They Met – Chapter 1
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“Hey, calm down. You have been staggering around this stupid corridor for the past hour.” Bee spoke with her mouth full, and her voice came out muffled. Thank God at least she didn’t spit the crumbs on me. Her name wasn’t Bee or honeybee. It was Bindya, but she absolutely despised her actual name, like me. So, we called her Bee instead.
For being a girl who hated her name, she undoubtedly carried forward the legacy of the name her parents had proffered her. She always had a bindi on her forehead. A tiny elliptical dot, sometimes black, sometimes silver, other times colorful as per her attire, always found a place on her forehead. Her long hair suited her appearance. She rarely wore jeans as she loved Indian dressing. Her wardrobe was full of kurtas, salwar, varied color dupattas, and long earrings.
Bee owned countless pairs of the famous jhumkas that I also borrowed sometimes and bangles, too many bangles. Today, her pink bangles clinked as she ate her so-called healthy sandwich and kept on adjusting her dupatta.
Bee raised an eyebrow, and I let out a long sigh. How can she ask me to be calm? This wasn’t the reaction I expected from my best friend, who was also part of my team. I assumed she would be more worried than me, but my entire team was relaxed.
How could they be so sure that we would get selected?
They always did this. Put all the pressure on me and remain relaxed as if I had some magic wand to get things rolling. Even our coach was anxious about this, which eventually led to my sleepless nights. But Bee didn’t know that. She didn’t need to.
Bee was a jolly, sweet person who had never even harmed a fly. Her belligerence only came out on the field. She waved her hand in front of my face, and again her bangles clinked. I usually liked the sound, but today it was getting on my nerves.
“I cannot calm my nerves. What if we don’t get selected? We would bloody lose everything.” I used as much aggression as I could on the word—everything, but it didn’t make any change on my friend, currently busy stuffing her face.
Bee chewed and chewed, later gulped, before answering. “Don’t be dramatic. Every year we get selected. We also won the cup last year under your leadership and for years before that. Why would this year be any different? Shri, you just need any lame, stupid excuse to have a panic attack. Taste this.” She threw her spinach cucumber sandwich in front of my face.
I grimaced and rolled my eyes. Of course, Bee could talk about nothing else but food. Let the sandwich be devoured, which was undoubtedly loaded with cheese, so the ranting could begin.
Damn, Shri, my weight. I have no fucking clue why it keeps increasing. I have done all I can. I eat less. Also, given up on the desserts, the famous chocolate pudding of our canteen but still my weight increases like the population of this country. Constant. Without breaks, without hindrance.
Urgh, what do I do?
“You know, along with the veggies, the sandwich also has a slice of cheese.” I pushed the sandwich back in front of her face and shook my head.
“Cheese is good. It has protein.”
“What about the bread?”
“Whole wheat,” she sang as if scoring a hat trick.
I chuckled. “Still carbs,” I nodded at Bindya’s startled face and chuckled.
Bee again flicked her hands, and the bangles jingled, earning an eye roll from me. I hated this shit. I gazed down at my black tee, realizing I hadn’t even washed it. I had just plucked it up this morning from the hook on the backside of the door of our tiny dorm room. How was it over there? I hadn’t worn it in a long time. Oh shit, I bought my armpit close to my nose, trying to smell my sweat.
Yikes. I grimaced.
Forget it. Focus, Shri. The t-shirt is replaceable.
I ripped open my bag, revolted, and searched for the angel. I felt a bottle between my fingers and wrenched it out. Spraying the deodorant all over, even on my bag, I finally took another breath. Nodding to myself at the aromatic smell, I took a deep, serene breath.
Damn. I cursed as the spray got stuck. Maybe I had pressed it too hard. I tried to pull it up, but it wasn’t working. Argh… trying but failing, I tossed the bottle back into the bag. I had more pressing matters to deal with right now.
I glanced up to meet Bee’s scrunched nose and raised eyebrows.
“What?” I snapped, defensiveness clear in my tone.
