Some things in life seem so much like permanent fixtures. Not people, institutions (though some people can be institutions in themselves!). People come and go – sometimes by choice, sometimes without a choice. Institutions, certain hallowed institutions, are forever. Or so we are lulled into believing.
Amit has played tennis at the same tennis courts for about ten years, or more. The courts have always been there – they’re tennis courts, where can they go? Of late, I‘ve had to realize that they must have come into existence at some fairly recent point in time – say about two decades ago. But as far as I’m concerned, they are timeless, they’ve always been there, they’ll always be there. Tennis Sir has been there for 17 or 18 years, Amit has played there for almost our entire married life, and I’ve been there for a good four years now. I have a lot of good feelings about my tennis and that inevitably extends to the physical space of the courts themselves. It’s been a happy place.
Yes, been. Now, no more.
See, some years ago, the City decided that a flyover in that area would greatly reduce the congestion on the road. Great. So they set to work building the flyover. Great. It took them about… I think… maybe five years. That’s a conservative guess; it could be more. Ok. Having finally built it, they boarded it up and refused to allow traffic to use it. Great. So we waited for the “inauguration” (Inauguration? It took five frigging years to make the flyover and they want to celebrate the opening? Shouldn’t they go hang themselves somewhere? Or at least open the road as inconspicuously as possible so that nobody notices?). The first attempt to inaugurate it was thwarted by the local shopkeepers, who wanted a proper side road made. Again, this is completely bewildering to me. You haven’t had enough of the construction nuisance over the last so many years, you want more of it?? The rationale, apparently, was that once the flyover was inaugurated (pah!) nobody would bother to build the side roads. Possibly true, but still!
So the inauguration (pah!) was put off by another couple of months. Work started on the side road. And an engineer came and dug up our tennis courts.
Apparently, the land the courts are on is leased to the Club by the City. So the City can come and take the land whenever they want. Also, apparently, the Club is not unduly concerned about the tennis courts – they don’t even really want them there. They just keep them, so they can call themselves a Club and continue to focus on their primary business area, which is playing cards and guzzling cheap liquor by the gallon.
So the City came and gobbled up our tennis courts. At first, they said they only needed about a ten-foot strip from the empty space surrounding the second court. There was a fair bit of empty space there, so that seemed ok.
Then they said they’d need all the space right up to the net post. Not so good, but well… at least we’d still have the two courts.
Then they said, oh, hey, we need half of this court as well.
We were all shocked as we watched them (figuratively – I didn’t actually stand there while they did this) move in with earth moving machinery and throw down the wall and dig up the court. The next day, it was gone!
What was worse was that they also announced that they’d need the other court. For what? The “road” was already broader than the broadest road in Bangalore. They seemed to be tearing up our courts just out of sheer malicious pleasure. Parking area, they said. Oh, right. Like we usually have so much parking area bordering every road in town.
Meanwhile, one court and the boundary wall was gone, and a ditch was dug just outside the remaining court. So now when we played, not only did the lights, noise and pollution from the traffic come right at us, we also had our balls getting swallowed by the ditch. Meanwhile, their workmen and machines trampled all over the remaining court and turned it into a particularly vile cricket pitch. Tennis Sir promptly put up a net and re-laid the remaining court. So the next day the fellows said that, hey, you know what? The inauguration is on Monday. So we need to put up the canopy right over here. Yep – they dug that shamiana right into the one remaining, freshly laid court.
And now that the inauguration is over and done with and the flyover is actually open to traffic, we are left wondering how a batch of ten enthusiastic players is going to play on one lousy court. As for the flyover making traffic move more smoothly – apparently it just moves the bottleneck to a different place on the road. And anyway… it’s not of much use to me. How can I drive on that road, knowing that I’m driving over our tennis court?
I feel especially bad for Tennis Sir. He is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He must – at some point – have fancied a career as an ace tennis player himself. Obviously, for whatever reason, he didn’t make it. For at least the last 18 years, as far as I know, he’s been the coach at these courts. It’s a dead-end job if there ever was one. He’s coach to the likes of me – past 30, overweight and under fit, just playing for the fun of it and never going to make anything of it. He’s coach to the likes of Amit, who could (maybe) have been great, but now just play half an hour three times a week with players who don’t challenge them at all. He’s coach to kids who are never going to make it past state-level… if they ever get that far. If any real talent is spotted in any of the kids, they are transferred to another batch and another coach.
You’d think he’d end up being sour, but no. He’s the most cheerful and positive person I’ve ever come across. He knows how to teach without criticizing, how to correct without demoralizing, how to tell you to your face when you’re not playing well, without making you feel bad about it. If that weren’t enough, he also, intuitively I think, knows how people learn. He doesn’t burden a beginner with more goals than they can handle. He identifies one step for the student to learn and doesn’t start another until you have largely mastered the first. He knows how far to push you so that you are stretched, but not unable. He knows how to handle kids, adults, and elders and how to put you at your ease whichever you might be. He makes me forget my self-consciousness – and that’s saying a lot!
The best part is, he seems to genuinely enjoy his work! How he can turn up there and provide insight, encouragement, inspiration to duds like us (mostly duds) and do it day after day, hour after hour and evidently enjoy it… is just beyond me! He plays with the best player and the worst player and seems to enjoy both equally – challenging each according to their abilities. And if a player Is really skilled enough to get a ball past him – or if a player just gets lucky – he has no hang-ups in acknowledging it. He seems to be totally at peace with himself, his work, his path in life. Seems to be – it could be an illusion, there could be some discontent festering under the surface, but it has never been visible to me. And if I take him at face value, then I can only envy him – to have chosen a path and to enjoy it, to love it, to be happy to do it every day for the rest of your life, to have that kind of peace with your choices and the choices life made for you – that is surely to be envied.
And it is to this person, this wonderful, gem of a person, that life serves up this crap. All he needs is for his two tennis courts to be left in peace so he can keep doing what he does and making all of us players happy. And wham! They come and take his little kingdom of joy away from him.
This should just not be allowed to happen.
*PS: The fact is that I’m completely clueless: should it be eulogy for, of, to, on, about, in honour of… or “in eulogy of” like “in memoriam of”? Is even that correct? Why are prepositions so arbitrary and lawless anyway???