That’s Cricket

April 17, 2009

The girls have, in their vast hoard of playthings, a pair of hockey sticks, a couple of tennis rackets, a shuttlecock, a couple of old tennis balls, a small golf ball, a green plastic ball and a yellow smiley ball. They don’t, strangely enough, possess a single cricket bat, but it doesn’t seem to matter, because they play reverse sweeps quite effectively with the hockey sticks.

Most of this motley collection of ‘bats’ and balls is reserved for using in the park only, as the confined space indoors guarantees severe damage to person and property, should they be allowed to swing these various sticks and rackets around freely.

So, for indoors cricket, they have made their own arrangements. Usually, it’s just the two of them, byt today they roped me in as well. I, armed with a tweety-bird-yellow plastic pencil box, and seated at the dining table, was the batsman; Mrini, armed with a tennis ball was the bowler. She demonstrated Newton’s third law of motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) beautifully; every time she let go of the ball, it went flying off wildly in some unpredictable direction, while she tumbled over equally wildly in some other, equally unpredictable direction.

Sometimes, the ball arrived somewhere in the vicinity of the pencil box (I mean, the bat), and I lunged at it, also rather wildly. Even armed with a pencil box, it is not easy to hit a missile hurled with a good deal of determination and no clear direction from about two feet away.

On the rare occasion when the bat made contact with the unguided missile, the result was that the said missile went careening off in a new and still highly unpredictable manner. Once it missed the moving blades of the fan by a couple of inches. Had it made contact, it would have been interesting.

Tara had the unenviable task of fielding. According to me, it is the worst job in the world, but some dogs like it too, so I suppose there’s no accounting for tastes. Egged on by Mrini, she went chasing off after every ball, tracked it down (usually by crawling under some furniture), retrieved it, and very sweetly handed it over to Mrini.

After the game had progressed in this organised and disciplined manner for one entire over, Tara, the fielder, took the ball and ran off. Mrini squealed and ran after her. She got the ball back after a bit of a struggle, but she had learned her first major neighbourhood-cricket lesson: if you want to be the bowler, you’d better be ready to do the fielding too.


Tennis: Keep Your Eyes on the Ball, Girls

May 6, 2008

We took the twins for tennis on Sunday. Oh, we weren’t trying to get them to play (yet) – they were supposed to be audience or at best ball-girls, while Amit and I played. That was the plan.

It wasn’t the first time we had taken them to the courts – it was the second. The first time was Sunday a week earlier, when they had allowed us to play for precisely 25 minutes before Mrini began wailing and would not be consoled and had to be taken home post haste – wailing all the way.

In the following days, I realized that perhaps her shoes were too tight, so this time we had her in a larger pair of shoes. Also, I was more conscious about keeping them well fed and hydrated. Of course, I would imagine that no child wants to be awakened at 6 a.m. and hauled off to a strange place where they are expected to sit quietly in a corner, while their parents are off having a good time whacking a ball around. Nor did these kids appreciate it. It wasn’t that they minded being woken at six and taken off to the courts… it was just that they wanted to be out there on the court as well, bumbling around, picking up balls, leaves, sand, insects, and whatever else came their way.

The first half an hour or so was pretty good. I hadn’t been playing too well last week, but with just Amit and me on the courts, and the girls sitting quietly in the shade keeping themselves busy with God-knows-what, I was able to really focus and find my rhythm. Amit was impressed, which is saying a lot. Actually, Amit was already impressed last weekend, when he confessed to being amazed at the improvement in my game since we last played together, way back before we got the twins. But last weekend, with all of 25 minutes of play, I was only just warming up before the game was abruptly terminated by Mrini. This time, I really was able to get into my stride and I knew I was playing well, by my standards.

Then Tennis Sir dropped by to meet the twins. He is a really lovely person, and it says a lot about him that he didn’t make any stupid comments about the kids, the adoption, or about how lucky they are etc etc… just spoke to them a bit and told us how cute they are.

