Playing the audience..

I am on my way back to Pune in the Udyan Express. There is a couple sitting in front of me who I am guessing is in their late 20s and newly married. How do I know? There is the fading mehendi and the constant need  of touching each other while being completely oblivious of me sitting there, which I think are reasons enough. They cant just take their hands off each other. They are playing some game on their mobiles. The guy is beating her every time. She gets angry at him and he cajoles her. I have a feeling that the girl is purposely losing so that the guy cajoles her. They play the actors on the stage called life while I play the audience.

Life is always like that. Sometimes you play the audience while sometimes you play the actors. I think I make a very good audience. I am a very good listener,I dont just look but also try to see and Im in no hurry to judge people.

When it comes to the matter of love I have mostly played the audience. I have seen my friends go from the’I love you’ stage to the ‘I want to marry you’ stage. I have seen love change lives. I have seen an extremely lost guy turn into a very successful man, because of a girl. I have seen a girl cry alone in the rain because she was cheated by the love of her life. Hoping that the rain would wipe her tears and make them invisible.

The English dictionary’s definition of love is too narrow. Love is an extremely personal emotion. It is like religion. Everybody has his or her personalized version of it. There are no rights and wrongs. There are no set parameters. Every love story is unique and special. For some it’s sharing an ice-cream, for some it’s sharing a bed, for some it’s about sharing pain while for some it’s sharing happiness. To define someone else’s love with your definition is useless.

I am a sucker for love stories. I can sit and listen for hours  to people telling me how they met each other. Out of all the stories I have heard the story of John and Julia has always stayed with me. John was a womanizer and a rock star. He changed girlfriends every Saturday. Julia was a dancer, honest and would never hurt a soul knowingly. John fell in love with Julia the day he saw her dance on the stage. He would not tell her that for a very long time. Over a period of time they managed to become friends. They would talk for hours about their dreams and plans which always made a world of sense to each other. Julia eventually fell in love with him too. Though she  never told him so. She feared he would never be able to love just one woman all his life.

Time passed they both went their separate ways. They kept in touch through letters. They told each other everything accept for the fact that they loved each other in those letters. After two years John wrote to Julia telling her he was getting married to his girlfriend and he would like her to come. Julia replied telling him she couldn’t make it and wished him well.

John told me that he would have never have had the courage to find Julia in a remote village in Rajasthan teaching 10 kids in a classroom if he hadn’t seen that last alphabet of the letter a little blotted. He figured that just may be that last alphabet was a little blotted because she was crying while she wrote the letter.

So a week before the marriage, John cancelled it. He left to find Julia in that village. He broke hearts, was abused by his friends and family but he just had to see her. When he saw her in that classroom, the only thing he said was, “Will you marry me?” and she replied, “Thank god.” John and Julia are married for ten years now and live with their dog, Ceaser.

Oh! this four letter word makes life so beautiful. Im looking away from my train window thinking about things. The couple is finally tired of fighting and cajoling. The girl is sleeping with her head on her guy’s lap. After a while the guy keeps her head on the seat just for a second and gets a blanket and puts it over her. He again gets her head back on his lap,carefully. The girl smiles, she wasn’t asleep. This the guy doesn’t see, I do! Being audience has it’s perks and me being good at it would never miss a scene like that.


Laxmi Anthony…

Memories are the most important part of our lives. On a bad day, the recollection of a good memory can make that day seem not so bad. It is very important to learn from everything you remember. It is important to live a life worth remembering though. When I say this I don’t really mean that one should not make mistakes. Risks have to be taken, because life is interesting only when you take a risk. Sometimes you succeed sometimes you don’t. When you don’t you learn something but when you do mostly you become a part of everyone’s memory.  I recollected an interesting memory of my life when I saw Laxmi Anthony yesterday waiting for her bus in Bangalore.

I remember Laxmi very clearly. I saw her for the first time in a hospital. She wore a grey and a white dress and a white cap. She was my nurse in a hospital in Bangalore where I had to undergo my first knee surgery. Laxmi must have been in her mid-50s. She wore a pair of glasses, which were less on her eyes and more on her nose. She always looked down at you. She was well-built and her hair was almost going white. She spoke good English and smiled very little.

