groped around for a piece of cloth that he remembered feeling on his face as he woke up. He soon found it- it was his blue underpants. Suresh stood up and got himself into them. They didn’t provide much cover, but they sure felt warm.
Suresh went out of the room and headed for the kitchen for a drink of water. No one could stop him now; it was four in the morning. He then found some of the rice and curds left over from dinner the day before. He pulled out a plate and ate some of it. It was cold outside, and the food was straight from the refrigerator, which didn’t help much at all. But he was a slave now. These were the conditions he would endure for the rest of his life, for his inability to pass his exams. So he ate the curd rice and enjoyed it. At the least, he kept telling himself as much.
He placed his plate inside the sink and washed his hands, then noticed the pile-up of unwashed dishes. Mother would make him clean those later. He noticed the detergent cake next to the sink, along with a rag. He shrugged- better now than later. He started by picking up his own dirty plate from the sink, and washing it in a stream of water. He rubbed the rag on the detergent and spread the blue substance all over the wet metallic plate, until the detergent turned gray. With another stream of water, the plate began to sparkle fresh and clean. Suresh smiled. He continued doing the same with the other plates in the sink. They felt a bit slimy, as he picked up a few plates which had other people’s food on them, his sister’s and mother’s. But he slowly learned to power through it and washed them clean until they sparkled.
He was soon done with the dishes. It was almost five AM. Mother would wake up soon and cook lunch for Priya’s basket. He went over to mother’s room and sat down on the floor next to her feet. Mother wasn’t snoring today; her lips were twisted downwards, in the same sad shape that he had caused yesterday, once the dreaded engineering results website had loaded. He couldn’t bear to see his mother this way; she had probably cried herself to sleep. Her son hadn’t passed engineering. She had lost all signs of respect she ever had for him and for herself.
The alarm clock next to her bed was about to hit the five AM mark. Suresh sat at the foot of her bed on his knees, bent over his body completely and waited for mother to wake up. The alarm began to beep and mother shut it with her hands within the third beep. A light sleeper she had always been. She stretched and yawned, then stepped out of bed.
�Suresh?� she asked, looking at the curled up body next to her bed.
�Ma?� Suresh looked up to her with tear-filled eyes.
�Where are all your clothes?� Mother asked.
�Ma, Priya told me to put them inside a box. She is going to sell them and buy more skirts for herself in the mall.�
Mother shrugged. �Serves you right, but you should wear something. Come, let’s go to the kitchen.�
�Thank you, ma.�
�Didn’t I forbid you from calling me ma?� Mother said, her eyes still adjusting to the awake state.
�Sorry, malkin ji.� Suresh said, hitting the floor with a tight fist.
�That’s right.� Mother walked into the kitchen and Suresh followed behind. �Oh, look at that. You have done the dishes.�
�I did malkin ji.�
�These are the ones you just washed?� Mother said, picking up the wet ones on top of the basket. She examined each of them and gave a �hmm,� as approval. She was almost done with the stack of plates, when she stopped and turned a plate around. �What is this?� she asked, pointing to a little yellow stain.
�Malkin ji, I missed a spot. This was just my first time.�
Mother raised her hand and swung it across, hitting the back of his head hard. �Grrr,� she growled as she raised the plate and sent it clanging to his skull. �You numbskull!�
�Sorry, malkin ji!� Suresh cried, raising his hands in defense.
�Here, wash it properly.� Mother said, handing over the plate to him. He took it from her hand, stood up and cleaned it with the detergent and rag properly until the little stain was gone.
�Malkin ji, I have washed the dish.� Suresh said.
�Alright, keep it back. Now I’m going to teach you how to make tea.�
�But malkin ji��
�What is it?�
�You said I could have clothes?�
�Yes. Come here.� Mother walked out of the room and headed for the storage cellar. She went into it and came out holding an old dhoti in her hand. �Here, wear this.�
�Malkin ji, a dhoti? I’m just seventeen.�
�Well, you don’t have a choice in this house.� Mother said. �That was an old, torn up dhoti that your father used to wear before he started his studying his MBA in Singapore.�
�And now it’s for the servant. Thanks, malkin ji.� Suresh said, trying to sound as sincere as he could. He spread out the white cloth, and wrapped it around his waist, then pulled at the edges to form somewhat of a knot and tied it together. He felt a bit stifled, wearing his dad’s dhoti but if he could have worn it for so many years, Suresh reasoned that it was just a matter of getting accustomed to it.
�Now where were we? Ahh, tea. You should learn to make tea properly.� Mother walked back into the kitchen. �Grab that tumbler first,� she pointed to a set of tumblers.
�Which one, malkin ji?�
�The biggest one�� Mother said, but slapped her own head. �Oh, I forgot. I only use that when I’m making tea for three people. I forgot that I don’t have a son anymore.� Suresh bowed down and prepared to cry. �Take that smaller one in the middle.�
Suresh picked it out, and set it on the stove. �Fill it up with two glasses of water,� Mother said, asserting the number‘two’. �When you have to make tea for two people, you put two glasses of water.�
�Got it malkin ji.�
�Turn on the stove. Now put two spoons of tea powder. Stir until it all turns dusty brown.� Mother said, sitting down in her chair. �I’m so glad I am the one sitting in this chair, finally.�
�Good, malkin ji.�
�No more cooking and cleaning for me!� Mother said, clapping her hands together but her eyes still carried a stain of resentment. Suresh turned to the stove, choosing not to look at her directly.
�It’s brown, ma�� Suresh reported after a few minutes, ��lkin ji.�
�Good. Turn off the stove and run it through that filter.� Mother said, pointing to a metallic gauze filter. Suresh did as he was told, pouring the liquid through the filter, so that the tea powder stuck on to the gauze while the fluid poured through.
�Now heat up the exact same amount of milk from the fridge. Two glasses.� Mother instructed. �Now mix them up and put four spoons sugar.�
Suresh could finally see the beautiful tea beginning to form as he stirred. The tea was soon ready for consumption. �Pour that out in two glasses.� Mother instructed, pointing to the large glass mugs. Suresh filled up two glasses with the wonderfully flavored tea. Never in his life had he missed them as badly as he did in that moment, but he had lost the right.
�The second glass, take it to Priya.� Mother said.
�But she doesn’t wake up until six.�
Mother gestured towards the clock. �Wake her up, anyway. Gently.�
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh picked up Priya’s glass of tea, placed it at the center of a saucer and headed to her room, the one used to be their combined room. He stood next to the bed and waited for Priya to get up. Minutes later, he touched her legs and shook them. �Malkin di?�
�Huh?� Priya stirred in her sleep.
�Malkin di?� Suresh said. �I brought you your tea.�
�Oh cool.� Priya said, twisting around in her large bed before sitting back on her pillow and looking up to her brother. �Why are you standing there? Kneel!�
Priya’s finger pointed down and Suresh knelt as he was told. He managed to keep his hands still, carefully serving his sister with a full glass of tea. Priya stared at him for a while, moved her sight up and down his body and smiled. �Dhoti?�
�Yes, malkin di. It is one of dad’s old ones.�
�Suits you.� Priya giggled, as she blew her hair aside and picked up her glass, holding her head high as always. Suresh stared as she sipped the hot beverage he had prepared. �This tea is nice,� she commented.
�I made it myself, malkin di.�
�Oh you did?� Priya said, and resumed sipping into it. �Good for you.� She sipped some more, then raised her finger in the middle of a large sip. �You know what your dhoti reminds me of?�
�What is it, malkin didi?�
�Your Upanayanam.� Priya laughed, finishing the tea and placing it back on the plate Suresh was holding up. �The threading ceremony, the day you became a true Brahmin. That was the only time you had ever worn a dhoti in your life.�
�Yes, malkin di. But I threw out the holy thread within a few days.�
�Of course you did. You don’t believe in God at all, do you?�
�Not so much, di.�
�That’s just as well because from now on, you,� she pointed her forefinger to him, �worship,� the finger went up, �me!� the finger landed in her direction.
�Most certainly, malkin di!� Suresh said.
�Clear this plate and go bring a holy thread from the Puja room. I’m sure mom keeps a few extra just in case you are fixed someday.� Priya ordered. Suresh went into the kitchen to clear the plate, then into the Puja room to fetch the holy thread back to Priya’s room. �Wear that janeu.�
Suresh unpacked the thread and put it across his chest, above his left shoulders and under his right arm.
�Now,� Priya placed her feet on her little brother’s face. �You will join your hands, close your eyes and recite theGayatri mantra. And truly, sincerely worship my feet. It will be good for you,� she giggled.
�Yes, malkin di.� Suresh said, getting into a spiritual mode, closing his eyes and praying to his sister’s feet. �Om. Bhur bhuva swahrum. Tat savitur vare-enyam��
Priya laughed and fell into her bed, while still planting her feet firmly on her brother’s face. �Continue, continue.�
�Bargho devasya dimahi�� and he went on repeating the prayer until Priya got bored.
�I bless you, child.� Priya said, showing her hand like a deity blessing her worshiper. �You will do this every single day. First thing.�
�Yes, malkin di.�
Breakfast Show for�Failures
�Hmm,� Mother said, looking at two large glass jars in each of her hands. �We have both rajma and channa today. The recipes for cooking them are very very similar.�
�That’s nice.� Suresh said, bowing down in the corner of the kitchen. �So if I learn how to cook one of them, it’s as good as learning both?�
�Exactly.� Mother said. �Now, go ask Priya which one she wants for lunch.�
Suresh scampered out of the room and headed for her study. She wasn’t there. He then checked in the bathroom, she wasn’t there either. He dashed to the living room and found her stretching in her jogging shoes and track pants, about to leave the house for her morning jog. �Malkin di,� he called out to her.
�What is it?�
�Mom wanted me to check with you on what you wanted for lunch. There is rajma and channa.�
�Oh, rajma definitely!� Priya said, with no hesitation at all. �In fact, I would like rajma for breakfast, lunch and dinner, too.�
�Awesome.� Suresh smiled. �Have a nice jog, malkin di!� He returned to the kitchen and told the same to Mother. �She wants rajma. For all three meals.�
�That’s a bit too convenient for you isn’t it?� Mother asked. �It means you only have to cook one thing today.�
�But I’m not lying, malkin ji!� Suresh said.
Mother caught his cheeks and examined his expression closely. �Hmm. You aren’t lying. Which is just as good,� she said. �You have extra time for cleaning up the house, sweeping the floors and doing the laundry.�
The smile disappeared from Suresh’s face. �Yes, malkin ji.�
�Start off then. Pick up the big pressure cooker over there.� Mother pointed at a cooker. Suresh fetched it from the shelf and placed it over the stove. �Take that sunflower oil there,� she continued, �and put four spoons of it into the cooker.�
Suresh picked up the tiny spoon in the oil jar and scooped out half a spoon of it and poured it into the cooker. Before he could repeat, he felt mother’s hand land hard on the back of his head. �What do you think you’re doing?�
�You said four spoons, malkin ji��
�Four full spoons, you idiot. If you don’t fill up the spoon and keep doing things ad-hoc, what measurement can you possibly have?� Mother said. �Cooking is an exact science, with exact methods and measurements.�
�Understood, malkin ji.� Suresh rubbed his hand against his head as he watched Mother pick up the cooker and pour out a few more spoons of sunflower oil. She studied the oil spread very carefully, until she was satisfied that there were four exact spoons as per her measurements.
�Don’t make these kinds of mistakes again. Exact measures at all times.� Mother said, stepping back and settling on the chair.
�Yes, malkin ji.�
�Now, bring the rajma masala and pour two spoons on that.� Mother instructed. �Two spoons salt, ten cloves, six green chillies.� The instructions kept flowing in and Suresh checked the exact measurements with her each time she ordered something. The cooking finally went into the stage where the marinated rajma grains were poured into the mix along with four large glasses of water and the cooker was closed. He turned on the stove and picked up the wheat, to begin working on the rotis while the rajma cooked.
�Ma, how many rotis should I make?�
�Priya will need two for breakfast, four for her lunch basket. I will need two for now. So, eight of them.� Mother stood up. She hit him on the head again. �And don’t call me ‘ma’. Haven’t I told you that already?�
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh said.
�Start making the dough now. Pick up the big bowl. Two cups of wheat, one cup of water.� Mother continued her instructions on how to make dough for the rotis.
�So,� Suresh said, as he was mixing up the wheat and water. �Two rotis for you and six for Priya.�
�Yes.� Mother said, stepping closer to him. �What are you implying, you naukar?�
�Nothing, malkin ji.� Suresh said. �Nothing at all. I’m sorry.�
�You better be sorry.� Mother said, turning down. �Hmph! Fails four subjects and still wants to eat roti with rajma.�
All the memories of the previous day’s encounter flooded back into Suresh’s mind, and he found his eyes welling up with tears again. He turned to Mother to see if she felt the same way, but she had an angry frown on her face this time.
�You know that your grandfather Ramachandra used to be a farmer?� Mother said.
�Yes, malkin ji.�
�He used to have these large farms in Gulmohar village, and had large carts driven by cows to plough the land.�
�Umm� yeah.� Suresh said, picking up the rolling-pin to turn the dough into flat rotis.
�Well, the lands were sold out four years back, and he died last year. But he left us one memoir of the lands.� Mother said. �A large leather whip.�
Suresh felt a chill go up his spine. �A whip?�
�Yes. A nice, long black one he used to make the cows go faster. And boy, did those cows go faster when he lashed them with that.� A microscopic smile traveled across Mother’s lips.
�That’s,� Suresh swallowed, �nice!�
�It’s somewhere in the store room, on the attic.� Mother said. �Later today, I want you to find it for me.�
�W�What do you plan on doing with it?� Suresh asked, his cheeks vibrating from the intensity of the thoughts she’d pushed into his head without even trying.
�Oh, we’ll see.� Mother smiled. �If they can turn stubborn cows into obedient little poodles, �,� she paused for effect, �there’s very little they can’t do.�
�I see.�
�Are the rotis ready yet?�
�I am going to fry these now, malkin ji.� Suresh said, presenting her with eight nicely rolled circular pieces of dough.
�Good. Get the pan, then.�
A new level of carefulness and intensity took over Suresh’s activities ever since the mention of grandpa’s implement. He swiftly picked up the pan, poured two spoons of oil over them and spread them evenly. He then placed one piece of dough on them, and began to make the rotis for the Ladies of the house. He picked up a large wooden spatula and constantly turned the rotis around over and over again to ensure that there wasn’t a single dark spot from over-frying them. He quickly finished frying each of them and placed all of them on a single plate.
�Four for Priya’s lunch box.� Mother reminded him. He picked up the lunch carrier and stuffed four rotis neatly into one compartment, some wonderful smelling hot rajma in the other.
He then picked up another plate and poured some of the rajma curry on it, with two of the rotis. �Two for you.�
�That’s right.�
�And the last two for Priya.� Suresh mumbled, staring intently at the two remaining rotis and the fresh boiled rajma from the cooker. His mouth watered as he looked at the beautiful brown beans floating around in Mother’s trademark gravy, and closed his eyes. But that didn’t help his cause, for the room smelled of nothing more than the hot curry and the freshly fried rotis. He joined his hands and prayed to God for a miracle. He wanted to be out of the room, for any reason. Soon, his prayers were answered.
