The unusual and inspirational story of a man, who despite age and personal issues works as a sports instructor for a school. His infectious determination, steely resolve and determination to build a world class sports facility in school and make a world class athlete in each student is what touches the narrator. What is more overpowering is his ability to set aside his personal dilemmas and focus on the element that drives his spirit and life, which is sports!
For a man of spirit!
“Sir, please do come in the mornings. Baccho ko accha lagega!”
I turned around to look at the tired, wrinkled and aged face of the new sports instructor, who had joined just a month back. In his 60’s, the man, had lost no charm for his love for sports and why not! He himself was a runner and was exceptionally fit for his age! Although, his face highlighted signs of age and tiredness, his enthusiasm and spirit was undeniably that of a youngster. It was this zeal, which made him see a world athlete in every student.
But I was no student and no athlete and I sincerely hoped that he would save the trouble to see the ‘lean-mean’ athlete in me, but to no avail. Persistent as ever he smiled and gave me the same statement every day, especially when he found me taking rounds along the school or administration corridor. Unfortunately, as unabashedly as ever, I too, had the same reply ready for him every day.
“Kal pakka aaonga sir! Aaj tabiyat thik nahi thi!”
Apologetic and sheepish as ever, I always forced a smile to go along with my fake promises to be there the next day.
Well, I was never good with waking up early in the mornings, forget about following an exercise regimen, that required me to run, do sit ups and pushups and everything else that was a part of the children’s fitness regimen. I mean look at me, I’m 30’s something, pathetically physically unfit, only meant for strenuous brain and heavy duty managerial routine jobs, but definitely not exercise or anything that required heavy physical labor!
I mean, anybody, who looked at my chubby belly, triple chin status, would agree that I was no ‘Milkha Singh’, except for the ‘pagdi’ and Punjabi descent, but provided our ‘Doudo Sir’ agreed.
Well, he was not always ‘Doudo’ sir as called. He was originally called something else, but his fondness to ‘dodau’ or make the children run every morning at 6 a.m, and his heavy Telegu accented Hindi, made him popular with children as ‘Doudo Sir’! Sometimes, I wondered what they called me, their school director, behind my back!
Anyway, that was how my one line conversations happened with him day after day. Days went by and his persistence to see me get back in shape did not diminish. Every time, he came into my cabin with his request for a new sand pit for children’s long jump or tennis racket orders, he would always smile obligingly and insist me with that old dialogue.
“Kal aaiye sir! I have a new, better regimen for you. Plus, children also feel happy when you are around!”
I sometimes really wondered if it was the children or they were just the props used to get me on the playing field.
Every time I lied, I felt bad for that man. Here I was, in my 30’s doing minimal physical activity and bloating up, while there was the man, who was double my age and as fit as a fiddle.
It isn’t like I don’t have my heart at the right place. I did feel bad and did put an alarm for 6 a.m. every night, but I don’t know why I could never hear it and the bell in my mind would ring just an hour later.
Yesterday too, when I could hear it at 6 sharp, I mindlessly thought of sleeping for an extra five minutes, to only let the disaster strike once again. This time I’d overslept for a straight 1.5 hours. I was truly guilty, filled with remorse for again having kept the old man waiting for me at the field.
As I dragged myself to the canteen for lunch apprehensively, keeping a lookout for him every now and then, he popped out of nowhere, but this time, he simply smiled and nodded. He did not say anything!
I did not know what went wrong, but it had done the trick. The guilt, the regret of not keeping up to my word, hit me with full force.
Suddenly I’d lost my appetite and went directly back to my swank cabin, which reminded me that in spite of holding the highest position on campus, I failed to keep up to my word to the senior most teacher on campus.
In the evening, the sports instructor walked once again into my cabin with a sheet of paper, which I knew was something to do with sports.
This time I decided to apologize sincerely and was about to open my mouth, when he spoke.
“Sir, Kal chutti chahiye! I need leave,” he said solemnly.
I was not ready for that. Was he planning to leave because of my betrayal or disrespect for him?
Reluctantly, I asked him, “What happened sir? Is everything all right?”
He simply nodded. There was no atypical smile of his this time.
I was as it is guilty for my behavior and his silence was making me feel inept all the more.
“Main kuch kar sakta hoon aapke liye?” I asked as good naturedly as possible, extending my hand for help.
He looked at me with gratitude.
“You have already done a lot for me sir! You have given me the source to feed my family sir, especially when I was turned out from everywhere!” he spoke forcing a smile.
It was no good, because he was making me feel all the more small.
“But sir, you never take leave, so I just thought if everything was fine!” I once again prodded indirectly, to make him speak.
He looked out of the glass window, which presented the distant view of the highway with cars and trucks rolling by. He was lost in thoughts, when my phone ring jolted him back.
“I’m sorry sir!” he suddenly felt alarmed with the sound. “I think I should not have asked for the leave!”
“Nahi, its fine. You can take a leave” I quickly said to make him feel better. I extended my hand to take his written application for leave, but he did not give it.
“No sir, I think I will come tomorrow!” he said silently.
I was getting more and more restless with his deeply perturbed state. There was something definitely wrong and he wasn’t giving in!
