Chai

Would you like some chai? 
Great! I was just making some for myself. 
Uh… what? Milk first or tea first? 
Umm… both? 
How much sugar?  
Enough…? 
Spices? Yeah, spices. 
Look, why don’t you take a seat, 
this will take a while, 
I need to boil the milk with the tea leaves for about five-ten minutes 
Until the chai acquires a reddish tinge. 
What’s that? It will flatten the flavour profile? 
I don’t think the tea I am using has a flavour profile. 
I think you are getting a bit confused, 
I am not making a “proper” cup of tea 
I am making chai, 
You see, when the British Raj exported the idea of drinking tea to us, 
We said, 
No offence but this is a bit too specific 
We don’t like how uptight you are being about this entire thing 
We have a way of doing things 
That is centuries old 
Some of it written down, 
Some of it passed on through oral tradition, 
Through our grandmothers’ stories, 
And my grandmother has already taught me how to make chai. 

II 

I stood shivering violently in the rain 
The sticky wet shirt leaching away my body heat 
A fog clouding my brain 
I had even stopped feeling my feet 
Concerned teachers asked me why I didn’t have my raincoat on 
What should I have said? 
That one among your ranks, an absolute moron, 
Taught us kids that our country was invaded 
Because we, as a people, were not hardy enough 
And others look at us with our dainty raincoats and scoff

My patriotic pride wounded, 
I allowed myself a raincoat 
Wearing it with thumbs that were numb and wrinkled 
Still shivering as I did, feeling small and inadequate 
One of my teachers led me to a temple nearby 
Fading red walls plastered with heavy incense 
I sat against the wall and the people there offered me chai 
Typically overbrewed, overwrought, bereft of any pretense 
But it was adequate, tasting of safe harbour and monsoon rain 
And we were enough, as we had always been. 

III 

You may have polite conversation over chai. I did too. As I sat huddled against the wall, sipping chai, a couple of well-meaning people asked my name. I mumbled it. They only caught the last part of it, my last name. It was odd enough to cause a little bit of confusion. My last name was more than my lineage, it was supposed to be an encoding of my caste, and more loosely, my father’s profession. Since they could not place my last name in the vast and convoluted pantheon of castes, they wanted to know my father’s profession. “He sells footwear,” I said. “Ah!” they went, “So he is a businessman.” I nodded. They looked at their charts and compared their databases to come up with a list of castes I could possibly belong to. Hesitantly, I chose one of those options. It became my caste and they seemed satisfied enough to move on to other things. I don’t remember now what my caste was. Actually, apart from those few moments, I have never had a caste. I did not tell them this. Revealing my father’s profession was not a problem at all, but not having a caste could only mean one of two things – either we were outcasts or my father’s religion did not have castes. As a mildly hypothermic twelve-year-old, I did not understand the complexities of this system very well (I still do not) but I knew that the communal riots were a very recent memory. The 2002 Gujarat riots claimed many lives and perhaps, also claimed my faith in religion. Sitting in that temple, even though I was grateful for the hospitality of those people, I did not want my given name to have given away my father’s religion. Was their hospitality conditional upon my caste or religion? Probably not. But for those moments, when faced with those questions, the chai did not taste sweet enough. 

Asteroid mining

I performed this poem at the Good Future Slam on March 20, 2021. A compilation of the poems commissioned for this event (including this one) can be found in the form of this zine. A video recording of this performance can be found here:

The distant future is not a small world:
    Ten hours of silence
    Far out in the Kuiper belt
    And then, “I’m alive.”
Civilisation lives, cultures emerge:
    Nine worlds with humans
    Many just small asteroids
    Cosmic wealth of art
Even some cosmic serendipity:
    Eight stranded miners
    Hitch a ride at Lagrange point
    Discover new realms
For those who are looking up and beyond:
    Seven million now
    Live their entire lives in space
    Enough space for more
Not quite enough for vast corporations:
    Six new trillionaires
    While comparing their sizes
    Build taller rockets
Their erect rockets stand on our shoulders:
    Five more mining deaths
    Draped in the black shroud of space
    Hush and settle claims
Before they find faceless miners missing:
    Four outlaws guilty
    Outcasts from mining outposts
    Finally noticed
The human organism that gorged on earth:
    Three decades healing
    Scars of burrowing through earth
    We mine elsewhere now
When elsewhere is still an uncertain dream:
    Two intrepid crews
    Fly towards fame and fortune
    Harbingers of life
Creatures of carbon, water, and metal:
    One second to go
    I watch the rocket in awe
    As my people feud
    Over a past buried in
    the ground I’m still tethered to

[Ten silent hours to distant Kuiper belt
Nine worlds of art live on asteroids
Eight stranded miners’ cosmic ride
Seven million up in space
Six rocket trillionaires
Five more mining deaths
Four found guilty
Three, Two, One]

    Like a nebula
    Cold gas fusing into fire
    The rocket ignites
    To escape the gravity
    of all our earthly problems

Two-body problem

The term ‘two-body problem’ refers to a standard problem in physics but it is also used in the context of relationships in academia.

There is a problem I can solve, 
A two-body problem. 
You and I are free bodies 
Drifting through space 
Exerting a force on each other, but otherwise 
Unperturbed by the outside world 
Our total linear momentum should be conserved. 
You would not be too upset if I classified us 
As insignificant point particles 
Makes the calculations much easier 
If I could just quantify our mutual attraction 
The resulting system of equations can be solved. 

Here is a problem I can’t solve, 
It’s also called a two-body problem 
But now, you and I are not free bodies,  
Bound by social customs, 
Immigration laws and familial expectations. 
That’s not all, 
Because there is an external force you may have heard of: 
Career prospects. 
We might be infinitesimal blobs of physical matter but 
We are also swirling nebulae of emotions 
Separated by continental distances 
And slow internet. 
Maybe the nomenclature is incorrect; 
It’s not a two-body problem any more. 
A three-body problem perhaps? 
Those are notoriously difficult to solve. 