The doorbell rang. Priya had returned from her morning jog. Suresh opened the door to her and stood on the side as she walked in, then respectfully closed the door behind her. She was sweating profusely- her gray shirt seemed to have turned black, her face was fully wet as were her arms and legs. �Damn,� she said. �All I kept thinking of was the rajma. Is it ready yet?�
�Yes, malkin di.�
�Bring it to me in the drawing room.� Priya said. �Today, I want to eat breakfast in front of the computer like you always did.�
�Understood, malkin di.� Suresh said, but shook his head, utterly confused. She always hated the computer, and knew the bare minimum she needed to know.
Minutes later, Priya was seated on the computer chair, with the machine turned on after a short face wash in the bathroom.
�Priya, breakfast is ready.� Mother called out.
�I know, ma.�
�Then where are you?�
�Drawing room, ma.�
�In front of the computer?� Mother asked.
�Yes, ma. Don’t worry, I won’t let Suresh�I mean our naukar touch the machine. I just need his help on something.�
�Oh okay.�
Suresh entered, carrying a plate with two rotis and the delicious rajma curry he’d prepared. �Malkin di?�
�Yes, come in.� Priya said, getting up from her chair. She tapped the arm-rest of the chair. �Kneel on the floor and keep your head here.�
Suresh knelt down, held up her plate and placed his head on the armrest.
Priya took the plate from his hand and pointed to her seat. �Now, I want your hands across this chair.�
�Why, so you can sit on my hands?�
�Exactly,� Priya said, �naukar!�
Suresh placed his hands across the chair, and Priya sat on his hands, crushing them into the soft seat. �You said you needed help with the computer, malkin di?�
�Oh, you’re so eager.� Priya tore a piece of the roti, dipped it in the brown gravy and slowly placed it on her tongue, making a blatant display of her privileges to her little brother. Suresh tried to turn away, but felt was completely trapped in place. �I want to be entertained now.�
�There are a few movies in the folder called ‘movies’�.� Suresh began.
�I don’t care about movies.� Priya said, using her left hand on the mouse and opening up the control panel. �You can see the screen properly from here, right?�
�I can, Priya.� Suresh said. �I can also smell your sweaty armpits from here.� Priya smiled a big smile. �Now tell me what help you need.�
�I want add/remove programs,� she said, clicking the tool open.
�But that’s not entertainment.�
�It is for me.� Priya said. The tool was opened up and ready to go, listing out all the programs and video games installed on the computer.
�It looks like you have it all under control,� Suresh said, making a futile attempt to twist his hands under Priya’s weight.
�No, I don’t actually.� Priya smiled. �Now, I’m going to read these out, and you’ll tell me whether they’re video games or not. Let’s see. Civilization.�
�That’s a video game.� Suresh nodded.
�Good.� Priya clicked on the uninstall button and sat back to eat her breakfast as the program got deleted.
�Malkin di!� Suresh watched the computer screen in despair as the video game files and save games got removed. �I was at the final level. It would have been over��
�How many hours did you play to get there?�
�More than two hundred, malkin di.�
�Haha. They’re all gone now.� Priya laughed, munching some more of the roti and rajma. �Next. Dungeon of doom.�
�That’s definitely a video game.� Priya said, mercilessly clicking ‘uninstall’ with her left hand. She turned and watched Suresh’s eyes fill up with tears as the computer deleted the video game from the hard drive.
�Godfather?� Priya asked. Suresh hit his head to the armrest, but gave no reply. �Uninstall!� Priya cheered and laughed as she removed it with a single fatal click. Suresh tried to pull his arms out from under the big sister’s body, to rescue his video games but there was hardly any chance of that working.
�Mafia! Definitely a video game.� Priya said, clicking on uninstall again.
�Malkin di,� Suresh said. �What pleasure do you get out of this?�
�I’m helping you become a good boy.� Priya winked at him. By the time she finished her two little rotis, she had successfully cleared out more than 90% of the hard drive’s contents with her merciless uninstalls.
�Malkin di!� Suresh retired his head next to her lap and wept.
�Say goodbye to the root of all evil!� Priya said, scrolling the list of programs to see if she’d missed anything. She hadn’t.
�All gone!� Priya said, standing up in her victory and shutting down the computer.
Suresh shook his hands and frowned at her, his face flushed red as were most of his arms. �That was totally unnecessary, you know?� he said. �It’s not like ma is going to let me touch the computer ever again.�
�But I like having fun during breakfast!� Priya said, handing over her empty plate. �Clear this for me, now.�
�Yes, malkin di.�
�And fetch a nice, warm fingerbowl to my room.� Priya said, showing him her hands. �My hands are all dirty from eating that delicious rajma.�
�Yes, di.� Suresh left the room. He heated up a bowl of water and went into her room, where she was seated on the double-bed, still dressed in her jogging attire and shoes. �Here, malkin di.� He knelt before her and held the bowl of warm water for her to wash her hands in.
�Hmm,� Priya said, wiping her hands clean. �Now, keep that bowl aside and lie down on the floor.�
�What, lie down? It’s morning, malkin di.�
�I know what time it is. You don’t need to tell me that.� Priya said.
Suresh lay down on the floor on his back, next to the double bed and looked up to his smiling sister. Priya’s fingers went up in the air, and pointed to the left side of her bed. �This used to be your bed, right?�
�Used to be, yes.� Suresh said.
�Hmm, I wonder what I might find under the bed!� Priya’s fingers slowly descended to the bed, even as Suresh’s heart stopped beating.
�Malkin di, please don’t.�
�Oh!� Priya said, feeling a little cover with her hands. �What have we here?�
�Please, please, please��
�Why, it’s a set of CD’s and DVD’s here.� Priya said, pulling out a large cover full of compact disks.
�Malkin di, please. Let me just tell you one thing.�
�What is it?�
�Those aren’t all mine. Some of them belong to Raghu and I need to return them to him.�
�See I don’t exactly,� Priya opened up the cover, �care.�
�Malkin di, please. They cost thousands of rupees each.�
�Like this one?� Priya asked, picking out the first DVD. �Hmm, ‘The Incredible Hulk’.� She read it out.
�That’s 2000 bucks, malkin di.� Suresh said.
�So what?� Priya tossed the disk on Suresh’s face. The next moment, her shoes hammered through the disk, breaking them into two sharp pieces right on his face.
�Aah!� Suresh screamed as he felt his sister’s ruthless shoes grind his little face. They cleared out after a thorough grind, and Priya slowly let them off him. He took a moment to close his eyes and breathe deep. Suddenly, he felt a familiar feeling on his face. With a fit of horror, he realized that it was another one of his disks. He closed his eyes tight and felt the shoe of his sister cut through them, and the rubber crush his nose and cheeks into an unstoppable bleed.
�Speaking of which,� Priya tossed another disk on her brother’s face. �Where’d you get the money for something like this?�
�I saved up my allowance for many years,� Suresh said, �but most of them aren’t even mine. They’re Raghu’s.�
�That’s okay.� Priya shattered through the third DVD on her little brother’s face. �That guy was spoiled from the beginning and he has spoiled you, too. If he asks, I will teach him a lesson, too.�
�Malkin di!� Suresh pleaded. �You’re killing me with your shoes. Please just burn them or something.�
�No.� Priya tossed a fourth DVD on his face and crushed it into a million pieces. �These stupid video games have hurt you for the last time.�
�Malkin di,� Suresh cried, his flow of tears mixing eagerly with the spots of blood all over his face.
�Now,� Priya said, kiss my shoe sole and thanks me”.
“thank you malkin di for crushing the video games on my face”, suresh said after kissing his sister’s shoe sole.
“now be a good brother and lick my shoe sole clean.”
Suresh do exactly what he was told for. He stuck his tongue out and start to clean all the clay and dust from under his sister’s right sneaker and do the same treatment to her left sneaker next.
“Now,”, priya said pointing to the DVD debris on the floor. �Clean this up!�
�Yes, malkin di.�

Morning Bath for�Failures
Suresh picked up the broken pieces of his video game DVDs, even as his big sister stood over him, with her legs on either side of his little body and watched. He used a broom to guide the pieces into a dustpan, which he then transferred into a dustbin. �Get all that away from me and come back here.� Priya said once he was done.
�Y�yes malkin di.� Suresh said, looking around for a way to get out from under her legs. There was a large bed in front of him, and he had no room to turn around. So he rolled himself into a little ball and slid away from his sister. He used his hands to push himself back the first few paces, then got on his feet.
�What? Why are you looking at me like that?� Priya asked.
�Malkin di,� Suresh began. �It’s 7 AM. You usually leave for college at 7.30, don’t you?�
�That was before,� Priya smiled, �when the Kinetic Honda was yours. But now that you’ve failed in four��
�Alright, I got it.� Suresh said, getting out of the room.
�One whole extra hour, just to punish you!� Priya called out as he walked away.
Mother was in the kitchen, sipping on some orange juice, her favorite thing in the world. �Malkin ji,� Suresh said, setting the dustbin in its place. �When should I start cleaning up the house?�
�Doesn’t Priya want your help with anything?� Mother asked.
�Yes, malkin ji. But�� Suresh swallowed hard. �Isn’t the house a little too dirty?�
�Shut up and get back to her!� Mother ordered, pointing away.
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh headed back to the room. Priya was waiting for him as he arrived, hands on her hips and a big smile on her face.
�You tried to get out of it, didn’t you?�
�Not at all, malkin di.� Suresh knelt before her and touched her shoe with his stretched fingers. �I am here to,� he shut his eyes closed, forcing out a tiny droplet of tears, �serve you.�
�Good. Take off my shoes, then.� Priya smiled and pointed at her feet.
�Yes, malkin di.� Suresh went forward and caught the ends of her laces, then pulled them up. He then untied the knot. Priya’s feet were still firm on the ground. He looked up to her with a confused expression on his face. �Umm�what do you want me to do?�
�See? This is good.� Priya said. �You finally understand that you have to do something to raise these feet off the ground, instead of begging me to raise them myself. That is nice.�
�Okay. So, what is it, malkin di?�
�I want you to stick out your tongue.� Priya said. Suresh showed her his tongue. �Now run them across the surface of my jogging shoes. Ten times.�
�What?� Suresh retracted his tongue. �Your shoes? You just came back from a jog.�
�So, they’re dirty. I know.� Priya smiled. Suresh’s head fell on her shoe and began to cry and sniffle. �Hey naukar! You haven’t had your breakfast yet, right?�
�Malkin di, are you implying that this should be my breakfast?�
�Exactly.� Priya’s finger came down, pointing at her shoe. �Lick them and look up to me for approval.�
Suresh stuck out his tongue and licked the center of Priya’s shoe, then sat back up with a bitter taste in his mouth. �Zero.� Priya said, shaking her head. He stuck out his tongue again, and went for a big lick across the left wall of her shoe, coughed in between and sat up. �Zero.� He took a deep breath, gathered his strength and placed his tongue at the stub of her shoe. He ran them across the complete left wall, twisted his head to reach the back. Keeping his tongue stuck on the shoe, he came back in the same route and ran it across the right wall until he reached the back. He came back to the stub, without letting go even once, then licked the laces. He looked up to his sister. �One.� Priya nodded.
Suresh employed his eager tongue all across Priya’s shoes repeatedly until she approved counts of ten for each. She then raised her legs, allowing Suresh to take off her shoes.
�Now, my socks.� Priya said.
�Oh no!� Suresh mumbled.
�The fresh aromas from my morning run.� Priya said, stretching her foot forward into Suresh’s nose. He tried to brush away the stinking feet off his face, but the girl had her way of applying pressure right to his nose. There was no choice but to keep smelling the sweaty sport stockings until Priya put down her legs. �Now, take them off and suck them in your mouth like a lollipop.�
�Malkin di!� Suresh cried.
�What?� Priya smiled.
�They’re�dirty�stinking socks.�
�And I’m ordering you to suck them for me.� Priya stated. �Consider it�dessert!�
�Breakfasts don’t have desserts.� Suresh mumbled, raising Priya’s track pants above her ankles up to her knees, grabbing the sides of her socks and pulling them down for her.
�Ahh, the smell of victory!� Priya said. �I can smell them all the way over here.�
�What victory?�
�You know�,� Priya said. �Passing my courses, coming first in class. Unlike you, who fails in four�?�
�Four at a time. I know.� Suresh said, opening up his mouth and covering the brown bottom surface of her sock with his lips. In a moment, they turned dry. The saliva seemed to abandon him when he needed them. He then took a deep inhale of the stench into his lungs, and felt the brown air clogging up his air sacs even as his big sister laughed away. He grabbed the other side of her jogging pants, raised them up, took out the sock from there and sucked their stench into his lungs.
�Good.� Priya said, getting up after a hearty laugh. �Let’s go into the bathroom.� She walked across the hallway, towards the back door and turned right towards the bathroom, followed on all fours by her little brother. �We are going to have our bath together today.�
�Malkin di,� Suresh leapt to her feet. �I respect your authority, I truly do. But your proposition sounds gross.�
�Chee!� Priya kicked his head away. �Dirty fellow. Your head is full of dirty thoughts from watching all those movies and playing those stupid video games. I’m not talking about that kind of combined bath.�
�Oh, okay.� Suresh said, not knowing whether to feel relieved or frightened. He chose frightened.
�You see, I am your malkin.� Priya spread her hands out. �And you are the lowly naukar in this house. So you are going to assist me while I take a nice, long, hot shower.�
�Let’s begin.� Priya said, standing before the wash basin. �Naukar, toothbrush!� Suresh stood up, picked out her red toothbrush from the shelf and handed it to her, but she frowned right into his eyes. �What am I supposed to do with this?�
�Squirt the toothpaste, you stupid naukar!� Priya said. Suresh picked up the toothpaste and squirted some of it on her toothbrush before handing it to her this time. �Good,� her expression turned into a smile in no time. �Now, which one is your toothbrush?�
�The blue one, malkin di.� Suresh said.
�Pick it up.� Priya said, continuing to brush. Suresh did as he was told, then knelt and waited for his sister’s order. He reached his hand out to the toothpaste, but felt Priya’s hand slap him tight. Her fingers ticked left and right; the toothpaste was forbidden. Priya gurgled the foaming toothpaste in her mouth, and spat it all out into the basin. She turned to her brother and smiled.
�Oh no.� Suresh said.
�Oh yes. This is your toothpaste.� Priya announced, with a sense of joy in her tone. �Come on. Let me see you clear it off for me.�
Suresh pushed his thumb and forefinger into his closed eyes, pushing back some tears. He reminded himself that he had been through worse. He dipped his toothbrush into the used toothpaste foam floating around next to the outlet in the wash basin. It felt gross, and somewhat rough and dusty. He then brought the toothpaste before his mouth. The original red color of the toothpaste seemed to have turned into an ugly pink, and was strewn all over his brush. He looked up to see his grinning sister. �Eee,� he opened his mouth and raised his lips, exposing the surface of his teeth for the punishment. The dusty toothbrush landed on his teeth, then moved up and down and left and right, spreading the tasteless liquid all over his mouth.
Priya picked up the toothpaste tube and showed it to him. �This is for people who pass their exams.� Suresh turned down and continued to brush his teeth for a minute. He attempted to stand up and spit it into the wash basin, but Priya’s hands crushed down on his shoulder. The wash basin was forbidden. His sister gestured for him to swallow it up, and he did.
�Good.� Priya said. �Now wash the toothbrushes and replace them.� Suresh washed them in the stream of water and kept them back on the shelf. He turned around to see Priya’s fingers pointing at his dhoti. �Take that off,� she said.
�What? Why?�
�You’re not going to have your bath,� Priya made quotation marks in the air, �fully ‘dressed’ now, are you?�
�No.� Suresh’s head dropped down.
�So take it off and kneel over here.� Priya ordered, pointing to a spot before her.