On the first day in the hospital my doctor introduced ‘Sister Laxmi’ as the go to person for all my needs. I smiled at her, when he did. She just looked at me through her glasses settled on her nose and never smiled back. She was there  before I was taken to the surgery and while I was taken to it. The day after the surgery I was in a trance, that bloody anesthesia makes you so drowsy. I saw Laxmi and my dad frequently when I tried to open my eyes. It was a very blurry vision. The day after was much better. The anesthesia effect was gone and I felt like I was awake after a ten day sleep. As I woke up Laxmi told my dad to go out of the room. She announced it was time for my sponge bath.  She got luke warm water and a sponge. For a lady with such strong hands her touch was pretty soft. She was careful to not hurt my operated leg in anyway. She poured a lot of  nice smelling powder all over my body and gave me a fresh washed hospital robe to wear. God! I felt good.

Then she got me a bowl to brush my teeth and held it patiently till I brushed. She then wiped my face off with a napkin. Then came the bed pan. The bed pan is an extremely scary device. It is used for your morning rituals. She said, ” Ok, you cant walk and put any pressure on that leg so sit on this thing and do your thing.” I looked at her wide-eyed. There was no way I was shitting on my bed and worst still have her watch me while doing it. I told her I will limp on a leg and go to the bathroom. She first said, ” angadu pangadu bangadu” in Kannada and then put that bed pan right under my arse. I must have sat there for half an hour trying to get through my morning ritual, though nothing came out. After fifteen minutes, Laxmi lost her patience. “Push karo, how long will you take. Push karo.” I really pushed but nothing happened. After half an hour, she lost it. She took that bed pan off my backside. “angadu pangadu bangadu, I dont have all day. I have many more patients.” I started laughing at myself actually and at the whole bed pan experience. She again said, “anagadu panagadu bangadu” cleaned my backside and left. I realised “angadu pangadu bangadu” must be how cursing sounded in Kannada
Laxmi got me my meals everyday on exact times she told she would get them. Not a minute more, not a minute less. She waited till I finished all my meal every morsel on my plate. A patients food I really think is not cooked with  any love. It is so not tasty. I would complain to her and tell her I cant finish it. She would tell me, ” If you don’t eat you will get too weak. You have to eat I am not going anywhere till you eat.” During those meals I would try hard to start a conversation but she always answered back in a word or two. Laxmi would never smile, never ever. Not even when I cracked a joke. I lost confidence in my sense of humor in those four days with Laxmi. I didnt like Laxmi very much that was certain
On the second last day I had reached my limits as far as boredom was concerned. I found myself alone in that room for a while and I decided it was time to try to stand on my feet. That big bandage on my right leg was extremely scary. I feared of not walking again. So I started my stunt. I had almost kept my right leg on the ground when Laxmi came running and in that process broke her glasses and held me. “What are you doing? Are you crazy? Get back on that bed. angadu pangadu bangadu.” I got back in my original position. She was blabbering something in Kanada all the while. My first tear came down. She stopped cursing came close kept her hand on my head and said, ” Dont worry! Everything is going to be fine. Have faith”

Laxmi didnt tell anyone about my stunt. After five days in that hospital it was time to go. Laxmi helped me with my clothes and put me on a wheel chair. I said thank you and smiled at her. She again did not smile back. She came with me and my father till the hospital exit pushing that wheel chair. On the exit my father offered her some money for doing everything she had done. She refused and said, patting on my head. ” Sir my commission is not the money just take care of your daughter. When she walks again, that will be my commission.” and then she SMILED. Laxmi Anthony finally smiled.

Being a nurse is such a tough job when I think of it. I guess Laxmi didnt smile much because may be she didn’t want to get attached to her patients. It was like a defense mechanism of her’s. If they have a relationship with every patient,it must be really hard to handle all the emotions. I mean really once you are out of that hospital you don’t think about the nurse who nursed you. A nurse has to feed you, bathe you, literally clean your shit, wipe your dirty arse and do this six days a week. They must be going through so many emotions everyday. They see the birth of a child, to a death of a patient. They serve a long suffering patient everyday with the same dedication but then, what happens when he dies? Do they mourn, is it easy to face death everyday? To see a young widow,a grieving mother. It seems like a tough profession to me. One of the toughest very easily.

When I approached Laxmi on the bus stop she was a little surprised. I tried to remind her but though she was cordial I was sure she didnt remember me. She pointed at her bus that was coming. She got on it and took the window seat and just while the bus started moving she waved her hand at me.  ” You are walking.”, she shouted. I nodded. Well! she had told me so!

To all the Laxmi Anthonys of the world, all I want to say is “Thank you. You guys are really special.”

