It was after months of agony, torment, and pain that Lokesh Kumar finally stepped inside his new engineering college. The bygone months had been nothing short of purgatory for him. It surprised him that he was still alive and well, and not in a mortuary somewhere.
On the day of the results of the JEE exam, Lokesh’s father Rakesh Kumar had busted out his laptop, entered Lokesh’s details and viewed his results.
“LOKESH!” he bellowed. “THIS RANK LOOKS LIKE THE FIRST FIVE DIGITS OF MY PHONE NUMBER!”
“No wonder,” thought Lokesh. “I didn’t attempt even a single question.
As a last-ditch resort, Rakesh made his son write the KCET (1) Exam. Lokesh decided to only study Physics and Chemistry. He absolutely gave up on Mathematics. He crammed Physics and Chemistry into his brain and spent hours and hours making notes and revising formulas. The gamble partially paid off. Lokesh’s KCET rank was still not great. It was average, however, and Lokesh got admitted to an average engineering college in his home state. Unfortunately, he didn’t land an admission in his home city of Bangalore, and had to attend college in Mysore, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) away from his home.
It was thus that, tormented by his grades, and upset with his failure, Lokesh stepped foot in his new engineering college
State College of Engineering, Mysore.
“Well well,” thought Lokesh glumly. “This is it.”
Lokesh wasn’t even excited on his first day. His heart fell further when he remembered that he hadn’t even made it to the branch his dad hoped he would, Computer Science Engineering (2), or any of its sub-branches. Instead, he’d been granted a seat in the Civil Engineering Department.
When Lokesh’s relatives heard of his results and his subsequent college admission, they joked how Lokesh’s huge hands could be used in the construction industry after getting a Civil Engineering degree. On the contrary, Lokesh felt that his huge hands could be put to good use by getting up and slapping his relatives across the face.
“Great,” he moped. “I can learn how to design buildings and dams, lucky me.”
Lokesh’s first day got off to a terrible start.
“You’re late, Mister Lokesh Kumar,” announced a professor with a bushy moustache.
“Sorry, sir,” apologized Lokesh.
“I’m professor Hari. I teach Engineering Mathematics.”
“Ah, excellent,” grumped Lokesh. “Mathematics was hell. Now I have Engineering Mathematics.
“Hello, sir. Nice to meet you,” he said.
“Now, Lokesh Kumar. Tell your class your name, where you’re from, what your hobbies are, and why you joined civil engineering!” ordered Professor Hari.
“You said my name twice!” protested Lokesh in his head.
“Umm…well…hello, guys. My name is Lokesh Kumar. I’m from Bangalore. My hobbies are playing basketball, and…I joined Civil Engineering because…because…”
Professor Hari raised his eyebrows.
“Because I like cement and bricks.”
The stupid statement escaped his lips before he could stop it.
“Because he likes cement and bricks?” guffawed Professor Hari.
The class roared with laughter.
Lokesh sat in an empty bench, grinning sheepishly.
“Well, great first day! This is going to be fun!” he thought bitterly.
Lokesh sat down alone to eat his lunch in the hostel cafeteria. It seemed, that after the fiasco in the classroom, nobody wanted to eat with him.
“Really?” sulked Lokesh. “You like cement and bricks?”
Suddenly, another guy set his plate before Lokesh and sat in front of him. The boy was short and had a mousey face. “Hey, CB! What’s up?”
“CB? What’s CB?” questioned Lokesh.
“Cement and Bricks.”
“I went from Joker of all Trades to Cement and Bricks,” pondered Lokesh. “Woe is me!”
“You said you play basketball, right?”
“Yeah I do,” answered Lokesh, grateful for the change in topic.
“My name is Ashish, but you can call me Ash! I play basketball too!”
“Hey, Ash,” said Lokesh.
“How tall are you, CB?”
Lokesh frowned, not appreciative of the new nickname. “About 183 centimeters.”
Ash tilted his head, confused.
“Approximately six feet and zero inches,” clarified Lokesh. “I thought we used the metric system in India!”
“You could join the basketball team,” said Ash. “I’m trying out too! I bet you’d be the tallest guy there!”
“At six feet?” asked Lokesh. “They don’t have taller guys?”
