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Half Girlfriend(10)
Chetan Bhagat

‘In Bihar, we have aloo chop, in which we sometimes stuff keema. This mince is the same,’ I said.

‘What’s Bihar like? I’ve never been there,’ she said and pursed her lips around the straw to sip her lemonade.

‘Not like Delhi. Simple. Lots of rice fields. Peaceful, apart from cities like Patna.’

‘I like peaceful places,’ she said.

‘There are problems, too. People aren’t educated. There’s violence. I am sure you’ve heard. Poor and backward state, as people say.’

‘You can be rich and backward, too.’

We had an awkward silence for two minutes. Silent Riya and Scared Madhav.

Break the deadlock, I told myself.

‘So you live with your family in Delhi?’

‘Yes. A big one. Parents, uncles, cousins and a brother.’

‘What do your parents do?’ I said.

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 Madhav. 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?'

'Unfortunately, yes.’

'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,

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