Miss Kurien was announcing the names of those who had been selected for the annual school play.
“Duryodhana – Mathew Joseph” she called out.
There were whoops and cheers from Mathew’s crowd – a hefty boy with disheveled clothes and an unconsciously arrogant, laughing face swaggered forward and stood to the teacher’s left.
“Yudhishtira – Anil Varma”
Anil, class prefect and model schoolboy, walked forward quietly, trying to look surprised and hide his smile at the same time.
No surprises so far, Manu thought to himself. He twitched with impatience. When would she call out his name?
“Bhima – Vivek Kurup”
A stout, good-natured fellow high-fived his friend and walked forward, cocking a smirk at Mathew.
“Krishna – “
Pradyumna was already out of his seat and halfway up the aisle before Miss Kurien had finished calling his name. He grinned at the girls, flicking his hair back out of his eyes – even the teacher smiled at his delighted face.
Sumit (class topper and Miss Kurien’s not-so-secret pet) was Arjuna; Vidyut and Ahaan (the Pretty Boys, everyone teased them) were Nakula and Sahadeva; Preethi was Draupadi – as she walked up confidently, a collective sigh went through the class, and she blushed.
Miss Kurien had come to the end of her list. The chosen ones surrounded her, clamoring for details, and the class was dismissed. People were stringing out of the class in ones and twos, some grumbling, some excited.
Manu let himself be pushed along. His felt as though he had bitten wool.
He had not been selected.
Should I go and ask Miss Kurien if she can include me somehow? He wondered.
But something – he was too young to recognize the cold steel of self-respect – held him back.
Most of all, he was worrying about Nani. Nani, with her crinkly smile and faded blue cataract eyes. How would he bring Nani to watch the show? What would he say when she asked him what role he was playing?
He kicked at a stone gloomily. He had to think of something.
Two weeks later, Manu ushered Nani into the fourth row of the school auditorium to watch the St. Joseph Convent’s rendering of the Mahabharata.
He sat down next to her. She had dressed up in her best silk saree, and smelt faintly of Cuticura powder. She felt for his hand and grasped it.
“What role are you playing, Manu-da?” she whispered, squinting at the stage.
And Manu replied proudly, “Sanjaya.”