Unlike most kids, Akash had a lucid first memory of his Grandpa. He was nine years old when their grandfather first visited him. A very long family feud had kept him away from his grandfather. He remembered seeing him for the first time. He still had a clear image what he was wearing, the time of the day, how the air smelt and the first words they spoke.
Akash was playing basketball all by himself on the porch of his house on a summer evening when he spotted a well dressed man in suit step out of a white car at his gate. He was a cocoa coloured man with an average height and seemed to be in his early sixties.
“Is that how they taught you to shoot?” he said in a professional tone as he walked towards the boy.
Akash felt humiliated. But the man in the suit was giving a huge smile, and a warm feeling took over him.
“You play?” he asked the stranger, trying to suppress the tone of overconfidence.
“Been really long, but I think I quite surely know that that move is not going to help you score.”
His smile was still warm. It reminded Akash of chocolate chip cookies that had just been out of the microwave. Akash was staring at him confused when he heard the front door open and his father amble in.
The warm smile on the chocolate coloured man’s face faded away as soon as his eyes met his dad. Another strange emotion took its place instead. The strange look on the man’s faces reminded Akash of the look he gave his mom when he was caught doing something wrong. A look of guilt.
A convex curve fell over the man’s lips; his eyes were now heavy and culpable. He stood there, standing beside him and Akash found that his dad’s face had the matching look of doubt and regret. The heavy silence grew uncomfortable with time and Akash knew that he had to something. He ran inside to go get his mother.
Kshiti was confused when her son pulled her out to the porch. She hoped it was not another kitten or an orphaned puppy he had found. She had dealt with way too many of them that she was starting to develop a dislike for animals. Half way to the main gate, she was worrying that dal she had left to cook would burn and she had to start all over again for dinner due to her son’s overflowing love for abandoned animals.
Whilst she arrived at the porch, her mind fled far away from distressing about sambhar and a torrent of love packed her spirit. The feel overflowed and came down as tears of bliss.
“Daddy!!” She cried as she dashed towards him and stumbled into his arms.
Akash was shocked. He had never seen his mother like that. In fact, he wasn’t sure if he was seeing his mother. It was like seeing a thrilled and ecstatic three year old girl run to her father. Akash knew that he knew something he had been longing to know.
That night, Akash brought up the subject with a little lesser reluctance. He knew his mother was now more likely to give him a proper answer.
“Ma, why hadn’t grandpa come to see me all these days?”
Khiti stopped cutting the carrots. She paused for a minute. She was very close to telling Akash a made up yet convincing lie, but an instinct told her that he deserved to know the truth.
“Well Akash, that’s a very tough question. I’m not sure if you’d be able to understand it at this age.” She stated honestly and tried to evaluate her son’s thoughts as she looked at him. He was staring at her, wide eyed.
She breathed in deeply as she continued.
She gave him a simplified narration of how her marriage with Shiva had complicated things between her and her dad. She tried to justify why she had walked out. Akash was still staring at her, wide eyed.
“That was not a bed time story.” She said wondering if she had stuffed her son’s head with stuff that were way too complicated for his age. “You know that, right?”
“I can’t wait to see him again.”
Kshiti smiled. “Well, invite him for your game. Who knows, he might even end up being your coach.”
“So it’s real then?’ Akash asked excitedly. “He plays?”
“How else do you think you got the talent?” Kshiti replied with pride.
The following months, Akash practiced with his grandpa. He bonded with him very easily and found himself waiting for every weekend. During one such practice, he asked him.
“Grandpa, what’s your name?”
The old man chuckled. Akash had been calling him grandpa for a very long time that he had forgotten to even get to know his name.
“Sutara” he said as he watched Akash shoot.
“That’s a strange name.” Akash was panting. “What does it mean?”
“Holy star” he smiled again.
Sutara knew that it was time to have the talk with Akash.
“Akash, I know I’ve been in your life just for a very short period, but would you make me a promise?”
“Of course Grandpa, Anything!!”
“Never get angry.” He said. “Promise me you’ll never let anger spoil things for you”.
Akash was puzzled. Sutara read the boy’s mind and continued.
“I got angry once. I let anger get in the way of knowing and loving a very important person.” He looked into Akash’s eyes as he spoke. “Anger causes so much trouble. Life would be much better without it.”
Akash only understood half of what he head, but he let the crux of the conversation sink in. He swore to himself he’d never get angry.
“Akash, do you know what your name means?” Sutara asked.
Akash stood there with a blank expression.
“It means Sky. It means Space.” Sutara explained. “You, my boy, were rightly named. Because you are just as infinite.”
Akash’s eyes lit up brightly as he started speaking.
“Grandpa, did you notice?” he exclaimed. “I’m the sky and you’re the star!”
Akash couldn’t help but notice that the rest of the practice session had a special feel to it.
SEVEN YEARS LATER
Akash tried to fit into the unfamiliar territory of his new school. He was a late new comer and he had arrived on a very spectacular sports day. Students dressed in track suits were busy and filled the hot and sultry open ground. Akash walked up to the basket ball stadium out of habit, and found that the stadium was in the middle of a commotion. A commotion that he found very favourable. The Higher Secondary team was one player short.
He volunteered, and was taken in on account of his thick bundle of certificates. The PE master instructed him to go get dressed and play for the evening match. Akash scampered excitedly to the dressing room.
“Look how desperate their Higher Secondary Team has become. They’re taking in newbies.” He heard a mean and bossy voice from across the room. It was a tall well built boy, who looked much matured for his age. He walked towards him and gave him a rough and cold stare.
“Aren’t you a little short to be in the team?” The tall boy mocked. “Try not to get killed. We play rough.”
Akash stood silently as the boy passed. He was left in the lonely captivity of the alien dressing room. His mind was racing. What was he doing? He hardly knew anybody here. He realised that signing up for a match just hours after he had fist walked into a new school was probably a decision he might regret later. Was he being reckless? His mind was plunging into doubt.
He wished he could call up his Grandpa. But a lump came upon his throat as he realised that he actually can’t. He kept forgetting that. It was very hard for Akash to accept the fact that he was gone. He closed his eyes and remembered every detail he had learnt. The hours flew by.
He walked out to the brightly lit stadium with his team-mates whose names he identified with their jerseys.
Ten minutes into the match and he realised that the opposite team was a piece of cake for him to handle. It was going to be a very easy win. But the tall guy wouldn’t let it. He played rough. Literal to the word. Akash felt a gush of blood run to his face as the boy tripped him down. He was almost close to losing his temper when he saw the night sky.
There, twinkling in bluish green light was a bright star, shining down at him and a familiar feeling of warmth took over him.
Don’t get angry. He heard himself think. Integrity is keeping up to your values even during hard times.
He got up, and dusted off his shorts. Something he had read a long time ago echoed in his mind. The ones that love us, never really leave us. He looked up and smiled at Sutara.
Akash played his best giving every bit of him to the game and keeping his calm. At the end of the two and a half hours, he felt drained and spent. He looked at the score board. He smiled at the LCD display that read 17-3.
A strong breeze of triumph hit him as his new and unknown schoolmates lifted him into the sky. Akash sank into the comfortable downpour of pride and celelebration. An invisible yet thick shower of stardust covered him as he grabbed the Golden Cup.