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Quarantine Reads: An Excerpt from Kautuk Srivastava’s Debut Novel ‘Red Card’

By DA Staff 20 April 2020

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Not content with his success as a comedian and screenwriter, Kautuk Srivastava has also made waves in the world of literature with his debut novel Red Card. Published by Penguin India, Red Card is a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy’s journey from puberty to adulthood. Here’s an excerpt.

As the exams drew nearer, even the teachers at Oswal’s started feeling the pressure. They had to justify the criminal amount they charged in fees. The lectures became more focused, the breaks became shorter and the doubts were treated with greater scorn. Needless to say, the change in style didn’t sit well with Rishabh. He hadn’t exactly had a wild time there earlier, but now he despised Oswal’s even more.

The only consolation, as ever, was the presence of Tamanna. He spent many a lecture staring at her attentive side profile, like a man holding on to a lifebuoy while drowning at sea. He had tried making contact with her many times since their movie outing, but none of their conversations had lasted longer than thirty-eight seconds. A strange gagging reflex kicked in every time he was near her, preventing him from speaking. But what he lacked in confidence he made up in perseverance. Now he always made it a point to say something, even if it was something inane, like ‘Nice handwriting!’— in the hope that one day Tamanna would go, ‘I love how Rishabh talks about things that don’t matter whatsoever.’

It was about a week till the term exams when Rishabh had his longest conversation with Tamanna, at the end of which, he had a distinct impression that he had finally broken the proverbial ice. He walked into Oswal’s that day and saw Tamanna sitting at the back with earphones plugged in. Spotting an opportunity for some light banter, he walked up to her and said, ‘Hi, what are you listening to?’

Rishabh didn’t have a booming voice to begin with, and his nervousness decreased his volume further. This ensured that he had the worst possible vocal equipment to get the attention of a girl who was sitting with her eyes closed and silently headbanging to really loud rock music. Hence proved: Tamanna completely missed his pithy conversation starter.

Now, Rishabh could have walked away and kicked himself for trying to talk to the love of his life, but he was the persevering kind. So he cleared his throat and said, only slightly more loudly, ‘What are you listening to?’

He managed to get the attention of every person within a three-row radius, but Tamanna herself remained oblivious. He noticed that all eyes were on him. He was in too deep. Earlier he could have slid into his seat with no one the wiser about his sad attempt, but now he had an audience. He had to commit himself to the cause; the show had to go on.

Now Rishabh almost shouted his question at the object of his adoration and touched her on the shoulder for good measure. It was the first time he had touched her, and he felt the temperature of his blood rising. Tamanna’s eyes flew open, and, gasping, she recoiled in horror.

‘Sorry . . .’ mumbled Rishabh.

There was a long, empty silence.

‘I . . . I just wanted to know which song you were listening to . . .’ said Rishabh.

Tamanna brought out her iPod, paused the music, yanked out her earphones and said, ‘Oh.’ This was followed by another stretch of radio static. ‘“Numb” by Linkin Park.’

Rishabh’s eyes lit up. He knew Linkin Park. He had heard their song ‘In the End’ a couple of times. It was on that CD that Sumit had burned for him, which had music and a folder called ‘New Folder’ in which was a folder called ‘School Project’ and within which was ‘Notes’, within which were a whole bunch of films that were of a decidedly unacademic nature. But that was not the point. The point was that Tamanna had spoken of a band that Rishabh had heard of, and he sniffed an opportunity for conversation.

‘Linkin Park! I love that band,’ he said.

‘You do?’ said Tamanna, shifting in her seat to face him.

‘Yup. “In the End” is my favourite song in the world,’ lied Rishabh.

‘I love that song!’ squealed Tamanna.

‘It’s genius.’

Hybrid Theory was awesome but Meteora is waaaay better.’

‘I think so too!’ said Rishabh, not knowing what any of those words were.

‘Their lyrics are so perfect. I feel like “Numb” is about me only.’

‘I feel the same way about “In the End”,’ said Rishabh, making it a point to not stray too far from known territory. 

‘I didn’t know you liked them too.’

‘How can you not like a band that made—’

‘“In the End”?’

‘Yes . . .’

Tamanna giggled. It was a sound so pure that it made Rishabh totter in his place.

‘I like how much you like that song,’ said Tamanna. ‘It’s damn cool.’

Rishabh blushed. He felt his breath quicken. A small voice inside him told him this moment was perfect—it was best that he left while she still thought he was cool.

So he winked at her.

In his head, it was what a cool guy did, except that when he executed it, his eye remained shut for too long and then his lips began twitching. Tamanna soon grew concerned by his contorted face.

‘Are you okay?’ she asked.

‘Yeah, yeah,’ said Rishabh, sweating to get his face under control. ‘Okay, see you later . . .’

Rishabh turned away from her and sat down at his desk, his face in his hands. Kunal patted his back.

‘It was going so well,’ whispered Rishabh, prying open his left eye with his fingers.

‘But in the end, it doesn’t even matter,’ said Kunal.

You can pick up a copy of Red Card here.

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