The Racquet

My father’s badminton racquet broke in the middle of a game. It was nothing spectacular; he didn’t smash it in a fit of rage on the polished wooden flooring of the court, neatly laid out in long rectangular strips, nor did he mangle it in a celebrated dive that could be recounted many times over a beverage, growing in intensity and impossibility with each retelling. Instead, it simply happened; it was unbroken before the point was played and broken after, its isometric head split and shards of paint falling at the merest of brushes.

My father played badminton at the club where he had been a member for a little over two decades. At about seven in the morning, for a couple of hours, weekdays or weekends, rain or shine, the badminton hall was a time capsule. It was filled with the regulars, the professional amateurs, the guys who
represented their organisations in corporate tournaments and for whom there was no other mode of exercise. The player profile was startlingly similar. Pear-shaped men, wearing white polo shirts and sporting grey hair in a style that increasingly resembled Caesar’s wreath, chased down their flying feathered friends with amazing dexterity, knee-braces notwithstanding. I had seen some of these men blow an opponent half their age off the court in an age-defying, awe-inspiring display of finesse and power.

The broken racquet itself held no sentimental value. It was one of those biennial need-based purchases and its plain face had been restrung a couple of times already. My father brought it home and announced its demise in his usual matter-of-fact way, with no glowing tributes paid or fond memories recollected. It was a tool that had done its job well and, now that it had given its life in the line of duty, was to be replaced with another of its ilk.

That evening, in the gathering winter dark, we drove out to our local sports store. It wasn’t large, yet it contained everything a budding sportsperson could require. By the entrance, on the right, there was a white iron stand with
rings; in each ring sat an inflated basketball, waiting to be picked up. The wall on the left was entirely lined with cricket bats and hockey sticks, flanked by gloves, helmets, and pads. Sand-filled punching bags in bright reds and blues hung invitingly from the ceiling. A loft, along with any nooks and crannies that could be created, held the odds and ends of the sporting world — roller blades, jump ropes, inflatable bowling pins, trophies, and cardboard boxes. Posters of famous sport stars in action looked on from behind the oily heads of the cashiers.

Our business, however, lay beside the basketballs on the right wall. Racquets were lined up by size; first the big-hitting tennis racquets, then their smaller squash counterparts, followed by the badminton racquets, and finally, the table-tennis paddles.

The salesman was a fast-talking old gentleman whose commission seemed to depend on how quickly he could convert a sale. My father took to the side a selection of the proffered racquets; then, after cautiously glancing around to make sure he had a clear radius, tested each racquet with a flick of his wrist. Unsatisfied with the selection and unable to find a model closest to his earlier one, he tried to wrangle for a greater discount. When he was turned down, we walked out, deciding to visit a more exclusive store further away which was where, it turned out, he had bought his racquet a couple of years ago.

The next day, after lunch, my father left his office, picked me up and drove to the better store. Upon getting there, we discovered that the road was in the midst of improvement; it looked like a battle-site. So, we parked on a side-street and picked our way through the mud, thrusting our hips around huge pipes, criss-crossing the wasteland in a bid to find the best route. We burst into the store, which was about as small as my bedroom with an attached equal-sized workshop.

The process of purchase was re-enacted. My father short-listed a few of the racquets, based almost entirely on budget. Then, he took a couple of steps back, made sure he was in the clear, and flicked his wrist a few times. The racquets made a singing whoosh as they sliced through the air, searching for
the shuttle, even as we bandied about expert matters like weight and grip. Then, my father played the ‘regular customer’ card with the store manager and successfully wrangled for a greater discount.

As we trod the waterlogged ex-road back to our car, my father furiously worked out his exact savings.

“We got some 40% off,” I said, trying to beat him to the draw.

“It’s about 35%,” he said.

“But, if you include the free grip he gave, it is closer to 40%,” I said.

“Let’s not include that”, my father replied. “If you consider just the racquet, it’s about 35%. 33, in fact.”

That settled it.

As we drove back, I asked him if he’d like me to take the racquet home while he continued on to the office.

“That’s ok,” he said. “It can remain in the car.”

Later that night, when my father returned from the office, he entered the house clutching the racquet in its cover against his chest. He reminded me of a child with a new toy. He unsheathed the racquet at the dinner table like a Knight at the Round Table and proudly displayed it to my mother and brother; the racquet glinted as it caught the white tube-light.

The next morning, it was pouring. Dark grey clouds blanketed the earth, and everything was either wet or cold. It would have taken a foolhardy gladiator to venture into that downpour, and my father tended heavily to the sensible side.

That morning, however, there was no stopping him. He awoke early and made some coffee. Then, without missing a beat, he changed into his white polo shirt and shorts, put on his shoes, picked up his new badminton racquet and stepped out.

“Why don’t you take an umbrella?” I called.

With a beige umbrella in one hand and his racquet in the other, my father headed out to conquer the sport of badminton all over again.

At breakfast later that morning, I asked him how the new racquet had been.

“Good,” he said, and turned the page in the newspaper.

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