When Lalramthanga was a kid, his dad exceeded in ball games. It was only when Lala became a teenager that his father hung up his football boots, tossed his table tennis racquet aside and presented his tennis racket to his son. Ofcourse, his dad did not give up ball games altogether. He decided to play indoor basketball. He bought a large waste paper basket and would toss in paper balls into it. Now that became easy. So he hung the basket upon the wall. It was his puppy Romeo who challenged him and beat Lala’s dad hollow. Romeo would snatch the paper balls in his mouth, leap in the air and pocket the crumpled paper in the basket!
It was Lala’s friend Janet who was an ardent sports fan. Yet tennis was a new game to her. She encouraged Lala to play the game just for fun. She would accompany Lala to the tennis court where the poor lad would be smashed by his opponents.
Janet was very encouraging. She would call out in the top of her voice: “ C’mon Lala. Love seems to be your favorite score.”
Lala would blush. He worked hard upon the bouncy, pacy courts of Aizawl.
After each game, Janet would squeeze Lala’s chubby cheeks like an orange: “ Cheer up, pal. It took me years to score my first marks in Math.”
This bit of news cheered up Lala. It boosted his morale. Lala took the game very seriously. He practised hard. Lala played better and better.
Janet was overjoyed.
It was then the big school tennis tournament was announced.
Tony came from Shillong and joined Lala’s school. His dad was in the army. He was a tennis star. What’s more, Tony was tall, fair and handsome. And Lala made a hawk-like discovery. He had an eye for Janet. After practice sessions, Tony and Janet would talk about books. And pop singers and bands. Lala’s cheeks flushed with anger and jealousy. He was determined to make a mince meat of Tony on the tennis court.
The first round: Lala was playing Eddie from Manipur. Lala glanced at the stands.
Janet was sitting next to Tony who was chattering away like a well fed monkey.
Janet hardly noticed Lala’s game. Lala had raced to a 6-1,6-0 victory. He raised his arms in victory. Janet was worried.
“ Lala,” she wiped a gentle tear, “ Don’t surrender. Put your arms down and play.”
“ I have won!” cried out Lala helplessly. Tony looked the other way.
“ Can we take a walk up the hills?” Lala requested Janet.
“ Wait!” she said,” Tony is playing next.”
Lala slumped upon a chair next to Janet.
The match began : Tony versus Ronnie.
“ Wow, isn’t he handsome?” asked Janet and drew in a deep breath.
Tony smashed the tennis ball out of court.
“ What a great shot!” shrieked Janet.” Keep it up, Tony.”
“ Tony has lost the point,” pointed out Lala quietly.
“ Oh, did he?” said Janet sadly, “ Please tell me when to clap, okay?”
“ Well if Tony plays me, “ Lala asked Janet worriedly,” Whom will you support?”
“ The referee, you silly goose.” Smiled Janet,” At fifteen you sound like a dumb porcupine.”
At that moment, Tony served and the referee called out : fault.
Janet stared angrily at the referee.
Tony served again. The ball had crossed the opponent’s inner line.
The referee called out: double fault
“ Hey,” Janet bounced out of the seat like a ball. She grabbed at the referee.
“ Stop blaming my friend Tony. It was not his fault at all. He has only served the ball!”
Lala intervened and he handled an embarrassing situation very well.
“ Janet, making faults is a part of tennis,” taught Lala.
“ Oh I see…oops,” Janet pulled out a scented hanky from her handbag and plugged her mouth,” I must apologise to the referee.”
The game continued. Janet was busy licking an ice-cream. She cheered and clapped her hands at the wrong timings. She was happy when the game got over.
“ Hey,” she closed her eyes,” Who won?”
Tony had won by the skin of his teeth. He patted his opponent Ronnie.
“ Well played…it was not quite your day today.”
Janet introduced Tony to Lala once again. They smiled at each other.
“ Tony is a very talented photographer,” she told Lala.
“ Lala is a wonderful guitarist,” said Janet to Tony.
For the next match, Lala decided to bring in Romeo as a spectator. Lala was a bit scared to lose. He feared that a loss would make Janet hop for Tony. He had to win …to keep Janet alive with him.
Romeo cheered for his master by wagging his tail and flicking his tongue. Then Lala decided to toss the ball over his opponent’s head. As soon as the ball swirled in the air, Romeo jumped onto the court, leapt up and took the ball in the mouth. He landed straight on the referee’s lap. The referee froze. He was really scared of dogs! Janet shoved away Romeo and the game began again.
Lala played very well in the school tennis tournament to reach the finals. Janet was so happy that she patted Lala’s cheeks. Guess what? The other boy to reach the title round was Tony.
