Oh Laxmi! Chapter 2 and 3

Chapter 2

Amali stood outside the school with the other girls waiting to be let in for the exam. They all looked the same. Same hair parted in the middle, same red ribbons, same blue kurtas and white pyjamas forming the comfortable salwar kameez, same white dupatta with the same V fold in front.

She looked at the buildings opposite which were all shabby rendered concrete. Grime was growing like a case of black icthyosis over the surface of the Axis Bank on the corner where it was exposed to both the traffic and the little huddle of laundrymen at its base. The laundry was only a place to collect the dirty clothes, send them off to the river to be washed and dried and then returned to the skinny young men who danced maniacally in the appalling heat ironing them. She had never particularly noticed them before but today watching the young man on the right was spellbinding. His iron was heavy and attached to a long cord which formed its own rhythm snaking and flicking as he danced with the Indian techno doov doov doov of the music blasting from the CD player next to him. With each beat he whacked the iron down on the board and whizzed it over the surface of in this case, a large sheet. He was amazingly fast and in a minute had ironed all of one side and folded it two or three times. Sweat ran in shiny rivulets from his forehead and it was no surprise to see him secretly take out a little white paper bag and have a pinch of the ground ‘herbs’ inside. These contained the essential little helper to turn the ironing man from a skinny exhausted teenager into a real Iron Man worthy of a Golden Iron award.

She tried to concentrate on her maths and physics formulas and the possibility of having the nastiest of surprises in the exam; the sneaky physics question. In class they had come across these and one had really had her stumped. It was:

 Ignoring the moons gravity, if an object sitting still (relative to the Earth, i.e. not in orbit) was dropped from the moon. How long would it take to hit the Earth?

First she thought it would most likely never hit the earth because the Moon is in orbit around the Earth, so if you took away the Moon’s gravity then any object on its surface would have sufficient velocity to be in orbit around the Earth in its own right. She was proud of this answer and argued with her friend Anjali about it who said she was wrong and that it would be half the orbital period, around 4.8 days.

Someone said they were sure this question would appear on the paper since it had been used on the year before.

Anjali was smart. Incredibly nice and incredibly smart. She was lucky to have a friend like her they were like the best of sisters, inseparable and always with their heads together talking and laughing. It was funny how often you would think about someone and then they would appear, like now. Thinking about Anjali had made her appear.

“Namaste Amali! Oh I am soo scared!” Anjali shook her knees together rattling her plaits in concert with them. She hugged her skinny arms around herself.

“What are you looking at over there?” She asked.

“The ironing boy. How hot it would be for them in there!”

“Yes, probably over 45 degrees no doubts.”

“He is a good mover.”

Anjali giggled. “You’re not supposed to notice these things my friend!”

Amali waggled her head. “I don’t mean it like that but he has good rhythm, look and see for yourself!”

Another girl they knew moved over to see what they were looking at so intently, then another two came with her and before a minute had passed Amali and Anjali had the company of no less than 11 girls all peering across the road at the young man ironing.

The Collective Stare leaned into each other giggling and pointing at quite what they weren’t sure but the power of the knot kept them focussed. The young man meanwhile, oblivious to his audience, kept up the dashing movement and in that time had remarkably ironed another two sheets and folded each one with the precision of Pythagoras. A pause in his movement while he guzzled from a bottle of water holding it just above his open mouth, made the girls shuffle and shift their attention to each other, now strangely silent, some of their arms still draped around each other and as the bell rang for them to go in to begin the exam, a frisson of nervousness jolted them.

“Ai! Ai! This is it! Oh my God! The EXAM I’m going to fail!” They wailed.

All the senior girls taking the physics exam filed in through the school gates set into a brick wall with a bouquet of barbed wire crowning it but in the corner, where a vigorous red bougainvillea had tumbled over the top and looked as though in its defiance it would take more territory if the gardeners didn’t notice. This year to aid concentration, the senior management team had moved the exam room from the gymnasium which was actually a hall with two basketball rings precariously supported by sandbags, down into the storage area underneath the main building. Here the split and spilled bags of cement, broken sports equipment, boxes of papers and old files, pieces of broken desks and chairs and so forth had been pushed and stacked into a corner. It smelt of damp earth, six feet under. Sitting in the exam room, all the little wooden desks in soldiered rows of single file, Amali and Anjali twisted their dupattas in their fingers at the same time and gazed with huge black eyes at each other across the room.

