Boxing was a huge affair at St. Peters. Every kid enjoyed cheering the boxers on until their voices were hoarse. St. Peters, like any other respectable school, divided their students into 4 competitive houses – Reds, Greens, Blues and the Yellows. The houses met annually at the boxing ring to duke it out for medals in the various weight classes. The sport was second only to Soccer in popularity. Watching the mass of boys sing in unison before every bout undoubtedly raised the boxers courage. Their loud, strong voices struck just the right note – Boxing was a gentleman’s sport at Peters. Don’t be misled though, after the bell rang it was each house for themselves as the two boxers fought. With every solid punch that found its mark or after a technical knock-out, the winning house cheered loudly. The boxers were a significant part of this act – sparring for about two minutes that seemed like an eternity, across 3 rounds. The bouts then played themselves out again and again, through the day for 2 days.
Did I mention that the Peters honorary referee – Shroff, was an ex-Peters boy? Shroff managed the fights like a professional would, never allowing a match to get out of hand or violent. If a boy clearly had the advantage, he would make sure the other boxer did not get into harms way. After all, there were parents to answer too. And yet, Shroff never called a fight too early – if he saw a spirited and even fight, he would keep it going. It was necessary for the boys to understand that victory, as well as defeat never came easily.
Not all Peters’ boys had the courage to enter the ring. It was really voluntary. Parents fretted after some boys. Other boys ignored their parents encouragement and chose not to fight. There were all kinds. Harsh was somewhere in between. He was not sure if he wanted to box this year. Last week, just after lunch, Harsh weighed in with all the other boys from his house. He was slated to fight in the heaviest category in Peters. To him, that meant he would be fighting the seniors for the first time. That intimidated him. He wished he hadn’t eaten so much curry and rice at lunch. Had he weighed in a few pounds less, he would have stayed with the welterweights.
On Monday, Harsh woke up feeling like he wanted to box but was still scared. He knew he would have a talk with Brij today, his senior. Brij, short for Brijmohan, headed the house with pride and Harsh looked up to him a lot. Brij would definitely follow up with every boy from the house who could box. He would want to know why Harsh wanted out.
Harsh went straight up to Brij’s class at the lunch bell. Brij had been standing outside the class for the last hour by virtue of not having done his Biology assignment. Harsh looked straight at him “I’m not sure if I want to box”. “And I did not want to do my Biology homework, now look at me!”, Brij replied with a mischievous smile. Harsh was serious though, “I’ll be pulped you Idiot. I can’t box the seniors, they’re just way too good”. “Stop whining and focus on who you’re fighting. Your house needs the participation points. That’s what you ought to box for. If I were you, I would get into the ring and think about slimming down next year. I am a little surprised by your attitude – are you going soft or something? If you’re thinking about failure already – I am not going to keep you on the other teams”. Brij’s direct threat had had the desired effect, Harsh went ahead and put his name down. He could not afford to lose his place on the other teams.
When the draws were announced, Harsh was drawn against Sergio one of the better boxers from Brij’s class. It was not going to be easy to beat Sergio. Sergio’s reach was a lot better than his own. Harsh began practicing for boxing day with his disadvantage in mind. He had consulted with Brij and decided that his best strategy would be to compete with Sergio on movement and agility. He would have to work hard to stay out of the way of the punches and try to win the fight on technical points.
On the day of the first round of bouts, the school rock band took over the boxing ring. They played “We are the champions!” with gusto, followed by a rocking rendition of the school song. The boxers waited in anticipation for their turn. As Harsh got his gear ready with the other boys of his house, he looked out at the ring, Shroff was already there announcing the bouts for the day. The match ups were under way soon.
As Harsh prepared to climb into the ring, he waved at his house supporters. They had been doing well that day and the spirit was infectious. He stepped inside and focused on Sergio. They were both ready to spar. Shroff got them together from their respective corners, shared a few words and began the fight. Before he knew it, Harsh was in the thick of it. Sergio had come out in a belligerent mood and was determined to use his reach to end the fight early. Harsh weaved confidently between the flurry of punches and moved quickly to return with a jab and a nasty cut across Sergio’s chin. Harsh was going to take a few risks even if it meant coming in closer to Sergio. Shroff stalled the match while Sergio rejoined the fight, trying harder to land some good punches in. Harsh’s supporters were going berserk – they were thrilled to see Sergio on the back foot.
At ring side, Harsh tried listening closely as Brij prompted him to stay cool and focus on the technicals for the next round. The blood and adrenalin were now rushing straight to his head. Harsh felt as if he could hear lucidly, but as soon as he stepped back into the ring he began trying to penetrate Sergio’s defense. Sergio, calmer of the two, got in a solid punch to Harsh’s forehead. Stunned, Harsh stepped away and irrationally attempted to weave back in and test Sergio’s guard again.
It was apparent to all that Sergio had a clear advantage now. Sergio let loose a devastating combination that knocked Harsh down. As Harsh collapsed on the canvas, he felt as if he had crashed into a soft pile of snow. As he remained disoriented on the ground, Shroff stepped in and checked. On understanding Harsh’s position, Shroff immediately awarded victory to Sergio. The bout was over for Harsh.
In the weeks that followed all the way to the end of the term, Harsh’s fight was discussed with the very best. It was definitely a tall order for a junior day boy to gain popularity with the boarders and the seniors. He had put up an amazingly spirited fight against a clearly superior opponent. It had been his decision at the time to match punch for punch. He did not regret it. After all, he had all of next year to stick to plan.