Friday, 24 February 2012



            I love badminton. I play it as often as I can and with as many different opponents as I can find. With my group of badminton-crazy friends we have formed a team called “The Young Terrors”. We were suppose to strike terror in the hearts of our opponents whenever we play a match. Sometimes we succeed, but sometimes it is we who get terror-stricken.
            We have a part-time coach. Actually he is a teacher who used to represent the state in his younger days. He is very good. Though I try my best to give him a fight, he always beats the living daylights out of me. Anyone of us would consider it a great thing if he manages to get five points from our coach.
            Our coach trains us on the finer points of playing badminton. He also arranges friendly matches for us. It is during one of these friendly matches that I became a badminton casualty. It was a most unfortunate accident but I learned a valuable lesson from it.
            We were all geared up and ready on the lovely Saturday evening at seven. The match was to be played away on our opponent’s flood-lit outdoor court. When we arrived at the venue, we were impressed by the quality of the cement court. It was indeed a good place to play the game provided the weather permits.
            I was supposed to play the first singles. So I went onto the court to warm up with one of my teammates. We had some lively exchanges. I felt wonderfully fit and ready. During one of the short exchanges near the net, I made the mistake of lifting the bird up too high. My friend immediately slammed the shuttle down and as I was standing so near the net, the shuttle hit me forcefully on the right eye. I felt a stab of intense pain and clutched at my eye. For a moment I was disoriented. All I saw was blurred flashes of light that seemed to swirl all around me. I went down on my knees with my head in my hands. Teammates and opponents alike came to my aid. Everyone was very concerned.
            They hauled me onto a chair and somebody brought a towel wrapped with ice to sooth my eye. I was in considerable pain but it seemed to be lessening. After applying the cold compress for a while, the pain went away. However my vision was affected. I could not focus my injured eye. I felt awful.
            After ten minutes of waiting, our coach decided that I should not play singles. So he rearranged the draw. I was to play in the last doubles of the day. How degrading I felt. I was very upset; upset at the unfortunate accident; upset at the inability to focus my eye, upset at not being able to play singles and most of all upset at the indignity of being hit by the shuttle. How could I be so stupid as to look up near the net? The obvious thing to do was to protect one’s face by looking away. Nevertheless I sat there gloomily watching the games half-focused eyes wishing that my sight would return to normal.
            It did not anyway, not that night. It took three days before my sight became normal again. So when I took to the court for the last doubles that night, I played like a novice. I kept missing the shuttlecock. Only then I realized the importance of two eyes to judge distance and position. One eye cannot do the job adequately. We lost the last match miserably. On the whole, we lost to better opponents that night. I was one of the causes of the loss. I could have beaten the first singles player. This issue was left to the return-match where I am happy to say that I categorically trounced him and restored some pride to our team.
            From the unfortunate incident, I learned to be careful. Badminton may look soft and harmless to an onlooker. I know better. To be hit on any part of the body by a smashed shuttlecock at close quarters is a painful experience. The important thing is not being hit on the sensitive part. That will incapacitate you.  A little caution prevents a lot of pain and hurt.