After that, the girls just could not be kept off the court. Despite the blazing sun (around 8 a.m.) they insisted on walking on to the court and standing right in the way of our game. We fed them, changed diapers, gave them water, showed them their toys, and told them to go sit in the shade, but nothing doing – back they came, walking on to the court and trying to get hit by the ball.

Luckily Amit was not playing his usual ferocious game of tennis, or it would not have been only the kids who would have had to leave the court in a hurry… All the same, I wouldn’t have wanted them getting bowled over even with one of my balls. I mean, they’re not even two years old yet! But Amit wouldn’t hear of calling it quits, so despite the two girls and sundry toys straying on to court, we continued to play.

I have to say that it probably did my game a great deal of good. When there are two moving targets that you’re desperately trying to avoid, and a partner who – under doctor’s orders – is supposed to avoid running at all costs (due to Patellar Tendinitis), you really have to direct your balls very, very carefully. Just to keep me on my toes (literally), Amit would periodically indicate that I should hit the ball to this side or that side of the court, and then we would shift the game to the indicated side, leaving the girls to slowly toddle over from their side to our side. I’m sure it was a most entertaining game of tennis.

We had reached the courts around 7, and it was a little past 9 when we finally packed up and drove away. The girls were still in good spirits, and by then, so was I. A few more sessions like this, and we’d at least have a decent pair of ball-girls on our hand, hopefully adept at dodging bullets, and maybe even turning into tennis players at some point.


Jumpin’ Jiminy!

March 25, 2008

Tara has learnt to jump. She jumps three clear inches off the ground several times before falling down splat. Mrini still can’t jump. She thinks this is something she’d rather not broadcast too widely, so when Tara is showing off her jumping skills, Mrini attempts one or two jumps, then changes the subject by starting something she can do, such as round-and-round, which, as the name implies, involves spinning around like a top till she topples over.

Another recently-acquired skill is walking on tippy-toes, which both can now do at will. Both also like to stand butt-side up with their heads touching the ground, but it was Tara who managed – accidentally, I believe – to turn a somersault the other day.

Meanwhile, her kissing spree proceeds apace; she kisses me about 45 times a day, Amit 15 times, Mrini 18 times, her books 25 times, her doggies and other stuffed toys a total of 35 times, and any other passing animate or inanimate object about 10047 times (all figures are approximate).

Both girls are showing bookworm tendencies, slightly more pronounced in Tara. Around 9.30 a.m. she grabs me by the arm shouting “bukku-bukku-bukku” and heads off determinedly towards the cupboard. In the cupboard, well out of reach, are stored the delicate paper books (as opposed to the more rugged board books, good for chewing) which I take down and “read” to them from time to time. One particular book of nursery rhymes, huge and fat and full of colourful illustrations, is the current favourite. As soon as I take this book out, both of them hop excitedly around me, waiting for me to take my customary position at the edge of the bed (mattress-on-the-floor). Then Mrini heads over to the other end of the bed, picks up the pillow, hoists it on to her head, carries it over and places it carefully behind my back. This accomplished, they both sit down next to me and start very earnestly leafing through the book, which keeps them occupied for the next 30-40 minutes! They don’t wait for me to read out any of the rhymes, but just keep flipping through looking at all their favourite pictures. Due to this daily textbook session, Mrini has now acquired the following vocabulary on cue:

  • doggie? bowbowbowbowbow
  • pussycat? meow-meow
  • cow? momomomo
  • piggy? oiy-oiy

Soon I’ll have a walking-talking menagerie on my hands.

Another of their latest antics is even more entertaining. First, they empty all the toys out of the laundry basket which is their home (the toys’ home, that is), by the simple expedient of upturning the basket above their heads. Then, Tara will take my hand and drag me to the laundry basket. The reason? She needs a helping hand in order to climb over the edge and get into the basket.

