28, 30, and 31 are the respective ages of Hemant Kumar, Anish Mukherjee and Kshitij Patil – co-founders of a non-profit organization, Art of Play. The term ‘Non-Profit’ sounds scary for most of us who belong to this age group. Most of the middle-class population in this age group is busy finding ways to make profits. In contrast, here are three middle-class men who have set up their first company which by definition is not about making financial profits. When I asked this as my first question to Kshitij, he replied “Well! That depends on how you define profit. Doesn’t it? For us we have made some real profits in the last one and half year. Not all profit is about the bank balance alone.”
When my friend Kritika requested me to baby sit her 10 year old son Arnav for a day and a half I was excited. I really like Arnav. He is observant and articulate. He respects women and Kritika tells me that sometimes he goes a little overboard with it. She told me that in his karate class when he has to fight against girls he always loses. The girls are ruthless but he will just never hit them back. When I asked him why he plainly said, ” I just don’t like to beat them, they are all so pretty.” Well, then! It will be safe to say that I think he is one of the nicest 10 year olds around.
In my very limited experience with children I have always loved the time I spend with most of them. Their perspectives are different. They have fundamental questions which you have never tried to answer yourself while you always wanted to. Their love and hatred is based on trust and they trust much easily than adults. There are no grey shades, things are mostly black or white. Life is just very simple.
So when Arnav came home I was looking forward to a day of conversations. We had Pav Bhaji and strawberry milkshake Mumbai style for lunch and then I asked him what would he like to do. He sat on the sofa and swayed his leg, I realised he might be nervous. We had never spent so much time before. So he looked around and pointed at my VR Headset – the virtual reality device that was kept on a stack of books and asked, “What is that?”. I explained the concept to him. About what those goggles/headsets do, the games that can be played, the places that one can visit etc – all from one’s living room. I told him he could go all the way to the space and come back…..twice. This got his attention. I put the VR headset on him and it took him around ten minutes to understand how it functions. This generation is so quick with learning about technology. It is pretty amazing.
Arnav was hooked on to those goggles after that.When his eyes got tired he would switch his attention to the Xbox One sitting in the living room and then animated movies. We spent the whole day sitting on the couch. Him in his virtual world and me studying. At around seven he looked really tired so I suggested that we should have a quick dinner and he should go to bed. He did exactly that.
As I looked at Arnav sleeping peacefully and closed the door I felt uncomfortable. I sat on the sofa with a glass of milk and tried to reason with my discomfort. In the 8 hours that we spent together he got to see dinosaurs through his goggles, shoot men, race cars and watch movies on the T.V. He seemed pretty happy, satisfied even. So what was troubling me? Was it the fact that my existence in the room really did not affect his happiness? If I was not sitting in that room would he really care?
When I got up in the morning I looked outside the window and looked at the beautiful fall colours. It made me feel good just sitting and looking at the trees and the birds chirping. It was peaceful. I suddenly realised what had troubled me the day before. In the 8 hours we had spent together we had not had a single meaningful conversation. In the need of keeping him busy, I had left him wandering in a world that really did not exist. He saw dinosaurs and went into the space …. but it was not real. For an entire day I let Arnav live in a world he would never really be able to touch or feel. All this because it was just a convenient choice for both of us. I could study and he could be entertained just sitting on the couch.
That morning we had breakfast and I decided that we were going to spend the whole day outside. I would take him to the park and spend the day there. I packed us some lunch and left. When I told him we were going to the park, he asked me if we could play video games instead. I promised him if he got bored we will come back home. The 30 mins drive to the park was silent. We walked around in the park, he insisted on holding my hand. So I did. It was a beautiful morning. The nature around us was overwhelming. After a while we sat down on a bench. Arnav had not spoken much the whole of that time. I was almost worried of boring him. But then Arnav asked me his first fundamental question, “Why do leaves change colours in the fall?”. I suddenly felt hopeful. It was another thing that I had to google the answer.
The day after that was a breeze. Arnav was unstoppable with his questions. We spoke about rabbits, trees, squirrels, caterpillars and butterflies. We spread a bed sheet on the green grass, ate sandwiches, I lay down beneath the blue sky while Arnav tried to draw his version of the rabbit. By the end of the day on our drive back he trusted me enough to tell me about a crush he had on a blonde girl in his class. It made me laugh, while he blushed.