“You haven’t done your laundry.” She wrinkled her nose and put her hand on her mouth, covering her nose. I pulled her hand off and hugged her. Yes, that’s what I did when people messed with me. She started swearing because the Indian-type dressing was only from outside. From inside, Bee was a swearer. Finally, she threw up her hands in the air, and we both started laughing. I left her, clapped my hands in victory, and resumed my pacing.
“When do I do my laundry? But it’s done. I saw it yesterday. I just love this cherry scent.” Avoiding her eyes, I marched around the corridor. I will have to ask Tanya about this tee. Why hadn’t she washed it?
“Lie is dripping from your mouth as you are speaking.”
“Shut up. Focus. We want our team to get selected for intercollege this year.”
“It gets selected every year.”
“Not sure about this year. Now that badminton is compulsory, they must exclude one sport. Cricket and football are glued with a permanent stick, and no one dared to eliminate those two sports. So, it is basketball or kabaddi.”
Our sports coach had already informed us that the college had a budget for only four sports. Cricket, football, and badminton got shortlisted, and I was at war with basketball.
Being a Kabaddi champion was the best thing that ever happened to me. But the bonus was to get selected as a captain last year. I had my final two years at college, and kabaddi was my lifeline. Things would change after graduation, and I wanted to have the best of what I could in the next two years. I had picked this college because of the extracurricular activities it offered. But if they kicked kabaddi out, I would have nothing left, no motivation to stay for the next two years.
I won’t compromise. Yes, kabaddi will get selected. It wasn’t optional. My life depended on it. I didn’t realize it, but when Bee unhinged my finger from my mouth, I saw the blood and winced.
“You are mad. You know that, right?”
“Bee, kabaddi is my life,” I stressed as I sucked the blood. It took a few licks, but the blood stopped pouring out. How hard had I bit? Oh, God, what was I thinking?
I let my head fall into my hands as I groaned. I tried taking deep breaths, but nothing was working to help me relax. I had been standing here for the past hour, but the meeting seemed never-ending. How long did they need to acknowledge that kabaddi was their pride? The sport shouldn’t have been on the elimination list, but it was.
Can anyone imagine what the senseless, overthinking prattle for one bloody hour does to you? It makes you go crazy.
Bee sighed beside me and shook her head. “So, you will chew your nails and skin off. Aren’t you a vegetarian?” I gave her a pointed look and was about to answer when the doors opened.
I glanced from my corner and saw all the sports coaches leaving, and the last was our coach, Ranjit Sharma. I dashed towards him. He was just a few feet away, yet I stumbled in the end. Sir caught me and welcomed me with his signature glare that I had copied while on the field. This glare had helped me more times than I could count. Players feared me because of this glare. And fear made you gulp, and you stopped chanting Kabaddi. Win, win for all of us. But sir knew his glare didn’t work on me, so why he was wasting his precious glower was a mystery.
Ranjit sir was above forty, but he could easily pass someone over fifty. He never dyed his hair, so it was a messy mixture of white, grey, and black. He even didn’t shave regularly, nor went to his barber appointments. So, unlike the other coaches, always primp and proper, he was unkempt, and looked tattered and scrappy. But he didn’t care.
Our coach was a gem of a person. He was mighty on the field, vigilant in front of his opponents, and kindhearted off-field. He spent most of his earnings on us, treating us to countless lunches, and breakfasts. Also, dinner if we won a match. Coach stayed alone, and we were his only family.
Ranjit sir shook his head in disapproval as he caught my elbow before I fell on my ass. I smiled sheepishly, but his forehead wrinkled as he stared.
“Kishori, why are you running?”
“Sir, it’s Shri,” I said with an eye roll. How many times did I need to tell everyone to not call me Kishori? “What happened? Kabaddi got selected?” I continued with impalpable excitement brewing inside, along with fear, but I wouldn’t acknowledge that.
“Calm down. We had a meeting, but I cannot divulge the details.” What the hell? He has to. I deserve to know the truth.
“Please, sir. You need to tell me. I am the captain. I have the right to know. My team deserves to know.” I heard him sigh and gave a high-five in my head.
“I am not so sure. Basketball is a great sport, and kabaddi has too many injuries. Nothing is concluded as of now, so you won’t reveal this to anyone until Principal sir resolves the issue.”
“What the hell. Injuries occur in every sport. Cancel football. Statistically, it has more injuries than kabaddi.”
“Shri, mind your language, and we are competing against basketball, not football.”
“But, sir, that’s not fair.”
“Things are never fair. You just need to get along. Face it. Fight it. And in the end, roll along with it.” Patting my back, he left. His shoulders were slumped, stance defeated as he walked towards the staff room.
He didn’t have any hope. Having just started my second year of college, I was thrilled to return from the summer vacation. I had formed new strategies for this year. I wanted to change the numbering, and try some new moves I picked up online. Now, it was all fruitless. I had lost it. We had lost it.
How could they do this to us?
I felt numb inside as his words rang in my head. Every year we failed in football. However, as the sport was famous internationally, it stayed and received a comprehensive budget. Whereas I had to search for external sponsors to just play in the tournament and win against fifteen other colleges. I showered the college with trophies that sat in the Principal’s office, enhancing the décor. Yet, I was struggling today to get kabaddi continued as one of the four primary sports. The fight should be to win, but my fight was to survive.
I could still recollect the finals of last year held in Patna. The three unmerciful hours of excitement and apprehension. The Mumbai team was famous for their aggressive behavior. Everyone was on their nerves, and when Bee got injured, I was left to score the last point. Just in the nick of a second, I reached the victory line before my breath gave me away. The Mumbai team was excellent, but we were the best. I bet if I called Paru, the captain of the Mumbai team, she would be ecstatic to know we were out this year.
Damn, I won’t let this happen. I will have to find a way. Only if there was a way. I hoped I at least got a chance to do something, some miracle, something that would benefit me. I would even toss away my pride, but I wanted to play for the next two years. Life would be empty… without kabaddi.
“Hey, what happened?” Bee tapped on my shoulder when I didn’t respond.
“Nothing. We lost. I am bunking. Tell the team to practice.” I didn’t have the energy to face them today. I kicked a stone while I walked the grounds towards the hostel. It had been my dream to come here and study. Born and brought up in Lucknow, I had been electrified, on cloud nine, when my name was on the merit list, and I got accepted here.
It was costly, but mom and I had somehow managed the first-year fees. Away from home for three years, I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity, a change I so desperately needed. Delhi’s winters were chilling, and we enjoyed the finger-licking alu tikki and masala tea. But everything was secondary. Kabaddi came first.
I gallivanted on the other side towards our girl’s hostel, staring at the surroundings with hopeless eyes. The spacious, sprawling grounds that made you wander around like a lost puppy seemed useless right now. We had two large fields and one small, used for sports practices and internal tournaments, a theater room, and one of the largest chemistry labs all over India. We also had a garden with neatly cut grass. Our college had everything perfect. But what they didn’t have was the balls to keep kabaddi on. How could they do this?
Bee said something, but as I moved ahead, her voice became distant. I waved my hand in the air, my silent bye to her as I bunked.
Who cares about the attendance percentage when your biggest motivation gets nicked away from you? Who would get a fresh new trophy this year? Didn’t Principal sir consider this before coming to this decision?
Badminton was new. Even the players weren’t selected. Only Pranjal, the new coach, was hired, and she had announced the tryouts. Maybe I should try badminton. I had played my entire childhood. Clearly, it wouldn’t be as complex as Kabaddi.
We risked our lives as we played the game, but no one cared. Damn, don’t say that, Shri. Maybe that’s why they decided to exclude the sport this year. No, please, don’t do it. I loved kabaddi.
Thank you for reading this. You can read the book if you enjoyed the start.