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No Easy Way Out!

It hurt. A lot. To put it any other way would be a barefaced lie. 

Where was I? Oh, I was living any boxer’s dream. A shot at the world title. At the world’s largest casino at that. I was sitting in my corner, surrounded by my posse, waiting today to throw myself at my opponent yet again. My coach stood above me, wearing his trademark green and yellow sweatshirt, shouting advice into my ear. Something about attacking his body, not his head. Honestly. At this point of time, I couldn’t care less. I had reached the grandest stage in boxing terms. I look at my coach once again. For a chain smoker turning 60, the guy’s got a remarkable set of lungs. I watch as his mouth forms words that are ultimately spewed in my direction.. Oh well, that hasn’t changed in the last 10 years. The man has taken great pride in criticizing everything I do. Every jab, every hook, every feint is critically analyzed and then regarded as pathetic. Well, there’s no pleasing some people. To be fair to him though, he has stuck around. And we’ve finally made it. At 38, I’m pretty much a dinosaur in the boxing circles. And with a win/loss record of 21-40, I’m pretty much regarded as a joke as well. And courtesy of the lovely managers of the casino I’m boxing at; my stats are being displayed to the public on large screens that hang 15 feet above the rink. 

I look around, stare at the crowd. I see their faces. They’d come there to see a slaughter, To watch the reigning world champion almost destroy the aging veteran who had dared take a shot at the coveted title that he so cherished. And instead, what they had witnessed seemed to have stunned them into silence. The ageing veteran had actually lasted 9 whole rounds. (9 whole rounds!) When they were placing bets that I would be knocked out in 4. That look in their eyes- a mixture of grudging respect, hatred, and most of all, sympathy. 9 rounds I had lasted, but a tenth seemed unlikely. Later on, they’ll probably ask me how I ever managed it. Sure, my PR team (read - my coach) will come up with a long heart rending story of how I had been practicing hours and hours on end, honing my skills, waiting to pounce on my opponent like a hungry wolf pounces on a gazelle. Not a bad story, eh? But frankly, the only reason I’ve survived till now is pure, dumb, stupid luck. And for that I shall hate my opponent forever. 

To be honest, I’d never expected to even be given the chance to fight this guy. My coach, the old warhorse that he is, however, decided that I couldn’t retire without having sought a title. And surprisingly, the Boxing association apparently felt the same way. Either that or they just wanted to see me getting mauled. Probably the latter. 

So, to cut a long story short, here I am. And for 36 long minutes in the ring interspersed by 9 in my corner, I had gone through hell. No, not the kind of pain that acts as the fire that can cleanse you (they did mention that in Rocky Balboa, just saying). No, this is the sort of pain that makes you want to kill yourself so that you don’t have to suffer for one more moment. The sort of pain that makes you wonder whether that damn title is even worth it. 

I look straight ahead. 15 feet away from me, sits my opponent. Sadly, the guy doesn’t look tired. He looks angry. Understandable for a 26 year old world champion who weights over 200 pounds and has a win loss record of 54-9. This guy hates losing. His last loss was apparently 20 matches ago. A 20 match winning streak. That meant twenty opponents who had been younger, faster, and probably stronger than me had been taken apart by him. And I stand in his way of the 21st win. Maybe the guy likes blackjack, just a thought. But card games aside, this guy was mad. And who could blame him. Twenty of the best boxers in the world couldn’t beat him, and some ancient relic had taken him to a tenth and final round. For that, he will hate me. And for putting me through such torture, I hate him just as much.
The saddest part was that even after 9 rounds, he looks as fit as a fiddle. There’s barely any blood on him. Sure, there’s a bloody gash where his lips are supposed to be, but apart from that, he barely even looks bruised. Apart from the gash and a thin lining of sweat on his muscular frame, one would think the guy was just getting into the gym for some practice.
I, on the other hand, looked like I had been through the mill. A gash on my forehead, a broken rib, and bruising on every part of the upper body. I looked and felt like a dead man walking. Not a very comforting thought. 

I was brought out of my reverie by a tap on the shoulder. The coach, yet again. It was time to get up for the tenth round. Three more minutes of pain. As I wearily lift my battered frame off the chair, all the lights immediately switch back to the ring. I could hear the commentators shouting into their mikes. Something about this being the last shot I had to take down the monster in front of me. I could hear them questioning my capacity to bear pain. Would I last this one round? Or will the world champion successfully defend his title. My bet was on the latter. 

The referee comes over to me, and shouts in my ear. Apparently this is my last chance to back down before the fight starts. I could quit now, or walk into the  labyrinth of pain. I’ll admit, he didn’t put it that way, but considering the state I was in, it was all the same thing. The mouthpiece in place, there was no way I could answer verbally. An attempt to shake my head was satisfying enough an answer for him though. 

And as the bell tolled, I looked one last time into the crowd, as I had done countless times before. It was sort of a ritual that I followed. To look at the first row of spectators. To look into the eyes of my wife . She sat there, in a dark business dress and as she had done countless times before, she looked back into mine. For 15 years, this woman had stood by me in my worst times. And for 15 years, had loved me, and taken care of me. A woman who, despite a successful career, was always there supporting me in mine. And like she had done before, she looked at me with those light brown eyes, those beautiful eyes that sparkled so brightly in the present atmosphere, and I knew that win or lose - everything would be okay. 

Beside the lovely woman who I was proud to call mine, sat my six year old son in a white T-shirt over denim jeans, with a cap covering his curly hair, Normally, I’d have ordered him to stay at home, where he didn’t have to see his father being manhandled in front of thousands of others in the same arena. But this time was different. This was my first, and probably last, shot at the title. And I wanted him to be there when I took that shot. I wanted him to watch proudly as his father stepped up to the occasion and looked like a god. And in that one moment, in one fell swoop, I realized what I was looking at in his eyes... it wasn’t pride, it was fear. 

That one look almost made me stop in my tracks. I could see my opponent slowly advancing towards me, coming in for the kill. And yet, my mind was elsewhere. Memories flashed past my eyes - that fateful day in the delivery room when my son entered the world; the day we first played in the park, the day he took his first step, the day we celebrated his first birthday. His first day of school. Great, amazing time to get emotional, I chided myself, and yet, for some inexplicable reason, I couldn’t stop. 

And then, in one fell swoop, I realize that I don’t want to be here. All I want to do is get out of this place, and walk away. Go away with my family far, far away from all of this. I’ve been a quitter for almost 2 decades, why should anything change now? Won’t it be fitting if I quit right now? I can see the critics destroying me already - the guy who finally went so far, right to the end….only to quit. Oh….it’s going to be priceless…. 

I’m ready to raise my hand, to signal the referee... Oh, my opponent is not going to like this. I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of knocking ME out. 21 wins or not… he will hate me for walking away. Somehow I think that will help me. I’ve been thrown around a rink for more than half an hour now. I deserve some fun, don’t I? And just as I turn in his direction to give him one last vindictive smile, I realize that he’s no longer advancing towards me.
In fact, he’s less than 2 feet away from me… and his fist is coming straight towards my face.

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Vijay Narayan


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