Life is actually a ping pong ball. It is so too. If you don’t believe me, roll yourself down the road and see how your life goes round and round with every gust of wind.
Well, it’s a theory anyway. Or so my good friend, TT Singh, sitting in Delhi tells me. Now TT Singh had beaten me in the finals of our club ping pong tournament and as you can imagine he never stops harping about it. That was the only time I lost a ping pong match to him but unfortunately it was a title match. I could – and I did – stand on roof tops and tell the whole world that I led him 76-1 in a head-to-head count. But it didn’t matter. He beat me when it mattered. Or so I thought.
For years after that match I refused to touch a racquet. And it wasn’t until much later that I realised what sports is really about. Growing up, I used to live in a place called Santa Cruz in Bombay. We had a community hall in our colony which had facilities for badminton, table tennis and carrom. Like everyone else, I used to go there to play and watch others play. There was this one kid, I think he was 12 then (I was around 17), who played every day and lost to every one around. But what struck me was that he came back again the next day… with improvements in his game.
Then one day, he finally managed to beat one of the older guys who had been thrashing the crap out of him all the while. I waited to see his expression, expecting a lot of excitement and energy. But no. That kid just packed his bag and went home. And came back the next day, ready for another evening of table tennis with an expression of intent concentration. That kid was honing his killer instinct and learning how to play the game… and the secret to success.
That kid is my friend Satya’s younger brother. Eventually he started beating both me and Satya very regularly. Today he is a computer professional somewhere in the USA, one of the best in the business, much sought after by companies. He is one of the few who didn’t have to return after the IT boom went phoot. And he taught me what sport is all about. He said one thing back then as a little boy that I think is a good philosophy to lead life by:
“I just have to keep putting that ball back on the table and I will win.”
So where does TT Singh come in? Well, TT Singh taught me a corollary to this ping pong philosophy.
“Play the game at your own pace.”
“Are you crazy? I will end up playing slow and the other guy will whack the shit out of me!” I said, horrified.
“Oye! I beat you na? Your game is fast. But when I played my slow game, you started playing at my pace. You competed with me, with my strong point and that’s why you lost. Play the game at your pace – that’s what ping pong is all about.”
I eventually started playing ping pong again only after I came to Pune in 1996. There was a little club around the place I rented, where I found I could play with the local players. They beat me almost every other day, but I had found the purpose of playing – to play against myself. The best sportspersons in the world have one thing in common: they compete only with the one person who can really beat them – their own self. And therefore, they beat others. This is a thought that I find very inspiring.
Yep, I think life is like a ping pong ball. Just keep putting that ball back on the table.