Every game is incomplete without one person. Till that person does not announce the winner, a team, a player cannot officially win. That one person is the umpire. As a player you always tend to take umpires for granted. They slog through weeks of tournaments day in and day out to play their part in making champions. Dipika Kulkarni -an upcoming junior player, always wondered from where they harnessed so much patience and inspiration to sit on a chair and see over 50 to 100 matches on a busy day (in case of Badminton). She always respected them for what they did and made a special effort to thank them after every match she played.
Deepak Mahajan and Dipika shared one thing in common, their birth place- Gwalior. Deepak sir had a reputation of being a very strict, honest and a fearless umpire. All the players loved him off the court but were scared of serving a fault serve or giving a bad line judgement when he sat on the chair. It was almost impossible to win a point unfairly when he was the umpire. Players in the circuit had great respect for his ability to never give way to any kind of injustice on court. Deepak sir had slowly rose up the ladder and had just qualified to be an umpire for International tournaments. Dipika and Deepak sir had a great bond. They had their roots from the same city and that helped them develop a strong sense of affinity towards each other. Deepak sir would give Dipika advice on her game and tell her stories about the International circuit. He told Dipika with pride about the time when he called a service fault to the World no. 1 men singles player at match-point and how the player made a ruckus for almost 15mins but Deepak sir never budged. He told Dipika with almost a sense of pride, “It was a fault. You can watch the video online. I was right. He might be World No.1 but on the court he is just a player. I will not allow an unfair point on my court.”
Dipika always wondered if Deepak sir had ever made a mistake on court. He was only human after all. He surely must have made mistakes when he started. In a tournament in Lucknow, Dipika saw Deepak sir sitting and drinking some nice hot tea and chatting with the shop keeper near the stadium. He was alone and did not have company. She approached him and he offered her chai. After the usual chats on her game and how the draw looked for her, Dipika asked him, ” Deepak sir, can I ask you something? Have you never made a mistake on court? Like say, called a bad line judgement or a service fault? I mean there must have been atleast one mistake in all these years right? Is there any episode where a player lost a match because of your mistake? ” Deepak sir smiled, asking the chai wallah to repeat his chai. Dipika could not guess if he was thinking of an answer or just laughing it off. “Why would you ask me this suddenly? he asked Dipika. ” I don’t know I was just curious.” Deepak sir looked at his cup and said,” I will never forget that match in my life. It was one of the best matches I have ever seen. It was also the only match I let my guard slip and make a mistake. I couldn’t sleep well for quite some time after that match.”
And hence the story began.
” I woke up in the morning did my yoga and was sipping my chai while I read the newspaper. My phone rang, it was my mother from Gwalior. “I need you to come home as soon as possible. Your father doesn’t look well. He hasn’t spoken a word to me since that day. He isn’t eating properly and he keeps complaining about chest pain. I am admitting him to the hospital.” I told her I understood and that I will be on my way to Gwalior tomorrow, right after the national finals in Cochin today. As I kept my phone down I felt so much anger and helplessness that I smashed the tea cup on the floor. My father was my hero, to see him in this state broke my heart to pieces.
My father was popularly known as ‘Sethji’ in the Dal Bazaar area in Gwalior. He ran a grocery store in Dal Bazaar. He sold everything from the daily ration to vegetables. He started the shop small with only vegetables, but slowly and steadily he grew his shop and named it Deepak after my name. We lived in a small space behind the store itself for many years. My father ran this store for almost 20 years till he had to shut it down and sell it. That store was his dream, his bread and butter and his identity.
Gwalior started growing so did its industries and its markets. The malls started coming in and so did the super-markets. Three months before my father had to eventually sell his shop, a Big Bazaar opened right in from of his shop. He first did not see this as a threat to his business. He knew he had a loyal customer base for almost twenty years and a Big Bazaar could not change that. But things started changing. He quickly lost customers and business. All his suppliers started selling their produce to Big Bazaar rather than him. There were massive losses for him to survive. So two weeks before I got that call from my mother my father sold his shop for a small amount. “That day” my mother spoke about on the phone was referred to the day he had to sell his shop and his identity.
After I spoke to my mother that day I went to the courts with my mind filled with emotions. I tried to put my emotions in the background and decided to focus on the junior boys singles final I was scheduled to umpire. It was a very interesting match. Aditya Waghmare was supposed to play K. Rajan. Aditya came from a village in Maharashtra and had no academy or sponsors. His coach was a state level player from Nagpur. A very passionate guy. K.Rajan on the other hand was the junior number one and trained under the top academy in the country. Aditya had a great run into the finals. He came from the qualifications beating all the higher ranked players on his way.
The match started with great anticipation. There was a packed stadium and both the players had great support. The rallies were electrifying and the standard of Badminton for their age was brilliant. It was 20-18 in the third game and Aditya was leading. Aditya had won a great rally and asked for a water break. I hesitated but then I let him have it. Both the players were sipping water and looking at coaches for instructions. I looked at both the sides. Aditya was searching for something in his kit. He took out a big Big Bazaar plastic bag from his kit and took out a banana from it . I don’t know what happened to me after that. I suddenly remembered my father and his sorry state. All the images of the shop, his struggle, our small house behind the shop, everything just seemed to have come right in front of me. The players went in and played a great rally again. Aditya hit a cross over head smash on Rajan’s backhand. Rajan didn’t reach it. It was on the line I saw it. Aditya was on the floor celebrating and people were cheering. Rajan’s coaches knew Rajan had lost. The linesmen sitting at the back in the pressure of that moment gave a late call and called it out. Rajan suddenly shouted and roared back, picked up the shuttle and got ready to serve. Aditya rushed to me, shouting almost crying. “It is in. You saw it. Come on, please! Come on.” I didn’t over rule the decision. For me somehow in that very moment Aditya became Big Bazaar. It was like the curse of Big Bazaar had a spell on me. In all my helplessness I felt about my father’s situation at that moment I somehow felt this was my only chance at retribution. I wanted to beat Big Bazaar. It was Aditya’s Big Bazaar plastic bag that caused him to lose that match. From 20-18, he straight away lost 22-20. He could never come back into the match after that bad decision.
I came back home that day and I just couldn’t sleep. I realised that I let Big Bazaar win again that day. It had beaten my father and the umpire in me. It was Aditya’s right to win that day but I let him lose.”
He finished the story and looked at Dipika. Dipika had not touched her tea. Aditya Waghmare was her senior in the academy she trained in. “WOW! Now I know why Aditya never has great things to say about you.” Both of them laughed. “It’s ok. He has beaten K.Rajan every time he played him after that. That loss helped him.” She smiled. “I should tell Aditya about this may be it will change the way he thinks about you.” He got up and put his hand on her head and left. On her way back home she and her friends stopped at a super-market in Lucknow to get some grocery. While going to the super-market she saw a fruit stall across the street. She told her friends to carry on, and decided to go to the fruit stall instead.