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Sant Ram did not have a drinking problem when he started working at the museum. That was a year ago. It was L.M. Pant, the museum’s director, who gave Sant Ram the job as a watchman. Sant Ram arrived in Delhi from the hills to stay with a cousin’s uncle, who was the museum’s head sweeper. The uncle went to the office to put in a good word for Sant Ram with the chief peon, who would pass it on to the personal secretary, who promised to mention it to the director. A few hours later—the sun had not quite reached its apex—the uncle went to the communal tap for a handful of water when he stopped short, body stiff, eyes wide. He collapsed to the floor, and was pronounced dead of a heart attack within the hour. Later that day, Sant Ram, the only blood relative present in the city, found himself accepting Pant Sahab’s condolences when the secretary whispered something in the director’s ear. Sant Ram was taken on immediately, going from jobless in the morning, to homeless at lunch, to gainfully employed by sunset.

“I know you always suspected this,” Sant Ram wrote to his wife, Hansi, in a letter that night, “but now you can be absolutely sure that you are married to a blessed man. Thanks to God’s grace and Diwan Chacha’s death—may his soul be at peace—your husband has already found a job.” He thought of Billu, the village postman, reading his letter out to Hansi and added “A job in that glorious city of cities, Delhi.” It was the same Billu who had always taunted him at school because Sant Ram was afraid of birds, especially chickens. Sant Ram grinned to himself. He set the pen to the paper again. “Not just any small-time job like delivering things to other people,” he wrote, “but a real job, with one of the most powerful institutions in the world, the Government of India.” Before signing off, Sant Ram informed his wife that she was to pack up her belongings and take the next train to the city along with their young son. He promised that he would be assigned official housing “more or less at the time of your arrival.”

Six months later, they were still sharing a room divided by an old bedsheet with another young family.

“Big-shot promises, short-range results,” the other wife would say to Hansi as they leaned over their kerosene stoves on either side of the sheet, cooking dinner. “My husband is the same.”

“Speak for yourself,” Hansi would reply as she pumped the little handle furiously to reignite the flame. A breeze was blowing through the door, which they left open during the day to disperse the fumes. “My husband—”

“Works for the Government of India. The most powerful institution in the world, I know. Then why are you still living in a place in which one wall doubles as a handkerchief for the children?”

“Speak for yourself,” Hansi said again, mumbling this time.

Sant Ram began to leave for the museum earlier. “The heat,” he said to his wife. “You would know if you had to cycle across the city every day.”

“All right, but don’t forget to ask Pant Sahab about housing,” Hansi whispered to him on his way out so the other wife wouldn’t hear.

“You remind me every day, how could I forget?” he said as he mounted his bicycle.

“Did you say something?” she called after him.

He shook his head and waved. A few hours later, he was sitting on his rattan stool in the textile gallery. If only it were socially acceptable to marry pieces of furniture, he thought. His stool had served him loyally throughout these months, never questioning or reminding him of anything. He yawned and stretched his body, flexing his dangling feet to touch the floor with the tip of his shoes. Absently, he pulled a strand of rattan from the base of his stool and began to chew on it.

The door of the gallery opened. Sant Ram turned. A young woman in a tie-dye salwar-kameez stood in the entrance. Never mind furniture, Sant Ram thought. I just married the wrong woman. With a hearty puff the visitor blew a strand of thick, black hair out of her face and made a beeline for the brocades, clutching a sketchbook and box of colored pencils to her chest. She looked around. Sant Ram jumped up from his stool and brought it over to where she stood.

“Thank you, bhaiyya,” she said with a smile and sat down.

A shiver ran through Sant Ram’s body. He glanced at the young lady’s behind lodged comfortably in the seat that had held his own sorry cheeks only moments before. He hovered around, watching the floral patterns behind the glass pane take shape on her sheet of paper.

“Are you a famous painter, Madam?”


“A famous actress with a flair for painting?”

“Daddy says actresses are all body, no brains.”

“You should tell your Daddy that his own daughter is all actress plus brains.”

She giggled and turned to face Sant Ram. The back of her hand was still covering her mouth, and he could see her smooth, pink palm.

“Why, Daddy didn’t tell me you’re such a joker.”

“Daddy, Madam?”

The young woman dug the tip of her elbow into her knee and rested her chin on her hand. “I’m Parul Pant, and I’m studying to be a world-famous designer.”

