The final “practical and viva” for a notorious subject called Physical Education was supposed to be a mundane affair. High school students needed to show up, jog(or at worst, walk) a couple of kilometres, jump a few metres, throw the shot-put, answer some questions about your favourite sport and go home richer by a few marks. That was it. There was no scope for lateral entertainment that day.
Somehow I had managed to finish the first part of the practical. I remember dragging my feet to reach the finish line. In the words of the Wolf of Wall Street: “I had seen jello move faster.” I took my position for the long jump. I had no idea of the proper technique to do one. So I just ran as fast as I could and took a literal leap of faith.
[cartoon from here]
Yup. That was exactly how my face was. Smug and relieved. I had jumped whatever was required to pass. I felt like Jesse Owens as I dusted myself. But I didn’t hear the applause of the crowd. Instead, a shrill sound pierced my ears. I had touched the white line while jumping which voided this Herculean attempt of mine. The instructor with the whistle gestured me to go back for another attempt. Damnit! The walk of shame is how I remember that. But I resolved to jump before I crossed the line this time and took my position at the start of the track.
Distance from the white line – What I felt
50m – Focus on the ground below. Look for the evil white line.
30m – All set for the big jump. May be this time I’ll outjump myself!
10m – This is it! Your moment of shining glory is finally here!
0m – I am here , White Line. Do what you gotta do but this time I ain’t gonna touch you.
And partially true to my resolve I didn’t touch it. Also, I forgot I had to jump. I kept on running into the sandbox. The whole situation was so tragically comical, I blurted out laughing. Everyone else also found it funny. Everyone except the instructor. He did not find it funny. He thought I was mocking him.
“You can take one more final attempt. But you have got to do a proper long jump this time,” he said grimly.
“That is probabilistic, sir,” is what I said. In hindsight, I should have just kept my mouth shut.
“Pro-Bab-Il-Is-Tic,” he said, emphasizing each and every syllable as he spoke. “We will see what is probabilistic and what is not during the viva. May be whether you will get any marks or not is probabilistic.”
After finishing the rest of the activities and waiting for what seemed an eternity, my turn for the viva came.
“Which sport have you chosen?” he asked somberly.
“My name is De -,” is what I was saying when he interrupted me.
“I know what your name is. Which sport?”
“Cricket,” I replied.
He chuckled. It wasn’t the chuckle of a guy who had heard something funny. It was an evil chuckle of a guy who knows that he is going to screw someone.
“Cricket is my favourite sport. Not because I enjoy it. God! It is such a boring sport! Only because you people think,you know cricket but you don’t. First question. Who makes the laws of cricket?”
“The MCC.” I knew this one.
“And how many laws are there?” he asked.
I was stumped. I had no clue whatsoever.
“I don’t know, sir.”
“What did you just say?! You don’t know. You gave up so easily. Couldn’t you take a guess? Say any number you think that is cute enough. This is the problem with you. You lack sportsmanship. Let me show you what sportsmanship is.”
The instructor called a fellow student who was playing on the ground. He ran to us and was out of breath.
“Tell this boy how much does a ball in kho-kho weigh?” asked the instructor.
I almost laughed. For those who don’t know this is what a typical kho-kho match looks like.
As is evident, there is no ball in kho-kho.
The boy stretched out his hands and tossed an imaginary ball up and caught it and gestured as if he was actually measuring a kho-kho ball right there. After weighing for ten long seconds, he confidently shouts out “20 grams, sir.”
“Nice job. Now go away,” said the instructor shooing the boy away. “Didn’t you just witness the best example of sportsmanship there is? There is no ball in kho-kho. But look at the guy’s confidence and style. He is a true sportsman. Do you want to try again? How many laws are there in cricket?”
Wait! What just happened there? May be we owned different dictionaries but that was not what sportsmanship meant. But I was beyond arguing with the instructor. I prayed a silent prayer to Douglas Adams and said,
And that should be the answer to life, the universe and everything because I was goddamn right. I decided to add more sportsmanship to my life. At least for the reminder of the viva.
The instructor looked stunned. But he suppressed that emotion in a jiffy. “Do you know the size of the boundary in cricket?”
This I knew and I replied correctly in no time.
The instructor however said,”I did not mean the length of the straight boundary. You know the boundary rope?”
“Tell me the width of the cross section of the boundary rope.”
Are you kidding me? No one knows that. Nowadays, the rope is even hidden with the ad banners and this person was curious about how wide that insignificant rope is. But I had not forgotten my recent lesson in sportsmanship and meekly replied, “May be 1.5 inches.”
“Really? This is what happens when you don’t prepare for the exam. You may leave.”
A couple of months later I found out that the instructor had not been a miser while giving marks. All’s well that ends well. Even more so, if you get a crash-course in sportsmanship for free.