When we reached outside his house I got down to get his stuff. As I started to say good bye I asked him which of the days he liked better. “I liked today, it was fun to chase that rabbit in the park.” I smiled gave him a tight hug and left. Out of the rearview mirror I saw Arnav waving back at me with the sack bag on his back and the painting of a rabbit which looked like a rat in the hand that was not waving at me.
This time the real world won against the virtual.
I really hope Arnav will always choose the real over the virtual. I hope he chooses actually visiting Central Park instead of experiencing it on his Virtual Reality headset. I really hope he knows the joy of chasing rabbits will always be superior to seeing dinosaurs sitting in his living room.
In the end I really wonder if we can play a more conscious part in helping Arnav make that choice.
I owe my Badminton career to some wonderful people…. all men. I started playing the sport because my father loved it. Santosh Kshatriya, Vasant Gore, Hemant Hardikar, Prakash Padukone, Vimal Kumar – all men who coached me during various points in time in my career. From holding the racket to becoming a national champion and everything in between, I learnt all from men. Looking back, I realise I was taught how to play women’s singles by men and not by women and I think it is something that requires attention.
Why is it that in such a long history of Indian Badminton (where we have 2 women world champions) there has not been a bigger contribution by women in coaching? Why has a woman coach still not produced a national or an international player from scratch?
Being a coach
Being a coach is difficult. Success of a coach is measured differently than that of a player. I have seen the best of players struggle to become effective coaches and I have seen lesser skilled players become much more effective. One of my coach’s said this, “You require passion that is enough to carry both you and your player through in the worst phases. You need to have the balance to know when to push them and went to hold back. You need to study everything in the sport right from the latest fitness trends to the weaknesses of the players on the circuit. Being a player is an 8-hour job, but you need to be a coach 24 hours a day.” Being an ‘effective’ coach is one of the toughest jobs.
Can women possess all these qualities; can we be effective enough?
I think it is time for women to answer this question and make a bigger contribution to the sport. I am sure there are women coaches all over India but there are really very few who have dedicated 24 hours a day to coaching.
Sayali Gokhale, a friend, is a two-time national champion and has represented India in various important international tournaments. Her strength on the court was her consistency, strokes and resilience. She was always a tough opponent to beat in the national circuit and was respected for her work ethic.
Sayali left the sport in early 2016 and started coaching May of the same year.
“When Prakash Sir (Prakash Padukone) asked me if I would consider coaching in his academy in Bangalore it was tough to let go of the opportunity. I had inhibitions though. The Academy is home to India’s best junior players and a lot of them were boys. I wasn’t sure about how would they perceive me as their coach.”
Family Support and Sacrifices
Men singles is different from women singles in so many ways. The basics are still the same but there are a lot of different nuances.
So what led her to let go of her inhibitions?
“I think the credit goes to my husband (Sagar Chopda, also a Junior Doubles’ National Champion himself). He convinced me that training the best junior kids in one of the most prestigious academies was a learning opportunity I could not let go. So I decided to give it a chance.”
Making this decision was not easy for Sayali. To be a coach in Bangalore meant living alone in a one-bedroom apartment, living away from her family and from her husband.
I asked her if it was difficult especially now that she was married and that had more responsibilities.
“Oh! Yes. I am making some sacrifices but as a player you are used to that. I have to tell you that I have the coolest in-laws. When I told them about being a coach in Bangalore. They supported me a 100%. There was no fuss and that has helped me tremendously to focus on the job in hand.”
Just like myself, Sayali too never had a female coach.
Was it difficult having no role-models?
“Yes and No. I think I have learned a lot from all my coaches since I was nine. Every coach had a different style and strength. I am trying to emulate all the best practices from each one of them and find my own style of coaching. Having some more women coaches on the circuit will definitely help for sure. I hope Saina and Sindhu are thinking about coaching in the future. We need many more of us.”
The discipline of a coach
After having personally known Sayali it is difficult for me to imagine her shouting on top of her voice and being tough on others. She has a very soft-spoken personality…… or so I think.
“Oh you need to see me on court now; you will be in for a shock. It is funny, just recently my husband was playing on the adjacent court while I was coaching. After the session he told me if he had me as a coach he would be very afraid. I have learnt to be more vocal and strict, it is a part of the job. I am still learning.”