�You’re going to kick my balls again, aren’t you?� Suresh asked, untying his dhoti and handing it to his big sister.
�No.� Priya smiled, wrapping up the dhoti in her hands. �Not kick.�
�Something else, then?� Suresh asked.
�Shut up.� Priya wrapped the entire length of the dhoti around her little brother’s head, and tied it into a knot. �You can’t see anything now, can you?�
Priya picked him up by his shoulder raised him off his feet, and threw him into the center of the bathroom. Muffled screams emanated from Suresh’s mummified face as he fell under the shower, his elbows nearly cracking into two at that point. Priya took off her shirt, then her jogging pants and set them both aside. Dressed in her bra and panties alone, she slowly stepped one foot on her brother’s lower leg. Suresh twitched under her pressure, but Priya stepped her other foot on his knees. With a loud scream, he realized where she was going with this, where her foot would land next. He brought together his little hands and covered up his abdominal area, improvising somewhat of a protective dome around them.
The dome proved to be utterly futile. Priya’s heavy feet crashed through them and landed right on his testicles and sunk in between them. His body squirmed and twisted to cope with the pressure, but another heavy foot landed on his chest. He turned still, and so did she. �Hmm,� Priya said, shifting her weight between her legs, crushing his chest one moment, his penis the next. Suresh felt his hands paralyzed, with no plan of defense, no hint of a plan, and no thought of a hint. He simply lay there, taking his sister’s feet on his body letting them rule as they wished.
Priya turned on the shower. The hot water seeped through the little dhoti on his face, making it hard to breathe. Not that she would care at all. She sang her bathroom songs, jumped around and trampled upon his body with no consideration of his delicate areas. She picked up soap, ran it all over her body and allowed the residue water to drip on her little brother as she bathed. Occasionally, she would catch her brother’s testicle between her toes and squeeze them hard, making his head rise up in defense. She would simultaneously crush her other foot on his neck, setting him straight as a doormat all over again.
She then walked away for a bit, leaving the hot water on. Despite the near-boiling temperature of the water, Suresh enjoyed the few moments of peace. As he expected the feet came back on his body through the same route- lower leg, knees and abdomen. Priya had brought in some shampoo, he could tell as much from the smell of the water dripping on his face. Her feet crushed into his belly, which he attempted to tighten instinctively. A minute later, they landed on his elbows and arms, then back to his neck.
The torturous bath continued for over thirty minutes, of soap and shampoo and more soap and more shampoo, culminating with a few rounds of facewash cream. The bathroom was full of hot steam, smelling of a pleasant combination of all those products she used on her body.
�You know,� Suresh tried to speak from inside the dhoti mask. �Baths aren’t supposed to take four hours.�
�Hah! That was just half an hour.� Priya said, checking the time. �I would go on longer, but I have college today.�
�Now,� Suresh pointed to his masked face. �Can this go off or something?�
�Shut up and wait.� Priya ordered. She disposed of her wet bra and panties in a tub, and toweled herself dry. She then picked up a fresh, dry bra and panty pair from the hooks and wore them. She quickly dressed up in her black t-shirt and a short white skirt up to her knees before attending to her brother’s suffocating wet mask. �There you go,� she smiled as she untied the knots, revealing a very angry face.
�Malkin di! You danced on my��
�I know.� Priya said.
�And trampled it with your feet��
�I know.� Priya smiled.
�I could have been killed, you know?� Suresh said.
�You couldn’t.� Priya dismissed him with a gesture of her hands. �Stop complaining. You’re alive now, aren’t you?�
�Barely just.� Suresh said.
�Here,� Priya threw him her used towel. �Dry yourself.�
�But this is wet.�
�Dry towels are for�?� Priya smiled and stopped her sentence midway.
�People who pass their exams.� Suresh bowed down and began to run the wet towel over himself, for no reason other than shame.
Priya picked up her circular comb and began to brush her hair straight. It was a long, complicated process that involved many long minutes before the mirror, grabbing a set of strands from the left and pushing them to the right, demarcating a line in between them, followed by her doing the same thing from the other side, which essentially seemed to cancel out the first set of moves. Suresh could never understand her hair anyway.
�Malkin di?� Suresh said. �What should I wear?�
�The same thing you wore yesterday.� Priya giggled.
�But it’s all wet.�
�Wrap it up in your hands.� Priya instructed. �Now twist it.� A stream of water dropped out of the wet dhoti. �Now, you can wear it.�
Soon, Priya was all dressed up and ready to go. Suresh followed her into the room, and picked up her heavy bag. He escorted her to the Kinetic Honda, opened up the compartment below the seat and packed her bag and lunch basket into it. He closed it shut and handed her the keys. She accepted them with a mocking smile. �Ahh, my new vehicle. I can go to college so quick on this.�
�That’s good for you, malkin di.� Suresh said.
Mother stepped out of the house and gave her a little kiss on the cheek. �Bye, my dear!�
�Bye, ma.� Priya said. She pressed the ignition button, turned on the vehicle and slowly rode out of the house.
Suresh looked up to his mother, who had a longing smile on her face as she watched her daughter ride out. She turned down towards her son, and the smile instantly twisted into a scary frown. �You. Get back inside and fill up a bucket of water. Sweep my house clean.�
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh said, making his way into the bathroom.
On the job training for�failures
Suresh placed a large pink bucket under the bathroom tap and watched as the thin stream of water began to fill it up. Mother entered the bathroom and saw the faucet slowly fill up the bucket. �Grrr,� she said, twisting the tap open harder, but it wouldn’t budge. �The stupid slow taps in this house.�
�Ma�,� Suresh couldn’t give up on his dream, he had to keep going. But Mother returned an angry glance, ��lkin ji.�
�What is it?�
�Priya didi�,� he began but Mother’s hands moved to her hips, �I mean malkin di was so very mean to me just before.�
�Why? What could she possibly have done that you don’t deserve?�
�She took all my expensive video game DVDs and destroyed them by keeping them on my��
�She destroyed your video games?� Mother smiled. �That is nice.�
�Malkin ji, you aren’t listening to me. I was about to tell you how��
�I feel so liberated and free at last.� Mother leaned back, her hands spread apart. �It’s so nice to have only the one good daughter.�
�Malkin ji, she took me to the bathroom and stomped my testi��
�She is going to become a great doctor, isn’t she?� Mother said, closing her eyes and being completely oblivious to her son’s complaints. �I can feel it in my heart. The first doctor in our family. Maybe someday she’ll open up her own clinic.� Her hand went up in the air and made a sort of rectangle. �A big, blue building with four floors. The Priya Center for Healing. Physician: Doctor Priya, M.B.B.S, M.D.�
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh gave up, throwing his head to the edge of the bucket.
�While you,� Mother’s face suddenly turned angry again, �will still be a naukar in this house.�
Suresh’s eyes broke into tears again. He reached for Mother’s feet, rubbed their upper surface with his hands and looked up to her with his big wet eyes. Mother raised her foot and stomped his eyes with her toes, converged them together and crushed him into the wet floor. �Don’t show me your face again. I’ve told you that before.�
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh said, his tongue forced to lick the wet floor.
�Look, the bucket is full you imbecile!� Mother said, kicking his head. Suresh dived to the faucet to stop the flow of water and succeeded just as it filled up to capacity. �You think you can pick up that bucket without spilling the water?�
�I can�.� Suresh checked the filled up bucket, �try?�
�Let me see. Pick it up now.� Mother ordered, pointing at it. Suresh stood up with his legs on either side of the bucket. He caught the bucket’s handle and raised it off the ground. Some of the water spilled to its left and right as the bucket swung in his hand. Soon, he turned around and showed Mother how much water he was holding in the bucket. �Hmph!� Mother shook her head and gave him a hard slap on the head. More water spilled this way and that. �See? That is the right amount of water,� she said, pointing to the bucket in its current state- filled three quarters of the way to its brim. She slapped Suresh’s head again and explained. �I can slap you and no more water would spill.�
Suresh landed with his back in the sharp edge of the faucet. He closed his eyes hard as it jabbed into his spine, but said nothing.
�Pick up that rag,� Mother gestured towards a dusty brown rag that was thrown in the corner. It had seen better days, perhaps in the previous century. Suresh threw it into the bucket and looked up to Mother. �What? You want instructions on how to sweep the floors?�
�No, malkin ji. I’m sorry.� Suresh swallowed. �Just a doubt�in the next round, I would sweep again with phenyl, right?�
�That is right. One sweep with water, one more with phenyl water, then again with water.� Mother said. �Why? What’s your problem?�
�It’s just that the maid servant begins with the phenyl water first.�
�Well,� Mother frowned. �She works here only for two hours a day and she has to sweep other houses during the day. Now,� she raised the sleeve of her nightie up to her elbows, �that’s not true in your case is it?�
�No, malkin ji. I’m sorry.�
�And you don’t want it to be, do you?�
�No, no!�
�Start sweeping in the veranda then.� Mother instructed.
Suresh took the water bucket to the veranda and picked out the wet rag. He threw it to the corner of the room, then got down on his hands and knees and pulled the cloth across the line of tiles on the floor. As he dragged along the line, he felt Mother’s foot on his nape. �Press harder and let more water out on the floor,� she instructed.
�Yes, malkin ji.�
Mother maintained her firm foot on her son’s face even as he cleaned up the floor in straight, sweeping lines. Suresh went from one corner of the room to the other and looked up to Mother for approval. �Good,� she said with a barely discernible nod. �Your head makes for a very nice foot rug.�
� you.� Suresh said. �What about the sweeping, malkin ji?�
�Hmm,� Mother examined the floor. �What is that black thing there?� she asked, pointing at a dark spot.
Suresh’s heart began to explode into his arteries even though he had an answer. �Malkin ji that is part of the floor design��
�Really?� Mother asked, landing her toenail next to the spot and scratching it with the edge of her incredibly strong nail. Suresh watched the little stain intently, his little heart slowing to its normal pace as she scratched away at the black dot a dozen times to no avail, but Mother’s scratching was relentless. She had lived in the house for over twenty years, and believed she knew when something was wrong with her floor. Back, forth, back and forth the toenails went, and eventually, the toenail made its way through the black stain. �What is that?� she asked, pointing triumphantly at the floor.
Suresh pounced to Mother’s feet and kissed her toe. �Malkin ji, I am truly sorry. There are black spots all over the floor so��
�You don’t know the difference between a stain and marble?� Mother asked, kicking his head away. Suresh fought against the push and dived for her feet again. It was his only defense. But this time, Mother kicked his face away with her left foot, throwing him over to the wall. Her right leg rose up in the air and landed square on his nose, bursting them open like a blood balloon. �Clean it up properly.� Mother ordered, pointing at the spot.
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh picked up the rag and rubbed against the little black stain with all the strength he could muster up. He raised the rag- the stain was still there. He pushed it hard to the floor again and went back and forth rapidly, then checked to see that the stain was still there.
�Idiot.� Mother caught his neck, and threw his head into the bucket of dirty water. She then crushed his head into the brown water, drowning him for a few seconds under her powerful feet. Suresh moved his head left and right, searching for any way to get out from under Mother’s foot, but all his attempts proved futile. She let go after a minute of drowning the child. �Now, put your face on that stain.�
Suresh took a deep breath of fresh air, which thus far in his life he never considered a gift. He lowered himself to the floor, until his head was right over the persistent little stain. Mother’s foot crushed him down further, until his wet teeth were right across the stain. She then pushed him back and forth, gripping his hair between her toes and using the mules of her feet to set him in motion. Suresh felt his teeth grind against the floor, and as they crossed over the little stain, they gathered up right in his mouth and sat on his tongue. They had the smell and odor of old paints. Suresh carefully kept the stain at his tongue to avoid swallowing it. He would, perhaps, run outside and spit it out before it killed him but mother’s feet continued to push him back and forth and eventually the stain went up his throat.
�Hmm,� Mother examined the spot carefully. �See? It’s gone now.�
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh said, showing her his teeth with the black stains stuck on them, but Mother couldn’t care less.
�It was one stubborn stain,� she said, pointing to her toenail. �Some of it got stuck inside my nail.� She stepped her foot forward to her son and nodded.
�Yes, malkin ji. I will,� he gulped, �clean it up for you.�
�Get on it, then.� Mother said.
Suresh dived to her feet again. He stuck out his tongue and guided it to the space between her toenail and skin, attempting to hook some of the black stains on the wet surface of his tongue. He ran his tongue across the exposed circumference, but the stains seemed to be moving further behind. Suresh brought his head back to consider the situation for a moment. If he made one more mistake, the stains would go inside Mother’s toe and never come out. Suresh attacked the upper surface of the toenail, to attempt squeezing out the sneaky little specks of old paint. They seemed to move further out of the pink skin and closer to the white exit area, the cap of the toenail. Suresh smiled- he had some sort of strategy here. He attacked the upper surface of her toenail again, harder until the little specks were nearly at the bottom edge of her nail. With one smooth lick, he cleared out all the specks from under her toe and looked up to her for approval.
Mother nodded. �Continue sweeping,� she said in a low tone of voice.
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh said happy to pick up the rag of cloth and get on to, hopefully, easier tasks. He threw the rag back to the corner of the room where he had begun the job and ran a straight line again. This time, he truly felt the surface of the floor and made sure everything was flat and smooth as they should be.
�You like this, naukar?� Mother asked, placing her foot on his head.
�Your foot on my head?�
�No. I mean this.� Mother said. �Sweeping floors, cooking, cleaning. Can you imagine spending your whole life this way?�
�I,� Suresh began, with no clue of how the two word sentence would end. If he said that he wasn’t enjoying the act of sweeping her floor, she would probably pound him to death. In her eyes, he wasn’t fit to be an engineer, so he couldn’t say that he hated being her servant. ��Can!� he finished at last.
�Hmm, that’s good,� Mother said, �because this is your life now.�
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh swept another line on the floor parallel to the first sweep.
�You had only one thing to do.� Mother said. �Study hard, get good marks and become an engineer.� Suresh’s head sunk low again, tears pouring out of his eyes drop after drop. �What did I not provide for you? A nice home- yes. A vehicle- yes. Food and water every single day- yes. A warm bed- yes. All those expensive textbooks, which you wouldn’t rather borrow from the library.� Mother continued, the pressure of her foot weakening on him. �And this is how you repay me. Failing in four subjects.�
�Ma!� Suresh cried, with no plan of retaliation, which was just as well, because the doorbell rang.
�What is the time?� Mother asked.
�11:10 AM.� Suresh reported.
�She’s late as usual.� Mother said, reaching for the upper bolt of the wooden front door and opening it up. She stood in place, with her hands folded together watching the maid-servant Laxmibai taking off her footwear at her doorstep and preparing for her day of work.
The maid-servant was about to enter, when she saw Mother’s angry face, scowling into the soul of her very existence. �Malkin ji,� the maid-servant began. Suresh looked up to her and lit up a bit, he loved hearing those words from another person. �I’m so sorry that I got late. The Murthys wanted me to clean their repainted garage��
�Shut up.� Mother said. �I don’t care why you’re late.�
�Malkin ji, may I please enter?�
�No. Not today.� Mother said. �Laxmibai, you have been late to work every day since I hired you.�
�But malkin!�
�No. I have had enough of your incompetence and your lack of punctuality. Besides,� Mother stepped aside and presented her son. �I have another naukar now.�
Suresh looked up to the maid-servant, wondering whether he should feel proud or ashamed. He chose ashamed, and hung his head low again. �So he is going to do all the work in your house from now on, instead of me?� Laxmibai asked.
