I had won my first senior national ranking tournament .I was nineteen. Tom sir was coaching in London and had come down for a few weeks to Bangalore. He took me aside after a session and told me, ” Don’t be satisfied with this? You need to come to London play some smaller tournaments. You need the exposure. Now is the right time. ” Before he went back I had a meeting with Prakash sir, Vimal sir and Tom sir and they all told me that I should do a stint with Tom. It would help me. So I finalised things and got myself ready for a first ever ‘all alone’ trip abroad.
I reached the London airport with a phone that didn’t make international calls. I did not have a laptop, no Google and very limited economic resources. It was decided that Tom sir would meet me on the entrance of the arrival gate. When I reached the arrival gate I realised there were three of them. It was the London airport not Lohegaon(Pune airport). I picked one and went and stood there. I didn’t see Tom for a very long time so I decided to go to another gate. After about 45 mins of jumping from one gate to another, I panicked. I had the address but I saw the taxi tariff and realised I would finish half of my cash getting there. So I came back to the first gate and stood there. Just when I was losing hope I saw Tom sir, he looked as worried as me. As we saw each other I smiled with happiness and he cursed. ” You idiot! Why isn’t your phone working? I told you to come to the arrival gate. I have been waiting for an hour now.” ” Sir, I am sorry there are three gates here. I got a little confused.I thought you forgot I am coming.” He finally smiled gave me a hug. ” Don’t go by the colour of my hair. I am not that old.”
Lesson learnt- When you are travelling alone get a phone with an international roaming sim card. Or buy a local one at the airport immediately after you land.
On the way from the airport Tom sir told me I was being put up with a Jamaican family. They had an extra room and they would put me up. “They are not going to charge you anything. But make sure you help them in the house, buy groceries. Don’t just sit there watching T.V. Make yourself useful. This is not India, you don’t have maids for everything. No pampering from mommy here. Also Mike’s daughter is a player so offer to play with her and help her out. ” I was ok with everything else but buying groceries. Well, anything that made me spend money I had decided not to do. I didn’t have much. Also one pound was equal to 80 rupees!!! I nodded to everything he said. Mike was a tall and handsome black guy. He lived with Rose who I thought was his wife, but wasn’t ,as I would find out the next day. The house was very English there was a nice garden in the front and the back and it was a two floored bungalow. I had a whole room with bathroom and an amazing view at the top. I felt good.
” Sir, you know what? Mike and Rose are not married. They just live together. Mike says his first wife and Rose are friendly. Its all good between them. His daughter comes everyday in the evening to meet Mike. Mike’s first wife also lives with another guy without marriage. He and Mike are also cool. So now the wife is taking me sight seeing tomorrow and I would be meeting her for the first time as Rose would see me off. What the hell, sir? So complicated all this is. My mother would have shot Rose and then Mike if she was the wife.” Tom sir laughed for a whole minute on my bewilderment about things and my fascinated expression of them. ” Welcome to London darling. Things here are not as they are back home. People are a lot more evolved, liberated. This doesn’t make any one of them less on morals. Relationships are complicated. ” ” Sir are you saying you are ok with this? You approve of it.” I asked surprised. ” Aditi, there is no right or wrong here. Everybody has the right to live life exactly the way they want to. You can’t judge people on the personal choices they make, as long as their deeds don’t bother the society they live in. In India we are used to the society being a part in even the personal choices we make. Here people don’t bother in anyone’s personal decisions. I think we should learn to do that in India too.”
On the first day of practice he took me around and showed me all the bus stops that would take me to the stadium. He insisted that I should take the bus and that he was not going to give me a ride everyday. On the first day I took 2 hours to reach the stadium and I was an hour late. I had two bus changes before I reached. After the first bus I stood for almost half an hour on the bus stop which was on the opposite side of the way I had to go. I was reluctant to ask people around me. I didn’t want to make myself look like a fool. Thankfully a Punjabi woman who must have realised I was lost asked me where I had to go. She laughed and said, ” Arey puttar, tu wrong side khadi hai. Raasta cross kar or bus number 39 le.” I thanked her. I took the 39 and reached my destination. Tom sir didn’t say anything to me. No cursing, nothing. He is very particular about punctuality. ” Took the wrong bus? ” He asked. “No, the wrong bus-stop.” “This is how you learn.” I did learn, I never got lost and I never got late for practice after that day.
I would leave house at 7 in the morning and get back by 5. Then in the evening I would go and coach Mike’s daughter, for an hour. It was exhausting. Sir seemed pretty pleased with my effort, though there was one thing. “Did you buy groceries?” he asked. “No sir, I didn’t. ” “Why not? You Indians are so inclined towards saving money. When you die you can’t take that money with you, you know. Do you know how expensive it is to live in London. If I would have put you up in a hostel you would have spent 20 pounds per day. Thanks to Mike and Rose you are staying here for free. If not groceries, did you at least offer to take them out for a meal or buy Rose some flowers or chocolates. Just saying thank you is not enough Aditi. You need to be grateful and it needs to be shown with your actions. Don’t be cheap to people that help you. You have to have a big heart. People always remember a good gesture.” The next day I did get groceries. I got flowers and a box of chocolate and quietly kept it on Rose’s bed. I got Mike’s favourite bottle of wine and kept it on the table. When Rose came home that night she saw the fridge and the flowers in her room. She rushed to my room gave me a big hug. ” You didn’t have to do that.” she said. From the look on her face and the hug that I got I realised I really needed to do that. Money spent- 30 pounds. Rose’s smile- priceless.
Lessons learnt- Don’t judge people on their personal choices. Your right doesn’t have to be everybody else’s right. Shed your ego and ask questions which make you look stupid. Its better then waiting for a bus that isn’t going to come. Don’t just be grateful in mind but also in kind. Saying thank you is not enough. Make people who help you, feel special. Remember they really don’t have to help you in the first place. Do yourself a favour ,spend that money and buy that bottle of wine.
Tom sir has taught me a lot of things on court and I have always valued it. Though what I have valued more is everything that he has taught me about growing up as a human being. I owe my feeling of independence and loss of fear of the unknown to this London trip. If Tom sir wouldn’t have pushed me to leave my comfort zone and do it. I would have never done it. That trip gave me so much confidence that since then I have never been afraid of travelling alone to unknown places. I learnt lessons in gratitude and how important it is to show it. Till today Mike and Rose send me a Christmas card. I cherish each one of them. He taught me to value people and their choices. To look at the world not just with open eyes but with an open mind. Out of everything that he has taught me this is what I cherish the most.
As players we are constantly away from our families. We spend much more time with our coaches. They teach us our values, they handle our huge egos,make us humble and they push us to do what we think is impossible. To say the truth I am the product of all the coaches I have worked under. I am extremely grateful to all of them.
Recently I was in Bangalore for a tournament. A day before I was off to leave for Pune I just mentioned to Tom sir that I haven’t eaten his delicious cheese omelette for ages. He asked me, ” When do you leave?” ” My flight is at 9 in the morning sir. My taxi will be here at 6.30.” “Get bread and eggs I will fix you a meal. Be home by 5.30 tomorrow.” I looked at him as if he was joking. ” Why are you looking at me like that? I am serious , God knows when will I see you again. Just come.” I went. He made me a cheese omelette at 5.30 in the morning, because I love it. Well, that is Tom John for you!
(Tom sir currently runs an academy in Bangalore)
|Tom sir with Ajay Jayaram. ( Photo courtesy: Ajay)
I dont have any photos with him.. 😦 !