Competitive sports and me - well, we haven't really met in a while now, except in my dreams. Back in school, college, and even grad school (somewhat), this was a big part of daily distraction. In fact, I blame my love for these damn sports tournaments for the fact that, now, I find it so difficult to lose weight, gain muscle tone, etc. Women my age glibly tell me that they lost a hundred kilos because of their morning walk. I feel all inspired by this, morning walk? Easy Peasy. But then I remember that my body is used to really vigorous exercise, a morning walk is as useful as the Re.1 packet of gems when one is hungry.
During my schooldays, I doubt there occurred even a single race (of the running kind) in the city that I did not participate in (at least from classes VI-XII). Not that I won much. My peers were quite a sporty lot. I just made up in enthusiasm what I lacked in muscle mass. Of course, in specially designed sports meets where participation was limited to geeks, I did well for myself, picking up tons of loot in terms of medals and trophies.
Likewise, in the geek-o-rama college where come december, a 100-strong team of klutzes would travel across the country to indulge in some sports - running, jumping, basketball, cricket. Mind that of these 100 some 20 would be girls, based on an enforced decision by the powers-that-be. The girls teams were always considered inferior. My challenging a guy to run the 100m with me always treated as a joke.
During the rest of the year the dear old alma mater let us sports-freaks engage in interamural stuff, usually pitting hostel A against hostel B. This strictly implied Boys hostel A and Boys hostel B, and the suggestion that we were also part of a hostel was met with derisive laughter. Nevertheless, using my loud-mouthed-ness and working to my advantage the pity they felt for my shortness, I learnt in college the pleasures of six-a-side soccer, three-a-side volleyball, and three-a-side basketball, which are really much more fun than the traditional forms of the games. For us girls, getting together a full squad for a formal soccer team being well near impossible, these informal versions were really a boon. We lost every single game we played though, and while derisive laughter continued, I received one compliment "You have well developed calf muscles" for my efforts. And yes, I made some really tight friendships with girls who dreamed my dream and went along with me on these foolish inter-hostel sports missions uncomplainingly.
The land of milk and honey and what not. I really thought my fight for equality was not required any more after all this was the developed world. It was MUCH worse! I had everything going against me - my height, my skin colour, my accent, my gender. But it is like breathing to me, I cannot stop myself. In hindsight, in my seven years there, I did some stuff that was fun - I was on a mixed soccer team three years running (we won some games), I played in the famous (well, for my school at least) Haigis Hoopla basketball tournament (we lost everything, I bled on the court due to a vicious foul and the American girls refused to continue the game because of, you know, tropical diseases and all), I stole the ball from African American playahs (so what if they were rejected from the teams, they thought they were OH so good), had really enjoyable (and super competitive) desi beach-volley and full court basketball games. Stuff of my pleasant-est thoughts. I even was a coach once - but thats another whole story.
Okay so cut to the present day. I am trying to embrace middle-age. My mangalsutra, my C-section scar, my varicose veins, my job these should weigh me down. Yes, I do that Mumbai Marathon thing, but its not that competitive. Its a long distance, its a fight with myself, its a serious mental game, it has hallucinatory moments. Its fun, don't get me wrong. But its not a 100m dash. Where you lean in and feel the tape, oh ecstasy! Its not the 200, where the curve just kills your knee and inner thigh. Its surely not even the 400, where you round one curve and then there is the other one looming ahead, not to mention the straight stretch that you must sprint over, with all you got, yummy! Of course, it could be those things, basically, its running. And yes, I do sprint at the very end of the 21 km, regardless of what has happened earlier. Now I have to make sure that I get those things from my day out on Jan 20. But for a few days there I had other visions.
In December is a sports tournament, right here, two steps from me. The usual one with running and jumping and basketball. I had dreams of taking part. After all, there is an 'oldies' team that is put together usually. I made some noises about this. Eyebrows were raised. You are a woman, I read in their man-eyes, then even their mouths said it. There is no woman's team, they said. We would need special permissions. No, I said. I want to take part in the men's tournament. I have legs, same as they have legs, I can run the same as they can run. I don't need medals, I have plenty of them. I want to just be there in the line-up I said. Oh no no you don't they said. But, for you, next year, for sure, we will have a woman's squad. You must participate, we think you will do well. I smiled my thanks, but it doesn't help, really. I don't want to be on the woman's squad. It will suck. We will get laughed at. I am sure I will win something, but I doubt it will mean much. All I want is, for once, people to say, okay there is a person who tried hard to run well. No laughter. No, Wow! for a woman...
So, earth to Kenny again. I am 33. I am a mother. I have a job. I get out to South Bombay every January and I run a race. It is hard, but I do it, I enjoy it. I even think I am reasonably good at it, not just for a woman. And in my heart I know that if there is ever such a day when I compete in a race as a person, with no bias for my gender, that day, merely by the act of participation, I would win. Even if I came in last, and the tape was rolled up and taken away by the time I wheezed over.