This Father’s Day Special Story by Ramendra Kumar unfolds the triumphs and glories of a father-and-son relationship in the most endearing and memorable way.
When Anand and his mother Kavita entered the room, they found his father Sanjiv in a rage. He was smashing his cups, trophies and shields. Seeing them, Sanjiv stopped.
“What happened Sanjiv?”
“What can happen? They can only add insult to injury.”
“My employers who else.”
Sanjiv had been an international level boxer. On the basis of his performance he had got a job in Janus Airways, a private sector airline. He had hoped his employer would put his sporting talent to good use. Instead he had been given the job of coordinating passenger movement at the entry and exit terminals. Sanjiv had been disappointed but had accepted it as his fate. On his own he had offered his services to the local club where he taught youngsters the nuances of boxing free of cost.
“What happened now?” Kavita asked.
“Can you believe it Kavita? They have put me at the baggage counter! For 8 hours a day my job will be to screen luggage, strap it and lug it around.”
“The contract with the agency which handles this job expired and so some bright young executive had this brilliant idea.”
“Why don’t you protest?”
“To whom? If I go to the press I’ll be transferred to a worse area or even be issued a charge sheet. A retired sportsman has no worth,” Sanjiv said and stormed out.
Anand was feeling miserable and tired. Miserable because of the treatment meted out to his father and tired because he had practised for eight hours today.
The Table Tennis nationals were to be held in Pune and he had been selected to represent Maharashtra in the Junior Group.
Suddenly his father entered the room. His face was red and there was a strange look in his eyes – a look which he had never seen before and which now scared Anand.
“Anand I want you to stop playing T.T.”
“Wh…what are you saying Papa?”
“You are now in class nine. It is better you concentrate on your studies. If you work hard from now on you have chances of making it either in medical or engineering streams and becoming a professional. Excelling in sports other than cricket is not going to get you anywhere. Even if you get to play for India you’ll ultimately end up lugging luggage.”
“But Papa… I…”
“No ifs or buts. I don’t want any arguments. If I ever catch you playing TT again, I’ll do something which I have never done before. I’ll whack you,” Sanjiv thundered and strode out leaving behind a stunned and shattered Anand.
That night Anand couldn’t sleep. He was too shocked to even cry. What was he to do now? He was his team’s brightest medal prospect in both individual as well as team events.
He went and spoke to his coach Vishnu who couldn’t believe his ears.
“Let me talk to Sanjiv. I know what he is going through. But he has to understand how important it is for you to play for your own sake as well as the sake of the team.”
Vishnu, Kavita and Anand finally managed to convince Sanjiv to allow Anand to participate in the nationals.
“This is your last championship. And after this full time study,” Sanjiv grunted and Anand nodded gratefully.
The day of the championship dawned. Anand was nervous. He had lost in the semi-finals of the Junior singles championship to West Bengal’s Deeptendu narrowly. In the team championship the score was 2-2. Both Anand and his captain Hanif had won their singles matches against West Bengal. However, Hanif had lost his reverse singles. In the doubles Hanif and Navin had lost 4-3.
Anand was now to take on Aurobindo, the reigning all India junior singles champion.
“Anand, it is a do or die affair. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. There are no expectations from you. You are the underdog. Fight it out,” Vishnu told him.
As Anand walked towards the table he looked around. The stadium was absolutely packed. Kavita was sitting in the third row but the seat next to her was empty.
The chief guest was R.K Jhalani, the chairman of Jhalani Steels, one of the biggest private sector steel companies of the country.
The game started. Aurobindo was an aggressive player who believed in attacking from the word go. By the time Anand got the feel of the table he had lost the first game on 3.
The second game was slightly better Anand managed to reach 6.
In the third game Anand was down 2-4 when Aurobindo stopped to tie his shoe lace. Anand heard his name being called and turned around expecting it would be Vishnu Sir offering tips. It was his father Sanjiv.
“Son, listen to me carefully. Your opponent’s game is too fast. You can’t keep pace. Slow it down with blocks and pushes. And vary your service.”
“Forget what I have been ranting over the past week. You have to win the game for you, for me and for our State.”
Anand went back to the table. A feeling of relief and joy was coursing through him. His father’s words seemed to have completely changed his mindset and Anand was now ready to take on anyone.
Aurobindo was waiting for Anand, a sneer on his podgy face.
Anand served a back hand fast, plain service. A serve he hadn’t used in the entire tournament. It whizzed and caught Aurobindo by surprise. He was in two minds whether to simply jab it back or smash it. He went for a smash and the ball slammed into the net.
