Rajkumar was the last lucky one in the queue to get a ticket for the final match of the cricket season. It was the club building of the area, by the side of the market, a pretty extended one, where Rajkumar lived with his elongated family. It was just a big spacious room, of the once great Mansion of the Mansoors that stood there, but then the Hindu and Muslim riots wrecked havoc and the Mansoor Mansion was almost brought down to ashes by the Hindu people dwelling in the market. The Mansoors fled, no one knew where, although it was rumored that Shahadat Mansoor, the eldest of the family moved to his hometown of Firozabad, near Agra, and one day on his way back from the nearby mosque after the Namaz, he was followed by someone, someone with murder in his mind, and Shahadat Mansoor never reached home.
The grand Mansoor Mansion with its intricate Islamic architecture and design slowly crumbling to the earth owing to absolute ignorance and no taking care of by anyone, as a result, the once mighty Mansoor Mansion, that stood as the most imposing building for miles around, gradually got the acclamation of a haunted house, that the spirit of the old Shahadat Mansoor, who was killed, visits the mansion every full moon night.
The riots ended and so did the small religious strife, and peace was re-installed in the region, but the Mansoor Mansion still stood there like a giant shadow of an old ghost, wanting to crumble down and rest, but is constantly pushed upwards and held in position by the strong bricks and cement that refuse to give up on this gradually disintegrating building. Mr. Subai Sengupta, at his decaying age of 55, renovated a room, a spacious one, in the ground floor of the Mansion, overlooking the market, and founded the club room. All the club did included renting the room during voting sessions, set up Puja pandals, by collecting chanda from the market dwellers, arrange small painting, singing, elocution et cetera contests for the kids, and there was a television and an air-conditioner in the room. Cricket matches were played on the television, and the crowd would gather outside the big wide glass window outside the room and see the match on that LCD screen hanging from the wall.
The television and air conditioner was enough to enthuse the young mind of Rajkumar and other teenagers like him. Not everyone got the chance of sitting in the cooling aura of the room and see the cricket matches, but one can if he or she were a member of the club. But that needed money, which Rajkumar did not have. In his mind, it was a privilege to be in that room, unlike the hundreds of others thronged outside that window.
Rajkumar had never been so lucky to be in that room, and always had to settle for a space outside the window to see the match. At 17, his height was that of a 10 year old, skinny, his complexion was as light brown as the bark of an oak tree, he was educated, he could read and write and count. His life was defined by the window, that glass separating him from where he aspired to be, just like the window or veil that separates the many layers of society, he did not know what it feels to be on that side of the window, how the cooling air conditioner soothened the surroundings, or even how the fries and tea tasted while watching the game on the TV. There was some kind of magic and happiness prevailing on that side of the window, Rajkumar used to think.
Rajkumar mostly stood just in front of the window whenever a match was being telecast, standing right in the middle of the window. Most of the people would turn up late, like when the last one or two hours of the game would be remaining, but Rajkumar, being completely jobless, he would be there, present in front of the window, right before the toss and when the entire city would be either working or taking an evening nap or just hanging out with close people, at that time when the heat would be at its peak, even with the AC room almost empty, Rajkumar would, paying obesaince to the rules followed by no one, and stand outside in the sun. Sometimes the club members relented on switching on the TV due to lack of spectators and spectators’ interest and Rajkumar had to knock and signal them to turn the TV on. At times, they asked him to go away, but he stood there, in the heat, waiting for conscience to prick the club runners, and they would eventually switch the TV on.
On days when there would be no matches being played, or at least no India matches were being played, he would still be there, in front of that window, that divided reality from fantasy, and through the glass, he would stare inside the room. Even the fake awards and medals hanging from the wall seemed something to aspire for to Rajkumar. Most of the non-match days, they would put some movie channel on, as the club members themselves had nothing to do than to wear away their time, and Rajkumar would stare with awe at the many weird and crazy, yet attractive scenes on the television, there always used to be a good looking man throughout the movie, there maybe others too, but he was the one in focus, he would have the company of one good looking female character almost through the entire length of the movie, again, there maybe other female characters too, but the one with the main male person would be the most important one among the other females in the movie.
The main heroes could do incredible stuff, Rajkumar saw, they could do almost everything, from singing to fighting, from cooking to playing cricket, versatility, Rajkumar thought, was confined only on that screen behind the mystic window. He would see, amazed, the many pictures on the TV screen, inaudible, and in his own mind, he would see himself there on that screen, with that beautiful girl in his arms, he suddenly became deft in any worldly profession, and within minutes, he was that guy on the screen, dancing in the rain, to fighting the bad guys in a dark and gloomy garage. And then at the end, he would come out victorious, a wish-fulfillment, that always lifted the moods, the claps and praises and cheers and applauds.