As the exam paper arrived with a soft slap on each desk, the teachers were grim faced refusing eye contact with the girls, Amali reflected on things with the sudden clarity of a moment in life that only fear can best bring. She thought of being the wife of that young man across the road, seeing him only for a few hours a day, living with his family, the fighting that invariably occurred when large numbers of people shared one roof, the lack of privacy, the revolving door of pregnancies and never knowing how to feed clothe and school them on the wages brought in from ironing. It was a nightmare she never wanted and thanked God then for her skinny body, her big teeth and plain face.

There were three sections to the exam lasting three hours and ten minutes. The first section was short answers and multiple choice, the second section was problem solving and the third was comprehension.

She opened the booklet.

Section One: Short answers 40%      (66 Marks)

This section has 18 questions. Answer all questions. Write your answers in the spaces provided.

  • When calculating numerical answers, show your working or reasoning clearly.
  • Give final answers to three significant figures and include appropriate units where applicable.
  • When estimating numerical answers, show your working or reasoning clearly. Give final answers to a maximum of two significant figures and include appropriate units where applicable.

Spare pages are included at the end of this booklet. They can be used for planning your

responses and/or as additional space if required to continue an answer.

  • Planning: If you use the spare pages for planning, indicate this clearly at the top of the page.
  • Continuing an answer: If you need to use the space to continue an answer, indicate in the

original answer space where the answer is continued, i.e. give the page number. Fill in the

number of the question that you are continuing to answer at the top of the page.

Suggested working time: 70 minutes.

70 minutes! Not long enough for all these questions. A sudden squirming and heat moved in her guts and she breathed in hard and swallowed, clamping her muscles together willing them to restraint and control. It was always this way with her ever since she could remember, fear coiled in her like some mamba she could never get rid of. Every significant moment in her life was marked with this diabolical fear that one day she wouldn’t be able to control herself and that the public disgrace would ruin her.

Then she took up her pencil and began.

Question 1                                                                                                      (4 marks)

A farmer walked 745 m west from a gate to repair a fence post. When that job was finished

he turned around and walked 984 m east to repair another part of the fence. Draw and label a

vector diagram of his total journey then calculate his resultant displacement.

She did what she was told to do and worked quickly through all the questions she knew and left the hard ones till the end working to the time constraints as best as she could. She glanced at the clock and wondered at how time changed according to one’s circumstances or even in the body. The brain for example could know something in a nanosecond, the body learned more slowly but remembered everything, manifesting its memories in a variety of ways, disease for instance or being mute, it was the Ganesh of the human being. The emotions were like the weather turning in an instant to storms and rage with the vicissitudes of life or more slowly as though in harmony with seasonal patterns. She thought about the young man and how time must drag for him, every day of his life wrinkled with other people’s textiles, the tiny bodices of young woman or the bigger ones of grannies, the trousers of hopeful men as they walked to their next IT interview, the sheets people made love on, the sarees ladies shopped in, the shirts boys wore to school or work, all the marvellous coverings of thousands of lives all pressed beneath the hot iron of this young man.

Last night she had listened to her father and mother talking in bed. It was something Amali loved to do since she was a little girl, and it was easy to do for all the families in these houses as only a thin partition between the rooms of the families who occupied the house gave any sense of privacy. Her parent’s room was shared with their work things, the latest sewing projects, or clothes spare sheets and so forth were kept in three boxes stacked in a corner of the room and the little room she shared with Leila her sister. Their mother Mamta, had a cough and complained about her bones a lot and didn’t laugh as often as she used to. Her hugs seemed to be less frequent  than tired irritable words and Amali longed to please her and see her smile. Frequently she would plan little events to try to elicit that glorious beam from her mother’s face. Sometimes she would pick flowers and make them into garlands and give them to her mother. She would run errands for her and rub her feet or brush her skein of black hair. She understood how hard life was for her mother and saw in the thin hand the fine tremor had begun just after the birth of her younger sister Leila, had only got worse. Mamta was not able to sew much any more and this was a great blow to her as now she was not able to put much money aside for her girls. Two years ago she had begun working full time again despite the protestations of Ravi. It was a complicated thing this marriage business. He complained about her working and said it made him feel useless, a half a man that he couldn’t provide enough for them but then he was always very pleased to find the school fees paid or the girls shaking their heads pretty with new ribbons. He was proud of his Mamta and loved her more than he could possibly have told her. She in turn had found his dedication to her needs and gentle consideration deeply touching and over the years they had found in each other a comfort and pleasure that was as deep as it was surprising.