The first day on any new job is the scariest and the most difficult. How did she face her fears?
“I had called a meeting with all the players in the academy. I told them upfront that I am new to the job and would need their support and feedback. Just like them I was learning too. In that sense I have been very lucky. Both Vimal Sir (Vimal Kumar – current coach of Saina Nehwal) and Prakash Sir have been very understanding. All my trainees have been wonderful. I have felt accepted from day one. That has really helped.”
Now is the best time to pick up Badminton professionally
Every generation has their own challenges and problems. While we were starting our careers it was less professional guidance on strength and fitness training and lack of sponsors. What according to her has changed for the present generation?
“I think this crop of players really have the best facilities they can ask for. There are physical trainers to take care of their off-court needs. The top players in the academy are taken care of financially by the Olympic Gold Quest and are really well-managed. It’s all up to the players now. India can become a Badminton powerhouse if players show the will.”
The important role that Parent’s play
Every parent has a lot of expectations both from their children and more so from the coaches. I had to know how challenging is it managing parents.
“If there is a course on Parent- Management I want to enrol in it. Parents today are really involved in every aspect of their kid’s life. I have seen parents involved right from their kid’s warm-up till their stretching in every session, every day. In a way it is great. But their end-to-end involvement also puts too much pressure on the kids which could be a problem. In tournaments sometimes I am joined by the parents to coach them. I have to sometimes coach them more than the kids. I think parents need to let the kids just be a lot more. Kids need to be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Bringing it all together
Sayali maintains that she is still very new and has a lot to learn. She also feels intimidated sometimes when she has to sit across coaches who have been at the job much longer than her in tournaments. I know Sayali will find her place and her respect. This could be the beginning of a new era for women coaches in Badminton and I feel a sense of pride and relief that Sayali Gokhale is leading the way. I wish her the best and hope this inspires more women to play a bigger part in making champions. It’s time!
How was the atmosphere in your family when you first started playing Basketball?
I was always encouraged by my family. I don’t ever remember being told not to play. My father got me a basketball goal when I was little. I and him were never too close but he still got me that goal and that was a really big deal for me. I started playing from the elementary school. I was never discouraged from playing unless I was in trouble which looking back I think I always was. I guess I just got lucky.
Did being a girl ever make it difficult to pursue sports?
It was hard as a girl. As a little girl you generally suck at Basketball. You aren’t strong enough neither tall. You are just really not good. But then you are a little girl and everyone would try and be nice and let you play with them. Though it is a different story that they would never pass you the ball.
I had two brothers and I had to be dependent on them when I was little. They would always want to play video games while I would want to be on the basketball court. Trying to get them to the park to play was a major hassle, very difficult to accomplish. I will also say that in America there is a clear distinction between how many people watch women sports versus men sports. There is a difference in the numbers.
Though luckily once I was in school it became much easier. Playing basketball became routine. It was like going through the stages- figuring out what you want to do, and then you try to convince your parents to support you. If they don’t that sucks! But if they do you are good. In America it’s not too hard to get on the team, because everyone wants to do it. Sports is huge here. It is pretty well accepted and popularised. Everyone doesn’t want their kid to be a professional athlete but everyone wants their kid to do something they love and be good at it.
How is the structure of city in relation to sports?
Structure is all the same in every city. How far you get as an athlete is just based on how you move up in the structure. It is based on your skill level, confidence and how hard you are ready to work. I always felt like I was always better than the other girls. Because I was playing basketball as a little girl and most of the girls didn’t really care so much about the sport.
Before you go to elementary school they have private organisations or local city organisations. Like city of Richardson has a YMCA where they have the T-Ball leagues where you just pay and join the league. How you join, how you get involved it is all online now. So it is pretty structured that sports is offered by every city. Most cities offer these programs.
This is through your Parks and Recreation department and hence publically funded. I just played in the park across the street in the park. I would always play with the grown men. I never played in the private league.
How is the school structure in regards to sports?
