Arms akimbo, I stared at the single star I could spot in the night sky, on my way to dinner at the dining area I share with some 30 other females at my hostel.
A smile took its time to fill my face as I tilted my head to my left shoulder and thought : My life's been quite an adventure, has it not?
It's probably around 3 p.m. but I cannot confirm it with any certainty.
The match I was looking forward to is now over and I am staring at the back of a certain someone's head and dreamily thinking to myself : isn't he just fabulous?
You don't need to know who the head belonged to.
It doesn't matter, not anymore.
Anyway, my thoughts are broken by a heavily English accent.
Some dude in a red t-shirt is slowly raising his crescendo and I am suddenly completely disgusted by his attitude.
Screaming at a chair umpire, or any other official at a tennis match, for whatever reason, does not sit well with me .
I am instantly reminded of Andrew Roddick, which is not a compliment for the young man in question .
I shove my tongue against my cheek, which is a constant habit with me when I am unsure how to react externally at a given situation .
I look him over from head to toe, glance at his Asian doubles partner, and disinterestedly, look away.
I am trying to catch snippets of an ongoing conversation which is taking place in the row of seats before me .
Every now and then I glance at the BRAT's match.
He plays well, I admit to myself.
He knows what he wants and goes after it but does he have to be such a bitch about it ?
He creates a scene again, they eventually lose the match after a few minutes and I am relieved as I receive a call on my cell phone, making my way out of the stadium .
I don't go to see the matches the next day, but the day after, I decide otherwise .
Since I have little idea regarding what time the matches will start, I arrive at the stadium around 7:30 a.m. and I check the notice board to see who's made it to the semi-finals.
I run my eyes over the names and then wait an agonising hour and a half for the first match to begin .
I pick a seat and listen to some music, watch a few music videos and also spend a certain amount of time gazing lovingly at the court below me .
After all, it is the venue of the Chennai Open, my second favourite tennis tournament.
After little more than an hour has passed, I get bored and decide to take a stroll outside and see what, if anything, is taking place.
There's a fair skinned player sitting outside so I take a wrong guess that this is probably James because he was talking to the top seeded Asian player.
After walking around for a few minutes I seat myself in one of the chairs outside and continue to listen to music.
A few moments later, I consider walking around for a while but I leave my handbag, face towel and prescription glasses on the chair next to mine.
When I return a few minutes later, The Brat is sitting in my chair and i move towards him to gather my belongings and make my way back inside the stadium.
As I bend a little to pick up my stuff, he looks at me and mutters hurriedly "I'm so sorry", while tying his shoelaces.
I reply somewhat belatedly " it's not a problem…"
I stare at him for two moments and in the third, I lower my gaze.
So, this is James.
Not the attitude I was expecting.
I enter the stadium and enjoy the match immensely.
I have no idea yet, that the next match is going to be even better.
The outcome of the match leaves me amazed.
Our boy has a silent quality, a quiet sophistication .
I am extremely proud and later congratulate him, wishing him success for the next day.
In about 5 minutes, the Asian and James walk into the stadium.
I'm expecting it to go the Asian's way.
He's very confident and he has the walk to match his talk.
For me, at this point of time, even at the warm up, I'm backing the Asian simply because I've seen him practicing and I've heard good things about his game.
The match starts off in a similar fashion but the heat is getting to me by now and I've lost interest because I'm not impressed.
I clap for both players whenever I appreciate a winner or an ace or a good move even if it doesn't result in the point going to the challenger.
My heart goes out to them as I struggle in the heat and I start to wonder what James is thinking of at that moment .
He's a pale, white Englishman, he looks like he's barely out of his teens even though he's taller and broader than me.
But he's a picture of strength and survival as he battles it out, staying in the moment.
I suddenly realise it's 5 games a piece in the 1st set.
Meanwhile, mini-hell is about to break lose but its epicentre is Asia.
I remain distracted and a little pissed off at the weather.
I shift around restlessly in my seat.
James wins the first set.
The Asian calls for a medical time-out .
I am nodding off.
