[Excerpt from novel*. Warning: Entering fictional territory in which there are no snakes, elephants, maharajas, or exotic rituals.]

As the convent boarding house was full, my 8-year-old wheel of fortune (which had begun with a non-virginal, non-miraculous birth in Bangalore) stopped at Golgotha House, a home run by a low-rent Catholic religious order for the care of thin and greasy boys, a bunch of the lumpenproletariat temporarily incarcerated for educational purposes. “Golgotha” — the choice of name reflected Mangaloreans’ passion for The Passion — was situated appropriately in an especially dusty and treeless part of Mangalore where, unlike Marlboro Country, the action wasn’t.

Ah, passion! Mangaloreans were big on passion — the Passion of Christ, that is. Other institutions or products that might easily have flourished in Mangalore: Passion fruit, Golgotha Hotel, The Whey of the Cross, Barabbas Detective Company, Roses with Crown of Thorns (no extra charge), Mounte Bank of Olivet, Judas Silver (We Buy and Sell!). This passion for pain could be gleaned from the Retreat House, whose grounds bustled with statues depicting gory, sadistic tableaux of the Passion of Christ or the torture of saints. These crudely coloured statues, in their thousands, poured forth from the factory of a statue-maker named Pedraab, going out to nunneries, retreat houses, parochial schools et al. Their advertising slogan could have been “Pedraab gives good pain for your money”; for only the groans on the faces seemed persuasive; the smiles, if any, were as corny as the advertisements for Monkey Brand tooth powder, which showed a monkey brushing his sparkling teeth. The message was simple: mankind was on the brink of being condemned to eternal damnation, and the only chance of escaping this general fate was to be as grim and mournful as possible (or brush with Monkey Brand tooth powder), while begging and praying to God for mercy.

On the geographical and spiritual perimeter of this sad and sadistic world stood Golgotha House, and at its main office’s front door stood Brother Bonaventure, a tall man in severely framed glasses and punishing black shoes. “Ah, Achu Baab, come in, come in!” he said, welcoming my polyester-coutured Uncle Achu, whose smell of money was pleasing to the poverty-ravaged semi-padre. Brother Bonaventure’s strained smile bared most of his unbrushed, yellowed teeth as he accepted my Uncle’s supplementary charitable donation as gratitude for our special mid-term admission.

Golgotha House was run by a group of sad Brothers who walked the earth in dusty, leather-sandaled feet; who wore coarse and prickly brown cassocks licensed to torture; who shaved their heads close, but their faces seldom — the entire effect, when you added the bagginess around their eyes from too much prayer and too little sleep, being to make them look like recently incarcerated burglars whose heads had been sentenced to be shaved by a discount, cockeyed barber. It was as if they belonged to a different race of men, men who emerged from their mother’s wombs wearing prickly cassocks and eleven o’clock shadow. The so-called house was a rickety white wooden building set on naked red, pebbled, sunbaked earth, a gash on the rolling green hills, the tree-dense landscape of Mangalore. The brothers slept on the top floor, while fifty boarders, young disciples of their holy, soap-detesting slovenliness, slept on the rough cement of the ground floor. The Konkani adjective kaat, usually describing either untamed men or “country” chickens, could easily have doubled for the brothers and their boarders.

Here we passed four barefoot months, betting raw cashew seeds (“Did you win any nuts today?” “No, I lost mine.”) and playing “seven tiles” and wrestling each other in the mud — the most fun you could have in these parts without laughing, which would have been frowned upon, and for which there was little reason.

*Excerpted from The Revised Kama Sutra
(also, slightly different, in One Little Indian).