From that day onwards, Parul came to the gallery several times a week. She told Sant Ram that she was on her summer break from college. Sometimes she brought friends; then she would greet him with a wave and a smile. Alone, she would often stand and chat, and he would carry his stool to wherever she had decided to sketch or study.

At home, his wife had stopped whispering. “How much longer are we going to be holed up here like mice? I have half a mind to go speak to Pant Sahab myself!”

Sant Ram got on his bicycle. He waved to his son and pushed down hard on the pedal.

“You know what I think?” Hansi called after him. “I think Pant Sahab doesn’t even exist!”

When Pant Sahab called Sant Ram into his office that day after he had helped Parul sketch by pointing out a flaw in the weave that he felt should be rendered accurately in her drawing, he was sure that his luck was about to change. He pictured himself coming home that evening, not speaking a word until he had finished most of his dinner, and then casually saying, “By the way, that Pant Sahab who doesn’t exist, he assigned me housing today.”

The air-conditioned room was empty when Sant Ram entered. The chai-boy informed him that the director was in the new gallery. This was an annex to the main building, a separate room with its own entrance. Sant Ram found it and entered, but stopped short. The gallery was small. It had no windows, and its walls, floor, and ceiling were painted pitch black. Along the walls, one next to the other, stood towering figures of dark wood, each face illuminated by a spotlight. Most of the sculptures were taller than Sant Ram. The female ones had large breasts. Their hair was styled into intricate buns that looked like melons hanging behind each ear. They also had snarling, canine teeth. The male figures had horns and tongues protruding from their upturned heads. The tallest sculptures were human in form, but their heads came from all the animals Sant Ram thought he could imagine: boar, snake, cow, lion, dog, horse, and, yes, chicken. Some had multiple heads.

Pant stood at the far end of the gallery next to a wooden figure. It was of a cow’s head and, to Sant Ram’s relief, a cow’s body. It was roughly the right size, too. Its eyes were raised to meet the director’s, and its tongue stretched out from between its smiling mouth as if to lick his hand. Pant had not noticed Sant Ram, who remained frozen by the door.

“People don’t understand what it means to give your life to something, Samira,” Pant was saying to the cow. “I know you’d rather be back home than put on show here, but what kind of a life is that—rotting away in some shed, your beautiful wood eaten by white ants? Isn’t this much better?” Pant reached out to stroke the cow’s snout. Sant Ram cupped his hand to his right temple to eclipse the partial view of the chicken-headed figure. He scuffed his shoes against the floor.

Pant looked up. “Ah, there you are.” He walked to where Sant Ram stood. “Welcome to your new office! I’m promoting you to this gallery. If you do this job well, you’ll have your housing.”

Sant Ram felt a tickle as the hairs on his back stood along his spine. He gazed again at the tall figures, their eyes wide and bulging with malice, waiting to be provoked. He wondered whether Pant was testing him, or whether he truly believed him more capable than the other watchmen.

“I envy you,” Pant said, and he clearly meant it. “I wish I could sit watching these gorgeous sculptures instead of signing files and attending meetings all day long.” He closed his eyes as if to listen to the soft rhythm coming from the speakers in each of the corners. Sant Ram could make out drums, tambourines, and faint chants. He closed his eyes and thought of Parul. Perhaps he could persuade her to come here and sketch these monsters, or to design clothes to cover their hideous bodies, especially their faces. Seeing that the director was still lost in thought, Sant Ram carefully repositioned the watchman’s stool so that the chicken-headed figure was concealed by the boar-woman.

“It’s an endless tape,” Pant said and opened his eyes. “So visitors can get a sense of the atmosphere of these nocturnal rituals. I want the room to feel like perpetual night. I recorded these songs myself. Twenty-five years ago, as a student. The Bhuta cult—”

“Bhuta, Sir?” Sant Ram swallowed. Bhuta meant ghost.

“Yes, Sant Ram. Ancestor worship. Cult of the dead. Fascinating. They’ve pretty much died out today, but—” Pant looked at Sant Ram. “Are you all right?”

Sant Ram removed his fingers from his ears. “Yes, Sir.”

“Good. So watch them carefully. Each piece is worth a fortune.” Pant rapped his knuckle on the potbelly of a man with a lion’s head and left. The door closed behind him, and Sant Ram was alone. Was Pant punishing him? Perhaps Parul had said something? He dismissed the thought: she had been as friendly as ever. Yet Pant had made himself clear. If he did his job well, he would have housing.

