“I hate you, I hate you.”
The slow motion replay rubbed it in. Problem was, the replay was not on tape that could be erased but in his mind. It was almost as if he was cursed to go through an out-of-body experience each time he thought of the bout that changed his life. And that was nearly each moment. He could see himself look at his coach and mouth the dreaded words.
Bhaskar Ghosh raised his palm as if to wipe his brow but there was no sweat. He had to do something about the recurring nightmare. A good five years had passed since that fateful day at the National championship when an unknown challenger had brought him down to earth in one moment when his own concentration had wavered.
He looked at the man in the mirror. The taut face that could wear a scowl capable of putting the fear of God in the hearts of those drawn to fight against him was changing. The worry creases were a giveaway. The rippling muscles that he had boasted of were conspicuous by their absence.
Of course, Bhaskar had picked up the threads of life and lived it. He played the lead in four popular films in two and a half years but gave up glamour to focus on winning the second Asian Games gold medal. But none of that left him elated. The joy had gone out of his life.
Truth to tell, Bhaskar hadn’t forgiven himself for parting ways with his coach without even so much as a by-your-leave. But after a three-year gap, he returned to the ring, fell back on coach Chiranjeev Mishra in absentia to get back in top shape so that he could win the National heavyweight crown and go to the Asian Games again.
That was two years ago. His own health had declined rapidly after a bout of pneumonia and he was on the road to recovery. Now, as he kept coughing, he realised that the only thing strong about him had been his heart, his will power egging him on to win the battle against an unknown enemy.
“Coach,” Bhaskar said aloud, fervently hoping Chiranjeev could hear him, “you are the best I have known and I have missed your physical presence but I have constantly heard your voice, more so when I have found myself in trouble. I wish you were here to supervise the boxing academy – a gurukul that I established in your honour.”
Indeed, Bhaskar had returned to the college gym all those years ago, hoping to find his coach but the old sweeper told him Chiranjeev had not been there for months. The boxing ring was gathering dust. A deafening silence hung over the place. Bhaskar had badly wanted it spring alive again, hear the coach say ‘Box-box-box-box, Come on, box-box’.
But now when he was left wishing more than ever that his coach would be around.
Mahesh Thakur, who had engineered the split between coach and ward six years earlier, was the harbinger of news one night. “Champ, I found the old man. He is just a couple of hours drive from here. He is not in the best of shapes but lives in a lonely hut, some good souls in the village offering him gruel twice a day to sustain him. Let’s go and get him.”
Though he was worried about the coach’s decaying physical state, Bhaskar had not heard anything better in years. They chose to take Mahesh’s Scorpio rather than Bhaskar’s Accord and drove out of town at the crack of dawn, stopping only to pick up a doctor friend of theirs.
Outside the city, the sky acquired a clear shade of beautiful blue, the foliage along the highway seemed greener because of the lack of dust. The paddy fields had a lovely green hue and the hills in the distance their own blue-green. The air was crisp, the mild sun making it so much more joyous.
Bhaskar could not contain his heart from thumping faster with excitement as they got closer to his coach’s home. Six years, one hell of a long time. Finally, he could shrug off the living nightmare and start living all over again.
As luck would have it, the Scorpio broke down and they had to walk the final mile to the reclusive coach’s abode. As they turned a corner, the sight of the hut in the distance made Bhaskar break into a run but he quickly slowed down when the lungs were bursting, panting for breath. He had not reckoned with the climb being steeper than it seemed.
It was as simple as any hut could be. Mud walls and thatched roof. A fence made of thorny bush offered the hut some privacy and protection. Surprisingly, there was signs of electric connection – “The old man has done well to get himself organised even here,” Bhaskar thought as he walked through the open door.
He could hear a rickety old ceiling fan grunt. A sliver of sun beam lit Chiranjeev’s face but the wiry figure lay in sublime peace, in a tranquil state. It did not take long for the doctor to say Chiranjeev’s heart had stopped beating and the pulse was fading, he had stopped breathing but his body was warm. He had died in his sleep.
They had been a trifle too late.
Bhaskar walked up, held the coach’s hand, a lump forming in his throat, tears welling in his eyes, his knees collapsing. When he recovered some of his composure, he slipped an envelope into the coach’s shirt-pocket. It contained a hand-written letter penned before leaving for the Asian Games two years earlier would never be read now.
“You have been more than just a boxing coach. You have been my spiritual guide. I did not have the vision to see that, blinded by arrogance that it was all about me.
“Honestly, as I was leaving the arena that day, I didn’t mean to say ‘I hate you’ at all. God is my witness. I came back to the hall, looking for you to seek your forgiveness and your blessings, hoping to turn the clock back. But you had left and none seemed to know where I could find you.
“Coach, you had taught me that hate was a negative emotion and had no place in our lives. You had taught me not to hate my opponents. How then could I even think of hating someone who had meant so much to me, contributing in the making of me as a boxer of some repute.
“I know now I erred in leaving you in the lurch after all that you had done for me. “I know I will find you someday and am not sure I would dare speak my heart out to you. Hence this letter.
“PS: Coach, dear coach, I love you.”