Story 60: Our Lord Drinks Milk

‘IT IS THAT BOY, Anvesh,’ said Matthew Sir, the newly appointed English teacher at Palem’s school. He sat leaning forward in his chair from across Principal Rammurthy, who was, at the moment, trying to balance the books from last month. Government funds invariably arrived a couple of months later than they should, and staff invariably demanded their salaries on time. It meant that as the first of the month approached, Rammurthy donned the garb of an expert juggler, and set about jotting numbers down on the official register. It was an exercise that asked of a certain nimbleness of mind, not to mention facility with imagination. Perhaps it was not a wonder that they preferred to promote math teachers to the post.

Rammurthy preferred to be left alone during this holy ritual, and he had thought that allocating a couple of hours after school had been closed for the day would be ideal. He had not counted on Matthew Sir to choose this very slot to take up his own cause.

He cast a forlorn look at his uncapped blue Reynolds pen, and then up at his newest staff member. The young man was twenty five, about five-foot-six in height but looked taller because of his excessively lean build. He had a mop of curly, dreamy honey-brown eyes, and insisted on wearing to the school nothing but an ironed white full-sleeved shirt inserted into a pair of coal-black cotton trousers. Both his belt and his shoes always had a shine to them; Rammurthy had often meant to ask Matthew if he polished his belt as well, but he had yet to find a proper time to do so.

‘Anvesh, yes,’ he said at last, though he had no idea who Anvesh was. ‘What seems to be the problem?’

‘I have come to you about him last week, Sir, if you remember,’ said Matthew. ‘The boy is turning into quite an influence on his classmates. And not a good one either.’

‘I see. What would you like to do about it?’

‘I tried punishing him, of course. But it seems to have emboldened him further. Today, twelve students were marked absent in my English class, Sir, and I ask you – if these boys do not learn how to speak and write English, how are they ever going to make anything of themselves in the world?’

Rammurthy capped his pen, and closed the register over it. Matthew Sir filled him with equal parts admiration and trepidation – the former because he himself had never cared so much about his job as Matthew Sir evidently did. After all, they were in a government school; neither of them lived here in Palem; all anyone expected of them was to be present at the premises for an hour or so every day. Sign your name in the register. Write something on the blackboard. Draw your salary. Hope that when you do get transferred, it would not be to some god-forsaken hellhole.

Despite all this, Matthew Sir had that fire in him, that sort of fire that even unmarried men in their mid-twenties rarely possessed. Something in Rammurthy told him that Matthew would retain a significant part of this verve well into his forties. He would be the kind of teacher that everyone would remember – his colleagues, his principals, his students – with sourness. He did not belong in a government institution. He was the kind of man well-suited to starting a new-age place of learning in one of the big cities, and he would make it thrive too.

‘So,’ he said, letting his hands entwine in front of him on the desk, ‘the boy doesn’t like coming to school, does he?’

‘No, sir,’ said Matthew. ‘These are the future citizens of our country, I dare say. If we don’t correct them, who will?’

Rammurthy gave Matthew an owlish look, from over the rim of his spectacles. None of us like coming to school, he wanted to say, but thought it would not go down well. Instead he fell back on an old speech, the kind he liked to regurgitate every now and then in front of spirited staff members.

‘These children, Matthew Sir,’ he said, ‘come from hard homes. Their fathers drink. Their mothers labour in fields and homes. It is tough for them to understand the value of an education.’ Rammurthy paused deliberately, to clear his throat. ‘Most of the students who do attend, you understand, do so for the meals.’

‘I understand that, Sir,’ said Matthew, and Rammurthy noted with weariness that he wasn’t about to let the matter rest. ‘I have made some investigations about this boy. He is the son of the potter. Danayya, the name is. Maybe you know of him?’

Rammurthy nodded. ‘I do know him, yes. He is the guy who supplies all the Ganesha idols every year. They go off to Dhavaleshwaram to get painted, and they get brought back here to be installed at the temple.’

‘That is so. I have a feeling that Danayya might be behind Anvesh’s attitude to school. Perhaps the father wants his son entering the family business.’

‘And we must respect his wishes if he does. Four hands are better than two in feeding a family.’

‘But Sir,’ said Matthew. ‘It is our duty to make Danayya see – that there is more to life than being a potter. Surely you and I must go and visit him. Tell him all that his son can accomplish if only he is serious about education.’

