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A Winner At Last
|by Ramendra Kumar|
“In 100 meters sprint the first prize goes to Balaji,” the compere announced.
Sameer watched as his classmate Balaji strode up to the podium, shook hands with chief guest, accepted the shining cup and walked back to the sweet sound of applause.
Balaji had clocked the fastest time of the competition. Sameer had also taken part but he had been eliminated in the heats not only in 100 meters but also in 200, 400 and long jump. In the cross country he had come 18th out of 64 participants.
Sameer, who was in class nine was a good student but just about average in sports. On the annual day he invariably ended up getting a prize in quiz or essay or elocution and sometimes for securing the highest marks in English. But in sports he drew an absolute blank. Ever since he could remember he had not got a single prize. Even in the jalebi race in nursery, he had been so busy gobbling up the delicacy that he had forgotten to run, till goaded by his teacher in the last minute, and stood seventh.
All through his years in school from nursery to class nine, he had watched his friends and rivals walk proudly to the dais and collect their medals, cups and trophies feeling more than a twinge of jealousy.
It was not that he hadn’t tried. He had played every game, participated in every event with varying degrees of failure.
He was aware that ‘participation was more important than winning’, the significance of sportsman spirit and all the clichés which he heard again and again. It was fine listening to all this stuff when you were among the winners, but digesting sermons when you were hungry for one teeny-weeny medal, one itsy-itsy cup was rather difficult.
“Hey Sameer, you know our new Geography Sir?”
Sameer’s best friend Neeraj asked.
“Yes. He’ll be our school’s boxing coach.”
“Yes. It seems he was a champion fighter during his school and college days. He will be coaching guys every Tuesday and Saturday in the indoor stadium. Why don’t you go?”
“Me! Are you nuts? I don’t know the ‘B’ of boxing. I’ll simply get slammed.”
“Come on, do you think the others are experts? You are quite wiry, with the right training you might turn out to be good. And who knows you could even end up winning a prize.” Neeraj was the only one who was aware of Sameer’s secret desire.
“I doubt,” Sameer shrugged.
After mulling over the idea for some time, he decided to take Neeraj’s advice and enrolled for the coaching.
Vincent Sir was a tall, well-built man with a solemn face. He was a very patient but strict coach. He started teaching from the very basics. He explained to Sameer the types of punches as well as their combinations. Seeing the keen interest his student was exhibiting, the coach also talked at length about the various types of styles used by different boxers. Sameer found that not only was he enjoying the sport but he was also quite good at it. Though there were a couple of others who packed a more solid punch, he was very quick on his feet which was a great advantage. He began practicing very hard and also seeing reruns of old matches of boxing legends such as Mohammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier et al, on the Youtube. He would often discuss the moves with Vincent Sir who was naturally quite happy at Samir’s increasing dedication to the game.
Tomorrow was the big day for Sameer. He was to compete in the quarter finals in the inter-house athletic meet. His clash was with Adnan, the new boy who had joined class nine in the middle of the second term. Adnan was of medium height but was quite stocky. Samir hadn’t seen Adnan spar but he was sure he would be able to handle him quite easily. In the semis Sameer would be meeting the winner of the Parminder-Samuel clash and he was confident he could take on either of them. Once in the finals he would be assured of a medal and his dream would at last come true.
These thoughts were bouncing inside his head as he walked back to his house, taking a short cut through the school grounds. He had just had a practice session and Vincent Sir had been quite happy with him.
“Don’t try to finish the game off. It will be rather difficult since your punches lack power. Your strength is your agility. Keep sparring but don’t allow your opponent to connect. The longer you are able to keep him at bay, the better it will be for you. Soon he will lose patience and make mistakes,” Vincent Sir had advised him.
As he neared the pathway, which separated the college grounds from the boundary wall, he heard a rough voice which was vaguely familiar.
“So old man, finally you are trapped. Today I’ll teach you a lesson which you’ll never forget.”
Sameer stopped in his tracks. The pathway was lined with a thick hedge on both sides. Sameer peeped through the gap and almost yelped in surprise.
His Principal Sarkar Sir was standing with his walking stick glaring at a tall, muscular man. Sameer recognized the ruffian immediately. He was Jagan, the Chemistry Lab assistant. The Princy had chucked him out last week because he had been caught taking money from his students and passing information during exams.
“Nobody can escape after messing with Jagan. First I’ll rearrange your features and then take whatever you have and vanish.”
“You won’t escape, you scoundrel!” Sarkar Sir, thundered.
“We’ll see about that later,” Jagan growled and advanced. Just then a lithe shadow jumped between him and his quarry.
“Jagan, get lost before I cream you,” Sameer said trying to sound as impressive as his screen idol Shahrukh Khan. He was sporting boxing gloves but his hands were hidden behind his back.
“What did you say you little runt! You are going to stop me. Get lost before I whack you one and make you fly away,” snarled Jagan.
“Try it Mister Jagan,” Sameer replied looking at his adversary who was at least a foot taller and twenty pounds heavier than him. Suddenly Sameer was not feeling all that brave anymore.
Jagan’s fist flew. Sameer watched it coming like a fat club and ducked. He unleashed a left hook followed by a right upper cut. Jagan staggerd and lunged at Sameer who deftly stepped aside and packed all his power in his favorite punch aimed straight at his foe’s solar plexus. As Jagan doubled up in pain, Sarkar Sir stepped forward, and with an agility and strength surprising for his age, brought the walking stick down on his head. Jagan groaned and slumped to the ground.
The next day the indoor stadium was packed. The first quarters was in progress. Sameer was taking on the dark horse Adnan.
Sameer was surprised by Adnan. He looked quite lethargic but was quick on his feet. Sameer tried every trick he knew to stave off his opponent’s punches but Adnan managed to land a few crucial ones every now and then. Sameer on the other had just couldn’t get past the defense of his rival. Adnan remained rock solid till the very end. His style was neither flamboyant nor flashy but proved effective in the long run. Finally, when the mandatory rounds were completed Sameer had lost by three points. He crashed out of the championship and his dream of bagging a medal on sports day remained elusive.
The prize distribution ceremony was in progress. Princy Sir was distributing the awards. After giving away the Rolling Shield for the best House he took the mike.
“Friends, I thoroughly enjoyed watching some of the matches as well as the track and field events. Our young sportsmen have truly done well. Here I would like to mention one thing. Sportsman spirit is not only about teamwork, camaraderie and healthy competition. It is also about conviction and courage. Let me relate to you an incident.”
As Sameer heard in surprise, Princy Sir described in detail their encounter with Jagan.
“I am sure you would like to know the name of the boy who came to my rescue. But for him risking his life and limb I would have been lying in the hospital and not been here with you. My rescuer was Sameer Dutta of class IX – B.”
All eyes turned towards Sameer who got up, his face red with embarrassment.
“I have decided to present him a special award.”
As Sameer walked up to the dais to receive the glittering trophy, the applause was deafening.
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