The only way my ‘undistinguished’ academic career at school can pass muster, is by comparing it to my even pathetic ‘sporting’ one.
Not gifted with either physique and sporting talent or parents who could understand the need to excel in sports meant that my sporting career finished even before it started.
Sports class or to be precise the ‘P.T class’ as it was christened was mostly devoted to running aimlessly in the hot sun or practicing ‘march past’. I suspect that the PT master was never too high in the ‘pecking order’ so the school wasn’t too compelled to rope in someone who could produce champions. All those who excelled in sports at school, I daresay, were naturally talented.
The sporting infrastructure at school, if I remember, was just above minimalistic. Yes, we had a sprawling ground – a portion of it, if I am right was converted into a cycle stand ? – but I do remember playing, ahem ahem, baseball while at school.
The short (?) but stocky ‘PT Master’ walked with the baseball bat, holding it almost like Bheem, in full glory, in front of his awestruck wards. A good 15 minutes on the rules etc., though we exactly weren’t going to challenge the ‘Major League’. I was probably the second striker and a ‘curve ball’ was launched at me by 7H. I managed to save a certain broken nose or a few missing teeth by jutting the bat in front of my face. The ball hit flush on my fingers and I threw the bat in agony, and as the ball rolled over to some side, I walked to the first base. I don’t think we completed the game and so, that, was of course my last walk on a baseball field.
I didn’t trouble any ‘baseball scout’ nor was I growing up to be Brad Pitt for Money ball.
Sports Day was a recurring feature at School, a duration of nearly couple of weeks when the entire school was participating in ‘Houses’ , competing in different athletic disciplines. Kabaddi was the only other sport that I remember was hosted.
One common feature between my academic and sporting (!) career was that I had similar roles : One of clapping for others.
So on sports day, we dutifully assembled at ‘Rani Thottam’ where the lesser mortals finished the march past and sat on the cement benches. The field was of course open for the sporting heroes – [Happy L, Ok Maths ] a few names that are etched in my memory. Unfortunately I don’t remember any sporting legends among the girls.
There were a few ‘late bloomers’ among the sporting heroes such as Maharishi P and Sugar-aboded L . It was in Class IX that I witnessed Sugar beat the eternal school favorite, Happy, in a 100 mtr race and I was wonderstruck. Sugar ran so fast that he ended up on a thorny patch beyond the finish line – he was running barefoot – and limped for rest of the evening.
There was an overall points system for each of the disciplines and someone was crowned the overall champion. As far as I remember every year was won by Happy though Maharishi came perilously close in Class X.
Though I had no sporting credentials, it was fun during those 2 weeks to be away from school – akin to a paid holiday at work – and pretending to compete.
My biggest, rather what could have been the biggest moment in my sporting career was mercilessly taken away from me by something as silly as ‘Rules’. Apparently each sport / discipline has rules.
So it was in class VIII or IX, that ‘Triple Jump’ was introduced. The front runners to win it obviously were Happy and Ok Maths. It was around 2 PM on a hot afternoon that we had some trials going on. Ok Maths was trying to practice his Triple Jumps. He walked several meters away from the ‘pit’ ran in hard and….. jumped.
Suddenly we realized that – even though I didn’t know the name at that time – we had a ‘Bob Beamon’ equivalent moment in Triple Jump. Because when Ok Maths finished his jump, he was outside the pit !!!
As we were furiously backslapping ‘Ok Maths’ , PT Master wanted to know about the commotion. When it was explained that Ok Maths might have created History – though Mrs. Sethubai would have never approved us doing on our own – , PTM asked him to redo his jump.
Ok Maths did it again !
Much to the chagrin of Ok Maths and his faithful followers, PTM pointed out that ‘Triple Jump doesn’t mean 3 continuous long jumps, but it had to have 3 phases of ‘Hop-Step-Jump’. Darn, these rules I say.
In what could have been the Turnbridge wells equivalent in the world of Athletics – Turnbridge wells is the place where Kapil famously scored 175 vs Zim in 1983 world cup, a match that was not covered by BBC – the unrecorded piece of athletic history, sadly will be never known to the world.
Sports day hosted all the finals. It usually meant that the program gets inevitably extended and so when the final event of the day – 1500 meters – is due to start, it is well past 7 pm and hardly any natural light. And 1500 M was ‘open competition’ with no pre-trials.
I can’t remember any year when the winner of the 1500 M was clearly known. With fading light, it usually became a mad rush with a handful of sporting heroes and a huge group of also-rans, starting together. I suspect that Happy was announced a winner every year whether or not he won it. Except for Class X, it wouldn’t have made a difference to his overall performance at the ‘Games’.
Competing in 1500 M also meant that we all won a ‘right’ for a spoonful of Glucose and at the end of a hot day, it seemed a reasonable incentive for participation. I remember licking my palms almost for the entire duration of my return to home from Rani Thottam.
The only other significant contribution that I made during Sports day was to help fixing the ‘Olympic Torch’. I don’t know if a formal torch was ever bought but the usual makeshift torch was to nail a coffee ‘dabra’ to a small log. Once fixed to a log, hot coal was put inside and the school champion, usually Happy, made the customary round and lit the flames.
With minutes to go before the games to begin, the ‘dabra’ snapped from the log as it was taken for a ‘trial run’. I remember to being one of the assistants to the PT Master in fixing the ‘torch’. The speed at which we fetched nails, hammer, a fresh log etc.. would have certain put a F1 pit stop team to shame. If only Force India would have known us before.
The crowning glory of my sporting career was of course winning the BBR Nagar Badminton Doubles. It was perhaps ‘Umbi’s younger brother who was without a partner and I teamed up with him. With only few teams, it didn’t have round robin format ; we had to play directly semi-finals and the finals.
A combination of multiple factors – wind, opponents form or sheer providence – meant that we won both the matches to be crowned champions. Throughout the final match, the lead player of the opposing team was screaming instructions at his partner – ‘This guy (yours truly) is just unable to play backhand, so hit the shuttle to his left side’. I don’t know if his partner was a ‘closet right-wing’ man or something, he never hit a shot to my left side. Umbi’s brother did the bulk of the scoring, only when some loose floated shuttles came on my right side, I pummeled a few smashes.
It was either a soap dish or a geometry box that we won as a prize and both could never adorn the walls of my hardly painted home. Again this achievement was sans any recorded proof so, I would have to just file an affidavit if pressed on for a witness.
The genuine problem of our sport system is the absence of infrastructure. A tiny nation – Netherlands- I believe has over 200 Astro-turf hockey fields while India probably has less than 10. We are never going to be a force to reckon, with such poor infrastructure.
The humiliating spectacle of us hosting the Delhi CWG should rankle us forever. The unclean rooms, unprepared grounds, a bridge collapsing made to the Top story of several leading international papers shaming the country no end. The unpreparedness was despite that fact that India won the bid to host, almost 8 years before 2010 event. Mani Shankar Iyer, the congress scumbag, was the Sports Minister and he hardly entertained the idea of India hosting and building infrastructure.
So as we prepare to cheer our sporting icons at Rio in August, let us salute the spirit of the athletes who dare to dream and dare to be the best in the world, not because of the system, but despite the system.
And to Paes, Sania Mirza etc.. who continue to excel not in singles but in the doubles, the template for their success might have been created by someone who lived once in Bhuvaneswari Nagar, Chromepet.