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3

We were going through the newspapers on the next day when Vikram abruptly commented, "If we win the lottery then I will regret having partnered with you."

He smiled good-naturedly, but that was suggestive of the streak of his nature which he wanted to cloak in humour.

"Really!" I exclaimed in shock. "But I could similarly regret my partnership with you?"

"But the ticket is in my name. What would happen if I deny that we bought the ticket jointly?"

My blood turned cold, and I experienced a black-out. "I never thought you could be so dishonest."

"But it is quite possible, five lakh rupees is a huge amount."

"Then brother let's draw up a contract. Why should there be any room for suspicion?"

Vikram laughed aloud. "Friend, you are very distrustful. I was just testing you. Can such a thing ever happen? What is five lakh rupees - even if the amount was five crore, my intentions would not waver."

I could not however believe in his assurances. A seed of strong distrust had germinated in my mind.

"I know you can never do any wrong but what is the harm in having everything in writing?" I asked, "just for the sake of it".

"Do you realise that to sign an agreement pertaining to matters involving ten lakh rupees we have to buy a stamp paper worth 7,500 rupees?"

I thought to myself that if we signed the agreement on an ordinary paper, I would not be able to bring legal action but it would serve my purpose to shame Vikram. I will have evidence to prove Vikram's dishonesty before all. It is the fear of earning a bad name that prevents people from committing a dishonest act. This fear of losing respect is in no way less effective than the fear of the law. I said that an agreement on an ordinary paper will be fine with me.

Dismissing the suggestion as worthless Vikram said, "When an ordinary paper has no legal importance, why should we waste our time by signing an agreement on it?"

This convinced me that Vikram's intentions had started faltering. Why else should he hesitate to have the contract signed on an ordinary paper? I could not control myself but blurted out, "You have developed bad intentions now itself."

He replied without any tinge of shame, "So you want to say that your intentions would not have wavered under such a situation?

"I am not so fickle-minded."

"Oh stop it. I have seen better people."

"You will have to sign an agreement at once; I don't trust you any longer."

"If you don't trust me, then I too won't commit anything in writing."

"You think you can cheat me of my share of the lottery amount?"

"What money?"

"I tell you Vikram, this will not only end our friendship but will have far worse consequences." I was overcome with a violent rage.

Just then the sounds of angry words reached our ears, and my attention was drawn to the hall from where the sounds were coming. Vikram's father and uncle were fast friends - such friendship can be seen only among ideal brothers. I had never seen them quarreling - I had never even seen them disagreeing with each other. The words of the elder brother were like laws for the younger - to be instantly obeyed; the younger brother's wishes were readily fulfilled by the elder. This sudden eruption of frayed tempers therefore came as a surprise to Vikram and me. We went and stood by the open door of the hall. Both the brothers had abandoned their chairs and were on their feet, they had each taken a step towards the other, their eyes were puffed up, their faces were contorted in anger, and their fists were clenched. It seemed that a fierce battle was about to begin.

When Vikram's uncle saw us, he stepped back and said, "If someone in a joint family acquires something than that should be shared equally among all the members of the family."

Vikram's father noticed his son standing by the door. He took a step forward and said, "Absolutely not. If I commit a crime it is I who will have to face the punishment, not the entire family. This is a personal matter."

"That would be decided in the court."

"You may go to the court if you wish. But if my sons, my wife or I win the lottery then you will not get a farthing. Likewise, if you win the lottery then my sons, wife or I will have nothing to do with it."

"Had I known of your intentions earlier, I too would have purchased tickets in the names of my wife and children."

"That is your mistake!"

"I had trusted you because you are my brother."

"This is a gamble, you should have realised that. If tomorrow you lose money at the races the family will not be responsible for that loss."

"But your conscience will prick you if you deny me my share."

When Vikram's mother heard the raised voices, she hurried to the spot to placate the two brothers.

Uncle was in no mood to listen. "Why are you advising me? Advise him who has four tickets. I have only one ticket and have slim chances of winning. He has four times more chance of winning than I have and if his intentions turn bad then it is a matter of shame."

Vikram's mother consoled him. "Okay, if I win I will give you half the share. Is it all right now?"

Vikram's father would not hear of this. "Why should you give him half the amount? I will not give him a farthing. How can he claim half the share?"

"It is only you who knows all the laws!" Uncle retorted.

"Of course I do. I haven't practiced law for 30 years for nothing," Vikram's father shot back.

"All your practice will come to a naught when I hire an eminent lawyer from Kolkata against you."

"To hell with your lawyer whether he be from Kolkata or London."

"I will take half the share since half the family property belongs to me."

Just then Vikram's elder brother arrived. His head and hands were bandaged and he was limping. There were blood stains on his clothes. He flopped down on a chair with a contented smile.

Vikram's father was alarmed. "What is this? How did you get hurt?"

Prakash let out a groan but immediately the smile came back to his lips and he said, "Oh it is nothing."

"What do you mean? There are blood stains on your clothes and you say it is nothing! Did you meet with an accident?"

"It is merely a scratch, and I will be alright within a few days."

A gentle smile played on Prakash's lips and there was no trace of anger, shame or revenge on his countenance.

"But tell me what happened? Did you have a fight, if that is so let's report the matter to the police."

"I did not have a fight. The thing is, I visited Jhakkad Baba. You know he chases people and hurls pebbles at them. Those who run away in fright are deprived of his blessings. But those who brave the pebbles and seek his blessings pass the test. Jhakkad Baba tests his devotees in this manner. When I went to him today there were 50 people - some had brought sweets as gifts for him, others had brought valuables, and still others had brought clothes. Jhakkad Baba was meditating at that time. Suddenly he opened his eyes and when he saw the crowd, he picked up pebbles and chased the people. There was a stampede and people ran helter-skelter. Not a soul remained there excepting me. He hurled the pebbles at me - one hit me on the head. He has an accurate aim! My head spun and blood flowed but I remained rooted to the spot."

"Jhakkad Baba hurled another pebble that hit me on the hand. I fell down unconscious. When I regained consciousness there was a stillness around. The Baba was not to be seen anywhere - he has the skill to vanish! There was no one around to help me. I somehow managed to get up and go to the doctor. The doctor said I had a fractured bone. He has told me to come back in the evening. But I do not care about the pain. I have surely received Jhakkad Baba's blessings and the lottery is sure to be mine. It has never happened before that the wishes of someone, who has been hit by Jhakkad Baba, have remained unfulfilled. After getting the lottery money the first thing that I will do is build a new hut for Jhakkad Baba."

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