School really structures it very easy to move up. Because for the most part if you want to play you can play. It’s not like in college where you have to meet a certain skill level. Most schools offer whatever is the most popular sport. The demand for the sport comes from the parents and students. When a school is built the infrastructure is built to accommodate all the popular sports. But if the sport is not available and a lot of parents and students want to play Badminton, for example, the school needs to make sure that Badminton is offered. It could be through putting the court up on the basketball court. The school is responsible to direct the operation and fund it.
The infrastructure is paid for by school. You can attend a school and know that your child can play a sport. It’s not like an unorganised structure where you have to create a place for sports. It is already ingrained in the school system.
How do you start competing in sports?
You compete against elementary schools in your school district. There is some kind of zoning involved. It is a hierarchical structure. It ends at national level. You can play till the national level in the high school and not in the elementary school I think.
You don’t play privately for the district state or the national (Like we do in India where we represent our district or state). The only way you go up the ladder is by representing the school. The only time we play privately is during the summer for the summer league. Playing for the school is a much bigger deal than playing private leagues till high school.
Do you get any added grade or marks for being an athlete in school?
You don’t get extra marks or grades for playing a sport in school. You just have to participate in a Physical Education class
How do things change from high school?
When you are trying to be a professional athlete you get scouted by professional leagues. Scouting agencies know everything about you. Right from your performances from the elementary school level to high school. So once you get to high school you are scouted by colleges. Depending on your skill level you are also scouted by professional leagues. Now you have to graduate high school to play. I don’t think it’s a requirement that you have to graduate from college to play professional sports though. Professional leagues are totally privatised.
How do you get recruited into the professional leagues or colleges?
If you are really good you don’t have to be worried about getting recruited by a college. There is a very structured format and regulations about how they can recruit you. They send you an email and then talk to your coach and tell him they are interested in his player. They can solicit themselves very much. You can then visit the schools and look at the programs they offer and make your decision. Legally colleges cant incentivise athletes to come to their schools. It is against the law. Though it does happen.
How did you get into University of Texas in Dallas?
I got a few letters from various places. I knew I wanted to play college sports. I wasn’t getting letters that they would pay for my school. I wasn’t that good but there are athletic scholarships too. But it’s a just recruiting process based on your skill level.
I wanted to play sports but academics was very important to me. So in my case I approached the UTD basketball coach and UTD is small and their athletic program is not massive so it’s not impossible to get in. I just asked the coach of my school to approach the college coach here. I had to go to try out which is called ‘walking on’. And then I got selected into UTD.
Does playing a sport have any benefits for you once you retire?
Playing a sport does not guarantee you a job outside sports. Though the professional level has insane amounts of money. They get a lot of money from advertisement. Almost every advertisement in US has an athlete in it. The future after sport is into sports. Most of the athletes here may not have a college degree or be professionally trained to do any other jobs. Athletes who are well equipped will be wanted by a lot of companies for marketing but the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim. Here it’s like sports is your only career and the funding is here for you to make a choice like that. You don’t need to have two careers. Sports is it. You can go all out with being an athlete without giving it a second thought because there is so much money in it. And I think that’s why America has like a 100 medals in the Olympics.
Though you can’t play sports forever. It’s like finding that balance is difficult. Once you retire you don’t have the educational training and then it does become a depressing turn of events. Because you go on skipping the steps that would get you ready to have a career after sport. For those who didn’t weave education and sports together it makes it very difficult for them after sports. If they don’t have educational training than all you can do is get a job that is involved in sports. Let me assure you though that it is not really such a bad option. Once you are a professional athlete money is mostly never an issue.
So would you say that sports in America is a public- private partnership?
Yes, I would add people into that. I think it is a public-private-people partnership. Like my school gave me the infrastructure and designed a structure to play Basketball. Nike a private company sponsored my apparel in school. Nike came to our school not as charity but because it was a great marketing strategy. Why was it a great marketing strategy? Because hundreds of people would come to watch our matches, whatever level of match we were playing. I hardly remember playing a match without an audience. We are blessed that way being athletes in America. The whole of America be it public-private or people invests in us. Be it their time, money or values. It is therefore no wonder we produce so many stars.
It was 6th October 2008 and my birthday. It was a special day. I was in Bittburger, Germany and I was scheduled to play the finals of the Bittburger Open Grand Prix against Maria Febe of Indonesia. It was only the second time an Indian woman since Saina Nehwal, had broken into the finals of a Grand Prix event in Badminton. I was ready for the final. I was having problems with believing I was playing the final but I was keeping all of that aside and was focused on winning.