Rajkumar loved it when they used to put the AC on. The window would gradually start feeling cooler, and then slowly the insides of the room would blur out, and Rajkumar, despite his many efforts to see what’s going on inside, he could not, the magical world would not so easily be revealed, and it was with a simple piece of cloth wiping out the haziness, again everything was visible, clean and clear. On days of high intensity matches, like final matches of any tournament, or the final match of some great player, or a match of some other particular importance the club members would set up a projector on the big white wall nearby so that everyone could see the match, while on other days, Rajkumar was given the job to wipe the window whenever the insides of the room would start to blur out, and with utmost sincerity Rajkumar would do it, and his integrity earned him ten rupees per unimportant match day, or any normal movie-watching day. 10 rupees a day, that meant every fifth day, he could afford a plate of lachha paratha and chicken kassa, sold from the shop, a very famous one, but not a stately one, an old one, but not as old as Netaji being able to dine there, as claimed by a poster hanging from one of the green walls inside the shop.
The man at the counter had known Rajkumar, being a resident of the same slum Rajkumar was from, and who got the job there thanks to being son to, perhaps, the only kindhearted one, of the many men his mom had had sex for money. Rajkumar did not had to order, he just placed the five 10 rupee notes in front of him, and within minutes a plate with crispy red-brown parathas and dark brown chicken, swimming in the oil, would be handed over to him. He would sit beside that man at the counter, on a small stool placed beside the long chair of the man at the counter, thus was saved an extra seat in the eatery. His short height helped him to stay out of sight, and there again, a wooden slab divided Rajkumar from the outside world of mercenary men, engaged in their madding strife, which to Rajkumar, busy licking the gravy off the plate, under the shadow of the table, seemed like a world of dreams, of fantasies, and he was sure there were things outside worth experiencing, worth living for.
He would leave the shop, his fingers stuck in front of his nose, he loved the smell of the spices that still remained on his fingers, and he would walk down, to wherever he felt like, looking at the many people around him, they seemed happy, they walked in groups, but there were exceptions, but whichever way he looked at, there was some untold magic in it, as also some untold story, there was speed, there was contrast, the lights, the people, the hurried steps, the muted laughter, the unceasing attempt of earning more, the dissatisfaction, the wanting of a bit more, always, the search for true joy, that is something the big people can only do, as for Rajkumar, he found pleasure and elevated at the mere thought that he was standing there, looking at the busy life, being a spectator of a tremendous race, he was there, piling up thoughts and notions and beliefs in his head about the world, and he just liked it, being present there but not taking any active part in the proceedings, like being on the other side of the window, he liked it that way, at the same time he craved to go and see what is on the other side of the window.
In search of more and more of this world, the world on the other side of the window, still smelling his fingers, which he could not resist the urge to lick as well, thus the smell of the spices, then, made way for the odor of saliva, he would walk on away from his nearby places, but did not wander too far away, he would grow in him an immense desire to touch and see of the things going on around him, was in reality true, or just a phantasmal manifestation of an attractive life, it seemed so close, but as he reached out for it, he would feel pushed back, by that glass on the window, cozy as a warm blanket in the winters, as dreamy as being sitting on top of a cloud, the world of fantasies could change forms in a blink, and then again disappear like a mirage. He wanted to step into that world with no one noticing his transmission through the window, silently, he had things to see and ask, and he was sure he was not the only person on earth with such curiosity, who stepped and stumbled, still, the urge to explore and discover would stay intact, and like the setting Sun, he will rise again. And then at night, as he slept in one of the broken down rooms of the Mansoor Mansion, the haunted palace where he would have his privacy, he would dream with his eyes open, and he would act out the many scenes he had watched throughout the day, from kissing the heroine to fighting the villain, from walking with earphones in his ears and hands in his pocket to winning a match with his brilliant cricketing acumen, and the claps and praises and cheers and applauds.
That day he got a ticket to himself, with which he could actually go and see the match in a real stadium, where there would be no windows or glasses! The club president, Mr. Subai Sengupta had four tickets which he distributed to the four people who could pay for them, and he had a fifth one, which he kept hidden, only for Rajkumar. Mr. Shantanu Sengupta, father to Mr. Subai Sengupta, was a government servant, who built small scale roads and lighted the small pathways with street lamps. He sent his son to study engineering with the money he had got off bribes for the 30 years of his job, and also the 1 lakh that he had once stolen from his office, but the crime was clean, and no one did actually know till now as to who the culprit was. Mr. Subai Sengupta could only manage a diploma degree and jumped from one construction site to another in search of a permanent job. Like his father he also had the urge to steal money from his office, but unlike his father he was not quite adept at it, as a result he spent two years in jail, where he met people who knew easier ways to earn money. Once out of jail, he started selling movie and match tickets in black, as also smuggled illegal goods, which, due to his two years of practice in jail, he did quite well. But slowly things changed, and things were not that easy anymore, so he settled here, in a flat near the market, with all his money earned via illegal methods in a safe in a bank, and founded the clubhouse, with some enthusiastic good-for-nothing youths of the locality. His drunken nature had left him unmarried with frequent backaches and a bad lever, and his decaying health did much to turn him into a generous man, from a mercenary one.