�Yes.� Mother said.
�Please, malkin ji, one more chance�� The maid-servant scowled at Suresh. �Wait a minute. Why does he look familiar?�
�That is none of your business.�
�Oh, I remember. He is your son, the one who’s always in front of the computer.�
�Well,� Mother turned to Suresh, �He’s not my son anymore. He’s my naukar.�
�So this is it? You’re firing me?� The maid-servant leapt forth and caught Mother’s feet. Suresh stepped back and watched the woman begging. �Please, malkin ji. I have an eight year old son and I cannot buy him his school notebooks unless I get some money.�
�That’s not my problem.� Mother said. �I will, however, pay you for the work you have done this month.�
�But please, malkin ji. How will I survive without employment?�
�You will find some other household to serve.� Mother said. �We don’t need your services anymore.�
�Malkin ji!� The maid-servant wept at her feet but Mother remained expressionless.
�It’s the fourteenth of April. So I will pay you half your salary.� Mother said, turning away from the crying woman and walking away.
The maid-servant recovered, but only just barely from her fierce cry and sniffed as Mother walked away. She then turned her gaze to Suresh and turned angry. �You have just cost me my job.�
�I�� He shook his head and shrugged. �That wasn’t my intention, Laxmibai.�
�Grrr.� The maid-servant pointed at him with all her fingers. �You filthy boy. What the hell is wrong with you?�
�What do you mean?�
�She says you are not her son anymore.� Laxmibai wiped her face dry. �What on earth did you do?�
�I,� Suresh sank into the ground, �failed four exams.�
�Chee!� Laxmibai said, making an angry gesture with her hand. �Four subjects? That’s what happens when you spend all day with the computer instead of studying your books. Shameless boy.�
�It’s bad enough that I have to hear it from Mother and Priya.� Suresh mumbled, his eyes produced more tears as he turned his face away.
Mother returned, carrying her little white leather purse. �Here,� she said, fishing out a few notes. �450 Rupees for half a month of work.�
�Malkin ji,� she accepted the cash and pleaded.
�I trust you will find some other household to serve.� Mother said. �Best of luck.�
Laxmibai nodded. Mother slammed the door shut.
�What are you waiting for?� she asked her son.
�Nothing. Nothing at all.� Suresh said.
�Get back to work, then!� Mother said.
�Yes, malkin ji.�
Flagellation for�Failures
Suresh picked up the sixtieth piece of clothing, one of Priya’s t-shirts from the giant blue tub and rinsed it in the soap water as Mother stood and watched. He squeezed the water out of it, then rinsed it in a stream of fresh water from the tap, using the wash stone in front of the house. As he twisted the water out of the cloth and clipped it on the crowded clothesline, he felt a certain level of competence at washing clothes, given that he had done the same thing for the past two hours, with Mother watching his every move closely, waiting to punish. He turned to her once the cloth was clipped on, and she gave him a nod of approval.
�See?� Mother said, examining some of the clothes that he’d hung to dry. �You have learned to do your work properly.�
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh said, taking hurried inhales of fresh air as soon as the exhales finished, his deprived lungs disallowing him from taking moment of break in between.
�Maybe you can start to work unsupervised from now on.� Mother said, heading back into the house. Suresh picked up the large tub of clothes and followed her inside.
�I will certainly do my very best, malkin ji.�
�You remember how I was telling you about grandpa’s little memoir?� Mother asked.
Suresh’s eyes grew twice their size within their sockets and turned in all conceivable directions. �Malkin ji. I�truly don’t know what you are speaking of.�
�The long black leather whip my father left for me once he sold his lands and bullock carts.� Mother said. �I want you to find it for me now.�
�Y�yes malkin ji.� Suresh said. �But are you not hungry? It’s 1 PM.�
�I’m not that hungry. I can wait a few minutes for you to find it in the cellar.� Mother said. �I would just like to see it and touch it once again.�
�Oh, I didn’t realize they are so valuable to you malkin ji.� Suresh said.
�But they are my naukar!� Mother said. �The very sight of them reminds me of the fresh village atmosphere, the smell of the fresh dry hay and my father’s farmhouse. It was smaller than the size of your room, and it was made of wood. But we were one tight family�playing around in the open fields with my little sisters, sleeping on a small rug on the floor. Ahh those were much simpler times. Of course, father would make us do a little work on the farm, but we always had enough time for fun.�
�How nice, malkin ji.� Suresh said.
�So you are going to help me find father’s whip in the cellar.�
�I will certainly find it for you, malkin ji.� Suresh gave her a little salute.
�Good.� Mother said, sinking into the couch in the living room. She picked up the remote control, turned on the television and began to watch her afternoon soap operas.
Suresh kept the large tub back in its place, picked up a stool and headed for the dark cellar. He turned on the light and saw the squalid room, full of brown cardboard boxes strewn around with no sense of order. Suresh fell on his knees and looked at the mountain in despair. His very first unsupervised task and this was what he got. He picked up the first little box close to him and saw its label – �Puja�. He set it aside; a whip most certainly did not belong to the Puja category.
He picked up another small box and looked around for its label. �Hardware� was written on it with a black marker pen. He cast aside that box too, and felt some sense of hope. If all the boxes were labeled that well, he wouldn’t have such a hard time finding the whip after all. He moved to the next box- an extremely large carton and saw its label- �Miscellaneous�. He had never hated that word as much as he did in that moment. He opened up the box and peered at the mess inside. It had a bunch of old candle stands, an old mechanical alarm clock- the kind that couldn’t tell the difference between AM and PM, an old telephone with a rotary dial and an old transistor radio set. Suresh unpacked those objects, and the room suddenly became ten times dustier than a few moments back. He closed up his nostrils to prevent himself from sneezing, and continued to grope right inside the box. This looked like the kind of box that could have grandpa’s whip.
�What’s taking you so long, naukar?� Mother asked, remaining seated in her couch.
�Yes, malkin ji. I think I almost found it.� Suresh called out. He pushed his hand into the box through a few other ancient objects and snuck his hand to the bottom, where his fingers felt a plastic cylindrical object. He moved his fingers around it, and felt a slightly softer material, the unmistakable feel of leather. He caught the object and pulled it out of the box until it was fully in his hands- a long, majestic whip. He skipped over the other boxes in the room, leaving the �miscellaneous� box open with the objects tossed around. He turned back to see the extra mess he’d created, in an already messy room and considered for a moment whether he would leave the room that way. This was a cellar. People expect cellars to be dark and messy. But then, when he’d entered the room, everything was in boxes and packages. Besides, this was the first unsupervised task Mother had given him. Earning her trust since the previous evening had become a near-impossibility. He decided to clean up a bit, at least put the room back in its original level of horridity. So he got to work on the objects he’d thrown out of the box and kept them back exactly where he’d found them.
He returned to Mother carrying the whip in his hands. �Here, malkin ji.�
�Wow.� Mother smiled as she took the leather in her hand. As she ran the length of the whip between her fingers, her breath slowed to a slow, peaceful pace. Suresh would never have dream of her being in that state since the last evening. Despite being exhausted from doing all the housework himself for the very first time in his life and deprived of proper food for almost a day, he felt his little batteries heating up and recharging themselves.
�It feels good, malkin ji?�
�It does.� Mother smiled. �I think I remember how to use this thing.� She raised the handle high in the air, and sent the leather flying hard into the ground. The strong leather made a deadly noise as they hit the ground and nearly cracked the marble floor open. Suresh fell to the other side, his limbs flailing and shivering in the air. �What happened to you?� she asked in a matter of factly tone, as if nothing had happened.
�The whip!� Suresh said, fearfully staring at the black leather in Mother’s hands.
�Did it hit you or something?� Mother asked.
�No, but the sound��
�Yes, it does make a nice sound.� Mother smiled. �Now shut up and bring me my lunch,� she said, setting aside her whip.
�Y..yes malkin ji.�
�We have only the rajma for now, right?�
�Yes, malkin ji. Priya wanted that for all three meals.�
�Oh, the girl does love her rajma.� Mother said. �Me, not as much.�
�Should I cook something else, malkin ji?�
�No. I’m feeling a hungry now so I can’t take the time to teach you something new at this time. Go make me four rotis and serve them with the rajma.�
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh bowed down and left for the kitchen. His hands immediately went for the dough and the frying pan, but he stopped himself for a moment. There was a packet of papads lying in the shelf. Suresh picked it up, untied the knot and smelled them- they were very fresh indeed. A brilliant light flashed in his head- he was going to create a fresh, new lunch for Mother using the same ingredients.
He picked up a large tray from the shelf and placed it next to the stove. He then picked up the metallic tong, turned on the stove’s low flame and placed one of the papads between the tips. As he moved the papad over the flame, their surface began to pop, becoming crispy, the color turning into a brownish cream with black spots. With swift, planned movements, Suresh managed to prepare four papads from the packet crisp and ready for Mother to eat.
He placed all four papads on the tray, then began to split the crispy circular appetizer into little rectangular pieces of about two inches in size each. He picked up some rajma and gravy from the cooker, and carefully poured one spoonful of it on all the little pieces. Once he was done decorating all the pieces of papad, he picked up an onion from the vegetable basket and cut it into little pieces. The fumes from the freshly cut onion made him cry, but he had a smile on his face, like an artist performing his meticulous activity. He then sprinkled some lemon and coriander leaves over the crispy pieces and picked up the tray. The smile on his face got even bigger and brighter as he walked into the living room to serve Mother.
�What is that?� Mother asked, looking at the huge tray. �I only asked for four rotis.�
�Yes, malkin ji.� Suresh said, presenting the large tray to her. �But you also said that you were bored. So I improvised a rajma papdi chaat for you.�
�Why would you do such things without asking my permission?� Mother asked, closely examining the crispy pieces on the plate.
�Malkin ji, I was only trying to go the extra mile for you.� Suresh said, diving to her feet and kissing the ground in front of them.
Mother placed her foot on his head and stuffed one of the little pieces into her mouth. �Hmm,� she said, sounding somewhat delighted with the taste of his product. �Somewhat tangy and spicy at the same time. What did you put on this?�
�Coriander leaves, onion and lemon, malkin ji.� Suresh loosened his neck and allowed his head to settle under Mother’s feet. Never in his life had he felt so safe, warm and protected.
�This is actually nice.� Mother said, munching up a few more pieces of the strange papdi chaat and approving of her naukar by pressing her feet harder on his head. Minute later, she removed her feet from her son’s head and took a deep breath. �Suresh?�
He sat up with his hands joined and tears of joy in his eyes. �You called me Suresh?�
�I most certainly did.� Mother smiled. �Here, you can have these few pieces.�
�You are letting me eat food?� Suresh asked, his eyes dancing over the last quarter of Mother’s meal.
�I am full. Plus, you have done well as my naukar. So you can have it.� Mother said.
�Thanks, ma.� Suresh said. Mother smiled back, with no reprimand for calling her ‘ma’. Suresh picked up two pieces of the chaat in his two hands and stuffed them into his mouth one after the other, even before they were down his throat. His hands were in a desperate race against his mouth, as they reached for more pieces and his mouth was chewing them as rapidly as was humanly possible. He soon finished the meal and kissed Mother’s feet. �Thanks again, ma.�
�My pleasure, son.� Mother said.
Just then, the telephone rang. �Fetch me the cordless phone,� Mother ordered. Suresh stood up and sprinted for the cordless phone, picked up the receiver, and made a dive back to Mother’s feet to hand it over to her. She began to converse on the phone while Suresh cleared the papdi chaat tray. �Hello? Oh, Sushma ji. How are you? How is Roshan ji?�
Suresh returned to his place before Mother’s feet and sat down to watch her expression turn angrier every instant.
�Oh, Suresh?� Mother asked on the phone. �He� ummm�he fared very badly in his exams Sushma ji,� she said, the sadness from the previous evening returning to her face. �Let us talk about it in the evening. You are visiting us today, aren’t you? Oh, is it? Little Anita got first rank in the university? My goodness! She’s such a delight, isn’t she?� A tear stumbled out of Mother’s eye as she heard the news. �That’s �wonderful. Oh, you will bring sweets? I will look forward to that.� Mother was now scowling at Suresh, who picked up her feet and began to rub them like his life depended on it. �Bye Sushma ji.� Mother ended the conversation and turned her burning expression towards her son.
�You heard that, naukar?� Mother asked.
�I did, malkin ji.� Suresh said, pushing out four drops of tears from his eyes.
�Anita got first rank in the university.� Mother said, her lips containing a smile and her eyes broken into a cry. �First rank. In the university.�
�I heard, malkin ji.� Suresh’s head sunk into the floor.
�And you? I couldn’t even bring myself to tell her about your results.�
�Please, malkin ji. I spent all day working to get your trust��
�Shoo!� Mother said, kicking his head away. �I can’t believe I allowed someone like you to eat lunch in my house.�
�Malkin ji, please!� Suresh headed for her feet again, but they were in perfect position to kick him off.
Mother picked up grandpa’s whip and stretched it out, end to end, in her hands. �You are a disgrace to our family.�
�No, not the whip. No, please no, malkin ji.� Suresh felt crippled, his hands raised up in the air shivering this way and that.
�Not only that, you are a disgrace to Indian engineers. And to humanity everywhere.� Mother said, raising the whip’s handle high in the air.
�No!� Suresh made a break for it, turning away and trying to get on his feet but before his knees could straighten, he felt a length of leather cut through his spine. He dropped to the floor, twitched and turned around spilling his blood everywhere. The whip came flying in to his body again, this time landing between his ribs. They appeared to break their way into his heart as they penetrated much of his skin. The whip went back, only to come soaring into his legs again, cutting them open like a fresh melon. Suresh landed on the floor, his arms and legs spread wide apart, with his head facing up to the brown fan on the white ceiling but all of that converged into a black void as he lost more blood to the leather. Three hours later, Suresh felt a hard boot sole on his face. �Wake up, naukar!� Another boot tried to barge its way into his mouth, but there wasn’t enough strength in him to even open them. �It’s me, your malkin di.� Priya’s mocking voice rang across his consciousness. He opened his eyes and looked up to the girl, standing over him dressed in her smart little jeans skirt and black shirt. He looked to his sides to see Priya’s legs, dressed in gigantic boots all the way up to her knees. �Wake up. Otherwise who’s going to remove my boots for me?�
Suresh blinked his eyes open and saw where he was. The floor felt somewhat wet. He turned around to see that he was in the bathroom. �Why am I here��
�Because I wanted to wake you up.� Priya said. �So you can start serving me.�
�Your college bag,� Suresh pointed at her shoulders.
�Yeah. I just returned from college. It’s 5:30 PM. I was able to come back really quick on the Kinetic Honda.� Priya shook herself left and right.
�But your bag is still on your shoulder.� Suresh pointed out. �You picked me up and threw me in the bathroom even before you removed the bag from your shoulders.�
�Yup.� Priya said. �You ask such dumb questions, naukar! Are you awake and ready to serve now?�
�No, malkin di. Please just give me a minute.� Suresh pleaded, trying to move back.
�Hey, you are the naukar in this house. I can’t just give you one whole minute whenever you want,� she said, picking up a large blue bucket full of tap water next to her that she seemed to have prepared for that very answer of Suresh’s. She raised it high above her brother’s head.
�Malkin di! No, please! How much water does it have?�
Priya turned it over its edge and spilt over the full bucket of cold water on Suresh’s half-naked body and his dhoti. �Filled up to the brim!� Priya laughed.