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The further away I go from home the closer I get to my memories at home. Memories are a beautiful thing. A photo, a song, a name anything can trigger endless images in your mind’s camera. Though I have slowly come to realise not everyone remembers everything. Like my friend Amreen she called me and confirmed the place three times yesterday about meeting her at a particular coffee shop today. I reached there at 5 sharp and got her message in caps at around 5.10 ” WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?”. I called her and she told me she was in Starbucks at Irving while I was sipping coffee at Starbucks in Richardson atleast 20 miles away. We didn’t meet finally. Thanks to Amreen’s elephant memory. Though I have a good memory and more so since I have been living away from home. Sitting at the Starbucks where Amreen never came my mind went back to one of the scariest yet funniest incident of my life. It is a story where my mother left me in the middle of the street in Bombay when I was 9 years old. I call it “The Red Sunny Story.”
My mother was the busiest woman I knew. She would wake up at 5 in the morning make tiffins. Get us ready for school. Take the 7.45 local to Bandra. Come home at 2. Have a quick-lunch and take me to Andheri West to play Badminton at 3. After all this if I didn’t try hard enough on court it was bound to make her pretty angry. I was doing exactly that, on that day. I was in real bad form. My mother saw me play and asked me when I came out of the court in Marathi, “I know the shuttle costs 75 rupees but that doesn’t mean you should never hit it! Where you seeing stars today?” We quickly wrapped up after session and headed out to get home. My mother then rode a Bajaj Sunny. A Bajaj Sunny was literally a small bicycle with an engine. When wind blew real hard there was a decent chance of the driver not needing to use the accelerator at all to move the Sunny forward.
We reached the Bajaj Sunny and mother had to kick atleast 20 times to start its engine. Every kick after the second one raised her anger by a certain degree. ” I wish I could sell this idiot. (Bajaj Sunny) ” After the 20th kick the ‘Sunny’ roared like our night watchman in Pune roared from his sleep, after calling his name 20 times at the gate when I used to reach home post 11pm . The journey began. My mom was constantly talking about how I should try harder. I was too tired to pay attention so I ignored. She suddenly stopped at our usual bread provider’s shop and told me to get down and get bread. She wouldn’t dare stop Sunny’s engine. So I went to him and he told me the bread had got over. I came back and told her. ” Oh God! What will I make for breakfast tomorrow? Today is just not my day.” I waited for her instructions. “What are you looking at? Sit quickly.” She yelled.
We crossed two signals and mother had got pretty silent by then. She suddenly saw another shop so she stopped. I got down, went to the shop and asked for bread. He had bread. I paid him the money and headed back to mother. She looked a little less angry now and seemed to have cooled down. I put my leg across the seat in the air and just when I was about to rest my bottom the Sunny moved below me. My mother went a little ahead. I was alright till then but then she just kept going and never looked back. Yes! My mother had officially forgotten to check if I had sat on her five-star Sunny.
It took me a while to realise that mother had ACTUALLY forgotten me. The moment I realised I ran behind her, yelling and crying. She just would not look back. A lot of weird thoughts must have gone through my nine-year old mind. She hates me. I should have finished my milk in the morning. She must have checked my tiffin I didn’t eat the sandwich. On top of that I didn’t try hard on the court today. Oh God! I promise to be a good girl. Please give me one chance. Please! And so on.
If Usain Bolt was running beside me that day. He would have lost. But mother was riding her Sunny like a Ferrari. People on the road were looking at me like I was demented. Nobody has time in Bombay and nobody helps until you ask for it. I was just focussed on running and I never asked for help, so Bombayites chose to ignore me. After what was an eternity I lost all hope of catching up with mother. My run slowly was turning into a jog. Suddenly out of nowhere a Bihari man came on his cycle and asked me why was I jogging and crying. I told him, “Meri maa mujhe bhul gayi.” He told me to sit in front of him on the front rod of the cycle. Like Shah Rukh Khan, he said, “Lets find your mother. Main hoon na! Tum fikar mat karo. Chalo jaldi!” All this while I was sobbing continuously of course.