Elated at this unexpected turn of events, Rajkumar came hopping out of the club room, a gait of happiness in his steps. The president, Mr. Suabi had strictly instructed him to not tell anyone about the ticket or otherwise he would not give Rajkumar any further tickets. So what Rajkumar did was to fold it so that the ticket became small enough like half the length of his thumb, and he kept it confined between the long-worn-away elastic of his trousers and his skin, and then tightly tying the knot on the lace around his pants, he entered the market and roamed around the many stalls helping the vendors with either weighing goods, or collecting the money, or maybe bringing something from the godown, while he frequently checked the right side of his waist, and every time a sharp and thick something pinched against his skin, he smiled, a grin that extended to his ears, or maybe a blush, as the many vendors around looked at him, an inquiry about the grin in their glance, and Rajkumar would move over to the next stall.
Everyone in the bazaar knew Rajkumar. He did not have any family as such but growing up in the market, amidst the love and affection of so many people, Rajkumar had, what can be called, an elongated or made-family. But apart from all the people there, in the middle of the bazaar would sit the old lady, Salima, who, at the age of 65, had the voice to shout over the noise of the hundreds of people speaking in the market, and whose expert oracular skills convinced the people to buy vegetables from her only. She was the one who provided food to Rajkumar; she used to take him to a house where her sister used to work as a maid, and there an elderly woman gave free of cost education to the not-so-fortunate children around, but with her unexpected death, a wave of tsunami wiping her out of the face of the earth, Rajkumar’s education was halted too; he even used to stay with Salima at her place, till that day when her drunk husband kicked Rajkumar out of the house for not being able to comprehend what he was asking him to do.
Still today, Salima thanked Allah for bringing that thunderous, yet wonderful night in her life, when she sat crying outside the door of her home, wetting in the rain, as she saw a bucket-cum-basket sort of a thing in front of the neighboring door, the home to which was vacated quite recently, and in the basket, she saw a little angel, drenched in the rain – she picked up the baby in her arms, and the night no longer seemed unhappy.
Rajkumar spent the entire noon roaming around the many stalls in the market, and gradually as the Sun reached its peak, and the vendors, one by one, went to have their lunch, as the rush of the market died down, Rajkumar grew more and more excited, he was going to see a live cricket match! And to top it all, his favorite player was playing, Yuvraj Singh, a batsman from Punjab, and every time Rajkumar knew Singh was on the crease, he was quite certain that India will definitely take the match home. He got beaten once though, for supporting Yuvraj Singh, in the regional franchisee based cricket tournament going on, instead of his home team, and another time, when India scored 369 runs and in reply England’s Eoin Morgan was playing his shots, and as the match neared its end, England were requiring around 10 runs per over for the last 3 overs, and only then Morgan was caught; Rajkumar was arguably the only sad Indian at Morgan’s demise, his logic being, with Morgan gone, there was nothing to see in the match anymore, India will win it anyway.
Rajkumar wore his best dresses, a T-shirt, with Yuvraj’s face painted on it, and the same old elastic-worn trousers. He knew the way to the stadium, he had been outside the huge arena many times before, and according to him, it was so close, that you do not need to rush hours before the match is about to begin, so he sat there, at the tea stall, just outside the market, idling away his time, as also helping the chaiwala with distributing the tiny cups of tea to the many customers coming and going. It was then that among the many passers-by, stopping for a cup of tea, came a group of four youngsters, two girls and two boys, people from the other side of the window, and Rajkumar could not help but stare at them with awe, at their baggy and revealing outfits, their healthy and good-looking physiques, the navel exposed by the crop-top, how one of the girls sat on the-boy-at-the-end’s lap due to lack of space, how they chatted and laughed, with a heart suddenly full of elan, a tremendous urge to break through the window gripped Rajkumar, as he saw them pay and walk away, and he just stood there, still staring at them, with no claps or praises or cheers or applauds.
