Age Group : 8 to 14 years
After walking four rounds around the big playground, I sit on one of the benches in one corner of the ground. Many people come to this playground to walk, some elderly ladies practice standing yoga asanaas in one circle and a group of children come at this time to get the coaching for the game of football. It is such a large playground that many subgroups play in the field at any point of time and many different sports - football, cricket, volleyball or just jogging around the ground. I prefer sitting close to the group of the boys, who come for the football training. One reason being, they do not hit the ball very hard so I do not have to worry about any ball coming my way, second, I like the way children try to incorporate the tips of the coaches in their game and lastly the sun rays saying farewell for the day do not aim directly at my eyes in this direction so it is easy to sit here with my hands free, one hand not doing the service of providing shade to the eyes.
This is the perfect bench in the whole playground. From here I can see the activities of the playground while appreciating the last rays of the sun warming anything and everything coming in their way for the last time before slipping down, and the warm hues bathing the rooftops of the buildings with their brightness. It appears as if after working diligently the whole day, the sun is tired and ready to retire and before bidding adieu to the world, it is inviting and introducing its twin brother to all of us for a little relaxed time before the activity starts again in the morning. Sitting here for an hour or so every evening during this time has become one of the highlights of my days.
This has been my routine since almost last six months barring those days when it is raining heavily during the evenings. The routine of rainy evenings is completely different, perhaps another story for some other time.
Since I have been a regular spectator of the football training and game, in spite of not knowing the names of most of the children, slowly I have started recognizing them. From their conversations, whatever I overhear from the distance, I know that most of these boys are between 10 to 12 years of age. All boys look almost of the same height and physical fitness except for one who is very tiny although of almost the same age group as the rest of the gang. I came to know about his age when once his grandfather was sitting next to me on the bench and as most of the elderly people do, he started the conversation with me and while talking he told me that all these children are in either fifth or sixth grade and his grandson Arun, is also in sixth grade.
But Arun clearly is the smallest and thinnest in the group and many times I notice him getting teased and bullied because of his low stature. Often the other boys try to kick the ball too high just to make fun of Arun's height or push him while trying to grab the ball in the game. These small sub-activities are not so apparent to attract attention of people (coaches or the grandfather) if they are not very keenly watching it. But Arun's subtly changing facial expressions do not go unregistered on me and I watch this happening from the outside as a mere spectator. Almost everyday, once or twice something like this happens and I can feel the pain crossing his face and eyes. Many times I feel like talking to the boys or to the coaches but then something dissuades me, not sure what. Other than this irritant and spoiler, I like watching the boys full of life playing with zest and energy, somehow it recharges me and I feel completely rejuvenated after the day's work to go back home and work some more.
Today is no different either, I completed my fixed four rounds of the playground and headed towards my favorite location - the cement bench in the corner. The boys had already completed their running routine by this time and now the coaches were forming the teams for the game of remaining 45 minutes of the training. Usually at this time I see almost all boys excitedly raising their hands up so that the coaches pick two of them to be the captains of the teams and as expected I never see Arun's hand up but strangely he raised it today and he got selected as the captain of one team. Yes, there is some difference today, my eyes followed Arun closely and keenly observing his face, I see a little peace which has replaced the fear of previous days to quite some extent. The game is on now, soon there came a very high ball straight towards Arun and he jumped a little higher than the usual and hit the ball with his head towards one of his team mates. There indeed was some change and I was getting curious by every moment to know what it was. I was extremely happy for Arun and observed that the other boys had also started appreciating his game. Then a whistle blew and half time was announced. Arun came towards me, actually not towards me exactly, his water bottle and bag were on the same bench where I was sitting. He sat for 5 minutes next to me and then ran back to join the other boys on the field. His body language was much different than the previous days. The other half time of the game went away pretty fast and Arun managed to hit two goals and their team won by 4-3. His team mates were ecstatic and they carried him on their shoulders and were clapping for him. The game was over and now the boys were relaxing, drinking water and packing their bags to head home.
Arun came to my bench again for his belongings, I could not resist to strike a conversation with him and I first congratulated him for being an awesome captain today and asked him how did he manage to come out of the fear. First he was surprised to be questioned like this by a stranger but I was not completely a stranger either so he told me, "I had come with a resolution today that I will just focus on myself and not on others or what they say or do to me. I observed that I had not been playing, I was just getting afraid of others and feeling bad about how I look. So I decided that I will not even listen to their remarks if they are about my height or me being different from them. I have been wanting to be a captain too and today I finally raised my hand and since I have never done so before, the coach gave me the chance to captain one team. This helped me in my resolve and I kept doing what I had decided." A very simple lesson learnt by a small boy and told in equally simple words to me. While telling all this to me, he was packing his bag and when he was done, he said goodbye to me and left the ground, his grandfather was waiting outside the playground for him. I kept sitting and pondering on the evening's activities for a little while longer. And I concluded, this was actually one of the most important life lessons learnt in the true sense which will be with him forever. The lesson of self-belief, determination and bringing the focus on oneself than on others. Arun had found himself today.