#5 That Boxing Ring

I entered my boss’s cabin and we exchanged awkward smiles. I sat on the chair opposite him and kept the envelope on his desk. He didn’t touch it, just gave it a look and sighed.

“You sure about this?” He asked.

I nodded.

“Look Ishaan, I’ll talk to you as a friend here and not as your boss. I know your team’s performance is going through a rough patch. This is just a bad phase. You and your team has ruled this office in the past. I suggest you reconsider your decision,” he said.

“I have thought over it, Aniruddh. I think this is the right thing to do. When I came to this city, I had that childlike enthusiasm. I wanted to work and achieve it all. I’ve lost that feeling somewhere. You’re calling it a rough patch, but even you know that a ‘rough patch’ does not last for six months. I think I need some time off and figure out what’s wrong with me. I no longer feel motivated to do anything,” I said.

“Alright, if that’s what you have decided. I’ll inform about this to the HR team. Your notice period shall start from tomorrow,” Aniruddh said.

“Alright,” I smiled “there’s one more favor I need from you.”

“Sure.”

“I need an off tomorrow and the day after. Just want to sit home and clear my head before serving this notice period.”

“No problem,” Aniruddh smiled.

“Thanks,” I smiled back.

“Before I forget, two candidates from the current training batch are going to join your team,” Aniruddh Said and looked at his computer screen, “their names are Rihaan Bakshi and Jenny Davis.”

“Alright, I’ll see to it,” I said and walked out of the cabin.

I reached my desk, looked around and felt empty. Within minutes, I felt as if I no longer belong to my workplace. I leant back in my chair and closed my eyes.

“Sirji?” I heard a voice.

“Huh?”

“Hello Ishaan sirji, did I disturb you?” Sujeet, one of the guys in my team was standing in front of me.

“No, not at all buddy. Tell me,” I said and adjusted myself in my seat.

Sujeet joined my team a few months back when his team leader had resigned and his old team was dissolved. He was in his mid-thirties, was quite older than me and always called me ‘sirji’ for some reason. When I had first spoken to him, I was surprised how he managed to crack the interview of our company. Technically, his communication was not at par with international call center standards. However, there was something about him that convinced people sitting thousands of kilometers away to buy products on the phone.

“Sirji, the thing is, I won’t be able to come to the office tomorrow,” He said.

“Oh, but why?” I asked.

“Actually, I have a boxing match tomorrow,” he said.

“Boxing? I never knew that you’re a boxer.”

“Nobody knows in the office. Every year I just give some random excuse to take the leave. But now I am part of your team, sirji. I think you’re an understanding guy. So telling truth to you.”

“Alright. No problem. Actually, I too have taken an off tomorrow, so I’ll forward the mail before leaving today,” I said.

“Thank you, sirji. Thank you, thank you very, very much,” he said with his almost glittered eyes and walked away from my desk.

I went back to the computer screen and began looking at the excel sheets.

“Sirji,” he appeared again.

“Yes, Sujeet,” I said, with a hint of irritation.

“I have one more little request”

“Go on,” I said, still looking at the screen.

“You said that you will not come to the office tomorrow. If you are free, will you come to see my boxing match?” He asked.

“Um…” I didn’t know what to tell him. “I am not sure. I’ll try.”

“Sirji please try, I will feel so happy if you will come,” He said and scribbled the address of the venue on a piece of paper, “on this address you have to come. My match will start at 11:30 am”

“Alright,” I said and took the piece of paper from him.

When I reached home after office, I had some beer and began watching an American sitcom series. When I got up the next morning, I realized that I had dozed off on the sofa. Later, while changing clothes, I found the piece of paper Sujeet gave me. I was reluctant but had nothing else to do. I got ready and drove to that address.

