Monday, March 08, 2010


Though I used to boast a lot when I was a kid, recently I guess I don’t, and even when I was a kid, I was not a big fan of listening to someone boast …

So, when Master told me that he would reach the finals of the table tennis tournament with ease, I summarily brushed it aside, with sarcasm. Master, as I call him, writes to me every single day, OK, every single week-day, a mail from his mobile phone, teaching me not-so-easy-to-read Japanese words. He would carefully select an article from the day’s evening edition of Asahi and write down the Japanese-reading for difficult words. I am not a big fan of writing long emails, especially from my difficult-to-type mobile phone, though I really appreciate his long-and-useful mail-lessons. Reading his email along with the “article of the day” has become a habit. So is the habit of visiting his coffee shop with Shanthi and Solomon on Saturday’s, named “Charmonee” which I guess is French, is on the ever busy “route-1”.

When I met him for the first time in a friend’s marriage, I was impressed at the first sight. Looking at his suit, and demeanor, I presumed him to be a "big shot", a great man. He gave the speech for the newly-wed. A year has passed since, and getting to know him better, he did not disappoint me, he is indeed a great man, but he was just happy (without being a big shot). He was clear in his thoughts … simple in his approach, yet from time-to-time, he utters things-that-summarily seems stupid, yet worth pondering. He was born in the same year as my dad, never married, runs not less than a 100 Kilometers a week, competes in every single marathon in the Kansai region, and plays table tennis 3 times a week, in his 60’s now. Before meeting him, I had plans to retire early.

As usual I met him this Saturday, and invited him for a film party in my home-theater on Sunday; he told me that he would take part in the local table tennis tournament. With an 80% chance of rain, and bunking church when Shanthi’s not around, and nothing else to do on a rainy Sunday, I thought I better go to support him. I wanted to see him live up to his own boasting and hence expressed my desire to go and support him, he was happy, and told me to come early. I asked him, “How about, 12 Noon?”, for I considered, 12 noon to be early for lonely-Sunday’s. He replied, without hesitation that he would be "playing in the finals" by the time. I could not hide the sarcastic flash from my face, though I tried hard not to show it. For a moment I thought that he was also sarcastic.

Master, as I have learnt over the period of time, never cares about sarcasm, and never gets angry. He is a character, the character. Last year, he was eliminated in the earlier rounds by a man, whom I knew. In fact, I considered his table tennis as "beatable". Anyway, with nothing to do on Sunday, I decided to go and support him. I thought, that it’s a tribute to a person who writes to me every single (week) day.

Having said all this, I myself, like table tennis, hmmnnn…I play table tennis, better than my tennis, in my own amateurish style, with my JPY 800 racket, whose rubber Solomon likes to stand on. It’s lost its shine and gleams with Solomon’s shoe marks, does not have any grip what-so-ever, yet I stood second in the Kishoin table tennis tournament. I was mostly lucky as my opponents simply lost, and eventually made me win. And in the final’s, I was pitted against an old guy, far older than my dad, and lost my mood for any competitive table tennis against the elderly opponent, and simple gave way for his victory, and after he had won, I figured out, that I would have lost even if I would have fought, for his game was (far) better than mine.

I had noted down the name of the venue and told him that I would put the GPS enabled iPhone to test. iPhone GPS is not bad, after-all, it is the first ever GPS that I am using, and I never knew anything better or worse for any sort of comparison. During the rainy Sunday, in which you hate riding your bicycle, it took me for a real-good-ride. The iPhone GPS predicted that I would reach the destination in about 45 minutes by walk, and I took 55 minutes riding my bicycle. I was definitely not riding at walking speed. I will analyze what went wrong later. But, Master and I took only 25 minutes on our way back. Master is definitely smarter than the iPhone GPS, inside Kyoto. Or I went 30 degree uphill and came sliding down ;-)

7th, March, 2010, Sunday, woke up for the 1st time at 7AM, thought it was early, and wished to sleep for an hour more, woke up again at half-past-9, and stayed in bed till 10. When I finally managed to get up, a mountain of “to-be-washed” begged me for attention. I quickly transferred the mountain into the washing machine. Thanks to the drier function, I don’t have to bother drying the clothes. Made some garlic toast, and ate it with milk, took a hot shower, for some strange reason shaved my face (though I don’t do this (even) on weekdays) … and then left home at around 11:15AM, and hoped to reach the venue before 12. After getting to know some new places around my neighborhood as I was just going in circles, (thanks to iPhone GPS), I reached the Venue, 15 minutes past 12.