I have made some progress though, 
I will have you know, 
I have identified the third body. 
Your blue electric toothbrush. 
It could have been sitting listlessly on my washbasin right now – 
It isn’t. 
I asked you to take it with you, 
Never cared for an electric toothbrush 
It’s annoying, sitting up from its charging station 
Alert and ready all the time 
Even when you are not there to use it 
When you were there 
It would buzz in the freshness of the morning 
Sharing in our humdrum bliss 
A parasite actually, partaking in something it did not contribute to 
I knew it would not buzz when you left 
Having nothing of its own to give 
Just messing up all the calculations 

This grief is mine 
I can’t share it with a toothbrush 
And maybe it’s irrational to grieve – 
The three-body problem is a difficult problem to solve, but 
O! Slave of rationality, 
Would you care to explain to me why not seeing her shoes beside mine 
Makes me want to buy a blue electric toothbrush 
and shatter it to a million pieces? 
hate that toothbrush,  
but most of all, 
I hate the fact that it’s not there. 

Smokescreens — Part 2.1.2.1

Part 2.1.1 of this multi-ending story.

She slapped me. It was firm but measured. “That should make it better. Now, what brings you to me?” 

“The driver of the ambulance said I needed to pay a toll to enter this suburb.” 

“Okay, so where is the money?” 

“He took it from me but he didn’t return to the ambulance. My brother is dying as we speak. He was shot.” 

“How much did he take from you?” 

“A hundred.” 

“My rate is only fifty.” 

“He told me it was a hundred and fifty!” 

“Of course he did. He is a scoundrel. All my men are. In any case, I will get the money from him. You can take the ambulance to the hospital.” 

“I don’t know how to drive. I don’t even know the nearest hospital.” 

“Not my problem.” 

“But he is one of your men! Can’t you force him to keep his word?” 

“He is one of my men as much as you are. I don’t force people to do anything. They follow me of their own free will.” 

“But you do force them to pay a toll?” 

“I don’t force them. They pay me to guarantee safe passage in this area. No one can lay a finger on them as long as they are here.” 

“And what happens if they cheat you, if they don’t pay the toll?” 

“They find themselves dead in some alley sooner or later.” 

“So you do force them?” 

“Not at all. These are turbulent times. Anyone who hasn’t paid is fair game. Disasters happen. People die.” 

“I see… so what happens to people who lay a finger on the people who pay you this protection money?” 

“Depends on my mood but let’s just say – bad things.” 

“What if I tried to drag the driver by force to the ambulance?” 

“He can claim my protection and I would have to protect him.” 

“But he tried to cheat you by using your name and asking for more money than your actual rate!” 

“Yes… maybe that is something that I should look into. It’s an excusable offence, however. He would still pay me my share. And if jackasses like you show up in this suburb, you are bound to be swindled. You do not even look like you know this place very well. Where are you from? Why did you not call for the public ambulance?” 

“I did. They refused to come.” I narrated to her the events following the shooting during the sermon. 

She said, “Ah… that explains it. They would never send a public ambulance to your community. You are better off using a car to get your brother to a hospital.” 

“I can’t. Everyone is attending the annual sermon right now.” 

She shrugged. “You chose your religion. You suffer it.” 

“I didn’t!” I snapped. “I was born into it. I never asked for it. I only went to the sermon because my family compelled me to. And it was good that I did because otherwise, no one would have bothered getting my brother to the hospital. My own father thought that this was the will of God. I actually hate my religion. I hate all religions. I hate the government. But I also hate you. I hate that you think you are better than those religious nuts. I don’t care about your petty illicit activities here. But to think that your code of honour makes you better than those religious nuts is stupid. You are the same. I see that same religious sanctimonious grin on your face when you say that this area is under your protection as when those religious nuts claim that they have purified this world with their prayers. They do it because it makes them feel better about their miserable existence and you do whatever you do because it makes you feel better about your miserable existence. To say that I chose this religion is like you saying that you chose to be born in this shithole!” 

Her bodyguards visibly tensed, like golems coming to life. Anger simmered on her brow for a few moments and I was afraid she would lash out. She, however, saw me again, suddenly unsure of who I was. I was not sure either. Maybe I wasn’t the drone any more. Maybe there are other modes of existence than the queen or the drone. 

“Fair enough. But I became the master of my own destiny after being born in this shithole. What I can offer you is one chance to do the same. As punishment for fleecing idiots like you in my name, I will temporarily lift his claim to my protection. See if you can convince him.” She looked at me pointedly. I needed to get the hell out of there while I had the chance. I expressed my gratitude and left to look for the driver. I found him sitting at a table in one of the rooms with a bottle of hooch in his hand. He saw me approaching with the corner of his eyes. A heavy wooden chair sat vacant nearby. 

He turned towards me, “Your brother is dead –” 

I rammed the chair into his chest. Before he had a chance to react, I dispensed another couple of rib-restructuring blows and reduced him to a pile of writhing flesh. I then threatened to bash his head in if he did not drive the ambulance to the hospital. Dazed and in pain, he agreed, at which point I started to drag him to the staircase. The drum beats had ceased for the last several seconds and everyone watched in disbelief. 

When he had finally regained the ability to walk, he meekly hobbled down the staircase, through the corridor, to the ambulance and started driving to the Modern Hospital.

Smokescreens — Part 2.1.1

Part 1 of this multi-ending story.

“Sir, there is toll for this suburb.” 

“What? That’s nonsense. There is no such thing as a toll to enter a suburb. And where is the hospital? I will call the police now.” 

“Your wish. Police takes at least ten minutes to get here. Hospital is only five minutes away. Nobody enters this suburb without toll. Your brother needs urgent treatment.” 

“That’s bullshit. You don’t have to pay a toll inside a city. And where do you pay the toll anyway? There is no toll collection booth here.” 

He pointed to the old building. It was three storeys high and you could see some activity through the windows. The pedestrians did not pay heed to the building as they passed by but then again, they only had eyes for the few square inches of the ground on which they were treading. The ambulance that had stopped was just a minor annoyance that they skirted around. The driver said, “This suburb is under the protection of Savlibai. Must pay money to her. Even police respects her.” 

I weighed my options. I had no idea where the hospital was. I would have never been able to get the pedestrians involved. I had to pay. 

“I don’t have much money.” 

“Then it’s difficult. No haggling with Savlibai. How much do you have?” 

“Almost nothing. What’s the rate?” 

“Changes all the time. Generally, one hundred fifty at this time.” 

“That’s too much! You are lying.” 

“You deal with her then. Second floor.” 

“I only have a hundred,” I blurted out quickly. His eyes lit up. He sensed my discomfort at dealing with someone like Savlibai directly. 

