India Today - - LEISURE -

They’d never set foot in the Tolly Club. Like most peo­ple in the vicin­ity, they’d passed by its wooden gate, its brick walls, hun­dreds of times. Un­til the mid- for­ties, from be­hind the wall, their fa­ther used to watch horses rac­ing around the track. He’d watched from the street, stand­ing among the bet­tors and other spec­ta­tors un­able to af­ford a ticket, or to en­ter the club’s grounds. But af­ter the Sec­ond World War, around the time Sub­hash and Udayan were born, the height of the wall was raised, so that the pub­lic could no longer see in.

Bis­mil­lah, a neigh­bor, worked as a caddy at the club. He was a Mus­lim who had stayed on in Tol­ly­gunge af­ter Par­ti­tion. For a few paisas he sold them golf balls that had been lost or aban­doned on the course. Some were sliced like a gash in one’s skin, re­veal­ing a pink rub­bery in­te­rior.

At first they hit the dim­pled balls back and forth with sticks. Then Bis­mil­lah also sold them a putting iron with a shaft that was slightly bent. A frus­trated player had dam­aged it, strik­ing it against a tree.

Bis­mil­lah showed them how to bend for­ward, where to place their hands. Loosely de­ter­min­ing the ob­jec­tive of the game, they dug holes in the dirt, and tried to coax the balls in. Though a dif­fer­ent iron was needed to drive the ball greater dis­tances, they used the put­ter any­way. But golf wasn’t like football or cricket. Not a sport the broth­ers could sat­is­fac­to­rily im­pro­vise.

In the dirt of the play­ing field, Bis­mil­lah scratched out a map of the Tolly Club. He told them that closer to the club­house there was a swim­ming pool, sta­bles, a ten­nis court. Restau­rants where tea was poured from sil­ver pots, spe­cial rooms for bil­liards and bridge. Gramo­phones play­ing mu­sic. Bar­tenders in white coats who pre­pared drinks called pink lady and gin fizz.

The club’s man­age­ment had re­cently put up more bound­ary walls, to keep in­trud­ers away. But Bis­mil­lah said that there were still sec­tions of wire fenc­ing where one might en­ter, along the western edge.

They waited un­til close to dusk, when the golfers headed off the course to avoid the mos­qui­toes, and re­treated to the club­house to drink their cock­tails. They kept the plan to them­selves, not men­tion­ing it to other boys in the neigh­bor­hood. They walked to the mosque at their cor­ner, its mod­est red- and- white minarets dis­tinct from the sur­round­ing build­ings. They turned onto the main road car­ry­ing the putting iron, two kerosene tins.

They crossed to the other side of Tech­ni­cians Stu­dio. They headed to­ward the paddy fields where the Adi Ganga once flowed. An es­tu­ary of the Ganges, branch­ing south-

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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