Print ESPN.com: OTL: Slumdog Golfer

OTL: Slumdog Golfer

MUMBAI, India -- Anil Mane dreamed of wide fairways. He dreamed of a golf club in his hand and a white ball at his feet. Worry disappeared. Everything fell quiet, his fears silenced, his shaking hand calmed. He swung the club with tempo. He held the follow-through. The ball arced into the air, landed softly and rolled next to the cup. The gallery applauded, and he tapped it in. He dreamed of a shining trophy and a long sigh of relief. Sometimes, he laughed in his sleep … The golf course and the slum … Anil woke up. He cleared his head and found that, yes, he was still on the floor of his 10-by-10-foot shack built on a Mumbai sidewalk. He was still 27, and his problems hadn't vanished overnight. Outside, in the dusty blue of dawn, families slept on the pavement. Chickens crawled over their huddled bodies. The street smelled of burning trash. Human waste rotted in the gutters. The children were skinny, but the rats were fat.

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Morning brought definition to the street. Two dozen or so makeshift huts, with tarps on top to keep out water, were pressed tightly against each other and the wall behind them, which separated the slum from The Bombay Presidency Golf Club. There were no toilets. Sandals piled up outside the front, and only, doors, each of which had a number painted above it. Anil lived at No. 16. A shape rolled over outside 15. A rooster crowed. A specter emerged from 14, flicked a match, held a burning cigarette between its fingers, took slow drags, blew smoke at the passing oil trucks. Headlights flashed. A ghost appeared behind the smoker and lit the day's fire, using twigs and trash for fuel. The street awoke. Stoops were swept, bedding carefully folded. If anyone else who lived in this slum wished for a different morning, they didn't say it out loud. They left those dreams in the jarring space between night and day. Only Anil took his dreams out into the world.

Anil lived on an island. The neighbors wondered why he wouldn't drink with them. Where did he learn that violent handshake? Who shook hands like that? They whispered that he forgot where he came from. That was a joke. The first thing he saw this morning was the corrugated tin walls around him, always close together but especially so at the beginning of day. He dressed quietly, reaching for his Titleist hat and his glasses. His shoulders were broad, and his hair was dark and curly. An airline baggage tag hung off his suitcase. There was a Hindu shrine in the corner, and a picture of Jesus Christ taped to a simple metal locker. Hung from a beam, like a holy relic, was a red TaylorMade golf bag with yellow and gray accents. He looked at the Hindu deities, at Jesus and at the bag. "I believe in all gods," he said.

Better not to know too much

The Investment Banker sits at a table inside The Bombay Presidency Golf Club. The room feels like a remnant of the British Empire, which it is. On the yellow-lettered boards around the room, the names of club champions and presidents change in the mid-1960s from Walkers to Singhs. Fans turn overhead. Across the open pavilion, a local waiter slices the crust off a sandwich with a strange look on his face. The banker is one of the gods Anil believes in. He is Anil's benefactor. His sponsor. The Investment Banker doesn't know Anil's family, doesn't want to. It's better that way. It's easier to cut a man loose if you've never met his children.

A child born to a child Twenty-seven years ago, the wall didn't exist. Which is to say, there was no structure, built from brick and stone, separating the golf course from the rest of the city. There was a wall, though, tall and impregnable, inside all the squatters who'd come to Mumbai from the villages. They cobbled huts on the edge of the huge expanse of green. Maybe it reminded them of the places they'd left behind. They'd never heard of golf, so they had no way of knowing their community marred the side of the 10th fairway. This was the world Anil was born into, where birth determines everything. Call it luck or fate or God, the power behind the word doesn't change. Whatever would happen in Anil's life would happen to him.