Once in, she promptly sits down and looks at Mrini expectantly. Mrini then struggles to overcome the forces of inertia and friction, but once she gets that basket moving there’s no stopping her. She drives it all over the house, steering a course around (most) obstacles and even managing to execute a complete U-turn. When Mrini is tired, Tara works her way out of the basket, usually toppling it in the process, but escaping unhurt and happy.

Today, when Tara thought it was time to climb out of the basket, Mrini contradicted her, holding her firmly with both hands around her waist and telling her “bai-tho” (sit) until Tara complied. Later, when Tara finally managed to get out of the basket, Mrini got in and Tara tried pushing her, but it didn’t work. Tara, apparently, didn’t get the hang of pushing, and Mrini found the passenger’s seat scary.

It’s nice that the kids have taken to their daily schedule. They know that after breakfast is “bukku” time, after lunch is “dagi” (dahi = curd) time, after their afternoon milk is “paka” (park) time and an hour after dinner is bed time. And, most importantly, they know that afternoons are “don’t bug mama” time. Of course, the methods they choose for this last-mentioned time are arguably not the best: opening forbidden cabinets and playing with forbidden objects. Of late they’ve taken to throwing every last one of their toys over the childproof gate and into the study where I sit. Luckily they can’t quite manage to bean me with one of these flying objects yet, but I’m sure they will soon. Sigh – the things one has to put up with…


Un-holi-day

March 23, 2008

I hate holi. Ever since I was a child, I have never enjoyed this festival. I just don’t have the required degree of extroversion, nor the required minimum level of comfort with the dirt, the disorder, the shocking physical liberties, and the sheer exuberance to enjoy the festival.

For those who don’t know, holi is the festival of colours and is celebrated by throwing or smearing people with coloured powders. That’s the formal version – the more rugged versions range from water or wet colours to raw eggs, paint, grease, oil, or anything else that you can get your hands on that can be smeared or smudged onto your near and dear ones. Or, if it comes to that, onto any passing stranger too. Why you would want to coat known and unknown people in such filth beats me; and how you could enjoy either meting out or being on the receiving end of such treatment has me equally perplexed; and how you can presume to lay hands on not just the face and hair, but also the arms, legs, backs, and chests of the old and young, male and female has me completely stumped; but all that notwithstanding, holi is an immensely popular festival with those who celebrate it.

Holi is typically played in neighbourhoods and the action usually lasts all morning and winds up in time for a late lunch, after a long clean-up session. In my childhood, I had made a fine art of hiding from enthusiastic revellers on holi-day.Since we gave up being neighbourly about ten years ago, I haven’t had to worry about dodging the holi spirit for a very long time. This time, I didn’t have an opportunity to bring out and put to use my evasive skills – holi entered my sedate life from a backdoor that I wasn’t even aware existed (so to speak).

It was Amit’s boss who invited us to join them in celebrating holi. It was difficult (impossible?) to decline the invitation, the more so since he had been wanting for some time to meet the twins.

So, despite my wails of protest, yet another weekend saw us rushing around trying to make it out of the door in time for an 11 a.m. invitation. Naturally, it was past 10.30 by the time we left, and as Amit’s boss stays at the other end of the world as far as Bangalore is concerned, this was not good. Moreover, Amit decided to use technology to get us to the venue and was using GPS navigation on his cellphone to find his way. So it’s not surprising that we got lost multiple times, and had to resort to increasingly desperate measures such as trying a paper map, asking bystanders on the roadside, and finally being forced to call the host for navigational aid.

We reached at 12.30 to find the party in full swing. A nightmarish crowd of colours came rushing towards us and smothered us in a haze of powder, though we knew nobody there (no, they didn’t spare the kids). I had optimistically expected a decorus type of holi in which everyone pats a little colour on your cheek and then everybody sits down and sips glasses of juice amidst small talk, so I and the kids had gone well dressed. The kids were wearing brand new tops bought by my sister in Thailand (on a trip, that is, she doesn’t stay there) and sent express delivery by Blue Dart courier. Both were pastel shades, cream and pale pink. I was in a rather dressy and quite new salwar-kameez, cafe au lait and bright blue. Our lovely outfits were doomed within seconds.