“Nah,” said Ash. “All the taller guys either join better colleges or try hard to get a girlfriend. They have no time for sports!”
Lokesh had a momentary image of Neha Srinivas in his head. He shook himself free of such thoughts. Neha deserved better.
“Yeah. You will try out though, won’t you?” asked Ash.
“Count me in,” said Lokesh. “When are try-outs?”
The coach of the State College of Engineering boys’ basketball team, Ganesh Sampath, was disappointed.
“Why are these guys even in the try-outs?” he grunted, staring at the applicants.
FOR GOD’S SAKE, MAN! DO A LAYUP!” he yelled at a boy who was unable to connect the ball with the rim.
Suddenly, two boys ran onto the court. One was tall and fit. He had a strong jawline and, Ganesh noticed with a start, huge hands. The other was short and mousey-faced. He had long, thin arms and legs.
“Names, and positions, please” he asked.
“Ashish Mehra,” said the shorter boy. “Shooting-guard.”
“Lokesh Kumar,” said the taller boy. “Small-forward.”
“Ashish, shoot the ball for me,” ordered Ganesh.
Ashish picked up the ball. He dribbled past half-court, stepped back, and shot the ball. His shooting form and trajectory were perfect. The ball went into the basket with a SWISH.
“I’m a step-back shooter (3), sir,” he said.
“Good, very good,” said Ganesh appreciatively. “You, Lokesh Kumar, score a basket for me.”
Lokesh picked up the ball with one hand. “He can palm the ball” thought Ganesh in awe. Lokesh then ran towards the basket at breakneck speed. He launched off the ground like a rocket, and Ganesh dropped the notebook and pen he was carrying.
“What in the blazes?” he marveled. “Is that vertical? (4)”
Lokesh then dunked the ball so loudly that startled pigeons fluttered up from whatever tree they were perched on. He hung on to the rim for a second then let go, descending gracefully back to the floor.
“You can dunk?” asked Ganesh. “How many games have you played?”
“None, sir,” said Lokesh. “My coach never let me off the bench. I was benched throughout.”
“It’s unfortunate that the man let his personal feelings get in the way of the team’s well-being,” said Ganesh in a matter-of-factly manner. “Don’t worry, though. If I hate you, I’ll drive you double!”
“Yes, sir,” said Lokesh happily.
“Yes, sir,” said Ashish.
“Lokesh Kumar, you said you were a small-forward. Can you please adjust and play center for me?” requested Ganesh.
“Huh? Center? Why?” asked Lokesh, unwilling to play any other position but small-forward. It was the same position his idol Terry Parker played after all!
“You’re our tallest player, and you’ve got crazy hops. You’d be a good scorer and rebounder. I doubt anyone in the entire state can dunk like you! We need you at the center position. Please oblige, son.”
Rakesh Kumar was reading the newspaper. He flipped over to the sports page and scanned every single letter. He was the type who read each and every word in the morning newspaper.
His eyes fell on one particular article, and he did a violent double-take, spilling his coffee.
“Sujata! Sujata! Come here!”
“What is it, Rakesh? So much noise early in the morning!” said Lokesh’s mother Sujata, hurrying over.
She looked at the article and gasped.
POWERHOUSE ENGINEERING COLLEGE ELIMINATED FROM STATE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
Bangalore Boy Lokesh Kumar scores 40 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists, to help underdog State College of Engineering pull off a massive upset and beat Sri Gokula University of Science 120-97.
1. KCET: Karnataka Common Entrance Test. It is a state-wide exam for engineering aspirants to enter colleges within the state.
2. Computer Science Engineering (CSE): CSE is the most in-demand branch for any set of engineering students. Many students prefer this branch and hence, it is very difficult to actually get. Only the best rankers get a seat in CSE.
3. Step-Back Shooter: The shooter takes a quick jab step away from the basket and takes a normal jump shot. The move creates space for the shot, while providing more balance. Famous step-back shooters include James Harden (Brooklyn Nets) and Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
4. Vertical: It is a term or a measurement of how high a player can jump.
Before I conclude the chapter, I’d like to congratulate Indian weightlifter Mirabai Chanu for winning the silver medal in the 49 kilograms category at the Tokyo Olympics. Wishing her all the best for all her future endeavors!