He followed the way I told him to. Thankfully I knew the way home. After about 1 km of this drama. We reached a one way, where my mother on her Ferrari/Sunny had to stop due to a red light. A rickshaw wala apparently got down of his rickshaw tapped her on her shoulder, and asked her. “There is a girl running behind (like she is demented) is she your daughter?” Mother looked back and she said she almost was going to faint. Her heart was beating so fast that she later told me that she felt like it had shifted from her heart to her ear. It was a one way so she had to get down of her Sunny, stop it’s engine (crap!20 kicks) and walk it back through Bombay traffic. In a minute or so we saw each other. I on the front rod of the bike started shouting ,”Aai!Aai!Aai!” She rushed towards me. I jumped out of the bicycle and hugged her tight. My mother was saying a lot of things to the Bihari cycle wala. I was not interested really. I was finally with my mother. God had given me another chance in life. I was just so grateful.
One thing has happened after this incident. My mother still cross checks (with her eyes) two times if the person behind her Activa has sat down. Once from the left and once from the right and only then does her journey begin.
My grandmother told me some of the best stories as a child. They ranged from fairies, witches, Gods, her friends, kings and queens, and robbers and policemen. The list could keep on going. After every story she would ask me what I had learned from it and tell me to give a moral to the story. After I heard a pretty intriguing robber-police story she asked me what I had learned and I had replied after a very thoughtful silence, “If I want to be a robber I will have to be smarter than the police.” She hit her hand on her head and hit me on the back. ” That is not the moral of the story you fool. The moral is to never steal because you will always get caught in the end.” Every story my grandmother told me was meant for me to choose and understand the right and the wrong. She would always make me choose a side.
As I grew older I realised at every moment in my life I will be given a choice and my grandmother was preparing me for it through her stories. As a player every decision I took was a choice. You have to choose if you want to get up early in the morning at six and train or sleep till 8. You have to choose if you want to practice six hours a day or three hours a day. You have to choose if you want to compete after your first major injury and make a comeback or quit the sport. You have to choose if you want to study as hard as you play. You have to choose between a dessert or no dessert because you are following a diet. Everything in life is a choice, and most of the time you can always choose the chocolate cake because nobody is watching but you still choose not to eat it because you have chosen to be on the right side of being an athlete. (I did choose the chocolate cake sometimes. After seven hours of training I told myself I deserved it.) I had to make a lot of these choices from a very early age and out of all the choices I have made the hardest has been this -How am I going to deal with failure? Will I let it affect my motivation or will I use it as a fuel to reach success?
Being an athlete you have to mature very quickly and sometimes deal with life’s toughest questions even before you cross your teens. Hence to deal with the pressure very early in my career I exposed myself to meditation. I was fascinated by the stories of Mahabharata and sometimes would also indulge myself in reading a few pages of The Gita. I was also a fan of Gautama Buddha and Buddhism. A lot of my friends would laugh at my obsession and ask me , ” Are you going to become a saint now?” I never looked at spirituality as a philosophical subject. It always was very practical for me. I wanted to keep calm and be focused as a player and meditation helped me achieve that. I looked at meditation as a means to a victorious end.
Both Buddhism and The Gita talk about two fundamental things which have stayed with me and which I think has helped me the most as an athlete. The first is Karma yoga and the second is choosing the Middle Path. Karma yoga literally means doing selfless actions as a way to perfection. You set yourself a goal and keep working towards it in spite of your failures and success and never stop till you achieve your desired result. The second is choosing to be on the middle path. The middle path is your ability to react to failure or success in the same way. To be in a space where neither failure nor success can affect your inner peace. It is our ability to find a constant state of happiness. Both Karmayoga and finding that middle path are most difficult things to achieve but every successful athlete has dealt with them and has found his or her own way to achieve it.
To be successful in life the most important thing is to achieve a constant state of happiness in spite of failures and, to be centered in your emotions in every circumstance you face. If you are happy you think better, you train harder and you feel much more motivated. My friend once said to me, ” I am just waiting for that one moment in life where I can find extreme happiness.” I asked him ,” What if that moment doesn’t exist? Are you choosing to not be happy till then?” It is like Christopher Gardner says in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, “It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?”
