Bangalore City, Karnataka State
Mrs. Anita had just finished taking three mathematics classes in a row, and she was exhausted. She returned to her staff room for her lunch break. She groaned as she remembered she had two more classes later on, and those classes were with the high-schoolers, who were well-established troublemakers, and the middle-schoolers. She sat down and opened her lunchbox, wondering how on earth she’d be able to complete the syllabus for those noisy, nasty students.
Suddenly, she heard the sound of extremely quick thudding outside. Already in a foul mood owing to her troubles, she yanked open the staff room door and screamed, “HEY! QUIT RUNNING IN THE CORRIDORS!”
She had to move a step backwards to avoid the boy, who narrowly missed a collision. He ran away like a bullet. Five other big, mean bullies ran after him. “Ugh! I should have known!” Mrs. Anita thought. “Lokesh Kumar!”
“Oh for God’s sake!” panted Mohsin, one of the bullies, as Lokesh flew up the stairs, taking them four at a time. “He runs like an Olympic sprinter!”
Lokesh was in no mood to get caught and beaten up by the bullies. “Not today!” he thought. He knew, however, why everyone liked to pick on him. His school was filled with extremely intelligent, skilled, and talented students. They were destined to excel in life. Someday, they would be highly successful doctors, lawyers, engineers, and CEOs.
Not Lokesh, however.
Lokesh had only one talent. He had a talent for being really bad at everything he did. He didn’t stand out in academics, sports, or any cultural activities like singing, dancing or playing instruments. He was famously called ‘Joker of All Trades’ because of his complete lack of flair at anything he did.
When Lokesh was convinced the bullies had given up on the chase, he went to his secret spot. This was the only place no student ever visited. This was a place that not even teachers would know. He went to the store room behind the staff washrooms, where his only friends and companions in the world existed. They saw Lokesh enter, smiled, and let him sit in his usual spot.
They were the sweepers, gardeners, bus drivers, bus-conductors, security guards, and cleaners who did the odd-jobs in the school.
Along with them sat his only student friend, Karan. He was another guy who got picked on by the bullies for his big, nerdy glasses and introverted personality. Karan, however, idolized Lokesh. He saw his best friend as a confident, outgoing person who would chase after his dream of being a basketball player non-stop. He would talk endlessly about new moves in the game and all his favorite players. He would always end his chatter with the statement. “I want to be like Terry Parker! Someday, I’ll be a small forward just like him!” Karan would listen to all his talking, in awe. Not in awe of basketball, but in awe of his friend.
The servant’s room in the school was where Lokesh would entertain these workers with stories, anecdotes, facts, and commentary about basketball games. These people, who nobody even paid attention to, who lived within the lower echelons of the school society and the outside world, loved Lokesh like their own son. They wanted to raise their own kids to be like him. They wanted to make this ambitious young soul happy in their midst and relish his friendship.
“My mom wasn’t happy about the permanent marker writing on my uniform,” said Lokesh sadly. “She even threw the shirt away!”
“What were you expecting, son?” laughed a sweeper. “Don’t worry your poor mom by writing all over your school uniforms! You’ll have a real jersey someday!”
“I have an easy solution,” said Karan happily. “I have a paper and some tape. Let’s stick your name and jersey number on your shirt. You can remove it easily later!” He pulled out a piece of paper with the name and jersey number on it
“Thanks, buddy!” grinned Lokesh.
At the end of the lunch break, as Lokesh and Karan prepared to head back to their classes, the servants unveiled their big surprise for Lokesh.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LOKESH!” they cheered. “Here’s a small gift from all of us!”
They’d spent months of their saving on this. They’d pooled together all their money and bought this. The gift was a result of countless corridors swept, countless hedges trimmed, many, many trips to drive the kids to the school and back, and an exuberant amount of toilets cleaned. This was a product of months of their hard work.
They pulled something large and orange out of a box nearby and handed it. Lokesh’s face lit up. His eyebrows arched up in happiness and he shed tears of gratitude.
“A basketball!” he exclaimed. “Thank you guys so much!”
“Practice after school with the school teams,” winked his bus driver. “I’ll drive you home with them!”
