Dearest Darling Friends,
86 is just a number when he walks onto the field. The breathlessness, dizziness, or, for that matter, the assistance of a rattling walker doesn’t deter him from doing his most favourite thing – being a COACH!
His shaky voice booms across our makeshift training field, loud and clear. My body coordinates magically in rhythm with his instructions. The javelin aerodynamically drills through the air twenty metres away from its release – like it is my second nature. As I walk back with him to his home, his wife mirrors the same spark as in his eyes. Fifteen minutes was all that it took to transform an ailing-86-year-old-man into a confident 86 year young coach.
Two days prior to the tournament is my last scheduled session with him. He, instead, is admitted in the hospital. A litre of fluid is what the doctors draw out from his chest, but are unable to find its cause. Confined to the bed, he still inquires about my solo practice sessions. Dissatisfied with my saturated performance, he shakes his head as he fights dizziness, while sitting up from the reclined bed.
Gingerly albeit forcibly, he swings his long legs towards the floor, looking me straight in the eye and commands, “Take your stance”.
“Sir, we are in the hospital!” I protest feebly in a hushed whisper.
“Show me your stance.” There is a no-nonsense air of authority that fills the room.
We shadow-practice a couple of times and he adjusts the ‘final flick’ setting me correct. He politely throws me out of the room asking me to go practice under the afternoon sun. How much ever I try, I don’t cross the 20m mark.
Dejected, I walk back to him with his dinner but a team of doctors surround him. There have been medical complications. On the day when he should have gotten discharged, he is scheduled for a CT Scan and a 2D Doppler Test. Sir’s eyes meet mine through the crowd – my downcast eyes say it all. He is superlatively heartbroken.
As the room clears, so do his apprehensions. The spark replaces the now overpowered gloom. My lack of improvement doesn’t bother him because his confidence on me is unwavering.
“You are going to win. You have to win it… My students don’t lose!” The once-upon-a-time National Coach foretells with a toothless grin. I stand there fighting mixed emotions and respond with an audible gasp.
“You have to win it for me.” This time, a man of steel caught in a fight with illness asks me for a favour.
Cut to the tournament. The practice run-ups are perfect – no overstepping, smooth flow, flawless follow-through. The javelin sits comfortably on the mound of my palm and hits the ground in a parabola; just like everything should be! I know the competition is tough but I feel the most confident since the previous week.
The confidence translates only till a positive first throw but not in distance. “Two more chances,” I prepared myself. Throw #2 is the worst; I trip in the follow-through. Throw #3 is my only chance to cheer up my coach who is waiting for a call on his hospital bed.
The rhythm settles my nervousness. Right before throwing the javelin, I twist my ankle. In the next and final step, I curse myself closing my eyes and throw a mere distance of twelve-point- some metres..
Me, a two-time undefeated champion is defeated. The challenger is victorious. I walk off the field in a bubble of vacuum. Seven pairs of loving eyes, one of them being just 5-years-young, break through the calm façade. My eyelashes contain tears of guilt. “I let him down. He had asked me to win…”. I feel pain. Regret and sadness sear through me.
My performance is kept away conspicuously from him by my family, fearing it affecting his lunch intake. At home, I cry out alone in my room. rendering my eyelids sore and red. I don’t know how to face Sir knowing that it will break his heart – a heart carrying an immediate hope within the dreariness of the hospital.
A nervous knock is my entry to his anticipatory ears. As I peep around the door, he greets, “What happened?” He is hardly able to restrain his excitement. “I stood 4th, Sir.” I shrug my shoulders trying to remain strong, stopping the avalanche of tears that were still lurking just behind my eyes.
This is when my theory and practical classes clash. “Never mind!” an experienced Coach talks graciously, “Wins and losses are a part of the game!”
And within a minute, all the shame of disappointment dissipates; just like that! Immediately, the discussions of the sequence of events are analysed strewn with giggles and jokes. The mention of unfortunate incidents, however, makes the coach pensive. “I should have been there with you… to rectify. You could have done so much better!”
He takes the entire blame on himself, failing to take into account him being hospitalised!
“Anyhow…” his patent words are articulated, dismissing the current thoughts. “Always remember this. Whichever game you play or in life, always be confident. Self-confidence is the key !!!”
“Believe in yourself!” Though he speaks in a generalised manner, he looks me straight in the eye coaching the weak spot within me. “There will be no stopping you then!” he signs off as I serve him hot tomato soup and delectable ‘pav bhaji’.
My Coach, did not just teach about playing. He taught me about winning AND losing. Most importantly, whatever happens, be confident. Only then, you can do your best.
(This was written on February 21st 2016. We lost this amazing Coach – Gujrati Sir – on June 4th 2016. This world and the world of his students will never be the same again)
Written by Juhi Kothari
With love, prayers and exceptional wishes,
Imagine, when we wake up, we are given only what we had thanked for.