“One hundred is too little…” He waited for me to say something. When I did not offer a response, he added, “…but I will see what I can do,” and thrust out his hand. I reluctantly gave the hundred to him and the driver vanished into the building, along with the paramedic. 

I waited impatiently. I didn’t know how much time my brother had. I had already assumed that the driver was a lying piece of shit but had some faith in his fidelity to the coin. More time passed. Emboldened by the imminence of disaster, I reconsidered the prospect of dealing with Savlibai. I stepped inside. Concealing me from the outside world, a curtain of fumes descended upon me. I inhaled the fumes. 

Darkness at first. Broken string of thoughts. Dampness. Long long corridor. Endless.  

Ends. 

Opens into a courtyard. Open to the sky. Bathed by a sallow sunlight. Doused by an insipid haziness. Children playing. Unfazed by a stranger. Unfazed by haze. 

Unhazed. 

Thoughts slowly coalescing. Staircase. Second floor? Ground floor plus two or ground floor plus one? Does he know the difference between a storey and a floor? Do I know the difference between a storey and a floor? Why am I so confused? Savlibai should sit on the highest floor. 

The winding steep staircase is like a serpentine dragon curled up in its lair, wound around a pole, like a thread wound around a spinning top except that the staircase does not taper like a spinning top. No, it does not taper at all. Imagine a long snake wound around a stick that does not taper. The snake does not taper as well. It is a tedious ascent stretched out for far too long. It should have been less glitzy and easier to navigate. 

The top floor reeks of decay and is not worth the effort you put in to get there. The occupants know this as well, as they sit idly on their beds, rarely communicating with each other and growing more decrepit by the minute. Some of them look down at the children in the courtyard and manage a warm affectionate nostalgic smile while others are convinced that human endeavour and devotion are futile attempts of distraction from the end of your own existence and more importantly, the end of the awareness of your own existence. 

“Down! Down you go!” An old-timer startled me out of my reverie. “This is no place for a young man like you.” I realized that Savlibai would not be on this floor and climbed down to the second storey

It was a platter of loud, rude noises garnished with the miasma of sweat. People were at work here, presumably gambling or finalising shady deals or whatever is par for the course at such a place. There were several rooms full of men and women intoxicated with the heady potion of toil. I inhaled deeply and imagined myself as a drumskin, in perfect resonance with the beats of a drum that the others were gyrating to. The ego melted away with the vibrations and at once, I acquired consciousness of all that was around me. We were drones. We worked for the queen bee. She was called Savlibai but it didn’t even matter that she was the queen bee. It was a name. A replaceable name. Just as replaceable as we were. And yet, someone had to be Savlibai. As of that day, it was Savlibai who was Savlibai. 

I knew where to go. The drones always know where to go. As I stood in front of her, she knew who I was. She didn’t know the specific circumstances that led me to her altar but she saw me. I was a drone. She was tall, dark-complexioned, and lanky or stocky, fair-complexioned, and fat or anything in between. 

“Why are you here?” she asked. 

“Why is anyone here?” I replied dreamily. 

Part 2.1.2.1 of this multi-ending story.

Smokescreens — Part 1

We were flamingos wading through filth, dancing to an ancient rhythm not meant for our ears. Barefoot, head bowed down in prayer, the annual sermon sounded a bit off to me, by several centuries in fact. To imbue it with the religious fervour it deserved, you had to stand knee-deep in filth. Its stench overwhelmed the subtle aroma of inquiry. The light-headedness caused by fasting opened your mind to unreal possibilities. Although I was a participant in this, I was uninitiated. The salient feature of this institution, and many institutions of this nature, was that you could be uninitiated and still participate if you found a few guns trained at you; metaphorical guns initially, they assume literal form soon enough. It should not surprise you then that my brother was shot at during the annual sermon. He was shot in the head. He was probably dead right away. Or maybe he died and was resurrected later on. The details are irrelevant. The reason for the shooting was that a rival faction was demanding exclusive rights to representing an unknown entity. 

I cried out. The priest stopped his litany for a while. People rushed to help. They started folding my brother’s arms and legs in the right position for ascension into heaven. I shoved them away from him. He needed an ambulance, not some necro-origami. I ran to my father, our father. He was deep in meditation. I jolted him out of his spiritual stupor. He was surprised to see me. “What is it?” he asked. I pointed to my brother’s body some distance away. His eyes went wide with horror. He rushed to see him. 

“We need to get him to the hospital. Call the ambulance!” I pleaded with him. 

His face drooped in despair. “We can’t do anything right now. Let the sermon end.” 

“He will die if you wait until the end of the sermon!” 

“There is no other option. It is the will of God.” 

“Fuck you!” I yanked his arm but he freed himself from my grip and stumbled back to his original position. I cursed him under my breath and lifted my brother’s limp body off the ground. I tried to lift him over my shoulders. I could not. So, I put one of his arms around my neck and held it by the wrist and put my other arm around his waist and started hauling him. The mass of people gently parted to create a clear path for us out of there. 

There was a forlorn tree close by. Its wrinkled leaves were coated with ash that fell like black snow from the sky. The far end of the narrow alleyway was shrouded in smoke. The sun burnt a sickly red through the haze. If you opened your mouth, you could almost taste the fires raging in the distance. Wheezing from the physical effort, I placed his body up against the trunk of the tree. 

I took out my phone and called for an ambulance. A lady answered the phone. 

“Please send an ambulance as quickly as possible! My brother has been shot. It’s urgent!” 

“Where are you right now?” she enquired. I started dictating the address, trying to remember the name of the street and a nearby landmark amid fits of panic. I could hear the pencil scratching against the paper. It stopped abruptly when I got to the name of the suburb. She confirmed if she had heard correctly. I said, “Yes, that’s right.” She waited for a few moments and then said, “Sorry, there are no free ambulances currently.” 

“What do you mean there are no ambulances?” 

“They are all somewhere or the other.” 

“When will you send one then?” 

“I don’t know. Will call you back whenever there is one available. Sorry,” and she hung up. I was horrified. Although I had grown up in these parts, it had been years since I had visited my family. Things had changed around here, and for the worse. Or maybe things hadn’t changed at all and I had just grown up. My worldview was not tinted with the innocence of childhood any more. Maybe my community had always been obsessed with death. I could not believe how easily they gave up on saving one of their own. Is it easier to give up on the living when there is the promise of an eternal afterlife? What sort of afterlife is it anyway? Would you choose the claustrophobia concomitant with constant divine judgement or do you find the dreadful void of inexistence liberating? My community believes that heaven and hell are like two gramophone records playing in unison, with one stacked above the other. There is barely enough space for a human to stand upright between the two, so you must bend, some would say to the divine will, as you walk. It is actually quite useful to learn to crawl in your afterlife. You have to crawl on the right disc though. The arrangement of your limbs and the orientation of your body, when buried, dictates whether you will crawl on heaven or hell. But crawl you must. You are God’s own children, after all. 