Shopping for�failures
(A key of Hindi words used in this story:
Kaka = uncle. And, by the way, the Indian �Uncle� refers to any older man, whether related by blood or not.)
Suresh shivered and twisted on the wet bathroom floor, after being treated to a tub full of water by his elder sister. He shook some of the cold water off his face and looked up to her smiling and waiting for him to sit back up, with her hands folded so he eventually did. �Awww,� Priya began, with a sad face, �look at you, all cold and wet. It seems like you need a nice, dry towel.�
�That would be nice, malkin di.� Suresh said, letting out a few tears from his eyes as a sort of defense mechanism against the cold water.
Priya picked out a towel from the shower rod and held it over her brother’s head. �Here, take it!�
Suresh took the towel from her hand and continued to look at her, shrinking his eyes. �Something is fishy. You wouldn’t just hand me a towel like this.�
�It’s not for you.� Priya smiled. �My boots got all wet throwing this water on you. Sit straight and dry them up for me,� she said, pointing to her legs, covered with sharp stiletto boots.
�Y�yes malkin di.� Suresh straightened the towel in his hands and wrapped them around his sister’s�boots. He then ran them over their complete surface, quickly drying off the bit of water left on them. He looked up to her, and she replied with a nod and pointed to her other leg. Suresh spread the towel over the other boot’s shiny leather surface and dried it up for her.
�Good boy.� Priya said, raising her legs and checking how well dried they were. �Now you can have that towel.�
�Oh, thanks malkin di.� Suresh said, opening it up to spread it over his chest.
�Hey, I didn’t mean that you could dry yourself with that.� Priya smiled. �I want you to coil it up in your hands.� Suresh caught the edge of the towel in his right hand and twisted the length of the towel over it, until it turned into a coil. �Now keep that on your head,� Priya said.
�Why? Wait�, I get it.� Suresh placed it on his head. �The dust from your boots should be on top of my head.�
�Not exactly.� Priya said. �Follow me to my study, I’ll show you.� She walked into her room, cast aside her bag and pointed to the large cardboard box containing all of Suresh’s textbooks and clothes. �You are going to carry that box on your head for me, and you can use that towel to help balance it.�
�Why? Why would you make me carry that carton?�
�We,� Priya smiled, �are going to the raddhi�wala and we are going to sell away all of it.�
�Oh no!� Suresh got down on his knees, joined his hands together and cried. �Please, my malkin ji. I’m wearing nothing but a dhoti. People will laugh at me.�
�That’s the point.� Priya said, winking at him.
�Please, malkin.� Suresh bowed down, touching his forehead to the stub of her boots. �P�please.�
�Pick up the box and get moving.� Priya ordered.
�Please, malkin didi. Everyone on the street would know that I’m a naukar.� Suresh pleaded. �Besides, the raddhi�wala would come over to our place if we call him.�
Priya shrugged her shoulders and smiled. �I know.� With a blinding buildup of tears within his eyelids, Suresh sat next to the box and tried to catch its diagonal corners with his little hands. He hoped and prayed that he was much too small to pick up the box and that his hands wouldn’t reach the corners, but they did. He raised the heavy carton off the ground and held it on his stomach. In a single rapid motion, he shifted his hands from the sides of the box to its bottom, after which he easily placed it on the towel over his head. Priya laughed. �Now I know why the vegetable mongers keep towels on their heads.�
�Yeah.� Suresh breathed. �That’s so very funny.�
�Come on, let’s go to the raddhi�wala.� Priya said, walking out of her room, across the living room, and out of the house through the veranda.
�I don’t get footwear?� Suresh asked.
�Of course not.� Priya said. �Just balance the box very carefully.� She opened the front gate and walked out into the street, a mud road which had sharp pieces of gravel on a grainy bed of sand. Suresh stepped one foot into the sand, and felt like a dozen bare syringes poking into his feet. The weight of the monstrosity on his head seemed to crush itself down heavier on the hot, sharp gravel and sand, poking a few tears out of his eyes, which evaporated almost instantly in the hot summer sun. He took a few more steps on the sand and attempted to get used to it. After all, he said to himself, the raddhi�wala’s outlet is at the corner of the street.
A few yards later, Priya led Suresh into a little playground right in the middle of the street where little kids half�his age were playing cricket, or what they called �bat-ball.� They had a little wooden cricket bat, which had long since lost its original shape, a little rubber ball and three stumps of unshaved, uneven wood with doubled as stumps. The bowler stopped himself in the middle of his Anil Kumble�style graceful action, and stared at the young man dressed in a dhoti, balancing the large box on his head. �Hey Rohit! Sudeep! Look at that guy!� he said, pointing and laughing. The batsman and the two fielders turned to look at Suresh carrying the box on his head and began to laugh themselves. All Suresh could do was stand still and wait for the laughing to finish.
�Oh my God! He’s hilarious!� The batsman dropped his bat aside and employed his hands and belly and cheeks into a bellowing laugh.
�Hey, wait! I actually know this guy. He’s that geek who got into the National Institute of Technology!�
�That’s right, kids.� Priya walked towards the kids and stroked their hair. �He used to be my brother Suresh.�
�Wow. What has happened to him?� One of the kids asked. �What is Mr. Brainiac doing carrying that big box?�
�He failed in his exams.� Priya declared. She watched the kids as they suddenly turned serious. �He spent too much time playing games, and now Mother turned him into a naukar.�
�Oh�� the bowler placed his hands on his head. �My mother kept telling me that if I don’t study, I would end up like��
�Him?� Priya smiled and pointed at her brother, who had his head hung low and tears bursting out of his eyes. �That’s exactly what will happen if you don’t pass. School is the most important thing in the world!�
�Umm�Rohit!� The batsman gestured to a fielder. �Have you studied for the science test tomorrow?�
�I thought I had,� the boy replied, looking at Suresh. �Bu�But I’m not completely thorough. I think we should go back home and study some more.�
�You probably should.� Priya nodded. �Maybe you all should.�
Suddenly, the little game of cricket ended and the kids scampered back home. �See?� Priya smiled at her brother. �You’re a good example. You inspired four kids today.�
�Shut up,� Suresh mumbled as he cried.
�Let’s go. We’re halfway there already.� Priya said, gesturing him to follow her further down the road. Suresh did, and soon, they were at the bottom stair of the little dingy building where the raddhi�wala�ran his little shop. �Set the box down,� she ordered and Suresh was but happy to obey. �Let’s open up the box now.� Priya said, checking up to see that the raddhi�wala�was still out of sight. Suresh tore the cello tapes�off the box and opened the top, to see all his clothes and engineering books placed in it. Priya opened up the box further and examined the contents. �How much do you think the raddhi�wala will give me for this?�
�I suppose five hundred rupees.� Suresh estimated.
�I thought so too, but I want at least seven hundred.� Priya thoughtfully locked her lips close. �Hmm�� She looked around, her hands stuck to the bottom of her chin. �Ahh, I got it.�
�You got what, malkin di?� Suresh asked.
�How to get more money.� Priya smiled. �You are going to go into his shop all alone and you’re going to cry like you did in front of those kids. You’re going to tell him that you are running out of the house and you need extra money for survival.�
�But why?� Suresh asked.
�I want more money for your stuff, and this is how we’re going to do it. Come here.� Priya said, pointing to the floor before her. Suresh knelt before her and showed her his face. Priya’s hand went up in the air and delivered a nasty slap to his cheek. She grabbed him and slapped him eight more times, as hard as she possibly could. She then stepped back and smiled.
�Why, malkin di? Why on earth would you slap me?� He cried.
�To make you look really homeless.� Priya laughed. �Now go inside and beg him with those big tears in your eyes.�
Suresh picked up the box and headed into the little shop. He made his way past the little corridor at the entrance and reached the raddhi�wala, who was sitting in the corner of his shop listening to his radio. �Yes?� he got up as soon as he saw Suresh.
�Gopi�Kaka?� Suresh said, placing his box on the counter. �I want to sell you all this stuff.�
�Okay, but why are you crying?� He asked.
�I am running away from my home, Gopi�kaka. My family never accepted me for who I was��
�Oh�� Gopi�had a concerned look on his face as he examined the box contents. �This is worth around five hundred and fifty rupees.� Suresh constricted his throat and pushed more tears out of his eyes as he heard the number. �But since you are running away from home, I will pay you some more.� Gopi�kaka said.
�How much can you pay me for all this, kaka? Brand new shirts and pants. Engineering textbooks that are almost untouched��
�Okay. Someone had asked me for engineering textbooks yesterday, and was willing to pay almost full price. I will give you the best offer – two thousand rupees for all this.� Gopi�kaka said. �That’s as high as I can possibly go. Happy?�
�Y�yes kaka.� Suresh said, wiping out the tears.
�What happened anyway?� Gopi asked, his hands going into his little drawer for the cash.
�I failed in my exams, kaka.� Suresh explained. �I think my Mother and Priya will kill me now.�
�Oh, you poor kid.� Gopi said. �I’m familiar with that feeling. I couldn’t pass my tenth standard, too.�
�But I was in engineering�� Suresh wanted to say. The neurons had nearly carried those words up to his mouth, but stopped short. He simply accepted the fat wad of cash and headed out of the shop. �Thank you, Gopi�kaka!�
Priya had a bright smile on her face as he climbed down the steps to report to her. �My plan worked, didn’t it?�
�It did, malkin di!� Suresh said. �He gave me four times the market price. But I do feel guilty about lying��
�Shut up.� Priya stopped him. �Where is the cash?� Suresh showed it to her and she plucked it off his hand. �Right. Let’s go home now. I will probably buy the skirts tomorrow.�
�You,� Suresh shook his head and looked into his sister’s eyes.
�Me what?� Priya smiled.
�You are pure evil!� He blurted out in a single breath.
�You think so?� Priya said, grabbing the edges of her belt around her waist. �You are going to follow me back home on your hands and knees just for saying that.�
�Please, malkin di!� Suresh landed at her feet and begged. �And why are you taking off your belt?�
�I am going to use it as a leash around your neck.� Priya explained, putting the belt around her brother’s little neck and strapping it to a tight close. Suresh choked a bit from the tight pull. �You called me pure evil? Look at you now. You’re a human pet.�
�Please, didi�� Suresh tried to speak but felt the tug of the belt in Priya’s hands. �Awk�� he choked and dropped to Priya’s boots.
�Follow me and shut your mouth.� Priya said, pulling him across the street. Suresh quickly got on his hands and knees and kept pace with Priya’s legs as she crossed the street, into a little shop.
�Where are we going?� Suresh asked.
�We’re going home, but first we make a short stop at Ramu�kaka’s�shop.� Priya giggled. �That rhymes, doesn’t it? Short stop at Ramu�Kaka’s Shop.�
Priya stepped into the modest little shop and tapped the metallic lids of one of the mint candy jars. A curtain of beads opened up and the very large, pot-bellied Ramu�kaka emerged from behind them. �Oh, Priya ji. Namaste!�
�Namaste!� Priya said. �Ramu�kaka, I have always wanted to ask you a weird question.�
�Tell me, Priya.�
�There’s a house in this compound right there.� Priya said, pointing to a little green house attached to the shop.
�Yes, that is my house.� Ramu�kaka said.
�And that little cart over there,� Priya pointed to a wooden cart in the compound. �What is that?�
�It’s a hand-driven rickshaw.� Ramu�kaka laughed, placing his hands on his pot. �My father used to run around town carrying passengers on that thing for a living.�
�I would have guessed that it was your father.� Priya said, gesturing to his belly. �Now, is that cart on sale?�
�Umm.. why would you�? I mean, it’s such an old fashioned mode of transport. Besides, you would have to have someone pushing it wherever you want to go��
�I do, Ramu�kaka!� Priya smiled. She stepped aside and pointed to her brother with his hands and knees on the ground, dressed in a dhoti. �This is my naukar.�
�Wow.� Ramu�kaka shifted his glasses up and peered at Suresh. �I thought that was a dog or something.�
�It’s something like a dog.� Priya laughed. �It sits at home and cries all the time. So, anyway can I buy that cart from you?�
�Okay, sure.� Ramu�kaka. �You can buy it. Name your price!�
Priya looked at the wooden cart and raised her eyebrow. With the biggest smile, she joined her hands together and asked, �Zero?�
�Oh, dear.� Ramu�kaka laughed. �I’m afraid not. It’s at least three hundred rupees.�
�Three hundred? Okay.� Priya pulled out the wad of cash in her pocket and gave him three notes. �There you go, Ramu�kaka.�
�Thank you, my dear.� He said in a formal tone and placed the cash in his drawer. �You can make him�or ‘it’ take out the cart yourself?�
�Yes, Ramu ji. I will make ‘it’ take out the cart.� Priya nodded, smiling at her brother. �Come, my little donkey. Start pushing the cart for me,� she said, slapping Suresh’s head.
Suresh opened up the compound gate, held the rickshaw’s handle and pushed it forward. It wasn’t nearly as hard as he’d expected, so he was easily able to get it out of the house and in front of the little provision store. He felt his shoulders sagging from the weight of the cart. Priya stepped out of the shop and smiled at him as he held up the cart for her to sit on.
�This is just wrong.� Priya said.
�What is it, malkin di?� Suresh asked.
�You are smiling. Tell me what’s going on.�
�I saw you in the shop, trying to flirt with Ramu�kaka.� Suresh whispered, smiling a bit.
�Well,� Priya turned back to the fat man and back at her brother. �It’s not called flirting. I was just trying to get out of paying him for this thing. I guess he’s too old for me to try such things on him.�
�Hah!� Suresh shook his head. �You just won’t admit it. You’re not as good a flirt as you think you are.�
�Shut up.� Priya said, biting her lower lip in a soft smile and shrinking her eyes. �I don’t think you realize how much of a predicament you’re in right now. You are like one of grandpa’s bullocks, which had to ride him wherever he wanted to go.�
�Yeah, I get that.�
She raised her shirt slightly and revealed a twisted length of leather under them. �Plus, I’ve got the tools��
�Oh no! Not grandpa’s whip!� Suresh said. �Mother beat me with it today. I have welts all over my chest,� he said, pointing to his bare chest and crying. �Malkin di, please!�
�So you’re going to shut up and ride me wherever I want to go.� Priya declared.
�I will, Priya. I will take you home. Just please don’t hit me with that whip.�
�Oh we aren’t going home yet.� Priya smiled. �There’s one other little stop I wish to make, now that I have new means of transportation.�
�Oh no!�
�Let me climb onto this, first.� She stepped one boot on a wooden rung, then used her hands to climb into the rickshaw’s carriage. She sat herself comfortably on the little seat at the back and unhooked the whip from her skirt. �We are going to make a little stop at Guru’s boutique first.�
�But that’s like one kilometer away!� Suresh said, glancing behind at his sister.
�Is that going to be a problem?� Priya giggled, pulling out the full length of grandpa’s whip in her hands.
�No, no! Not at all, malkin di.� Suresh turned the cart around on its wheel and began to ride his sister to the shop. As he ran, his feet kept on landing on the sharp gravel and the sand. He would quietly hiss in agony, and turn around to see Priya smiling and enjoying her comfortable ride on the back. He turned forward and pushed forth, like he had blinders on his head, for looking at his big sister would only serve to increase his pain. He pushed the cart past a few houses on the street, amidst several amused onlookers, before they came to a fork on the road.
