It was a sad looking house, showing its disrepair and neglect, but as I stood there indecisive, I heard laughter through an open window. But, there was not only laughter; there was the clink of glasses, and I hastened out of my car, moving around to the front to enter. I know this house: It was one I spent many a fond and memorable moment, and I passed this way in response to a brief and terse message that said I should be here at this time, 3.00 p.m.
It had cream-colored paint on the walls, and a large walled open-air courtyard to the far left. The walls were now somewhat dilapidated, and the walls of the courtyard had large cracks developing in them. The roof had red aluminum sheeting much of it somewhat bent upward. Sad though it looked I know it had glorious moments.
I had no idea the house was still in use, for in days I remember, though the house was built in the twenties, it was remodeled on a number of occasions. It was a Club House then, the headquarters of our badminton team. Prior to that it was the home of a famous Civil Rights activist and was called “Somali Court”.
It was situated on around one and a half acres of land, and the front left side was asphalt. On the right side, still evident, were the two paved concrete badminton courts. Grass was growing through cracks in the pavement, and the four galvanized pipe stands on which lights were mounted were bent and rusted. By that open window to the right was a level piece of land now growing wild with bush. Then, I remember, the grass was always green, mowed and looked like shaved field of emerald. As I reached at the door, I instinctively looked for the signs: “Somali Court” heavily engraved, was still there in oxidized and dirty brass, and the one I was looking for was painted over; but the words in green “Club India” could still be read.
I turned the door handle and walked in. I stepped into an L shaped foyer, which I recall was once a verandah; it was now a covered verandah, and served as a foyer. I walked through the short foyer to an entrance and came to a large open hall. It was originally three rooms I remember, but successive presidents of this clubhouse (of which I was one) gradually removed the walls, creating this open hall, and if you looked carefully you could see the borders of the rooms. Over on my right, were a library and a dining table, and hidden behind the partially dividing wall was the table from which the laughter emanated. Visible though was the bookshelf, with numerous books, periodicals and newspapers, many of them yellow with age. The long dining table was covered with white embroidered linen, and a plastic overlay. I walked into the center of the main room, which was laid out with comfortable lounge chairs, and surrounded on all sides by numerous photographs, reminiscent of the years when this club was visited by prime ministers and other dignitaries. The ceiling fans spun their cooling breeze.
No doubt about it as I looked at the photos: Governors, Prime Ministers, champion Athletes from the cricket teams of Australia, West Indies, and India, meeting with Club presidents and other officials made up most of the wall; save for a notice board which blared out various functions and events that interested the community. I was present in one of the photographs, with the Prime Minister of India, Indira Ghandhi, and how could I forget the words that was the focal point of her message in 1973: “Now that you live in Jamaica, and become Jamaican citizens, you must not forget India, but we do not recognize dual nationalities. You must live as honorable citizens and do your motherland proud.”
Shaking my head, I turned to the left where the L foyer angled into the final and third room. There was a bar there, and a bartender in waiting. I walked over and ordered a vodka and Ting. As I sipped I looked up above the bar: there was a mirror and I could see myself, a sad and lonely man, somewhat balding, wearing spectacles that made me look beyond my 57 years.
But just above the mirror was the frame of trophies of which there were many. In the center was the main trophy hangar, representing the Badminton All Jamaica Championships, 1961, when we were the winners. God! Do I remember that year very well? I remember every serve and every shot, every win and every loss, the long smash in the far left corner that I used to play. Those were the days, I thought as I looked over the trophies and I hummed: (La, La, La, those were the days my friend, I thought they would never end, we’d sing and dance, forever and a day, we lived the life we chose, we thought we would never lose, for we were young and sure to have our way).
Have you ever played badminton? In a sense it is very much like tennis, a racquet sport, but much faster: And it is played on a paved court divided with a high net. Two persons can play on either side in a doubles, which is the usual configuration, though like tennis, one player on either side can play (singles). A light feathery shuttle was hit and kept in the air by two players on either side of the net, using light wooden racquets with nylon string, a smaller version of a tennis racquet. Two players moving sometimes at the speed of a smash, or the gentle touch of a drop shot just behind and just inside the line. It is a game for slender agile people, but no one said that to my partner Nari who had a large potbelly, though he moved like he walked on air.
In October 1961, on the courts outside (the courts were just paved then, I recall), Nari and I fought the Norbrook Club XII, for the coveted all Jamaica Championship. Nari was a fast man who had good wrist movement, and could with a slight twist of his arm knock the shuttle just over the net to come landing on the opposite side of the court inches from the net. Skill that I have yet to see. And I was the smasher. When we served and it was usually a low net scraping service, Nari would cover the front of the court while I moved back. When the shuttle came my way, over Nari’s head, I would drive it back over into some far corner left or right. And if it came back I would jump in the air slamming it short right between my opponents. Nari and I won that championship one sultry night in October 1961. Nari died tragically some years ago, from a prolonged illness. (La, La, La, Then the busy years came rushing by us.)
Laughter woke me up from my thoughts, and I turned to the hidden table in the farthest corner, and I craned my neck to see. Who was it? I craned my neck to see. “We wondered when you were going to look this way!” It was a voice I should know, so I walked over.
It was Nari’s daughter Annie and his brother Ash, the mixed doubles champions, Vicki and Papi, who were the ladies doubles in our old team, plus Gul, Gope and Arjan and his son Pravin who all were part of the Club and Team. We embraced, kissed and shook hands all around, with many a slap on the back.
“What are all doing here” I exclaimed. “I thought you all lived in Florida.”
“Well, Uncle Lachu” Annie said to me, “We came to put this old building back together again, and perhaps persuade our children to pick up where we left off. After all Badminton is still our game, and we still play, and they are more tournaments to win. So we left that message for you.”
“Through the door came familiar laughter,
I saw your face and heard you call my name,
Oh my friend, we’re older but no wiser,
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same.”