His mother, Radha Mane, was 8 years old when her parents married her to one of her cousins, a man who caddied at the club. For the first four years of marriage, she lived with her mother. When she was 10, the family tattooed her husband's name on her. When she turned 12, she moved in with him. He climbed on top of her. Nine months later, she sat in their shack alone. She was illiterate. Had never been inside a school. There was no money. No food in the house. It was around sundown. The pains came, and she didn't know what to do. In a shack beside a fairway, Radha delivered her child alone. The baby cried, but she couldn't feed him until she fed herself. She washed her son and named him Anil, which means wind. She wrapped him in cloth. She waited. Two hours later, her mother returned with torn pieces of bread and part of an onion. Radha ate, then fed Anil. Every day revolved around eating enough to make it to the next one. Her mom went through garbage cans to find scraps. Radha sent her son to plead for leftovers from hotels and restaurants. When she cleaned houses, she tucked away anything left on plates when her bosses finished. Her husband, Bajrang Mane, did little to help, Anil said, drunk much of the time, knocking her around until Anil grew big enough to stop him. This was their life. They lived in a state of negative symbiosis with the club, which valued their cheap labor even as the members griped about the ramshackle camp staring them in the face as they lined up their tee shot at the par-3 10th. The golf club members wanted all the squatters gone, trying over and over to evict them. Once, a woman protested by dousing herself in kerosene and holding a match, threatening to immolate herself if they took another step. The club finally succeeded by locking everyone in jail for a night while the shacks were torn down. Anil was about 9. A wall kept them out. The village reconstituted itself on the sidewalk beside the wall, a few dozen yards from where people had lived before. Radha would never set foot on the property again. Bajrang kept going to work as a caddie, never once picking up a club himself. His drinking pushed the rest of their family away. This was Anil's world, and were it not for an unlikely spark, that's how it would have remained. Even though she was illiterate, Anil's mother decided her children needed to go to school. Her sister had educated her kids, and they worked in offices. So Radha put every spare rupee she made toward tutors. Anil loved school. He wanted to work with computers. He got a job as a caddie, to help pay for his supplies and extra help. Already, he dreamed of going to college. One day, he had a few moments to kill. He was working as a forecaddie, going ahead of the golfers to see where each shot had landed. Halfway up the fairway, with a 7-iron and a ball, where nobody could see, an idea came to him. He checked to make sure he was clear. He placed the ball on the ground and tried to imitate the swing he'd seen the members use. Something unbelievable happened. He made clean contact, an unfamiliar grassy click. The ball rose high into the air, a full 7-iron, landing softly in the distance. Later, he struggled to really understand what made him do it. New ideas, still mostly unformed, began working in his head. He found head pro Jagdish Angre. "Help me," Anil pleaded. Watching his father melt On the day he destroyed his son's future, Bajrang Mane started drinking early. Anil was in the 10th grade, and he still believed he could have a different life. Bajrang didn't believe that anymore. Maybe he never did. The booze dulled his pain, which wasn't some random, existential longing. No, he targeted a specific place in his brain, the spot that made him aware of just how hopeless his life had become. The tiny shack on the sidewalk brought pain. The sideways whispers of his family brought pain. All the reminders that others had made something of themselves brought shudders of pain. He lived in a slum, and at work, he carried the clubs of men who looked through him. Trying to stop the pain only made it worse. That day, he pushed Radha, and she fell into one of their makeshift walls. A piece of bamboo lodged beneath her eye, and Anil's sister took her to the hospital. Anil and his brother stayed behind. By evening, about 6, Bajrang wanted to eat chicken. As he heated up the kerosene stove, the tank exploded. Gas, then flames, covered his body, turning his skin red, then black. He was melting. Anil didn't run. He stood outside, crying, screaming for help. Five long minutes later, a neighbor doused the flames. Burns covered Bajrang's body. The boys rushed their dad to the same hospital as their mom. Doctors told the family he probably wouldn't make it. Anil's mom had a heart attack when she heard the news. Anil sat in a hospital, the oldest child, a few hours from becoming an orphan. He needed a tiny bit of luck. If there were a God, Anil needed Him to take time from answering the prayers of the rich to answer one from him.

