To Balance the Tally

Summer Winds from the west were teasing the tamarinds in the Grove. Farm Lands were nude like a new born. The hot air made it unbearable for any soul to be out at that hour where the only respite could be found in the canal water and river, a very shallow level this year promised a fine summer bath for the town urchins and cattle. But Eshaan and Aarush were explorers and had to themselves a spot on the river, which no one bothered about and was perfect for hot afternoon bath games.

“Remind me to show you the poem I wrote,” said Eshaan

“ Wow, another one already. I am serving you right with the topics.”

“Are you suggesting that you are my muse?”

“ What? Are you insane?”

“True, what I was thinking? How can your jejune thoughts and incoherent words can be of a muse but only of a menial, insignificant slave.”

Aarush ran to catch hold of Eshaan to pin him down. Aarush stood and saluted the running figure of Eshaan and shouted, ‘Morituri te Salutant’ and ran after him. Both had put on their clothes while on the run, picked their bikes from the dirt and on the count of one, the race began. Their bodies mechanically pedalling with all the might left after swimming.

On the bike all that passed were landmarks and everything else just phased out. Empty streets of that hour made their race more fast paced, piercing the hot air past the playground, cold storage, theatre, the café, the pond, ending at Eshaan’s place. Eshaan would break in front of his house while Aarush carried on with gained kinetic energy. He held a “V” made of index and middle finger above his head.

“What does that mean?” his elder sister asked.

“Whosoever would continue forward would signal to the other one, the outcome of the race. A ‘V’ raise above the head was a sign of the holder winning it while if the ‘V’ is carried on the side like a flag than the observer had won.”

“You guys are so lame. ”

“Leave me alone, I just lost a race.”

“ Who judged it? Aarush?”

“ Yes and we don’t lie about it. It’s a matter of honour.”

“ You are a couple of seventeen year-olds. And guys at your age lie more than they speak. Honour my, you know what.”

“I know, and that is why I told you to leave me alone.”

“Then go to your room, who’s stopping you? But come down later because I need to practise chess with you.”

“Oh no not again, why can’t there be a pill for chess so I don’t have drag myself through this again and again.”

“ Well you are lame and drama queen. All these adjectives don’t go with your athletic body. It kind of ruins the image,” his sister teased.

Both boys had a well-trimmed, hard trained athletic body due to their constant participation in sprints, swimming, cycling and other sport events. They were each other’s inspiration and critic. Except a few hours , their days passed in each other’s company and hence all their activities were designed and planned keeping the other one in mind. Most of which they did it together except their hobbies. A few hours away or an occasional night at respective homes would give them time to pursue their hobbies. Both liked to read literature and would compete even in that. Both loved to eat and to cook and could cook a meal for a group, if the need arises, as was recorded at the scout camp. Camp was set up at a remote place in forest and was reached after several hours of drive and a simple hike. Plan was to stay for the night and reach town limits by next evening. But on reaching the campsite, it was realised that they had left the cook on one of the stopovers enroute. School authorities panicked but Eshaan and Aarush with the help of other classmates, saved the day by cooking a scrumptious meal for the group.

They were inseparable and yet each other’s fiercest competitors. Almost all the individual sport events at school would be between Eshaan and Aarush, the only question would be whose tally will be higher this year. On sports day they would be at each other’s throats. Would torture each other psychologically and physically and yet at the end of the day, they would sit together on the canal side, eating melons, thinking of the day and laugh about it.

After the paper checking marathon four years back, each year they were awarded same grades in all subjects, mostly to avoid all the requests for paper checking from both of them. But as usual they didn’t top, and a girl- Mansi, outscored them in almost all papers.

“Our Eta place, topped again” Aarush said.

“ What do you mean ‘Our’? The way she looks at you, I think she is all yours,” Eshaan replied.

“Oh, so you want to be Butch Cassidy and live longer than me.”