I'm not completely sure whether it was towards the end of the first set or the beginning of the second set that the Asian voiced his first complaint regarding the replacement of the in-use tennis balls with new tennis balls.
James felt that the balls needed replacing but the Asian would have none of it.
He called for the referee and there was quite a scene.
From there onwards, everything started to bother the Asian - the weather, the court, James' winners…
At one point, while it was still early days in the second set, the Asian remarked, "he's talking haa, because he won the first set…and nodded his head scornfully.
I wondered what that was about since I don't remember James saying anything to deserve such a retort.
It didn't stop there.
He carried on with his tirade and even at one point of time, while he was on a losing spree, he said, "it's all fucking luck….it's just fucking luck…." Raising his hands and letting them drop resignedly again.
I get it.
The Asian was upset.
James continued to gain my respect when he refused to get in an argument time and again while the Asian continued to fan the flames.
The inevitable happened.
'lose your temper, lose the moment'.
James played his cards right.
He won fair and square.
But the Asian was determined to get in one last attempt, one last jibe.
I cannot recall the entire portion of the last conversation they were engaged in but it went something like this :
"good match. You played well."
"I am injured."
"you lost because you're injured?"
Three second pause.
"I didn't say I lost because I'm injured. I just said I'm injured".
"what does that mean?"
" I would have won…I would have beaten you…"
James starts to walk away.
I mutter under my breath, "punch him, punch him…"
[the above conversation might not be entirely accurate, but it's a basic idea of what was said between the two, post-match].
I am smiling as I watch James walk away.
While I move out of the stadium for the third time that day, I spot James' coach, Paul, who holds out his hand to take mine and introduces himself.
I ask him, " you're James' coach, right?"
He smiles, yes.
"I think he was very classy today.
I didn't expect it because I thought if I had to choose who would be the first to crack, I had my money on Paleface."
Paul's eyes became a little thoughtful and seemed slightly surprised at my choice of words but at that moment I thought nothing of it, although I did apologise to him and asked him to deliver my apologies to James the very next morning.
I told Paul exactly what was going through my mind during the match and that I didn't expect James to win it in the manner in which he did.
James showed remarkable class and discipline for one so young.
He truly deserved to win even though I still hold that the Asian is the better shot maker.
By this time, James joined us after he had refreshed himself.
I repeated my congratulations and we discussed the match for a bit.
Paul then asked me what the henna designs on my forearms, hands and palms were, that he had noticed them two days ago, were they tattoos?
I laughed out loud; no,they weren't tattoos.
That they came from a plant.
Paul asked " you stick the plant on your skin?"
I giggled and said "noooo…the leaves of the plant are dried, crushed, made into a powder which is then made into a paste, put in a plastic-wrapping cone and then patterned onto the skin ."
"is it a tattoo"?
"no," said I, " it will wash off in two to three days".
"moreover, I don''t have the courage to needle myself or else I'd have gotten a big picture of my father tattooed on the inside of my forearm and Elvis's picture on the back of my hand".
"Elvis?", they both asked incredulously.
"I love Elvis".
Paul said, "that's music from my generation. What are you doing listening to Elvis?"
"I tend to think of myself as an Old Soul. Physically, I'm 27 years old, but up here", I tap my skull as an indication of my mind, "I'm way older."
James commented, "Elvis, huh? Haven't heard that one in a while."
And then he smiled.
What I should have said was "Quality never goes out of style."
[from the brand logo of the denim-giant, LEVI'S]
I don't recall much more of our conversation.
I finally turned to James and said, " I won't keep you any longer. Rest your mind for tomorrow and play to win. I'll see you tomorrow."
Saying goodbye to Paul, I moved into the stadium to watch a really exciting doubles match where both teams were entirely composed of Indians.
Overall, it was a good day.
I was really looking forward to the next morning.
I wanted to see how James' desire would match up to my Indian's quiet sophistication .
What would tomorrow bring for this young English lad in an alien land?
The following morning, I wake up unexpectedly late [by my standards] and I rush to wash up, tidy my bed and scram for the bus station.
Two buses pass me by, I glance at the clock on my cell phone.
It is ten minutes past nine.
