Seenu woke me up early in the morning, ruining my sleep. When we live in a dormitory it is not easy to enjoy a good long sleep on Sundays. I asked him, “Why so early?” He said, “Get up, quick. We have to finish tiffin and go to the college. How long are you going to lay down like this. Have you already forgotten what we decided yesterday?”
It flashed in my mind right away that we have inter-collegiate kabaddi tournament today. Also, the Warangal and Nalgonda college teams play today. I come from Nalgonda. During my school days, we used to play as if the game was born there in Nalgonda. When my uncles played, I used to tag along to watch the game. All the four of my uncles played on one side and crushed the party to ground. Wherever they went, they always were the winners. One of them played even on the State team. I think they did not win that time, I never heard of anybody ever mentioning it. Two other uncles cut short their college education and went back to our village to help my father in farming. But they didn’t sit at home doing nothing. They used to gather other children and showed them the crucial points in the kabaddi game. If my mother had not taken care, probably they would have taken me also to task, made me play until my kneecaps came off. They would have made me think of nothing but kabaddi.
Thanks to my mother, I was admitted in the eight grade in a town where there was no such thing as kabaddi. She also arranged extra classes for me, to be tutored on a regular basis, and made sure that I was focussed on nothing but education. That is the reason I was able to get admission in the engineering courses in Warangal college two years back. Warangal dialect seeped through but the Nalgonda waters are still there. The love of childhood days will not go away ever. Therefore when I heard that Nalgonda team came, Seenu and I went watch yesterday. Oh, I forgot to mention that Seenu also belonged to our Nalgonda. They were practicing on our college grounds in the evening time. We knew them all personally. We loved it when other students talk, would say that all others are scared of Nalgonda team. We threw up our heads in pride, told each other, “Well, what do you know? That’s our team,” and went to their coach while the team was practicing in their tee-shirts. His name is Ramireddy.
I told the coach, Ramireddy, my uncle’s name—the one who played on the State team. He looked at me, head to foot, and said, “Is that right? I also played on the same team during our high school days. What’s he doing now?” and he asked a few more questions.
Then he added that, “Here, we have another Ramireddy in our present team,” he called out Sandip Reddy, a tall, hefty man and introduced him to us. One look at him and we know it takes 3 or 4 persons to catch him. Besides, Warangal team is not all that good this time. Our team could easily take them in the game the next day, I said, repeating what I heard earlier from others. Sandip looked into my face straight and said, “We will show them one more time what it means to play with Nalgonda team. Come tomorrow to watch.” I replied, “Certainly,” and left.
At night we were up late chatting with friends. The next day, I asked Seenu to wait for a few minutes, finished freshening up quickly, ate idli and rushed to the playground. I don’t know anybody in the Warangal team. Some of my classmates told me that this time our college would set a new record in losing the game to the Nalgonda team. My classmates are unaware about my soft corner for Nalgonda team. I pretended not to care, told them that just playing is important and not winning. Seenu heard me and chuckled. He said that everybody knows that we are from Nalgonda and that we want Nalgonda to win. I kept quiet.
The game started at 10. According to the rules set by kabaddi federation, there should be seven members on each side. If one member on one side was out, the second team could get back to play one member from those who were out. There are other rules also. The umpire asked the teams if they all understood the rules.
The teams members nodded and took their places on the ground, getting ready to play. After twenty minutes, they had a five-minute break, switched sides and started playing. Since Warangal won the toss, they sent one of them to the other side. He kept repeating kabaddi, kabaddi and the Nalgonda team caught him right away. Our team did not make it a strategy of it. They felt that if they make a high level strategic plan, other team might lose their faith in them. Seenu explained that to me in a whisper. I wanted to whistle but since my classmates, Warangal fans, were sitting next to me, I made no noise.
Sandip entered the field hollering kabaddi, kabaddi like a blast of wind. Four of the Warangal members were counted out. Within two minutes, the entire Warangal team looked like it was in a bad shape.
They get two bonus points if all the members were counted out. We will know in ten minutes who would win. Nalgonda scored 10 points and Warangal 3.
By interval time, the Warangal team looked wiped out but did not accept defeat. They continued to play heroically. They kept entering the other side, one after another, cooing the phrase even though they were aware that they would be caught. Not of them who went to the other field returned. The remaining half were intent on catching Sandip and prove their mettle.
Five minutes to go. Nobody is interested in the score any more. Our college fell 35 points behind.
Nalgonda team members were playing champions. Warangal team got together and jumped on Sandip. Finally they managed to send him out. There was no end to their joy, although they knew that he would be back in the game in a couple of minutes. They acted like they blasted a mountain.
As expected Sandip came back into the game and there was a bumper crop of points. If at all, this time he was provoked and so burst into action and started raking points like never before.
Even as we watched, the difference in points rose to 50. The faces of the Warangal team faded, they looked as if they were playing for several days and kept playing out of necessity.
One more minute to go. Sandip went again cooing kabaddi, kabaddi. Within a blink of an eye, he kicked one of them off the line, pushed away two others with his hands, and three more with his body. The remaining one member saw Sandip attacking him like a devil, and he stepped out himself. Sandip walked towards the center line with a smile, like a hero, taunted the Warangal team with his looks, joined the Nalgonda team who were calling out his name.
The game was over.
Umpire announced that the Nalgonda team won. Seenu and I went to tell the coach that we will meet him later.
Sandip came towards us, wiping his face with towel. “Did you see what I did? I am sure they’re scared even to play with us again.
I looked into Sandip’s face and kicked on his legs with all my might. I said, “Your valor is not in beating up a dead snake. The other player is also a player like you. He was aware that he would lose and yet played the game to the end. Learn to respect him for that.”
Then I walked towards my dorm shouting, “Warangal, jindabad.” I don’t know where Seenu went.
(Telugu original, “Kabaddi” was published in eemata.com, translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, September 2003.)