“Hey kid, at least you will have a girl while you live. Aren’t you happy with that? And there is no sure way to deduce if Butch actually lived that long and not killed in that shootout that day.”

“Well I believe Mr. Chatwin, and others also had many theories on the same lines,”  replied Aarush.

Both of them promised to beat her next year, like they did last year. But this year they had something else to look forward to, the rose fetching competition. They were training hard for it. It was on the same lines as Iron man competition but with different type of difficulties and hurdles to pass through. The toughest would be the end climb on the wall to fetch the rose. This competition would encompass a distance of few kilometres and so it was not possible to monitor the event throughout the route but volunteers, all girls, would be standing near all the activity zones. It was Eshaan’s birthday and both the boys couldn’t sleep at all the night before and ran a lot in the morning resulting in drained energies and sleepy bodies at the time of competition. Aarush couldn’t stand the sun and bailed out during the third activity, but Eshaan forced himself forward to equate the total tally of wins with Aarush. But during the 5 km run, he slumped at the side of the road. A classmate-Cyanna offered to drop him up to the next activity on her bike. Eshaan accepted without blinking, and was dropped just right before the activity zone. Eshaan didn’t even thank her or gave her a second look and ran towards the activity area. Later he gifted her the rose which he won, so as she doesn’t tell anyone.

Eshaan invited a few of his friends to his party in the evening and told Aarush that he was going to cook himself for everybody. Around seven that evening, when the doorbell rang, Eshaan was busy getting things ready for the evening’s party. Wondering who had turned up so early, he went to get the door. It was Aarush. “I’m here to help you,” he announced and continued, “How much can you possibly do all by yourself?” Holding forward a single rose he bowed dramatically. “Congratulations. For now, you could stop being jealous,” he smirked. The emphatic ‘all by yourself’ bothered Eshaan. He had never lied or hid anything from Aarush or cheated in a sport. He couldn’t hold it in him any longer. He decided to come clean with him.

“Listen, I fell down during the 5km run and was in no position to finish it but Cyanna picked me up on her bike and dropped me to the next activity. And I wanted to win so bad that I continued anyway.”

“That’s a good story, you just wrote it or were you working on it the whole day?”

“I am serious, and I am sorry,” Eshaan replied in a muffled voice.

“What the you know what? You cheated? Just to win a race?” Aarush continued, “Why would you….?”

Both of them experienced an uncomfortable silence for the first time between them, punctuated only by Eshaan’s low sobs.

“What happened to your words, ‘we are not like them, we don’t cheat to win, we play to win.’ I thought we were the good ones, I thought we…” Aarush continued.

“I am sorry, I am sorry. I got carried away. We are the good ones,” Eshaan pleaded

“Yeah we were good, I guess you wanted to be better,” Aarush replied. “ I will be in the hall.”

The evening went by very smoothly where both of them played their parts perfectly. Most of who were present couldn’t understand the undertones or symbolism of what they were talking about when they talked about the failure of the gunpowder plot or the ‘hand of god’ of Maradona. When Aarush left, he hung the ‘V’ on the side like a flag. Eshaan mumbled a sorry under his breathe.

Next day when they met, Eshaan was worried but Aarush seemed normal. They carried on with their day as usual with only one anomaly from their routine. Aarush won’t play any sport with Eshaan anymore. They went to river for bath but Aarush didn’t race on the way back. And in a couple of days they realised that the lustre from their friendship was gone. Aarush didn’t participate in any sporting event in school throughout the year. Eshaan kept pleading with him, telling him how sorry he felt and how he would not let competition get to his head. But Aarush didn’t budge. Whole school was missing their competition, even Eshaan’s sister asked what happened to the ‘V’, it was up or like flag. And with time even the occasional river bath or an evening by the canal also stopped. And eventually Eshaan too let go of the only end which kept their friendship from flying away. By the end of the year, they were just classmates.

