3. Vikram likes to wash his hands frequently.

6. One is not a good number.

9. Two isn’t great either.

12. Multiples of three are good.

15. He needs to hum the tune from Star Wars while he does it.

18. The Empire Strikes Back is his favourite.

21. It’s actually the fifth film in the series. Not the third.

24. Vikram already liked the movie before Rashi told him about this.

27. The numbering is messed up in Star Wars.

30. A lot of things are messed up.

33. The pavement in front of his house is a good example.

36. Vikram cycles on it every day on the way to visit Rashi.

39. It’s a ritual he’s followed since the day at the beach.

42. The pavement full of tiny cracks that taper out like branches, looking to escape the concrete.

45. Vikram has every one of them memorised.

48. Sometimes there are new ones.

51. He has to stop and examine them closely when that happens.

54. There’s a specific way in which they need to be avoided.

57. There’s a pattern. And it’s nice if it’s followed precisely.

60. But sometimes Vikram cannot get the pattern right.

63. That’s not a huge problem.

66. He waits nine seconds and tries again.

69. All he needs to do is to hold his breath this time.

72. Vikram’s a pro at holding his breath.

75. He got good at it during his swimming lessons.

78. He is a competent swimmer.

81. But Rashi was better.

84. He would watch mesmerised, as she cut through the water with her languid grace.

87. Rashi wanted to swim in the Olympics one day.

90. Vikram looked up the Olympics on Wikipedia.

93. The length of an Olympic pool is fifty metres.

96. Their pool was only half the length.

99. Vikram and Rashi decided to practice on the beach.

102. The waves were fierce. But they were good swimmers.

105. Vikram was the first to notice her cries for help.

108. There were three lifeguards on the beach.

111. Vikram ran to the nearest one for help.

114. The lifeguard swam towards her flailing body.

117. It was over soon.

120. Vikram caught a glance of the lifeguard’s jersey through his tears.

123. It had the number one printed on it. In bold white font.

126. One is not a good number.


It was a spectacle for the ages. And I had a front row seat to it every Monday morning. My elder brother, decked in his precisely tattered bomber jacket, would be whistle a familiar tune. The crisp, morning air in conjunction with intermittent splashes of the cold Amsterdam canal water never failed to electrify our spirits. My brother, if in a genial mood, would let me help. But most days, I would sit in my small seat on the boat, next to my brother, scrunched up like a ball of cotton, just absorbing every bit of the performance unfolding in front of me.

An inevitable crowd of people, meant to be grinding their way to work, would stop and gather around the edge of the canal. The canal was the arena and my brother its glorious gladiator. Unfazed by the simmering expectations of the gathered crowd, my brother would continue his merry whistling. The same lyric-less tune, over and over, rising in pitch, over and over, until it would reach a crescendo.

I’d notice the familiar flicker in his eyes, as they lit up, sensing their prey. A quick, efficient movement would anchor the boat. With a gazelle like grace, his fingers would dance and weave in intricate ways on the control panel, culminating in a loud mechanical screech. A bear- like claw, awakened from its slumber, would stretch itself out in the sun. It would hover for a moment over the water, trying to get its bearings, before making a plunge into the dark abyss of the sludgy canal.

For a moment, nothing would happen. And then it would all happen very quickly. The claw would struggle, splashing around as it overpowered its prey, commanded by my brother’s experienced hands. A collective gasp would emanate from the gathered crowd. The skin of my arm would break out in goosebumps. The claw would emerge victorious with the prey dangling in its monstrous grip — a rusty, muddy bicycle, plucked from the depths of the Amsterdam canal.

And everyone would applaud.