The kids and I found a quiet corner from where we could observe the action without being bombarded too often. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, the kids gradually began to unwind and take some interest in their strange new environment, but it wasn’t until about 2 p.m. when the fun was all over, that they really got involved. Someone introduced them to a small box of leftover organic colour (organic! I didn’t know such things existed) and after a little hands-on encouragement, they got the idea. For the next 15-20 minutes, they sat sweetly in middle of the just-swept floor and got their hands dirty. Well, not just their hands, of course. The rubbed the colour over their own and each other’s hair and faces, and dropped it liberally on their skirts and on the almost-clean floor. For just a short time they were absolutely the focus of attention and blissfully and completely unaware of it.

At last, we interrupted their act to get them cleaned up and give them lunch. It was a little after 3 when we left, and mercifully we ditched the satellite and just used homing instinct to navigate back, taking just an hour to get home. Now we only had to bathe wash hair and change the twins (I couldn’t face the prospect of a second bath for them, so I just dusted them off and left it at that) and then I could have the indisputable pleasure of trying to get the colour out of the clothes. After rinsing them several times and then stuffing them in the washing machine, they still look like rags. The colours have all run into one another to give a uniform look somewhere between dull grey and mud brown. The lace on the kids’ pretty shirts, which started out white, is now best described as mottled. I could almost weep.

This is not my idea of a relaxing way to spend a holiday.

It doesn’t seem as though I’m going to be able to forget this trauma any time soon, either. I only have to take a bath and the horrid slime-green stain on my chest where some considerate soul had thrust colour down inside my decently buttoned-up kurta rudely reminds me of it. Oh, I hate holi.


Party Animals? Not Yet!

March 16, 2008

Today was another first for us with the twins: their first birthday party. Not their birthday, of course, that’s in August, but the first birthday party they were invited to.

When I was a child, birthdays were simple and fun. Parties were usually held sometime in the afternoon or early evening, in the birthday boy’s house. Much or all of the food was home made and games were the stock arrangement of musical chairs, pass the parcel and blind man’s bluff.

Things have changed since then. The party we were invited to was at a food court and gaming arcade in a nearby mall. What’s worse is that we were expected to be there at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Who goes anywhere at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning? I couldn’t possibly get me and the kids (not to mention Amit)fed, bathed, decently dressed, and ready to leave the house by that hour! I suggested that we politely decline, but Amit wanted to go. After all, this was a college friend we’d met a total of three times in the last ten years and whose son we’d be meeting for the first time ever at his third birthday – clearly it was too important an event to miss.

Despite my best efforts, it was 11 by the time we left home, but I think we reached in good time. The gaming area was being blasted by mind-numbingly loud and tuneless music and the twins were far too young for any of the games. After we had found and greeted the hosts and the three-year-old boy for whom we had not even got a gift, I took the girls into a big fancy playpen sort of thing, where an attendant put them on a long and steep slide that scared them half to death. Once they had recovered from that unhappy experience, they wandered around the play pen in a bewildered fashion, trying to avoid an older child who was intent on knocking them down with a monstrous rubber ball.

After 20 minutes of this, we emerged and explored the area a bit. The hosts had procured a card that gave the kids access to all the games, but only Amit used it once to play something that looked like a cross between carrom and football.

At 12 noon, we were all shepherded towards the food court section, where balloons cordoned off an area set aside for this party. Cake, in the shape of a red-and-white car (it was chocolate underneath the icing), was cut and distributed and “lunch” was gradually brought on. It consisted of noodles, pizza, sandwich, and fries, accompanied by fizzy drinks. The twins had never eaten any of these before, and since they don’t digest wheat well, I wasn’t very happy with the menu, but they enjoyed the fries and the icing off the cake. The cake was delicious, but we’ve avoided giving them chocolate since I read that the liver isn’t equipped to handle it in the first two years.