Even the teachers wanted them back, hence they gave Aarush second place and Eshaan third, just to spice up the things. But it remained as bland and vapid as it could be. They missed each other, they longed for that camaraderie which they were not getting from Mansi or Cyanna. But it was not to happen.

Without sports and without Eshaan, Aarush felt lost. At that time Aarush’s father got a transfer to a different city, a bigger city and he was thinking to turn it down. But Aarush pressured him to take the transfer. And he applied for post-graduation there and got through. The day he got his provisional acceptance letter, he cried like a baby, saying ‘he didn’t want to go’, over and over again. Eshaan came to know about this from his sister, who was surprised that he didn’t knew. He pretended that it didn’t matter to him and that he was happy for him. Although covertly he wished everything would break down and Aarush would not be able to leave. His father would lose the job or something like that, he even wished for Aarush to fail in his final results.

The day Aarush was to leave, Eshaan was restless since morning. Hoping something would stop all this non-sense. He for once also believed the hypothesis, that all this is just a staged act by Aarush and everything would be normal once this is over. By afternoon his sister informed him that Aarush is about to leave. Eshaan picked his motorbike, went straight to Aarush’s house.

When he reached, Aarush’s car was already leaving. Eshaan accelerated to catch up with him and saw Aarush driving. Aarush looked at him and just said, “Cold storage”. Aarush accelerated and his car zoomed ahead and Eshaan, in a mood to let Aarush win, maintained a steady pace.

But suddenly Eshaan went full throttle and went ahead of Aarush, and maintained the lead till termination point. He decelerated gradually and so did Aarush, but Eshaan came to a stop while Aarush went ahead with a ‘V’ to the side like a flag. Eshaan was crying unconsolably. The speeding car became blurry and within seconds it was gone.

He went to their spot by the canal. He sat there till evening thinking of the times they had together. He realised how it is unfair and more difficult for the ones that are left behind than those who leave. But Eshaan had earned hope, after winning that last race. Someday, Aarush would have to come back to win one more race, to balance the tally.

To Balance the Tally

Summer Winds from the west were teasing the tamarinds in the Grove. Farm Lands were nude like a new born. The hot air made it unbearable for any soul to be out at that hour where the only respite could be found in the canal water and river, a very shallow level this year promised a fine summer bath for the town urchins and cattle. But Eshaan and Aarush were explorers and had to themselves a spot on the river, which no one bothered about and was perfect for hot afternoon bath games.

“Remind me to show you the poem I wrote,” said Eshaan

“ Wow, another one already. I am serving you right with the topics.”

“Are you suggesting that you are my muse?”

“ What? Are you insane?”

“True, what I was thinking? How can your jejune thoughts and incoherent words can be of a muse but only of a menial, insignificant slave.”

Aarush ran to catch hold of Eshaan to pin him down. Aarush stood and saluted the running figure of Eshaan and shouted, ‘Morituri te Salutant’ and ran after him. Both had put on their clothes while on the run, picked their bikes from the dirt and on the count of one, the race began. Their bodies mechanically pedalling with all the might left after swimming.

On the bike all that passed were landmarks and everything else just phased out. Empty streets of that hour made their race more fast paced, piercing the hot air past the playground, cold storage, theatre, the café, the pond, ending at Eshaan’s place. Eshaan would break in front of his house while Aarush carried on with gained kinetic energy. He held a “V” made of index and middle finger above his head.

“What does that mean?” his elder sister asked.

“Whosoever would continue forward would signal to the other one, the outcome of the race. A ‘V’ raise above the head was a sign of the holder winning it while if the ‘V’ is carried on the side like a flag than the observer had won.”

“You guys are so lame. ”

“Leave me alone, I just lost a race.”

“ Who judged it? Aarush?”

“ Yes and we don’t lie about it. It’s a matter of honour.”

“ You are a couple of seventeen year-olds. And guys at your age lie more than they speak. Honour my, you know what.”

“I know, and that is why I told you to leave me alone.”

