An opportunity. That is all I need. I am capable of doing much better than I am doing now. I know that. Record maintenance! Is that I wanted to do in my life? Was that the reason I
left my little town to ‘move forward’?! No! I need a chance.
“No! I want it now! I have a shuttlecock game at eight!”
I overhear Mr. Pradeep, my boss, yelling at an employee. His pronunciation of shuttlecock was more like ‘subtle-cock’. Ok! So he plays badminton. I work overtime while he enjoys whacking shuttlecocks in the company’s posh sports complex. Great! Thank you God!
And then God hears it. And it strikes me.
I leave my office at six, the time at which most of the employees go back to their families. I rush to my apartment, a stinking hovel. I rummage through my closet looking every where until I find what I want. My sports shoes.
Then I rush to the nearest sports shop, spent half of my pathetic salary on a brand new Yonex racquet. Ah! The old feeling. The feeling of humiliating each and every person in my college days on the badminton court. The days when the world was ours. When everyone believes that they’ll drive a Cadillac to their office. I am in an overcrowded bus. Buses! Buses don’t exist in the college student’s dream job.
And for the first time I go inside my company’s sports complex. The echo’s of the shoes, the jumping! Adrenaline! I was excited. The prey had not yet arrived.
I practice for half an hour and get tired. It has been quite some time since I played the game. That did not waver my confidence. I sat quietly looking at others. And then he arrives. Mr. Pradeep comes with a big badminton kit on his shoulders.
Should I approach him directly? No. I must wait. I should see the way he plays. I wish him good evening and he doesn’t respond. I am very disappointed. And yet, I wait, with full faith in my plan.
He is good at it. Better than half of the people around. But I could beat him easily, only if my stamina allows it. He plays with his colleagues, joking and enjoying the game. His colleagues are tired and then, I step in.
“Sir, I will be honored if you have a game with me.”
“Who are you? Do I know you?”
“Yes sir! I am Pranav. I work under you sir. The records section.”
“Oh! Ok. How come I never see you around? First day?” he jeers looking at his colleagues.
“No sir! My timings are different. And actually I was an inter-college champion, sir”. I deliberately add ‘sir’ twice.
“Ok, we have a champion amongst us”, he says as he gets ready for the game.
I smile and get ready. He was about to serve.
“Twenty one points?” he asks before the serve and I nod.
And the game begins. I get the first two points with ease. And then I allow him to go ahead of me. All his colleagues were watching with interest, as if Mr. Pradeep’s reputation was at stake. I toy with him till we both get to ten points. And then my stamina starts giving away. I did not feel good about it.
He gets the next three points. Then he starts smirking, which a player does only when he knows that he is going to win. I start playing frantically giving everything in me to get the scores level at fifteen each. Then he said what I wanted to hear for so long.
“You are a good player Pranav. You should come more often.”
I felt happiness after a long time. I had forgotten what it felt like. These sentences boost my confidence and I start the toying again. I bring the score to twenty each. Exactly as I wanted. Now even more people were staring at us. Most the matches there are one sided. This was a rare treat for them.
He serves. I return. He returns even more elegantly. I can smack that on his ugly face and win. But then I’ll lose. I give him an easy one and he takes the advantage and responds powerfully. It was a nice rally going on. A couple of times more and I will give it to him. Finally he returns with nothing but absolute vigor and I leave it. This is for the first time I have lost a match on purpose. I am humiliated as everyone claps for Mr. Pradeep. He is overjoyed. He beat a man half of his age. And then he comes to me and appreciates my game.
I say, “Sir, you play exceptionally well! I hope to learn a trick or two from you.”
He is honored. He introduces me to the rest of his colleagues. A month later I was having a drink with him at his place. I still lose most of my games to him, winning sometimes to keep it alive. I get promoted after three months. This was the beginning of my journey. My journey to the Cadillac dream, far away from the buses.
I had lost a ‘subtle-cock’ game. And it was then when I had learnt how to win.