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I. Ali's window

One hot sultry afternoon in June, a snake made an appearance under the banyan tree.

Not many know this happened, and those who do saw it from different places, at different times and may or may not agree with this account. So let's just say this is my version of what happened. But not mine alone. There were four of us. Ali, Nabbu, Vikku and I. We made a great team. We hated the same things, disliked the same people, wanted the same bikes, liked the same kind of movies, and were mad about different girls. We studied together. We divided subjects or subject chapters within us and taught each another before exams. It worked most of the time.

My home didn't offer much privacy, neither did Vikku's, and Nabbu lived in a rented room so there was no one around to make us chai every couple of hours. So not only was Ali's room the perfect place for us, it was also the only choice. Trouble was, Ali was the only one with his own bike, so he would often pick all of us up and we would spend entire days at his place. This was, again, not only what we wanted, not having studied much during the semester, this was also the only choice.

Ali's house was a three story brick house with rather shallow foundations and everytime a train passed by, it shaked a little. It was scary and funny at the same time. His room was on the top floor. The air at such heights had almost no dust and the rooftop had a panoramic view all around of this densely populated and poorly constructed neighbourhood with streets too narrow for pedestrians to pass at places and too dirty and smelly at times. And in parts these streets were clean, alive, dancing in some five six year old little girls, reading evening newspapers and wondering where the hell is world going, flying on wings of thick white toxic angithi smoke.

We spent nights studying and days lazing around, discussing useless stuff, walking the rooftop watching crows perching on TV antennas, kite wars, girls hanging washed clothes to dry on ropes crisscrossing the rooftops, cats jumping from wall to wall, house to house, web of electric wires running around randomly, which gave 'Tar Wali Masjid' (the Mosque of the wire) its name most likely. It was right next to Ali's home. We had to close out ears everytime the adhan was played on the recorder.

And on the other side were railway quarters, the box like single story small naked brick houses under shades of a giant old banyan tree. That's where Jasma lived. Jasma of the believing family fell in love with a son of an idol worshipper, and seeing no other way, eloped with him. I'd never seen her, Ali had. He said she was very fair and breathtakingly beautiful.

One hot sultry afternoon in June, a snake made an appearance. The day was hot as can be and there was a power cut. Sweat drenched people were sitting under the tree discussing politics and movies.

I had cut my chin while shaving that morning. It did't hurt but itch a little. Every so often I would take my hand to the cut and rub it lightly, as if that would heal it faster. It was one of those slow days when you notice such tiny silly behaviour of yours and get annoyed by it. Nabbu was talking about Whiskey, and why it had to be had neat. That's the only way he would ever take it. I preferred Rum, diluted with coke, Vikku loved every kind of alcohol but with cigarettes, Ali didn't drink.

Late in the afternoon (but before evening), we were dozing in Ali's room after a nice heavy lunch and lassi, when we heard the shouts. There was a single shout first, shrill and quick, then a momentary silence followed by more shouts, then a murmur. This neighbourhood was not the quietest one around, everyday life was very noisy and there was always occassional shouting and yelling going around, so we didn't get alarmed or anything, but hoping it's some sort of street fight, we lazily got to the window one by one and started to look out. A crowd was collected around the banyan. No one was doing much, just looking at ground and talking to each other.

"A snake came out from under of the banyan tree", Henna, Ali's younger sister, shouted from the lower floor for our benefit. She was used to it. She shouted to call us down for food, to ask Ali to come down to take the tea, or to ask us to keep it low if we started to get too loud over some heated discussions.

"It's too hot, of course the poor guy had to come out", "That snake has been living there all his life probably, too dangerous", "Let's go look at it", "You've never seen snake in your life or what?", said Nabbu, Vikku, I and Ali and we went back to our slumber so we can attend to our nocturnal routine later. Next day we had an exam to attend to. Graph Theory I think.

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