A thirty-something Indian guy, I woke up one morning feeling invincible. The back didn’t hurt when I bent over the sink to rinse my mouth. The arm didn’t ache when I pulled out the chair at the breakfast table. I even squeezed the juice out of a lemon with my bare hand—an erstwhile impossible feat. So when Jim, my neighbor, told me they were one short for a ball game, I said “Take me on!” I was so excited. But the wife, who wasn’t enthused on the same level, chased me into the closet.

“You are not fit to play basketball. You are a cartoon.”

“I will let that insult fly, because I feel like a prize fighter today. I’m craving for action.”

“Listen, I like your enthusiasm, but just try something in your league—maybe mini-golf or bocce ball. Not basketball with those powerful Americans.”

I wasn’t going to let anyone discourage me. I shooed her away and changed into game wear. When I stepped out again, she was surprised and baffled.

“You look different. Something is missing…”

“You bet. Guess what?”

“Your potbelly! What happened to it?”

“Gone, baby, gone.” Yes, it was there just minutes ago, gone now. I laughed at the utter confusion on her face just before I left. Now, charged up, I was looking forward to a quality time on the ball court.

I quickly realized it wasn’t just all fun and games. I was the only Indian in the bunch. A burden of responsibility was thrust upon my shoulders. I was representing the motherland, whether the motherland liked it or not. Now, I could imagine what cricketer Sachin Tendulkar felt every time he walked out to bat. I wanted to be the best.

“Have you ever played this game before?” Jim asked me.

Something in his tone suggested I did not. All right, so I never did, but I was not going to take that snobbish remark lying down. A simple lie should wipe that smirk off his face. Remembered a tip from another Indian about how the frequent usage of the word “absolutely” projects confidence, I replied:

“Absolutely! I played for my school.”

“All right, so you can drib, right?”

“Absolutely!”

What the hell was “drib”? Weren’t we just supposed to just toss a ball through a hole?

Big Mike interrupted us just then.

“Jim, we have a problem. Everyone’s wearing dark shirts!”

Jim and Mike pondered over the problem of too many dark shirts. I didn’t quite follow what appeared to be, at worst, some kind of a laundry issue. Jim spoke up. “Ok, listen up, guys. We are picking teams – Jim’s HotDogs vs. Mike’s Burgers. But we got too many dark shirts here. We don’t want to confuse teammates with opponents. So, one team goes shirts and the other goes shirtless.”

Shirtless! God, no! It better not be s…

“The Burgers keep their shirts. Hotdogs, lose yours.” Oh no!

I pulled Jim aside. “You know, Jim, I like burgers more than hot dogs. Ethically speaking, I should play for Mike’s team.”

Jim looked surprised. “You are a vegan, what do you care? I got you here, so you are in my team.”

“Ok, do I really have to take my shirt off?”

“Relax bro! Do you see any chicks here? All right, dawgs, shirts off!”

The rest of the HotDogs removed their shirts. I stalled.

“Come on! Take your shirt off.” Jim barked.

Reluctantly, I stripped, and registered the anticipated effect. Jaws hit the floor.

“What the hell … is that tape?”

“Holy cow! He taped his belly to his sides!”

I cleared my throat. “Cosmo, November. Keeps it from flopping around.”

“Doesn’t it hurt when you peel it off?”

“Not clear Scotch tape. But, Cellophane, oh yeah – rips the hide off.”

Whew, the game was finally starting. Jim grabbed the ball and threw it in my direction. It bounced off my midriff, and knocked me over. He frowned and called me aside.

“Ok, new job for you. Hustle!”

“What is “hustle”?”

“Just stay aggressive. Follow the ball.”

I hustled. Like a dog spinning around in circles trying to bite its own tail I tore up and down the court, learning in the process that no one ever passes the ball to the guy whose only job is to hustle. It was like the substitute player in cricket who fields all day but never gets to bat or bowl. In the end, it didn’t matter because minutes later, I tripped over my shoe laces and tore my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). They carried me home where my wife answered the door wearing her most sardonic Judge Judy expression.

Two weeks later, I was lying on the operating table while the surgeon stuffed a fish-like tissue through a hole in my knee.   He didn’t say where the replacement tendon came from, but my wife remembered seeing a graveyard next to the hospital (a rather strategic arrangement, I must say, good for both businesses).
They handed me a tabled list for the long road to recovery.

Recovery Time     Knee Flexion    Action Impacted
12 hours                20 degrees        Walking
2 days                    70 degrees        Ducking objects chucked at you by the better half
4 days                    90 degrees        Western toilet sitting-style
3 months               135 degrees       Picking up your goods while still looking at the other party in a   Mafia                                                                         rendezvous where suitcases are exchanged
5 months                180 degrees      Eastern toilet squat-style

Even though I have a Western toilet here in America, it would still take five months before I could use it my way, so I’m finally learning the sitting down method. Not nearly as efficient, but, at least, I don’t have to wipe off the footprints from the toilet seat after I use it. On the bright side, the doctor just told me who the tendon donor was – a guy from Houston. I have a white Texan’s tissue screwed to my bone. Heck, I probably don’t need to apply for citizenship.

Bharadwaj Pudipeddi is a Computer Engineer in San Jose.

This article first appeared in the July 2009 issue of the magazine.

 

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