A few minutes later, another bus arrives and I almost miss it because of the morning rush and the elbow-shoving that takes place by the other passengers.
I get to my stop in one piece, no bones damaged.
When I arrive at the venue after a three minute fast-walk competition, I am greeted by Paul, who in his familiar fashion, welcomes me with a warm smile and a cheery 'how do you do?'
I ask him how James is feeling and he replies that James is doing good, he is ready for the match to get underway.
I remember that I owe Paul an apology for my unintended racist remark of 'Paleface'; his brows knit in wonder at my words and he kindly tells me not to worry about it, they didn't take it to heart.
I offer a reason saying that I don't speak to Europeans very often and that since me and my group of friends regularly poke fun at the latter, I'm not used to being guarded about what comes out of my mouth.
Paul is very gracious and still smiling, he says it's not an issue, leave it be.
Seconds later, James approaches to my left, I smile and nod a greeting, he purses his lips and nods a greeting then looks down at the floor.
I swear it, if he had on a hat, James would tip it to me with a 'good day, ma'am.'
'Classy' rushes across my mind and I look as pleased as punch.
They make their way into the stadium, I make one last trip to the washroom to check out my reflection and I move towards the entry of the Showcourt.
I first think of sitting in the same seat as I did the day before but I sense a need to use the john very soon so i make my way to the row of six chairs that are placed parallel to the court.
I ask the physiotherapist, Suresh, if I may sit next to him.
He replies in the positive but says he might have to sit at the end of the row in case his skills are required by the players.
I nod understandingly and removing a single chair from the rows of chairs stacked one above the other, I carry it a little distance behind, near to the exit and seat myself.
The sun is shining directly in my face so I pull my head scarf a little lower and attempt to watch the match in similar fashion.
But from where I'm sitting, I can only see James to the left of me and I have to bend forward, looking directly into the sun to watch Saketh Myneni, the player from India.
Paul turns around and motions to me to come and sit beside him.
I motion back with my hands that I am fine.
He gets up from his seat a few moments later and come up to me and repeats the same.
I tell him that the seats are probably for match officials and that they might be arriving any minute now.
He says that he himself is not an official but he's sitting there.
I laugh at his simplicity and reply that James is his charge, so he has the right to sit there.
Paul rolls his eyes, screws his mouth and says that nobody is sitting there now, and if anyone arrives, we'll cross the bridge when we come to it.
I still refuse and say that I'll make do.
Paul gives up and returns to his seat.
In just under three minutes or so, the match begins.
I find it highly uncomfortable to get a decent view with people walking around or selfishly placing themselves a few feet from my chair.
I decide that if until the end of the first two games nobody occupies the seat next to Paul, then I certainly would.
It happens just so.
I leave my seat and coming up behind Paul, whisper, "well, if no one else will…"
Paul smiles at me and I am ready to watch some good tennis from these two guys, both playing their very first Futures final match.
The following account is not as much about the match as it is about the kind of person I later found Paul to be.
James struggled throughout the match and Saketh was 'frickin' fantastic.
He gave James very little opportunity in the first set winning it 6 games to 1.
Paul was full of praise for Saketh and even commented at one point, "where did this guy drop from?? He is absolutely killing him."
Or something along those lines.
Saketh really was that incredible.
I debated whether I should cheer James up some more or whether I should just let him play his game.
I went for it :
"come on, James, you can turn this around, I know you can"
I shouted out something else as well which I can't quite remember at this moment, at which Paul commented, "you're very bold, aren't you?"
I grinned sheepishly and from then on stuck to shaking my fists and mouthing "I believe in you, James, I know you can do this."
Paul asked me why I wasn't more audible in my encouragement any more.
I told him that since James was leading in the second set at 4-3, I didn't want to cause any distraction.
From then onwards, whenever James returned to his seat for a break, I simply stared at him, willing him to win and hoping against hope that in some strange, freaky way he would understand that I had his back, in any small, meaningless way I could manage.
I was also pleased to hear upon inquiring that James is not a racquet-thrower.
That did earn James a whole lot of points with me since I used to consider my small collection of racquets as 'my babies.'
