The Flames Tournament

I had never been on a trip before, at least one that did not have my parents in tow. When my captain mentioned that we had to register for a football tournament in Pune, I got a sinking feeling that I wouldn’t be allowed to go. Not just that, but said refusal would spark a lecture, courtesy of my father, about responsibility, goals and education. So, it came as a surprise of no mean proportions when, instead of straight up saying no, we settled on a “let’s see”. To be clear, in my family, the phrase means an unequivocal yes. I was expecting this trip to be the high point of my life, four days with extra food money and no adult supervision, with my friends. Clearly, the universe was pleased with me.

The day of reckoning arrived, excruciatingly slowly. I have it on good authority that I had packed as if I were going to Antarctica for a year. Needless to say, my mother unpacked almost everything, and fit everything in a duffel bag and a backpack.

The next day, we left. We had booked thirteen seats on a bus, and boarded, armed with speakers and playing cards. We spent the journey listening to music blasted on the speakers, and no one would let me be in charge of the playlist. Clearly no one appreciated good music. Aside from this, we swapped stories, made fun of assorted passengers, and ate thepla with a mouthwatering chutney that one of team-mates had.

We wanted to check in to our rooms, then directly leave to Flames University, to watch the boys’ team play. But when our captain called the boys’ captain, she said that we wouldn’t go, and did not give any concrete reason for this. No matter, we were tired and hungry, and used up the time to order food, bathe and dance for a while. Thus sated and tired, we turned in early, as we had a match early the next day.

The next day, bright and early, we left our hotel in taxis. Flames University is situated on a hill. It is surrounded by acres of lush rolling meadows, with a small pond or two scattered. There are trees with white flowers and yellow hearts everywhere, and the grass is liberally sprinkled with them. In places, there are misters, turning the sunlight into rainbows, and we, freshly arrived from our campus-less college, needed a moment to take it all in. There were enormous grounds and turfs, with towering stands in the shade. There were also these festive decorations everywhere, adding to the aesthetic of the place. And the icing on this cake were the food stalls, which were sadly selling only vegetarian food, but were nonetheless impressive. And I have never felt more glad to be alive, as I was, sitting at the window of a cab, with the wind whipping my hair into tangles, and the sunlight in my eyes. It was a heavenly experience. I felt what Harry and Ron might have felt, flying in their car above the rolling green hills of Hogwarts.

The first match we played, we won 2-1 against Symbiosis Institute, and we were very excited and relieved. As that was our only match for the day, we heartily supplied ourselves with milkshakes and French Fries, and hiked our way home. That night, the euphoria of playing in such beautiful surroundings, and winning, did not let us sleep. Some of us sat up talking and laughing well into the night, and the next day, were rudely awakened by the early sleepers, and bundled into cabs to the university. Apparently, the match timings had been preponed, and the reporting time was three hours earlier than before. Thus we went to the field, with nary a thought for the beauty of the place, and lost the match against Maharashtra Institute of Technology. And amidst the crying and shouting of our teammates, we felt a teeth clenching desire to play better in the next match, which was in two hours. The next match was against the home team, and though a good fight was put up, we lost. Again, we ate a little, and went back to the hotel. That night, we got dressed in our best and went out, intending to experience the “Pune nightlife”. We realised, to our disappointment, there is no “Pune nightlife”. It simply does not exist. Muttering about the lack of civilization in Pune, we came back in two hours, and proceeded to enjoy the night to the fullest. We talked and laughed, though it seems like a pale approximation of the fun we had. At 4 in the morning, we decided that we should sleep for a while, and then wake up and trek to the top of a nearby hill to see the “Pune sunrise”. No one but my roommate and I woke up in time, and we made our chilly way on to the terrace. We put on some music, and talked for a while. It took the sun an uncommon time to rise, and when it rose, it was pretty, but nowhere up to our expectations. Then, we went down to our room, where my roommate immediately fell asleep, while I tossed and turned and finally went to the breakfast room to eat. That afternoon, after a fancy lunch, we all boarded a bus back to Bombay.