Miraculously, an ambulance arrived shortly thereafter. Two men got out of it. One was the driver. He was shabbily dressed with a couple of buttons of his shirt undone. Unruly chest hair sprouted out from his shirt. 

“Sir, you called for ambulance?” 

“Yes, I did! But the woman on the phone told me there was no ambulance available.” 

“Now there is one. Want to go to hospital?” 

I could not place his accent and their sudden appearance seemed quite strange. But there was no other alternative. I nodded. I pointed to my brother. The driver called out to his companion to help him carry my brother. The other man had completely escaped my notice. His frame was slight. He was probably a nurse or a paramedic. Although his shirt was faded and dull, he was better dressed than the driver. It was his eyes that caught my attention though. They watched everything – the choking haze, the wilting tree, the raining ashes, the drying blood; but only as disparate attributes of the landscape. 

As soon as the ambulance started, the paramedic began examining my brother. I prodded him with a few anxious questions. He did not reply. After a while, he settled down on the seat opposite to mine with my brother lying on a stretcher between the two of us. His face remained expressionless. I decided to interrogate the driver instead. 

“Which hospital are we going to?” 

“Uh, there is this new one. Very modern,” he replied. 

“Does it have a name?” 

“It’s… it’s… Modern Hospital.” 

“What? I don’t think there is any hospital with that name. What kind of shady business are you running here? Stop the ambulance or I will call the police! How did you find out I needed an ambulance?” 

“Sir, don’t be angry. Your brother needs urgent treatment. This hospital is very new. Best facilities. Just wait for five minutes. We are almost there.” 

“Okay… but if we don’t get there in five minutes, I am calling the police. And you didn’t answer my question about how you found out that I needed an ambulance.” 

“What did they say on phone?” 

“The woman that picked up my call said there was no ambulance free currently. She would call me back as soon as there was one that they could send. She hasn’t called me yet but you arrived. How did you get the address?” 

“I am not on official duty. I had to fight for the address. They don’t send ambulance to your suburb… your community.” 

I sighed. The fairly recent ghettoisation laws restricted certain communities to specific suburbs. My community was more or less confined to the suburb my parents and my brother lived in. The government had declared that this was the best way to ensure the safety of minorities. 

The driver saw the paramedic’s face in the rear-view mirror. The paramedic gave a curt nod. The driver stopped the ambulance near a rundown place by the side of the road. I sat up alarmed.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

Part 2.1.1 of this multi-ending story.

Tides

This poem was inspired by the episode ‘Dark Seas’ of the nature documentary ‘Night on Earth’. I performed this poem at That Poetry Thing That Is On At Smith’s Every Monday on September 28, 2020. A video recording of this performance can be found here:

Do you know how tides are caused?
One need only ask the sea –
She claims that the sun and the moon
Are hatching a conspiracy
Of immense gravity.
A most secret intrigue, she will tell you,
Have you seen how the sun and the moon look at each other?
A raunchy murmur, a furtive glance.
Why was the sun so red today?
Because moon had no clouds on.
Why was the moon so bright tonight?
Because the sun flashed the moon.
Listen.
Do you hear moaning?
A sigh of yearning?
The sea is always listening.
Very closely.
She wants to get even closer
By thrusting herself upwards,
Farther, higher, towards the sky,
And in doing so, causes the tide.

Do you know what a tide pool is?
It is this celestial conspiracy’s lovechild
A shallow depression in the rock
Flooded by the high tide
Surviving in the low tide
A perfect stage for our story tonight.
Every cycle, the cast of characters is set anew.
Always a seaweed and few lichens,
The frothing waves reveal tonight’s special guests:
A four centimetre prawn,
Some starfish, limpets and hermit crabs.
The starfish is pure chaotic evil.
Lurking in the shadows, leaving a trail of destruction,
Preying on poor limpets by prizing them from their stony perch –
Textbook evil.
Hermit crab is a lying piece of work too,
Neither a hermit nor a crab,
With a soft posterior and a phony exterior
He steals a morsel and is unwilling to share
While the noble prawn braves all odds
Stinging anemones and what not
To scrounge a meal before oxygen runs out
In his little tide pool.
He needs a distraction –
Another hermit crab!
Jostling with the former for some food scrap
An opening for the prawn –
Who grabs his own share!
A sleight of hand,
Not the only trick up his sleeve.
With the oxygen levels so low,
He needs a special skill:
Beating the water at the surface of the pool
He inundates his gills with water rich in O2
Except, this needs oxygen as well – Catch 22.

Gasping for breath, he now comes out into the open air.
With the sun already out,
His gills are nearly baked
But the tide finally returns
And saves the day.

Gen-Set-Maicha — Part 2

Part 1 of this two-part story.

Drakyu: The Australian Open final. It’s Roger Federer vs Rafa Nadal. They have both won two sets each and so this last set is going to decide who wins the championship. 

Rikyū:    Ah… those two good tennis players that you told me about. 

Drakyu: Yep. Nadal just won the fourth set. 

[Sipping tea] Ooh, nice tea. 

Rikyū:    It is a tea that I have always favoured. 

Drakyu: Why? 

Rikyū:    Back in the day, tea was not an easily accessible commodity that it has become today. A refined taste only meant for the lips of the rich man. As the years went on, more people had access to tea. But good tea was still expensive. The means of a simple man enabled him to buy good tea, but only a little. In the house of the common folk, rice was added to the tea to make it last. The affluent derided this practice. Their contempt for poverty caused them to overlook a most delectable misfortune that humanity has chanced upon – genmaicha. 

Drakyu: It does sit sweetly on the tongue. 

Here, they are ready for the fifth set. 

[Federer*-Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 0-0] 

Drakyu: Federer is serving first. That could prove to be a decisive advantage in the last set. Scoreboard pressure, they call it. Oh, but wait, Nadal gets the first point. A brilliant aggressive forehand to open up the court. Come on! 