Sant Ram stood still and didn’t breathe. The music playing in the background seemed to be getting louder. He could not tell whether it was light or dark outside through the tinted glass of the door. He felt his heart pounding against his ribs and wondered whether he was already possessed. Don’t make eye contact, he told himself before sinking onto his stool. As he turned towards the door to see if by some chance Parul was walking past, he thought he saw the boarwoman’s pupils move.

Three weeks later, it was lunchtime. The gallery was empty. Sant Ram stroked the wooden tongue of the cow with his fingers. He had renamed it Bhola Ram, partly after himself and partly after their buffalo back in the village.

“What can I say, Bhola Ram?” Sant Ram tickled its ears. “I know you think I’ve been neglecting my family, but the wife simply won’t leave me in peace until I get housing. Frankly, the more she pesters me, the less I want Pant Sahab to offer it to me. I’ll send her back to the village! But then, as soon as I get it, I can ask to be transferred back to Textiles.” He poked his finger into a flaring nostril. “No offense, but this room is not for me.” He felt beads of sweat forming on his forehead. He lowered his voice to a whisper and stealthily pointed at the other figures in the room. “The only reason they haven’t harmed me yet is because they’re scared Pant Sahab will send them back to the white-ants.” He spoke normally again. “Anyway, you have to admit that Raju would be better off in the village. He’s three now. He won’t start school for another two years at least. Let him breathe the pure village air again, don’t you think?”

“You’re talking to a piece of wood.”

Sant Ram spun around. “Hansi!” He had not heard her come in. “What are you doing here?” He added, “And it’s not just a piece of wood. Pant Sahab said—”

“Pant Sahab is as nutty as an almond thandai. The librarian told me she saw him climb the banyan tree in the museum courtyard yesterday to hang up a set of terracotta birds. He could have gotten anyone to do it for him, but she said he was so content, sitting up there in the branches.”

“The librarian? How long have you been here?”

“Since morning.”

“How did you get here? You’ve never even—Don’t touch that!”

Hansi was probing the edge of the wooden sword in the hand of the lion-man. Sant Ram grabbed his wife’s arm and pulled her away, mumbling an apology to the figure. Hansi gave him a sly look. “It’s never a good sign when a man is more frightened of a log than of his wife.” She smiled at him. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.” She sat down on his stool.

“Someone will see you here, Hansi, and then we’ll never get housing.”

“They’re already watching us,” she said and nodded at the sculptures.

Sant Ram shivered. He wiped his forehead.

Hansi pulled him closer by the sleeve. “What’s this?” She smiled at him for the first time in months. “All work and no masti?”

At ten minutes after five during Sant Ram’s fourth week at the new gallery, he locked the door and made his way to the director’s office. In the days he had spent in what he came to see as his jail cell, with the sculptures as his wardens and fellow prisoners, he had developed strategies to safeguard himself. (1) A short prayer to appease their wrath as soon as he unlocked the gallery in the morning; (2) no hateful or mocking thoughts directed against them, though feelings of dread were permitted; and (3) though he was certain that they looked at and possibly moved towards him whenever he turned his back, he had decided that he would light them on fire should they do so in front of him. For this purpose, he now always carried a box of matches in his pocket, which he would occasionally take out and twirl between his fingers as a subtle but unambiguous warning. Still, he felt as if he was working two jobs. He was museum watchman and shaman, and he was convinced that it was only a matter of time before the sculptures figured out that he was a fraud with no real powers against them. Thus he had survived four weeks in the Bhuta gallery, but the previous night he had stayed up coming to the conclusion that he wanted housing for his family, but not at the cost of his life. He requested a meeting with Pant Sahab that morning, hoping to negotiate a return to the textile gallery without compromising his chances for housing. He knocked on Pant Sahab’s door.

“Come in!” Pant was sitting behind his desk, his reading glasses perched at the tip of his nose. “What can I do for you, Sant Ram?”

“Sir, I don’t know how to say this to you.” He looked at his feet.

“Don’t say anything. I think I know what you’re here for.”

“You do?”

At that moment, the door swung open, and Parul walked in.

“Hi, Daddy. Namaste, Sant Ramji.” She gave her father a kiss on the shiny dome of his head and plopped down in a chair. “Why did you send Sant Ram into exile to that horrid place, Daddy? Now I have to sit on the floor whenever I go to Textiles.”

Tears filled Sant Ram’s eyes. “Your daughter is so intelligent, Sir. People will sing songs of praise in her name one day.”