A letter to Him….

Dear Allah,Ram and Jesus,
It’s been a while since I have written a letter. The last one I wrote was to mother on her birthday (in really bad Marathi) stating how much I love her. I was 15 then. My mother started crying and I thought it was because of my very bad Marathi, but then she ran over and hugged me so I guess it made her happy. For a while now there has been a desperate need to start writing letters. I didn’t know whom to start with so I started with You.
To tell You the truth you completely confuse me. Your existence is such a mystery. I personally keep swinging towards being a believer to being an atheist. I mean look at you, you have so many names, you come in so many shapes. Some say you are one tiny red dot, some say you come in the shape of Hanuman. I am sure if you exist in a little cooler version, you must be sitting on a beach with your legs up, sipping your drink and laughing at all the theories we mortals make about you.
You were instilled upon me with the use of fear, that I remember. My mother won’t give me food if I didn’t recite all the shlokas she had taught me at 7 every evening. I remember I didn’t know half of those Sanskrit words in the shlokas so when she was not listening I would use words from the latest bollywood songs. Mother would hear it and warn me about the no food scenario so I would again try to get back to the Sanskrit.  If I didn’t share my chocolate with a friend, grandma would come to me and say pointing her finger upwards, “Aditi, share your things with your friends. He is watching all our acts.” I would look up and see a fan and wonder, but then share that chocolate.
I think the time I really believed in your existence was after my first knee surgery.  My mother told me some Panditji had told her that I need to go a Shankar temple every Monday morning. I had to go around the temple ,21 times. She told me that if I do this I could get back to playing.  ” Just do it with Faith.”, she said. As this involved getting to play I did it for all the six months of rehab. The first 3 months in Pune, the next three in Bangalore. I used to get out at 6 every morning and sneak out on a Sunday to a temple nearby. I felt my flatmates in Bangalore would laugh at me, so I chose the early hours, much before they woke up. I did comeback very strongly into the circuit after those 6 months and I would pray and thank you everyday.
As I grew older good things and bad things happened. There were ups and downs. My praying patterns also changed with times. Though I always came back to you in all my lows. I started doing the 21 chakkars  recently after an ankle injury and I thought may be you will get me back, but I suffered another hamstring pull. I haven’t been to the temple since. If I have, I have never asked for a free gift or a miracle. I just come and say thank you for everything I have and I don’t.
Today I have no idea where I stand on the debate of your existence. In all these years there is one thing I have learnt though, my life is in my hands. Its all about your karma. If you work your way up honestly, with passion and a dream, good things happen. If you love the people around you with all your heart, they always love you back.  I have realised more responsibility I take in working towards my happiness, the more happier I am.
Though I must say you humble me down just when I think I have full control of my life. I realise I am really such a small dot in the scheme of things when I stand on that hill, near my house watching that beautiful sunset. May be you are nature that is all around me.  Or may be you are that faith that mother talks about, or that black thread that mother has tied around my ankle hoping it will save me from  another injury. What are you??? I know ,I know I am never going to get an actual answer. Am I?
Its cool! I am just 26 now so I have some time to get all enlightened.  Till then you sip your drink on that beach and laugh at me.
Take care,
Your believer and non-believer,

