The Fire Spitting Chief The worst days of my life have always been the Annual Sports Day at my school and later at my college. The sight of the boys going through their 100 meter and 400 meter sprints about 10 times faster than I could, even if being chased by a hungry leopard, made me writhe in self-pity always. When they cleared the bars of 5 feet and more in high jumps with the ease of a kangaroo, it dawned on me that I too could clear it but only by running underneath the bar and this stark truth always sliced through my heart. There was a Nagarajan in my school about three years my senior who always walked out with every cup offered by the school in Sports and he was my hero. It was worse in the Presidency College where I studied, it being the only co-education college in Chennai besides the faraway Madras Christian College. Mind you, I was able to make up for my deficiency in Sports by my academic achievements but then, it earned me the admiring (loving?) glances of only the puny girls with thick-glasses, tails that hardly reached their necks and a little stoop acquired through hugging heavy books as they walked through the corridors of the sprawling complex. The Sports heroes monopolized the loving glances of the best looking girls in the college no matter how they fared academically! It has always been a great mystery to me why the stunners always had a marked preference for the brawn! The Sports Day frustrations of mine always resulted in a regular dream in which I was a kind of superman who could take strides as long as 10 feet, who could jump over skyscrapers with ease and do such other things that my Sports heroes could only watch with awe. Such dreams brought considerable ease to my anguished mind and cleansed it of all the frustration that I felt about not being able to compete with the Sports heroes in real life. And this helped me to concentrate more on what I was good at, my studies! Let me tell you now the story of a colleague in further illustration of what I am trying to say. During my banking days, we had a Chief Executive who was known for putting the best of chinese dragons to shame in the matter of spitting fire and brimstone. The more imaginative of my colleagues have always fancied seeing the mighty dragons actually blushing whenever they encountered our chief. Whenever he summoned a lower executive to his presence for whatever reason, the route that the executive took was always via the toilet. I was one day having a post-lunch chat with some colleagues and the topic came down to a recall of some of the recent episodes of my colleagues’ encounter with the fire spitter. One of them narrated an extraordinary story of his encounter with the supremo, which left us spellbound. It seems that the narrator was serving in one of the upcountry branches, which the fire-spitting chief once visited. After spitting the customary fire at every member of the staff, he left for the Headquarters by train. The officers of the branch accompanied by our narrator went to the station to see him off, not out of love but out of fear that they might get disturbed (as transfers were known in those days) if they were not seen at the station. The chief, upon seeing our narrator, beckoned him with a snap of his fingers and ordered him to fetch a bottle of water. Our narrator was enraged beyond all reason at being treated as a ‘chaprasi’. He completely lost control of himself as blood rushed to his head and he slapped the chief very hard! The chief looked completely beaten and pale as the train took him out of our visibility and the joyous officers chaired our narrator out of the station reverentially. On hearing this remarkable story, the lunch room froze into silence as the narrator walked out triumphantly. A few days later I was sharing this story with a few other colleagues when an officer who happened to work at the same branch at the material time walked in. He heard the story and started laughing. When his laughing ceased, he went on to explain that it was true that our narrator was ordered to fetch water in the manner indicated but the second part of the story ran like this. Our narrator rushed to the nearest stall and fetched two bottles of water in an over solicitous mood. It was quite a sight to watch him rushing to the coach with the bottles hugged to his chest like a twin just delivered. It was the fire spitting chief who became enraged by this spectacle and gave our narrator a thorough dressing down for exceeding his brief in fetching two bottles of water when he was asked to bring just one! This happens to most of us. Life puts us through all sorts of challenging situations. While we successfully negotiate some of them, we find ourselves totally incapable of tackling the rest of them in the manner we wish to. We go through them mechanically and just about manage to scrape through them. People like me are blessed with the art of overcoming our incapabilities through some helpful dreams but the rest of us need to fantasise that we deal with them manfully with extraordinary skill and firmness and start narrating our fantasies as if they are real. Our narrator did exactly that. This is the best possible way to give vent to all our pent up feelings because we don’t lose anything by doing so. On one hand, you go through life’s motions normally avoiding all complications and at the same time satisfying your ego by fantasizing that you are a cross between John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. By resorting to this simple method, you will never come to grief except that others may have a hearty laugh behind you after hearing your stories. So what?