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One day the subject of marriage came up during our conversation. Vikram, in a philosophical bent, said, "Brother it is better to steer clear of marriage. Marriage causes un-necessary worries. A lot of money would be wasted to satisfy the wife's whims and fancies."

I opposed the contention. "That may be true but as long as you do not have someone to share your joys and griefs, what is the meaning of life? I am not averse to marriage. Yes, I want such a partner who would be with me till the end of my life, and only a wife can be such a partner."

Vikram, with a little more sarcasm than was necessary, commented, "Alright. People are free to have their own view-points. Congratulations on your marriage. Follow your wife like a dog and consider your children as the biggest gifts from god. I will remain a free man - will go away wherever I please, and come back whenever I feel like it. I do not want to have a watchman to monitor my movements all the time - if you are a little late in returning you have to offer an explanation; if you wish to go out you have to inform where you are going. Brother I have no sympathy for you. If the children fall sick you have to run to the doctor, and when you grow old the children will want you to go away somewhere so that they can enjoy. They will not hesitate even to poison you. I do not wish to fall in this muck."

Kunti came there just then. She was Vikram's younger sister and was around eleven years old. She was studying in the sixth grade, and failed regularly. She was very perky. Kunti opened the door with such violence that both of us jumped up in alarm.

Vikram said rather crossly, "You are very naughty Kunti, whoever asked you to come here?"

Kunti ran her eyes over the room like the secret police and said, "What do you two always discuss after shutting yourselves in this room? You never go outside; maybe you are planning some black magic."

Vikram shook her by the shoulders and said, "Yes, we are planning some black magic so that you get a husband who will hit you with a belt 5,000 times every day."

Kunti clung to Vikram's back and said, "I will marry someone who will wag his tail before me. I will throw away crumbs at him and he will lick them from the floor. If he refuses to do my bidding, I will slap him on the ears. When mother wins the lottery she has promised to give me 50,000 rupees. I will live in style! I pray to god twice every day so that mother wins the lottery. Mother says that the prayers of little girls like me never go unanswered. Mother will surely win the lottery."

Kunti's speech reminded me of a visit to my village few years ago. There was a drought and not a single drop of water. The villagers had collected funds and invited all the little girls from the village and treated them to a sumptuous meal. Three days later the rains started. Definitely there is some mysterious power in the prayers of the little girls.

I looked at Vikram meaningfully and Vikram looked at me. In that exchange of glances, we reached a compromise. Vikram told Kunti, "Okay I will tell you something but do not disclose it to anyone else. You are a good girl and I know you will not let out the secret. I will help you in your studies, and this time you will certainly pass. You know both of us have also bought a ticket, and we want you to pray for us also. If we win, we will buy you some fine jewellery."

Kunti did not believe us. We swore it was true but she put on airs. Finally it was only when we promised to cover her with jewels from head to toe that she relented and agreed to pray for us.

However, she could have digested tons of sweets but this small secret was beyond her to digest on her own. She scurried inside and in an instant the whole house knew we had purchased a ticket. Now everybody, including mother, father and uncle, started scolding Vikram. "Why did you have to waste ten rupees? When everybody in the house had purchased a ticket each where was the need for you to buy one? Would you not have got a share of the winnings? And you Master, you are all the more stupid. What good things can you teach this boy? You will only lead him astray."

"Nothing is given so freely as advice", I was well aware of this adage. I remembered an incident from my childhood. It was the festival of Holi. A bottle of liqour had been brought. My Uncle had come to our house on a visit during those days. I quietly poured a small amount of the liqour into a glass and quickly swallowed the stuff. Even as the burning sensation was yet to subside and my eyes were still bloodshot, Uncle entered the room. It was as if I was stuck inside a tunnel that I had myself dug - he was so very angry that I turned pale with fright. Mother scolded me and father also rebuked me. I had to shed copious tears to assuage their anger. In the same afternoon, Uncle was so full of the liqour that he began singing, then he sobbed, then he abused mother, and later ran after my brother to hit him. Finally he dropped on the floor unconscious.

Vikram's father and uncle were staunch atheists who scoffed at any sort of worship. But, surprisingly, both of them were converted into believers now. Vikram's father would set out in the morning to bathe in the Ganges and return home in the afternoon after offering worship in all the neighbourhood temples. Uncle bathed at home itself with warm water and then sat down to write the name of Lord Rama repeatedly despite suffering from arthritic pains. Then he went to the park and fed the ants. Later in the evening both the brothers listened to spiritual discourses with great devotion till midnight. Vikram's elder brother, Prakash, had great faith in sadhus and sages and he went to them for their blessings. Mother, of course, spent the entire day in prayers and worship. She was fond of adorning herself even at that age, but had turned into a complete nun these days. People say desire is a bad thing. But I feel that the faith, devotion and religiousness that we possess are owing to our desires. It was an entirely new experience for me that desire could make such an impression on the minds of the people. Vikram and I also visited the astrologers off and on, and made ourselves unhappy by asking them questions.

As the day of the result neared, we lost our peace. We could think of nothing else but the lottery. For no apparent reason I began to suspect Vikram's trustworthiness - what would I do if he refused to give me my share! He might deny that he had ever partnered with me. There was no proof that we had purchased the ticket jointly. It all depended on Vikram's intentions. If his intentions wavered I would be ruined. I could not complain - I could not even dare to open my mouth. It would be futile to say anything now - if his intentions were bad he would deny the partnership now itself, and if on the other hand his morals were strong as ever my suspicion would hurt his feelings. Wealth can cause a person to forsake his morals. The lottery money had not yet been received; so what was the harm in putting up a show of honesty? The time of the real test would arrive when the ten lakh rupees were actually received! I did a little introspection - if the ticket was in my name and I received the ten lakh rupees, would I hand over half the amount to Vikram without any hesitation? I would have told him you had only lent me five rupees, so take ten rupees, okay take hundred rupees. No! I don't think I would have been so dishonest.

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