Like any college hostel housing an assortment of characters, mine in Salem was also home to its fair mix of weirdos, bookworms, sleazeballs, casanovas etc. VB was probably an honorary member of atleast a few of these groups, save the bookworm club of course. And while he was not sleazing it out with the ladies and earning evil stares for his horrid stand-up routines, he was busy pumping iron in the huge empty room on the 2nd floor of our hostel block. For VB was also our Pocket Hercules. All of 5 feet and built like an over-sized G.I Joe. Mr. TIES two years in a row. Unchallenged.
VB was always trying to broaden his horizons as a man of muscle. But not all sports that required strength accomodated his lack of height. He loved the Javelin Throw, but was perennially peeved by the fact that the back end of the 7-8 ft. pointy thing was always getting stuck in the grass as he widened his shoulders for the final throw. Any adjustments made in the grip would mean less leverage to throw and it pained him that the lanky, tricep-less twits were walking away with his medals.
This was when he turned to weight-lifting. He had always lifted weights, but had preferred outdoor sports in order to garner more attention from the ladies. But obviously, his style of throwing the Javelin didn’t make for an impressive show and thus was forced to go back to his original sport of choice.
And so it came to pass that VB qualified to represent Madras University at the inter-University weightlifting tournament. It was a huge honor for the college, but VB was modest about his chances. Unlike TIES which pitted him against dorky engineers, an inter-University event meant he had to go against the real bigwigs. And VB’s personal best of 62.5 Kgs in Clean & Jerk would not be enough to earn him a medal. So all he hoped for was to put on a good show and maybe improve upon his techniques by watching his competition.
But as the preliminary rounds wound up and the results announced, VB was surprised to discover that he had somehow managed to position himself in fourth place as they went into the final round. This was going much better than he had expected. But even this little mercy didn’t do much in terms of bolstering his hopes for a medal. Atleast not until he saw the bronze favorite self-destruct his chances in a poetic display of brawn winning over brain. Now this guy was good for 67.5 Kgs, a shoo-in weight for the bronze medal. But the yearning for a silver saw him botch three attempts at 70 Kgs. His record now stood at 62.5 Kgs and suddenly VB saw his first sliver of hope. And in a Rocky-like climactic moment, VB gestured to the volunteers to add on an extra 2.5Kgs to his ring of weights. For today, VB was going to make history. 65Kgs. A bronze medal.
As he stepped onto the stage, VB was a picture of concentration. The adrenaline gushed forth like the Mettur Dam and his clenched hands turned as white as the chalk that lined his palms. He knew the clean would be relatively easy, but it was the jerk he had to nail. A few seconds passed and in a smooth action, the weights now rested on his shoulders. The Clean was in the bag. He was halfway there. This would require every bit of his strength. From every muscle. From every vein. From every nerve ending. And as the entire auditorium watched, VB summoned all his strength and launched into the jerk, with an earth-shattering scream.
VB later told us that for the first few seconds he was not sure why the judges & the rest of the crowd were staring at him in stunned silence as he did his little victory dance. And then he realized that they had all understood ‘the word that came out of his mouth’. For the confounded few, Votha is the closest Tamil equivalent of the F-word, and used liberally in college campuses all over TamilNadu. But definitely, not in weight-lifting tournaments. But it was VB’s lucky day. The judges were forgiving. They understood adrenaline rushes and knew what the feat meant for the little man. And so our Pocket Hercules returned home proud with his first-ever medal at the inter-University event. And not surprisingly, hailed with appreciatory vothas from all his peers.
PS: VB tied the knot a few days back. Here’s wishing him a great married life!