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Jo Jeeta Woh Sikandar
|by Ramendra Kumar|
“Hey guys, this year we have got a great chance of winning the house championship,” Ejaz said.
Ejaz and his friends Suresh and Vicky were sitting in the football field on the second day of the three day Annual Sports meet of their school. Their school DPS, Rourkela had four houses Jhelum, Chenab, Ganges and Yamuna. Ejaz and his friends belonged to Ganges house and Ejaz was the house captain. Ganges had been losing to its arch Rival Jhelum for the past nine years.
“How can you say that?” asked Vicky.
“Kindo Sir told me we have notched up 175 points. Jhelum has 180 while Chenab and Yamuna are way behind at 135 and 112.”
“But Ejaz, Jhelum is in the lead how do you then fancy our chances?”
“Tomorrow we have three events – the finals of football, hockey and 100 meters sprint. In both football and hockey Yamuna and Chenab are in the fray that leaves only 100 meters.
“In that case we are doomed. Jhelum has the athletic captain and fastest sprinter of the school Yash in it,” Suresh said, shaking his head.
“That’s where you are wrong. In the first term this year, a new boy joined class nine. His name is Eklavya Tirkey and he is on a scholarship. I have seen him run and boy he is real fast. I am sure he can give our resident champ Yash a run for his money.”
“Is he participating tomorrow?” asked Vicky.
“That is what I am not sure about,” Ejaz said.
“He is a quiet sort of fellow not many in his class recognize his existence.”
“Because he is not fluent in English and his background, to use a euphemism, is different.”
“Than what is to be done?” asked Suresh.
“I think we should talk to him right away and persuade him to take part in the heats.”
Eklavya was of medium height and wiry with a friendly face and bright eyes. His greatest passion was running and he knew he was good at it. He didn’t need much persuasion and in the heats, for the first time, the school saw Eklavya run. He and Yash topped in their respective groups. The final was in the evening at five in front of all the students, teachers, parents and guests.
Half an hour after the race, Yash and his friends went to Kindo Sir, “Sir, did you see Eklavya run?” asked Yash.
“Yes, I think he was great. I was wondering where he had been hiding all this time.”
“But Sir, he should be disqualified,” Amrit, the house captain of Jhelum said.
“He ran bare foot?”
“Did he? I didn’t notice. I was so fascinated by his grace and speed to notice anything else.”
“But now that you know shouldn’t you disqualify him? After all you have always been stressing how important a dress code is. The finals of the 100 meters will be in front of the entire school. Sir, do you think it will look nice if one of our upcoming athletes is running barefoot?” asked Yash.
“Okay. But I won’t’ disqualify him. I shall ask him to wear shoes and run in the finals.”
“There is a dress code in everything including sports. If Eklavya does well he will represent our school in various competitions. Even if I allow him today, he will be disqualified later,” Kindo Sir said.
“But Sir, he will have enough time practice then. Now it is already eleven – he just has six hours in which to buy shoes and practice.”
“I am sorry my friends: no shoes – no run.”
Ejaz took Eklavya on his bike to the nearest Bata Shoes outlet.
An hour later Eklavya was practicing running in his new shoes.
“How does it feel?”
“Suffocating,” Eklavya said with a wry smile.
“You have four hours to go. Try to get as much practice as you can get without exhausting yourself.”
At 4.55 Eklavya was at the starting line. He was in lane six while Yash was in lane one.
Eklavya had always enjoyed running. It had been his greatest love, his supreme passion. But today he was feeling tense. His feet were clammy and he was dying to get out of the stuffy shoes. Wearing shoes the whole day in school was bad enough, running in them was a real torture.
He knew he had to win this race. The hopes of the entire Ganges house were on him. From the four year olds in the nursery to the sixteen year olds in class ten, they were all looking up to him to win the championship for their house. But apart from the championship there was something else which he could barely define – his pride, his honor. He had all along been treated as a nobody, now was his chance to prove he was a winner – a champ who could triumph against all odds.
“On your marks, get set, go.” Pop went the gun and the runners took off.
Yash raced ahead, his long legs propelling him forward. Eklavya knew he had to conserve his energy for the final burst. With every step he took his feet seem to protest – not liking being stifled by cloth and leather. Seconds later Eklavya and Yash were neck and neck with the tape looming ahead.
“Come on Yash,” there was a huge roar as Jhelum house supporters got up cheering lustily.
“Move it Eklavya, Jo Jeeta Woh Sikandar!” shouted Ejaz and hundreds of voices joined him.
Eklavya knew it was now or never. Picking up every ounce of energy he had he raced. His t-shirt was dripping, his feet were wet and his legs were aching. His feet simply flew and with one final lunge he crashed into the tape and fell in a heap. He didn’t even know whether he had won or lost. All he knew was that he had tried his best.
“Eklavya!!” the roar was deafening. “Jo Jeeta Woh Sikandar.”
It was only then that Eklavya realized that he had won and Ganges were the House Champions after nine long years.
After the presentation as Eklavya was walking away, he heard someone call his name. It was Yash.
“Congrats!” Yash said offering his hand.
“Thanks!” Eklavya said.
“I am sorry, I thought if you run with shoes I shall be able to beat you. But you made me realize with or without shoes you are the real champion.”
Eklavya’s answer was his shy smile.
“Next month is the State level Athletic Championship. You will of course run the 100 meters. I also want you to be the most vital part of the relay team – the anchor,” Yash said and walked away leaving behind a beaming Eklavya.
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