He had been dreading this moment all along and it was unto him now.
Just as his eyes skimmed the headlines of the newspaper in the hands of the man standing next to him, he was irritated that Bhaichung Bhutia didn’t have his heart to play for Mohun Bagan again. Bhaichung had been the star footballer and team India’s captain. Ashley Lobo followed football with a keen eye in his native Margao in Goa. He remembered the first time he had opted to play for the school team St Ignatius’s High School there. The coach had literally put him through the grind and made him run ten rounds around the school ground. This total circumferential distance was close to a km and a half and when the feet flagged could hear a shout…”Lobo you lazy arsehole pick it up till you complete the damn ten within fifteen minutes you are not going to get anywhere near a ball till then”.
Coach Furtado was a devil but he had a sterling record of having coached Dempo during a winning season and he was well regarded. Now he was too old for professional football but even at 65 was as fit as an ox and his roar could be heard all across the stadium without a microphone. His lungs should be auctioned thought Ashley as he blundered through the fitness regimen. But over the years he came to appreciate what the wily old fox did for the team. They won the inter-school championship with ease. All of us thought Ashley were fit as prize fighting bulls. His training under Coach Furtado won him a sports scholarship through his University as he majored in Fine Arts. It was a unique blend of love of the game which demanded complete fitness and the softer side of his career option that required delicacy and precision. Margao had a lot of good ad agencies but he applied for a job in Mumbai. The day he had got his appointment letter from the agency in Mumbai he was thrilled and a wee bit scared too. He had heard frightening stories about it and now he would personally experience it.
It would be the first time he would be out staying away from his parents on his own. He landed up in a paying guest accommodation at Bandra two days early, Dolly aunties’ ( Mrs. Dolly Patrawala ) place. He missed his folks already. Dolly aunty was a warm but cantankerous old Parsi lady of nearly 70 but she had strict rules on hygiene and time. She served good meals and ensured all her boys ate well. When he broached his fear on the situation and decided to explore Dolly auntie’s expertise she snapped at him “Arrey deekra, it’s been a while and even then I didn’t like it, now I think it is beyond bearable limits”. Regretting asking her he said do I have any choice or an option and she firmly said No, not in this city.
Like any game he decided to practice for it and condition himself. He went out and ran across the park and loosened himself. Physically he was fit but the challenge was huge. He had played many a dirty game at college level but this one here, he was told was the dirtiest and the scrappiest of them all. On the fateful morning for the first day at work donning his sartorial best here he was. He had his permission in his pocket. His backpack was firmly slung across and he took stock of the scene. The noise level built up in his ears in a multitude of tongues and it emanated from the surge around him. And then it came thundering down the track, his nemesis, the local train. Flexing his shoulders, using his elbows for good measure nimbly chasing the target cab car even before the train halted he was flying as if chasing the imaginary ball which had been snatched from his possession. Tendons pumped, arms reaching out, he had broken away from the opposition and had caught the bar and muscled his way inside just as he had been told to. He was in. No one complained about his aggression as he stepped on toes and fought his way inside the car.
The coaches words in his ears rang, Lobo you bum, when you have to run, run as if your life depends on it and crush the bloody buggers who come in your way. It had worked and all the misgivings vanished. This is fun thought he, I was unnecessarily scared. Behind him a Guajarati trader who got in the first class laughingly patted him and said well done boy, I could get in easily because of you. You really should try football you know,you can actually be good at it. Just ten - fifteen days here and you shall be conditioned,absolutely ready, he sagely said and nodded.
He smiled to himself as he had won and overcome, the supreme battle facing most working commuters in Mumbai; The battle with the local train, the getting in, the getting out and the staying on.