            I was on my way home. On my motorcycle after exercising in the Lake Gardens when I saw thick black smoke billowing upwards some distance from me. It was twilight time and the dirty black smoke rising against the brilliant red western sky presented quite a spectacle. I knew that a fire was raging and judging by the color and the fury of the smoke, I reasoned that it was probably caused by the burning of rubber and diesel oil.
            I continued home and I noticed that the smoke was getting closer. The column of the black smoke were both magnificently and ominous. Then as I rounded a bend along the road, I saw the fire. The glow of fifty-foot flames shooting upward was blinding. I blinked my eyes to let it adjust to the sudden brightness. After a while I could see that a row of shops was on fire. A tyre shop, a welding and painting shop and two car repair shops were right in the middle of the blaze. I knew these shops well because they were only a few hundred yards away from my house, fortunately on the other side of the road.
            All traffic along the road beside the fire was halted. A policeman directed me to a side road that led to a housing estate opposite the burning shops. I rode into the side-road that led to a housing estate opposite the burning shops. I rode into the side-road and stopped to watch the fire.
            The heat was so intense that the firemen could not even approach the fire much less try to extinguish it. I could see two firemen crouched behind their fire-engine about fifty yards from the burning shops. They were desperately directing their jet of water toward a row of shop-houses just next to the fire. I could see that they were trying to keep the fire from spreading by keeping the neighboring houses wet.
            Presently more fire-engines came and the firemen set about containing the fire. They sprayed a protective ring of a water around the fire. If the fire were to spread to the other shop houses, the loss would be unimaginable. From these other shop houses I could see figures working feverishly trying to remove their belongings to a safer area. I could also see policemen trying to prevent the occupants from entering the shop houses. The dangers were obvious.
            Then came a series of explosions that rocked the neighborhood. The oxygen and the acetylene cylinders used for welding burst open spectacularly sending trails of sparks that pierced the now dark sky. The shower of sparks that followed every deafening explosion was greeted by hand clapping and shouting from a group of young boys near me. I could understand how they felt. This display of glowing red sparks would put the best New Year fireworks to shame.
            Looking at these boys I suddenly realized that there were so many people beside me. All of tem were gaping at the fire. Their faces, lit by the glow of the fire, revealed a variety of emotions. Some were crying, some were looked frightened, some indifferent and a few actually enjoying the scene.
            The fire raged unabated for almost an hour. The whole shop full of tyres was the perfect fuel. Coupled with grease and diesel from the other shops, no fore department on Earth could hope to stop the blaze. So all of us, the firemen, the policemen and the onlookers just stood there and watched, waiting for the fire to burn itself out.
            As the fire progressed, whole walls came tumbling down revealing three of four cars in one of the shops. They were blazed like the paper car that the Chinese burn for their dead ancestors. I wondered what the superstitious Chinese are going to say about this burning of real cars.
            Gradually, the fire became less intense as the fuel were burned away. The firemen turned their attention to the burning shops. I could see five or six streams of silvery water arcing pathetically into the fire. However, after fifteen minutes or so, the fire was visibly reduced in intensity. Flames still licked hungrily at various places in the burnt-out hulk of once well-stocked shops.
            Without the glow of fire, darkness reigned. Silently the onlookers disappeared from the scene. I could just make out the silhouettes of the firemen busy at their tasks. Elsewhere I could see groups of people hurrying back to their shop houses. How fortunate they had been. They certainly had a close call. As there was nothing left to see or do, I started my motorcycle and weaved my way through the thinning traffic towards home.


            How many of us can recollect our early experiences as a baby? For me, my earliest begin at about the time when I could walk. Prior to that, I cannot recall even a little bit.
            I remember walking along he gravel path hand-in-hand with my neighbour. She was a young and lovely girl with a ready smile. We used to take these walks together in the evenings. I would be all dressed up in clean clothes and tiny leather shoes. I was quite particular about my appearance then. She would take me right up to the main road where we would watch the cars speed by. Sometimes when my little legs got tired, she would carry me home in her arms.
            That was many years ago. I am not so particular about my clothes now. T-shirt and faded jeans feel more comfortable. I heard that my lady companion passed away recently. I cannot even remember how she looked like.
            How time flew past. My family used to live in a run-down area at the outskirts of town. Our house was a wooden one and it was always in need of repair. Our neighbours all live in similar wooden houses. Nobody owned a car. The most prestigious transport was a new bicycle. It was always an event to see somebody coming home in a taxi or in a trishaw. Such an event was as rare as New Year’s Day.
            It was in this environment that I spent my first five years of life. I never knew what a television set was. Sometimes I heard songs from a radio set. More often I only heard sounds emanating from the jungle behind our neighbourhood. These were the sounds of insects, birds and the occasional monkey.
            I never stepped into that jungle because there were a lot of rumours about tigers, elephants and ghosts. Looking at the eerie darkness in between the trees it was not a difficult for a four year old to believe what was being said. Furthermore the dangling vines and tiny leeches were not my idea of fun. Anyway the jungle has disappeared forever, a victim of development. So I will never be able to venture into it. I had the chance as a child. Now the chance is gone and never will return again.
            It was into this jungle that my neighbours would go hunting occasionally. I have seen monkeys, birds and squirrels being brought back. There was the time when they caught an ant-eater with thick armour plates around its body. This little creature, about a foot long had rolled itself into the tight ball. It refused to open up. Later I found out that this was the way it defended itself when in danger. However its defense is not good enough that day. It became ant-eater soup for a lucky hunter.
            We had a rattan table-cum-chairs specially made for two infants. My sister, who was a year older than me, would be placed on one chair and I on the other chair opposite her. There we would sit in precarious balance while we have our meal on the table between us. I still wonder how my mother was able to seat us both simultaneously, for it was not possible to seat one baby only on one chair and keep the balance of the whole contraption. Another baby on the opposite chair was needed for balance. I was too young to remember how she did it.
            Childhood experiences sometimes leave visible marks on our bodies for the rest of our lives. Most of these experiences were painful ones. I had a particularly painful one. It happened when I somehow got hold my brother’s scout dagger and started cutting some coconut leaves with it. I remember distinctly chopping the tip of my index finger right to the nail with it. The next thing I remember was that I was crying non-stop and my mother applied some medicine and bandaged the finger, which was nearly severed. That was many years ago. Even now when I look at the semi-circular scar line around my finger I am reminded of the experience. I learned to respect knives from that day on.
            When I was about five, my family moved to the opposite side of town where my father had acquired a business. The home we moved into was a larger one. Around it there was a huge open space, occupied by a coconut plantation on one side and a playing field on the other. In this new environment, I spent my next three years before moving on to another house in the outskirts of town, but that is another story altogether. My early childhood had ended and a new phase had begun.