I reached the venue and was welcomed by an almost empty parking. There was no one at the main door to ask for any kind of pass or a ticket like they do when you go to watch a cricket match. I walked in and saw a boxing ring with a few well built up men warming up around it. It was sad to see that the seats in the stands were empty. I wiped the layer of dust sitting on one of the seats and parked myself. A while later, I spotted Sujeet. He was talking to some old guy who looked like his coach.

Soon enough, the sounds of whistles echoed and Sujeet was in the middle of the boxing ring along with his opponent. He started off well and gave some cool blows to the other guy, but soon enough he began getting the blows back. For the next twenty minutes, I saw them box each other with all they had. I cheered for Sujeet initially, but later I was only worried for him. He tried his best but kept getting beaten by the other guy.

Another set of whistles echoed and the punches kept getting harder. After a heavy blow on his chin, I saw Sujeet falling and lying on the floor. He was knocked down and the referee began counting to ten. He refused to get up, the bell echoed the auditorium and he lost the match. His coach rushed towards him and began sprinkling water on his face.

I wasn’t sure if I should stay to meet him, or save him from the embarrassment by walking out and never letting him know that I was there. I took too much of time to decide. Soon I saw him getting back into his senses. He noticed me from the distance and waved at me. A while later, he walked up to me holding an ice pack and pressing it against his eye.

“Sirji, I am so glad you came. Thanks a lot,” he said and sat next to me.

“You okay? Your face is all swollen,” I said.

“Don’t worry about this, all this is usual. It will be fine in two days,” He said and smiled.

“I am sorry that you lost. I was rooting for you,” I said.

“Don’t be sorry for me, sirji. I lose every year. Earlier I used to win a lot, but now these young boys are getting very quick for me.”

“So why don’t you quit? You’re in mid-thirties now,” I said.

“I am too passionate to quit this game, sirji. I would have made chutney out of these kiddos, but the same problem… my legs were not supporting me that much. I had an accident six-seven years ago. My leg muscles are not 100% fit for boxing after that,” he grinned

“You should seriously let it go then,” I said.

“I know I should, but you know what? When I practice for this tournament and come here every year to participate, I feel alive, even if I get beaten by these young kids,” he said.

“So you plan to just keep coming here, keep getting beaten for as long as you live? I don’t think that is possible.”

“I know it’s not. In a few years, they will throw me out of this competition. In spite of the fact that I gave all of my twenties and half my thirties to this game, one day they will call me ‘Not Eligible To Continue’. But until that happens, I would want to keep coming here and keep trying to win one last time,” he said looking at the ring.

“You said that you’ve won this title earlier, I don’t see any reason for this obsession,” I said.

“Sirjee, the thing is, boxing to me is like life, it keeps punching you in the nose, makes you swell and bleed, and you often lose the match. But, it’s important to keep coming back and hope that you’ll get that one right punch that will make you the winner again. If you stop hoping, you’re finished for sure. You’re dead.”

I smiled at him when he said that.

“I can’t afford to stop hoping that I still have it in me,” he said.

“You are right,” I softly said, after a pause.

I don’t know if it was the universe’s plan to make me go through this, but something changed on that Wednesday morning. Next day, instead of taking the leave, I went office and straight to Aniruddh’s office to revoke my resignation. He happily gave my resignation letter back to me.

“I am so happy that you’re staying,” Aniruddh said.

“I am glad too,” I said.

“One question though, Ishaan. What made you change your mind all of a sudden?” Aniruddh asked.

I looked away for a second and smiled.

“Let’s just say… I may have lost a few fights in this boxing ring that our office is, but I’ve realized that I have a lot of fights to fight here, and I’ll keep doing it until I win one more time,” I said.

Instead of changing the office, I changed the way I looked at things. That incident also helped me figure out why Sujeet, in spite of not being perfect, managed to survive in the company. He had an honesty in his heart that connected with people on the phone sitting thousands of miles away. It was due to him that I kept working in my office for next few years. I kept going to cheer for him in every boxing match that he participated in. Yes, Sujeet did win that boxing championship again, but more on that later.

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