Sunday, July 30, 2006

Muted Racquets

Sometime back, when I was in highschool(8th stnd, i think), I used to go to this ghastly little place to play tennis. Where a psychopath joined as our new tennis coach. Like a zillion other things I did every year,which never really took off after awhile, tennis was the flavor of that year. And since I already started playing with the likes of Agassi and Pete(and even won a few .In tie breakers.Five setters.Nail biters), I really didn't mind that maniac.Cos i was in a different zone altogether.

I used to practise in court no.2 along with three other boys. A plump n chubby guy who used to huff and puff- who couldn't play for nuts, but could effortlessly recall the winners of all the grandslams since 1970, a skinny guy from Canada with his bastardised accent and a sleepy little third standard kid.

That third standard kid was studying in third standard(!) in one of the *hep* schools of the city.One of those schools where they go on a excursion to Andaman(for us, it's always Vandaloor Zoo.), where they have miniskirts as uniforms for gurls. And where moi and mera pals used to go once in a while disguised as representatives and flagbearers of our prestigious skools for elocution or some inter skool culturals etc, but never participate in any of the events and go loafing around the place. Around the cafeteria. Or the gurls dorm. And droooool .

Everyday that third standard kid used to come in a C-class Mercedes Benz. Fast asleep. Spittling in his shirt. His chauffeur used to wake him up by grabbing him and pulling his collar .He used to blink like a goat and then carry his racquet,water bottle, bag and reluctantly walk towards the tennis court. He looked like a meek military wala carrying his field gun, riffles and other armaments.

It would take another eternity for him to unzip the racquet and get into the court.By that time, mr.psycho will get real angry and starts throwing tennis balls aiming at his butt or head. The kiddo never used to react to those. He would just walk in at his own leisurely pace.

Usually, he used to stand in front of me. Residues of sleep left in his eyes. half closed. blinking. sadness written all over it. he couldn't stand erect. Couldn't grip his racquet properly. The racquet on his hands looked like one huge Gathayudha. His hands used to shiver. and when he played, it reminded of clog dance. Not even clog dance. Looked like some drunkard dancing on the street. Mr.psycho loves to punish him. jolly good time those, for him. 20 laps. Or 150 situps. Or 15 rounds of pushups.

The coach might shout at him, whack him, call him names or hit him with his racquet - No reaction. Numb. He never talked with us either. We used to bitch about the coach during our breaks but he never joined us. He kept sipping from his water bottle. drop by drop by drop.

That kid was our amusement.
Our temporary sanity.
Our saviour.
Heck,we got to save our asses too from the coach and that is possible only if there is someone who is a bigger goof-up than us.

Once I stood near the side court and watched him practising his forehand.Coach was at this cruel best, volleying him around 6 balls at the same time. the kiddo too was at his sleepy best, hitting the ball all over the every single corner of the other court. And then, suddenly his racquet slipped out of his hand,flew away and swerved at an almost impossible angle and the butt of the racquet hit my scrotum. I fell down holding onto it(not the racquet) and sorta blanked out.Not eggsackly blanked out, but just that i felt as if my balls were coming outta my mouth. I recovered after some time and needless to say that i was embarrassed and all that.

Coach was screaming at that kid. Whacking him off with that racquet. Little gratification for me, watching him getting whac whack whakced. But then, I wanted to play this grown-up, tough dude and so thought of asking the coach to leave that kiddo. I went near him and at the same time he called out my name. I thought he would ask me to take some rest or better, even ask me to leave for the day. But anticlimax, asusual. He started shouting at me too. 'Why the hell were you standing near the side court?Don't you know that you were supposed to stand near the baseline when someone else is playing. GO. 10 laps, both of you'.

10 laps, my foot. I was already limping and was afraid that one of my balls could have been broken into god-knows-how-many. But then, he is the coach and you cannot speak up against him.

I was hitchin and hobbin until I saw that kiddo in front of me. I furiously ran towards himI kicked his butt and expected him to bounce back. but as usual, no reaction. i was real irritated.and then, i saw the way he ran - eyes half closed, hands on his hips,gimping, as if someone is pushing him from behind and forcing him to run. that stupid anger and everything faded away. heck. poor kid. forced into all these stupid grown-ups mess. Sprinted near him and asked him to stop. Told him, since we are at the other end of the ground, far away from where the coach is, we could walk for a while and once we get to the other side, we will start running and by this way, we could easily finish the remaining laps. Thought of teaching him a grown-ups trick or two.

we started walking. 'does it pain still?', he asked. 'Oh.nope. never.not at all. am alright'. oh ,i was still playing that tough guy , but actually i was feeling my scrotum every 30 seconds to spot if there is any wreckage.

he stopped, bent down, and was looking at somehting lying on the ground. and then, picked that from the ground. Some little packet. Looked like one of those Oregano or Chilli Flakes packets they give as freebies along with pizzas.

'hey, put them down', i said, modulating my voice into base. my chance to play big brether.

'you know what is this?', he asked me.

'some packet man. it's dirty. u better put that down.'

'It is not some packet.It's grass'

'What? what grass? idiot. this ground is so full of grass everywhere and you are calling this little filthy piece of plastic packet as grass. U must be crazy man.'

He looked straight into my eyes .Smiled at me with all the tenderness in his heart.. He looked Hermit-like. God-like. laughing at his cosmic joke. he smiled again, turned back and ran away.

Almost 10 years now and I still couldn't forget that smile. And those half closed, muted eyes.

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