Chapter 16:

Re-Igniting the Engine

64


Author’s NoteBookmark here

Before we start today’s chapter, I’d like to take some time to congratulate the Milwaukee Bucks for winning the 2020-21 NBA Season! This has been one of the greatest title runs ever witnessed after the Dallas Mavericks 2010-2011 season with Dirk Nowitzki! My personal favorite player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, put up an unreal performance of 50 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 blocks. I talk a lot about “Franchise Players” in this novel quite a lot. Giannis is a real example. He could have taken the easy way out, and joined a better team, but decided to stay loyal to Milwaukee. His loyalty has paid off!Bookmark here

Giannis started off selling pens on the streets of Athens, Greece. He started playing basketball only to support his family, who were unemployed in the mega-metropolis of Athens. From then, there’s been no looking back. He’s added a Most Improved Player Award, 5 NBA All-Star Selections, an All-Star MVP, 2x NBA MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year Award, and he’s finally capped his Hall-of-Fame Caliber resume with an NBA Championship and Finals MVP Award.Bookmark here

From hawking items on the streets to NBA Champion…let that sink in.Bookmark here

As a guy writing about individuals’ struggles to reach the NBA, I couldn’t be happier for Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks Respect on everyone’s names! This includes guys who’ve had bad adversities in their lives like Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, and PJ Tucker.Bookmark here

To the Phoenix Suns, you guys had an amazing run! You were really fun to watch and your group is still young. There’s more to come, Phoenix!Bookmark here

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get to the chapter!Bookmark here

­Bookmark here

Bangalore CityBookmark here

Karnataka StateBookmark here

IndiaBookmark here

“Time’s up!” yelled an invigilator. “Please hit the submit button and sign your names on this paper. Once you’re done, leave the hall in an orderly fashion!”Bookmark here

The students who finished their exam came out in hordes, lumbering like zombies. It had been a long, long, day. Months of preparation, hours of studying, and two years of pure torture were finally over.Bookmark here

The JEE-Mains Exam had concluded. (1)Bookmark here

About a Year-And-A-Half Ago…Bookmark here

It was a sunny morning in the month of May when Lokesh Kumar stepped into his new senior secondary (PUC, Intermediate, 11th-12th) college (2).Bookmark here

Bengaluru PU College.Bookmark here

He clearly remembered the process it had taken for him to get to this point. It had involved his father and mother answering all the interview questions. The interview, in itself, had been nothing short of a living nightmare.Bookmark here

“Hmm,” said the interviewer, Lata Mishra, staring at Lokesh 10th grade scores. “Bit below-average, don’t you think?”Bookmark here

“Yes, ma’am. His 10th scores happen to be low, but we’re sure that with a little brushing up, he can score well in the JEE!”Bookmark here

“JEE, huh?” grumped Lata, “You do know that fourteen lakh students apply for the JEE, and only ten thousand actually make it through?”Bookmark here

“Yes, ma’am. The boy is just lazy and doesn’t like academics. Says he wants to be a basketball player! But we’ve straightened him. He’s committed to academics now!”Bookmark here

“I see,” said Lata. “How tall are you, Lokesh Kumar?”Bookmark here

“175 centimeters, ma’am” said Lokesh. Bookmark here

“Okay, how much is that in feet?”Bookmark here

“About five-foot-nine, ma’am.”Bookmark here

“That’s too short, kid,” she smiled. “Better think of something that suits you better.”Bookmark here

Lokesh didn’t respond. He’d put on five inches of height over the last three months, a near-impossible growth spurt. But it still wasn’t enough for the NBA.Bookmark here

“Your scores in mathematics and Hindi are really, really low. Your highest score in English is also really low.”Bookmark here

Lokesh’s father Rakesh was getting impertinent. “Ma’am. Please give the boy a chance. We’ve roamed everywhere! Nobody wants him admitted into their college!” He glared furiously at Lokesh.Bookmark here