As an athlete you have to learn that nothing is permanent. If you have lost ten matches in a row you might win the eleventh one. If you have won 10 matches in a row you might lose the eleventh one. The most important thing in a player’s career is to understand that you can never react to success and failure with extreme emotion of either joy or sadness. Understand that life as a sportsperson is cruel and unfair. I still remember when I became the national champion for first time in under 13 I felt like I ruled the world. I came home to a party. I was getting phone calls from relatives and friends. I was on cloud nine. The next day in practice I was almost floating in the air. My coach made me play against an under 19 singles player and I lost under five in both the games. I realised my place and my standard in a match and knew there was really not much to party about. I realised very early that as an athlete you will get to celebrate only for a day. The next day you will be the most hunted player on the circuit and everyone would want to beat you and if you are not prepared you will lose. Treat success just like a stepping stone and a validation of your hard work and move on.
In my career as an athlete I have failed many times. I have lost matches on 11-0 and 11-0, without scoring a point. I have lost matches when I was leading 20-10 after winning the first game. I have lost to players ranked much below me because I was too proud to give them their due respect. I have lost matches because my knee was hurting and I won’t accept it. I have lost matches because of a bad line call. I have lost so many times and for so many different reasons that there have been times when I have questioned myself if I had chosen the right career. But looking back I do value these failures much more than the successes I have had. In their own harsh way failures prepared me for life better than the trophies in my living room.
Never play to lose, give all your energy to win. But if you lose learn, make improvements and know that success will come if you believe in it. I am going to end this post with a few lines of the poem that is framed on my wall. A poem called “If” by Rudyard Kipling which speaks about the impotance of choosing the middle path.
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with triumph and disaster And treat those two imposters just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch; If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run – Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
I entered my first class for my Masters Degree with so much excitement that I feared my class mates would think of me as a freak. I was smiling from ear-to-ear and if I had lipstick on I would look like the Joker in Batman. The weird smile on my face was thankfully reciprocated by most of my classmates who were already in the class. While some also ignored me completely for which I will not blame them. I chose to sit somewhere in the center of the class. I think that was a wise choice looking back at my decision.
The class started to fill up and I had Patrick sitting on my right and Brendon on my left. Patrick is a African American who migrated from Africa to America a few years back. Brendon is blind. We are sort of the only representative of our species. Patrick is the only African-American, Brendon the only blind man and I am the only Indian in the class of 30 students. It isn’t too surprising that we connected on being the minority population of the class. For me personally I have never had a serious conversation with someone from Africa or a blind man and this makes the whole experience of learning much more exciting.
I have never represented a minority in my whole life. I was born a Hindu in a predominantly Hindu country. When I traveled the world and lived in London or Paris for training in my sport I saw Indians everywhere so I never really felt like a minority. ( WE ARE EVERYWHERE). This class is my first novel experience in being the sole representative of my country, at least in that small group and I try to make the most of it.
Learning with Brendon and Patrick on my side takes my learning experience to another level. Patrick being from Africa has this unique African accent and has a very different take on Governance and just life in general. He is so fascinated by India and her culture that most of the time when we are trying to discuss a case study in class our discussion always leads us to India. Like when we were discussing a policy on Aviation he asked me this, “So how much did you pay to get married?” I laughed for almost a minute before I answered, “Zero!”. It took him a while to digest that and we had a discussion about the dowry system after class.
Brendon on the other hand has this amazing ability to listen. Just really listen.” I can’t take notes. All I can do is listen really hard and hope that I remember everything.” And he does. He remembers mostly everything right from our first class to the class we had yesterday. It is just truly fascinating to see him recall everything word for word. It took me a while to get past his disability and to treat him normally. He inspires me in so many ways and at so many different levels.
I had heard a lot about studying in American universities to be a different experience. I just didn’t know it would be this unique. My class as a group is really a bunch of very decent and driven people who truly believe that they can change things through the system. Most of them work in Local Governments and their experiences help me understand and really appreciate what Government really stands for.
The class really is about learning to learn in a way I have not experienced before. The class just doesn’t teach me about Public Administration. I also know that it takes me exactly 157 steps to reach my class in the Green Hall building because Brendon who is truly brilliant and my friend told me this.