“Unlikely,” Pant said. He turned to his frowning daughter. “I will arrange for a stool to be kept for you in Textiles.” Pant returned to his files. Sant Ram looked at Parul, who smiled at him and shrugged.


“Yes?” Pant looked up. He seemed confused to see the watchman standing before him.

“You said you knew what I wanted to speak to you about?”

“Ah, yes. Of course. You want your position at the Bhuta gallery to be made permanent.” He pointed his pen at Sant Ram and grinned at his daughter. “I knew I had the right fellow as soon as I hired him. He’s got the real stuff, as they say. It’s true dedication, I tell you.”

“Daddy never gives praise like that!”

Both father and daughter beamed at him, nodding their heads in approval.

“Actually, Sir—”

“Oh, and before I forget. Your order for housing has come through.” Pant dug through his papers and pulled out a sheet. “I had them put it all in one order—your house and your position with the Bhutas. Saves some paper. All this bureaucracy can be so wasteful. Anyway, sign here and you’ve killed two birds with one stone: seventeen Bhutas a day keeps homelessness away. I thought of that earlier.”

“You’re a real hero, Sant Ram,” Parul said. “I’ll come visit you sometime.”

After his meeting with Pant and the move into the government quarter, Sant Ram added the fourth and single most effective strategy to his list: rum. He allowed himself a few swigs before he began duty and a few more once the stream of visitors thinned at about noon. He soon discovered that the thought of being imprisoned in the room with these creatures became more bearable once his vision blurred slightly.

The door opened. When Sant Ram turned he saw that it was his wife. “Why aren’t you at home?” he asked.

“Our new place is so close to the museum that I just thought I’d say hello.”

“You came to check on me. You got your housing. Now leave me in peace.” Sant Ram sat up a bit too quickly. He heard the rum splash about inside the glass bottle strapped to his naked chest underneath his shirt.

“What’s that sound?”

“My stomach. I just drank some water.”

“I think I smell alcohol.”

“It’s your imagination. The Bhutas are getting to you. I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“Fine, I’ll leave. But you better not be up to something or I’ll personally get in touch with each of these fellows to find a way to punish you.”

Sant Ram curled his lips into a pout and turned his head away from his wife, but when he heard the door close behind her he clasped his hands together to keep them from shaking. This room would be his chamber of death! A group of schoolchildren on a field trip would come in one day in the not-so-distant future and find his cold body curled up in the corner. He felt anger gathering in his stomach. As if he didn’t have enough trouble keeping the Bhutas under control! What kind of a wife would threaten her hardworking husband with instigating his own wardens against him? One more word and he would send her back to the village. He raised his eyes and scanned the room. The Bhutas stared back at him, their eyes filled with scorn.

He got up. The room was like a tiffin box, all smells were stuck inside. He opened the door and swung it back and forth several times.

“Hey, there! What are you doing?” It was Parul.

“Nothing,” he said and held the door open for her. “Just supplying the Bhutas with some fresh air.” They both stepped into the gallery.

“What a terrible hole,” Parul said as she looked around. “But Daddy is so proud of you!”

“All I want is to make your father happy.” He smiled and dusted off the seat of his stool. After a quick, imploring glance at the figures, he invited Parul to sit.

She fanned herself with her purse. “What smells funny in here?”

“Just the heat.” Sant Ram took the purse from her hand and started fanning her at twice the speed.

The door opened. “What’s going on here?” Hansi was standing in front of them, arms akimbo. The purse dropped into Parul’s lap.

“Hansi, this is Pant Sahab’s daughter. Parulji, this is my wife.”

Another week passed. Sant Ram was asleep on his stool, his body slumped against the wall and the buttons of his shirt undone down to his chest. A bottle was tucked into his shirt, and with every inhalation, the rise of his stomach pushed it into sight for a few seconds.

He awoke with a start. The bottle tumbled from his shirt onto the floor with a clang. It was empty. He sat up and looked around, rubbing his eyes. He had dreamed that he was a fox walking along the hilly paths of his native Garhwal on his hind legs, dressed in a tie-dye salwar-kameez. He wiped the sweat from his face and closed his eyes again for a moment, listening to the familiar music playing from the speakers.

