Thursday, October 20, 2011


While the world watches the Les bleus collide with the all-blacks this Sunday to decide which set of massive sweaty arms get to drape themselves around the Rugby Union World Cup Trophy at the Eden Park in Auckland, a few kilometres away, in a quiet room in a hospital lay a man who wished he was there...

As New Zealand’s all-blacks line up, eyes rolls, hands meeting thighs like claps of thunder, and heavy feet beating the turf as one, the french team would look on, bemused, and hoping that there was a glint of steel in their cold unblinking eyes. But the Haka, the Maori war dance, melts even nerves of steel and that man lying in his lonely hospital bed would know that... He would know that more than most for he had seen that fear in those that stood and in those that fell before him. It all seemed to be from a time oh so long ago... He just didn’t feel like the same man anymore. He would see the muscled backs and burly bottoms swathed in the blacks he once wore with pride huddle into a scrum and he would wish he was there; he would see them running along the flanks, drawing blood on the field and gasps from the crowd and his heart would ache for him to be there... And then he would remember that it is not just his heart that’s aching. He is in pain... Some would say he is dying.

The teams would be locked in battle, the crowd would be cheering and screaming and then some would go silent while others would be beating their chests and roaring... Whistles will blow and trumpets would blare and yet, through all the frenzy and the feasting, through the tears and the celebrations, the colossal shadow of a giant would still linger... not a soul would leave the ground that day without having spared a thought or a prayer for that man in that extra-large hospital bed not too far away.

Jonah Lomu is a giant among men when he irons out the kinks in his 6’5’’ frame and stands tall but even lying down, his sprawling frame commands respect and reverence. Strangers speak in hushed tones in his presence and even when speaking of him, I wouldn’t be surprised if rugby fans went down on one knee and took a bow every time someone spoke or heard his name.

Here in India, he isn’t really a household name but then nor is Sachin Tendulkar in Brazil, Russia, China or Chad... That doesn’t diminish the greatness of Tendulkar and so you get my drift ... This 36-year-old man once strode on the rugby field like a Goliath and there never was a David ever in sight. Jonah Lomu is closest thing to God that has ever graced a rugby but this man wasn’t always this formidable force of nature that would mow down opponents like a bowling ball exploding through the pins. There was a time when little Jonah would cower behind a bed and shiver with fear while his father swore to thrash the living daylights out of him if he could lay his hands on him. It didn’t matter what little Jonah might or might not have done for that hissing spitting electric cord that became the emissary of his father’s wrath seemed to find him anyway, stinging his eyes with teenaged tears and marking his body with the pain and humiliation of abuse and shame.

In the little boy’s heart, confusion and despair gave way to anger and hate. The strength in his sinews grew, keeping pace with his hate and his anger, until one day, when his drunken father stumbled in to slake his thirst for violence on the back of his own son’s back; it was the last straw... Jonah lashed out in self-defence and sent his father sprawling to the floor.

From there, the young Jonah got into carjackings and gang wars and found rugby in the nick of time.

Not only did he have great size and strength but also a great burst of speed available on tap. And this made Jonah into a rare genetic freak who was both strong and fast. They started calling him the freight train for his ability to just charge through an opposition line-up. Jonah was invincible on the ground and a rockstar off it. Records and opponents tumbled and Jonah seemed to do no wrong. But while the world celebrated his triumphs, inside him, his body was imploding. Nephrotic syndrome, a debilitating kidney disorder had been gnawing away at his insides even as the world was raising a toast to the magnificent physicality of Jonah’s exploits on the outside.

The man who could do everything but fly was reduced to acknowledging that he now found it difficult to walk. Without a kidney transplant, Jonah was staring at continuing with dialysis thrice a week and looking at slowly rotting away alive to a horrible sad slow death. Someone donated a kidney and all was well for a while. In fact he even considered a comeback but as soon as his dreams started taking shape, his kidneys failed him again. Sometime around the time the current World Cup began, Jonah, still barely 36-years-old, was rushed to the hospital yet again... Secrecy shrouds his current condition, but whatever it be, it wouldn’t be good. So while we wait to crown the new champions this Sunday, let’s also spare a thought for that man lying in that hospital bed not too far away from the action and send out a little prayer his way too...

For all the runs along the flanks and the thrills in our hearts and spills at your feet; for making watching rugby not just a sporting spectacle but a transcendental experience and for blowing our minds with the power of your passion, we wish you, Jonah Lomu – an all-black, all-heart braveheart, a speedy recovery. And for those of you who are still wondering what’s the big deal about this big guy, check him out in his matchvideos, finish shaking your heads in disbelief, come right back here and join us in our prayers for his well being... Until then, hang in there Jonah, and don’t worry, the world’s hanging with you... Get well for good, soon!


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