The rich are … different

The Investment Banker is talking to his friends. One of them, a wealthy Money Manager, tells him he shouldn't be helping this slumdog golfer. The Money Manager came up from nothing, sent himself to Harvard and is the richest among his circle. This charity is bad for the Investment Banker and bad for the kid, the Money Manager says. Nobody helped him. The struggle made him into who he is. "Are we making life a little too easy?" the Money Manager asks.

There's nothing lower than a beggar They both survived. Anil's dad came home but couldn't work. His mom tried to make enough to keep the family running but couldn't. They all went to bed hungry. Anil went several days without eating. He slipped out to nearby buildings, the shining towers where rich people lived and worked.

The weakening of India's caste system meant a man could move up in life, but it also meant he could move down. Nothing was lower than a beggar, and Anil found himself kneeling, his hands out. Later, when he told strangers the horrible details of his life, this was the only one that made him cry. Anil brought the money to his mother. Then it hit him: "What is the point of school when I'm going to bed hungry?" Anil told his mother he needed to quit. He thought about how he'd spend the rest of his life, in this slum, carrying golf bags, carrying burdens. His mother cried without pause when he told her. It wasn't that she didn't understand or even that she disagreed. It was that she knew the same truth as Anil. Another generation would remain in the slum. Anil packed away his uniforms, textbooks and supplies in the bottom of a locker. He refused to go to the school to get his exit paperwork. He cried for three straight days, mourning more than the loss of an education. Then he walked to the golf course to start the rest of his life. He caddied and practiced, caddied and practiced, spending eight hours a day at the range if he could. Anything to stay away from the slum. He played golf for the same reason his father drank. The marriage trap The members noticed the boy with the beautiful swing. They looked at him. They asked for him to be on their bags. He analyzed their mechanics and helped make theirs more like his. When he hit a driver, it sounded like a gun going off, and they'd gather on the range, egging him on to hit another. Head pro Jagdish Angre told him about his life on the Indian Tour, and the living he made as a coach, about the house he'd bought. It had proper walls. Anil practiced with purpose now. The other caddies whispered: Who did he think he was? Why did he think he'd ever be anything but a caddie? You won't, they told him. They drank moonshine and smoked cigarettes. He refused. His mother beat him, yelled at him for playing a game when he could have been working. Quit, she told him. He refused. She threw his clubs into the street. Anil rushed out, dodging cars, collecting them in his arms, cradling them, tears rolling down his face. "One day this is going to make my name," he'd tell her. "You're going to be proud of me because of this." While he played a game, she had real concerns. She'd suffered a second heart attack. What would happen to her family if she died? Her husband was useless. Her daughter was 12 years old. She came up with a solution. If Anil married, his wife could take over the house should something happen to Radha. A man cannot make a home, she told Anil, and since he was so obsessed with golf, he was less fit than most. He needed to get married. Radha's doctor urged Anil to do something to make her happy. That might help with her heart. Anil went to Angre and told him everything. "Don't do it," Angre said. Save some money, he told him. Stand on your own. "My parents want me to," Anil said. Angre went to meet with Radha and Bajrang. He described what kind of new life Anil could make for himself, and for them. He told them his own story. "Don't get him married," he said. "He must get married now," they told him. "It's the right age."

A frustrating mentee

The Coach sits at a table beneath the fans. Members eat lunch nearby. He recently lost his Indian Tour card. The rising economy brings better golfers every year, and it keeps getting harder. Now he teaches lessons, and tries to mentor Anil. He's become frustrated with his star pupil, with the way he keeps making decisions that hurt his chance to escape. The Coach shakes his head. "He got married too young," he says. "He's got this huge family to take care of. He's not going to make it."

A life-changing day Six years passed after Anil's decision to marry. Anil practiced golf, every day exactly as the one before, entering a few small local tournaments, improving, refining his swing. In the morning, while the sky was still dark, he'd slip out of his house and walk down toward the smokestack with the huge flame on top, then turn and head back. He promised himself that he'd leave India one day. His daughter was born. His father, worried about abusing his son's new wife, quit drinking. The fighting stopped, and Anil made enough working at the club to take care of his mother. The family was, at long last, basically happy. That was his life the day he found himself paired in a local match-play tournament against the top-ranked amateur in India.

