As supporters of Mohammedan Sporting Club, we were regulars at football matches, the whole gang going down to the club grounds twice a week and raising hell on our way back. Ammi didn’t like us supporting Mohammedan Sporting. She thought we should back a proper Bengali club like East Bengal, which was largely supported by Hindus who’d fled to India from East Pakistan during Partition. Refugees must support refugees, she’d remind us constantly.

With Rakib as our leader, there was no question of wasting money or time lining up for tickets. Friends stood on my back and climbed onto the stands. Then formed a chain and hauled me up, heaving like mad. Only Bobby marched in boldly through the gates, collar up, policemen saluting him because he was so fair. Rakib never set foot inside the grounds; he did his business during the game and met us afterwards.

Win or lose a match, we enjoyed leaving Zakaria Street, escaping the smell of dead cows and pigeon droppings to visit the city centre.

It was a dreamland: roads as wide as rivers with foreign names like Esplanade, Park Street, Red Road. No dirty lanes, no slums, no horns blowing, just a perfect Englishtan. The white Victoria Memorial reminded me of Manna Mia. After the new flyover opened, we raced up and down on minibuses – Grand Hotel to the left, the monument to the right – screaming prize-winning curses.

Look Bobby, this is where your white father did his mamoo dance with your native mother! We’d stop before a big house with garden and dogs. Security guards looked nervous and didn’t know what to say when Munna told them to fetch their boss and tell him that Bobby had come to sleep on his Mummy-Papa’s bed. The dogs barked loudly as we banged on the gate.

Among our friends, Munna was the best-looking one. Girls went mad seeing him in a white sherwani, and imagined themselves to be Laila in Majnu’s arms. His mother alone stood between him and Mumbai. Even Rakib had offered to use his father’s contacts to get him a role in a film, let him become a star and share his heroines with his friends.

His mother was a real leech, sucking her son dry after her husband left her for her young niece. She needed money, not for herself but for God. It wasn’t simply a case of paying alms or going to Mecca for Umrah, but picking her son’s pocket to help every orphanage, madrasa and trust that came begging to her door. Our Munna was ready to go to hell in order to send his mother to heaven, unlike Bakki who looked and smelled like a goat and ran at the sight of blood from his father’s butcher shop. It was Bakki who had the bright idea of raiding New Market on our way back from a football match.

We surrounded Munna as he tried on one pair of goggles after another, the shopkeeper blowing vapour on the lenses from his mouth and cleaning them with a handkerchief.

Ray Bans, Polaroid, Vogue, DKNY, Armani, all of which were fakes made in China and half-priced. Our hero passed his hand through his hair, posing in a rimless. GG sang a hit song, and a bunch of schoolgirls almost fainted. From the way we were behaving, everyone thought Munna was a film star. Perhaps he’s come down from Mumbai for a day’s shooting, and was having some fun with friends during a break.

Bakki kept the shopkeeper busy, asking for a mirror to hold up to Munna’s face or telling him to bring out more goggles. “Show him an aviator,” Rakib said, and explained to us what it was. “Pilots wear it in the cockpit to protect their eyes from the sun.” The shopkeeper nodded. He had a pair, but they were expensive. GG gave a reassuring smile, sending him off to the back of his shop to hunt for the aviator. That’s when we left. Grabbing as many goggles as we could, dodging the shoppers in New Market to catch a fast-moving bus to Zakaria Street.

It was much harder fooling kebab sellers of Dharamtala. They kept a hawk’s eye on customers as they rolled dough and threaded meat in skewers. They’d poke you with hot iron from their fiery tandoors if they caught you stealing, and you’d have to run for your life bloodied all over and smelling of tandoori chicken.

If Munna was our star, GG was his voice. He was a Sikh, but didn’t wear a turban or keep a beard. All he had to do was yawn or burp and a perfect tune came out of his throat. No matter what mood he was in, GG sang; we didn’t even have to bribe him with a menthol. He sang even while dozing. At home, though, he kept his mouth shut.

Giani Gurpreet Singh’s father owned a transport company that you could pay to load a truck with anything and send it anywhere you wished. You’d be fooled by GG’s father who was always smiling in a white turban and flowing white beard. Inside, he was sick. A day didn’t go by without him thrashing our friend. Slamming his head against a wall, smashing his knuckles, kicking him dangerously close to his mamoo. Used to beatings since he was a boy, GG didn’t mind. Didn’t mind making mistakes too, as it was impossible to avoid being punished by his father. “How many of your bones did he break today?” we’d tease GG.

Bobby even threatened to burn up a truck to teach his father a lesson.

No matter how much he was beaten, he didn’t suffer any pain. Rakib had picked him up from the streets when he was loading a truck with blood streaming down his nose. No pain meant he was the fiercest fighter among us. With the “Sikh battalion” leading, we didn’t fear taking on other gangs even if they outnumbered us two to one.

We were all upset the day Mohammedan Sporting lost narrowly to East Bengal in a big match. It was the referee’s fault, and the police had to throw a cordon around the rascal and escort him out of the grounds. There were many more East Bengal supporters than us, and the shops had closed down early fearing a Hindu–Muslim riot. GG was upset too, although he wasn’t a Muslim.

Rakib bought us kebabs on our way back to lift our moods, but GG wasn’t hungry. We saw him stop before the beggar we passed regularly on Central Avenue, stoop down to examine him closely. There was nothing you could tell from the lump that sat on the exact same spot every day, if it was man or woman, old or young. Never made a sound when you passed him, or stirred an inch if a car sprayed rainwater. ‘Ask him if he’s with us or with East Bengal?’ Bakki joked. Munna threw a piece of kebab towards his begging bowl, missing it by miles. Maybe it wasn’t a real beggar but a bag of rubbish fixed to the ground by some crook, making fools out of passers-by and robbing their money. If he was a real beggar, he’d be sitting on his shit, Bakki said, calling out to our Sikh friend, “Sing a song GG! That’ll wake him up.”

But our GG wasn’t laughing or cracking jokes as usual. Something had gotten into his head, and his eyes seemed too big for his face. Taking a few steps back, he ran and kicked the beggar like a striker taking a penalty kick. It didn’t move. Then he stepped back and kicked again. Kept kicking as if he was hell-bent on proving to everyone that it was fake, a stone or a corpse. A small crowd had gathered around, cheering and clapping. None of us knew what to do. A police car passed by without stopping, and the kebab seller looked nervous.

Suddenly, our friend picked up a rock and started to march towards the beggar. It seemed he was ready to smash it on the beggar’s head, force it to pay attention and declare its presence to everyone. As if the beggar was his father, and he was about to take full revenge for all the beatings over all these years. He might kill the poor thing, we thought, but none of us made a move to stop him. Until then we didn’t think there could be a murderer among us. Bakki kept his eyes shut. All I could see was a hand holding up a rock in the sun, the dark hand of death. Then, Rakib took out his gun and fired it into the air, scattering the crowd and breaking GG’s mood.

Excerpted with permission from Kalkatta, Kunal Basu, Picador India.