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4

There was a look of deep satisfaction on the face of Vikram's father. A mattress was immediately laid on the bed and Prakash lay down. His mother fanned him; she also looked contented. It was not a bad bargain if one were to get ten lakh rupees for suffering such injuries!

Uncle was excited, and he was bursting with impatience. As soon as Vikram's father left for his meal and mother went to fetch some nourishment for Prakash, Uncle asked Prakash, "Does he hurl stones with force? I don't think he would dare to do so."

Prakash could understand the intended meaning behind Uncle's utterance. "He does not hurl stones, rather he hurls grenades! The Baba is so strong that he can knock down a tiger with a punch. The Baba can flatten an ordinary person with a single stone. Many have died; but there has been no case against Jhakkad Baba. He does not stop after throwing a few stones, but keeps hurling stones till the victim drops down unconscious. But the secret is that the more you are hit the closer you get to the fulfillment of your wishes."

Prakash's words did not bring any comfort to Uncle, and he could not pick up enough courage to go and face Jhakkad Baba's stones.

At last the day of the results dawned - it was the 20th of July. We woke up in the morning with mixed feelings of hope and fear. Both Vikram's father and Uncle had bathed in the Ganges before sunrise and were now devotedly offering worship to god in the temple. I was also overcome by strong feeling of veneration today, and I went to the temple and chanted praises of god - "Oh protector of all orphans will you not shower your blessings on us? You know how difficult it was for us to buy a ticket. You know everything. Who deserves your blessings more than anyone else?"

Vikram, dressed in his best clothes, came to the temple just then and, standing by the door, beckoned me and said, "I am going to the post-office." So saying he disappeared.

In the meantime Prakash arrived at the temple and started distributing sweets among the beggars. The news spread and very soon there was a large crowd of beggars near the temple. Vikram's father and Uncle were immersed in deep worship of god and both of them squatted before the deity with their heads bowed and eyes shut in devotion.

Vikram's father lifted his head, and looking at the priest said, "God always loves his devotees; what do you say?"

The priest agreed. "Of course; God is always protective of his devotees."

A moment later Uncle lifted his head and asked the priest, "God is almighty; He knows about the desires of His devotees, doesn't He?"

"Of course, God is all-knowing and can read everybody's minds," the priest agreed once again.

Both the brothers, today, chanted the prayers with vigour and Vikram's father dropped a two-rupee coin into the donation box. Uncle dropped four rupees. Vikram's father did not take kindly to this; he looked at his younger brother with loathing and immediately shifted his gaze.

Vikram's father turned to the priest and asked abruptly, "What do you think will happen?"

"May you win," the priest replied.

"And what about me?" Uncle asked.

"May you win too," the priest said with the same promptness.

Vikram's father walked out of the temple while chanting, "Lord I have come to you for succour ....."

Moments later Uncle also made for home singing a similar hymn in praise of God.

I too stepped out of the temple and wanted to assist Prakash in distributing the sweets. But he removed the tray from within my reach and said, "It is alright, I will complete the distribution. There are hardly any sweets left now."

Dispirited I started walking towards the post-office when Vikram arrived on his bicycle. He was smiling from ear to ear. Everyone was wildly excited on seeing him. Vikram's father and Uncle were still there and both of them lunged at him like eagles. There were few sweets still left for distribution on Prakash's tray but he flung the tray to the ground and rushed towards his brother. I was wild with joy and embraced Vikram. But no one asked him anything; everyone was busy in their own victory celebration.

Vikram's father raised his eyes heavenwards and said, "Hail Lord Rama!"

Uncle leapt up immediately and said, "Hail Lord Hanuman."

Prakash clapped his hands in joy and said, "Praise be to Jhakkad Baba."

Vikram broke into a loud guffaw. He moved aside and said, "I will take one lakh rupees from the person who has won. Is that agreed?"

His father caught hold of his arm and said, "First tell us."

"No! I will not tell for free."

Uncle was cross. "What! One lakh rupees just to tell us the name of the winner?"

Prakash was also angry. "Can't we find out on our own?"

"Okay, prepare yourselves to hear your names."

Everyone stood in attention like foot soldiers.

"Keep your cool. Do not get excited."

Everyone was alert.

"Fine, then hear. No one from the city, in fact no one from the country, has won. Someone from America is the winner!"

"It's a lie. Absolutely untrue!" Vikram's father said in disgust.

"Bah! That's impossible. Were the three months of austerities just for naught?" Uncle said dismissively.

Prakash slapped his own chest and said, "I have broken my head and hands; was it for fun?"

Just then a group of people, who looked crestfallen, passed them. The group was also coming from the post-office. "An Abyssinian-American has won!"

Now everybody had to believe Vikram. His father stomped into the temple in great rage and dismissed the priest. "Is this why I have employed you? You want to have free lunch and live in comfort!"

It was as if Uncle's back had broken. He slapped his forehead two to three times in distress and, then, sat down at the same spot. Prakash was fuming; He picked up a thick stick and went in search of Jhakkad Baba.

Mother only remarked, "There has been cheating. What can God do? God cannot snatch away the money from somebody's hands.

No one had any appetite that evening. I was also depressed. Vikram came and said, "Let's go to the hotel and have something to eat. No food has been cooked at home today."

"When you returned from the post-office, why were you looking so pleased?" I quizzed him.

He said, "When I saw the large multitude of people near the post-office, I felt like laughing at our stupidity. If there are so many people in a city, there would be 1000 times more that number in the country and million times more in the world. The huge mountain of hope that I had created suddenly became smaller than a mustard seed and I felt an urge to laugh. It was as if a philanthropist with only a handful of grains had invited a lakh people to meals - and every member in my family thought that ...."

I also laughed. "That is true! And both of us had quarreled over signing a contract; but tell me the truth, did your intentions waver at any time?"

Vikram smiled and replied, "What will you do now by knowing the answer to that question? Let it remain unanswered."

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Some useful links for
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  • Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
  • IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
  • Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
  • Indian Institute of Technology Madras - www.iitm.ac.in
  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
  • Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
  • IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
  • Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
  • Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
  • Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
  • Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
  • Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu