Where it hit my head as i stood on the sidelines?
Why would i grab the ball in reflex? More then anything, why would R come to collect it?
‘Ball, please,’ she said, panting. I felt paralysed.
‘I said ball, please,’ she said. I had on to the ball for aan extra half second. I wanted to look at her a bit longer. I wanted to take a snapshot of her sweaty face and store it in my mind’s camera for life. I threw the ball at her. She caught it with ease and looked at me. She could tell from my throw that i knew the game.
‘ change your point shooter’, I said. For some reason, i had managed to speak in correct english this time.
‘What?’ she said. She surveyed me from top to bottom. I now wished i had worn better clothes. I had not changed out of my interview shirt ant pants, both of which the tailor back home had stitched too loose for me. I looked out of place on the basketball court. With my folder of certificates, i resembled a hero from those hindi films of the seventies- the one who could not find a job. I have a bihar state team T-shirt, I wanted to tell her. Of course, in the middle of a game, and as a first conversation, this a terrible idea.
‘your shooter is useless,’ i said.
The referee whisteled to commence the game. She turned away and forgot about me faster then her throw reached her team mamber. ‘here, pass it to me,’ R shouted as she reached the opposition basket. Her point shooter held the ball and looked around, confused. ‘I said here,’ R screamed so loudly that pigeons flew off the trees in the lawns. The point shooter passed the ball, R cought it and took a shot from well beyond the three-point line.
Whoosh! The ball went through the basket. The crow cheered. They already had a soft spot for R anyway.
The refree annouced a break at ten-minute mark. The college team led 12-5. R huddled with her team, figuring out their strategy for the next half. As her team meeting ended, she wiped her face and neck with a towel.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I forgot i had my own trail in less than an hour. I only wanted to figure out a way to talk to her a bit more. May be i could tell her she played well. I wondered how to tell har about my state-level game without coming across as a show-off, And, more then anything, how would i go beyond five words of english? She caught me staring. I wanted to kill myself. She continued to look directly at me, the towel still around her neck. Then she walked up to me. A shiver ran down my spine.
I didn’t mean to stare, i wanted to tell her. I wondered if she would scream at me like she had done during the match.
She had walked across the court to thank me?
She had breathing hard. My eyes were glued to hers.
Look away, rahul, i scolded myself and turned away.
‘That was a good tip,’ she said to my left profile.
‘Welcome….you…are….good,’ i said. Uttering each word was like lifting a brick.
‘Any other suggestion for the second half? We’re losing.’
‘yes’, i said, turning to face her again. I wanted to give her more tips, but couldn’t in english. ‘You speak hindi?’ i said.
She looked baffled. Nobody in st. Stephen’s had asked anyone that question.
‘well, yeah, of course,’she said.
‘okay’, i said, and explained in my language,’they have two strong players. Cover them tight. Dont fix formations for your players. Two of yours should move with them. You become the shooter. Of the other two, one is your defence, the other supports you.’
the wistle blew again.
‘Got to go,’ she said.’catch you later.’
the match started. The refree’s wistle, the sound of the player’s shoes as they run across the court, the shrieks, the yells and the cries of victory and defeat-few things in life match the excitment of a sports court. Basketball, underrated as it might be in this country, packs it all in half hour. I cannot understand why indians don’t play this game more. It doesn’t take too much space, doesn’t need much equipment and a big group can play it all at once.
‘Yes!’ she screamed as she scored a basket. The ball went in without touching the ring, making the most beautiful sound in a basketball game-the soft ‘chaak’ when only the net touches the ball. Sweat dripped off her face as she ran back to her side of the court.
The match ended 21-15. The newbies had lost, but still kept pace with the college team- a considerable achievement. R, however seemed disappointed. She wiped her face with a towel and picked up her blue nike kitbag. A few boys tried to make eye contact with her but she ignored them. I wanted to speak to her. Hawever,no boy from the dumraon(my home town) has ever had guts to approach a high-class girl from delhi. I wanted her to watch my game. There was nothing else i could impress her with. Coach piush went up to her. They became engrossed in a conversation. This was my chance.
Now my love life started, this is full of suspance and love and pain,