Rammurthy really did not want to make this trip, and he shot a quick glance at the younger man, to see if any of his well-worn excuses would work. He could say that he had to be home early in Rajahmundry, that it was his wife’s birthday, that he had to catch the afternoon bus which was about to leave in twenty minutes from Dhavaleshwaram…

But Matthew Sir’s eyes flashed an accusing blue spark that made Rammurthy wince. He sighed and said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’

* * *

They were destined not to meet Danayya, though, because on the way, while passing the new Shivalayam in the middle of Venkayya Veedhi, Rammurthy saw a crowd of fifty or so people gather in the shade of the two Gulmohar trees that stood next to each other in the middle of the front yard. Some of these men were of the village, he could tell; but at least half the gathering wore city clothes.

‘What is going on here?’ he asked Matthew.

‘I don’t know, Sir, but I bet that boy Anvesh is behind it.’

They approached the crowd from behind, and some of the Palem residents shushed one another and gave them way, whispering that Rammurthy Sir was here. Matthew performed the role of usher, clearing away the people in front of them so that they could work through them and reach the foot of the tree. There, about equidistant between the two trunks, laid out on a white tarpaulin sheet, were five mud-coloured Ganesha idols that were each about three feet tall. Behind these stood three school-aged children, holding canes in their hands, giving out instructions to a few other boys who were trying to control the crowd.

‘Are these your boys?’ asked Rammurthy.

Matthew Sir inclined his head toward a gangly twelve-year-old youth behind the largest idol, and whispered, ‘Anvesh.’

Rammurthy followed the teacher’s gaze, and found that he knew the boy by sight after all. Other complaints had been made by other teachers about him; he was what everyone agreed was a ‘problem child’. He had a toothpick in his mouth, which he twirled between his lips rebelliously as his keen eyes fell on them.

‘Anvesh,’ said Matthew Sir in his best tone of admonishment. ‘When are you coming back to school?’

Anvesh did not make eye-contact with his teacher. ‘Arey what school, sir, we are very busy here.’ He pointed a cane at a blue-sari-clad woman, who was holding an earthen vessel of milk in front of her, in both her hands. ‘Oye, did you pay the two rupees?’ She said, ‘Yes, yes.’ He asked one of his cronies, ‘Oye Billa, did this madam pay the two rupees?’ And Billa said, ‘Haan, anna.’

Anvesh made a waving gesture with his cane. ‘Come, come. Everyone else, stay quiet!’

To Rammurthy’s surprise, a hush fell on the crowd as the woman approached the biggest of the five Ganesha idols, and fell to her knees in front of it. Extending her arms, she touched the surface of the milk to Ganesha’s tusk. A low gasp worked its way through the attending people at that moment.

‘Shh!’ said Anvesh, and they fell silent. ‘Madam, say the mantra.’

The woman began chanting some words under her breath.

‘Louder, Madam, louder!’ said Anvesh. ‘The lord has to hear you or no?’

The woman immediately upped her voice. She slurred over certain tough verses, and she seemed to dither over some more, but in Rammurthy’s view she did a fine job, given the atmosphere.

But Anvesh did not seem to be impressed. He walked over to her and leaned forward, with his hands tied behind his back. He looked at the milk and said, ‘No. The lord doesn’t hear your prayer. You must say the mantra without any mistakes, understand?’

‘I will try again tomorrow,’ the woman said.

‘By tomorrow a bigger devotee than you will come and take all these idols away,’ said Anvesh. He looked out at the crowd. ‘Who else has milk for our Ganesha to drink?’

One of Anvesh’s friends pushed a man forward. He had a packet of milk in his hand.

‘Hai!’ said Anvesh, sneering. ‘Look, he comes with a milk packet. Where did you buy that, miyan? At Sivayya’s shop?’ At this people in the crowd began to snicker, and Anvesh let the laughter build for a couple of seconds, and then raised his cane. ‘Shh, we must not insult any devotee of the lord. Ganesha does not discriminate between packet milk and fresh milk. But because we have to make it easy for him to drink it –’

He signalled to one of his men, who brought an empty earthen bowl. At a wave of the cane, the packet of milk was torn open, and its contents emptied into the new bowl. It was then thrust into the man’s hands, who came forward and replicated whatever the woman had done earlier.

‘Wait, wait,’ said Anvesh, and looked at his cashier. ‘Did the sir pay the two rupees?’

‘Haan, anna.’

‘Good, I have a feeling that Lord Ganesha will accept this man’s prayer. Now, chant the mantra.’