What does it say about me though, the fact that I like more rice in my genmaicha? Is there any statistical correlation between spiritually lesser beings and people who prefer more rice in their genmaicha? 

Rikyū:    [Smirking] Evidently. Tea is subtle. Rice is base. Tea is spirit. Rice is survival. Frankly, you are a bit of a brute. 

Drakyu: Look at the smug look on your face. 

Federer is really going for those backhands today. In the past, he has been guilty of pussyfooting around those heavy topspin forehands from Nadal. Not today, it seems. No matter. My man Nadal has just won another point. 

Boy, they are not taking any prisoners tonight. 

Come on! 

[Federer-Nadal* 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 0-1] 

Drakyu: Phew! After the third set, I thought Federer was going to run away with this. But Nadal has broken right away in this fifth set. Just needs to rally home to victory now. 

Rikyū:    It is not true. 

Drakyu: What? 

Rikyū:    Tea is not the path to enlightenment. 

Drakyu: But you are a tea master. Tea ceremony was supposed to be for the enlightened. 

Rikyū:    It was a form of expression, an art, for those who were spiritually awakened. Tea itself did nothing. You could substitute tea for rice and it would not matter. An artist can elevate the most mundane to art. The principle of the act is what matters. 

Drakyu: And what is that principle? 

Rikyū:    Creation. Some people will argue that destruction can also be art. And then there are those who cynically twist the definition of creation to justify their destruction. But I do not agree. 

Drakyu: It is interesting what you say about art. People often say Federer is like a ballerina on the tennis court. And certainly, he is the most elegant tennis player I have ever seen. And yet, when they say this, it is to contrast it with Nadal’s game, to suggest that Nadal’s tennis is aesthetically inferior. I believe there is a ferocious beauty to his game. Federer’s tennis is exquisite but Nadal’s tennis is a fierce expression of survival. It is art, albeit of a different kind. 

Rikyū:    Ah… so Federer is tea to Nadal’s rice?  

Drakyu: Yes, and I prefer rice. 

Rikyū:    Well, I pick tea then. 

Drakyu: Your stock is not looking so good now. Federer had a double break point but he squandered it. Nadal has consolidated his lead now. 

Rikyū:    I am not worried. This was just the first brew. The second brew is coming and the tea will be more dominant then. 

[Federer*-Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 0-2] 

Drakyu: Wow, that was a speedy hold for Roger. It’s his backhand again. 

Rikyū:    What is happening to his backhand? 

Drakyu: He is not slicing it.  

Rikyū:    That is a good thing? 

Drakyu: A backhand slice is generally a more defensive option. It works for Roger because he is right-handed and most players on the tour are right-handed. Also, he puts some serious revs on it. But it does not work very well against Rafa who is left-handed. Rafa’s forehand is one of the most potent weapons this game has ever seen. A defensive backhand going to his belligerent forehand is instantly obliterated. The more aggressive option for Roger is to come over his backhand. However, Roger’s backhand has not always been as consistent as today while hitting through the ball, especially against Rafa’s relentless forehands. 

Rikyū:    So, Nadal is better? 

Drakyu: I certainly think so. Nadal has won more matches against Federer than Federer has against him. But look, there are lots of stats thrown around in these debates. You can combine a bunch of stats and prove whatever you want. I think most people will agree if I say Federer is better on grass courts and Nadal is better on clay courts. 

Rikyū:    What kind of court is this? 

Drakyu: Hard court. A synthetic court that is neither clay nor grass. 

Rikyū:    And who is better on hard –  

Drakyu: Don’t. Just… watch the match. 

[Federer-Nadal* 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 1-2] 

Drakyu: What’s this? A double fault from Rafa? 

[Exasperated] And is immediately followed by a stinging backhand from Roger. Why do all terrible things have to happen to me? 

Vamos Rafa! Finally some brilliance from Rafa’s backhand! He saves the break point. 

Phew! 

[Federer*-Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 1-3] 

Drakyu: The quality of tennis in this match is staggering. 

Rikyū:    Is this the best match they have ever played against each other? 

Drakyu: Most people would say the final of Wimbledon 2008 was the best match they ever played against each other. 

Rikyū:    Who won? 

Drakyu: Nadal. 

Rikyū:    Was it not expected? 

Drakyu: Not at all actually. Wimbledon is played on grass and Federer had not been defeated on grass since 2003 before this match. 

Rikyū:    That is… incredible. 

Drakyu: Exactly. Nadal himself had lost against him in the final in the previous two years. Although, since then, Nadal has won every grand slam match against Federer and it looks like he will continue that streak today as well. 

Rikyū:    Have they played against each other at this tournament before? 

Drakyu: A couple of times. Last time they played a final here was in 2009. Nadal won that match in five sets. Federer could not hold back his tears during the presentation ceremony. If I recall correctly, he said something like, “God, it’s killing me.” 

Rikyū:    Makes sense. Federer is tea. 

Drakyu: Uh… wasn’t that just a metaphor? 

Rikyū:    Yes, of course. But for a person who is sensitive and emotional, we often say he has too much tea in him. On the other hand, an insensitive person would have too little tea in him. Tea is delicate. Too much of it is bound to make you emotional. 

Drakyu: I see. If I may extend the metaphor further, I might say Nadal has an incredible vitality and hence, too much rice in him? 

Rikyū:    [Sighs] You were always a man of science. 

Drakyu: Another comfortable hold for Federer. 

Rikyū:    The second brew is ready. 

[Refills Drakyu’s cup] 

I must say, Roger is very fashionable. 

Drakyu: Ha! You should see his Darth Federer outfit from US Open 2007. 

[Federer-Nadal* 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 2-3] 

Rikyū:    That… was a good backhand from Federer, right? 

Drakyu: Yeah… that was just… a blistering cross-court backhand. He has been hitting those all day long. This could be tricky for Rafa. 

Rikyū:    One more point for Federer. 

Drakyu: You are getting way too much pleasure out of this right now. I don’t like this. 

Rafa has challenged this call but Roger thinks it was out. And… it is out… break point for Roger. I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all. 

Great serve from Rafa! Saves the break point! Just get out of this game unscathed. Come on Rafa… 

Back to deuce. Just two aces, please Rafa… 

Rikyū:    Federer lands another backhand. This second brew has come out very well, I must say. I feel the tea is in the ascendancy. 

Drakyu: Your jibes are boorish and unbecoming of you. 