The leather from grandpa’s whip landed next to Suresh’s hand. �Left!�
He turned back to her with his tear-filled eyes. �You can just say left instead of doing that.�
�Shut up!� The whip landed dangerously close to his hands on the handle again. Suresh ran harder, driving the rickshaw through the crowded streets until he finally reached Priya’s favorite little boutique. ‘Guru’s Shope,’ the display in front of the read. Gururaj, or just ‘Guru’ as he was known in the neighborhood, was the son of a wealthy businessman, but wasn’t very educated himself. Guru jumped off his chair and stood before the shop even as Priya got down from the rickshaw carriage. He ran towards the carriage, his long hair shaking left and right as he approached the girl. Priya offered her hand, and Guru quickly took it into his, helped her get off the carriage and bowed down as her boots hit the ground.
�Behold! My favorite customer in the universe,� Guru said, kissing her hand.
�Thank you.� Priya blushed, forefinger on her cheek.
�I have acquired a fresh new shipment of skirts and ladies’ t-shirts from London, just for you.� Guru said, escorting her to his shop’s door.
�Oh, that’s wonderful. I know I can always count on you, Mr. Guru.� Priya said, lowering her head and stepping in through the door. Guru paused for a moment instead of following her and turned behind to see Suresh parking the wooden rickshaw.
�Who are you?� he asked, examining Suresh’s face. �You look familiar.�
�I’m her younger brother.� Suresh said.
�Really? Then why are you wearing a dhoti and pushing a rickshaw for her?�
Suresh’s head dropped low again- there was no getting over the shame of it all. �I failed in four subjects in my engineering.�
�Four?� Guru smiled and ran his fingers through his bushy hair. �Four examinations? Wow.�
�I know.� Suresh pushed out more tears from his eyes. He had been crying so much for so long, that his eyes could simply produce more on cue.
�And how come there’s no resemblance? I mean, you’re so �you know� and she’s so�you know�� Guru said.
�What, tall? Cruel? Ugly?�
�Ugly? Man, she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life!� Guru said.
�Her? Beautiful?�
�What’s her story, man? Does she have a boyfriend or something?�
�You�actually like that girl?�
�I think I’m in love with her, man. I spent half my money on tiny little skirts that only she would buy and now I have to report a loss to my father.� Guru said. �Dude, I love her. Tell me whether she has a boyfriend.�
�She’s had like four of them last month.� Suresh said. �Goes from one guy to the other with no consideration for their feelings��
�Wow.� Guru said. �I would love to be with her. Even for two hours. That would make life worthwhile, man.�
�Can you tell her that I love her, man?� Guru asked. �Please?�
�I’ll let her know.� Suresh nodded.
�Thanks, man.� Guru said.
Priya came out of the shop, carrying four garments-�two t-shirts navy blue and a v-necked white one, plus two tiny little skirts, one plain red and one glimmering white with black stripes. �Your collection was simply outstanding, Guru,� she reported. �But for now, these are all I can afford.�
�Aww, that’s okay.� Guru said. He picked up a pad and wrote down the names and prices of her items, then handed her a bill for 2400 rupees.
�2400?� Priya asked, hands on her head. �I don’t have so much now, Guru.�
�Well,� Guru stretched his collar and swallowed a bit. �But I didn’t tell you. Today is�umm�Good Friday!�
�That was last month��
�No no. It’s a good friday in general. My father’s fiftieth anniversary.� He said. �You, my esteemed customer, will get a 15% discount today!�
�Oh!� Priya’s eyes turned down. �I still can’t afford it.�
�Twenty�� Guru began. Priya shook her head. ��five�� Priya still shook her head ��seven�� Priya continued to shake her head. ��eight.� She finally nodded. �28% discount for you!� he announced.
�Wow!� Priya said. �That matches exactly with what I had in my pocket! 1700 Rupees!�
�What a coincidence!� Guru said. His lips had a smile, but his eyes were full of fear.
�Wow, this must is the best clothes shop in the universe!� Priya stretched out her hands to give him a little hug. �And you are the greatest shopkeeper.�
�Hehe.� Guru giggled, staring at the cash in his hands. �I guess I am.�
�Thanks, Guru. I don’t know how I could properly thank you for your wonderful discount.� Priya said.
�There is�one thing.� Guru said.
�Tell me.�
�Priya ji. Can I have your phone number, so I could�maybe�?�
�Sure!� Priya said. �Write down. 9876543210.�
Guru scribbled rapidly with his pen. ��210. Got it. Thank you, Priya.�
�You’re welcome! Bye!� Priya said, gesturing for her brother to pick up the wooden rickshaw again. Suresh did, she climbed on to the carriage and took off towards home.
�The dude wanted me to tell you something�� Suresh began.
�That he’s in love with me?� Priya smiled. �I know.�
�I can’t believe he wrote down that fake phone number. Haha. All the numerals in reverse order.� Suresh said, as he continued to push the cart home. �He’s actually going to call up that number and get an error message. Such idiots.�
�Are you implying that only idiots would have a crush on me?� Priya asked. �I have tons of smart, handsome guys fall in love with me all the time. There’s hardly any guy I know who doesn’t have a crush on me��
�Other than gross, old people I don’t even want.� Priya specified. �You’re my brother so you can’t see it. I’m the most beautiful girl in the world.�
Suresh turned back to her for a moment to observe�carefully. He saw her brown glimmering hair flowing down her shoulders, her dazzling symmetrical face, her happy smile, and the revealing clothes that adorned much of her body. �You certainly are the proudest girl in the world,� he concluded. �The only reason guys are attracted to you would be your clothes. You dress very�you know�provocatively.� Suresh said.
�And I make it work.� Priya said. �I wear revealing clothes because I have stuff to reveal. I keep myself in perfect shape all the time, and�chee why am I telling you all this. You’re just my naukar.�
�Yes, yes. We’re almost home so there’s no reason to get all angry on me.� Suresh said.
�When have I ever been angry with you?� Priya asked. Suresh turned back to see her genuine smile and began to scan through the memories since yesterday evening. It was true- she was never angry with him. �Anyway, we’re just in time.� Priya said as they turned towards their home’s gate.
�Just in time for what?� Suresh asked.
�The Roshans are coming over in ten minutes.� Priya laughed. �I can’t wait to hear what they say about your engineering results.�
(A key of Hindi words used in this story:
Beti = daughter
Rasgulla = a delightful sweet from Orissa. Has white balls made of dough drowned in sugar syrup.)
As Suresh stood before the stove, watching the five glasses of water he’d poured into the pan boil along with ten spoons of tea powder, he felt their warm breath wash over the skin of his neck. Mother and Priya stood behind him and watched carefully as he prepared the tea for five.
�Ma?� Priya began. �Why is he making tea for five?�
�Roshan uncle, Sushma auntie and Anita are coming over.� Mother said. �Plus you and me.�
�And how did Anita fare in her examinations?� Priya asked, with a smile across her lips.
Suresh turned back to her with eyes burning in hot, red flames. �Didn’t I tell you that already?�
�Shut up. I asked Mother.� Priya said.
�Anita,� Mother bowed down and shook her head, ��came first in the university. She’s a rank student, Priya.�
�Wow. She’s just like me, isn’t she?� Priya blushed. �First rank in the university.�
�Yes, my Priya.� Mother said, stepping closer to her.
�Are you okay, ma?�
�How can I be okay, Priya?� Mother threw herself into Priya’s arms and began to weep. �My son has failed��
�In four subjects. I understand ma,� Priya said, hugging Mother’s hair and stroking it with her nimble fingers. �That’s right, ma. Cry it all out before they arrive.�
�Yes, Priya.� Mother said, accelerating her weep slightly. Priya patted Mother’s back and shoulders. Suresh turned back to his tea and picked up the metallic gauze filter. He closed his eyes with his fingers as a seal to prevent them from tearing apart.
�Should we get him some clothes?� Mother asked, looking up to Priya with her gleaming eyes.
�No, ma. He’s a naukar now. You have made your decision and you’re going to stick with it.� Priya said.
�Besides,� Suresh mumbled, �Priya didi sold away all my��
Before he could finish the sentence, they heard the blare of a car’s horn as it drove into their compound. �That must be them.� Priya said. �Ma, are you okay?�
�Y�yes Priya. I will wash my face and be there in a moment. You go answer the door.� Mother said, turning around and heading to the bathroom. Priya headed for the front door, unbolted it and opened the door as the family got out of their beautiful black car, a BMW 3 Series Coupe.
�Hi Priya!� Roshan uncle said stepping out of the driver’s seat, dressed in his stunning black suit.
�Hello uncle!� Priya said, raising her hand and waving it above her head. Sushma auntie got out of the front seat, wearing a beautiful green silk sari. Anita stepped out of the back seat, wearing a bright red shirt and a long black jeans skirt.
�Wow, that’s one good-looking skirt!� Priya commented. �Every one of you is so well dressed! How are all of you?� Priya asked, stepping forward to hold the gate open for them.
�We are doing wonderful, Priya beti. How about you?� Sushma auntie said, giving Priya a little hug and a pinch on her nose as she entered the house.
�I’m doing superb, auntie. Top of the world!� Priya said.
�Hi!� Anita said, stepping in behind her mom.
�Hey! I heard about your results. Congratulations, Anita!� Priya said, offering her a handshake.
�Thanks, Priya didi.� Anita said.
Roshan uncle locked the car using its central locking system and stepped in behind the Ladies. �You’re looking sharp!�
�Thank you, uncle.� Priya said, leading them into the living room. �Why don’t all of you sit down on the couch? Mother will be with you shortly.�
�And where should we keep our footwear?� Anita asked, reaching for her shoe.
�Oh, keep them on your feet where they belong.� Priya smiled.
�Thank you, Priya.� Roshan uncle said, taking his seat on the couch, as did the Ladies. Back in the kitchen, Suresh had finished making the tea, and chose to hide behind the kitchen door and eavesdrop for a while.
Mother entered soon after they were seated, with a full smile on her face and dry eyes. �Roshan ji! Sushma ji! How are all of you?�
�Wonderful, Hema ji!� Roshan said. �How about you?�
�Anita beti!� Mother said, opening up her arms to hug the Roshans’ daughter. �I heard about your results. Congratulations! I am so happy for you, beti!� Mother said, hugging her off her seat, stroking her short hair and patting her on the back.
�Thank you, Hema auntie.� Anita said, her hands squeezed into her chest by the auntie’s hug. �Auntie, we�have brought you sweets.�
�Oh,� Mother let go of her hug, allowing Anita to breathe and drop back into the couch. �Where are they?�
Roshan opened up a little tin in his hands and offered the open box to her. �Here you go, Hema ji. Fresh rasgullas from Motilal’s sweet shop. It’s all yours.�
�Wow.� Mother smiled at the delightful balls of dough drowned in sugar syrup. She picked up one of them and popped it into her mouth. She closed her eyes and turned up to the roof, letting out little screams of delight as she savored the sweet melting in her mouth. �Ahh, this is quite sensational. Priya, have you had your piece yet?�
�I did congratulate Anita on her results, ma.� Priya said. �But I am trying to refrain from sweet food.�
�Oh, come on now!� Sushma auntie said. �You’re so thin, you’re almost underweight. Just pop one of them into your mouth and celebrate with us no?�
�Alright, if you insist.� Priya said, picking up one of the smaller balls of dough, keeping it in her hands until the sugar syrup poured out of it after which she popped it into her mouth. �Amazing. Simply amazing.�
�Hema ji, please sit down. This is your home, after all.� Roshan said.
�Yes, yes.� Mother said, settling down on the couch chairs, placed at a right angle to the main body of the couch. �It’s nice to have such a beautiful and successful daughter, isn’t it?�
�It’s truly marvelous.� Sushma auntie said. �But what happened to your son?�
�Oh, Sushma ji. He did very badly in his exams.� Mother said. �He kept on playing video games and browsing on his computer. He couldn’t stop himself even on the day of the exams.� Suresh peeped out from behind his vantage point to see if Mother was crying- she wasn’t.
�Oh, that’s so sad.� Roshan said. �But, how badly did he do? Did he fall down to second class or something?�
�Roshan ji,� Mother swallowed. �He failed in the exams.�
�Failed?� Roshan asked, his eyes opened up bright and wide.
�Failed?� The ladies had their jaws dropped, hands on cheeks.
�Yes.� Mother nodded, looking down at Roshan’s shoes. �He failed.�
�How many subjects?� Anita asked.
��four subjects.� Mother said.
�Oh my God!� Roshan said. �That’s terrible news!�
�I know, Roshan ji.�
�So, he’ll have to prepare for ten examinations during the next semester?� Anita said.
�Actually, we’ve decided not to send him to college from now on.� Mother said. �He’s going to stay in the house��
As Suresh stood behind the kitchen door holding the tray of tea glasses, and eavesdropping on the conversation his face and hands began to shiver as the point of the conversation approached. He decided that he wasn’t going to put Mother in any more pain than she was already feeling. So he stepped out of the kitchen, carrying the tray before Mother could finish her sentence.
�Hello Roshan ji, Sushma ji.� Suresh walked in, with his back bent over as he carried the tray. �Anita, Congratulations. Heard that you’re the rank student.�
�Umm�� The family exchanged glances with each other.
�Here is your tea.� Suresh said, placing the tray on the tea-table. �Here,� he picked up one glass and handed it to Roshan uncle, one for Sushma auntie, one for Anita, then Priya and Mother.
�Suresh?� Roshan asked. �Why are you dressed in a dhoti?�
�Sir, I have come to realize that engineering isn’t for dolts like me.� Suresh said. �Instead, I’m going to work as a naukar in this house. It is but right for me to dress like a naukar.� He knelt on the floor next to the tea-table. �Would you like something along with that tea?�
�Umm�� Sushma auntie shook her head. �Wait, Suresh. Don’t try to change the subject on us. Did you really fail in four subjects?�
�Yes, auntie.� Suresh nodded. �Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Strength of materials.�
�But what happened to you?� Anita asked. �You had got first class with distinction in the last semester.�
�That was last semester, auntie.� Suresh said, bowing down to look at her red shoe. �This one I spent too much time playing video games. I got spoiled by the computer.�
�That we heard.� Roshan said. �But, fail? In four subjects?�
�What can I say, uncle? I’ve been a lazy, irresponsible kid and now I’m paying for it.�
�Oh, dear!� Sushma auntie said. �You are actually the naukar in this house��
�Yes, auntie.� Suresh said. �That’s what I will do. I’ll cook, clean and I do laundry for Mother and the one daughter who can pass her exams��
�That’s a bit�,� Sushma auntie had a confused expression on her face. ��extreme. But then again, I never had a child who failed in four subjects. I cannot imagine what I would do if such a thing happened to me��
�And thankfully, it’ll never come to that,� Mother said, gesturing towards Anita.
�Are these the sweets you brought over in celebration of Anita’s rank?� Suresh asked, kneeling next to the tea-table.
�Y..yeah. You can have them if you want.�
�Oh, thank you so much Anita.� Suresh said, dipping himself into the tin of rasgullas and swallowing one of them. �By God, these are wonderful! Thanks, Anita.�
�You’re welcome,� she replied out of instinct alone.
Suresh dipped further into the tin and had a couple more rasgullas, before he saw Mother frowning at him. �Oh, sorry. It seems that I have overstepped my bounds as the naukar in this house.�
�That’s not a problem�� Roshan said, but Mother nodded to his question.
�I’m sorry,� Suresh said, stepping back.
Roshan uncle reached for Mother’s hand and held it in his. �Hema ji, I do understand your situation. I truly do. But you must allow your son to finish his education nevertheless��
�Roshan ji, we are in a bit of a mess, ever since my husband decided to pursue his MBA��
�He hasn’t been sending you money for a while��
�Ahem!� Priya interrupted with a loud cough. �It seems that you grown-ups have some serious matters to discuss. Why don’t Anita and I go into my room and play for a while?�
�That would be a great idea, yes!� Mother said.