The man cleared his throat, and Rammurthy could tell that he was as nervous as a student being asked by a teacher to recite the nineteen times table in front of the whole class. His pronunciation was awful, he kept going over his lines again and again, but he kept his eyes closed, and at each mistake he said sorry to Ganesha.

Overall, it took him a whole minute to work his way through the chant.

Anvesh had his lips pursed the whole time, and at the end he went to stand beside the man. He half-turned to the crowd and shook his head, as if to say, I don’t have high hopes of this man either. But then he took the final step and peered over the man’s shoulders, and the cane dropped from his hands. ‘Hai!’ he said.

Gesticulations of surprise emanated from the crowd. Rammurthy looked around him, and realized that between the time of their arrival and now, the number of onlookers had swelled. Around eighty of them now.

‘Hai! Jai Vinayaka!’ said Anvesh.

And everyone said, ‘Jai Vinayaka.’

Anvesh snatched the vessel of milk from the man’s hands now, and showed it to them. It was not empty, but only a small amount of milk was left at the bottom. ‘Look, O Devotees of Ganesha,’ he said. ‘Our lord has accepted this man’s offering. He is saying to him, I want to be taken to your home. I want to shower you with more blessings. In the compound of this holy temple belonging to his father, our dear god Ganesha has chosen to follow this man back to his home. What is your name, good sir?’

The man, gushing with joy now, said, ‘Thimmayya, sir.’


‘Thimmayya, sir. Thimmayya.’

‘Ah, Thimmayya,’ said Anvesh. ‘The name of none other than Anjaneya Swami himself. And which village do you come from?’

‘I come from Hamsaladeevi, sir, on the other side of Dhavaleshwaram.’

‘Hamsaladeevi, yes, I know Hamsaladeevi. A wonderful village. I am sure it will be a great home for our Ganesha. You will give our Ganesha a home, won’t you, Thimmayya?’

‘I will, sir, I will.’ He reached into his pocket to pull out a purse, but Anvesh warded the man off with an air of disdain. ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘Ganesha does not wish to accept money from true devotees. The idol is yours for free, my man! For free.’

Everyone in the crowd, including the woman who had been deemed unworthy a few minutes back, cheered and chanted the lord’s name. Some of them said, ‘Jai Amareshwara.’ And Anvesh nodded at them all.

‘You have the biggest of all of our idols. You’re a lucky man. I wish I were as lucky as you.’ He beckoned to one of his students, who picked up the idol in his arms. ‘Tell Seshu here where your cart is and he will load it up for you.’

‘Uh, I don’t have a cart, sir,’ said Thimmayya. ‘I came in the jeep.’

‘Oh, the jeep,’ said Anvesh. ‘But if you take the jeep on the way back, all the rest of the passengers will touch your idol. They will get their messy hands on it. Won’t they?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Thimmayya, grimacing in disgust. ‘What to do now?’

‘We have an auto rickshaw that will transport you to your home along with the idol, safe and sound. Just fifty rupees, and he will even help you place Ganesha wherever you want in your house.’

Thimmayya brought out his purse, counted out five ten-rupee notes, and held them out to Anvesh. The boy shook his head and patted the winner on his back. ‘Not to me, sir, to the auto driver. Goodbye now!’

As Seshu and Thimmayya made their way out toward the back of the temple, where Rammurthy saw the yellow top of an auto rickshaw, the crowd gathered under the gulmohar trees applauded thunderously. So loud was the din that even Rama Shastri came out to see what the matter was.

Now there were only four idols on the tarpaulin sheet. Anvesh’s boys adjusted their places so that the bridged the gap left behind by the one that had been won.

A fashionably-dressed thirty-something woman stepped up to the head of the queue now, holding a milk bottle in one hand, and pushing up the bridge of her horn-rimmed spectacles with the other. Anvesh got confirmation from Billa that the two rupees had been paid, and the other confederate produced an earthen vessel.

Matthew Sir turned to look at Rammurthy with his eyes bulging. The principal concealed a smile and said, ‘Maybe we should go.’

* * *

As they waited at the bus shelter together, Matthew Sir said, ‘Clearly we should shut this down. The boy is turning into a professional con man.’

Rammurthy cleaned his glasses with the hem of his shirt. ‘So you are certain, then,’ he said, ‘that the Ganesha idol did not drink the milk?’

‘Of course,’ said Matthew Sir. And then, as if an incredulous thought struck him, ‘Do you think that it is a real miracle, Sir?’

‘I don’t know what to think, Sir,’ said Rammurthy. ‘The person who brought the milk clearly thought that the idol has drunk it. The people who were gathered there seemed to think that too. No one was forcing any of those people to part with their two rupee notes.’

