Overjoyed was Bart to hear the school bell announce end of day. He quickly packed his schoolbag, one eye fixed on the window of his classroom where his brother Joe was to meet him. Soon he heard Joe call out “Hey Fatoosh, come lets go”

Bart and Joe were in all sense opposites of each other. Bart had a cherubic face, straight hair and a dimple on his chin. His eyes twinkled with mirth. Joe on the other hand had the features of a respectable person. The physical appearance was a reflection of Joe’s nature, a mature person. Joe took the role of an elder brother very seriously.

Bart looked at the bulge in Joe’s pocket and smiled, “Yeah I won five marbles today” said Joe, “got one with an orange streak, you can have it. They entered the furniture shop through which they got on to the hill behind the shop.

They climbed up the hill and came to patch of flowering shrubs with lots of butterflies. Joe and Bart started catching butterflies. Bart could catch butterflies but the dragonflies were a challenge to him inspite of the numerous lessons that Joe gave him on the subject. Bart kept running after the dragonflies without any success.

“Let it go Bart, we are late, Mom will scold us” said Joe.

“You will get twice what I get” said Bart with a smirk. Joe was about to pull Bart when the kids saw Mendu, a man in his late twenties.

The kids tried to talk with Mendu as he walked a little distance along with them. They were making most of this opportunity where Mendu didn’t have his eyes, ears and air-gun trained on birds perched on trees. Watching Mendu shoot birds was the morning amusement for kids on their walk to school.

Bart asked Mendu “Tomorrow morning also you will be shooting birds?”

“Of course, tomorrow I need to get the bulbul” he replied.

Bart loved to stand and watch him shoot birds. Many a day Joe had to drag Bart, from there, to reach school before the second bell.

While morning amusement for the kids was Mendu with his air gun, evening amusement was Uttam with his stick gun. After seeing the movie Sholay twenty one times Uttam had started to live the life of the ferocious dacoit Gabbar Singh. The movie was a cult; everyone knew the dialogues of Sholay like students of theatre knew the speech of Shylock.

Unkempt, unwashed, wearing a green oversize shirt and khaki pant, Uttam would jump from behind the bushes and shout out dialogues of Sholay when kids passed his place. Uttam was under the delusion that he was Gabbar Singh, the villain of Sholay.

Bart was mortally frightened of Uttam, although he looked forward to encounters with him. As Joe and Bart walked further, Bart’s anxiety kept growing on him about meeting Uttam. Bart became very slow.

“Hey Fatoosh, walk fast we are already delayed because of your dragon flies, I will miss the first match if we don’t reach in time” said Joe

“But how can you play cricket without a ball?” asked Bart, reminding Joe that they had lost their ball the previous night. Bart was happy about it as he wasn’t allowed to play cricket with the big boys.

As they approached the area where the hill started descending to the municipal garden, Bart looked everywhere for Uttam. All of a sudden Uttam jumped from behind the bushes holding his stick, which he used as a gun, and shouted “kitna inaam rakha hai Sarkar ne hum par?”

Bart was startled and afraid at the same time; he gave a shrill shout and hid behind his brother. Joe, with his arms behind him held Bart reassuringly. At the same time Joe, completely amused kept giving Uttam replies. “Sardar, purre pachas hazar”

As they crossed Uttam, Bart ran forward and waited for Joe down the hill near the barber shop. Their house was another ten minutes’ walk from there. Save catching pit-elephants at the Municipal garden rest of the walk was uneventful.

On reaching home, Bart changed his clothes while giving the days account to his mother. He complained to mother that Joe stayed back responding to Uttam. Mother gave a stern look at Joe, and Joe stuck out his tongue at Bart and called him a squealer.

Bart looked into the sky, the deep blue sky with white clouds. He spotted the blue gap in the group of white clouds that Joe was pointing out to him.

Joe said “See the gap is slowly opening wider and the colour is turning purple”. To the joy of Bart, he saw it happening. This was his favourite activity while having milk and snacks on return from school, to see things in the sky that his brother showed him. Bart once saw God in the clouds, sitting there like the spotless white marble statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting on a huge Chair.