Anil played the round of his life. The members heard the news, rushing out to the course in groups of two and three. Word spread through the club. The skinny caddie with the beautiful swing was winning!

He knew the course, and he had nothing to lose. Galleries crowded the fairway. On the 17th hole, one shot up, he saw his opponent trying to light a cigarette. His hand was shaking. Anil knew then that he'd won. When it was over, everything happened in a rush. Anil went to touch Angre's feet. The wife of a member took him into the pro shop and told him, "Take whatever you want." Anil picked a pair of spikes, the first he'd owned without holes in them. Anil went to the practice range. The member held out his irons. "This is for you," he said. On the putting green, another member handed him 10,000 rupees, about $225. One after another, people gave him stacks of bills. One guy gave him 60,000 rupees. Anil stuffed all the money in his pocket. He'd never seen that much money before, about $2,600. In the slum, word spread. People gathered at the gate to the club, beating drums, cheering. They carried Anil down the street, past the shacks. They deposited him in front of his mother, who said a prayer. His father touched his feet. Anil handed the money to his mother, enough for the family to live comfortably for years. She refused to take the money. It had come from golf, she told him, and it would go to golf. Being selfish is the greatest luxury of all, and now he had the means to travel the country for amateur events. Anil had never been on a bus. He'd never been on a train. He'd never left Mumbai. He'd never really left this little world dominated by the golf club wall. His first out-of-town event was in New Delhi. His mother wept when he said goodbye. The train, named the Golden Temple, departed for the capital at night. Passengers chatted and laughed. Anil looked out the window, the cars picking up speed, blurring the details of the city into a mash of abstract shapes and colors, turning actual things into ideas. He felt, for the first time in his life, a sense of movement. He felt like a golfer.

Turning pro

All of their lives changed. Anil's success brought prestige. His nest egg made him the richest person on the street. His mother, who didn't need to work anymore, held court outside their little shack. Local reporters came around to see the golfer from the slum. The first time television cameras arrived, Bajrang fainted. The TV folks thought he'd had a heart attack. He'd just been overcome. At the course, where he'd gone back to work, he watched his son joke around with men to whom he'd never summoned the courage to speak. The members who'd looked through him now looked at him. He heard the whispers -- "There's Anil's father" -- and got big cash tips after rounds. Still, he began to wish Anil had been born to someone else. One of those rich members, perhaps. He didn't deserve his son.

Anil spent a lot of time around the members. He studied everything. How they spoke. How they ate. How they shook hands. His life was changing. He was changing. Still, money was tight. The $2,600 wouldn't last forever. Angre worked to get Anil a sponsorship. All the top amateurs had sponsors. One of the club members was president of a petroleum company, and he began putting together the package. It was happening but not fast enough. Anil didn't talk about his new plan with anyone at the club. He didn't go to Angre. He needed the money now. He had three kids, with another on the way -- the fourth would finally be a son -- and they all needed school fees and books. His wife complained when he spent money on things that weren't essential. They still lived in a 10-by-10 shack, crowded together. One afternoon, Anil and his friend Sachin walked past an apartment building. Anil pointed. That's where he would live. Medals and trophies couldn't get him a home like that. He turned pro. Angre was furious. It was the first time Anil had made a decision about his golf career on his own, with no input from anyone at the club. The guys in the neighborhood had gotten in Anil's ear, Angre figured, and told him it was time. Angre didn't think Anil's game was ready yet. "You've made a really bad decision," Angre told Anil. "I don't know what I can do to help you." "I've done the right thing," Anil said. "This is the right thing for me." Anil started on the small tours that weeded out the pretenders for the Professional Golf Tour of India. He did well. An investment banker who played regularly at the club, Ashish Kacholia, saw how Anil struggled to raise the money to pay for his expenses. Ashish, along with a partner, decided to help and told Anil that he'd pay for everything for two years. Anil had a sponsor. He went to the Indian Tour Q-school and earned his card. If he won even one tournament, with a purse of several thousand dollars, he'd give himself enough money to operate without a sponsor, although a win also would give his sponsor confidence to continue with the investment. That's just another cruel irony of poverty: People with money often don't need money. He had none and needed it very badly. The first event he entered was at The Bombay Presidency Golf Club. He felt confident. This time, the members knew to line the fairways. Anil missed the cut. He choked, spraying the ball all over the place, flubbing approaches, missing putts. The members rushed to Angre and asked, "What happened?" Anil didn't say anything. He slipped quietly back to the slum. No one beat drums.