            Anger is one of the most devastating emotion that a person can have. When a person becomes angry, he loses his senses and can do things that normally he would not do. It is only after the deed is done that there may be cause for regret.
            I had an experience with a soldier when both of us became angry and said things we never should have said. It all started one day when the soldier’s son, a little boy of six or seven, walked by my house and started throwing stones at my dog. Unfortunately for him, the front gate was open and my dog ran out and gave him a bite that drew blood. The boy ran home and the next thing I knew, his father, a big burly fellow, was at my gate demanding compensation. At that time, I was a hot-headed youngster of fifteen and though I stood a whole head shorter than him, I never gave in an inch.
            In anger he uttered, “I’ll kill your dog!”
            Those words incensed me and I uttered, “I’ll kill your son!”
            The burst of anger hung over us for a moment before he strode away fuming. I was equally angry and was ready to take anything he could give me, and give him back in return, with interest. Such was my madness, the blindness that anger brought to my eyes.
            When my mother heard of the incident, she gave me a scolding and later explained the idiocy of my actions. It took sometime for me to realize the seriousness of the situation but luckily I did.
            So I walked over the soldier’s house. When he saw me coming, he came out to see me. I knew that he was ready to do battle with me. Indeed he was about to punch me when I said, “I’m sorry.”
            Simple words yet so effective, for he stopped his punch in mid flight. I apologized to him for saying stupid things and to my surprise, he apologized to me for saying stupid things too. The tension changed to laughter. The animosity vanished like a puff of smoke. We shook hands and soon were talking like old friends. We remain friends till the day he was transferred away.
            From that incident, I realized how dangerous anger can be. If we had persisted in our anger, I dread to think what the outcome would be. I thank my mother for guiding me through this particularly explosive incidents. Instead of letting the anger run its full course, I transformed into an opportunity to make peace. Anger gave way to mutual understanding and friendship. A little giving in on my part did the trick.
            I have seen instances where anger were allowed to run wild. The consequences were never good. Sometimes the involved parties find out too late the folly of their actions. For example, I once saw a man losing his temper in a food stall. For one reason or another, I saw him red-faced, shouting at the stall owner. Then he lashed out with his leg at the offending man. A heavy wooden chair stood between his leg and his intended victim and he ended up on the floor with a badly bruised shin. All we could do was to laugh at him. I wonder how many of us would not get into the same situation as he did if we were angry enough.
            The Japanese have a saying for anger: When you are angry, do not act; when you act, do not be angry. What this saying imply is that an act prompted by anger must be avoided. A short story will illustrate the point.
            A samurai came home late one night. He stepped quietly into his house to find a prone figure asleep beside his wife. In anger he drew his sword to kill his wife and her lover. But he remembered the above saying. So he sheathed his sword and stepped quietly outside. Next he noisily knocked on the door and re-entered the house, hoping to give the intruder a chance to escape. As he entered the house, he saw his wife emerging from her room, followed by his own mother! What a shock he had. His mother had been sleeping in his wife’s room to keep his wife company as there were many burglars around. The samurai was so relieved that he had not acted in anger.
            I practice the above maxim whenever I can. It enables me to act cool-headedly. Acting without the veil of anger to blind my eyes prevents me from doing things that I will regret later. If you care to, try it for yourself and see how effective it is.


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