“ Will you cheer for me or Tony?” asked Lala insecurely.
On the final day, Janet stuck out her long right hand and shook hands with Lala. Her left palm was anchored firmly into Tony’s.
“ Wish you equal luck,” Janet looked bewildered,” I’ll pray for a draw.”
“ Someone has to win,” said Tony.
“ Someone has to lose,” said Lala locking its horns.
“ Take it easy,” pleaded Janet ,” I want none to be hurt…mentally or physically.”
The Janet rivals took up the challenge. They brandished tennis racquets like charged knights in King Arthur’s Court. When Lala was hot, Tony kept his cool. While Tony warmed on his toes, Lala threw about his arms. Both pairs of eyes hovered to where Janet was standing and cheering.
“ Hey …this ain’t a boxing match!” Janet reminded them loudly.
The clash of the titans began.
Lala forced a smash straight into Tony’s chest. Then another shot whistled past his right ear. Lala looked at Janet. She was admiring her friend’s latest ear-rings.
Now Tony played a sizzling backhand drive past Lala which bounced on Janet’s head! It woke up Janet. She cheered loudly.
The referee made a mistake with a line call. Tony wrapped up the first set 6-4.
“ Hey…who’s winning?” Janet asked curiously.
“ The referee’s winning,” Lala snorted back.
Lala was a set down in the Finals. And half of Janet was behind Tony.
Lala dived like a scuba champ at everything!
His shorts had given way. His underpants were exposed. The crowd laughed as Lala rushed to the changing room.
Lala returned to play a few sterling shots. He won the second set 7-5.
The final set. The winner takes all.
As Janet and Romeo cheered, dark clouds gathered above their heads. Rains came down heavily. Play was held up.
The referee announced the score: 1-1, 30-30.
“ Great!” said Janet, “ let’s keep it that way…50-50!”
The rains came back. Play was washed out. Tony and Lala were declared joint champions.
“ You have more to learn, less to argue,” Janet scolded Lala,” The match did end in a draw, didn’t it?”
Tony smiled. Janet held Tony’s camera in her hands.
“ Who clicks?” asked Lala fearing the worst. “ Me and you, Janet?”
“ I click!” winked Janet ,” Tony and Lala get together …quick!”
“ Ok guys…love –love and 50-50,” she dabbed lipstick on her lips and smiled.
Tony and Lala understood Janet’s keeping of tennis scores … atlast!
The Broken Cricketer
“Suresh, will you attend the practice match today?” said Hanif , the house master. “ Of course, I will,” Suresh said with a smile, “ I would like to earn a place in the school cricket playing eleven.”
The practice match began. Suresh proved an ace bowler. He bowled with his left hand. Spinners. He picked up two wickets. He was a bad batsman. He would mainly play defensively. When it came to batting in this match, he was bowled out for a duck.
“ Don’t worry, Suresh,” assured Hanif, “ You will play in the Inter-School cricket tourney starting tomorrow.”
As luck will have it, Suresh twisted his left ankle. He had to sit in the pavilion and watch the game with a swollen leg. His school team Sacred Heart luckily won the match by only a single run.
Suresh had recovered for the next match. However, Hanif told him that he would like to play the winning team of the last match. Which meant, Suresh could not play. Suresh was upset but he did not show his disappointment. He cheered his school team loudly.
Sacred Hearts sailed into the finals of the Inter-School cricket tournament. They were pitted against the Don Bosco boys.
Back home, the telephone rang. Hanif called up Suresh and told him that their star batsman Venkat was laid up with pneumonia. Hanif would make a gamble. Instead of taking in a batsman, he would let Suresh play the Finals.
The final match was slated to be played on Sunday.
The Sacred Heart boys won the toss and elected to bat. The opening batsmen added
sixty runs before both of them were dismissed. It was a thirty overs -a -side match.
Sacred Heart had scored 100 for 9 when Suresh walked in to bat.
Don Bosco were the champions. They had won the trophy for three successive years. They were trying to win the cricket tournament for the fourth time.
Suresh looked at the spectators. He noticed his mum and dad cheering him loudly. The fast bowler Arvind set up a blistering pace and hurled the ball at Suresh. Suresh placed his bat forward. The ball skimmed the bat and went crashing into the boundary for four runs!
Only two balls remained for the end of the Sacred Heart innings.
Suresh was now ready and facing the next ball. Arvind bowled a full toss on the leg stump and Suresh played a one-handed glance which sent the ball across the boundary for another four. His team-mates cheered. His parents clapped their hands.
The last ball.
