“I hate this stupid UPSC exam,” I said, tossing my pen onto the table. I read the exam question from a previous year’s General Studies paper again.
Locate the following places on a map of India and write about their significance:
a) Karakoram Range
While I couldn’t locate any of the places on the map of India, I could definitely locate a niggling feeling in my stomach. It told me my IPS preparations were crap. I only had two attempts left before I reached the upper age limit of thirty-two years for the exam. My dream of becoming an IPS officer was going to be flushed down the Karakoram Range and get lost somewhere between Malkan-giri and Jaitapur, wherever the hell those places were.
“Tea’s ready,” my mother called out from the living room. I ignored her.
I wanted to be an IPS officer instead of running a tiny detective agency like I was doing at present. As a senior cop, I could solve a lot more crimes and help society. Noble, right? The problem is, the tough UPSC exam for civil services doesn’t give a damn about nobility. Over a million people apply. Among those, a general category student like me has to achieve a top-500 rank if they want an IPS seat.
“This is insane,” I said, shoving away my textbook.
“Keshav, tea. Come now.” My father’s explosive voice made me stand up in reflex. There’s something about Indian fathers. When they call you, it’s always urgent.
“I called you earlier,” my mother said, pouring me a cup of tea.
“Sorry,” I said, pulling up a chair.
I leaned forward to pick up a Parle-G biscuit from the plate on the dining table.
“How is the preparation going?” Papa said.
“Good,” I said, taking the biscuit to my mouth in slow motion.
“Good is not enough,” he said. “It is a tough exam. Work harder.”
Wow, thanks for the deep insight, I wanted to say, but didn’t. The rule of staying peacefully with parents is to keep the sarcasm minimal.
I only nodded.
“Say something,” Papa said.
“Leave him alone, Rajpurohitji. He’s doing his best,” Ma said. She refilled my father’s cup and stirred a spoonful of sugar into it. She handed it to him and my father grunted in response, his usual way of saying thanks to my mother.
“Is he?” Papa said.
“He is twenty-nine,” she said. “He can decide his own career. If we must interfere, we should help him get married.”
No, thanks, I wanted to blurt out, but didn’t. When Papa retired, my parents had moved to Gurugram to live with me. Maybe my life is a total mess, I thought, and fixing it is their life’s biggest passion. My father wasn’t happy with my career. My mother wasn’t happy with my marital status. I had managed to disappoint both of them in different ways at the same time.
“Who will marry him?” my father said. “No job. Sitting around the house all day. Doing his silly detective business while pretending to prepare for the toughest exam...”
“Rajpurohitji, again you started,” my mother said.
“So you can tell him anything, but I can’t?”
While my parents played their tennis match of hurling insults at me, I ate six biscuits. I checked the time. It was 5.30, time for their evening walk. I would get a break soon.
“Rajpurohitji, he went to IIT,” my mother was saying. “Don’t think so little of your son. And he has solved some good cases. His name came in the newspaper also. Many girls will want to marry him.”
“But he needs to get settled, right? Become responsible. Have a good, regular source of income.”
“He’s trying hard for IPS, aren’t you, beta?” Ma said. “Huh?” I said, pausing mid-bite. “Yes, I am. Ma, it’s 5.30.”
“Oh, yes,” she said.
My parents stood up. “We’ll go now. Tell Saurabh not to snack when he gets home. I have made aloo-matar for dinner. Come, Rajpurohitji.”
I heaved a sigh of relief as I heard the front door shut.
Hi, I am Keshav Rajpurohit and I am a disappointment to everyone around me. I live in Gurgaon, or Gurugram, or whatever new name they may give this place next week. My best friend Saurabh stays with me. He works at Cybersafe, a computer security company.
I grew up in Alwar, where my father was a lawyer by profession and a dedicated RSS functionary by passion. We now live in my parents’ three- bedroom apartment in a residential building complex called Icon, near the DLF Golf Course. My parents and I moved here after my father retired and purchased this flat. I asked Saurabh, my best friend and partner in our detective agency, Z Detectives, to move in with us as well.
Home-cooked food and a rent-free life had their benefits, but they came with an “LFK” or “Let’s Fix Keshav” package.
My parents keep telling me how I should a) get married, b) get a job, c) meet more people, d) close this detective agency business (not that we have much business anyway), e) keep my room clean, f) talk more (when I don’t talk to them), g) talk less (when I talk back to them), or whatever else they feel is wrong with me that day. Saurabh, a sell-out, always agrees with my parents. My mother would make kheer or halwa for him, and he’d join the LFK tirade, telling me to get serious about life.
The doorbell signalled the sell-out’s arrival.
“So tired, man,” Saurabh said, throwing his laptop case on the dining table. He loosened his tie.
“You’re back early,” I said.
“Nothing happening in office,” Saurabh said. He went to the kitchen to get water.
“Ma said don’t eat any junk. She’s made aloo-matar for dinner,” I said.
“I am not hungry anyway,” he said between big gulps of water. I stared at him.
“What? You okay?”
“Tea?” I said.
“A quarter cup,” he said.
I poured him a little bit of tea and we both sat at the dining table.
“Where are Uncle and Aunty?” Saurabh said.
“They went down for a walk. Let me have some peace.”
“What happened?” Saurabh said.
“Another lecture, what else? Marriage. Career. Close the agency.”
“They are not completely wrong.”
“Fine, join them.”
“The agency doesn’t have cases. The last one was that small burglary two months ago.”
“After this coronavirus lockdown, the economy will take a while to get back to normal.”
“Even crime will take a while to get back to normal?” Saurabh said. I ignored his question.
Excerpted with permission from 400 Days, Chetan Bhagat, Westland.
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