“Arnav, Arnav, Arnav”
The chant reverberated around the court as thousands of voices willed the man in the centre to score. Seemingly oblivious to the cacophony surrounding him, Arnav Singh Raizada fixed his eyes on the hoop and neatly tossed the ball. There was a sudden silence as fans and foe alike held their breath. The ball arced up and came to rest precariously at the edge of the basket for a second before it tipped in , just as the final whistle was blown. The entire stadium erupted in wild applause.
He had done it! He had equaled his idol’s record of the highest points scored in a single game. He sank to his knees as the enormity of the moment sank in, before flinging his head back to look heavenward, tears glistening in his eyes. Within seconds he was surrounded by his teammates who lifted him up and carried him round the court to a standing ovation. Every electronic scoreboard in the stadium flashed his record equalling score, ‘ASR – 81’.
It was a while before he found his feet back on the ground, and Arnav knew exactly what he wanted to do next. He slipped off his Number 23 jersey and flung it in the crowd. To the casual onlooker it may have appeared as a random throw, but he was not an ace shooter for nothing. He knew exactly where he wanted it to land. Smirking as he saw it caught by the intended recipient, Arnav turned away to deal with the cameras and microphones waiting for him.
“OMG! Did you see that, Khushi?! He deliberately threw it for you. I told you he fancies you. I’m now even more convinced he does.”
“Don’t be silly, Lavanya. You and your wild theories. I may know all there is to know about Arnav Singh Raizada, me and a few million others that is, but he doesn’t even know I exist, for god’s sake.”
“He’s noticed you alright, Khushi. Mark my words, he wanted you to have this particular jersey. And please keep it away from me. It’s sweaty and it’s smelly. And no, Eau de Arnav is not my thing.”
Lavanya scrunched her nose as Khushi flung her arms around her again, squeezing her for the nth time since her hero had scored that 81st point. “He did it, he did it, La. This is so, so emotional. I don’t even know how to feel right now.” Khushi stared at the jersey in her hand, looking over Lavanya’s shoulder tearfully, her voice hoarse from screaming.
Khushi was basketball mad and ASR mad, although the jury was still out on which of those came first. Hoops had never been Lavanya’s thing, but she reluctantly tagged along to all of Khushi’s favourite team’s home games. Someone had to keep the woman from invading the court each time someone fouled ASR. The culprit’s blood would no doubt be spilled otherwise!
Making up her mind, Lavanya held a dazed Khushi firmly. “Khushi, before you say no, hear me out. This is a sign from your Devi Maiya. ASR achieving what he did on your special day means something. And him throwing his jersey for you today of all days is not random. And I for one refuse to let you not grasp this moment. You and I are going down there and we’re going to wait for however long it takes for ASR to leave the venue. You have to, have to ask him to sign this. You just have to.”
Vociferous as Khushi was in her fangirling, she was the complete opposite when it came to approaching ASR. He was known to be generous in his interactions with fans, but Khushi got all tongue tied at even the thought of speaking to him. Even if it was only to ask for an autograph. Lavanya knew she would have to take matters in her own hands.
ASR had been something of a prodigy and had risen through the ranks in a spectacular fashion. Being the only player of Indian origin to have made it on the NBA circuit, he had created quite the buzz on his debut. His agility and uncanny ability to see gaps with his high basketball IQ, left his opponents floundering in his wake. He, meanwhile, was already at the other end scoring another three pointer.
“I saw what you did there, Nannav.” NK rounded on Arnav the moment they got back to the sanctuary of the lockers, finally done with all the press commitments.
“I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, NK.” Arnav grabbed a towel and headed towards the shower.
Ignoring his friend’s response, NK pressed on. “You wanted that girl to have that jersey today, didn’t you? I’ve seen you looking out for her at all the home games. And I’ve seen the dismay on your face on the days she isn’t in her usual seat. Nannav, my friend, admit it. You fancy her rotten. I can see it. There’s an extra spark in your game on the days she’s there.”
“I’d stay away from those fan fictions if I were you, NK. They’re addling your brains.” Arnav shouted over the sound of the spray as water hissed out from a number of directions. His tense muscles groaning in relief as the hot water beat down on them. The adrenaline pumping in his veins slowly seeping away.
A wry smile made its way across his face as he acknowledged the truth in NK’s words. It had been a few months now since he had first begun to notice her. He had been on the bench having been pulled out by the coach to give a rookie a chance as they were running rings round the opposition. Most of the crowd understood that and there was a mixture of cheering and booing at the decision. Just as the noise subsided, he had heard her.
“No one puts Raizada on the bench. No one.” Amused at the outrage in the voice, he had turned around to look for the source. And what he saw had floored him. A beautiful, and very irate, girl stood there fulminating, looking ready to burst. Arms akimbo, dressed in a number 23 jersey, she was glaring at the coach. The girl next to her was trying desperately to get her to sit, but she was having none of it. Continuing to shout even when her words were drowned out by the crowd.
He had spent more time looking discreetly at her than at the game being played. Something that had never happened to him, ever. That, as much as the girl herself, had played on his mind over the next few days until the next home game. As he had stepped on the court, his eyes had automatically gone to the area where he had first seen her.
And, there she was. It had soon become a ritual for him to look for her the moment he stepped on court. By some strange twist of fate, the times when he had failed to spot her, his team had ended up losing. He soon came to look upon her almost as his own personal good luck charm. There was just something about her. He was well acquainted with fans and groupies and kept a safe distance from the latter. But, she, she was something special.
Not that he was going to let NK, nor anyone else for that matter, get an inkling of his thoughts. After all, he was Arnav Singh Raizada, and didn’t he always say he wrote his own destiny. Superstitions that afflicted many a sportsman were not for him.
Brushing aside the hope that today may be the day she would be waiting for him, he made his way towards the exit, his entourage in tow. Although the stadium was empty of spectators by now, there were many staff and officials waiting to congratulate him on his achievement today. A rush of emotion threatened to overwhelm him as he recalled the moment he had scored that point. Tamping it down he stepped outside the exit doors.
Momentarily blinded by the hundreds of flashes going off, he paused for a second. Raising his hand to wave to the waiting crowd, he couldn’t believe his eyes at who was waiting for him right by the door. His jersey clutched in her hands.
Today was more than just a good day.
He felt a soft breeze surround him as his eyes met hers.
He reached for the proffered jersey as she smiled up at him hesitantly.
He saw her nervously tuck errant strands of her hair behind her ear as she waited for him to finish writing a message for her.
Handing back the jersey to her, he turned to go.
Pausing mid step, he looked back, nodding towards the jersey she was holding reverently, and whispered huskily.
The idea for writing this was sparked by a prompt from my dear friend, Jignasha, whose birthday it is today. So, I thought, what better way to celebrate than to bring together two things she is passionate about, ArHi and Basketball. I have more than likely got muddled up with the correct terminology of the sport though!
I hope you will join me in wishing Jignasha, Happy Birthday!
Tumhare janamdin par
Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne chune
Sapne surile sapne
Sab hanste, Sab khushi ke
Teri aankhon ke khwaab lehraye
Teri Rasili rahon mein
Lots and lots of love to you, today and always,