Ramendra Kumar has written thirty-one books which have been translated into twenty-six languages, and have won thirty-one awards. His new book from Duckbill Against All Odds will be published in September.
I have always been in love with sports. I remember playing the beautiful game with a tennis ball when I was barely seven. You would think with so much of practice I would be pretty good at it. Well, you are wrong. Forget good, I am not even bad, I am horrible. The only goal I ever scored in my life was a self-one. This lack of expertise didn’t deter me in my pursuit of soccer. I played football because I love it and still do (watching, that is).
Football is a great equalizer. It is probably among the few sports which doesn’t need any costly equipment or logistics. All it needs is an O-shaped ball and an A-class attitude.
I grew up in a campus and was part of a team of youngsters which played every game from hopscotch to hockey, cricket to kabaddi. Behind our campus there was a basti, where lived dhobis, vegetable vendors, potters, cobblers, maids and their families.
The kids who grew up in the basti were regular at football because this was the only game they could afford. We used to have friendly matches.
We would be wearing football shoes, designer jerseys and shorts. They would be barefoot, often clad only in shorts and chutzpah. We would be careful while playing. How would we explain the nick on the elbow, the bruised knee or the swollen eye to doting mamas and daddies not-so-cool? They had no such issues.
They played outstandingly in every match and licked us on every occasion. When they came to our houses, they were the errand boys, the guys who ironed clothes or polished shoes, people who served us. On the football field they were the maestros, who beat us pretty much at every time.
I sometimes used to go with my friend Khadeer to watch football matches being played in old city Hyderabad. One day, he told me, “There is this player I want you to watch. He will be playing today’s final match.”
The match was between Barkas in green and Charminar in blue.
“There he is–the tall, dusky chap with a crew cut–that’s him. His name is Hyder. You should see him in action.”
I stared in wonder. The guy’s left arm was just a stump. How could he play, let alone play like a champion, with such a disadvantage?
When the game started, I forgot about his disadvantages and watched him, mesmerized. He cut through the defence with awesome dribbling skills, manoeuvring his way almost unchecked. In the first ten minutes, he had scored two goals. His style was unorthodox, but effective.
The Barkas realised that Hyder was taking the game away from them. As he jumped high to head the ball, one of Barkas’ forwards slammed into him and he crashed to the ground. Another Barkas player kicked his left arm.
Hyder doubled up in pain, even as the Barkas players were shown the red card.
A few minutes later, Hyder was up and ready to take on the opposition. He didn’t leave the field but battled on. By the time the game ended, Charminar had whipped Barkas 5-0.
Hyder was declared the man of the match. Later I learnt he had to take two stitches on his left arm.
Kartik, the protagonist of Against All Odds is, in a way, my tribute to Hyder.
The inspiration behind the book is my dad who taught me that impossible is really nothing.
When I was a teen, I had to fight the toughest of odds. I was studying in the best school in Andhra Pradesh. Until halfway through Class IX, I maintained a record of being among the top three in my class. But then, my sister, who is nine years older than me, got engaged, and for the next three months, till the wedding, life was a crazy medley of rituals and ceremonies. I missed school for quite a few days and even on the days I attended I couldn’t study at home because of the chaos.
One month into Class X, I had an attack of malaria and then a relapse. I lost two months of school. When I went back, my classmates had raced ahead and I couldn’t cope, especially in maths and science. In the first unit test, I failed in physics. From being a scholarship boy, I had morphed into one who flunked. I was completely shattered.
Things started becoming worse. There was some turbulence at home, which made the situation even more chaotic. I started avoiding going to school, making up some excuse or the other. I just couldn’t face the ridicule of my peers and reprimands of my teachers.
I tried my best to explain this to my parents. While my dad was empathetic, my mum’s reaction was brutal. “What will you do, if you don’t go to school? Sit in a shop and sell furniture like your cousins?”
“I shall take the exams as a private candidate.”
“Don’t talk nonsense. So what if you have done badly in a couple of tests? That is not the end of everything. You still have enough time before the boards. From next Monday, you have to go.”
Monday was four days away. I started sweating. I couldn’t sleep at night. The very thought of going to school and facing the scorn of my classmates and the puzzled look of my teachers as I drew a blank at every question was excruciatingly painful.
On Sunday night I made a pathetic attempt to commit suicide by swallowing phenyl. Babuji caught me as I was raising the bottle to my mouth. He didn’t shout or yell. He simply enveloped me in a bear hug and I clung to him. Both of us stood holding each other, crying silently.
After this incident, my father simply took charge of everything. He got me a new set of books since I was changing boards, looked for a tuition master and chalked out a timetable for me. My mother and my sister never mentioned anything directly, but their oblique remarks and facial expressions indicated that I was a coward who had made a mess of his life. However, my dad did not make me feel guilty even once. He was always at my side offering unconditional love and unobtrusive guidance.
For the finals exams, he would take me to the examination centre and sit outside for the entire duration of the exam, under a tree, in the month of May when the mercury was hovering around 45 degrees centigrade. When the results were declared I had secured a first class.
I had beaten the odds thanks to my father–my forever friend.