But time and tide wait for none. And, like all my colleagues in the profession, I have a crushing deadline to meet. For the first time in my years as a sports journalist, I am actually cursing the stiff deadline.
Twenty years later, if my daughter asks me what it was like to be at the Stone Mountain Tennis Centre when Leander Paes was winning a bronze medal, I should be able to give her a vivid account. I must fix the images so firmly on my mind.
But unlike promises, deadlines are made to be advanced.
Quickly, very quickly, I scanned the glorious sight. Leander Paes is raising his clenched fists in victory, saluting the crowd before offering hands and embracing Brazil’s Fernando Meligini at the net and then to shake the umpire’s hands. I pack my lap-top computer, the report awaiting completion onto the bag as I bring myself to leave the press box. “Deadline is at hand. How aboit getting with the job,” the professional half of my mind tells me.
“Wait. Don’t you want to see more of this? counters the other half which has made my heart excitedly thump against the wall of the chest. I listen to this sane voice and decide to stay on a couple of minutes longer by the courtside. Leader is running across the court to kiss his girlfriend Anisha Mukherjea, hug parents Jennifer and Vece Paes who have come together to see their son end India’s medal drought, shake hands with his Davis Cup captain Jaideep Mukherjea and friend Mahesh Bhupathi as well.
“Get a move on. They must be holding the edition back for you. Get a move on.”
“How can you be so cruel? This does not happen ever so often. After all, you were a teenager when the India hockey team claimed the World Cup in 1975. And you had just landed your first job – and far removed from the field of action – when the cricketers won the 1983 World Cup. How can you desert your post and go indoors when it is all happening out here?”
Indeed, I can see freestyle swimmer Sangeeta Rani Puri pour a bottle of mineral water on her head: she must have understood the tension raging in Leander’s mind better than many others in the Indian’s cheering party.
Anisha passes me, standing at the exit to be able to give me the chance of obeying the diktats of my conscience. I can hear her escort, perhaps Leander’s trainer, suggest to her that she must allow him time on his own to enjoy his great moment.
I do not know about her, it is a hint that I take. And I sprinted to the sub-press centre to be able to complete my story of how the bronze was won.
Yes, it is one of the pleasures of my job to be able to tell the world I was there. I was in Ahmedabad when Kapil Dev surpassed Sir Richard Hadlee as the world’s leading wicket-taker in Test cricket; in Bangalore when India beat Pakistan in the World Cup cricket quarterfinal and in Sharjah last April when India finally beat Pakistan. But this has exceeded everything else. The joy of a lifetime. And I don’t want to miss the deadline and the greatest chance to tell the world I was there.
Work done, I get into a bus that takes me away from the venue of one of Indian sport’s biggest achievements. And I let emotions get into me. I am lost to the world, slipping into one of my own.
Thank you Leander, for giving me such a high.
(This is the piece I had written from Atlanta for The Pioneer daily after Leander Paes broke a four-decade long drought of individual Olympic medals)