The push-up contest

In Bombay, the Gateway of India, across from the Taj Hotel there are some statues of Vivekananda and Shivaji. I am a Bengali, so I have great admiration for Shivaji. My Bengali teacher once gave me eight out of four for an article I wrote about Shivaji. My teacher’s highest mark was normally four out of four, but that time he gave me eight out of four. I had great admiration for Shivaji, and I have a very close connection with his soul. Vivekananda was also my hero.

Around five o’clock in the morning, I went running a little. My running is not even jogging; it is something worse than jogging. Then I started taking exercise. A teenage boy between 16 and 19 years old was also taking exercise. I was very pleased and amused, and I was immediately trying to imitate what he did. He was very happy and proud.

Then he started doing deep knee bends. Poor me, I can’t bend at all. My knee bends were wrong, and he started laughing. While he did four knee bends, I could not even take the position to do half a knee bend. It was too much for him; he laughed and laughed.

Then I said to him, “Do you know how to do push-ups?”

He said, “No!”

Then I showed him one and he said, “Oh, I can do it easily.”

I said, “Good. Let us have a competition. If you win, I will give you ten rupees. But if I win, you don’t have to give me a thing.”

He was so happy, because he saw how I was doing the other exercises. I was an old man and he was young, and he felt he could easily win.

I asked him his name. He said his name was Darika, which means guard. The Taj Hotel was right in front of our exercise area, so I asked if he worked there. He said he was a student.

Anyway, I let him start in the push-up contest. So we counted, “One, two, three, four….” He did 20. He was so happy, and I was so pleased that he had done 20. Then I started doing push-ups. I did one, two, three, four, five, and then, after eight, I became so exhausted. I pretended that I had no breath and that I was absolutely collapsing. With greatest difficulty I went up to 18. Then I surrendered. To do more was absolutely impossible. He was so happy that he had defeated me by two. I gave him 10 rupees immediately, and he put it in his pocket. He was so happy and proud because after eight I was struggling and struggling, whereas he did 20 and got the prize.

When the competition was all over, I said to him, “The competition is over. Now let me try again, just for exercise.”

He was so happy, and he said, “All right.” I asked him to count.

So 18 passed, 20 went, then 30, 40, 60, 100. When it became 118, I gave up. Then he took out the 10 rupees and returned them.

I said, “No, no! It is whoever wins during the competition time. I can’t take the money from you.”

He said, “No, no!”

I said, “No, in the competition I did 18 and you did 20. So you deserve it.” So I gave the money back to him and said, “Now, you go!”

Vivekananda’s spirit was the witness.

— 1 March 1986