What if someone had seen him? He looked around. The gallery was deserted. He hoped that nobody had watched him sleep and complained. It must be lunchtime. He would air out the gallery and talk to some of the guards outside to be sure he wasn’t in trouble. What luck! Maybe he was blessed after all. He relaxed against the wall for a few seconds, stretching his body and burping at length. Enough! he told himself. These figures were turning him into a beast. He buttoned up his shirt and straightened his hair. As he hid the bottle underneath his stool, he promised himself that he would throw it out that evening and never buy another. A giggle rose in his stomach. A bottle of rum every day keeps seventeen Bhutas at bay, he thought. “What do you think of that, Pant Sahab?” he said out aloud, hiccuping.

He got up and walked to the door. The ground seemed to move slightly under his feet. He reached for the handle and pushed it. The door jammed. He pushed again, harder this time. Still, it did not open. He kicked it and shoved it with his body; he hammered the glass with his fist. Then he stopped to investigate the handle. The door was locked. From the outside. Maybe I’m still drunk and this is a dream, Sant Ram thought. He checked his arm for reddish-grey fur. There was none. Nor were his ears pointy. He shook the door handle again, and suddenly he had the strong sensation of nearby presences. He was convinced that if he turned around, the figures would be standing in a close semicircle around him. As he strained to look through the tinted glass of the door, he saw a note taped to it from the outside. It read: “We know you’re drunk! If you can’t guard the figures during the day, at least learn to do so at night.” It was signed “Parul Pant.” Next to it he made out a purplish thumb imprint that he could only assume belonged to his wife.

Had the women gone mad? He would show his wife to make friends with the high and mighty of this world! That was his job! Then it struck him: Night! It was night, and he was locked in a room full of spirits who had been given command of solid bodies twice his size. What would they do to him? What would they not do to him?

He spun around and pushed his back against the door. The figures flew back to their spots as he turned. Had the child with the horse’s head always been to the right of the boar-woman, or had they traded places? They were going to drive him mad before tearing out his limbs one by one like scrawny weeds. He walked to his stool, keeping the gallery in his view. As long as he kept his eyes on them, they would not move; he had learned that much in the weeks he had guarded them. It was only when he looked to the side or closed his eyes for a moment that they took liberties with him. He would switch off the music, he thought. That would dampen their spirits! The tape recorder was kept on a small, raised shelf; he would have to climb on his stool to switch it off. It would be impossible to do so without turning his back. He checked the bottle of liquor to be sure it was empty. He unscrewed it and licked the rim and as much of the neck as he could reach with his tongue. Then he sat down on his stool and cried.

When he raised his head again, he saw that it was too late. They had started moving. The boar-woman, the horse-child, the lion-man, even his always faithfully inanimate cow—they had set their limbs in motion and were slowly coming closer. At their head was the chicken-figure. The room began to swim as more tears ran from his eyes. He remembered the box of matches in his pocket, but he could not move. It was as if they had poured glue on his stool. The only thing he noticed was that the boar-woman’s breasts were glistening and, in a moment of lucidity, he realized that it came from the greasy hands of visitors who must have rubbed them whenever he had turned his head. Sant Ram screamed. He felt the glue on his seat loosen. He jumped up and charged.

He had intended to lift himself up to the chicken-monster’s face and poke out its eyes, which had come alive with its body, but when he grabbed the extended arm for support, it came off at the joint and he landed on the floor. Turning on his belly, he jumped up, the piece of log raised above his head like a baton, and charged once again, this time in the opposite direction.

Before the other guards realized what had happened, Sant Ram had broken down the door and was running through the compound. He ran to the front gate, grabbed his bicycle from the stand, pushed it past the sleeping guard, and sped down the main road. He had been cycling at top speed for several minutes before he realized he was not heading homewards. He also noticed the piece of wood clutched under his arm, and felt a sharp pain in his right hand. He turned around. Nobody was following him. The roads were deserted and, except for the circles of light around the street lamps, pitch dark. He stopped and lifted his bicycle onto the pavement to sit down in the grassy patch behind it. Dark droplets had formed on his knuckles. He felt a shard of glass stuck in his skin and pulled it out. Then he picked up the piece of wood. The surface was smooth, and he could make out the wrist and hand attached to it. He clutched the dowel that had held the forearm in place at a right angle to the upper arm and realized what he had done.

When Sant Ram awoke, it was morning. He scrambled to find the piece of wood before he saw that he had slept on it. He asked a passerby for the time. It was a quarter past nine. Pant Sahab would already have heard, but he would still be at home. He lived just a few minutes away in a government house. During the night, Sant Ram had cycled towards it.