Hidden scars? Buried demons?

The Investment Banker knows the problem is in Anil's mind. He even understands. Golf is a mental game. How can a man who lives in a slum possibly succeed? He's recommending yoga and maybe a sports psychologist. But there's the unspoken worry. What hidden scars live inside Anil? What buried demons might come to the surface? Year 2 is starting, and Anil might never be able to escape. "We can't all be living romantic dreams," the Investment Banker says.

Choking … and more choking

Anil sat in front of his television and pretended to watch golf. Sachin noticed the emptiness on his face. Anil usually loved golf on TV, often woke up in the dead of night to see images of green fairways beamed from some strange corner of the world, images that came back to him while he was sleeping. But he was zoning out. He stared at the screen, but he wasn't really there. All the troubles were beginning to overwhelm Anil. He worried about his family and about his game. Whenever he got home, the kids were fighting, screaming at each other, keeping him up all night. One was scared of the dark. He always felt tired. He stopped talking as much, snapped at his wife and kids. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't close an event. He couldn't make a cut on the main tour. He'd be right there, then choke. When it mattered, he couldn't keep the ball in the fairway. Chips stopped short. Putts rolled long.

Sachin pointed. "You'll be on TV if you learn to relax," he said. "You can be that guy." Many of the problems in Anil's game were self-inflicted. He always felt the need to show off, to try to hit the big shot. When faced with a critical situation, he fell apart. He went for carries over water that he couldn't make. He often swung too hard through the ball, losing control. Of all the reasons for a man to sink back into an anonymous life of poverty, the inability to control club-head speed through the strike zone seemed a particularly cruel one. The idea of changing his swing scared Anil. If he tinkered with his mechanics, he might lose what little game he had left and still not fix the problem. His sponsor had given him two years to stand on his own. He couldn't waste that time reinventing himself. A new swing took time he couldn't afford. He already stood on the edge of a cliff, his old life always just over his shoulder. He couldn't risk even the tiniest step backward. Working hard, but not hard enough

The Coach sees Anil get more and more freaked out with each passing month. There are some players he cannot seem to beat, and others he used to beat easily who are now better than he is. Anil is a very good golfer, but when you've come from where he's come from, maybe good isn't good enough. "Do you think Anil works hard?" the Coach is asked.

"Yes," he says. "As hard as he should?" "No."

A disastrous flub In the third tournament of Year 2, Anil found himself with a chance. He'd traveled to Kolkata, done well the first day and hovered around the cutline. On Friday, on the 17th hole, he bungled an easy sand wedge. Pulled it. He needed to chip up and in to save par. He looked down at his hands. They were shaking.