Listening to her parents was a way Amali felt included, that knowing all their chat about family matters was some kind of bond between them all that helped strengthen the family unit. Her mother was a delicately built person with fine hands and feet but with a solid bottom. Her father had been a cloth seller in Surat in Gujarat and had done reasonably well making a good living from the little shop he opened there. He had three sons and four daughters and all of them had done well except for Mamta who had not been an exceptionally pretty girl, and was, like her own daughter, considered too dark for most men’s taste and had an air of stubbornness about her that put people off. In the end with her parents aging, the shop not doing well as great growth and competition happened in Surat, Mamta had to face the inevitable and come to her marriage with Ravi very late in her reproductive life because of these facts. She was already 29 when the betrothal took place and she was alternately resentful and grateful to Ravi for marrying her. She had established a kind of an independence within her own family sewing for a tailor who sublet business out to others. She specialised in sewing tiny geometric or round mirrors in patterns on fabric, sometimes wall hangings for which she received enough to pay her way in the family and was able to save a little each week towards her dowry gold which she kept secret from everyone and hidden away in a small earthenware pot she had put behind  the food cupboard. Not even Ravi knew about the amount of the gold she had as she had only taken a portion out for her wedding and added it to the gifts from her parents and other relatives, the rest was for the day of calamity, her daughters weddings or retirement.

Now 83 mins were over and Amali came to the last two questions of Section One.

Question 17                                                                                                                (3 marks)

In the game of cricket, a batsman wears pads on his legs to protect them from injury by a fast

moving ball. Each pad has 3 cm of padding between it and the batsman’s leg and each pad has

rigid plastic slats built into it, as shown in the diagram below.


Rigid plastic slats


Ball this side
Leg this side
Side view of a cricket pad

Explain, using your understanding of one of Newton’s laws, how the padding reduces injury to

the batsman’s leg if it is hit by a cricket ball.

 Amali smiled. This one was very simple something she knew almost intuitively. Then came the last one.

 Question 18.                                                                                                               (3 marks)

A feather is dropped on the moon from a height of 1.40 meters. The acceleration of gravity on the moon is 1.67 m/s2. Determine the time for the feather to fall to the surface of the moon.

Not quite what she was hoping for even though it was related to others. She had spent 73 minutes on the questions so far and was totally clear on this one.



vi = 0 m/s d = -1.40 m a = -1.67 m/s2

t = ??

d = vi*t + 0.5*a*t2

-1.40 m = (0 m/s)*(t)+ 0.5*(-1.67 m/s2)*(t)2

-1.40 m = 0+ (-0.835 m/s2)*(t)2

(-1.40 m)/(-0.835 m/s2) = t2

1.68 s2 = t2

t = 1.29 s

She turned the page


Section Two: Problem solving                                                                       50% (90 Marks)

 This section has seven(7)questions. You must answer all questions. Write your answers in the spaces provided.

Spare pages are included at the end of this booklet.They can be used for planning your responses and/or as additional space if required to continue an answer.

Planning: If you use the spare pages for planning, indicate this clearly at the top of the page.

  • Continuing an answer: If you need to use the space to continue an answer, indicate in the original answer space where the answer is continued, i.e. give the page number. Fill in the number of the question(s) that you are continuing to answer at the top of the page.Suggested working time: 90 minutes.


Her heart fell as she read the questions and had no idea at all what to write. It was not something they covered much in class.

Question 19                                                                                         (10 marks)


An uncharged drop of oil is given 7 excess electrons. It is then introduced into the space between two horizontal plates 25.0 mm apart with a potential difference between them of 1.50 kV. The drop of oil remains stationary.

(a)Calculate the magnitude of the electric field strength between the plates


(b)Is the top plate positive or negative? Explain your reasoning.


(c) Calculate the magnitude of the electric force acting on the oil drop.


(d)Calculate the mass of the oil drop.

Here is where she stopped and put down her pencil. Within her was a vision of a piece of material scrunched and wrinkled before the young man opposite the school and no matter how fast or hard he pressed, nor however hot the iron, the wrinkles sprang back into shape.

The mamba was back in her guts biting and writhing. She would have to go to the toilet and as she raised her hand to signal one of the teachers supervising the exam the room suddenly went dark.

A murmur bubbled through the room and one of the teachers called for quiet. They waited silently in the dark for the inverters on the batteries to kick in but all they heard was a high thin whine from the floor above them. One of the teachers took her phone out of her bag and turned it on illuminating her way out to find out what was happening. A couple of the girls near the door whispered and a teacher yelled loudly. “No talking! Anyone who talks will have their papers failed.” Amali thought, good luck seeing who it was.