I told Paul that my heart was pounding to high heaven when I cheered James on in the otherwise silent stadium but I did it because James was in a strange land among stranger people and that he had no one else for support apart from Paul.
Saketh finally got the better of James and I don't think I'm far from the truth when I say that James was probably relieved his ordeal was over.
Paul is one of the most chilled out and easy-going people I have known for a while now.
We spoke throughout the match in bits and pieces since he also had to keep an eye out for James' progress and in typical coach-fashion, covered every point in his notebook.
My earliest memory of Paul is probably when James was playing the doubles match he later lost.
He was sitting in the stands watching James' progress.
I remember little else.
On the day, I termed James Marsalek as 'classy', Paul asked me whether I was from the Press.
I replied no , I wasn't but that I was a writer-in-the-making; at least that's where I hoped to get, soon.
He asked me what sort of stuff I wrote about and I replied that I was very keen on covering the Arab-'Israeli' conflict and I motioned with my index and middle fingers the words 'within quotes'.
I think his interest in hearing more about my life from me may have started from that point.
But he told me that dozens of writers are covering that topic, that it would be difficult for me to make my place amongst them.
I replied that my little book would be different, that not many people would be willing to sit through 500 pages of big, boring words, that i would make it interesting enough for EVERYONE to read.
He wished me luck with my endeavours and asked me if I played tennis.
I told him that I used to play tennis up until a while back, that even though I had not performed well at the five torunaments I had entered, I loved the game immensely and that I had to give up on it because I was not seeing any returns in the near future, that I had a job earlier but now I turned to writing since I didn't want to live on a salary my whole entire life.
I also told him that I wasn't well off, that I didn't have a father any longer and that being the only child of my mother, I had responsibilities towards her; I have been known as a prolific writer throughout my school and college days so I thought, "why not give it a shot?"
I continued, saying that I am a very opinionated person without being prejudiced and I am against Israeli policies not just because I am a muslim but more so because I am against anyone who schemes and steals from other people, that which does not belong to them.
Paul commented about something next ; maybe it was the colour of my skin or my un-Indian features in reply to which I grinned like a conspirator and said that I am a convert to Islam and that my great grandparents were Scottish Macdonald's.
He turned to me smiling with his jaw slightly dropped and seconds later managed, "now I've heard everything!"
I grinned cheekily and said, " not many Scottish Macdonald Islamic converts, are there?", to which he replied, grinning, "no, no there aren't !"
"Scotland is a very beautiful country," said he.
"I wouldn't know, I've never been outside of my own."
I told him that I wasn't born and brought up in Chennai but that I came from the eastern part of India, although I was born in New Delhi.
He asked me the name of the region and instead of replying straight away, I counter-questioned him, " have you heard of Kolkata?"
He rolled his eyes at me and jestingly said, "of course I've heard of Kolkata. Have you heard of London, huh? England, you know England?"
My sarcasm always at hand, I smile wickedly and turning to him with one eyebrow cocked, I retort, "Of course I've heard of England. We've put up with you for the last two hundred and fifty years."
"whoa!, Paul grins.
"burn!, exclaims victorious me.
It sure felt good.
"so, what else do you like apart from writing?"
"I love learning anything I can. Knowledge is very important to me. If I'm not learning something new each and every day, I'm not living".
"you must have been very good at school then?"
"quite the opposite actually. I was very, very naughty at school. I have repeated classes because I would give trouble when it came to sitting down with my books."
"so you were something of a rebel then, yes?", and he smiled pointedly in my direction.
At this point, I buried my face in my lap while at the same time, I grinned shamefully.
"you are very interesting to talk to, you really are," is something Paul mentioned on at least four different occasions.
"you really think so? Well, thank you," I smiled.
It was fairly obvious from his appearance that Paul was advanced in age, so I thought nothing of asking him how many kids and grandkids he had back home.
"four kids, two grandkids,"he replied.
[for anyone who is reading this, I've been quite unwell for the past two days, so there might be some major chunks I have left out and remembered later, but have been unwilling to edit that which has already been written. Paul and I discussed some other matters as well, including James' game, his technique and his progress throughout the final match of the tournament, all of which I will continue to leave out]
Paul asked me soon after if I was married.