“Then go to your room, who’s stopping you? But come down later because I need to practise chess with you.”

“Oh no not again, why can’t there be a pill for chess so I don’t have drag myself through this again and again.”

“ Well you are lame and drama queen. All these adjectives don’t go with your athletic body. It kind of ruins the image,” his sister teased.

Both boys had a well-trimmed, hard trained athletic body due to their constant participation in sprints, swimming, cycling and other sport events. They were each other’s inspiration and critic. Except a few hours , their days passed in each other’s company and hence all their activities were designed and planned keeping the other one in mind. Most of which they did it together except their hobbies. A few hours away or an occasional night at respective homes would give them time to pursue their hobbies. Both liked to read literature and would compete even in that. Both loved to eat and to cook and could cook a meal for a group, if the need arises, as was recorded at the scout camp. Camp was set up at a remote place in forest and was reached after several hours of drive and a simple hike. Plan was to stay for the night and reach town limits by next evening. But on reaching the campsite, it was realised that they had left the cook on one of the stopovers enroute. School authorities panicked but Eshaan and Aarush with the help of other classmates, saved the day by cooking a scrumptious meal for the group.

They were inseparable and yet each other’s fiercest competitors. Almost all the individual sport events at school would be between Eshaan and Aarush, the only question would be whose tally will be higher this year. On sports day they would be at each other’s throats. Would torture each other psychologically and physically and yet at the end of the day, they would sit together on the canal side, eating melons, thinking of the day and laugh about it.

After the paper checking marathon four years back, each year they were awarded same grades in all subjects, mostly to avoid all the requests for paper checking from both of them. But as usual they didn’t top, and a girl- Mansi, outscored them in almost all papers.

“Our Eta place, topped again” Aarush said.

“ What do you mean ‘Our’? The way she looks at you, I think she is all yours,” Eshaan replied.

“Oh, so you want to be Butch Cassidy and live longer than me.”

“Hey kid, at least you will have a girl while you live. Aren’t you happy with that? And there is no sure way to deduce if Butch actually lived that long and not killed in that shootout that day.”

“Well I believe Mr. Chatwin, and others also had many theories on the same lines,”  replied Aarush.

Both of them promised to beat her next year, like they did last year. But this year they had something else to look forward to, the rose fetching competition. They were training hard for it. It was on the same lines as Iron man competition but with different type of difficulties and hurdles to pass through. The toughest would be the end climb on the wall to fetch the rose. This competition would encompass a distance of few kilometres and so it was not possible to monitor the event throughout the route but volunteers, all girls, would be standing near all the activity zones. It was Eshaan’s birthday and both the boys couldn’t sleep at all the night before and ran a lot in the morning resulting in drained energies and sleepy bodies at the time of competition. Aarush couldn’t stand the sun and bailed out during the third activity, but Eshaan forced himself forward to equate the total tally of wins with Aarush. But during the 5 km run, he slumped at the side of the road. A classmate-Cyanna offered to drop him up to the next activity on her bike. Eshaan accepted without blinking, and was dropped just right before the activity zone. Eshaan didn’t even thank her or gave her a second look and ran towards the activity area. Later he gifted her the rose which he won, so as she doesn’t tell anyone.

Eshaan invited a few of his friends to his party in the evening and told Aarush that he was going to cook himself for everybody. Around seven that evening, when the doorbell rang, Eshaan was busy getting things ready for the evening’s party. Wondering who had turned up so early, he went to get the door. It was Aarush. “I’m here to help you,” he announced and continued, “How much can you possibly do all by yourself?” Holding forward a single rose he bowed dramatically. “Congratulations. For now, you could stop being jealous,” he smirked. The emphatic ‘all by yourself’ bothered Eshaan. He had never lied or hid anything from Aarush or cheated in a sport. He couldn’t hold it in him any longer. He decided to come clean with him.