When my mother came to Mumbai in the 1989 she did not own a jeans in her wardrobe. She came to Mumbai from a relatively smaller town Gwalior, in Madhya Pradesh. My mother did not ever feel the need to wear a jeans in Gwalior. She was comfortable in her long skirts, sarees, salwar-kameez and long dresses. When she came to Mumbai after her marriage she had only one aim in mind to get her Master’s in Music and Physical Education. Mumbai changed her. When she took the train from Andheri to Marine Lines where her college was she saw and met women who were free, liberated and confident. Here fashion was an important thing. It was not just about wearing a saree but more about why wear a particular saree with a particular bindi. Fashion was a very individualistic statement for women in Mumbai. For my mother nothing resonated more with her spirit than a Denim Jeans.
I now know that a jeans for my mother was a metaphor for her struggle, her hard work, her independence, her will to never give up and the fabric that made her feel very comfortable to pursue her dreams. Can a pair of jeans really mean so much? For my mother who came from Gwalior to this mad city apparently it did!
My mother after getting her degree worked in famous schools in Mumbai- King George in Dadar Hindu colony, Mahila Sangh and Arya Vidya Mandir in Bandra for the next few years. In all these schools my mother was a music and a P.T. teacher. She was the most sort out teacher for both her staff and her students. (One of her students was Prateik Babbar and she had met Smita Patil when she had come to pick Prateik from school.) I remember going to her school sometimes and seeing her surrounded by a flock of students all the time. It didn’t take me too long to realise that my mother was a rock star in a denim jeans and it was an absolute privilege to be known as Aparna teacher’s daughter.
Everything changed for her when my father was transferred to Pune after living in Mumbai for seven years. My mother didn’t like the city too much. The culture was different. People were too laid back for her compared to Mumbai’s hustle. Being an independent woman all her life she quickly started interviewing in schools. She cracked the first school she interviewed for and became a teacher in Sharada Vidyalaya. She worked there for a few years and then something happened that changed her life.
I was 17 years old and playing and preparing for the Junior World Championships in Bangalore. My sister was giving her tenth standard Prelims. My mother was on leave from school to be with my sister to help her prepare. One morning, my mother got a call on the landline from my teammate that I had broken my knee and was admitted in the SAI hospital. When I spoke to my mother on the phone a few hours later it was the first time I heard fear in her voice. I had never known that emotion in her before that for 17 years of my life. She was always a super woman for me who feared nothing.
After my surgery I came home on crutches with my mother in the Udyan train from Bangalore. After coming back from Bangalore I felt a change in her. My injury and the fear of me never playing again had shook her quite a bit. She decided she will not go back to school and give all her attention to my injury and rehab. She was with me all through the process. My diet, my exercises, my medication, my pain, my tears everything. I recovered and went back to training and then eventually competing. My mother though never went back to work after that.
In the last 12 years my mother went from being known as Aparna teacher to being known as her daughters mother and Manager Saheb’s wife. The Aparna before the Mutatkar got lost somewhere. After she left her job all her jeans were back in the cupboard she would never wear them because may be she didn’t feel the same in them. Why did my mother never work or do anything remotely selfish for herself in all these years?, is a question I am still finding an answer to. When I think of her sacrifice it always makes a dent in my heart.
The great thing about time though is that it has this amazing power to heal and change. After my younger sister’s marriage I sat down with my mother and we talked. This is what she said to me, ” This is the first time in all these years that I feel free. Really free. I think I have done a great job of making all three of you (my father, my sister and myself) decent human beings. Though I have no idea who I am or who I was 20 years ago. I want to sing, to dance, to teach,to travel, and write again. I want to be selfish and do something because I want to do it.” I listened to this and I told her that all three of us would stand by everything she wanted to do. We owe that to her.
In the time that has passed since my sister’s wedding my mother has joined a yoga course and is looking to be a certified yoga teacher. She has pulled down the harmonium from the closet and started recording her old songs. She has started writing again. She and my father are planning to start a catering business after my father’s retirement in the next two years. She is planning trips with her old friends. She is slowly getting her confidence back. When she sent me a picture of herself in her old jeans, the Aparna before the Mutatkar came back to me in a flash. I realised that a jeans is a metaphor for my mother. I can’t wait to be known as Aparna’s daughter again. Aparna is slowly finding her way back and she is doing it in a pair of jeans.
It is really never too late to rediscover yourself or for that matter wear that old pair of jeans kept somewhere deep in your closet. Go Aparna!