“Well, I’ll give him an admission. That’s all I can do. No scholarships, no discounts.”Bookmark here

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Rakesh.Bookmark here

“You see, son?” asked Rakesh after filling all the paperwork and paying a mountain of fees. “I had to pay two years’ worth of saved money for your PUC! God knows how I’m paying for your engineering! If you had studied harder, I’d not have to pay this much money!”Bookmark here

“Yes, dad,” said Lokesh sadly.Bookmark here

“Get into a good college, son, and be a successful engineer. Don’t you dare talk about basketball again!”Bookmark here

“Yes, dad,” rambled Lokesh slowly. He’d given up on basketball ages ago. Whenever he’d thought of picking up the old ball that his school cleaners had given him, he’d cry and cry any such ideas out of his head, remembering his 10th grade result, and how it was killing his future now.Bookmark here

“Good,” said Rakesh. “I chose computer science as your elective subject. The future is bright there. You can get a good IT job and make us proud!”Bookmark here

“Yes, dad,” said Lokesh, half dead.Bookmark here

He wanted to play so badly.Bookmark here

But he didn’t.Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

Lokesh hated his senior secondary studies instantly.Bookmark here

The new concepts of calculus, differential equations, and trigonometric equations never, ever caught his interest. For a guy who never understood mathematics his entire life, this was third-degree torture. Bookmark here

He kept in touch with his old school buddy, Karan Singh, quite a bit. Karan had received the second-best score in the state rankings. He now went to St Mary Ann’s PU College, the best in the city, and the best in the state. He was now seriously preparing for the JEE and Lokesh knew that nothing would stop Karan from clearing the exam.Bookmark here

Unknown to Lokesh, however, the state-topper Neha Srinivas also attended St Mary Ann’s. She had selected biology as her elective, and Karan had selected computer science. So, the two never met much. Even the boys’ basketball team captain, Anuj Varma, had made it to the college on an athletic scholarship. He was now a player on St Mary Ann’s powerful boys’ basketball team. Neha too, had joined the girls’ club, but couldn’t step on a court without seeing Lokesh’s eager face looking up at her, begging her to teach him new moves.Bookmark here

When she mentioned Lokesh to Anuj, he had just told her that Lokesh’s 10th grade scores were abysmal, and he was probably just jealous of Neha. However, Neha got mad at him and accused him of lying. Her friend wasn’t the jealous type! She then tried meeting Karan and forcing information out of him. He confirmed that Lokesh’s 10th grade scores were indeed abysmal and Lokesh felt miserable about it.Bookmark here

“You think he’s jealous of me, Karan?”Bookmark here

“Jealous?” asked Karan angrily. “Lokesh isn’t jealous! Who came up with that nonsense?”Bookmark here

“Anuj.”Bookmark here

“No wonder.”Bookmark here

“Hey, Karan. I wanted to know something. Lokesh stopped talking with me. He even stopped receiving my calls! If he really isn’t jealous, why won’t he even speak with me?”Bookmark here

“Do you even have an idea of what that guy’s going through?”Bookmark here

“No, what’s wrong?”Bookmark here

Karan took a deep breath. “He’s joined some stupid college according to his father’s wishes, Neha. He’s now trying to force himself to study!”Bookmark here

“To study?” said Neha furiously. “He worked so hard on basketball, Karan. He even dunked on me! Yeah, you heard me. He dunked. He’s five-foot-four and he dunked.”Bookmark here

“Neha, I don’t know how to tell you this…”Bookmark here

“Neha stood there, transfixed, waiting with bated breath for what had happened to her friend.Bookmark here

“He’s given up on basketball completely, Neha. And he’s gone into hiding out of shame! He’s not jealous, he’s humiliated!Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

Pretty soon, Lokesh started skipping classes. He really wasn’t interested anymore. Everything the teachers tried to teach was just boring. He often felt guilty for wasting his father’s money on nothing. But he decided he’d rather get beaten up by his father than sit through one more depressing class.Bookmark here

