By Savitri Narayanan
The morning was cool and breezy. Through his office window, Umesh Kumar could see the karate classes were in progress in the ground. When it got too hot, they would use the hall.
‘Must be the white belt batch’, thought Umesh as he watched the instructor patiently explaining and demonstrating repeatedly. He was calm and patient with the new students unlike some trainers who lost their cool too soon.
It was a day to celebrate! Go For It karate institute was being honoured by the Rotary club and a press reporter was on his way to interview him!
‘What a long journey!’, thought Umesh, ‘from Patna to Sattara, from the village school to own this institute!’
Years rolled back and Umesh could see himself – a young school boy watching the karate class in his school ground.
Daily, at the dispersal bell, the   students ran home except those who would stay back for the karate class. They would quickly change into their dogis and join the others assembled under the neem tree. The  dogis were lose-fitting white jackets, with a belt. Batches of students came on their given days, in their grade-appropriate-coloured belts but Madhav Sir, the instructor always wore a black belt. When he walked in, the students quickly fell into lines and took their positions.
Umesh loved to watch the class! Their body control, quick movements and the way they clenched their fists! Every day after school he  stayed back to watch the class.-2-
Nobody would miss him at home anyways! Maji came home late. She was a domestic help and worked at a few houses in the neighbourhood. She left early in the morning, much before Umesh left for school. By the time Maji was home, Umesh would be usually doing his homework. Most of the days she would bring home some food from the bungalows, if not would quickly cook a meal.
“Focus on your studies, beta”, she would often say, Unlike your mother, you’ll work in an office, earn lots of money and have a good life!”
“I want to be like Madhav Sir, a karateka!”, was the thought but what he said was,
“Of course, Maji!”
Umesh got good grades but his heart was in karate.
One day Madhav Sir paused to ask,
“I notice you daily standing here watching the class, why?”
“Sir, it’s my dream to become a karateka like you!”, the words burst out of Umesh, “I love watching the class; I go home and practice too, especially the kicks and punches!”
“Why don’t you join the class?”, asked Madhav Sir, “You look big enough; which class are you in?”
“Class VII”, said Umesh, “my classmate Viraj is in the yellow belt class and another friend Kumar has joined the new batch!”
“Talk to  your parents, get a dogi and join the class. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are for the white belts; the fees are not much, you can pay the amount in the school office or to me!”
Madhav Sir kick-started his motor bike and drove away.
                      * * *

“Maji, I want to learn karate!”, he said over dinner, “The classes are after school!”
“How much is the fees?”
When Umesh told the amount, Maji thought for a while and said,
“No problem beta, you join; I’ll work in one more house, that’s all!”
“I’ll need a dogi too!”, he said.
“You mean that white dress that they wear with a belt, right?”
“Yes”, said Umesh, pleased at Maji’s general knowledge.
Maji stopped eating and started laughing, “This morning Ahuja madam bought a new one for her son, I’ll bring the old one home tomorrow!”
Maji was like that, found a way out of any challenging situation!
Once in a while she still talked about her journey from Patna to Sattara….
Umesh had just turned two. Pitaji was a daily labourer at a construction site. One afternoon he had a fall and on the way to the hospital breathed his last. With nobody to turn to, the young widow packed her belongings and with her little boy,  boarded a train from Patna to Mumbai!
In the train a co-passenger took pity on her.
“With no one to support you, how will you survive in a new city? Come with me to Sattara, find a way to earn your living!”
That was three decades ago. Soon Maji found her feet and made a living as a domestic help in a few houses. Cleaning, cooking, washing, gardening- she did it all!  Umesh went to the nearby government school.
He studied well but his heart was in karate.

When Madhav Sir parked his motorbike, Umesh approached him hesitantly.
“Sir, I’ve got a dogi”, he held up the bag, “but Maji asked if you could wait for the fees till next month, when she gets her pay”.
Umesh’s life changed when he started the classes. There was a focus in life and also the energy and enthusiasm to reach there. Madhav Sir took Umesh under his wings and saw to it that he turned into an excellent karateka. Even after he passed out of the school and attended college, Umesh never missed a karate class! Once he became a black belt, Umesh became a certified teacher too.
“The Holy Angel’s school is planning to start karate classes”, said Madhav Sir one evening, “The Principal asked me to find an instructor; like to go?”
In due course, Umesh built up his credibility and got many teaching offers. As the number of classes and locations went up, Umesh hired instructors. He took bank loan and set up his own Go For It karate institute. He also earned enough to build  a  small home of his own where Maji lived comfortably.
At the institute, systems were in place to prepare trainees for the white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, red and black belt.
Recognition came too! He was to be honoured by the Rotary Club for having trained one thousand black belt karatekas!
“Sir, a guest is here!”, Mahinder escorted the press reporter. Tea and snacks followed and both fell into a conversation.
“It takes years of hard work and practice to earn a black belt”, said Umesh sipping his tea, “I was a class VII student when I joined the classes but got my black belt only during my second year of graduation!”
“Congratulations, Sir for training a thousand karatekas”, said the journalist in admiration.
“Thanks to the blessings of my guruji, Madhav Sir”, Umesh’s voice softened as he said, ”Karate as you know, is the traditional Japanese martial art of self-defense. It also nurtures qualities like stability of mind, self-control as well as managing ones emotions and stress. I learnt all this from Sir!”
An elderly gentleman walked in. Umesh’s face glowed in pride and pleasure as he rushed to get up and touch his feet.
He turned to the press reporter, “Meet my guruji Madhav Sir; whatever honour I receive today, I pass on to you Sir; you’ve been my  pillar of support all these years!”
“You worked hard, beta”, remembered Madhav Sir, “Committed and focussed, you fought your way through  difficult years of growing up! May God continue to bless you!”
Umesh touched his feet once again with the words, “Madhav Sir, for me and Maji, you’re God! Please allow me to take you around the institute and later to this evening’s function!”
As they walked around, Maji’s words came to Umesh’s mind, “Always remain grateful to those who helped you in your  time of need!”

(The author is a retired educationist at present in Bengaluru. A mother and a grandmother, loves reading, writing and travelling.)