“Listen, I fell down during the 5km run and was in no position to finish it but Cyanna picked me up on her bike and dropped me to the next activity. And I wanted to win so bad that I continued anyway.”

“That’s a good story, you just wrote it or were you working on it the whole day?”

“I am serious, and I am sorry,” Eshaan replied in a muffled voice.

“What the you know what? You cheated? Just to win a race?” Aarush continued, “Why would you….?”

Both of them experienced an uncomfortable silence for the first time between them, punctuated only by Eshaan’s low sobs.

“What happened to your words, ‘we are not like them, we don’t cheat to win, we play to win.’ I thought we were the good ones, I thought we…” Aarush continued.

“I am sorry, I am sorry. I got carried away. We are the good ones,” Eshaan pleaded

“Yeah we were good, I guess you wanted to be better,” Aarush replied. “ I will be in the hall.”

The evening went by very smoothly where both of them played their parts perfectly. Most of who were present couldn’t understand the undertones or symbolism of what they were talking about when they talked about the failure of the gunpowder plot or the ‘hand of god’ of Maradona. When Aarush left, he hung the ‘V’ on the side like a flag. Eshaan mumbled a sorry under his breathe.

Next day when they met, Eshaan was worried but Aarush seemed normal. They carried on with their day as usual with only one anomaly from their routine. Aarush won’t play any sport with Eshaan anymore. They went to river for bath but Aarush didn’t race on the way back. And in a couple of days they realised that the lustre from their friendship was gone. Aarush didn’t participate in any sporting event in school throughout the year. Eshaan kept pleading with him, telling him how sorry he felt and how he would not let competition get to his head. But Aarush didn’t budge. Whole school was missing their competition, even Eshaan’s sister asked what happened to the ‘V’, it was up or like flag. And with time even the occasional river bath or an evening by the canal also stopped. And eventually Eshaan too let go of the only end which kept their friendship from flying away. By the end of the year, they were just classmates.

Even the teachers wanted them back, hence they gave Aarush second place and Eshaan third, just to spice up the things. But it remained as bland and vapid as it could be. They missed each other, they longed for that camaraderie which they were not getting from Mansi or Cyanna. But it was not to happen.

Without sports and without Eshaan, Aarush felt lost. At that time Aarush’s father got a transfer to a different city, a bigger city and he was thinking to turn it down. But Aarush pressured him to take the transfer. And he applied for post-graduation there and got through. The day he got his provisional acceptance letter, he cried like a baby, saying ‘he didn’t want to go’, over and over again. Eshaan came to know about this from his sister, who was surprised that he didn’t knew. He pretended that it didn’t matter to him and that he was happy for him. Although covertly he wished everything would break down and Aarush would not be able to leave. His father would lose the job or something like that, he even wished for Aarush to fail in his final results.

The day Aarush was to leave, Eshaan was restless since morning. Hoping something would stop all this non-sense. He for once also believed the hypothesis, that all this is just a staged act by Aarush and everything would be normal once this is over. By afternoon his sister informed him that Aarush is about to leave. Eshaan picked his motorbike, went straight to Aarush’s house.

When he reached, Aarush’s car was already leaving. Eshaan accelerated to catch up with him and saw Aarush driving. Aarush looked at him and just said, “Cold storage”. Aarush accelerated and his car zoomed ahead and Eshaan, in a mood to let Aarush win, maintained a steady pace.

But suddenly Eshaan went full throttle and went ahead of Aarush, and maintained the lead till termination point. He decelerated gradually and so did Aarush, but Eshaan came to a stop while Aarush went ahead with a ‘V’ to the side like a flag. Eshaan was crying unconsolably. The speeding car became blurry and within seconds it was gone.

He went to their spot by the canal. He sat there till evening thinking of the times they had together. He realised how it is unfair and more difficult for the ones that are left behind than those who leave. But Eshaan had earned hope, after winning that last race. Someday, Aarush would have to come back to win one more race, to balance the tally.

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