“Stalin… Stalin… Stalin… Stalin…. ”, the crowd’s cheer suffocated Rana’s ear as he lay benumbed. He motioned his arms to wipe the blood that emanated out of his bruised mouth. He then swivelled his head and hovered his eyes over the crowd. What an irony. He thought. They were the same people who cheered him in past. Now in today’s battle-night they don’t even remember him. His eyes met a glistening white placard hanging somewhere in the distance, stained in blood red that read – “Stalin – The Killing Machine.” His lungs choked, confidence marooned as images of past rolled before his eyes…
5 years ago
Today was a big day for Rana. His wife had given birth to a baby girl. The joy of becoming a father could clearly be seen on Rana’s face. Now he anxiously awaited the announcement of second news. The Indian Boxing Federation (IBF) was about to publish a list of finalists who would represent the nation at the 2006 Winter Olympics at Sochi. Representing your country at Olympics is a proud moment for any athlete and Rana was no exception. He was in-fact a top contender in the 147 lbs category after remarkable bouts in ring the entire season. But destiny had some other plans for him. He became victim to a big political conspiracy. Not only did he fail to seal a berth at Olympics, he got sentenced to 5 year jail term as false doping charges were levelled against him. He pleaded being innocent but medical reports were fabricated to confirm he had been on drugs. His family too was left in the lurch as near and dear relatives, friends isolated them. They were stigmatized and neighbours never hesitated to attack them with constant barbs. With dreams shattered, medals snatched and family on road it was indeed a big day for Rana.
Night before the battle
“For God’s sake, why have you challenged him? You are out of shape and Stalin is a devil. Why don’t you listen?” his wife, Shabana was crying, leaning before Rana, holding his legs. Rana remained stoic. After serving his jail term, he had become demented. He wanted to end his life and thought what could be a better place than his own ring in the middle of his crowd. Immediately after returning back, he made a plea to the boxing federation to relieve him of life ban and his plea was accepted. Rana threw an open challenge at Stalin when he was making a press conference after winning 2010 Olympics medal. Rana knew very well that Stalin had earned a notorious title of being “The vampire of the ring” who sucks the blood of his opponent till their last drop. He looks nothing less than a demon and Rana looks nothing close to a pugilist any more.
“Why don’t you listen. Ple.. ?” Shabana was still crying. “I don’t want to live thinking that the birth of my daughter was a reason of my misery. If it has to end, it will end on the battlefield.” Rana cut her short as he marched out of the room with visible indignation. His daughter, Sarah, was hiding behind the door listening to their conversation.
Battle – Night
In a five round game, the referee signalled the start of the last and final round. The first four rounds had already taken a toll on Rana as his body fought to stay in its soul. He cried in pain; then a beam of green light pierced through his half-closed eyes. Rana tried to look away as a familiar looking silhouette approached him from somewhere in the crowd. When the light flickered on the shadow, he saw his 5 year old daughter, Sarah, standing beside her mother holding a laser beam in one hand and a board on the other. She lifted the board high on her petite shoulders. Rana saw in it an assortment of his childhood snaps collaged into one. The top left corner pictured him as a toddler with wide-opened mouth and an “oops – I got caught” expression while trying to reach the upper shelf of the refrigerator for ice-cream. He remembered his mother telling him that even as a child he would never give up in his quest for whatever he wants. In the adjacent picture Rana was learning to ride a bicycle while his grandfather gloated from behind. This was his first success after umpteen downfalls. The next one was a clipping from a newspaper article. The title read – “A child prodigy – new star in town” with Rana’s picture in the middle holding his maiden trophy at the “Junior Boxing Championship”. It was a momentous victory as the crowd cheered in amazement at how a short, lean fellow nailed his relatively tall and muscular opponent. The next picture was one of his wedding pics in which Shabana’s father placed her hand on Rana’s. Shabana belonged to a royal conservative Muslim family while he was a Rajput. As they loved each other, Shabana had suggested that they should run away and marry as her parents would never give in to her inter-caste marriage to a Rajput. To this Rana had replied – “Till when are we going to run. I don’t want to steal you, I will earn you. One day your father will himself give your hand to me.” At the center of all this was a quote –“Count your stars by what you have achieved; not by what you haven’t”
The pictures in the collage were stationery yet it moved Rana. He curled his legs, touched the knees on his forehead and started crying while Sarah bellowed in the background “Daddy you aala champiien, gettup and chow’t to im”
The referee announced the kick-off for the last and final round. The crowd started jeering at Rana for whimpering like a girl. Meanwhile Stalin moved forward like a lion. He lifted his right fist and targeted Rana’s jaw but the shot missed the target as it went past rubbing Rana’s right ears. Rana moved back, pushed himself and returned a counter-offensive blowing Stalin’s ribs. Before Stalin could recover, Rana tore apart his throat by knocking on his chin. For an instant Rana forgot how powerful his opponent was. He was just elated in being reminded that he too was no ordinary. He had won many battles in the past, some ordinary and some extraordinary. His coach used to tell him – Winning is about 10% aptitude but 90% attitude.
The crowd went silent as the giant laid on the floor amidst pool of blood. The referee counted while Rana kneeled down, thanked his daughter, his wife and God who made him realize his true worth. At this moment he remembered a famous quote from his idol – Muhammad Ali “Before you convince the world that you are a champion, you need to convince yourself”.
Everyone has strengths & weaknesses. Focus on strengths and be positive then hurdles will make you nothing but stronger. Lost time and glory can be regained with a right attitude. Count your stars! Because even if you see a clear sky, it doesn’t mean stars have stopped existing.