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I still remember Sports Day at school.

There I was bespectacled and buck-toothed, cheering the more sporty and athletic kids towards the finish line, while wondering all time, “What’s the point?”, and wishing I could head back to my encyclopedia or whatever nerdy pastime that had been providing me with all the stimulation my pubescent senses needed. Those who know me might say I haven’t changed much – but I beg to differ and can confidently say that I have indeed changed…. the buck teeth don’t look so bad anymore, because my head is larger now.

Self-deprecation aside – sports day for me, was always about cheering and less about winning or losing. (You see, if you stick to cheering, you can’t lose. ;)) But my first sports day in 15 years or so, turned out to be about winning, losing and cheering.

When I came to know that Dhruv was having his sports day, I was vaguely un-excited. When I checked with him – he too didn’t seem to be dwelling on it too much – which hardly surprised me considering his genealogy. All I knew was that he would be participating in two races – an Obstacle race and a “Tri-colour Tie” race. So the day before the event, while tucking him in and post more familiar activities like a bit of late night mathematics and reading, I asked him if he felt excited about the sports day. He quietly nodded and on being asked if he would win – he quietly nodded again. I debated whether to have a “it doesn’t matter if you don’t win/winning isn’t everything” talk – but better sense and droopy eyelids prevailed – and I decided to have the talk – if at all – after the event.

So the day arrived – and there we were, under the warm Mumbai sun, camera and cheer-happy, watching little humanlets scurrying around a chalked and marked ground, crawling under chairs and scampering over tables, apparently oblivious to the cacophony their pride-soaked parents were creating on the sidelines. We waited patiently until it was time for Dhruv’s race… and I whipped out my camera, for the cuteness of it, more than the relevance of his participation in his first big boy race. The entire morning I had looked around in amusement as normally tepid adults were screaming their lungs hoarse, goading their progeny on to the finish line. They were screaming “Run! Run!” – and I kept chuckling to myself – right…like that will make these poor little tykes run faster and want to win more! What do they know about winning? “They won’t catch me dead hollering at my son…I am more mature than that!”

The whistle sounded and 8 silver tunic-donning and mushroom headed boys sprang into motion towards the first of the three colored ties which they had to wear, before sprinting to the finish line. I saw, Dhruv was the first off the blocks…and noticed with a bit of disbelief that he was the first one to put the first tie on. I had planned to move my cellphone-camera with the running contingent…but when he was the first one to wear the second tie too – both the camera and its operator lay motionless with shutters open. Then he reached the third tie…and something happened. He took the tie in his hands, and instead of smoothly slipping it over his head as he had done with the two previous nooses, he stopped dead on his tracks and started staring at it.

In that micro-second my eyes saw other silver tunics catching up with him, and wearing their ties. What started out as a cute like kids game for me, was now playing out like a slow-motion telecast of Roger Bannister beating all odds and completing the mile under 4 minutes. The split-second knots which had formed in my stomach, uncurled even faster and I leaped up shouting, “Run! Son! Run!”

I don’t know if he heard me (I doubt it) – but Dhruv finally managed to put the last tie on, and took off like a bullet! Faster than I have ever seen him run. Faster than I could ever imagine someone carrying my last name could run. He came up from behind, and sailed through the finish line as the winner. I was jumping and giggling like Cinderella on Ecstacy. Dee and I were hugging in joy and celebration as if we had won the lottery. So when Dhruv got gold for the Obstacle race too – disbelief became elation, cynicism became believing, losing became winning and cheering became pride.

After I was done calling everyone I knew on earth and telling them about Dhruv’s two golds, and my jaws started aching from the permanent grin – it struck, what this meant to me. My entire life, I had hidden my secret belief that winning was not possible by saying (and believing) winning is not important. Today, I know, and I feel, not only is winning possible – but that aiming to win is important. I hope my son knows now deep within him, that winning is possible – no matter what he does.

Meanwhile, the Mumbai marathon awaits me in 4 days…and I am wondering if I should get better shoes ;)…. nah! Maybe next time… till then I shall bask in the reflected glory of that little mushroom head…

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