The returning teachers came in and told the girls to stand up and leave everything on their desks as they were and that there was no possibility of continuing the exam that day. They would be re-located to the upper classrooms the following day. They shuffled out quietly and as the girls reached the light of the street their noisy babble rose to an excited pitch.

Anjali found her friend waiting under the Flame Tree that grew just outside the school with its candles of spiky flowers clasped in the top of its branches like red fingernails.

“Did you know the answer to question 19?” Anjali blurted out.

“No! I didn’t…anyway we aren’t allowed to talk about the exam!”

“Phht don’t be so silly! Who is to know?”
“I will. So will Krishna.”

“Oh don’t be such an old prude. I won’t tell anyone.”

Amali looked at her friend and smiled leaned forward and gave her a grave little pinch on the cheek.


Anjali smiled and sighed. “Oh you are such a goody goody.”

They both turned their heads simultaneously to see the ironing man still dancing like a puppet held by a master who loved rhythm. He seemed as though he was in a trance and dashing the iron on the cloth in front of him was a punctuation in the music blasting at him.

Amali took the arm of her friend and said very seriously.

“You don’t talk about the exam ok? Not to anyone. It will not be good if you do.”

The ironing boy gave a special whack to the sheet he was ironing, cleaning up a little nest of wrinkles such as one might find at the corner of a fakir’s eye. Anjali paused and looked at her serious friend and smiled, ‘Don’t worry! Oh there’s my bus, I’ll see you tomorrow!”


The best place in the bus was the second seat on the left of the driver. The first one wasn’t because the driver jettisoned his paan spittle out the window and when these were all opened it wasn’t unknown for a bit of blowback onto the passengers behind him. She sometimes saw drivers with a little paper bag which they frequently dipped into putting some kind of powder into their mouth and it was suspected that many crashes happened because the drivers were spaced out on this stuff. It was giddy-up powder and made the driver red-eyed, moving around in their seat like the ironing boys and driving erratically so she was happy that the driver on her route only spat gobs of red juice from his red stained mouth. The pavements and walls of buildings even trunks of trees were spattered with it in certain areas making the street look as though a great slaughter had recently happened but it was only the juice and spit from the paan.

The buses were always a crush of people and it was rare to find a seat anyway but this afternoon was her lucky day and she slid onto the wooden slats shiny from so many warm bottoms and friction. An old lady was next to her speaking very loudly into her mobile phone, almost shouting down the line to whoever was the recipient of the barrage. What was it with old ladies and yelling and never listening? She thought there were three types of old ladies. Ones like this woman, the old harridans and termagants so frustrated by their lack of progress in life they bullied and badgered their families until one day their hearts refused to beat even one more time and they would topple over in their kitchens mid-castigation, at a wedding while bitching about the bride’s mother or even in the street usually just before monsoon. Then there were ones that were silent and overcome by the harshness of life ending their days like shadows flitting across the streets, or leaning into corners where they became un-decorated human hat-stands. Then there were the ones who were rich and regal, whose genetic trail spoke for itself in the line of doctors, lawyers and politicians they had given birth to and whom they spoke of fondly and frequently.

But this woman whom she had frequently seen on this bus route, didn’t let up shouting. She was a human stream of paan spittle staining the auditory universe. Quite suddenly she fell silent for a moment then said to Amali.

“I found something you might want or need, it’s very valuable.”

‘What do you mean?’

The woman cackled and said.

“What if I told you I found something you might want that might help you in what you did today?”

This was extremely confusing but as she looked down she saw a couple of sheets of paper rolled up with what looked like physics formulae typed on them. She gasped. It was the answer sheet.

“Where did you get that?”

“It was left on the seat just now by one of the teachers from your school. I saw her get off the bus and get off the back as you got on the front.”

“But how do you know I did the exam?”

“You were talking with Anjali. She’s my neighbour’s daughter. She was doing the exam today. She’s your friend, I’ve seen you together many times. Here take the papers, you’ve got to get some advantage in this damned world.” She held them up to Amali who stared at them as if the devil himself had put out his paw to shake her hand. It was nearly impossible to resist and she slowly put her hand out to take them but at the last second snatched her hand back and spun around to find herself a place far away from the witch.


Chapter 3

Ravi sat in emergency with Christianand and waited. The room was full of people in various states of resignation, too ill to care what was happening, or upset with waiting for hours, with rage because the doctor’s didn’t do their job properly or walking out with relief on their face. In the waiting room which was rimmed by rows of black plastic chairs bolted together in rows as if hordes of penitents had entered for absolution for their unholy diets, their nasty personaluij8uij8 hygiene or by the avenging hand of Kali who had laid them low. If some alien had landed in Pune and had come to hospital having banged his nut on the console of his spacecraft as they’d landed, he would immediately transmigrate knowing he would never be seen here and bandaged up in an eon, there were too many people before him. Yet there was a steady flow in and out like some huge pump was pushing them in and another was sucking them out.