�What are we going to play?� Anita asked, confused.
�Oh it’s the most fun game in the world.� Priya said, escorting Anita out of the room. She slapped Suresh’s head and whispered next to his ear. �Follow us.�
�Yes, malkin di.� Suresh said, crawling behind the girls on all fours.
�Hah! How sweet! He called you malkin di.� Anita observed.
�Of course.� Priya showed Anita to her double-bed and asked her to settle on it, which she did.
�I can’t believe this, Suresh.� Anita said. �Four subjects? What’s the matter with you?�
�I don’t know, Anita.� Suresh’s face crumpled into a cry. �I really don’t know how I could have been so irresponsible.�
�You could have just studied a bit. A little bit, just to avoid these kinds of situations.� Anita said, showing her thumb and forefinger separated by half an inch.
�I didn’t. I know I wasted my time.�
She turned to Priya. �You know, when I met you last year I thought you were the smartest guy I ever met.� Anita said.
�You’re obviously a poor judge of character,� Priya laughed.
�No. I saw him in the lab on the first day. He finished the assigned programs in fifteen minutes, long before any of us could even figure out how to open that stupid C++ editor.�
�Oh, he did?� Priya asked. Suresh looked at the floor and blushed a bit.
�Yeah. And then he went on to program a game of tic-tac-toe. In less than two hours he was done with it.� Anita said.
�That’s cool,� Priya nodded, turning to her brother. �Where he can’t play video games, he’ll make up his own.�
Anita began to giggle with her. �You never appreciate him, do you?�
�I don’t appreciate anybody in my life for having potential. Hey, who the hell doesn’t have potential? It’s all pointless unless you do something with it.� Priya said.
�How very true,� Anita said, her eyes brightening up a bit like she had suddenly accepted the girl as her guru. �If all you ever do is sit and play video games��
�Exactly. Besides, having him around as a naukar in the house has really helped me in my college work.�
�How so?�
�First off, I get the Kinetic Honda. So I can go to college super-fast.� Priya explained. �Plus, I felt so happy after giving him yesterday’s punishment, that I was able to ace one of my unit tests today without even studying for it.�
�Wow. I wish I could say the same about myself. I study like a nerd to score my marks.� Anita said.
�Hmm,� Priya’s face lit up with a huge grin. �I think I know what you need.�
�What? What is it?�
Priya caught Suresh by the neck and pulled him closer. �You don’t have a naukar in your house, do you?�
�We do have a maid��
�I mean someone just for you.� Priya said. Suresh’s head dropped to the floor in despair. �Someone like him.�
�But I’m still the one who has to do the studying right?� Anita said.
�Wait. Let me show you what I mean.� Priya tapped her boots to the floor. �Hey naukar! I want my boots clean. Start licking them!�
Suresh sat up on his knees, stuck out his tongue and dove to Priya’s boots. He licked them at the top, and ran his tongue down to the very bottom of the sharp heel.
�Ewww�� Anita cringed as she watched her classmate at work.
�Now pause,� Priya pushed her finger into Suresh’s forehead as it came back up, as if she were pressing a pause button of a tape recorder. Suresh sat still, thoroughly humiliated before the girls.
�You see what I mean?� Priya asked. �A slave could really decrease your workload.�
�A slave?� Anita smiled as she thought about the proposition. �That is the right word. He doesn’t get paid for his work.�
�And he’ll do anything for you.� Priya said. �Any-thing!�
�Yeah. Girls like us should have slaves.� Anita said. �After all, we are on top of our respective fields. People like Suresh should spend their time being slaves to sovereign beings like us.�
�Exactly.� Priya said, grabbing Suresh’s neck and throwing him to Anita’s shoe. �From now on, you are her naukar too!�
Milk for�Failures
Suresh shook himself and slowly raised his body away to look at the object his head was resting on. It was Anita’s high-heeled red leather shoe. He slowly looked up to see the girl’s head, held up high and proud. He turned behind to see his elder sister laughing at his plight. �Go on,� Priya blew kisses in the air. �Make love with Anita’s shoes, naukar.�
�Anita,� Suresh said, sitting on his knees before her. �You don’t really want me to be your naukar, do you?�
�I most certainly,� Anita glanced at Priya, who nodded her head slightly, �do.�
�Why?� Suresh held up his head in his hands and began to cry. �It’s bad enough that I have to be her naukar,� he said, turning to his elder sister.
�But you see, Suresh. I,� Anita pointed to herself, �am so much better than you.� She pointed to him with all five fingers. �You came last in our class, and I came first.�
�That you did, Anita.� Suresh bowed down to her.
�So I want you to bow down to my feet and hail to my greatness.� Anita said, pointing to her shoe. Suresh placed his hands on either side of her feet and lowered his head to her feet.
�Nah, that’s not the right way to hail someone’s supremacy.� Priya said. �First, sit down straight,� she ordered. Suresh did as he was told. �Now raise both your hands high in the air and spread them wide apart. Yes, something like that. Now, bow down and bring your forehead to her feet.�
Anita giggled as her classmate performed the worship at her feet, pushed her feet forward and gave him more instructions. �Touch your forehead to the stub of both my shoes, one by one. Now kiss each of them thrice.� Suresh kissed her left shoe thrice, then her right shoe thrice. �You were supposed to alternate between them,� Anita specified smiling down at him. �Now you have to do over.�
�Yes, Anita.� Suresh said and quietly kissed her left shoe, her right, left, right, left then right.
�Don’t call her just Anita. Say Anita malkin,� Priya said.
�Yes, Anita malkin.� Suresh said, sitting back on his knees with a long face.
�Aww, why are you so sad? See you’re spoiling everything.� Anita complained.
�I’m so sorry.� Suresh hung his head low, using his tongue to dab away the taste of muck in his mouth.
�You should pray to me.� Anita said. �Tell me how great I am and how useless you are, as you worship me.�
�Please don’t�� Suresh began but saw the two girls waiting with raised eyebrows for him to begin. �Oh, alright. You, Anita,� he raised his hands high and wide apart, �are the greatest person on earth, and I am nothing.� He touched his forehead to her shoes and kissed each of them thrice.
�That’s not convincing enough.� Priya shook her head.
�Oh, come on.� Suresh cried. �This is going too far. So I failed and she passed. That doesn’t mean��
�Oh, but it does.� Anita nodded. �You’ve lost all your rights and you’re going to be nothing but a naukar, and you will remain that way for the rest of your miserable life.�
�Precisely.� Priya nodded. �So you better worship her properly, or I’m going to kick you with these boots,� she said, showing him her heavy leather footwear.
�Okay.� Suresh joined his hands together and closed his eyes. �I’ll say whatever it is you want me to say.�
Priya got off her bed, walked over to her brother and stood behind him. She caught his neck and spoke into his ear. �Address her are the supreme Goddess Anita.�
�My Supreme Goddess Anita.� Suresh repeated. Anita smiled and closed her eyes to enjoy the feeling of a live man praying at her feet.
�You bow before her brilliant mind and dazzling beauty��
�I bow before your brilliant mind and your dazzling beauty��
�And you humbly beg for her blessings��
�And I humbly beg for your blessings��
�Through the dust in her feet��
�Through the dust in your feet��
�Which, if you are lucky enough to get into your mouth��
�Which, if I’m lucky enough to get into my mouth��
�Would empower you for the remainder of your life��
�Would empower me for the remainder of my life��
�For you have lost your student life��
�For I have lost my student life��
�You are nothing but a cowardly failure��
�I am nothing but a cowardly failure��
�And the only worthwhile activity left for you in this life��
�And the only worthwhile activity left for me in this life��
�Is to serve at her divine feet��
�Is to serve at your divine feet��
�Beg her to accept your inferiority��
�Please accept my inferiority��
�At her supreme, sovereign feet��
�At your supreme, sovereign feet��
�By accepting you as her naukar��
�By accepting me as your naukar��
�You will bow down and worship her feet now��
�I will bow down and worship your feet now��
�To prove your willingness and give your life away for her servitude��
�To prove my willingness and give my life away for your servitude��
�Ten times.� Priya said.
�Ninety-one times,� Anita corrected.
�Why ninety-one?� The siblings asked, one confused and one worried more than ever.
�That’s my aggregate this year.� Anita declared. �91%.�
�Wow. So it’s ninety one times.� Priya said.
�Ninety-one times.� Suresh repeated.
�My naukar,� Anita caught his cheek. �I will choose to accept you or reject you once you are done worshiping me 91 times. So you better start off now and hurry up.�
�Yes, my supreme Goddess.� Suresh said, raising his hands up and bowing down to her shoe, then kissing each one thrice before getting back up and repeating it over and over again. As Suresh went on with the worship ritual, Priya walked out of the room for a while. Anita watched him carefully as he did it, counting the number of kisses and bows for each attempt to make sure he wasn’t missing a single step. He was almost halfway done, at around forty, when Priya returned to the room carrying a large black object in her hands. Suddenly, Suresh heard a loud click and a bright flash took over his vision, blinding him completely for a few moments. Slowly, the fog in his eyes cleared and he saw Priya with a large digital camera. �Oh no! What did you do?�
�I took a nice picture.� Priya smiled, taking her seat next to Anita’s and showing her the photograph on the camera’s little LCD display.
�Wow. This is even better than that photo of me receiving a gold medal from the Principal.� Anita laughed. �I am going to show this to everyone in our class.�
�Please, no!� Suresh pleaded.
�Hey, why did you stop worshiping me?� Anita asked.
�Oh, alright. It’s all over anyway,� he said, continuing the worship ritual.
�Does this thing have video recording?� Priya asked, turning the gadget around in her hands.
�Yeah.� Suresh said, �You have to change to video mode by rotating that dial towards the right.�
�Oh, thank you.� Priya said, smiling but confused. �Can you believe he actually gave me instructions?�
�It seems he’s truly given up on everything.� Anita said.
Priya shrugged and began to record a video of Suresh raising his hands in the air, bowing down to the girl, touching his forehead to and kissing her shoes. �Is anyone in your class going to ask where Suresh is?�
�I suppose those two other geeks who play video games�� Anita said.
�But this video will have a big audience. The man who failed in four subjects and lost everything�� The girls giggled and shared a high-five. Soon, Suresh was done worshiping her 91 times.
�Your supremacy.� He said, keeping his head low. �I have bowed down to your greatness 91 times. Will you accept me as your humble naukar?�
�Alright, since you want it so badly.� Anita said, placing her sharp heel on Suresh’s face. She raised the other leg and brought both of her heels on her naukar’s face. She crushed down the heels, and slowly moved her feet back dropping both her shoes on the floor. For a few moments, she allowed her slave to drown in the smell of her stockings. �How do my socks smell?�
�They smell,� Suresh gulped, �delightful.� As he smiled to force-finish the sentence, he heard another click from the camera along with his sister’s all-too-familiar giggle.
�Now,� Anita pointed to her socks, �take them off.�
�Yes, Anita malkin.� Suresh held up her legs and slowly removed the wet nylon stockings, folded them and placed them over the insoles of her shoes.
�My feet are dirty, don’t you think?� Anita asked, wiping her feet on Suresh’s face while randomly pinching pieces of his skin between her dusty toes.
�Well, they are.� Anita said. �So I want you to go fetch me a big bowl of milk along with a large plate.�
�Yes, malkin.� Suresh stepped back, slowly lowering her feet to the ground. He then took a bow and left for the kitchen. He returned carrying a bowl of milk and a plate, which Anita promptly asked him to place at her feet and he did.
�Now,� Anita crossed her legs, �I want my feet washed with that milk.�
�Y..yes malkin.� Suresh said, bringing the plate exactly under her foot and holding it in his hand, with the milk bowl in the other. �May I ask why, malkin?�
�It’s a spa treatment, or maybe it’s a religious thing. I don’t remember exactly.� Anita said. �Anyway, stop asking questions and do your job.�
�Yes, Anita malkin.� Suresh said, pouring some drops of milk on her feet and rubbing them as they spread across.
�You have to do this for me also,� Priya said.
�Yes, malkin di.� Suresh said. He spread the milk evenly across Anita’s feet and rubbed them with a good speed but maintained a gentle touch at all times. Spending the last day at Priya’s feet had given him some competence at the kinds of duties that the remainder of his life would involve, and he made full use of that. He then let a few more drops of milk on her feet and began to massage their bottoms. Anita’s head dropped back in relaxation, as Suresh’s competent, milk-soaked fingers went into the arches of her foot. He soon had every inch of her feet wet, relaxed and clean. �Umm�what do I do now, your supremacy? Your foot is wet with milk.�
�Lick off the milk from her feet.� Priya said.
�It’s common sense. What sort of a dumb question is that, naukar?� Anita asked.
�I�I’m sorry, malkin.� Suresh held her foot over the plate. He opened his mouth and covered her toe completely within its walls. With an agile tongue and a deep breath, he sucked the milk off it. He went back and did the same licking and sucking maneuver for the index toe. Soon, he had all of the toes cleaned up so he mouthed the mules of her foot one by one. He slowly slipped down to the heel and then ran his tongue across the complete upper surface of her foot.
�All nice and clean.� Anita said, wiggling her toes against each other. �Now, do my other foot.� She switched her legs. Suresh moved his plate and bowl to her other side and began to wash them as the girls watched. �He has learned to do a thorough job,� Anita commented.
�Yeah. He has always been capable, but it seems like he needs a bit of punishment to do things the right way.� Priya said.
�Done.� Suresh said kissing the last drop of milk off Anita’s feet. �Your feet are all clean.�
�Okay, come here.� Priya said. �You don’t have to feel all happy and delighted. Both of my feet are still pending for you.�
�Yes, malkin di.� Suresh said, sitting at his sister’s feet. He unzipped her boots and kept them aside.
�Ahh, I can smell them from all the way up here.� Priya pointed to her nose. �Didn’t you clean them up yesterday, naukar?�
�Yes I did, malkin di.� Suresh said, his face squeezing out two tears from his eyes.
�Why do they still smell?�
�You’ve been wearing these heavy boots the whole day, malkin di.� Suresh said.
�Keep my feet on your face.� Priya ordered. Suresh held her smell feet and placed it on his face. �Now stay in that position for five minutes,� she said. Suresh sat and stared away at the clock, slowly ticking away as he felt his sister’s foot get heavier and heavier. Somehow, the stench seemed to get heavier every moment, too. Soon, his lungs felt deprived, his muscles began to weaken from continuous exposure. He shook himself and forced himself to power through it. There were only, he checked the clock, three minutes left.
Priya pulled out her camera and took a picture of her brother’s face with her stocking-clad foot across it. �Smile,� she said, before taking another picture in which she deliberately covered up his mouth in its entirety. Suresh didn’t enjoy the entertainment much, but time did seem to move faster that way. After an excruciating wait, the five minutes were up.
�Malkin di, may I take your socks off and wash your feet with milk?�
�Alright,� Priya said. Suresh got to work, quickly taking off her stinking socks and pouring some of the milk on her foot. With quick, competent rubs, he soon cleaned the stench off her foot and then began to lick and suck on each and every part of her foot and toes to remove the milk from them.
�Now, my other boot.� Priya said. Even as Suresh reached for their zip, she instructed- �This time you can’t unzip it with your finger.�
�How else do I remove them?�
�Mouth.� Priya smiled.