‘You’re not condoning this behaviour, are you, Sir?’ asked Matthew. ‘Those boys – those boys should be in school.’

‘Yes, learning English no doubt.’

‘Yes, learning English – and science and math and social studies. Instead they’re on the road deceiving people – and you act as if it’s all okay.’

‘I am not saying it’s all okay,’ said Rammurthy. ‘But I am also not saying that it’s a travesty.’

‘It is a travesty!’ said Matthew. ‘We’re teachers. It is our duty to make sure that all the children of the village are in school during school hours. Learning things.’

Rammurthy sighed, and wished that his bus would hurry up and arrive. ‘What do you propose to do?’ he asked.

‘Well, I propose to take it up. I will expose Anvesh for the fraud that he is. Tomorrow, I will see to it that his little coterie is broken up. I will haul them back to school on my own if that is the least I can do.’

Rammurthy wondered what devils in his past Matthew was railing against – all these social activist types always were, in some way or the other. It did not matter, of course, in a practical sense; nothing that he could say would dissuade Matthew from performing his duty. And he had no authority over his staff members anyway, the most he could do was cut their salaries if their attendance sheets had holes. As a rule, it was the over-diligent ones that caused all the trouble.

He looked out along the road in hope. To his relief, the bus was here.

‘Good idea,’ he told Matthew. It was always best to maintain cordial relationships, even with the crazy ones. ‘All the best.’

* * *

For the next five days, Rammurthy did not get a visit from Matthew, so he used the undisturbed time to fill up the school’s books with satisfactory numbers. They did not have receipts for all their expenses, and their ledger would not stand up to a proper audit, but who was going to audit a government school? The DEO, when he arrives, would be only too eager to sign at the appropriate place in exchange for an appropriate sum of money which would, of course, be adjusted under Miscellaneous Expenses on next month’s records.

On his way back to the bus stop from school every day that week, Rammurthy made it his business to walk along the Shivalayam’s way, to see how Anvesh’s little enterprise was running. He noted that the numbers had begun to balloon now; that Saturday, he was presiding over a crowd of some hundred people.

Babu Ram, who went by the moniker of Babai because he owned the Babai Hotel in the village, was all smiles that week. He confided in Rammurthy over a cup of tea that business had boomed over the last few days. If the same demand held up, he said, he may have to employ another boy to help them out.

Rama Shastri was happy; where his temple attracted five or ten people per day on average, now it was getting at least fifty. And all of them, of course, left behind monetary donations in the box.

On the seventh day after they had first discovered Anvesh’s business, Matthew Sir walked into Rammurthy’s office with an air of triumph. ‘I know how he does it,’ he said. ‘It took me a while, but I know how he does it.’

Rammurthy leaned back, smiled, and waved his younger colleague to a chair.

Matthew sat in it, and proceeded to talk. ‘The trick is pulled when Anvesh puts the devotee’s milk in his own earthen vessel,’ he said. ‘The vessel is made more porous than other vessels – he is the son of a potter, after all – and it absorbs milk into a hardier inner chamber which holds the milk. You will have noticed that the only times he gives away an idol is when a devotee offers milk in one of his vessels. And he keeps the vessel too, so he can reuse it.’

‘I see.’

‘Yes, crafty, isn’t it? Whenever he thinks it’s time for a miracle, he uses one of his special vessels. All the other times he uses a normal vessel. Even with the special vessel, it takes a minute or so for full absorption, so he fills up that time with general theatricality. The devotee, you see, has his eyes closed, but even if this were not so, he would only see the level of the milk decrease steadily, and because it is in touch with the idol’s tusk, he thinks Ganesha is drinking.’

‘Hmm,’ said Rammurthy. ‘Congratulations.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

‘What do you propose to do now?’

‘Well, what else?’ said Matthew. ‘I will go to his gathering tomorrow, and I will expose him in front of all the devotees. He needs to go through this public shame to teach him a lesson.’

‘And what lesson is that?’

‘That crime doesn’t pay, of course,’ said Matthew.

‘Ah,’ said Rammurthy. ‘Of course. All the best.’

That evening, Rammurthy called home and told his wife that he would be a little late. He waited until the school was deserted, and made for the home of Danayya the potter.

* * *

Danayya was just about to clean his wheel and wrap it up for the night when Rammurthy arrived at the porch in front of their hut. At the sight of him, the potter gave a cry of pleasant surprise, and brought out a stool for him to sit on. He settled on his haunches a few feet away, facing him.

