I dived. I did instinctively what I had been practising deliberately at Matlab village by repeatedly diving on the hard-wood bed, cushioned with a folded quilt. I had to. A cross pass was coming from the east side of the goal post at the north end of the field. The striker was closing in with full-speed. The screaming by the crowd was intensifying. My adrenaline kicked in. I was fearless.
I reached and grabbed the ball first, lying down almost perpendicular to the goal line, holding it against my chest. The striker missed the ball.
But he did not miss my head and neck. Soon after Ip?..o..
"..pan, Tapan!" I could hear someone's increasingly audible voice from afar. It had a hint of concern and a sense of urgency. In no time, I could hear it clearer. I opened my eyes. Dr Mahmudur Rahman, my BUET ChE classmate and an Ahsanullah Hall (AH) football teammate, was standing nearby.
I came out of a concussion, although that term was not as commonly used then as it is now.
It was 1970, a year from EPUET becoming BUET in liberated Bangladesh.
The striker, Nurul Haque, one year my junior at Matlab High School, was bending over to check me out. Still huffing and puffing, his face was wearing a look of concern, perhaps thinking of how he would have faced my widow mother, had something gone terribly wrong.
At Matlab, Nuru and I played countless hours of football, even in the monsoon mud, in the school ground and around, for fun. That day, we were playing seriously for our halls: he for Quaid-e-Azam Hall (QAH, renamed Titumir Hall) and I for AH.
He was relieved seeing my eyes open.
I was relieved seeing him-thin and not too tall-rather than one of the two skilful and stout Sher-e-Bangla Hall (SBH) strikers, dreaded for their steel-like upper bodies and stone-like legs. The same kick from one of them would have landed me in the nearby Dhaka Medical College Hospital or, even worse, in a place, from where nobody returns.
In those years (1967 to 1974, the period I was in EPUET and BUET, first as a student and then as a lecturer), SBH tended to attract students strong in sports. The name Sher-e-Bangla, meaning Tiger of Bengal, might have something to do with it. Named after the Tiger himself-the late AK Fazlul Haque, the chief minister of undivided Bengal during British rule and later Governor of East Pakistan-its pronouncement still evokes a sense of strength and fearlessness, two attributes associated with sports.
Mr Hasanul Haque Inu (BUET, ChE '70), the current Hon'ble Information Minister, Bangladesh, stayed at SBH. A gifted football goalkeeper, he played for Mohammedan Sporting and other Dhaka League clubs, while a student. He graduated excelling in sports, honing his political skills, and fighting ferociously in the 1971 Liberation War-like an SBH tiger.
Ahsanullah Hall-and Ahsanullah School of Engineering that grew up to be BUET, both named after Nwab Khwaja Ahsanullah, who was known for his intellect and philanthropy-tended to attract students strong in studies, like Dr Nazmul Karim (ChE '70) and me, one year apart, both of whom later became the first two in the history of ChE to have achieved Honours, a rare distinction.
We from "strong-in-studies" AH knew we could not beat, in the upcoming inter-hall football final, the very "strong-in-sports" SBH, with Inu under goalpost.
But that day we were playing QAH in the semi-final. And Wahidur Rahman (BUET'72) was in our hall. Probably the most talented striker in the entire university then, he was also the least fit, physically.
We were leading by virtue of the lone goal Wahid had scored in the first five minutes, by taking the ball on his feet and weaving through mid-fielders and defenders, grounding them, one by one with a dazzling display of dribbling, and then pushing the ball deftly past the hapless goalie, looking like a modern-day Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
I stood up, feeling wobbly on my legs and foggy in my head. My injury time gave our players a second wind. Wahid, along with Subhash Barua (CE '70), Jahar Kar (ME '72), and Mahmudur Rahman (ChE '72), ensured no serious shot was directed at their then-disoriented goalie for the remaining five minutes.
We won! We were in the final. The strong-in-studies AH got a chance to play the strong-in-sports SBH.
