Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jasjit, clean shaven

I've been saying many goodbyes lately. I said more during graduation, but back then, the atmosphere was so chaotic, my family needed attending to, and I knew I'd be in New Haven afterwards, so the hugs and handshakes, well, they lacked feeling. Now, 8 days away from leaving the East Coast permanently, the goodbyes have finally become what I've expected them to be: redolent, drawn-out, effusive; studded with meaning in mere motes of time.

I said one of these goodbyes Sunday morning. The man's name was Jasjit Singh. I met him 2 or 3 years ago in the dingy Berkeley basement, playing ping-pong with John Song. (Which rhymes!) I was taken aback by his features -- the huggable frame, the wavy, thick tangle of beard-mustache, the turban. He reminded me of a gnome. We had a normal conversation: oh, Williams, transfer student, you're an entrepreneur?, Peanut Labs, sweet, co-founder, I'll look it up, cool.

I didn't see him again until the first game of intramural basketball. C-Hoops. And man, I did not expect to see him. I knew he played tennis, knew he had asked me about the game, knew my introductory email was galvanizing and salacious, but if you've seen Jas, you'll know he does not look like the prototypical basketball player. Even for C-Hoops. But I trotted him out there, promised I would, and we won. Here's what I wrote in my journal about the win:
...Magoon and Jared formed the twin towers down low, I added a little stability to the PG position when Zachary Enumah wasn’t playing, and Josh and Jas and Mike added more defense than I expected. It was a good C game—bad shots, but also plenty of fast breaks, and we really got it going at the end of the 1st half, as we went up 18-8, and then 35-22 for the win.
In the post-game report, I wrote, "Jas: Great defense on the perimeter, and dont worry about the layups--they'll fall." Next game, he was back. We won again. I wrote, "Jas - Strong showing, surprising handles down the court (I saw that fast break), and GREAT FREE THROWS AND LAYUPS."

Jas ended up playing the entire season. It was a semi-miracle on hardwood: along with Josh and Mike, Jas was the perfect role player: he picked his spots to shoot, played by-the-book zone defense, rebounded without fear, got off a few unexpected layup attempts -- some of which he converted -- and stayed engaged on the bench when he wasn't playing.

As the season dragged on, Jas' roles started diminishing. In my two years of C-Hoops, the game became progressively more competitive, more fierce, backhanded and sly, splotches of unadulterated hatred bleeding onto the scoreboard and standings. I had promised everyone at least 10 minutes of playing time, but the vortex of needing to win, the burden to having to stick it in the other team's face, over and over, and never relent -- it made me play the starters more. Which meant Jas (and his peers) were squeezed out. When we won the championship, John, our player-coach, wrote this about Jas:
Jazz (sic?): First of all, I apologize for not putting you in earlier. I wasn't sure how much time was left in the game and ended up not giving you much run at all. But, I'd like to thank you for being a great teammate all year and for being a vocal supporter of all the guys. I know we all get a little boost from bench encouragement and you are a crucial part of the team.
The following year, Jas didn't show up that much. Obligations. You know. But playoff time, he was there. Standing on the sidelines, knowing his role, cheering the team on. He wasn't dressed to play, but if he had, he would have been out there doing what he -- and I -- knew he could do.

After that, senior year came and went. And for all the other memories we had: losing exorbitant amounts of money at Mohegan Sun -- twice; using him as a citation in a School of Management final paper; the Social Network midnight screening where there were literally 10 people in the audience; a Bass library procrastination pit stop where, in his infinite energy and curiosity, he found Daily Show and Colbert Report tickets, effusive as ever about hitting free-ticket-cultural-event-paydirt; his Decennial in Fairfield when, at 2 a.m., I made him CTM (Chicken Tikka Masala to the uninitiated), of course making myself one too and promptly dribbling most of it on my boxers -- in spite of all these events, what I will remember most of Jas, the first thing that will come to mind when I am away from him and Yale, will not be what he looks like currently, the clean-cropped, coiffed, newly revelational figure that I hugged in the parking lot of Shake Shake; it will be the Jas from C-Hoops, in that one game, against that bastard college, where Jas, even though his turban was falling off and the folds of the cloth unraveling, was still running full speed back towards the ball, one hand trying to hold his hair in place while he scanned, fumbled, sprinted to his spot on the floor in order to contribute to the team, his beard, back then, still rich and plump, full-bodied, well-aged, and himself a seer amongst us mortals.


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