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THE ORDER OF THINGS / Ranbir Sidhu IT'S ONLY A GAME, his voice fading on the wind. That's what he said. I could stiU feel the grip of his fingers where he had held my chUd's arm, his hand, large, engulfing it, fingers touching at the tips. There was already a Une of grey in his beard, though he was a young man, even then, already retired, a national name. His beard tied back into a second, scruffy chin, a pink turban, his eyes on me, Watch the baU, not me, and again his voice, Watch the baU! But I always looked back into his eyes. Why was he here, why wasn't he out there, where the newspapermen attacked each other for his photograph, where the radio sang his praises, where all India looked to the holy dirt his feet walked on? It's only a game, he shouted. They said he had walked with Gandhiji to the sea. They said that he never, not even as a baby, wore anything but homespun. They said that on every corner he passed, an assassin waited—why?—but that divine forces always protected him. I launched the cricket baU into the air, but it feU thudding in the hot dirt only a few feet away, a red, undistinguished baU, and he looked at me as though I, personally, had lost Pakistan. Over thirty years later they found his body in one of the smaU aUeys suffocating the dark streets around the Golden Temple of the Sikhs, the shops crowding into it, the hands of beggars having stripped most possessions from his body, a kirpan, a holy knife in his gut. I heard this on the BBC World Service, sitting alone— my wife had taken our daughter shopping for a prom dress— in our Berkeley home with its false EngUsh countryside facade. Outside, the automated sprinklers silent—there was a drought and the lawn slowly died as summer aged. Three days ago and only now had the news squeezed out of a Punjab under martial law. A month before, Indira Gandhi's own Sikh bodyguards had murdered her, claiming it as vengeance for the attack she had ordered some months previous on the Golden Temple. Thousands had been küled in that original attack, and thousands more died after the assassination. AnU was Kirpal's son and my business partner and he celebrated both events, because both, he said, would show the Sikhs how important it was to have a separate country, to finally rise up and forge KhaUstan from the aUoys of the Punjab. The Missouri Review · 295 But why hadn't Anil told me of his father's death? I had spoken to him two days before and he had said nothing. I pressed the button on my phone with his name on it. AnU? AnU, I heard, I ... I don't know what to say___ His voice, clear, strong, Yes, yes, I know, the faUing sari prices in Pakistan. Have you seen The Wall Street Journal? What? I said, confused. No, AnU bhai, I heard about your father. Kirpalji. Your father. It is terrible news. I am so sorry. And then, my voice revealing a strained but rising frustration, Why didn't you caU and teU me, why did I have to hear this on the radio? AnU was süent, and I could imagine him looking into the telephone, annoyed. He was never one to talk about things Uke this, never one to give reasons, root out explanations. Finally he said, The funeral was yesterday. They took his ashes and they dumped them in the Ganges. His wish, and not the Sutlej as we wanted. For aU he did, he was at least a hero of the Punjab, and not one of India. They should have thrown his ashes in the Sutlej. Then he added, his voice crisp unaffected, We are stiU on for the auction tomorrow? It is important with aU that has happened. But I protested, Anil, we don't have to do this, we don't you know. But he insisted, adding, You know Papaji and I, we had our differences. The dead...


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pp. 195-206
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