Anand decided his next service would be his favourite one – back hand top spin. It had been taught to him by his father’s closest friend Varshney Uncle, who had been a national champion in his student days. Sanjiv had also learnt to play TT from him and was no mean player himself.
Anand served and as Aurobindo tried to smother the spin the ball lobbed over the net. The height was just enough for Anand to smash it. As Aurobindo stepped back a little bracing himself for a smash Anand simply pushed it just over the net. Aurobindo jumped forward but couldn’t return it.
When the service changed the score was 4-all.
Aurobindo decided to finish the game fast and served his best service. Anand just about managed to return it. After that he began slowing down the game. Every time Aurobindo attacked Anand responded by either chopping, pushing or simply blocking. Frustrated Aurobindo made some unforeseen errors and lost on 9. The match score was now 2-1.
The next game Anand won drawing level.
The fifth game Aurobindo whipped his adversary 11-2, while Anand managed to take the sixth game by a whisker
It was now the final game. The whole stadium was tense. Sanjiv could barely sit still. He knew it was now a question of nerves. Whoever held his nerve would win.
As the players sat down to drink water and wipe their sweat. Sanjiv went up to Anand.
“Beta Aurobindo’s forehand is fantastic, but his backhand is slightly weak. Try to exploit this weakness. Also, go for as many long rallies as possible, Aurobindo is sure to lose patience.”
The game began. Everyone was on the edge.
Anand served a back hand chop service. Aurobindo’s return was a gentle lob as if he was trying to feed him. Instead of smashing, Anand placed it on his back hand. Caught unawares, all Aurobindo could do was push it. Anand’s response was a perfect smash. The second service was a fore hand fast serve straight to Aurobindo’s backhand. Anand had worked on this for quite sometime and it had proved very useful as a surprise element. This time Aurbindo tried a back hand smash and found the net. Anand manged to get two more points and when the service changed he was leading 0-4.
In no time however Aurobindo came back strongly to level the score: 5–5.
The game swung like a pendulum and they reached deuce and then 12-12, 14-14 and 16-16.
Anand could see that Aurobindo was beginning to lose his cool. This was the time to test him. Aurobindo served a deadly fore hand top spin – Anand returned it – a perfect chop. Aurobindo replied with a top spin, tempting Anand to smash. But Anand didn’t fall for the bait and simply chopped it back. The rally continued till finally Aurobindo lost patience and smashed. It was a terrific effort and the ball whizzed to Anand’s right. Anand dived and his return fell to Aurobindo’s left. Aurobindo who had been standing complacently admiring his own smash stood rooted as the ball went sailing by. The whole stadium erupted in cheers. The score was 17 – 16, advantage Anand.
For the first time Aurobindo looked rattled. He had been the national champion for the last three years. And here he was on the verge of losing to an unknown entity. Anand decided to take a chance and go on the offensive. He served his favourite serve – but this time not cross but straight. A trifle surprised Aurobindo nevertheless managed a decent return. Normally Anand would have pushed it but instead he went in for a top spin. Aurobindo’s return was a tame one – that of a player who is not playing to win but is playing not to lose. This was the moment Anand had been waiting for. He smashed it. As the ball flew Aurobindo made a brave attempt but the ball ricocheted off his bat and landed on the ground.
The entire stadium rose to its feet. “Anand ! Anand! Anand!” the shouts were deafening. Even the chief guest had got up and was cheering lustily.
An hour later the prize distribution ceremony commenced. Anand and his team mates were called to collect the trophy. After shaking hands with the chief guest Anand gave him a letter.
“Please Sir, go through it,” he said.
After the prize distribution, Mr. Jhalani was called to address the gathering.
“I have been a T.T. player in my school days and I really enjoyed the game today. However, a shocking incident has come to my notice which has greatly disturbed me.”
He then went on to relate the case of Sanjiv.
Kavita and Sanjiv looked at each other in surprise.
“I had given a letter drafted by Vishnu Sir to the chairman,” Anand whispered to Kavita.
“Shh! Let us hear what the Minister is saying,” Kavita nudged her son.
“We have set up a sports academy in the Jhalani steel township on the outskirts of Pune. While we have coaches for cricket, football, hockey and chess we were on the look-out for mentors in other sports. I have decided that Sanjiv will train our young pugilists in the art and science of boxing.”
The chairman’s announcement was greeted with a thunderous applause. Sanjiv leaned across to Anand and said, “Thanks beta.” And father and son did high-fives.
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