In time, Christianand asked Ravi. “Shall I fetch your wife? Where do you live?”

Ravi by now was almost in another state of being, so distracted was he by the pain caused by the various accidents of the day. He quarter turned to the rickshaw driver wondering what he had said. “Uh?”

“Shall I get your wife for you?’ He repeated.

“Yes! Should be at home but maybe at the market, Phule Market.” said Ravi and gave the directions of his house to the driver.

“You are so kind… I thank you with all my heart brother.”

Christianand looked at the ticket Ravi held and saw his number was far and away one of the last to be seen. He had time to go and come back provided he left now.

“Achar, dada. I will be back. Don’t worry, everything will be fine. I have prayed to Dhanvantari and you will be ok.”

As he left the room, Christianand turned and saw Ravi as a kind of punctuation mark in the room, a small and skinny man on a chair, his right arm held up parallel with his torso, his skinny legs rigid and also parallel to the chair legs, his back straight and rigid, he was an exclamation mark crying out. ‘Look! See what misfortune has brought me here!’

As he hurried to his rickshaw Christianand noted that a couple of security guards were approaching it. He had parked it away from the entrance but as Ravi was having trouble walking had probably left it too close. There was going to be a problem.

“Namaste!” He called to them optimistically.

“You cannot park here!” Both men were in shabby navy blue uniforms, one had a concave stomach and his hips jutted out as though he was a limbo dancer, his trousers bore some stains around the pockets and on one side of the fly where there was a very tiny bulge with another stain. The other was shorter with a moustache, hennaed hair and a pot belly that expressed itself over the top of the trousers and in a gap between the hems and shoes showing legs like dark vermicelli.

“I am very sorry sir, I brought an accident victim here. He is waiting to see a doctor as we speak.”

“That’s what they all say. Well you have parked in the doctor’s emergency place and that is an offense.” The one with the stains on his trousers said harshly.

“I am not lying my brother. I have brought a man seriously injured. He might lose his eye!” Christianand pleaded gesturing to his own eye.

“I don’t believe you and I don’t care, aai ghalya.”

Christianand did not like to be called a mother fucker; particularly as he was feeling a certain glow of virtue for his unselfish and compassionate actions in helping Ravi. He was at the crossroads again, defend  retreat or attack.

“Look. If you want to check, then go and check. He is the skinny old guy with an orange turban in Emergency opposite the door holding his eye. If you want to make a quick twenty then tell me and let me go but if you want a fight then get ready for a beating. It’s up to you.”


He stepped to the side and crossed his arms and parted his feet standing in a square and strong pose. He had always made it a rule when dealing with guys like this to feign strength and indifference. It was a bit like confronting a snarling dog without something in your pocket to pacify him or a stick to beat him with; he shouldn’t smell your fear nor sense your weakness.

The big bellied one stepped forward into Christianand’s space. “Twenty? Twenty? Bhikaar chot!”

Likewise, being called a beggar’s dick was a bit distasteful, even to a man of the street. Christianand leaned into the man’s belly and said. “You know who I am waiting for now?”

The moustache moved its fringed lips. “Who? The monkey who fucked your mother?” He turned to the skinny colleague and smirked. Christianand had judged the distance between the rickshaw cabin and where he now stood.

“No no you ugly son of a bitch…your wife because I am going to fuck her here on the street while your skinny friend waits his turn.”

The eyes above the moustache bulged and as the furious guard stepped back to position himself to launch an attack, Christianand feinted sideways and down, like a boxer, then ran, his long legs making the strides of Atlas as he dodged potholes and lumps. He launched himself into the cabin praying that for once the engine would immediately start. He felt the impact of the moustachioed guard hit the back of the awning as the engine sputtered then screamed and as he accelerated away, he apologised to Krishna for the terrible thing he had said. All the same, tasteless as it was, it had given him time to get free. He knew twenty rupees wasn’t going to be the end of it. Fellows like this extorted money every day bullying the rickshaw drivers and others or how else did his belly grow so huge?


  1. Oh Catherine! I am chuckling with mirth at your ending and so, so impressed with your style. Such a detailed tale belies an intimate knowledge of the subjects and their lifestyles. You have indeed lived broadly. I found myself assuming the characters role – that has to to be good writing, no?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s