The mirror reflected back a thin boy with silky hair, big forehead. His right arm rippling with muscle, while his left arm shone proudly underneath a slim frame of support. His eyes fell immediately on his legs, specifically his calves. Eyebrows furrowed; he took a deep breath. Adorning a smart T-shirt and extra-short shorts, he swung and stretched his arms one more time. Brushing his insecurities aside, he let out his smile. A smile that could break hearts, steal many breaths away. Wrapping his fingers tightly around his racquet, my father was ready to play.

Against me.

I stood before the photo frame; time being the only thing standing between me and the days my father experienced true bliss, true freedom. The days he stood as a free boy, soon to be turned into a responsible adult, a man who will one day die of responsibilities. Who did die with dreams buried deep in his heart, and hopes drowning in the depth of his eyes.

My father, my hero, was a national player. Someone whose playing was respected, whose company was cherished. With a smiling face and a charming personality, his victorious passion in tennis completed the complex man that he was. Born in a family of woes and demons, he built something impenetrable, something untouchable around him. He wore his armor day in, day out. But nothing, not even life, dragged him down for he looked all his problems straight in the eye and smiled and added another experience to his name, to his armor.

And then, he found tennis.

He found his escape, his reason to keep going. And he transformed that escape into his passion and then, into his victory. And thus, was born a man of honor and professionalism. Even now, long after he stopped playing, people tell me how amazing my father was on the tennis court. How they wouldn’t even realize that the ball, he had hit, swooshed past them. They stood there, gawking at him and he gave everyone a reason to stare. The way he moved on that court felt like he was chasing something, something dark. Something that was unkind to him. But the way he would stop and take his stance to hit the ball, everyone would lose in the beauty of his swing, the follow through of his arms. And he would look around and let out that smile as a round of applause and appreciation embraced him, encouraged him.

Tennis became his family, his partners and competitors his siblings. With tennis came discipline that ran deep in his veins. With tennis came a sense of life that he enjoyed when he had finally hit the winning shot and looked up at the sky, closing his eyes and feeling the soothing breeze kiss his face. In moments like that, he truly felt what it was to live life, to drink up the very essence of it.

Eons later, I was born. With no interest in tennis, but a strong connection and interest towards sports. Every sport had something that intrigued me, that whispered my name. I played badminton, I enjoyed it. However, my father ushered me towards lawn tennis, his sport. His life. And the moment, I opened my heart to his sport, it became mine too. It connected with my soul just like it did to his. He didn’t coach me; he had no time. The player’s life ended when he got a job, when he became an adult. But even when he looked at me, at all the wandering souls, hitting the balls aimlessly, trying to avoid hitting the inevitable net, I heard him exclaim in frustration or just mumble tips and instructions under his breath.

Gautam Kumar Das, a loyal husband to his wife and a loving and dedicated father to his children, but a true player and fighter at heart.

“What do you think?” I asked, my heart beating rapidly, my forehead sweating profusely.

My father nodded his head before answering, “It was okay.” My heart dropped in my stomach.

I knew I didn’t play like him, not even close but I wasn’t expecting my game to be just okay when my passion in tennis beat strongly in my heart.

“Your backhand is strong,” Just like yours, I swallowed my words. “You play well; you play almost like me.”

Those were the only words that ever mattered to me.

As I stood in front of his picture, I saw myself in his eyes. My father was a national tennis player, a husband to my mother and a father to me and my brother. But for me, he was a fighter who refused to give up. His battle against cancer, that was eating him from inside, and for life was extraordinary. His will to live was so strong that the day he breathed his last was the day the world lost a piece of its heart.

My father was art in himself, for he left his impression on everyone who ever knew him, even after he left his mortal body.

Just like a story that touches one’s heart and just like a song that evokes a deep emotion within one’s soul, my father will live forever in the hearts of those he made them smile.

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