He tucked the arm into the sprung clasp of his back-carrier before mounting his bicycle. When he reached the Pant residence, there was a small crowd assembled in front of it. Pant’s driver, the guards from the neighboring galleries and from the front gate stood in a semicircle around the director. Behind him was Parul; next to her stood Hansi. The guards must have decided to inform the director about the night’s events collectively to reduce their individual blame. When they saw Sant Ram approaching, the group fell silent.

“Here comes our hero,” he heard one of the guards say.

“He’s got the missing piece,” another one added.

Sant Ram carried the wooden arm like a bouquet of flowers and handed it to Pant.

“Thank God,” Pant said, and gave it to Parul, who passed it to the driver, who carried it to the car parked in the driveway. “Now would you care to explain what in heaven’s name you were thinking? Getting drunk on my premises and then breaking down a door using not, mind you, the stool—” Pant’s voice rose as he spoke, “or any other fucking object you could have found in that gallery, but an arm, an arm from one of my sculptures!”

Sant Ram kept his eyes on his boss’s sandals.

“Your drunkenness is enough to suspend you. I’ll never know how much embarrassment you caused me in front of my visitors. I had no idea! If Parul hadn’t found you—”

Sant Ram looked at Parul. Their eyes met briefly before she turned away.

“Mind you, it wasn’t my idea to lock you into that room, but that’s how you repay me? For all that I have done for you? I mean, what didn’t I do for you? I picked you up from the streets and gave you this job, I promoted you, and you can’t even spend a few extra hours in my gallery? And with such gorgeous, priceless pieces nonetheless! Instead you break down doors? Answer me!”

“I’m sorry, Sir.”

“You’re sorry? That’s it?”

Sant Ram hung his head.

“I get it. You think you’re too good for this job. You’d rather be sitting in an air-conditioned room and ride around in the back of a car. Well, let me tell you something. You have to work to achieve that. I am where I am today because I never thought I was too good for anything. Here, let me show you how it’s done.” He handed his briefcase to Parul and strode down the driveway. The other men exchanged glances. Sant Ram jogged after him. The driver ran ahead and opened the door of the white Ambassador, but Pant marched past him towards Sant Ram’s bicycle parked behind the car. Pant undid the stand, swung himself onto the seat, and began to pedal. The men sprung into action. The driver slammed the door and reversed the car to follow his boss down the road. The other men ran towards their own bicycles. Sant Ram raced to catch up with his boss.

“Sir, what are you doing, Sir?” He ran alongside the director.

“I’m showing you how it’s done.”

“I know how to ride a bicycle, Sir.”

“Don’t be smart. I gave you a chance and you ruined it.”

“Sir, I’m really sorry, Sir. Just one more chance, Sir.”

A bicycle bell sounded from behind.

“Slow down, Daddy!”

When Sant Ram looked to his left, he saw Parul on her red Hero Lady. He could see Hansi’s hands grabbing Parul’s waist as she sat perched on the back of the bicycle. They turned on to the main road. Pant looked at his daughter in surprise, then, returning his stern gaze to the road, slowed down so that they were cycling at one level. Sant Ram jogged between the two vehicles.

“It was the Bhutas that made me do it, Sir. I swear on my mother’s good health. They came at me and they were going to eat me alive if I didn’t get out of there. So I panicked. I grabbed the closest arm and it came off, just like that, and that’s when I had realized I could escape.”

of there. So I panicked. I grabbed the closest arm and it came off, just like that, and that’s when I had realized I could escape.”

Pant was still looking straight ahead.

“You know it’s true, Sir! We both speak their language.”

“Definitely true,” Hansi yelled to the director. “I saw him talk to the cow, and I swear on my son’s grades it nodded its head in response. Please don’t suspend my husband, Sahabji!”

“It’s really my fault, Daddy. I should have just come to you instead of listening to her!”

“With all due respect, Parul Madam, he’s my husband, and I won’t watch him turn into a drunkard! I mean, I won’t watch him go crazy.”

Sant Ram noticed that the director’s brow relaxed. He had found his rhythm and was no longer out of breath. When he looked around, he saw that a fleet of bicycles had gathered around them, forming a cocoon. Most sweepers, tea-boys, and guards took the main road to the museum, and word of the director’s new ride had spread fast. They cycled in front, behind, and on either side of Pant and his daughter to protect them from the traffic; they made a shield between them and the Ambassador rolling along at a slow speed.

As the cavalcade of bicycles took the final turn down the road leading to the museum, Pant turned to Sant Ram. “Hop on,” he said.