I said no, I wasn't.
"are you single?"
"completely unattached, mentally as well. I haven't got my eye on anyone."
Paul grinned widely at the words 'mentally as well'.
"and I probably never will. I want something very different, very specific from the man I will share the rest of my life with. I will not compromise on quality and I refuse to be around garbage."
Paul's smile was profoundly thoughtful as he said the words I had gotten so used to hearing from him, "you are very interesting to talk to Naserah, it was a pleasure meeting you."
I cannot recall at this very moment what we spoke of next.
James' agony was nearing its end and I got ready to leave after wishing Paul "every happiness in the world" and also told him to convey my best to James.
Paul asked me to wait a while and convey my wishes first hand.
I declined and said that I needed to be on my way but that I would wait for the prize distribution to get over.
I shook Paul's hand and said it was nice to meet him and that I had thoroughly enjoyed our little tete-a-tete with Paul replying in the same and I walked out not knowing what surprises the evening would bring.
It was almost seven hours later that I decided to type in Paul's name on Google.
What I read shocked the socks off of me.
I had not even known Paul's surname until this time but he had asked me in passing if I had heard of a certain Ross Hutchins.
I replied that the name sort of rang a bell but I couldn't quite place it.
Paul simply said that he was a doubles player ranked about 50 in the world and that he might play the Chennai Open in the next month and a half, that he had partnered Andrew Murray in the Davis Cup tie and that he had also partnered Andrew in Paris last week.
He left out the part about Ross winning the silver medal in doubles at the Commonwealth Games.
When Paul had asked me at the beginning of the match if I followed the ATP tour, I said that I used to while I was in my home town but at the place where I stay in Chennai, I have no Television.
I recalled that when Paul had been speaking about his children, I had caught one of their names as 'Ross'.
I had simply thought all this while that Paul was 'just a coach'.
When I typed in the words 'PAUL HUTCHINS', I saw that there was a Wikipedia page of this name.
I hurriedly opened it and spluttered giggles for the next hour or so.
I had been sitting and speaking so very frankly to a former tennis player[1962-70] who had also played two Davis Cup ties, who had been Great Britain's team manager from 1975-87, been Davis Cup captain for a record 31 matches, including the '78 final versus the USA as well as being the Lawn Tennis Association's head from 2006-08.
Paul was a television commentator from 1987 through the year 2000, the director of Riverside Indoor Tennis Clubs from 1987 to 1997, tournament director for junior, club and corporate development schemes, including the Road to Wimbledon from 1987 through 2006.
He is now the owner and managing director of Tennis Concepts, a management, marketing and sponsorship company.
Humble or what??
Paul never once mentioned anything about himself but was all ears for hearing my life's story, a complete nobody!
He was gracious and pleasant and accommodating, showing concern when I divulged some things which in retrospect I wouldn't have, had I known who he was.
I continuously praised him to my roommate, Ayesha, exclaiming again and again, "I can't believe he is THE Paul Hutchins. Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!!!"
"he is so simple and down-to-earth, so wonderful to talk to, I can't believe I told him as much as I did, I can't believe I sat by his side the whole time. The former head of British Men's Tennis. Ahhhhhh!"
It's not every day that I meet two nice, well-mannered Europeans like James and Paul.
I'll admit I was wrong about James, he doesn't seem like a brat now, just a boy, passionate about his play.
I know that feeling well.
I've never screamed at an umpire or any tennis official, ever, but I have given one young player from Gujarat a hard time.
At the next tournament, my first Futures, I got my own back, three times worse than what I had done and it wasn't very nice.
I still affix the term 'BITCH' to her name because that is exactly what she acted like.
But the part of me that loved and lived for tennis alone is now buried deep, deep inside of me.
For eternity, God willing.
So this was the account of my meeting these two pleasant white folk, as far as I could recall, given my present condition.
To James Marsalek and Paul Hutchins, MAY YOU TWO ALWAYS LIVE WELL AND PROSPER.