A boy should make more interesting conversation with a girl. But a loser like me had little experience or finesse in this regard.
‘Family business. Real estate and infrastructure.’
‘You are rich, right?’ I said. Idiot Manas. Couldn’t think of anything better.
She laughed at my direct question. ‘Rich in money, or rich in mind? Two different things.’
‘Huh? Rich, like wealthy?'
'What’s unfortunate? Everyone wants to be rich.’
'Yeah, I guess. It just embarrasses me. Plus, all the obsession with
money and how it defines you, I just don’t get it.’
I realized she and I came from different worlds. Perhaps it was a
futile battle to pursue her. Logically, practically and rationally, it made no sense.
'Can I try your mince?’ she said.‘I’m hungry.’
I nodded. I asked the waiter to get another fork. However, before he could get one she picked up mine and took a bite.
She took my fork, does it mean anything?
‘Where’s home for you?’ she said.
1 himraon. A small town, three hours from Patna.’
‘Nice,’ she said.
You will probably find it boring.’
'No, no, tell me more. As you can see, I’m not much of a talker. I
like to listen,’ she said. She seemed genuinely interested. I told her about my life back home, revolving around my mother, her school and basketball.There wasn’t much else. My father had passed away ten years ago. He had left us a huge, crumbling haveli, a couple of fields and many legal cases related to property. We had some servants, who stayed in the haveli’s servant quarters more out of loyalty than their paltry salaries.
My ancestors were landlords and from the royal family of I iuinraon, the oldest princely state in British India. When India became independent, the government took away our family estate and left us with an annual pension that declined with every generation. My great- grand-uncles squandered their money, especially since they all felt they could gamble better than anyone else in the world. Several near- bankruptcies later, the women of the house took charge as the men had all turned into alcoholics. Somehow, the women saved the family pride and the haveli. All of my cousins had moved abroad, and vowed never to return. My father, the only one to remain in Bihar, held the last title of Raja Sahib of Dumraon. Ten years ago, he had succumbed to a cardiac arrest. My mother, Rani Sahiba Durga Jha, was the only strong-willed person left in the family. She brought me up and maintained the few farms left. She also tan the Dumraon Royal School, which taught seven hundred kids from nearby villages, The noise of air bubbles as Riya sucked up the last of her lemonade made me realise I had spoken non-stop for ten minutes.
‘I'm boring you,’ I said, I vowed to stay quiet for a few minutes, It had to be Silent Rlya's turn new, ‘Net at all,’
I smiled, ‘Now you speak, If you let me talk, I won’t stop,'
‘Okay, but wait, technically you're a prince, aren't you? Or are you the king, Raja Sahib?'
I laughed, ‘There are no kings and princes anymore, Only uneducated villagers talk like that,'
'But they do, right? Seriously, am I talking to a prince? Do they address you as Prince?' She widened her eyes, Her award-winning eyebrows moved up and down a little, ‘Sometimes they do, Listen, it's not important, We're net rich or anything,*
‘You live in a palace?'
‘Haveli, It's like, well, a small palace, Anyway, I'm no prince, I'm a Bihari boy trying to graduate, Do I look like a prince from any angle?’
‘C’mon, you are tall and handsome, You could be one, if you had seme jewellery,' she said, She had said it in jest, but it was the first real compliment she had paid me. Little cupcakes of happiness exploded
inside me, ‘Did I, a commoner, just play basketball with the Raja Sahib of Dumraon?' she said and burst into laughter, ‘I shouldn't have told you,' I shook my head, 'C'mon,' she said and tapped my wrist, My arm went all warm and tingty, ‘What about you? Which eighteen-year oId girl comes to college in a BMW and calls herself a commoner?'
‘Oh, you noticed. That’s my dad's ear,*
‘You must be so rich:'
'My family is. Not me,'
As she spoke, three girls arrived at our table, “We’ve been looking
for you everywhere,' one of them said.
'Hey, girls’ Riya said. ‘Come, sit with us. Manas meet Garima,
Ayesha and Rachita, friends from my class, Girls, this is Manas my basketball friend'
I realised my place in her life. Basketball Friend. Perhaps she had friends for specific purposes.
The girls looked me up and down, down and up, checking me out. 'Not, bad, Riya,' Garima said and winked at her. The girls burst out laughing and sat down with us.
‘Are you In the college team?' Rachita asked me. She wore a red- and-black bandana on her head.
I nodded, nervous at their bold familiarity.
'Madhav has played state level,' Riya said and looked at me proudly.
'Wow,' the girls said in unison,
'Would you like to order anything?’ I said,
The three girls froze and then began to laugh. It dawned on me that
they were laughing at me. My English had sounded like this: 'Vood you laik to aarder anything?' I didn't know this was such a cardinal sin.
‘What happened?' I said,
‘Not a thing,' Garima said and stood up,‘Thanks, Manas
we just ate lunch, Hey, Riya, let's catch up later, yeah?'
The three girls left. We waved goodbyes, ‘What happened, Riya?’ I said.
‘They're ditzy. Forget them,' she said
'Silly and stupid, Anyway, I better leave too. My driver should be
We walked out of the eafeteria to the main gate. Her dark blue
BMW waited outside, ‘So I'm your basketball friend?' I said as we reached the ear, ‘Well, that, and my lemonade-and-mince friend,'
'How about tea friend?'
‘Sure,’ She stepped inside the car and sat down. She rolled down the window to say goodbye.
'Or a movie friend?'
‘Need to think about it.’
‘Think about what?’
‘Will the royal highness condemn me to death if I say no?’ I laughed. ‘I might.’
‘See you later, Prince,’ she said. The car drove off. '
I didn’t know if I was a real prince or not, but I had found my princess