“And don’t worry about anything else!” said the security guard. “I’ll take care!”
Lokesh was bored in Mrs. Anita’s class. He ignored the jeers from his classmates at the piece of paper stuck with tape to his back, representing his name and jersey number. He stared longingly at the basketball court. He wanted to take his birthday gift there and start his practice. He knew it would be the beginning of a journey that would someday, put him in the NBA.
Mrs. Anita’s screaming snapped his daydreaming.
“STOP STARING AT THE BASKETBALL COURT AND START LOOKING INTO YOUR BOOKS FOR ONCE! YOU’LL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING IN LIFE!”
The class roared with laughter.
After school, he said goodbye to Karan and ran to the basketball court. There were two of them, one for the boys’ team and one for the girls’ team. But there was another isolated basket where nobody played as it was extremely muddy. But to Lokesh’s delight, he saw that the area around it had been completely cleaned. He smiled, remembering the sweepers and cleaners. Surely, this was their handiwork.
He tried dribbling the ball, but kicked it off his own foot into the bushes nearby. But the sound of the ball hitting the ground filled Lokesh with extreme enthusiasm and vigor. He then picked up the ball and shot it from the bushes. Unfortunately, it barely touched the rim. He then went close to the basket and tried to do a layup. It flew in a botched-up trajectory, ricocheted off the backboard, and went into the bushes again.
Lokesh grinned sheepishly.
After months of being unable to get a single shot, or layup to fall into the basket, Lokesh knew that he needed to try a different approach. He decided to approach the boys’ team and ask them for help.
Anuj Varma was the captain of the boy’s team. He was a highly talented young player who had led the school team to the nationals. Lokesh approached him slowly. “Hey, Anuj, how do you score a layup? I’ve been trying for months. Can you help me out?” he asked politely.
Anuj burst out laughing. “Hey lads, come take a look at this guy! Can’t do a layup! Don’t pretend to love basketball if you can’t even make the simplest of shots!”
“What’s that ridiculous thing on your back?” asked another player.
“It’s my jersey!” said Lokesh protectively. “It’s what people watching games on TV will see soon!”
The boys’ basketball team was now annoyed by this tomfoolery. They went to complain to the security guards that a student was staying back after school without permission. However, they returned back in approximately five minutes, looking furious at their failure.
This soon became a routine for Lokesh. He would exercise each morning, come to school, sit through the classes, practice basketball, and go home. Years passed and Lokesh was now in high school. His days, however, remained the same.
Sit through boring classes.
Running from the bullies.
Get thrashed by the bullies.
Practice basketball and miss every shot.
Get bullied by the boys’ basketball team.
Get scolded by his parents for his pathetic academics.
Sit through boring classes.
Running from the bullies.
Get beaten up badly by the bullies.
Practice basketball and miss every shot.
Get bullied by the boys’ basketball team.
Get scolded by his parents for his atrocious academics.
One day, some of Lokesh’s relatives showed up. These were extremely snobby, judgmental people who passed comments on everything they saw, nit-picking for every tiny flaw.
Lokesh’s parents seated them and gave them refreshments. They spoke to Mr. and Mrs. Kumar about random topics which, in Lokesh’s opinion, were of no use whatsoever. However, in an ugly twist of fate, their attention turned to Lokesh.
“So, you’re finally in tenth grade, kid! What’s your plan for the future? What’s your career goal?”
Lokesh grinned. “I’m going to be a basketball player, ma’am. I’m going to the NBA, and I’ll be the first Indian player to win a championship!”
The look of horror on the relatives’ faces was apparent. They could not believe that this child from a respectable family was choosing to ignore his studies. In their opinion, he was destined for failure!
Lokesh’s father Rakesh Kumar smiled, slightly embarrassed. The relatives noticed his discomfort and unfortunately, instead of keeping quiet, they started passing snide comments about the situation.
“A fine child you’ve raised, Rakesh!”
“Oh, so he’s going to leave academics!”
“So he’s incapable of studying?”
Rakesh was mildly offended by the comments but decided to let them slide. However, then came the dagger of all comments.
