There was an odd comfort in the smell. It hung in the boxing ring, a rank and oppressive bromhidrosis stoked by the boxers’ Shiv Naresh polyester shorts. There were emotions there, circulating in the fetid air with sweat molecules; fear, fatigue, friendship, failing, form and flack.
Kohli watched the ring from the door. The Red corner had knocked the Blue down. As he made to rise, Red reached out and struck again. While the Refree called the two fighters out on a foul, Kohli turned away. The National Championships were coming up and there were the usual butterflies in the pit of his stomach. “I am not nervous about winning or losing. My anxiety is over whether I will get to fight at all,” he would often gripe to his mother. On his way to the changing room now, he could see his father in the Coach’s chamber, pumping hands, ingratiating himself towards the 28th Junior Championship selections. There was a week to go but one never knew with the Haryana lobby, more than merit was at play here. Kohli loathed this aspect of sports in India, “I am willing to work and fight to death but I cannot do this hi hello business,” he vented despairingly to his mother at home.
Just as he was entering the hall after having changed into his boxing gear, his father hurried up to him “You will have to fight Pawan Tokas of the Munirka Boxing Club if you want to go to Akola.” The parent thrust the sipper at his son, “What took you so long? Now get up there on the ring and rehearse your attack combinations!”
Kohli stepped over the ropes, snatching his towel from the turnbuckles. Dhiren from his stadium was waiting in the Blue corner. The two got down to clean punches and scoring blows. They fought four rounds and Kohli worked up his tally. His knuckles ached pleasantly as he pulled off his gloves and helmet, a rush of air singing on his scalp. Leaping off the raised platform, he walked up to meet his coach ambling in.
“I don’t want a Referee Stopped Contest tomorrow, all right. Give it your all,” Sidhu sir thumped him on the back, pushing him towards the weights. Kohli picked up the dumbbells and began to count. “One, two, and three…,” he stopped short. “Who was his coach talking to near the water filter there? The player looked out of place and yet strangely familiar.” He craned his neck to get a better look at the unfamiliar colours; it was hard to tell from the distance. His father had fallen asleep on the hard bench the federation provided for the parents.
Placing the weights down slowly, taking care to roll his back, Kohli padded up to where his father snored gently. He shook his drooping shoulder, “Papa, look at that. What is Sidhu sir conferencing with a player from some other stadium for? And I am quite certain that is Tokas. What is he doing here, studying my game? He is competition, not supposed to be here, and certainly not the day before our championship.”
“Don’t be silly! You should trust your coach. Get your things together, let’s go. It is not in our culture to doubt one’s teacher,” the faintly impatient parent helped his son clear up and the two made their way deferentially towards the exit where the coach had just seen off Tokas, “Touch sir’s feet. No matter what, you need his blessings. You are his disciple, you must show him respect” Kohli heard his father hiss behind him. He laboured down, nearly over Sidhu sir’s feet then rolled his back up, “Respect has to be earned Sir. I am sorry!”
The two older men watched in confusion at his squared figure marching out of the National Stadium Boxing Hall.