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Half Girlfriend(7)
Chetan Bhagat

Yes,’ I said, turning to face her again. I wanted to give her more up but couldn’t in English.‘You speak Hindi?’ I said.

She looked baffled. Nobody in St. Stephen’s had ever asked anyone that question.

‘Well, yeah, of course,’ she said.

‘Okay,’ I said, and explained in my language,‘they have two strong players. Cover them tight. Don’t fix formations for your players. Two of yours should move with them. You become the shooter. Of the other two, one is your defence, the other supports you.’

The whistle blew again.

‘Got to go,’ she said. ‘Catch you later.’

I didn’t understand what ‘catch you’ meant. Did it mean she would catch what I had said later? Did it mean she didn’t understand what I had' said? Or did she mean she actually wanted to catch me? Like, she liked me so much she wanted to catch me? Of course, this seemed unlikely. But then I had given her good tips and you never know with these modern people.You see, my mind has this overdrive switch, especially when it’s excited. It starts to get ahead of itself and thinks useless thoughts when I could actually be doing something constructive, like watching the game or finding out that girl’s name.

The game restarted. The referee’s whistle, the sound of the players’ shoes as they run across the court, the shrieks, the yells and the cries of victory and defeat—few things in life match the excitement of a sports court. Basketball, underrated as it might be in this country, packs it all in half an hour. I cannot understand why Indians don’t play this game more. It doesn’t take up too much space, doesn’t need much equipment and a big group can play it all at once.

‘Yes!’ she screamed as she scored a basket.The hall went in without touching the ring, making the most beautiful sound in a basketball game—the soft ‘chhciak’ when only the net touches the ball. S\?eat dripped off her face as she ran back to her side of the court.

The match ended 21-15. The newbies had lost, but still kept pace with the college team—a considerable achievement. R, however, seemed disappointed. She wiped her face with a towel and picked up her blue Nike kitbag. A few boys tried to make eye contact with her but she ignored them, i wanted to speak to her. However, no boy from Dumraon has ever had the guts to approach a high-class girl from Delhi. I wanted her to watch my game.There was nothing else I could impress her with. Coach Piyush went up to her. They became engrossed in a conversation.This was my chance. Underconiident guys need a go-between to speak to a girl. I ran up to Piyush.

‘My trial now. I change, sir?’ I said to him.

Piyush turned to me, surprised, I don’t know whether at my English or my stupid question or both.

‘Aise kheliyega? Trial-va hai ya mazaak?’ he said in Bhojpuri, not even Hindi. He meant: will you play like this? Is it a trial or a joke?

I regretted knowing him.


Then R interrupted. ‘Oh, you are also sports quota?’

Piyush looked at both of us, surprised at the familiarity.

‘Yes,’ I said, one of the few English responses I could give with confidence.

‘State-level player. Watch this Bihari’s game and go,’ Piyush said and guffawed before he left.

I could have taken offence. He had used the word ‘Bihari’ as if to say 'Watch, even this poor little Bihari can play’, despite being a Bihari himself. However, he had helped me without knowing it, so I was grateful. She looked at me and smiled.

‘No wonder you gave those tips.’ she said.‘State level, my God,’

‘What is your good name?’ I blurted out, without any context or sense of timing. Also, who on earth says ‘good name’ these days? Only losers like me who translate ‘shubh naarn’ in Hindi to English.

‘Good or bad, only one name. Riya,’ she said and smiled.

Riya. I loved her short little name. Or maybe when you start liking people, you start liking everything about them—from their sweaty eyebrows to their little names.

‘Your name?’she said. For the first time in my life a girl had asked my name.

‘Myself Madhav Jha.’

That was my reflexive response. It was only later that I learnt that people who construct sentences like that sound low class.You see, we think in Hindi first and simply translate our thoughts, word for word.

‘From Bihar,’ she said and laughed. ‘Right?’

She didn’t laugh because I was a Bihari. She laughed because Piyush had already revealed that fact about me. There was no judgement in her voice. I liked her more and more every second.

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