My husband has his headphones plugged in. I know what he’s watching on his computer. When the entire world is talking about Simone Biles and Usain Bolt, he’s busy following the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis. Unplugging his headphones, ‘Anand is tied at second place’, he calls out. ‘Who’s leading?’, I ask. ‘A new chap named So Wesley’, he says and plugs his headphones back.
I open twitter. There’s outrage as usual. Olympics is the flavor of the day. A viral meme pops up on my screen. ‘Who are we?’ ‘Indians’. ‘What do we want?’ ‘Olympic medals’. ‘What do we want our children to be?’ ‘Doctors and Engineers’. I smile at the stick figures in the meme. They look funny. I close the app and get to making dinner.
As I cut the vegetables, the meme flashes again in my head. ‘What do we want our children to be?’ ‘Doctors and Engineers’. I get reminded of the three giant carton boxes back home in India filled with trophies and cups and shields from the husband’s chess playing days. When we were there this time, my dad took them out of the loft and asked what he should do with them. The husband and I looked at each other. What’s there to be done with them? ‘Nothing. Let them be. Let them remain in the carton boxes.’
The meme gets into my head again. ‘What do we want our children to be?’ ‘Doctors and Engineers’. I remember a conversation that took place eight years ago. With my mother-in-law. She was showing me newspaper clippings of the various times the husband’s name had appeared in there. I was a new proud wife then. ‘Why did he let this all go, ma?’, I remember asking in genuine confusion. ‘Once he finished college, Appa and I spoke to Venkat. It was his time to choose. He had to decide whether to begin taking chess seriously as a profession. Or give it all up and pursue Chartered Accountancy. We left the choice to him. He thought about it and chose the latter. Simply because there wasn’t enough funding to pursue chess full time. Appa was a mere government employee. How much could he afford?’
I recall the time we were at a chess academy run by the husband’s friend. In a narrow lane in KK Nagar is a three storyed house. One of the floors is converted into a chess learning center. About fifty odd kids are all sitting in pairs with chess boards in front of them. Two coaches go around supervising these kids. I sit there looking around the place when one of the coaches suddenly comes in front to make an announcement. ‘Listen.. Silence!’, he screams. A hushed silence falls over the room. He introduces a small boy of about twelve to the room. ‘Our academy’s Ravi has won the first place in the chess tournament held in his school.’ Everyone applauds. The child’s face beams in pride. I sit there wondering how far this child will go in chess.
We are talking to this friend who runs the academy. ‘This is just my small way of giving back to the chess fraternity’, he says. He juggles a day job and this chess academy. ‘There’s nothing guaranteed in chess. Or for that matter any sport. So many of our friends thought chess was their life and didn’t pursue any higher education. But, the money they made out of chess was not enough to fend for themselves. And they didn’t have enough education to turn to. They were trapped. They are trapped!’
I continue with my dinner preparation. The stoves are working in full swing and so is my head. I think of a school senior. Priya. She was the sports captain of our school. A gymnast par excellence. Once, she welcomed a chief guest to our sports day by cartwheeling from one end of the ground to the other all the while holding flowers in one hand. I wonder what she’s doing now. I wonder what she thinks about Dipa’s Produnova.
The image of Athirai pops up in my head. A college mate who was in college on sports quota. I recall how every day during attendance, we were supposed to mutter ‘sports ma’am’ once her name was called. Athirai was an athlete who won laurels for our college. She was in the national team for a while. I wonder what she’s doing now. I wonder if she’s following the journey of Lalita Babbar at Rio.
I am done with the dinner prep. The kitchen counters are wiped clean and I settle down on the couch. ‘You remember I have a tournament this weekend, right?’ That’s a question from the husband that usually makes me frown. Weekend’s gone, I used to crib. Not this time. I smile and nod. The husband looks startled at my reaction. ‘Let’s do the groceries on Friday, then.’ He goes back to practicing his endgames on the computer. I open Twitter again. That meme is still floating around. ‘Who are we?’ ‘Indians’. ‘What do we want?’ ‘Olympic medals’. ‘What do we want our children to be?’ ‘Doctors and Engineers’. I look at the stick figures. I don’t smile at them this time. They don’t look all that funny anymore.