“Oh Rakesh, what would your father think if he saw this child choosing not to have an academic career? He worked so hard to uplift your family!”
A poisonous seed was sown in Rakesh Kumar’s mind. The deadly weed grew in him and its roots burrowed deep into his brain, removing all his sense of rationality and understanding. Slowly, the venom spread throughout him. Earlier, he had wanted to tell his son to get a normal job and play his favorite basketball as a hobby.
That was no longer the case…
Lokesh went to bed after a long day. He was slightly affronted by his relatives’ behavior. But it didn’t matter. His loving parents would have his back. He trusted them implicitly and knew that somehow, they’d find it in their hearts to support him.
“No! Rakesh! This isn’t the way! I spoke to Mrs. Reddy a few years back. We must slowly work towards getting him into academics! Not like this! Not like…”
Lokesh felt a stinging rush of pain as something long and leathery whipped his back. He was dragged off the bed by his father. He immediately noticed his father was raging mad about the incident. His teeth were gnashed and his eyebrows furrowed as he raised his belt to hit Lokesh again.
“NICE JOB! EMBARRASSING ME IN FRONT OF MY FAMILY! A BASKETBALL PLAYER? YOU’VE GOT SOME NERVE!” bellowed Rakesh, cracking the belt on Lokesh’s body again.
“YOUR GREAT GRANDFATHER WAS A CLERK FOR SOME GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL! HE STUDIED HIS B.A (1) AND GOT A RESPECTABLE JOB AT THAT TIME! YOUR GRANDFATHER WAS A GOVERNMENT AUDITOR! HE STUDIED MATHEMATICS FOR YEARS TO REACH THAT STAGE! HE WORKED HIS WAY FROM THE BOTTOM! I’M AN I.T PROFESSIONAL! I STUDIED UNDER A STREET LAMP TO REACH WHERE I AM! I MANAGED TO SETTLE IN THIS I.T HUB OF BANGALORE! NOW, YOU’RE GOING TO BURY THE FAMILY LEGACY AND BECOME SOME USELESS LOUT OF A BASKETBALL PLAYER!?!?”
Rakesh Kumar whipped, scourged, and lashed his son multiple times with his leather belt. Sujata Kumar, Lokesh’s mother, stood silently in a corner, weeping her eyes out. She couldn’t bear to see her son suffer like this. All her efforts to pacify her husband had come to a cropper. Finally, Rakesh stopped beating his son. Lokesh’s body was covered in huge, red whip marks, welts, and bleeding.
Through his teary eyes, Lokesh noticed that his dad too, was crying. Not due to pain, but due to humiliation. He couldn’t bear to see all his hard-earned respect in society wane, not even a little bit.
Rakesh walked over into his son’s room and brought out Lokesh’s most prized possession. It was the basketball that the school support staff had given him five years ago. It was dirty and old due to continuous use and practice. Mr. Kumar wasn’t having any of it.
“No more, you hear me? NO MORE!”
With one motion, he flung his son’s basketball out of a window. It seemed to reflect the streetlamps like orbs as it flew away and fell into some place unknown.
Rakesh Kumar was satisfied with the efforts. He was now breathing heavily as he spoke.
“You’re not bringing us down. No way.”
“You’re joining the science stream after your tenth grade (2), becoming an engineer, and allowing us to live with our heads held high in society!”
1. B.A: Bachelors of Arts, an educational degree.
2. Education System in India: Students go to school for thirteen years. One year of nursery, two years of kindergarten, three years of primary school, four years of middle school, and three years of high school. After that, they can choose from three streams in senior secondary, namely Science, Commerce, and Arts. They also have the option of pursuing a diploma. After this, they finally enter professional courses such as engineering, architecture, medicine, law, journalism, etc.
Sad but true. The obsession with kids pursuing the science stream and taking engineering, medicine, or law, still exists in India today. It still plagues students and parents, kills dreams, and is one of the many reasons for India’s high student suicide rates.
On the other end of things, some of the people in India are some of the kindest, friendliest souls you can meet. They will make small gestures, give you affection, and look after you like their own after you’ve bonded with them.