Rikyū:    You must cultivate a healthy sense of humour. It is only a sport after all. Look, Federer just won another point. It seems that he has also won the game with it. If I recall correctly, the appropriate jargon is – they are back on serve. 

Drakyu: Have some shame and hide your face Rikyū. You are grinning from ear to ear. 

[Federer*-Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 3-3] 

Rikyū:    Why is Federer so good on grass? 

Drakyu: It’s the way he plays. Grass is a fast surface with low bounce. Federer hits a lot of flat forehands and backhand slices. These shots tend to stay low and make it awkward for the opponent to hit through them. Federer’s remarkably accurate serve also earns him lots of free points on grass. His movement on grass is unrivalled. When others slip and slide on the green turf, he glides across it. Grass accentuates his overall offensive ability and the dexterity of his hands. Robbie Koenig, a popular tennis commentator, once described him as “a mongoose on amphetamines”. I believe I have tried one of those. It is better to take amphetamines directly rather than have mongoose blood with amphetamines in it because then it is digested and doesn’t directly go into your bloodstream. Doesn’t give you the same high. Anyway, you should read David Foster Wallace’s essay about him, Federer as Religious Experience

Rikyū:    Religion sounds too strong a word to me. 

Drakyu: Huh, you should meet some Federer fans. 

Rikyū:    They also called us a religion, you know. Chadō, the Way of Tea. We were trained in Zen Buddhism and that reflected in our practices but we never bound ourselves to specific rituals. At least I never did. I imagined the tea ceremony as the flow of a river to the ocean. There is a conclusion but the path to the conclusion is not determined beforehand. Religions often dictate a path to the conclusion. Now, if your initiation as a Federer fan required you to read that essay, then it would be a religion. 

Drakyu: You never know Rikyū. There are some crazy people out there. Maybe you should tell the Federer fans how grass is tea and the Nadal fans how roasted brown rice is clay and preach celestial genmaicha harmony through your Teaism cult. 

Rikyū:    Cult! [Sighs] I will not take the bait Drakyu. Instead, let us focus on the match at hand. Federer has comfortably won his service game. The ball is in your court. 

[Federer-Nadal* 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 4-3] 

Rikyū:    A double-fault from Nadal. He is 0-40 down now. Is it normal to double fault under pressure? 

Drakyu: No! No, no, no, no! I don’t know what he is doing right now. Seems like he does not want to win any more. Should have shaken Federer’s hand right at the start of the match. Wasted four good hours of my time. 

Rikyū:    Calm down Drakyu. What happened? 

Drakyu: Nadal is not supposed to do this! It is Rafa Nadal, don’t you know? With a will forged in iron and moulded on clay, the most brutal of all surfaces? He has just lost twice at the French Open in all these years! That Nadal just handed over a triple break point to Federer by double-faulting! 

Rikyū:    He is still just a human Drakyu. I guess I cannot expect you to understand what that means, though. Look, he has just saved all three break points. 

Oh my… 

Drakyu: This is obscene. I don’t know what else to say. It is a mockery of everyone else who plays tennis. That rally was twenty-six shots. Half of those shots should not have come back. That forehand winner from Federer in the end was… oh boy, I don’t know how Nadal is going to get out of this one. 

Federer is on fire. What an incredible return to seal the game… Federer is going to serve for the championship now. The match is lost… I can’t take this anymore. Everything conspires against me. 

Rikyū:    Fret not! There is still some fight left in Nadal. Let me add some more rice for the third brew. 

[Federer*-Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 5-3] 

Rikyū:    Look, Nadal has won the first point. 

[Refills Drakyu’s cup] 

And the second one as well! 

[Drakyu looks up at the TV] 

Ace from Federer! 

[Drakyu’s face wilts again] 

Nadal is quite aggressive in this game. He finished that point at the net. Double break point. 

Drakyu: Please please please, please just win this one point.  

Ace… Why does he always come up with first serves when he needs them? It’s so annoying. 

Rikyū:    There we go. Deuce. All break points saved. 

Drakyu: Advantage Federer… championship point. 

Rikyū:    Ace! Oh, no, not an ace. 

Drakyu: Double fault! Federer is challenging it. 

Rikyū:    It is in! 

Drakyu: Deuce again! Come on Rafa, come on. 

Rikyū:    Ace again! Advantage Federer! Second championship point. 

Nice forehand! Oh no wait, Nadal is challenging it. 

[Drakyu stands up] 

Drakyu: It’s in… Nadal has lost… 

Rikyū:    [Jumps] Chum jetze! [Adjusts his robe] Um… I mean… good match. 

[Game, set, match. Federer. 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3] 

Drakyu: Chum jetze? Where did you learn that from? 

Rikyū:    Just a little something I picked up from you tennis fans. 

Drakyu: You know, for a Zen tea master, you got way too much into this. 

Rikyū:    You know, for an immortal, you care way too much about the outcome of this match. You have seen thousands of these matches and experienced millions of these moments touted to be “unbelievable”. 

Drakyu: I would argue that they are unbelievable. They are not unbelievable in the sense that I think this could never have been done by any individual but they are singular in that you didn’t expect that particular individual, under those circumstances, to pull off that unbelievable thing. And sports are designed to keep creating such moments. Citius, Altius, Fortius. 

Rikyū:    Touché. I have been having tea for a while now and every tea experience is also unique for me, even unbelievable. After all, who in their right mind would have thought that Sen no Rikyū would become a Federer fan over a tea chat with Count Dracula? 

Gen-Set-Maicha — Part 1

Rikyū and Drakyu are an unlikely couple. Rikyū was the Japanese tea master who had taken the rustic simplicity of a tea ceremony to the emperor’s court and jaded his eyes to the menagerie of the world, and Drakyu was the Transylvanian vampire who had desecrated lifeblood and reduced it to mere sustenance. Why dwell on the past though? The world has moved on and so have they. They have already professed their love for each other, Drakyu has abandoned his old bloodsucking habits, and Rikyū is mindful of his caffeine intake. They live somewhere between the lush white cherry blossoms with a smattering of pink and the verdant green mountainsides with imposing castles and such. All that matters is that they had a place with cable TV on the twenty-ninth of January 2017. 

Without cable TV, it would have been almost impossible for Drakyu to quit blood. After centuries of living off it, complete abstinence meant that he needed all the help he could get – blood patches, meditation, running, breathing exercises. When he felt like just-one-more-drink, he would distract himself in various ways, one of which was by watching tennis on TV. 

