Originally published in July 2009 issue of India Currents. Read online version here.
A thirty-something Indian guy, I woke up one morning feeling invincible. The back didn't hurt when I bent over the sink to brush my teeth. The arm didn't ache when I pulled out the medicine drawer where I keep my Calcium Tums. I even squeezed the juice out of a lemon with bare hands, an erstwhile impossible feat. So when my neighbor Jim told me they were one short for a ball game, I said "Take me on!" But my wife, a world-renowned killjoy, chased me into the closet where I was changing.
"You are not fit to play basketball. Look at you, you are a cartoon."
"Honey, today, I feel like the ultimate athlete. I'm craving for action. Don't stop me for your own good!"
"Listen, your enthusiasm is delightful. Just channel it towards something in your league - maybe Carom board? Mini-golf? Bocce ball?"
I only smiled, because I knew exactly what it takes to shock her out of her cynicism. Oh yeah, I had been planning this all along. I shooed her away and changed into my secret game wear. When I stepped out again she was, just as I expected, shocked.
"You look different. Something is missing …"
"You bet. Guess what?"
"Your potbelly! What happened to it?"
"Gone, baby, gone." It was there just minutes ago, magic! The utter confusion on her face was worth all the trouble. Now, I was ready for a good game. But when I got to the court, I realized this wasn't only about fun. It was also about responsibility. I was the only Indian in the bunch. I was representing motherland (whether motherland likes it or not.) Now, I could imagine what Sachin Tendulkar feels every time he walks out to bat. I must be the best, soon as I learn how to play this game.
"Have you ever played basketball in your life?" Jim asked me.
Something in his tone suggested I did not. All right, so I never did, but I was not going to take that snobbish remark lying down. I wanted to wipe that smirk off his face even it calls for a little untruth. I remembered a tip from a compulsive liar friend of mine about how the word absolutely projects confidence, I replied:
"Absolutely! I played for my school."
"All right, so you can drib, right?"
What the hell was drib? Isn't the game just about tossing a ball through a hole?
Big Mike interrupted us. "Jim, we have a problem. Dark shirts everywhere!"
Jim and Mike pondered over the problem of too many dark shirts. I didn't quite follow what appeared to be, at worst, some kind of a laundry issue. Jim spoke up. "Ok, listen up, guys. We are picking teams – Jim's HotDogs vs. Mike's Burgers. But, too many dark shirts here. Can't tell teammates from opponents. Solution - one team wears shirts and the other goes shirtless."
Shirtless! God, no! It better not be my team …
"The Burgers keep their shirts. HotDogs, lose yours." NO!
I spoke to Jim alone. "You know, Jim, I like burgers more than hot dogs. Ethically speaking, I should play for Mike's team."
Jim looked surprised. "You are a vegan, what do you care? Anyway, I got you here, so you are in my team."
"Ok, do I really have to take my shirt off?"
"Relax bro! Do you see any chics here? All right, Dawgs, shirts off!"
All the HotDogs removed shirts except me.
"Come on! Take your shirt off." Jim barked.
Reluctantly, I stripped and got the anticipated reaction. Jaws hit the floor.
"What the hell … is that tape?"
"Holy Cow! He taped down his belly!"
I cleared my throat. "Cosmo, November issue. Main idea is to keep it from flopping around."
"Doesn't it hurt when you peel it off?" John asked.
"Not clear Scotch tape. Cellophane tape rips the hide off," I winced. "I wish they mentioned this little detail in the Cosmo article."
"Can I borrow your Cosmo, please?" John pleaded.
Mike whistled. Whew, the game was finally starting. Jim grabbed the ball and threw it in my direction, bouncing off my midriff and knocking me over. He frowned, and called me aside.
"Ok, new job. Hustle!"
"What is hustle?"
"Just stay aggressive. Follow the ball."
I hustled like a dog spinning around snapping at its own tail. I tore up and down the court, in the process grasping the concept that no one ever passes the ball to the guy whose only job is hustling. It is like the substitute player in cricket who fields all day, hauls the drinks, massages cramped butts, but is denied complete batting and bowling privileges. But, ultimately, it didn't matter because in a fastbreak opportunity, I tripped over my shoe laces and tore my ACL. They carried me home where my wife, who answered the door, reminded one of a wide-eyed Goddess Kali ready to perform a human sacrifice.
Two weeks later, I was lying on the operating table while the surgeon stuffed a fish-like tissue through a hole in my knee. He didn't say where the cadaver tendon came from, but my wife said she spotted a graveyard next to the hospital (a rather mutually beneficial arrangement, now that I have to time to reflect upon it).
They handed me a spreadsheet about what to expect in the long road to recovery.
Ducking objects chucked by spouses
Picking up your goods while keeping your eyes on the other side in a Mafia suitcase-exchange rendezvous
Even though I am a Western toilet user in America, I needed to finally learn this sitting down method. Not really efficient, but at least I don't need to wipe off footprints from the seat after every usage. On the bright side, the doctor just told me who the donor was – a farmer from Houston countryside. I have a white Texan's ligament screwed to my bone. Heck, I'm part born American. Happy independence day!