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-