Suresh reached for the boot with his mouth and held the zip between his lips. He moved his face down what seemed like the longest journey, from his sister’s knees to her ankles until they were fully open. Priya raised her foot off them and allowed them to drop aside. Suresh took off the sweaty socks and began to work the foot with the last drops of milk from the bowl. The plate had almost become full of milk at this point, and was a dusty black-brown in color rather than the original white. Suresh quickly sucked and licked off the last drops of milk from his sister’s foot until she wiggled her toes and smiled. �You know what we’re going to order from you next, don’t you?�
Suresh looked around and shrugged.
�Come on, take a good guess.� Anita said, laughing her heart out.
�How come both of you can think exactly the same thing?� Suresh asked, checking around until his eyes landed on the plate of dirty milk. He pointed to it and checked with the girls, his eyes open wide in horror. The girls nodded. �Seriously? You want me to drink this?�
�It’s like holy water.� Anita explained. �Milk from the feet of Goddesses who top their universities.�
�But seriously? This is like poison, malkin ji.� He pleaded with the girls but they said nothing. He picked up the plate. The milk shifted around in a wave. He raised the plate up to his mouth and placed his lips on one end. The girls watched closely and giggled. He closed his eyes tight, opened up his mouth and raised the far end of the plate upwards, pouring out all of its dirty, stinking contents into his mouth, much to the joy of the onlookers.
Redemption for failures
“Do you know what happens on this coming Monday?” Anita asked.
“College starts off again, doesn’t it?” Suresh said.
“Yes it does. Third semester. I will be going back, as will the rest of the class. But you…”
“I understand.” His head dropped low.
“You failed in four subjects.” Anita said, frowning at Suresh. “Four, Suresh. What were you thinking?”
Suresh broke down even before he could finish the dirty milk soaked in the girls’ feet. He looked up to them with a wet windshield, sitting comfortably on Priya’s bed while he knelt before them. “I know that. You don’t have to keep reminding me. Haven’t I enough for that already?”
“Of course I have to keep reminding you.” Anita said. “You’re in one of the best colleges in the country. Nobody has ever heard of results like yours. Chee! Shame on you.”
“I know.” Suresh hung his head low and swiveled left and right. “I’m a failure.”
“You’re a failure beyond definition.” Priya said.
“I accept, okay? What do you want from me?” Suresh said, sobbing in shame.
“Think about what you did during the whole of last semester.” Priya said. “How much time you wasted playing those video games. Do you regret that at all?”
“I do, malkin di.” Suresh sniffled.
“I think you only regret it now because we punished you so much for it.” Anita said.
“That’s not true. I’m truly ashamed about my results…”
“What you need is a permanent reminder of what you did the last semester.” Priya said. “Washing our feet and drinking dirty milk, that’s just temporary.”
“Malkin di,” Suresh got up and pointed to the scars on his chest. “Mother hit me on the chest with grandpa’s whip. The scars are etched here forever. Isn’t that enough?”
“They don’t look anything like anything.” Priya laughed.
“What do you want them to look like?” Suresh asked.
“Like your engineering results.”
“What? How is that even possible?” Suresh asked.
“Oh, it is possible.” Anita said. “Your chest is still bare and clean shaven. It’s smooth enough to write down your results on.”
“Okay…” Suresh looked at his own chest, which was indeed quite smooth, almost feminine. “Should I bring you a marker or something?”
“No,” Priya shook her head. “Come closer to me.” Suresh obeyed, crawling to his sister’s feet. “Now, Anita. Will you please hold him in place for me?”
“Wait, what the hell is going on?” Suresh asked, as Anita stepped behind him.
“We won’t just write down your results on your chest,” Priya said, “we’ll carve it out.”
“What? How?”
“Using our toenails.” Priya said, feeling the tip of her big toe’s nail with her finger and checking their edge for sharpness. “Anita, grab him please.”
“My pleasure.” Anita said, trying to hold on to her quivering classmate. “Hey, why are you shaking?”
“I don’t want her ugly toenail in my body!”
“You failed four subjects, Suresh.” Anita said. Suresh fell to the floor, defeated and drowned. That sentence could bring him down anytime they wanted, it had become their weapon to subdue him whenever they needed to. Anita was soon holding him up to face his sister. With a big smile on her face, Priya landed the sharp edge of her toenail on top of her brother’s chest.
“Awk,” he squeaked.
Priya’s toenail only crushed down harder. They went down in a straight line and stopped after a couple of inches, leaving a line of blood along the path they traversed. The toenail went up, landed on top again, this time they moved in a semi-circle to carve out the letter ‘P’ on his chest, even as he screamed in horror. “Shut up, you failure.” Priya said, raising up her toe to draw two semi-circles next to the P, followed by an almost spiral movement of her toenail along the top of his chest.
Anita checked down at the subdued slave to see the pattern on his chest. “P39,” in bloody red color. “Ahh, 39 marks in Physics. Maybe you should put a hyphen in between,” Anita suggested. Priya was but happy to oblige, carving out a straight, short horizontal line between the letter and the number, turning the pattern into “P-39.”
“What’s the next subject?” Anita asked, dropping him over to the floor.
“Maths. He scored 22,” Priya said, getting off her seat and taking Anita’s place.
“What are you girls doing? Passing the parcel?” Suresh asked as he watched the girl switch places in his semi-consciousness.
“Something like that.” Anita said, now seated majestically in Priya’s place, while she held up his chest for her to carve out the next pattern. Anita’s toenail landed below the first pattern, she drilled her toenail left and right to sink it further into Suresh’s chest. Once she settled, she slowly pushed down the toenail, etching out a straight line of blood. Another parallel line followed, with two little lines criss-crossed to form an “M” on the chest. Anita’s head turned in fascination, as she watched a few drops of blood ooze out of her servant’s chest. She quickly sat back in place, drew a hyphen and then drew the numeral “2” twice, thus making “M-22.”
“Your turn,” Anita said, getting up with a satisfied smile and quickly switching places with Priya.
“What’s the short form of Strength of materials?” Priya asked Anita. “Or should I write all letters?”
“It’s SOM.” Anita said.
“Or just ‘S’.” Suresh said, panting his heart out.
“I suppose S will have to do, given your tiny little chest.” Priya said. Her toenail landed on her brother’s chest and made a single curved line, delivering the pattern “S” to his chest in no time. She carved out a hyphen followed by the numeral 30, to finish the next line of the slave’s chest of shame. “S-30.”
Anita and Priya switched places, walking on the slave’s body as they did. “Speaking of trampling,” Priya began, “you should have seen what I did to him in the bathroom today.”
“I trampled on his little thing until it made him cry.” Priya said.
Just then, Mother called out to them. “Girls, it’s dinner time.”
“Okay, ma. We’re coming.” Priya said.
“Sushma auntie has brought over her wonderful biriyani. You don’t want to miss it.” Mother persisted.
“We will be there in three minutes, ma.” Priya said.
“Three minutes?” Anita asked, digging her toenail into Suresh’s chest to make the final part of the pattern, “C-40” to indicate that he’d failed in chemistry. In her hurry, she dug much too deep with her toenail into Suresh’s chest, and almost felt his expanding lungs. She soon finished the pattern and got up, standing her full body weight below Suresh’s chest. The girls shared a little high-five before letting go of Suresh and heading to the kitchen.
Suresh got up after a few long minutes, when the blood had stopped oozing out of his chest. He looked at himself in the mirror, with his engineering scores etched out on his chest. Tears flew out in a painful cry, either because of the pain or the shame of his own results; he couldn’t tell for sure. He then headed for the bathroom and turned on the wash basin’s tap. He caught some water in the bowl of his hands and sprinkled it all over the wounds. They hurt when they landed, but eventually cooled off the areas. Suresh stared at the frightening pattern, with his skin appearing to converge along the lines that the girls had carved on his body. He picked up a rag and dried off the areas, but the pattern only became clearer as he did.
He opened up the bathroom’s little cabinet behind the mirror, and scanned through it to find what he was looking for- a plaster. He closed the cabinet, to reveal his reflection in the mirror again. He caught one end of the plaster in his hand, the roll in the other and thought of stretching it out, but something stopped him. He looked at the patterns again; they seemed to hurt even more as he looked at them. Perhaps the pain would stop if he put a white plaster over them. But he decided to bear it- he opened up the cabinet and replaced the plaster where he’d found it.
He headed over to the kitchen, to see Mother, Priya and the three guests enjoying a sumptuous biryani. He peeped in through the side of the door, hoping someone would notice him and give him food for the night. A few moments later, Mother noticed him peeping in. She had a frown on her face.
A tear burst its way out of Suresh’s eyes, as he turned around and fell on his knees. The scent of the biryani filled up the room, but he wasn’t entitled. There was hardly anything he was entitled to, anymore. He crawled forth until he reached Priya’s room, what used to be their combined room. He headed for the double-bed, held it by its edge and threw himself under it. That was the place Priya had put him in, the night before. He joined his arms together and held them under his head, making somewhat of a pillow out of them. And then, he fell asleep. He shivered on the cold floor, his stomach growled, and there were cobwebs floating all over his face but his mind was now accustomed to it. He was going to live his life this way, a naukar and a slave.
Several long hours passed before Suresh opened his eyes again. His throat was screaming for water, and there was no question of holding back. The open eyes hardly made any difference; everything on the outside was still the darkest shade of dark. He blinked his eyes a few dozen times, until they began to work again. He took his hands out from under his head to see them in the dim light- there were straight lines on them formed by the weight of his head lying on them for several hours. Suresh moved his head up, but very slowly and carefully- he knew that he was under Priya’s bed. He used both his hands and slid himself out from under the bed but as he did, he felt a little metallic object under his hands. He picked it up and brought it close to his eyes to see what it was- a DVD of the Dark Crisis video game. It was perhaps the one DVD that Priya didn’t shatter on his face like the others, but there was hardly any point anyway.
He got up, holding the DVD in his hands and headed for the kitchen. On the way, he saw the drawing room and his computer in it. There was nobody there. And he did have a game DVD in his hand. All he had to do was insert the DVD into the drive and install, he would be able to play. It wasn’t like someone would stop him at that time. He checked the clock to see the time- 12 AM. He then stared at the DVD for so long, that it faded away into a smudge in his eyes. Would he actually go to his chair and play one last video game?
Suresh decided that he wouldn’t- with force. He went into the kitchen and turned on the light. He took a kitchen cloth, wrapped the DVD inside it and broke the disc into two pieces. He tossed the broken disc into the dustbin in a fit of indignation and took a deep breath. Somehow, in that moment, all his pain seemed to fade away. The bleeding chest, the spine cracked by a leather whip, his balls, and just about every organ in his body seemed to heal itself. There was a new level of fluidity to his heartbeat, which seemed to affect every organ of his body in a positive way. He smiled at his reflection in the broken pieces of the DVD.
His attention turned to the silverware in the kitchen sink. A heap of plates were stacked one atop the other, and on their surface Suresh could see a few leftover grains of Sushma auntie’s infamous biryani. He placed one hand on his heart and closed his eyes to listen very carefully. He walked towards the sink, picked up a plate and turned on the tap. In the stream of fast-flowing water, he cleaned up the plate for the first round. He picked up the rag, smeared with a bit of detergent and scrubbed the complete surface of the plate. He ran the plate under the tap again, until the plate glistened in the kitchen’s light. He raised the plate to check every molecule of it, when he saw a figure in its reflection.
He turned around to see Mother, her eyes swollen with tears of joy. She had a hearty smile on her face and her hands shivered open for a hug. “You did it. You threw away the video game,” she said, more tears rushing down her cheeks as she talked. “And you were about to do the dishes…”
“Ma?” Suresh stood still on the spot.
“Come here, son!” Mother said, inviting him into her open arms. Suresh rushed forth and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“Ma! It’s so good to have you back.” Suresh cried, his eyes fluttering with tears. “It’s so good to be your son again.”
“Suresh, I’m proud of you.” Mother said. “I will always be proud of you, no matter what happens.”
“Oh, thank you ma!” Suresh hugged her closer into his chest. “But why? Why would you be proud of me, after I’ve betrayed you so much?”
“Suresh, my son.” Mother said. “All that matters now is that you have learned your lesson. I know you will never betray me,” she bowed down to avert a flood of tears, “ever again.”
“I won’t ma. I won’t ever betray you in my life.” Suresh said.
“Son, there is someone I’d like you to meet.” Mother said, letting go of her son and leading him into the living room.
“Who is it, ma?”
Mother turned on the lights. Seated on the sofa was the complete Roshan family, each with big smiles on their faces. Priya was on one of the chairs, smiling as she always did. Next to the couch, the maid-servant Laxmibai and the raddhi wala Gopi kaka were standing and greeting him with a little bow.
“But this is everyone!” Suresh said, looking around the bright room full of happy smiles. “How is this possible? It’s almost midnight.”
“You see Suresh, it was all just an act designed to teach you a lesson.” Mother said. “At least, most of it was.”
“I see that now,” Suresh rushed over to greet Gopi kaka. “Let me guess. Priya had paid you before you met me and bought the textbooks and clothes…”
“That is true,” Gopi kaka said. “Your books and clothes are in your room right now.”
“Wow, thanks kaka.” Suresh moved over to Laxmibai. “And you still have your job as the maid-servant?”
“Very true,” she said.
“So Mother had paid you to act like you were getting fired.”
“Exactly,” she said. Her face turned serious again. “Why? Why couldn’t you study your textbooks and pass?”
“Wow! You’re a very good actress.” Suresh said. “Almost scary.”
“Thank you, thank you,” the maid saluted him in reply.
“Roshan uncle.” Suresh said, moving over to the couch. “How were you involved in all of this?”
“Suresh we,” he held his wife, Sushma auntie’s hand in his, “have decided to fund your education. We will help your Mother get rid of all her debt, and you can pay us back later, without interest, once you become the great software programmer that you were always destined to become.”
“Wow. You heard that ma?” Suresh asked, his eyes exuding tears of joy. “I can go back to college on Monday!”
“I know, son.” Mother said.
“Thank you so much, Roshan uncle and Sushma auntie. I will study hard, get into a great software company and return everything we owe you.”
“We know you will, son.” Sushma auntie said, pinching his cheeks slightly.
Suresh stepped over to the right, to meet Anita again. “You…”
“I know. I kind of overacted, you can say,” she shrugged.
“But I deserved all of it and I thank you for it.” Suresh said. “This,” he pointed to his chest, “will prevent me from ever failing in my life again.”
“Thank you, Suresh. I’m glad you’ve learned your lesson.”
Suresh turned to his right to see the last person involved in the act, his evil big sister, Priya. Suresh knelt before her and looked into her eyes. He gazed into them for a few moments, and watched her peaceful laugh.
“I,” Suresh began, “hate being around you.” Priya shrugged. “I hate sharing a room with you.”
“I know…”
“I hated driving you around in that rickshaw. And so many times, when I see that smile of yours, I only wish to strangle the life out of you.” Suresh said. “But didi, you are the greatest sister a guy can possibly have.”
“I know that too.” Priya said.
“From now on I will obey every little thing you say, because you know me far better than I know myself.” Suresh said.
“That’s one of the first correct things you’ve said all your life,” Priya said, pinching his nose.
“Priya,” Suresh hugged her legs, “I love you, didi!”
Priya raised her hand, took it far behind her head and delivered a tight slap to her brother’s ear. So impactful was the slap, it sent him flying half way across the room to the tea-table.
Suresh slowly shook himself and recovered from it. “What was that for?”
Priya had her trademark smile on her face, and the families joined in on her laugh. “I prefer if you called me�Malkin di.”