‘Why did you come, Principal sir?’ he asked. ‘If you had just called –’

‘No, no,’ said Rammurthy. ‘I came to meet your son. Anvesh.’

A look of fear came to Danayya’s eyes. ‘Why, sir? Did he do anything? I will –’

‘Nothing that a boy of his age shouldn’t do, Danayya,’ said Rammurthy. ‘If you will just call him, I will have a private word with him.’

Danayya got up to his feet reluctantly. He went into the house, and after a spell of raised voices and a slapping sound, out came Anvesh, his right cheek reddened. He looked sullenly in Rammurthy’s direction, and came to stand where his father had sat just before, looking away into the distance with angry eyes. His arms were folded across his chest.

‘You have not been coming to school, Anvesh,’ said Rammurthy, and for a moment he caught himself because he was unsure of how to drive this conversation. ‘Matthew Sir told me that you haven’t been attending classes for the last ten days.’

A shrug, and more silence.

‘I made a small study of your business,’ said Rammurthy, bringing out a piece of paper. ‘You bring five Ganesha idols to the temple square in the morning. Each one, if sold to the trader from Dhavaleshwaram, will fetch perhaps twenty rupees. Is that correct?’

Anvesh’s eyes came to settle on him.

Rammurthy smiled. ‘Maybe fifteen, then. So you can hope to get seventy five rupees for all five of them. Maybe the trader will demand that you give them for seventy. Hmm?

‘But at the temple, you set up a two-rupee fee for anyone who wants to feed the idol some milk. Say you get a hundred people. That’s two hundred rupees. And you collect fifty rupees as delivery fee. Say you split that with the auto driver equally, that’s twenty five rupees for you. So with the same five idols, you make two hundred and twenty five rupees.’

Anvesh grinned, and shook his head.

‘Am I way off?’ asked Rammurthy. ‘Maybe you get two hundred people in one day. There is a crowd at all times of the day around your idols. If that is the case you make – how much – four hundred and some rupees. Not bad for something that would fetch you seventy rupees otherwise. Huh?

‘There’s some more. These two hundred people visit the temple, and maybe they put one rupee each into Rama Shastri’s donation box. How much of that have you arranged to be paid to you? Let’s say 25%. That’s fifty rupees. Your haul has come to four hundred and seventy five.

‘And Babu Ram of Babai Hotel has been making some money too, hasn’t he? A 20% cut there would give you perhaps a hundred rupees. So you’ve made more or less six hundred rupees a day over the last ten days. Six thousand in all. Am I close?’

‘So what?’ asked Anvesh. ‘I earned all that money.’

Rammurthy could tell from the way Anvesh spoke that the pot was probably even bigger than six thousand, but not by much. He was in the ballpark, which was why the boy deemed it fit to respond.

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘The money is yours. You’ve earned it. I have only come to tell you that from tomorrow, your idols will stop drinking milk.’

‘Ha! And why will they?’

‘Because Matthew Sir has figured out your ruse. Tomorrow he plans to expose you.’

A flash of fear passed Anvesh’s eyes. ‘He has figured out nothing.’

‘He has,’ said Rammurthy. ‘Your best bet is to stop your business yourself. Before Matthew Sir does it.’

‘Why should I believe you?’

Rammurthy considered the question, and answered as honestly as he could. ‘Because if you don’t, tomorrow you may be taken to jail by all those people you swindled. Lord Ganesha will not help you then.’

It was a bit of a stretch to threaten the boy with imprisonment, and Rammurthy felt bad making it, but after that, Anvesh was more amenable to reason, and together they worked out how things could be managed.

Later, after night fell, as Rammurthy was about to leave, Danayya gave him a lift to the bus stop on his bicycle.

* * *

‘Sir!’ said Matthew at lunch period the next day, storming into Rammurthy’s office. ‘Anvesh came to school today.’

‘Indeed, did he?’

‘Yes, and he closed down his show this morning,’ said Matthew. ‘Told everyone that his idols have stopped drinking milk. It was a miracle while it lasted, he said, and he doesn’t know why or how it stopped.’

‘I see.’

‘I wonder if he suspected that I was on his trail.’

Rammurthy smiled. ‘I am certain he did. You were closing in on him, rather.’

‘I was,’ said Matthew. ‘I wish I was a little more discreet, sir. I wish I’d caught him and taught him a lesson.’

