Three years before Selection Day
“I have news for you, Tommy Sir.”
“And I’ve got news for you, Pramod. You see, when I was twenty-one years old, which is to say before you were even born, I began working on a history of the Maratha campaign at the third battle of Panipat. It even had a title: ‘1761: THE SOUL BREAKS OUT OF ITS ENCIRCLEMENT.’ Because I felt that no truthful account of this battle had ever been written. All the histories say we Marathas lost to the Afghans at Panipat on 14 January 1761. Not true. I mean, it may be true, we lost, but it’s not the true story.”
“Tommy Sir, there is a younger brother, too. He also plays cricket. That’s my news.”
“Pramod. If you have not come to listen to my proposed history of the battle of Panipat, which I have been working on for four decades, but have instead come to talk about cricket, please turn around and go home right now.”
“Tommy Sir. You should have seen the younger brother bat today at the Oval Maidan. You should have. He’s nearly as good as his big brother.”
Darkness, Mumbai. The bargaining goes on and on.
“And you know just how good the elder brother is, Tommy Sir. You said Radha Krishna Kumar was the best young batsman you’ve seen in fifty years.”
“Fifty? Pramod: there hasn’t been a best young batsman in fifty years in the past fifty years. I said best in fifteen years. Don’t just stand there, help me clean up. Bend a bit, Pramod. You’re growing fat.”
Behind glass and steel, behind banks and towers, behind the blue monstrosity of the Bharat Diamond Bourse, is a patch of living green: the lawns of the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) Club in the Bandra-Kurla Financial Centre. Floodlights expose the lawns, on which two men scavenge.
“I ask you, Pramod, since you insist on talking about cricket, what is the chance of elder and younger brother from the same family becoming great cricketers? It is against Nature.”
“You distrust sporting brothers, Tommy Sir. Why?”
“Mistrust, Pramod. Pick up that plastic for me, please.”
“A master of English cricket and grammar alike, Tommy Sir. You should be writing for the Times of Great Britain.”
“Sorry, Tommy Sir.”
Sucking in his paunch, Pramod Sawant bent down, and lifted a plastic wrapper by its torn edge.
“The younger brother is called Manjunath Kumar. He’s the biggest secret in Mumbai cricket today, I tell you. The boy is the real thing.”
Chubby, moustached Pramod Sawant, now in his early forties, was a man of some importance in Bombay cricket — head coach at the Ali Weinberg International School, runner-up in last year’s Harris Shield. Head Coach Sawant was, in other words, a fat pipe in the filtration system that sucks in strong wrists, quick reflexes and supple limbs from every part of the city, channels them through school teams, club championships, and friendly matches for years and years, and then one sudden morning pours them out into an open field where two or maybe three new players will be picked for the Mumbai Ranji Trophy team.
But he is nothing if he can’t get Tommy Sir’s attention tonight.
“No one knows what the real thing looks like, Pramod. I’ve never seen it. How can you tell?”
“This Manju is a real son of a bitch, I tell you. He’s got this way of deflecting everything off his pads: lots of runs on the leg side. Bit of Sandip Patil, bit of Sachin, bit of Sobers, but mostly, he’s khadoos. Cricket sponsorship is a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant idea: now you can make it twice as brilliant.”
Grey-haired Tommy Sir, taller and wiser than Coach Sawant, kept his eyes on the lawn.
“After thirty-nine years of service to Bombay cricket, they make me clean up like a servant, Pramod. After thirty-nine years.”
‘”You don’t have to clean up, Tommy Sir. You know it. The peon will do it in the morning. See, I know Manju, the younger brother, is the real thing, because if he’s not, then what is he? A fake. And this boy is not a fake, I promise you.’
Having completed a round of the cricket ground, Tommy Sir had started on a second trash-hunting circle within the previous one.
‘Pramod, the idea that the boy has to be . . .” he bent down, examined a stone, and let it drop, “either real or a fake is a very Western piece of logic.”
He moved on.
“Do you know what the Jains say, Pramod? Seven varieties of truth exist. Seven. One, this younger brother might in fact be the real thing. Two, he might be a fake. Three, the boy might simultaneously be the real thing and a fake. Four, he might exist in some state beyond reality and fraudulence that we humans cannot hope to comprehend. Five, he might in fact be the real thing and yet exist in a state beyond our poor human capacity to comprehend. Six — ”
“Tommy Sir. Please. I know what I felt in my heart when that boy was batting. I know.”
“My dear Pramod. Hockey is India’s national game, chess best suits our body type, and football is the future.”
Two old stumps lay in their path. Tommy Sir picked up one and Sawant pretended to pick up the other.
“Football has been the future for fifty years, Tommy Sir. Nothing will replace cricket.”
The two men walked the rest of the circle in silence, and then Tommy Sir, holding the stump against his chest, started a third tour of the ground.
He spoke at last.
“Pramod, the great George Bernard Shaw said: they haven’t spoken English in America in decades. And I say about Indians: we haven’t played cricket in decades. At least since 1978. Go home now. I am very tired, I want to hike near Mahabaleshwar this weekend. I dream of mountains, Pramod.”
Sawant, fighting for breath, could see only one piece of uncollected rubbish: a white glove lying in the very centre of the ground. Clenching his fists, he raced Tommy Sir to the glove, and picked it up first.
“A bit of Sandip Patil meets a bit of Ricky Ponting. You should have seen the boy today.”
“Are you deaf?” Tense muscles extended Tommy Sir’s high forehead. “In 1978, Sunny Gavaskar lost the ability to leave the ball outside the off-stump, and since then we’ve been playing baseball and calling it cricket. Go home.”
He snatched the glove from Sawant.
Walking to a corner of the ground, he let the rubbish spill from his hands: in the morning, the peon would move all of it into the storeroom.
As Sawant watched, Tommy Sir got into an autorickshaw, and it left the Cricket Club. Then, as if in a silent movie, the auto stopped, and a man’s palm shot out and beckoned.
Loaded now with both men, the auto left the Bandra-Kurla Complex for the highway, and then turned into Kalanagar, where it stopped outside a mildew-stained housing society.
Suffering Sawant to pay the driver, Tommy Sir got out of the autorickshaw; he looked up at the fourth floor of the building to see if his daughter Lata had left the lights on in the kitchen despite his telling her, for twenty-two years, that this was against every principle of Home Science, a wonderful subject which they once used to teach young women in every college in this country.
Tommy Sir pointed at the sky over his housing society: the full moon was balanced on a water tank.
“Pramod. On a night like this, you know the young people in Bandra just go crazy. Out in the Bandstand, those boys and girls walk all the way out onto the rocks, sit down, start kissing. They forget that the ocean exists. Slowly the tide comes in. Higher and higher.” The old man raised his fingers to his collarbones. “All at once, the young people stop kissing, because they find themselves sitting in the middle of the ocean, and they start screaming for their lives.’
“Pramod — what is the younger one’s name? Manju?”
“I knew you’d agree, Tommy Sir. You believe in the future of this country. I’ll tell the visionary. I mean the other visionary.”
“Pramod Sawant: now listen to me. One, this visionary of yours is probably just a bootlegger. Second, I like Radha Kumar, but I don’t like his father. The Chutney Raja is mad. Now I have to deal with him twice over?”
“That’s the only negative point, I agree. The father is mad.” Tommy Sir blamed the full moon over the watertank for what he said next.
‘How much Sandip Patil?’
Excerpted from “Selection Day” by Aravind Adiga. Copyright © 2016 by Aravind Adiga. Reprinted with permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.