“Why do you need to watch this Tennis?” Rikyū had asked once, still hoping to get rid of the TV. 

“Just a little something I picked up from you humans.” 

“Of all the things that you could have learnt…” 

“Rikyū, we have been around for a few centuries, right? How much do you think humans have changed over the years?” 

“A lot…” He paused for a few moments and then continued, “Only superficially, though. We are better hermit crabs, I suppose. The shells we live in are more polished but the actual creature inside is still the same.” 

“Right. The same insecurities, the same avarice, the same power struggles. Safer lives though. The proportion of humans that die due to senseless violence is much lower than in the past. Why do you think that happened?” 

“We learnt to channel our inner animal better. We incarcerated it with the ropes of civilisation.” 

“Exactly. And one of the ways in which humans curbed their violent instincts was by finding better outlets for it.” 

“Sport.” The word sounded alien to Rikyū’s tongue. 

“It is not that vampires need blood to survive. In fact, I do not believe there is any evidence that it is more nutritious than eating regular human food. By regular human food, I mean the food regularly consumed by humans and not eating, you know, them as food. Anyway, the point is, blood is nutritious, yes, but not essential. Well, if you take into account the psychological dependency on blood after being on a steady diet of blood for years then maybe you can argue that it is essential. Moot point. But, let’s assume otherwise. It is my personal experience, and I am sure many of my fellow vampires will corroborate this, that the act of consuming blood from a live human is as important or perhaps even more important than the blood itself. It is a feeling that we have not been able to replicate effectively through any other means. If I allow myself a little poetic license –” 

“Please do not.” 

 “– it is akin to inhaling the fire that flows within human veins just before it is extinguished forever.” 

“Morbid as ever.” 

“Turns out, sports also work for vampires like me. There is nothing quite like bloodsport but these other sports simulate the feeling reasonably well. Maybe humans and vampires are not so different after all?” Drakyu suggested cheekily. 

You and are nothing alike,” Rikyū scoffed but his curiousity was piqued. After contemplating for a while, he asked, “Why tennis?” 

“It is as good a sport as any,” Drakyu shrugged. “Besides, there is this player from my homeland, Simona Halep, who is doing very well these days. Her fans call themselves Halepeños. Pretty cute, huh?” Rikyū could not fathom why it was cute but then in a strangely high-pitched voice, the ancient vampire squealed, “I am a Halepeño!” That, he found cute. He sighed. The TV was here to stay. 

January 29, 2017, was a Sunday, the day of the Australian Open Men’s Singles Final.  

[For the sake of brevity, we will assume knowledge of basic facts about the pro-tennis tour, the importance of grand slams in the sport, and the quaint scoring system used in tennis. Drakyu and Rikyū have already had several discussions about tennis by this time and Rikyū understands how the sport works. For readers who do not know much about tennis, here is a ten-line (give or take) summary replete with links to Wikipedia articles:  

Tennis is governed mainly by three bodies: ATP (men), WTA (women), and ITF. The four most prestigious tournaments that the ITF helps organise (for men and women) are the grand slams, viz. Australian OpenFrench OpenWimbledon, and the US Open. The scoring system in grand slams is more or less the same as in other professional tournaments, except that men’s matches are best-of-five sets (whoever wins three sets first) instead of being best-of-three sets as in other tournaments. In terms of scoring terminology, a match is the whole thing. You go back home a winner if you win the match. For our purpose, a match is divided into a maximum of five sets. The moment one of the opponents wins a total of three sets, the match ends. A set is divided into games. You generally win a set if you win six games first. (Exceptions: Tiebreaks and last set tiebreaks.) A game is generally won by winning four points first. (Exception: Ad-scoring.) Strangely enough, these four points are called 15, 30, 40, and game point. A point is the lowest denomination in tennis.] 

Sunday was also a genmaicha-day in the Kyu-household. Rikyū was preparing genmaicha when Drakyu punched the air with his fists and yelled, “Vamos Rafa!” 

“Always doing some shōnen stuff,” Rikyū muttered to himself, shaking his head. “Do you want to have genmaicha?” he asked Drakyu. 

“Who is genmaicha? I didn’t eat him! Don’t tempt me Rikyū! I haven’t touched blood in decades.” 

Rikyū shook his head again. “It is brown rice tea Drakyu. We have had it so many times already.” 

“I know, I know. Brown rice roasted on a low-medium flame for four to five minutes mixed in a one to one ratio with a vegetal and grassy green tea like sencha,” Drakyu parroted, imitating Rikyū. “Just pulling your leg. To be honest, I have always preferred having more rice, like in a two to one ratio. But you are the legendary tea master Sen no Rikyū and I am just a poor peasant proletariat vampire.” 

“I can make it however it pleases your lordship, poor peasant proletariat Count Dracula.” 

“Nah, it’s okay. Just hit me with some good stuff. We are going into a decider, baby!” 

Rikyū handed him his cup of genmaicha and they both sat on the floor in front of the TV. “What decider?” he asked.

Part 2 of this two-part story.

Why is there prize money in sports? — Part 3

Part 1 and Part 2 of this three-part story.

Jojoba was surprised when Nikuma picked her. She wasn’t the highest ranked player around and in fact, her rank had also dropped quite a bit recently. When you lose one match, and then another, chances are that the streak would only end with you starving to death. By now, her stomach had stopped growling. It felt like it had shrunk significantly in the past few days and you could only hear a faint whimper from it once in a while. The glucose shot lifted the haze from her brain and the adrenaline kicked in. But the gnawing hunger made it difficult to concentrate. Olive believed that her unique playing style was the reason Nikuma chose her. That and of course, her desperation. The best players on the circuit played a style similar to Mustard’s, with heavy spin and fewer variations. Jojoba, on the other hand, was tricky for even the most experienced opponents. Although she did not impart heavy spin on her balls, she manoeuvred the ball around with dexterity. Since Didas had defeated Mustard, and assuming he was really good, he would be able to beat anyone who played a similar style.