Rammurthy’s smile hardened. He put his pen down, and pointed Matthew to his chair. Then he said, closing the register, ‘Matthew Sir, how much is your salary?’

The young man coloured and hesitated. ‘Sir – he said – it’s not much – you know how much it is –’

‘Still,’ said Rammurthy. ‘Humour me.’

‘Three thousand four hundred rupees, sir, after this year’s increment.’

‘Right. Now let me give you a math lesson, shall I? I am a math teacher after all. After it is done, if you see it fit, you can give me an English lesson. Is that fair?’

‘Sir,’ said Matthew. ‘I don’t understand –’

‘In the last ten days, in Palem, Anvesh’s little operation has given rise to thirty thousand rupees. That is – thirty thousand rupees that were not present in Palem before Anvesh began his – stage show, as you call it – have come into the village. This money has come from Dhavaleshwaram, from Hamsaladeevi, and from other villages in the region. Thirty thousand rupees is more or less ten months’ your salary, is it not?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘If Anvesh’s business was allowed to remain in the village for the next – let’s say a year, let’s say three hundred days – how much money would Palem, as a village, have earned?’

‘I – I don’t know, sir.’

‘Not that good with multiplication, I understand,’ said Rammurthy brightly. ‘No problem. In ten days, the business has earned thirty thousand rupees. In three hundred days, we’re looking at thirty thousand times thirty. That is nine lakh rupees. Nine lakh rupees – if we’d only kept our traps shut.’

‘But sir –’

‘Wait, wait,’ said Rammurthy. ‘I am not done yet with my lesson. Do you know the annual budget of our school, Matthew Sir?’

‘No, sir, I do not.’

‘I will tell you. It is five lakh rupees. We’re given five lakh rupees every year by the government of India – and how much money do you suppose we generate?’

‘Oh, no one can put a price on education –’

‘Ah, yes, but let’s try anyway,’ said Rammurthy. ‘We collect no fees. We accept only grants and donations. So I ask the question again – how much money do we generate? In other words, Sir, who pays your salary and mine?’

‘The taxpayer, of course, Sir – why do we have to talk of all this?’

‘I will tell you,’ said Rammurthy. ‘Here we are, you and I – we work for this strange business that only swallows money every year, doesn’t create any wealth whatsoever, and we take our salaries on the first of every month, and we insist on increments every year, do we not? It doesn’t strike us that this is a con too, what we’re running – you and I.

‘And along comes a boy who literally imagines into existence an operation that generates revenue that is twice the budget of this school – and your reaction to it is that it should be shut down. I wonder what it is that you disliked about it, Sir. Did Anvesh make you feel all that bad about yourself?’

Matthew was breathing heavily, and shaking his head. ‘This is bullshit,’ he said. ‘It is illegal, what that boy was doing.’

‘I agree,’ said Rammurthy, ‘and that is why I am glad that he has shut it down. But I think at the very least, Sir, we should treat the boy with some respect.’

For a long while Matthew Sir did not say anything, and Rammurthy sat looking at him, his hands entwined. Then at last, when he got up to his feet, the young man’s tone was a little subdued. ‘I will go eat now, Sir,’ he said.

‘Of course,’ said Rammurthy. He knew that it was all a waste; Matthew did not agree with him, he never would. His submission right at this moment was brought about by deference to authority, not to principle. Despite his many resolutions to the contrary, Rammurthy wondered whether he had not made yet another enemy at the school.

‘And listen,’ he said, as Matthew turned his back and left the room, ‘take your salary from Shouri. I’ve instructed him to give you a bonus for this month, for all the personal responsibility you took with the Anvesh matter.’

* * *

On his customary walk around the school grounds the next morning, Rammurthy stood behind the window of Matthew Sir’s class, his cane-holding hand tucked behind his back. Matthew Sir was striking the blackboard with a wooden thirty-centimetre ruler, and explaining to the kids the difference between present and past perfect tenses of a verb. ‘If you don’t understand this,’ he was saying, ‘there is no way you will pass the exam.’

Rammurthy leaned forward, seeing if he could spot Anvesh. The boy was seated to the corner of the front row, right next to the wall. He sat in an attentive pose – erect, with arms folded across his chest – and he looked in the general direction of the board, but his eyes wore a bright, distant look about them. His foot tapped against the floor, and he had his tongue wedged in between his teeth. An uncapped blue pen twirled furiously between his fingers.

The fellow was clearly not listening. In all likelihood he was brooding over his dead venture.

Or – thought Rammurthy with a smile – he was planning his next.