Inside the big gymnasium, there was Master, standing with a grey Jacket, white gloves, and a dry unfathomable smile in his face. He was standing as if he wanted to leave. Looking at all this and adding my own creativity, I for a moment, thought, that he had lost and was just waiting for me, and would probably leave with me. He was standing with some kind of urgency in his face. He did not bother much even when I went near him, and with the same dry smile in his face, he told me that in the first round, his opponent got defeated 3-0, and quickly ran to the toilet. Urgency ... ah, my creativity.

I saw a big contingent from Kishoin (the place where I live), and the place where I play table tennis. The group from Kishoin was happy to see me, and even gave me some sweets, for they thought I had come to cheer them. But when they learnt that I had come to just support my friend, they gave a, give-our-sweet-back “you moron” look. Despite their staring at me, I ate it.

Master was running here and there, till his 2nd round match. He predicted that he would beat his next opponent, 3-0, and he did. For the first time, I saw master, playing table tennis. His table tennis, like his whole life, was smooth, ordinary, simple, neat, and gentle; it was an ideal show like the great Roger Federrer of tennis. Master never tried to win, but his opponent simply lost trying to win. Master for his part, made sure he kept the ball at play. His face did not look rash, confident, or dejected, it was just flat. During the match, he was just gently smiling at his opponent. And while I was clapping intently to support him, I felt, it did not matter much.

After the match, master came to me, and while I congratulated him, he told me that it would be difficult to beat the next opponent. He was not worried, but he just thought that it would be difficult. And difficult it was, master lost the 1st set, without any fight. The opponent was way too good. After the 1st set, for a moment, I thought, everything was over. Into the second set, master lost the 1st 5 points in a row, the opponent was 180-degree opposite to master, he would cheer himself, with “ehhhh” and then look at Master and say things like, “now-you--serve” and things like that. I thought, master is losing the mental game. But master was just trying to keep the ball in play. And into the later part of the second set, his opponent started making errors, unforced errors, and got into a shell … really … no-body could believe it. He lost the 2nd set 12-10. And went on to win the 3rd, but he lost the 4th and the 5th, 11-2 or something like that. After the game Master told me that he was lucky. I thought the guy perished in his own mind-games.

As promised earlier Master was in the finals. Having seen his game, I was no more surprised that he was in the finals. I am sure that, if I was ever pitted against him, he would defeat me, while he is just sleeping.

Master and I had earlier planned to leave the venue at around half past 2. But since the final’s was yet to take place, Master was worried about his promise. He went into the match with a lot of confidence, and won the 1st 5 points in the 1st set, and suddenly I saw some anxiety in him, and he started playing for the winners and eventually lost the game-set-match 0-3. He was different in the final game, it seemed like he wanted to win. I should never take the credit away from his opponent, who was very brilliant.

After the game, I promised myself that I would indulge myself with a better table tennis racket that Solomon wouldn’t stamp, and put in some more practice and beat the guy who defeated Master. Vengeance is it? I am sure I can defeat him if I practise 24-hours a day, for 1 whole year ;-)

We reached home at around 3PM. Master was more interested in coming back with me just to keep his promise, rather than receiving his runner’s up trophy. He is a "real Japanese" man, a nice human being, an innocent child in his sixties, who teaches me a lot more than Japanese. I used to like him, and now it’s a mixture of respect and liking.

In 2007, when I stepped into Kyoto, I would have never dreamt that I would meet so many humble, yet great people. Now I know that, there is something special in Kyoto that I would never get anywhere else in Japan …

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