An over-successful case of ball tampering!

An over-successful case of ball tampering!

It meant that poor Mr Sarangapani (whom the girls of Std 9 bullied mercilessly) had to come to school every day to coach the hockey team, instead of his normal twice-a-week ordeal with them. Towards the end of one Friday evening practice, the poor coach looked close to a mental break-down. His dribbling practice had collapsed into some strange, contagious fit of giggles amongst the girls. His attempt to make the players practice passing in pairs, resulted in each passer tripping her partner with her stick…deliberately, of course, but with much ado about how it was all an ‘accident’. After about 5 such ‘accidents’, each occurring one after the other, the normally patient coach lost his temper and announced that NOBODY would be able to leave the field until each pair completed a proper passing practice —both up and down the vast field. Parents of boarders waiting to take their kids home for the weekend, would just have to wait a little longer till their daughters learnt to be obedient, he fumed!

This shocked the girls into obedience. Not the punishment itself, which was quite mild considering how incorrigibly they’d behaved, but the fact that poor Mr Sarangapani had actually lost his temper. It had never happened before. Quickly, the girls began practicing their passes, in earnest. All of them, that is, except Vrinda.

When it was her turn to step forward with her partner, Bulbul, they both ran forward, deftly flicking the ball back and forth. At a point when Vrinda was sure the coach wouldn’t notice, instead of a gentle accurate tap directing the ball towards her running partner, she scooped it high over Bulbul’s head with such force, that it went sailing over the field, above the high fence and into the bushes beyond the ground. The rest of the team groaned in unison.

Normally, a ball lost across the fence meant that the watchmen were called to search for it since it was not on school property. It also meant that play was stopped and the girls dispersed to their dormitories or to the dining room for tea. But today was not ‘normal’! Mr Sarangapani had been watching like a hawk, and he was certain that Vrinda’s action had been planned and not a mistake, as she pretended it was. Much to everyone’s horror, he marched off the principal’s office. He was back in a minute with Ms Devanyanam in tow. And before the girls could even figure out what had happened, they got the lecture of their lives!

“Nobody can go home till the ball is found… and this time the watchmen will not search for it!” Ms Devanyanam thundered. Vrinda was aghast! Her only reason for dispatching the ball out of sight was to forcibly end the practice and leave school quickly with her waiting parents. They had hoped to reach her home in Coimbatore before dark.  Any further delay and her weekend would have to be spent in an Ooty hotel instead.

Wrapped in a warm shawl since the evening had become rather chill, Ms Devanyanam, loomed large by the fence, peering down the slope as the hockey team members scrambled around amid the bushes of Lantana and Witches Broom, searching for the missing hockey ball. Vrinda, whose escapades normally got her classmates into a jolly mood, was despondent. Her friends were furious with her, and even more so when a tray of cake and tea arrived for Ms Devanyanam, who proceeded to consume it all right there, while the girls got their knees scraped and their shins scratched on the over-grown hillside.

Soon, when it got dark, Ms Devanyanam made an announcement. “Girls whose parents are waiting for them, can leave. But the ball HAS to be found …the search will continue after the weekend!” When she noticed a couple of happy smirks on a few faces, she quickly added, “NOT during games period or the extra hour of hockey practice, but you will search during your free time!” she concluded firmly. The smiles vanished, and as the girls began to shuffle way, Ms Devanyanam bellowed, “And if the ball is not found by next week, Std 9 will not attend Priya’s birthday party the following Saturday!”

A collective gasp of sheer horror escaped from the girls. For the Std 9 boarders, their day-scholar classmate, Priya’s birthday party was the high point of the 2nd term. It was an evening of unlimited food, loads of games and wild fun at Priya’s home. Surely, Ms Devanyanam couldn’t be cruel enough to even consider the idea?

The weekend was a grey and depressing one. Those who were not spending the weekend out, tried looking for the ball, but with no luck. Monday came and all Std 9’s free time was spent on that dreadful slope looking for the ball. Bulbul tore her new socks, on a wild thorn bush. Anna lost her spectacles, so that was one more thing to search for. Some girls noticed that Vrinda, the cause of all this trouble, wasn’t searching very hard. But before they could confront her about it in the dorm that night, she emerged from behind a cupboard with a ball in her hand! It wasn’t THE ball they’d lost, but it was a hockey ball all right. “I asked my Pa to buy it, just in case we didn’t find the real ball!” she announced happily. But Anna, the wise one, piped up, “Ms Devanyanam won’t be satisfied. Remember, searching for the ball is our punishment for fooling around with Mr Sarangapani. Showing up with a new ball will only make everybody angrier with us.”
“And if they find out that it was you, Vrinda, who bought it, things will get worse,” said Bulbul. Not to be discouraged, and determined not to miss Priya’s birthday party, Vrinda suggested, “Let’s make this ball look old…” So it started off with Vrinda biting the ball, and when her jaws began to hurt, Nithya took it out and scraped it endlessly along the rough edge of the tarred basketball court. After someone else had poked it with a compass, Anna left it to soak overnight in a mug of water. “That’ll make it easier to get the gloss off,” she said wisely. 

So, on Tuesday evening when a grim Ms Devanyanam arrived at the infamous slope to supervise how Std 9’s search was going on, the girls produced ‘the lost ball’! Looking innocent and wide-eyed, they reported how it was Vrinda who had “…found it in a bed of thorns, scratching herself terribly while extricating it”.

Ms Devanyanam smiled, and the girls all sighed with relief. Priya’s birthday party was safe, after all! But the Principal then said, very sweetly, “What a coincidence, Vrinda! Your father spoke to me on Sunday after he’d dropped you back. He was very happy with your sudden interest in hockey, especially that you’d asked him to buy you a new ball!” The girls froze as Vrinda turned an odd shade of pink. “Since it was you, my girl, who had tossed the ball over the fence in the first place, getting your whole class into trouble, I think it’d be a good idea if you gave your new ball to the school. Mr Sarangapani will collect it from you tomorrow.”

Well, to cut a long story short, Vrinda (still an odd shade of pink) promised to give her ‘new ball’ to the school. That night she collected what was left of her pocket money, borrowed a little from Anna and Bulbul, and the next morning handed over a handful of notes and change to Priya, begging her to buy TWO hockey balls when she went home for lunch. “Why two?” asked Priya. A grim Vrinda replied, “Just in case… you never know my luck. Anything could happen before your birthday!”

That evening, Vrinda hid one new ball in her cupboard, handed one over to Mr Sarangapani while mumbling a sheepish apology, and went on to play her most serious game of hockey game, ever. 

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