As I waddled south gingerly, with worsening pain in a stiffening neck, from the north-end goalpost toward AH, followed by my young fans from the then-slums along the railway track by AH, one of them jumped ahead and looked back, saying while acting out: "Sir, apne to pakhir moton jhapaiya poira balta luifa neelen! (Sir, you flew like a bird to grab the ball!)"
In addition to becoming the inter-hall football runners-up in 1970, I was in the team that won two inter-class volleyball championships: 1970 and 1972-one before and one after liberation, all matches played on the same playground.
In my last two years of stay at AH, the playground was in my view from my room on the third floor. Every morning, I glanced at it to check the weather for fog, rain, or sun. If there was an inter-varsity cricket game, my eyes were more on the playground than on a book.
On a football tournament day, the playground exuded an aura of excitement and anticipation. The grass was trimmed to a silky-green turf. White rectangles and circles were drawn to delineate the territory of the football field and highlight the areas of interest, including two penalty spots, one in front of each goalpost. Triangular orange flags were posted on each corner of the field. The perennial palm trees on its west side added beauty and a cheering young crowd, standing on all sides, added pulse to the
In 2010, upon returning to BD, after 36 years, I paid homage to that hallowed playground. I could still feel the tension in the air, and hear the crowd from the 1970semi-final. I walked to the north-end goalpost, stopping at the spot, where my head and neck had been kicked.
The pain-spot of1970 became a sweet memory-spot, in 2010.
I took a snapshot of the spot, framed by the white goalpost, with greeneries in the background providing the contrast. Four weeks from the date of writing this article, I would be at the 2015 BUET Alumni Grand Reunion. The venue for it was the playground that kept my interest in sports (physical and mental) strong during BUET days and beyond through: football, duplicate bridge, lawn tennis, table tennis, and then full marathon (42.2 km).
Starting on May 7, 2000, from Vancouver, I ran on all continents' grounds, ending on September 21, 2014, on the Sydney Opera House ground-roughly 9000 km away from the BUET playground.
Around the globe, I ran on the grounds of Athens, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Chicago, New York, Boston, Rio de Janiero, and Big Sur, among others-finishing each of the 29 marathons I started.
I became the first runner of BD heritage to have completed marathons in all seven continents.
A resident of the "strong-in-studies" AH graduated from BUET's to world's playground, indeed.
I also completed four adventure marathons: Mount Everest, Inca Trail, Antarctica, and Big Five, running through thin air of the Himalayas; thunderstorm and slippery stairs of Inca Trail; in shoe-snatching mud of Antarctica; and among lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalos (the Big Five) in an active African safari-like a fearless Sundarbans Tiger.
Visualization was a vital part of preparation before each marathon.
As I closed my eyes to do the same for the reunion, I could see myself sitting on a chair shaded by a canopy over the playground; the palm leaves, shivering and longing for a warm huddle in the wintry Dhaka wind; and two elderly men nearby, wearing white prayer caps and white beards, one of them, with a squint, scrutinizing my face, then beaming and gently elbowing the other, saying: "Khalekya, oui je amago Ahsanullah Haller goalie. Moneachey,oni pakhir moton jhapiaya poira ballta chinaiya neeten?(Khalek, that's our Ahsanullah Hall's goalie. He flew like a bird to snatch the ball away. Recall?!)"
I could hear a name announced, followed by: inventions, innovations, marathons, seven continents.
I could hear the elbowed man responding: "Haw! Aarey onarey to bipokho daler khelowar emon latthi mairachiloo, amra bhabchilam oner mathata bodh hoi chiiragalo. (Yes! He was hit so hard by the opponent that we thought his head would be severed.)"
"Ouch!" I let a scream out, grabbing the left side of my neck.
"Did you take your flu shot today for the BD trip?" a concerned female voice flew over from outside the study.
Inside, my eyes were drawn back to the goalpost photo, embedded in the article already.
Tapan Chakrabarty is BUET ChE '72