A cool breeze blew, but sweat soaked his palms. He hit a bad chip, blowing a chance to play on the weekend, finishing with five birdies and five double-bogeys. He missed the cut by one. He left the course, and he didn't go back to the hotel with his friends from the tour. He walked the streets alone, ducking into a theater. He paid admission, even though the film was in Tamil. He didn't understand a word the actors were saying. That didn't matter. Over and over, he replayed the 17th hole, promising himself he'd practice harder, that he'd focus on his short game. His friends called a dozen times. He didn't pick up. Late that evening, he called his wife. He told her he'd missed the cut. "Don't get tense," she told him. "There are other tournaments." The next day, he got on the Bombay Mail. Thirty hours between him and home. He found his seat, No. 27. He ate an apple and some grapes and drifted off to sleep. He woke up 12 hours later, at 4 a.m. Passengers crowded the cabin, and he continued toward home, still replaying his bad shots. He imagined the inevitable call to Ashish. Sometimes, after a bad tournament, he'd phone right away to get it over with. This time, he couldn't bring himself to call. What if Ashish pulled the plug? Even Anil realized that if he couldn't hit a green with a sand wedge, what was the point? This time the blur of the passing countryside seemed sinister, and the movement that once felt like an escape now felt like a rush toward an inevitable end. The train seemed to be roaring toward a cliff. Anil watched Mumbai materialize out the window. The next day, Anil found Angre on the driving range. "Help me," he pleaded. Trapped between worlds Three days later, Anil took his clubs and a bunch of balls out to the practice range. The members all stopped when he took out a driver. Two of the guys were big corporate executives who made more in interest standing on the range than Anil would make in two lifetimes. They told jokes. Anil felt comfortable enough to laugh but not to tell any of his own. With the crowd egging him on, he began crushing drives. His sounded different, the whoosh of acceleration, the loud metallic bang. Heads turned. "What was that noise?" one of the members said. "What noise?" Anil asked.

"I hope the ball didn't break," the member said. "Somebody's house just got broken," another member joked. Anil needed to practice from 150 yards in, but he kept bombing drives. Finally, he pulled out a wedge and started chipping toward a target. It was hard to stay focused. His long-term goal was changing his life, but his short-term goal was keeping these wealthy men happy or, perhaps, simply feeling good about himself. Often, he finished his practice rounds pushing away the dread of returning to the chaos of his life. He had no place to be alone or find a moment of silence. People crowded around. Brakes shrieked, shocks whined, the horns of rickshaws and heavy oil trucks bleated and boomed. His children cried, and he walked through the smell of burning trash and human waste. It wore on him. Why him? He thought about that a lot. If everyone were rich, he decided, there'd be no one to do the work. That's why God made the rich and the poor.

Everything rested in the hands of fate, which was another word for luck. The words didn't matter. Maybe his destiny wasn't to be a golfer. Maybe he'd be a coach. He already seemed to be subconsciously transferring his dream to his children, talking about the opportunities they'd have, how he wouldn't let his daughters marry until they achieved their own goals. Maybe he'd be a sort of slumdog Moses, leading his family to a new life even if he never enjoyed it himself. His period of selfishness, when everything went into chasing his dream, began to dissolve around the edges as he saw the future in terms not of himself but his children. Sometimes, when he saw the members' boys and girls running around the clubhouse, he wondered why those kids had been born to money and his born in a slum? That's what he thinks about when he prays to all the gods he can find, even to a local Investment Banker. The same forces that put his family in the slum also gave him the golf course on the other side of the wall, and the teachers and sponsors, and the strange ability to hit a ball with a club. But it still doesn't make sense. Sometimes it seems as if fate is wrestling with itself, making sure the circumstances of his birth are always conspiring to take away whatever gifts might allow him to escape it. He lives in two worlds, each one pulling away from the other. Anil is in the middle, trying to keep his balance. On a beautiful day, in the last year of his dream, he stood on the final hole at the club. The sound of the road floated over the wall, its noises reaching for Anil. But something happened in the fairway -- the way the wind blew, the alignment of the trees and the proximity of two luxurious fountains drowned out the chaos. Suddenly, he could hear birds. When he arrived on the green, the moment of peace had passed. All he could hear were honks and brakes and all the other noises of the slum.

Time is not on Anil's side

The Investment Banker asks the waiter to turn the television to Channel 270. CNBC. His phone pings every minute or so, and he watches the ticker on the bottom of the screen. The market is good. He doesn't make bad investments, and he doesn't throw good money after bad. Anil must begin regularly making cuts if he wants the sponsorship to continue. There are two dozen or so tournaments to go. He needs to make about 300,000 rupees to stay on tour, in case his sponsor decides to stop the money. So far he's made nothing. "He should feel the clock is ticking," the Investment Banker says.

