He was a gregarious fellow. Warmth was his discerning attribute. Sprightliness was his greatest quality that without any pause would connect and engulf anybody and everybody who were known to be proximal to him. He was short, 5’3, bearded and slightly dark complexioned. The pair of eyes he possessed would rove around the court keener than radar, and were bright like marbles. His vocal sound was less heard because of the ubiquitous whistle he had on his lips like a cigar. He was nimble footed on the court than the most proficient ballerina. In fact he was agile, swifter, dancing and prancing than any one of us .And he was 45 years of age.
He lived single. None of us thought of asking him if he were married or ever was, because he never was seen in loneliness and feel. One of us quipped once that his nature was so because he chose to not to mutter “I do” and be sacrificed at the altar!
He was on the basket ball court at 6 in the morning and that seemed to be a definite happening than the sun coming up in the east. The morning session of basket ball coaching used to extend till 8.30 when he blows his whistle longer and louder to tell us its “time out”. He was again back on the court at 4 in the afternoon to carry on with his basket ball coaching till sundown and sometimes even with the lights on till later into the dusk.
Once during a session we boys were divided into two groups of six and had to play amongst us, as a prelude to the selection process for the district team .He chose to play himself in one of the groups . And goodness me, he was prancing like a gazelle defter than us in our teens. The amazing and hilarious part was him climbing over the tallest guy, 6’3 and shove the ball into the basket. With his height he could never reach the stars, was the general comment we used to make. But his ingenuity was pretty good, and he had an alternate in mind for every situation where he was handicapped, and to any one of us inhibiting.
He had this unforgettable quality of sharing and giving. That he mentored a couple of kids from penurious background with whatever was necessary for their food, clothing and education. He loved each one of us, cracked sizzling jokes, played pranks which would perhaps be dearer in living rooms at our homes. Some people make meaning and sense for the planet to go around and for the world to move on with hope. And he was one such!
A quarter century went by and it was during the college reunion that we heard about him in sick bed. We understood that he continued his basket ball coaching all those years. The routine was maintained without fail. And the brake was natural when he took ill and was bed ridden.
We went with flowers and “get well soon” cards to see him in his hospital. One of the guys remembered to carry a silver plated whistle with engraving, “to sir with love”.
He was emaciated from the illness. He still sported the beard which surprisingly had not fully turned white. His eager shining eyes seemed to be reliving the past days on the basket ball court. He smiled and held out his hand to each one of us. His eyes did display the agonizing pain he lived with. He could barely speak. And fatigue overtook his small attempts to speak.His eyes told us that he wanted to be on court with us.
With the childish glint in the eyes and with trembling hands, he accepted the whistle from us.He smiled, his pale face showed signs of times from the past.He held the whistle tight in his fist and muttered “TIME OUT”. We noticed his eyes wander and head fall back slightly to the side on the pillow – he passed away.