A sponsor's logo emblazoned on the left, Keshavan enters the living room, the tresses tumbling on the chiseled face. A question leaves him in a brief stupor. Collecting the hair in a bun, he takes the couch slowly, the brain racing to make the switchover.
Done, Keshavan, the athlete, recounts how he almost did not qualify for the Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia, next year. His requisition for a grant of Rs. 30 lakh rejected by the ministry soon after he retained the singles title in luge at the Asia Cup last year, Keshavan had braced for another training-cum-competition trip to Europe on a shoestring budget.
It took the intervention of the latest incumbent, Jitendra Singh, to sanction Rs. 3 lakh, of which Rs. 2 lakh was finally released. "I was tempted not to accept it," says Keshavan, but with mounting credit card bills and his savings hitting rock bottom, it was a quiet acceptance.
Too little, too late
By the time the money was transferred, Keshavan had already competed in three World Cups, cutting corners all through as he travelled across Germany. In the buildup to the Sochi World Cup last month, the compulsory final stopover of the series, the goal was to "set as many runs as possible", but paucity of funds had him skip the North American leg, of three World Cups, affecting his world ranking points.
In the interlude, the three weeks of training in Albertville, France, also took a hit. The concept was fine, the track being similar to Sochi, but the implementation was warped. With little backup, coach or support staff, Keshavan went purely by instinct.
"At times, you need someone to watch from outside and point out mistakes," he said.
The head told him to continue training but Keshavan knew that in his state the chances of making the Sochi trip were dim. A recipient of an International Olympic Committee scholarship, Keshavan tapped that avenue again only to be shut out by the aftermath of the Indian Olympic Association's derecognition. IOC member Randhir Singh's intervention did see the grant come through days before the February 15 start, but the thought of what could have happened makes Keshavan cower.
The flight had been taken care of, but there was more to the Sochi conundrum. The track was similar to Albertville, but the ice quite the opposite. Armed with the wrong steels, the pod (sled) wasn't suited for the softer ice.
Low on world ranking points, he had to go ahead anyway. A lot was at stake but Keshavan did not push himself or the machine, steering clear of mistakes, which could have led to a crash.
Still, an Olympic berth came his way, finishing 37th (the top-40 qualify).
The Games are less than a year away but there is ground to make. In talks with technical partners for developing a pod, cufon and steels, Keshavan is confident of things working out. A flurry of activity lined up till the Olympics, the expenses on tour are what have him looking at the ministry with hope. If the minister's promise to include winter games in the amended sports policy and accord recognition to the Indian Amateur Luge Association comes true, there will be no looking back.
If not, it will be back to the grind, with a smile of course.