Suresh received a straight delivery. He tried to hit the ball away, missed and was clean
bowled. Suresh out for eight runs.
Sacred Heart all out for 108. The Don Bosco boys needed 109 runs for victory.
Then the Don Bosco boys started their campaign. Vikram Singh was their main batsman.
He slammed three fours of the first three balls. Then he received a bouncer which he hooked towards the boundary. Suresh who was fielding near the ropes dived to his left and pulled off a spectacular catch.
Then two wickets fell in quick succession.
Don Bosco score read : 18 for 3
Then Ashok and Seth brought off a magnificent partnership of 50 runs.
68 for 3
The Sacred Heart boys were giving up. It was then that their captain Roberts called up Suresh to bowl his spinners.
Suresh walked up a few paces and tossed the ball at Ashok. The batsman was beaten by the flight and was cleaned bowled. The players rushed in and hugged Suresh. The next batsman Imran arrived at the crease. Suresh walked a few steps and sent down a quicker delivery with his left hand. Imran lunged forward and was neatly gobbled up by Roberts, the captain himself.
Can Suresh notch up a hat-trick?
He flighted the third ball of his first over to the new batsman George. George missed the ball, the ball missed the stumps by a whisker and even beat the wicket –keeper. It raced away across the boundary ropes for four byes.
Suresh continued his superb bowling spell. He had picked up two more wickets.
The Don Bosco boys would not give up easily.
The score: 102 for 6
The last over was entrusted to Suresh. Don Bosco needed seven runs to win the title again.
Suresh bowled the first ball. It wrapped Seth on the pads. No runs. Seth was playing the anchor role and the Don Bosco boys depended on him for victory. The second ball. Seth jumped out of the crease and lofted the ball over Suresh’s head to the boundary.
The score : 106 for 6
The third ball was driven by Seth for two runs.
The score was now level at 108.
Three more balls to go and one run to win for the Bosco lads.
Suresh did not look nervous at all. Only he could stop Bosco from winning. He was a determined young boy, never giving up.
The fourth ball was driven straight to a fielder by Seth. No runs.
Suresh ran a few steps and hurled the ball at Seth. Seth was beaten as the ball pitched outside the off-stump and spun sharply. It smacked into the gloves of the waiting wicket keeper.
The last ball.
Seth was determined to hit the ball for atleast one run.
Suresh bowled a quick ball. Seth smashed the ball to the left of Suresh and started to run. Suresh dived to his left almost blindly. He groped at the ball and it held in his left palm.
Seth out , caught and bowled Suresh for a well compiled 57.
The jubilant cricket mates raised Suresh on their shoulders.
The match was a tie, neither team winning.
108 was scored by either side.
Suresh rushed to the stands and hugged his mum.
“ Well done, Suresh.” She kissed his cheeks. Suresh was the only child of his parents. His papa patted Suresh’s shoulders gently. “ I know that you will overcome all odds someday.”
It was the chief guest who addressed the large gathering:
“ I watched this young lad Suresh perform,” he began, “ Like a broken bird, Suresh does not have a wing. Yet he flew like other birds, even better than other birds…”
There was thunderous clapping all around.
It was the Principal who spoke next: “ Suresh was born without his right hand. Yet it was his mental toughness which forced the Sacred Heart boys to share the title.”
Finally, Suresh was called up to speak at the player-of-the-match award ceremony.
“ It is a matter of mind,” he said, “ I never think of my limitations when I play cricket.
God has not given me a hand but he has given me intelligence which I used to the best of my abilities on the playing field today.”
The Last Laugh!
Shankar was the latest addition to our class. He arrived after summer, a green turtle shaped schoolbag slung across his right shoulder and a red floral umbrella in hand.
Devika, Sahana and Lata - (newcomers beware!) inspected the new boy from head to toe. He would have won the Battle of the Bulge award anywhere on earth.
“ Hey listen,” Sahana spoke melodiously to Sankar , “ What do you eat daily?”
“ I am a rice-eater,” Shankar spoke coyly, “ And I am a veggie.”
“ I wouldn’t be surprised if you are a kid-eater,” giggled Lata,” How come you are s…o…o…o fat?”
“ My dad works in an ice-cream company,” admitted Shankar, “ I slurp up nearly a dozen ice-creams after dinner every night. Maybe that’s why I am so belly-heavy.”
Devika, Sahana and Lata licked their lips and huddled together.
“ Lucky boy!” said Devika, “ How I wish my dad had owned a chocolate- making machine…”
Shankar was rather frightened of this female trio. He would avoid their gaze and uttered only a few syllables whenever they found an excuse to talk to him. Not that Shankar was particularly shy of the girls in his class. He chattered away like a trained parrot with Raima. She was an attractive, bespectacled girl with a pair of ponytails that hung like a pair of thin elephant trunks behind her small head. She was smart and intelligent too.