The kids will be all right He heard the clock. It ticked louder every day. He woke up, paid homage to all his gods and headed down the street to the club. His birth conspired to stop him, as did the way that birth boxed him into bad decisions. And there was something new, at once fulfilling one hope and threatening another. The government declared it would tear down this slum and move the families to a new housing project. The real estate around the club was too valuable for people like Anil. The almost-completed blocks of identical apartments rose in the shadow of the fire-spitting smokestack that dominated the skyline at the end of his road. The new place was a 20-minute scooter ride over moonscape roads cut up by gasoline tankers. It would be a proper home, out of the slum, but it also would take him away from the club.

Makeshift Course Caddies from an upscale golf club in Mumbai created a version of the game using handmade equipment and a course that winds through the streets and slums. E:60 story

His children have lived in the same streets as their father, but they are different from the other kids in the neighborhood. Their mother looks at them in awe. Because of Anil, they grew up surrounded by a dream, saw how hard you had to work to chase it and how that work could change a life. The oldest, Priyanka, told Anil several years ago that she wanted to be a doctor, so he bought her a plastic stethoscope. He told all of them they could be anything they wanted. Bollywood music plays from a distant radio. The youngest girl goes outside to defecate in the street. Priyanka sits in the doorway and draws out her numbers on a chalkboard. Her mother yells for her to grab her things. It is time for school. Bajrang, with the white burn scars on his skin, buttons his shirt and holds her hand as they walk across the busy street. She's 7 years old and has red bows in her hair. She can't stop smiling. Soon, she'll rush upstairs in big bounding steps, finding her place on a long bench. She walks through one of the poorest slums in the world, not 30 yards from where her grandmother gave birth to her father alone, and she doesn't think about that. She can't help herself. She starts to skip. She carries a heart full of dreams, a head full of ideas and two red bows in her hair.

A dream ending … almost

It was early August, six months after his choke in Kolkata. Anil stood on the 18th tee at the Lucknow Golf Club, looking up at the red-roofed clubhouse, the temperature muggy and hot. The golfer standing next to him, Vijay Kumar, was a champion, a former winner of the Indian Open. Kumar looked like a man, with a glare, thick neck and lush mustache, his shirt straining to keep his torso in check. A bull. He was the best golfer in the field. This event was for the second-tier golfers who were worse than 60th on the money list, but as a local, Kumar had been given an exemption to draw fans and media. It was always his tournament to lose. He walked around as if he knew it.

Anil felt no pressure. Maybe that's why he hung with Kumar for 53 holes of the three-round event, Anil's life finally becoming that peaceful golf course from his dreams, where the ball arced high and landed soft. He figured Kumar would win, so he relaxed. The season was almost finished, and he'd made only one cut. Back home, without telling Anil, his sponsor began leaning toward cutting off the money. Next year, Anil likely would rise or fall on his own. But all his failure had finally amounted to something. He'd learned. Each shot was played with more thought. He didn't fire at every flag, go for every carry. Now he was tied for the lead, one hole to go, 5-under for the tournament, 2-under for the round. The news reports would invoke boxing to describe the former caddie hanging with the champion: Vijay was taken the distance by Anil Bajrang Mane.

Anil hit a bad second shot, and Kumar cruised to an easy par. Anil had a putt to force a playoff, but he missed, flashing anger at first. He'd lost, but he'd also won: $1,400 and some precious belief. He called home. Priyanka giggled when he told her the news. In two or three weeks, the check would arrive, the second windfall of his life. Last time, his mother insisted he spend the fortune on himself. This time, only half of the money would go toward expenses. The rest, he announced, he would save. For his children, who dreamed of escaping the slum. "For their education," he said. "Their marriages. Their future."

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wrightespn@gmail.com.

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