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He proceeded to explain. "Do you remember the second week after you had come back?"
"Yes. What about that?"
"Do you remember a conversation you had with Kazim?"
"Not really? What was it about?"
"You went and told him I had called Muslims crocodiles."
"Ah! That one? I mean you did mention that the Kannada word for crocodile sounded like Muslim, didn't you? I just mentioned it to Kazim for fun."
"It might have been fun for you. But Kazim did not take it that way. He told all his Muslim friends and they ganged up and thrashed me that day."
"But why didn't you tell me?"
"I was angry with you. I wanted revenge."
"And so you decided to cheat me?"
"And you are no longer angry with me?"
"We are even."
I thought for a while. I found his argument fair enough. "Ok, tell me how you cheated me."
"The first time was not much. You made a fool of yourself giving away that valuable stamp for that useless stamp I bought from the store attracted by the colorful pictures. I was just testing waters and I realized you were a total sucker who went by impulse. So I had to somehow catch your fancy. So I subtly dangled Zanzibar before you and chewed the bait."
"But Zanzibar stamps are rare, aren't they?"
"Yes. Zanzibar stamps are." He seemed to emphasize the word stamps.
"The stamp you gave me was not attractive. So it must be a valuable rare one, right?"
Vikas laughed. "Goodness, no! That was not even a stamp. That was something I had forged specially for you."
I was caught by surprise. "You can forge stamps?"
"Yes. It is very easy once you know how to do it. All you need is some pictures of exotic stamps, lots of Indian stamps for the edges, black paint, a brush and some overseas postal envelopes."
My interest was stirred. "Will you teach me how to do it?"
He was surprised. "You want to learn to be a fraud like me?"
"Why not? We are friends, aren't we?"
After a few bad attempts finally I had made a passable imitation of New Falkland Islands stamp. Now was the time to test it on the ground. The school had a thriving stamp exchange going on during the breaks between classes. Each class had 5 sections with 60 students each and students from sixth to eighth were actively into stamp trade. That was a total of 1200 students of which at least 10% collected stamps which meant 120 people to trade with, many of who were strangers - the best people to pass on forgeries to. We soon located a victim. Vikas seemed as much an expert on stamp collectors as he was on stamps. He pointed out to me a stout North Indian chap flaunting a large stamp album and asked me to approach him alone. I went up to him with my stamps.
He looked derisively at the stamps in my hand. "Do you have something worthy of exchange with me? What country stamps are those?"
"New Falkland Islands," I replied hesitantly.
"Here. Let me have a look at them," he said carelessly.
But before he could take them, Vikas appeared out of nowhere. "What? Did you say New Falkland Island? Really? What do you want for it?"
I was surpised but decided to play along. "What will you give for it?"
"Will a Hungarian triangle do?"
Before I could answer the other boy spoke up, "I will give a Burkino Faso Triangle"
Vikas replied immedeately, " A Hungarian traingle and a Mongolian diamond."
The other boy was not to be outdone. "A complete Bhutanese Jungle Book set with a Hungarian Triangle thrown in as well."
Before I knew what happened, my forged stamp was whisked away from my hand and I found myself with 7 Bhutanese and 1 Hungarian stamp as the school bell rang and we rushed to the class.
"Beginner's Luck," Vikas whispered in my ear.