The walk to school next morning was totally devoid of any event, especially as Mendu was nowhere to be seen.

During lunch break, Joe told Bart that his class was being detained as a punishment for unruly behaviour in the morning. Joe would have to stay back and so he told Bart to go home alone that day.

Joe said “Don’t worry our regular friends will be there you just be with them”.

Bart was all excited about his first solo walk back home. “I will be a big boy now and perhaps mother will even send me to the shop to buy things, all by myself” said Bart to himself.

As they sat in class, after lunch break, Bart was still excited about his opportunity to go home alone, but soon enough a fear gripped him. Uttam!!!!

How Bart would deal with Uttam? In the absence of Joe, Uttam would pounce upon Bart. Bart had heard how Uttam once caught a small boy and tied him to a tree nearby till the boy was saved by some passers-by.

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Bart started praying “Dear God just like Mendu was absent in the morning so please please please god let Uttam also be absent from his post today”.

When the end of day bell rang it startled Bart, the bell was too loud. Instead of the spurts of joy on other days today the bell reverberations moaned in extreme fear.

Bart lethargically packed his bag, picked it up and started walking. He didn’t bother to find out who else was there walking with him. As advised by Joe, he used the zebra crossing; there the policeman helped kids cross the road. He crossed their regular water tap behind the furniture shop where they would always take a drink, but Bart didn’t feel any thirst.

As Bart walked uphill his legs weighed tons, it became increasingly difficult to take each step. The other boys talked to him but he couldn’t make out the words, it all sounded like a continuous hum. His concentration was on planning the encounter with Uttam. Bart reached the top of the hill. The butterflies and dragonflies didn’t excite Bart today, he ignored them.

When the bushes from where Uttam would generally appear came to sight Bart stopped a little to survey from far. There was no sign of Uttam as no kid was stopping there. So Bart decided to walk fast before Uttam comes.

While descending the hill, Bart heard someone call his name from behind the bushes. Bart closed his eyes and started running fast. He heard a voice cry out “Careful son you will trip down”. No sooner he heard it than he stumbled on something and lost his balance. Bart flew off the ground when all of a sudden someone caught him and saved him from crashing into the fast advancing ground.

A familiar voice said ”Careful careful” to Bart’s horror, on opening his eyes he discovered that the owner of this familiar voice was Uttam and it was Uttam’s arms that had arrested Bart’s fall.

“Where is your brother today? Don’t be afraid, I won’t harm you. Slowly don’t run. Look ahead, look where you are going” called out Uttam as Bart darted away from Uttam keeping his frightened eyes planted on Uttam.

Bart heard a loud guffaw from Uttam, that villainous laugh of Gabbar Singh from Sholay after he shot dead three of his men for the heinous crime of being afraid.

“Jo dar gaya samjho mar gaya” Gabbar Singh had stated very matter of factly when he finished laughing.

Bart was still in a state of shock as he crossed the municipal garden. Slowly, he started feeling proud of his achievements. He saw his mother waiting for him at the balcony. He exclaimed in joy as if he was the first to cross the finish line of a marathon when he saw his mother standing there. Bart climbed up two stairs a time and jumped on to his mother’s arms. In between gasps of air Bart explained that Joe was detained and so he walked home alone. He told his mother he wasn’t afraid to walk home alone and now she can send him to the shop nearby to buy things.

Bart settled in the balcony with his glass of milk and stared at the sky into an opening between the clouds. He waited for the gap to widen and the sky to turn purple. Bart waited for long but it didn’t happen. Never again did Bart see that miracle in the sky.

Baiju Mathew

Baiju Mathew is a Chief Operating Officer with IL&FS Urban Infrastructure Mangers Ltd ( IUIML )

IL&FS Financial Services ( IFIN ), based at Mumbai

PMDO is a subsidiary of IL&FS Financial Services ( IFIN ), India

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