The Missing Circuit

Yesterday one of my state team mates told me that out of the three national tournaments scheduled before the nationals, not even one  is happening. Every tournament has been postponed to an indefinite date. We both looked at each other, lent out our frustration on this and got ready for our west zone match. There is a serious case of a whole senior domestic  circuit missing and it is extremely annoying.
When I was in the juniors I used to play 15 tournaments in total in a whole year. This included the state level, the national level and the school games. At the age of 14years I played my first Junior French open and got a bronze. I used to play in the under 16 and under 19 category at the same time and win both. That’s how I got my chance to play for the junior Indian team at the age of 14.
I look back and I have no doubt that  an extremely active and a vibrant national circuit is the sole reason for a 14 year old girl to have had the chance of representing the country.  There was a constant need to perform. There was this excitement, a sense of purpose in training. All of us players would keep playing each other every month. There was a constant and a fair chance for everyone to beat the number one player of the country. The number one player had to constantly work, to keep the coveted spot. 
I was ranked number one or two in most of my junior days. There used to be this crazy pressure to handle every time I entered the court. Today when I look back I realize that the constant need to win, that will to work hard and a sense of motivation was purely because there was a tournament every month. 
Today things have changed drastically. As a senior player I get to play two and if I am really lucky three tournaments every year. I have to wait sometimes for six months to play a tournament, to get a chance to see where I stand. I am expected to keep myself motivated and fit for a tournament every six months.  A player works hard not really to play well in practice. I wish there was a prize for working hard in practice most of us senior players would win a gold. But sadly there isn’t a prize! 
The reasons as I know for not having tournaments is lack of sponsors and non-availability  of India’s top players. The sponsors don’t give the money if the top Indian players don’t participate.  I really have nothing against the top Indian players, who I very well know are doing really well at the international circuit. The international circuit is extremely taxing and tough and there are two tournaments every month.  I get their point of not playing the national circuit, or not having any time to spare. I totally get this.
What I don’t get is, why should a whole lot of 100 to 200 players who don’t play the international circuit or don’t have the money to play abroad suffer because 15 top international players of India don’t have the time to spare. We are told there are no sponsors to get us the prize money. But really who are we kidding, badminton players are used to crap prize money. As a player today I would play a tournament even if I get 1000 rupees for winning it.   But for God sake give me a tournament to play!!!
Today the deal is simple I am a state level player. I want a chance to play  India’s best players as much as possible, and see where I stand. I want to test myself against them. I work hard everyday with a tournament in my mind and I get to know most of the times that I have to wait till the end of the year.
China has produced a series of World and Olympic champions. I have been told that every top player in China has to play the domestic events. China has a grueling series of national tournaments and inter-club leagues every season.  They had shown some of those league matches on tv and I was amazed at the level of badminton. China produces champions every month, and still they do feel the need of having a domestic season. We produce one Saina every 20 years( thankfully Sindhu didn’t take too long.. ;)..) and what we have in the name of a domestic circuit is one tournament every December. Well,  I rest my case!!!

Oh, so lonely…

Being lonely is not a very pleasant emotion to feel. I have had my share of, ” oh,I’m so lonely” times. When I would travel alone in Europe or Asia for tournaments or when I would be lying on my bed with a big bandage on some part of my body. It’s extremely scary to be alone.  Being lonely is not just about being alone. You sometimes feel lonely even when there are 100 people around you. Its sometimes even difficult to give reasons of your loneliness to your best friends. I personally do believe that being lonely can drown you or make you a much stronger person.

Sheela kaku lives two floors below my flat. She is now 60 years old and lives with her son,daughter-in-law and her grandson. She lost her husband some 15 years back. She wears this really huge black coloured spectacles. When you look at her, her eyes look all magnified. She has jet white hair, which she doesn’t try to colour black. Both her son and daughter-in-law work in software companies and work late hours. She makes the food for all the family.  The grandson grew up under her care. Both the parents were too busy making money, so she took care of him.

I look at Sheela kaku and I try to understand what loneliness can really be like. The son has no time for her, neither does the daughter in law. I have hardly seen her going out with them in any of their outings.  The three of them go for a week’s holiday  leaving her alone in the house. She doesn’t have friends, and where do relatives have time to visit her in their busy lives. I hear her grandson yelling at her all the time.  It is so loud that the whole building can hear it. She is always trying  desperately to cajole him. Once  I heard  him saying, ” wait, till mother comes, I will tell her about this.”

What did all the love she gave her grand son amount to? Doesn’t she miss her husband? When was the last time she was hugged? If she is sad or happy, whom does she go to talk about it? What is it like living without a dream? What is it like living life, without a purpose? What is it like to cook food for the family and do it for years together and then to be left in a two bed room flat all alone when they holiday in Kashmir?

Once the rest of the family is gone, Sheela kaku opens the door of the flat and sits in the hall on the floor cutting vegetables or reading a newspaper with her magnified eyes. I guess she leaves the door open all the time hoping some body would come along and have a cup of tea with her, and may be she wouldn’t be that alone. Nobody comes in. Not even me.

We are all in such a hurry chasing dreams, making money, staying online that we forget the presence of an entire generation sitting in their houses just wanting to be talked to.  There are so many times I wish I could stop running. Where I could just take 5 mins off my day to go and sit with Sheela kaku and ask her how she’s doing? I still haven’t done it.

I have been lonely for a few days in 25 years of life. Sheela kaku has been lonely for the last 15 years. I look at her everyday and try to understand what she goes through, but I don’t think I’m capable of knowing. All I can do is take that 5 mins off my day and get myself inside that already open door.