The pro-Jojoba crowd was silenced in precisely four points – four screaming forehands went past her. The first two missed the mark but the next two landed. When Jojoba had to serve again, she decided that her trusted serve was not so useful against Didas since he was absolutely crazy. He was playing a kamikaze style of Nikuma. If she just altered her serve a bit, he would not be able to hit an aggressive return. Unfortunately, she landed the serve slightly shot and Didas patted it out of her reach. She was trailing now. It was a service she hadn’t practised enough. She did not think it would have to be brought out so early. She was probably better off hitting her normal serve much deeper so that if he went for it, he would mishit. The ball bounced once in her court and then floated out as she tried to do this. It was a fault and she now trailed by two points.

After the first game, she realized the patterns of his play. When she tried to execute her regular patterns of play, he was severe on those balls, hitting them almost as if he had nothing to lose. When she tried something different, he would be cautious and willing to get into the rally. On both counts, he was winning more points than her. The only points she won were either long drawn rallies or due to his unforced errors.

She tried to force the pace in her next game. She had never done this before. When he tried to be aggressive, even if he landed a smash or two, she would stick to her plans and when she had the upper hand, she would go for it. She got to game point and was leading by two points. It was her chance to serve. The service was spot on. It had the right depth and Didas had to return it defensively off his backhand. The ball was slightly short and Jojoba considered going after it with her forehand. It would be the perfect winner to seal the game. But she hesitated. This was a game point and a mishit would be a disaster. Could she get through one more day of starving? She blocked it back.

What followed was a searing backhand. And then one more. And then a wonderful serve. She tamely dumped the last ball into the net.

She was two games down in a best of five match. Didas played like no one else could dare play on the circuit. Such a fearless brand of Nikuma! By now, she was almost resigned to her fate. The third game went by quickly. When Didas won the match point, there was a deathly silence in the arena. One of their own had lost to a foreigner. One of the elites. At Nikuma.

Nikuma’s eyes glowed with rage. She was incandescent. “I see now that none of my elites will be able to defeat you. While I congratulate you on your victory as the Sportsperson Supreme, I cannot let this slight pass,” she thundered. With this, she leapt off her throne in one fluid motion and landed on all fours in front of Didas. Didas drew back instinctively. The paddle slipped out of his sweaty palms and quite a few spectators would later swear they saw a little stream of urine trickle down his trousers.

“Let’s play!” Nikuma’s voice reverberated and the arena came to life. She picked up a paddle and started getting rid of her accoutrements. Jojoba was gaping at Nikuma in awe from the sidelines. Olive and the others of her ilk were kneeling even though no such custom was observed in Nikuma. Some others had fallen prostrate and Didas was curled in a foetal position in the centre of the arena, in utter bewilderment, looking as if he had swapped places with his mirror self. Nikuma took her position on one side of the table, waiting. Didas noticed this and suddenly jumped up like one would when poked by a stick. He bowed in front of Nikuma and took his place on the other side of the table. The crowd gasped. Didas was going to challenge the Sportsperson Supreme herself!

Didas got the match underway with his service. Nikuma annihilated it with her backhand. Didas fired a fast serve into her forehand. She chopped it. It bounced in his court and spun back towards her. He had never seen such a thing in his life! The gasps in the arena made it clear that they had not witnessed anything like this as well. Didas catapulted himself into the air with one hand on the table and flew towards the ball. It was impossible to get there though and his antics ended up with him lying sprawled on the table.

Nikuma’s service was almost impossible to read. But a fluke return by Didas caught the edge of the table and he won the point. It was the only way to win a point against her, by a combination of flukes. Didas’s luck was worth five points over three games.

Nikuma’s honour had been restored. The spectators were jubilant. Nikuma sat down on her throne contented. Didas was also relieved. He had flirted with death and had come out relatively unscathed.

Everyone looked at Nikuma expectantly. She obliged, “Didas the challenger! Although you have lost to the Sportsperson Supreme, you were able to beat the elite Nikuma players in my patronage. Your skill is praiseworthy and it seems that I might have overlooked something in my training after all. Would you care to enlighten us?”

Didas was still a bit shaky. The adrenaline was finally wearing off. “I… I am… It was the greatest of privileges to have played against the Sportsperson Supreme. This story will live on in our family for years to come. I will speak of this to my sons and daughters and they will narrate the story to their children and so on. I – “

“Do you have children?”

“No, ma’am. But I am hoping to get married someday and father a few of them.”

“Ah…,” she paused. “In any case, why were you so certain that you would be able to beat the best of our players?”

“In your infinite magnanimity, your majesty, you granted me a reprieve from the punishment of starving in case I lost a match. While the Nikuma players under your patronage are extremely skilful, some of them more than me, they do not have an offensive mindset. They have not been able to develop one. If the punishment for losing a match is starvation, everyone would hesitate to play a high-risk high-reward shot. They have got too much on the line and so they play a conservative brand of Nikuma. Moreover, since they play exclusively with other such defensive minded players, they also do not develop the ability to counter an offensive player like me. My offensive play forced them to change their strategies, do things that they are not necessarily comfortable with. Even then, they try to adapt and change their strategy midway. But when it comes to dictating the play, they always falter because they are used to getting into rallies and when they have the option to play an aggressive shot and finish the point, they do not have the stomach for it.”

“And what do you think is the solution to this problem?”

“If there is no fear of punishment upon losing, then the player will play freely like I did.”

“And how will they develop a will to win?”

“Prize money! The winners earn more than losers. And the prestige associated with winning a tournament.”

“That is a fascinating idea. Money drives people to do great things. Money and fame for sportspersons… no need for starvation… that sounds almost too good to be true!”

“As long as there is the promise of money and fame, people will do anything, your majesty!”

“Then let there be a new way of playing sports in this blessed land of Nikuma! Let there be prize money! Nikuma will always be grateful to you, Didas the challenger, for showing us the right path forward. In the memory of Didas the challenger, the new tournament will be christened ‘Didas Prize Money Challenger Cup’!”

A wave of cheers followed the announcement. Didas, who had been grinning from ear to ear until now, was left scratching his head. As the cheers died down, he asked meekly, “In my memory, your majesty?”

Nikuma once again descended from her throne to face Didas. She then brandished her sword. “The law of this land says that you can challenge the incumbent Sportsperson Supreme, that is me, at Nikuma and if you prove to be the victor, you can take my position. The loser is obviously decapitated.”

“But your majesty, you gave your word! You won’t punish me if I lose.”

“I promised no such thing. I said that you won’t be subjected to starvation upon losing. You are exempt from no other retribution.”

Before he could react, Nikuma lopped Didas’s head off.

To conclude, due to the heroics of Didas the challenger, we have prize money in sports.