Lokesh contemplated suicide so many times it was extraordinary. But every time he lifted a blade and tried to cut himself, to end it, he found out he just didn’t have the courage to actually do it.Bookmark here

And something else.Bookmark here

It was like someone was telling him to live on.Bookmark here

Not someone.Bookmark here

A horde of people.Bookmark here

Chanting his name, and cheering.Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

“Lokesh Kumar?” said Lata, walking into a rather boring chemistry class.Bookmark here

“Yes, ma’am,” answered Lokesh dully.Bookmark here

“Where have you been for two months, Lokesh?”Bookmark here

“Sorry?”Bookmark here

“Your attendance is dead low,” said Lata. “Any more and we’ll have to debar you from taking any exams!”Bookmark here

“Ah,” thought Lokesh. “I’m dead!”Bookmark here

He sauntered out of the class sadly. Suddenly, he felt someone tapping his shoulders.Bookmark here

“Hey, man. I’m Bir Thapar! You like basketball, right? Your phone gallery is loaded!"Bookmark here

“That was a long time ago, Bir,” said Lokesh. “I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore…”Bookmark here

“You have an attendance shortage, right?”Bookmark here

Lokesh blanched. “Well, yeah…but…”Bookmark here

“I have an idea!” said Bir. Bookmark here

“What?” Bookmark here

“Simple! This college does have a basketball team! If you’re interested, try out today! We get free attendance and can skip classes like crazy!” said Bir.Bookmark here

Lokesh didn’t want to.Bookmark here

But wait…Bookmark here

He did want to.Bookmark here

Now more than ever.Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

“Lokesh Kumar, sir. Height 5’9. Position, small-forward!”Bookmark here

Small-forward? At 5’9?” asked the coach. “I’m putting you at shooting guard, tops!”Bookmark here

“Fine,” grunted Lokesh.Bookmark here

It had always been his dream to play the small-forward position, the most versatile position in basketball! It was all to follow the footsteps of legendary small-forward, Terry Parker.Bookmark here

“I’ll show everyone!” thought Lokesh. “I’ll show that I can be a small-forward!”Bookmark here

“Ok, son. Score a bucket for me! Let’s see your movements!” ordered the coach.Bookmark here

Lokesh grinned. “With pleasure, sir!”Bookmark here

Gripping the ball in his massive hands, Lokesh darted towards the hoop at top gear. His speed shocked everyone around. It was like a jet plane had just started its take-off run! He then lifted off into the air like a lynx on the hunt and jammed the ball into the basket. He then landed gracefully on the ground.Bookmark here

“See?” he said quietly. “Small forward!”Bookmark here

“He dunked it! Did you see that! HE DUNKED IT!”Bookmark here

“He’s 5’9, and he dunked it?”Bookmark here

“Coach! We’ve got to have him!”Bookmark here

“Fine!” grunted the coach. He stared at Lokesh.Bookmark here

In utter fury.Bookmark here

“I asked him to do a layup, and he gives me a dunk? What arrogance! What disobedience!” thought the coach.Bookmark here

He ticked Lokesh’s name.Bookmark here

“I’m keeping you on the bench for the rest of your days, Lokesh Kumar!!”Bookmark here

Endnotes.Bookmark here

1. JEE Mains: Joint Entrance Examination – Main, formerly All India Engineering Entrance Examination, is an all India standardized computer-based test for admission to various technical undergraduate programs in engineering, architecture and Planning across India into the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) and National Institute of Technology (NITs)The exam is conducted by the National Testing Agency. It is one of the toughest exams in the world to crack.Bookmark here

2. 11th-12th, PUC, Intermediate College: Senior Secondary school is one where one can complete 11th and 12th grades, final stages of schooling before one can go to college. The terms mentioned are interchangeable and depend on which state you are in. Bookmark here

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