There are a handful of stories I’ve heard in my entire life that I’ve reacted to with my choicest four letter word.
A lot of elders crib about my love for profanity, but I love cussing. There are times when you hear something for which a reaction like ‘Cool’ or ‘Lovely’ or ‘How nice’ just doesn’t do justice. You growl ‘fuck’ in the most strained pitch you can harvest and the person who has narrated the story nods his head in mutual appreciation, knowing he’s got the impact the ‘fuck’-worthy tale deserved.
Have you ever seen one of those little Chinese kids with a table tennis racket who routinely appear on American reality shows to convince the standard human being how hopelessly ordinary he is at hand-eye coordination? Adam was one of those. He could slam any racket/bat/club with a ball/shuttlecock with complete disregard for any technical help. This is what people like me call a gift. I am one of those individuals who has to spend a number of painful hours on court trying to convince my legs to rotate with the same speed the ball demands. A majority of the times, they don’t listen.
Adam’s parents thought tennis would be a fantastic sport to channel their son’s inner genius. They thought he’d add his name to the likes of folklore legends such as Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. The coach agreed. The neighbours agreed. The maidservant’s third cousin’s divorced wife agreed.
Adam did not agree.
Adam hated tennis.
There is nothing worse than seeing an athlete who doesn’t want to perform on his own. Let’s face it. It’s a twenty yearlong preparatory gamble for a dream that won’t materialise, in 9 cases out of 10. A single injury can knock you out. More than anything else, the money involved in making a sportsperson is an embarrassingly high amount. You want to play the game, you play only the game and nothing else. No girls, no late nights, no alcohol and most certainly- No smoke.
Adam was playing a tournament in Delhi. He was 23. He was way beyond his best days and was in no way a tournament favourite.
His match was at 7:30 o clock in the morning. A firm believer of the phrase, ‘Never getting up before the sun rises’, Adam decided that the most profitable way of not compromising on his ethics and yet, having the decency of turning up to play was to party all night. He followed a few warm up beers in the late hours of the evening to a more serious concoction of whiskey and water. This stoked the fire in his belly. His ashtray, which was a small pot in his room would routinely be filled with cigarettes to the brim.
Adam proceeded with his nightly ritual by rolling a joint with hashish that a Nepali trader whose name can’t be divulged had almost given his life to smuggle. He approved of the raw ingredient. He was in a state of mental contentment, with the exception of one primary urge bothering his belly – hunger.
To calm it down, he helped himself to a food dish even the chef was abashed at conceptualising – The Heart attack Burger, a product comprising of two layers of the finest buttered French Loaf, stuffed with bacon, a full beef patty, three slices of goat-cheese and an ample amount of mayonnaise. This was accompanied by a large portion of fries which were dripping grease in pretty much the same way as Matthew Hayden’s helmet does after 47 runs.
The rest of his night was largely uneventful. He tried catching the attention of a girl whose legs seemed to send invitations to his eyes. He was unsuccessful when he tried to find a place between them.
His opponent, Sanam on the other hand had spent the evening with a light workout after a 2 hour hit, followed by a sparse dinner of whole wheat pasta and lime water, to keep him well hydrated. He had allowed himself the luxury of sleeping at 10:00 PM as opposed to 9:30. This would give him a good enough gap in the morning to stretch, warm up and be well oiled for a grueling match, should the situation arise.
Adam reached the courts at the designated time, smelling of Budweiser, Benson and insomnia. He had someone managed to go to his hotel room, change and haul his kit to the courts. He grunted his arrival to the umpire and tried nodding in the best way he could to his disgusted opponent. Everyone on the circuit knew of his nightly escapades. His head felt like a small brick. He mouthed, ‘Don’t care’ on being asked whether he’d like to serve or receive after winning the toss. He walked to the baseline to receive and tried his best to see if the ball still looked yellow and in three dimensions.
Adam lost the first set 1-6.
He was wrong footed, aced and fired at from every possible corner of the court. Adam’s opponent was a power-hitter who believed in blasting the ball with as much force as he could muster. He had survived a mini cardiac arrest to find his composure enough to take the one game, but he was being steamrolled. Thoughts flashed in his head about how he probably shouldn’t have added the last vodka shot and mixed drinks. He would have probably had a better sense of balance. His opponent was mercilessly punishing the ball. By the end of the set, Adam didn’t bother trying to attempt the last drop shot and walked towards his chair after hurling his racket on court.
Adam was broken early in the second set. He was 2-4 down and the way proceedings looked, he would be peacefully asleep – lost in translation in less than ten minutes. It was at this point that he heard a random kindly stranger nearby mouth ‘Chutiya sala. Khelne ki aukat nahi hai iski’, roughly translating to ‘The bastard doesn’t deserve to play’
Something about the manner in which that line was mouthed ignited a fuse that had been dormant for a very long time. The human body fires up when you least expect it to. Adam headed for a bathroom break. It was time to warm up. He smoked half of the last Benson left in the packet. He was now, properly warmed up. He came back, picked his racket up and served.
Adam won the match 1-6, 6-4, 6-2. He played a brand of tennis that could only be loved, not understood. Adam was a counter-puncher. These tricky bastards thrive off their opponents speed, and Adam decided to finally exhibit why he was chosen to lift the racket up. He cut through his opponent’s ground-strokes like a knife through butter and mashed his service into pulp. He finished each point with the grace of someone who was born to bleed tennis. There are times when you just can’t figure the beauty of willpower, and every single person who was there to watch the match on the neighbouring courts saw something they would never forget. It was a combination of sheer determination and raw talent, honed into a display of sport that could have possibly led to international greatness if he hadn’t battered himself into the condition he was.
Sanam, who had starting grunting like a wounded hyena in the last game reportedly sat down on the court for ten minutes after the match, trying to make sense of what had happened. Adam shook his hand, walked out of the courts with the air of a man who just walked the moon and didn’t give a flying fuck about it.
“Does he still play?” I asked Paul, after my sense of composure returned and my wide open mouth closed.
We were at a bar. Paul, who’s a strict teetotaler, was an old friend who I had met after a very long time.
“Oh yeah”, said Paul, very matter of factly. “In fact, he’s playing in Pune tomorrow.”
“And does he still drink?”
“Well you can ask him yourself. I don’t think he’s in a state to answer though. He’s been in the smoking room inside passed out for the past fifteen minutes.”