“ I’ve got a great idea!” Devika whispered into the ears of her two friends, “ We’ll take Shankar on a goose chase.”
“ How?” Sahana’s large black eyes popped out, “ Can we really hook him up to Raima or something?”
“ Yeah!” quipped Lata, “ We will make a real big fool of Shankar, just you wait and see!”
The next day in school, Devika greeted Shankar as softly as a butter candy.
“ Do you like Harry Potter movies?” she asked him gently.
“ Of course, I do,” smiled Shankar, “ Just not getting a chance to view the movie Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince…”
“ Luck is on your way,” winked Devika who had skipped along to Lata’s side, “ Expect an invitation for Sunday.”
That evening, Devika slapped Shahana’s palms and said: “ I will call up Shankar on his mobile and …”
The Newcomers Beware Squad rolled into action.
“ Hi, Shankar…guess who?” Lata spoke stylishly.
“ Hello, that’s Raima,” beamed Shankar.
“ Care for a movie, Sunday at four o’clock …at the Princess Mall?”
“ Wow, thanks,” Shankar was elated, “ Thanks for the invitation.”
Lata clicked off her cellphone. The three impish girls reeled with laughter.
“ Well done,” Sahana thumped Lata’s shoulders, “ Even Michael Jackson would have been proud of that imitation voice.”
Shankar believed from his heart that it was actually Raima who had called up on the mobile and offered him this grand movie invitation. And the Naughty Threesome slowly traced their steps behind Shankar as he headed for the movie hall.
It was nearly four o’clock when Shankar reached his landmark. He raised his head like an antelope and searched for Raima.
“ Ha! Ha! Ha!” said Lata as the three girls laughed out, “ Snooty Shankar …we have taught him a sound lesson for caring only for Rai….!”
“ Wha----?” said Sahana, her mouth open as wide as a hippo.
Raima came ambling down the road dressed in a brown outfit, black high heel shoes and waved a fashionable vanity bag merrily.
Even before Shankar could speak, she held out two movie tickets and smiled:
“ My brother has fallen ill. Let’s hurry, you have arrived just in time.”
“ Gosh!” said Sahana.
“ Eeks!” shrieked Devika from a safe distance, obscured by the teaming crowd.
“ What a disaster!” said Lata.
The next morning, Shankar stepped into the class proud as a peacock. He held his nose even at a higher incline so that he could hardly see the withered, pale faces of the Newcomers Beware Squad.
“ A coincidence!” said a defeated Lata, “ We will surely win next time.”
“ What? Another idea up your sleeve?” tugged Devika impatiently.
“ Listen to me, please,” said Sahana and she whispered into their eager ears.
“ Fantastic!” cried out Lata in a shrill voice.
“ Three cheers for the Newcomers Beware Squad!” said Devika.
Devika, Lata and Sahana painted a hand drawn birthday invitation card.
Please attend my happy birthday on Christmas Day, the 25th of December.
The girls slipped the card in an envelope, addressed it to Shankar and placed it inside his class desk. Surely, Shankar was thrilled!
The girls had a rollicking start! Raima did not attend class on that day, Christmas Eve.
“ So let Shankar belly-crash into Raima’s house,” guffawed Devika, “ And she will pound him to flour for carrying thus far.”
“ What if a Christmas party is on?” asked Lata.
“ That will make things even worse, poor boy,” Sahana was bursting at the seams of her skirt.
Now Raima’s house was located at the bottom of a hillock. Christmas Carols wafted in the chill wintry air. The girls stretched out on the grass at the top of the green mound, anxiously waiting for Shankar to arrive.
Surely, Shankar panced along excitedly , reaching at six and chimed the door bell. He was carrying a birthday gift in a silver wrapper! What a fool! Raima opened the door and to the utter dismay of the girls Raima warmly welcomed him in.
The girls shivered and waited in the cold. After two hours, Shankar left the house and Raima waved him goodbye at the door.
Shankar began to climb up the hillock. The girls scrambled up and stood to attention.
“ Hi, Shankar!” said Devika, equally puzzled as her two dumb-struck friends, “ What’s up?”
“ Just attended Raima’s birthday,” he said quietly and proudly, “ She was born on Christmas Day.”
The girls’ mouths snapped close like a bunch of stupid tortoises. They simply failed to digest what they had heard. Shankar had the final laugh! And Devika, Lata and Sahana vowed never to tease newcomers again.