“Actually….” He paused.
“Yes”, I earnestly egged him to speak.
“I have to pay the fees for my grandson, so I need to go to his school, which is in my village.”
I looked at him. I was expecting something more and he did sense it.
He looked at me and continued, ‘It’s my daughter’s son sir! He is in class three.” And then he gave me the example of a child, who was in the same standard as his grandson, in our school.
Unable to control my inquisitiveness, I asked him politely if he paid the fees for his grandson.
“Aapko uski fees deni padti hai?”
“Ji sir,” he looked away as he spoke. “My daughter’s husband is a useless drunkard and abusive man. He does not give a single penny to my daughter. My daughter slogs day and night to manage the household expenses. She has a son, but unfortunately she finds it difficult to pay for his school fees.”
I was quite impressed with his help.
“I’m happy that you are doing so much for your daughter’s family sir!” I said happily.
“Haan sir, beti ko vida kiya tha, alvida thodi hi. I did not bid her goodbye forever sir!”
I was deeply moved.
I was happy to learn that our country still boasted of people, who still liked the idea of supporting the girl’s family in dire consequences.
As our conversation grew, he told me all about his life. He talked about his two sons and how good they were at sports.
“Bada wala shaadi ke do saal baad hi chala gaya”, he spoke silently as he talked about his son’s demise within two years of marriage.
Shocked to hear about this, I kept my buzzing phone on silent and stared hard at him.
“He met with a bike accident. He was on a highway like this only sir,” and he pointed at the rough highway far away. “I had to get whatever remained of his body back home.”
I imagined the old man with his son’s mangled body and flinched in disbelief. I closed my eyes and shook my head, but the man was still on.
“My wife was already in shock, when my second son’s demise made her absolutely dead. She is now a manic depressive sir and often demands medical help.”
“But what about your elder son’s wife…”I had started asking hesitatingly, when he retorted back sharply.
“Don’t ask about her. Uska to naam mat lijiye!”
Suddenly I could see fire raging in his eyes.
“She and her family are scoundrels! They took her away at a time when she was 3 months pregnant. They aborted the child and got her married to another one in village!” he spoke gushing out his pent up venom.
I could sense his fury and his brooding sense of helplessness translating into wrath.
Suddenly his face transformed. From sheer anger to sublime sadness, yet he continued to speak softly.
“I could not do anything to bring back my sons sir!” he said silently. Hot tears had welled in his eyes. I could see how strongly he held them back.
“I will not let anything happen to my daughter or her son now.”
He slowly turned to face me and said with that infectious determination. “I will come back in a day sir! Don’t worry, I will be there up on Thursday morning!”
“No sir! I do not doubt you.” I rose as I spoke. “You can take another day for leave if you want!” I added further, as I took the application from him and signed.
For the first time in my life, I was happy to have given job to someone who was so dedicated and persistent with his efforts to bring a change in the system, despite his own grave personal issues. He was eager to see his goals achieved. These goals spelled world class sports facilities on campus, national and international level athletes and a name with which the school would be synonymous for sports.
I handed him his leave application and he looked at his application with gratitude. He thanked me and was about to leave, when I stopped him.
“Sir, if you want you can also take some advance from your salary. I will tell the accountant. He will give you.”
He was happy and slightly relieved as well. He left my cabin, leaving me in my own world of thoughts.
I suddenly remembered the day I first met him. I remembered how he had waited patiently for three hours, before he was scheduled to meet me in my office for an interview.
As he walked into my cabin, he had looked around at my plush cabin in admiration and shook my hand. He had then taken out an album from his bag, which clanked roughly with some large number of trophies and medals.
I was utterly disturbed, when I saw his album.
His album was replete with pictures of his and national level runners like ‘Jeev Milkha Singh’ and ‘P.T.Usha’. He had not only been a great runner, but also represented our country in Asian Games in 1983. He also helped gain many milestones in the chapter of sports for our nation, but alas. Today, he had to tag along with these mere metallic proofs of his achievements to convince people to give him job.
I was deeply disturbed to witness that a man of his stature was deprived of money and was hanging around offices in search of job.
I still remember how saddened I was with his state then, but yesterday I was deeply touched and moved and jolted to the core, on hearing his personal dilemma in life.
How can a man, who has been shunned of so pleasures in life, still lead a life normally and happily? What was it that drove him to live on?
‘Knock-knock’ came the reply. It was him at my glass door cabin again.
As he came in, he spoke quickly, with his usual smile.
“Thank you sir!” he said showing me the paper envelope.
I was relieved to see his face break into a genuine smile as he said, “I got my advance sir!”
I smiled and nodded suggesting my pleasure.
He smiled at me and turned back to leave, but once again stopped.
“Is there something else sir?” I asked getting up. I was leaving for home as well.
“Thursday morning aaiye sir!” There we went again. “Aap aayenge to baccho ko accha lagega. Ab to mera short put ground bhi ready hai sir,” he added enthusiastically.
I could not help it, but laughed out loudly till tears welled in my eyes. I walked out to him and shook his hand before calling it the day.
Now I know what drives this man! With that pace in life, no wonder he’s called ‘Doudo’ sir!