Rajkumar was unable to figure out the reason behind this sudden lifting of his mood. He left the tea stall, and walked down the road, totally drowned in his own small world of fantasies. Those four young men and women did not talk to him, neither did they concern him in any way, but in his funny little brain, he was not the short and dark boy that he was in reality, he was a boy from the movies, who could do almost anything, and he had sat beside the girl wearing the crop-top, as he chatted with her and they laughed together, he showed her the ticket for the match, she was impressed, he paid for her tea, and like this he continued his sweet sojourn on an imaginary other side of the window, and he walked a happy kid, among the many unhappy ones, worried about something or the other.
The street was filled with people, all very busy and excited, and Rajkumar always liked the crowd, he loved to stay in between people, but not really actively taking part in their activities, but today the enjoyment and thrill in his heart was calmed down by some other titillation, something kept his heart calm, while havoc reigned in his blood. He was walking through the many narrow pathways, being a resident of this part of the city, he knew almost all the numerous short-cuts available, and it was comparatively shadowy, Rajkumar being not so tall a teenager, was cramped in the hoard of people around him, but being thin as a stake, he found no difficulty in slipping his way through the many legs, and wriggling among the shadows and coolness of the crowd as soon as he stepped onto the main road, a bright yellow light pushed him back to the crowd, where he was further thrown at a corner. His eyes closed, his hand tightly holding on to the ticket between his trousers and skin, he took some time as the pupils behind his closed eyelids contracted and he could see normally again, he opened his eyes, and there was a belly, peeking at him from under a crop-top, and Rajkumar recognized it, the calmness in his heart gave in to the disarray and chaos, it was the same group from the tea-stall.
They were talking to a passer-by, showing him a picture of a certain mosque on their phone. Rajkumar knew where the mosque was and it didn’t take his 17 year old brain long to understand that they were asking for directions to the mosque and the passer-by was definitely failing in his attempt to help them. Rajkumar’s hand automatically went up and tucked at the shirt of the girl right in front of him, she recognized him, maybe she greeted him a “Hi”, as well, but all Rajkumar did was to gesture to her and her friends to follow him. They did as told, and Rajkumar, again went inside the shadowy pathways, and through the darker, poorer, filthier, older streets of the city, where senescence was omnipresent, they went. Rajkumar just jogged along in front and sometimes turned back and gestured them to speed up, they said something to him, but he just went on without paying attention to anyone or anything. He was thoroughly enjoying it, this was something new to him, suddenly he had become a person of importance to the people of the other side of the window. The four young tourists on the other hand were stunned at this new revelation of the city they had so far heard to be among the most joyful and advanced ones of the country. The other side of the window amazed them too. And before they could see and feel more, they had arrived at their destination, and there standing in front of them, like a resemblance of the other side of the window, stood that young boy with a mouth full of smile, happy at his accomplishment.
They thanked him, and took photos with him, Rajkumar could see his face on the screen of their mobile phones. He couldn’t stop smiling, as he was handed a hundred rupee note. They left him and there he stood, filled with a strange energy, he was excited, now his mind was disarranged and tumultuous. He actually helped and was greeted and touched by people whom he had so far only seen through the distance, by the people whom he had only craved to be among all these days. All his fantasies were falling apart, all that he had thought and been overwhelmed at were taking a different shape, he could feel his heart thumping faster than it had ever had, he no longer felt that the glass was unbreakable.
A sudden cheer from the nearby small shop, with an even smaller TV, but a big crowd in front of the shop made him remember about the match, and there he ran, his slippers clapping against the pitched roads, without stopping he ran as if pulled by a rope, he was rejuvenated. He arrived at the stadium where the guards asked him for the ticket, he pulled it out from in between his trousers and waist, it tore in two pieces along the fold, the guards laughed a bit at the funny incident of the little boy, and allowed him in, he ran up through the stairs, lost at the many by-ways around, he showed his two piece ticket to the people around and they directed him, and there he was, at the wrong place of the stadium, but no one did actually care, the match was about to end and Rajkumar was there in the stands, as Yuvraj Singh hit a six of the last ball to win the game, as the many supporters of the home team moaned and jeered at the loss of their team, Rajkumar cried out in joy, joy of watching Yuvraj Singh hit a six in front of him, like he was waiting for Rajkumar to arrive, his biggest fan, Rajkumar had often been Yuvraj Singh in his fantasies, and that man gifted him with such a wonderful surprise. The people around started to head back, as Rajkumar’s dumb cheer failed to reach Yuvraj Singh, neither did the scorns and rebukes of the spectators around reached his deaf ears, like being on the other side of the window, he could not hear others, and neither could the others hear him, among a crowd of dejected and unhappy people, Rajkumar was a pleased and happy soul, he was lost in his own world of silence, silence adorned with claps and praises and cheers and applauds.