At lunch, we saw the other guests, maybe around 7-8 families other than us and the hosts. We were all seated at two long tables arranged at right angles to each other. We knew one other family well, so we sat with them. None of the other guests were introduced to us nor, I gathered, to each other.

By 12.45, we said our goodbyes and were further embarassed to receive return gifts, considering we hadn’t even given a gift in the first place.

Perhaps the whole outing would have been more fun if the kids were older and could have enjoyed the games; but I still think that a children’s birthday party should be more about children running around and playing with each other, or with toys, rather than sitting in front of machines and playing with computer simulations. I guess I’m pretty old fashioned.


Tennis

June 1, 2006
7 a.m. on the tennis court. Sweat in my eyes. I’m gasping for breath, but I don’t realize it. My arm feels heavy; it’s tired of swinging. My legs are tired of running. The crisp “tuk-tuk” of balls hitting the centre of other people’s rackets fills the air, but I am not aware of it. My mind is entirely focused on my ball. It swings tantalizingly in front of my hungry eyes, just inches from the tip of my searching racket. My body despairs, but my spirit won’t give up; goaded on by shouts of, “You can. You can!” from across the net.

The sun is just up, rubbing its eyes and yawning as it peeks into the crowded courts. There’s a cool, fresh breeze, pushing the grey monsoon clouds away and revealing patches of cerulean blue sky. Despite the sweat, the breeze takes my breath away as I stand by the sidelines, trying desperately to recover from the past five minutes’ exertion and prepare for the next round.

Most days, it’s not this… well, thrilling, for want of a better word. Most days, I get to rally with a marker, or with another player. If I’m lucky my opponent will be much better than me and will mostly be able to return my wild shots, so that I can concentrate on trying to improve my stroke.

But if I’m really lucky, I get to play with Tennis Sir. Sir is a master of his craft. When I watch him play with others, I can see sheer rhythm, sheer music in his movements. I’ve never seen him make an effort – every stroke is effortless, smooth as silk, gentle as a breeze. Of course he sometimes sends the ball into the net; of course he sometimes (rare though it may be) has to exert himself to reach a ball; of course he sometimes stands and watches a winner sail past him. But all said and done, he’s a master of his craft, and, to a beginner like me (and I’m not the only one), he’s practically god.

Sir must at some point have had a real opportunity to pursue competitive tennis. He must, I’m sure, have dreamt big – and perhaps he might have been able to make it to a certain level of recognition. But, for whatever reason, he never did make it. Now he coaches at a tennis court, teaching the basics to slow, lazy, middle-aged people like me.

What would you expect: Bitterness? Frustration? Remorse, at least? As far as the naked eye can see, Sir has no time for any of these. Of course, I cannot vouch for how he feels deep inside, but to all appearances he is the most comfortable, easy-going, cheerful self-assured and genuinely nice person you could ever have the good luck to run across, on a tennis court or off it.

Does he feel threatened by players who could potentially pose a challenge to him? I must say that I have not seen any such player, so I can’t say. But that does tell you a thing or two about his mastery over the game. Does he, perhaps, actively ensure that there’s nobody on his courts who can threaten his superiority? Not as far as I can see. He makes every effort to help Amit, who’s the best player on the court, to improve his game. And though I’ve never seen them play competitively, Amit tells me that Sir could defeat him 6-1 or 6-2 if he put his mind to it.

And yet, when he plays against me, or some of the other women and kids whom he coaches, he’s as gentle and considerate as can be. When he wants to be, that is. Other times, he’s merciless: he’ll make you sprint from end to end of the court like a ping-pong ball for five minutes at a stretch and never allow you to give up till you’re ready to drop – all the while shouting encouragement or throwing out good-natured challenges at you. He’s a naturally good teacher: offering encouragement, constructive criticism, and best of all, praise only when it is truly earned.

On one of our multiple public holidays earlier this year, the courts remained open. I asked Sir if he didn’t mind that there was no holiday for him when the rest of the city – or country – was on holiday. No, he said. When it rains, it is holiday for practically three months.

And yet, when the first showers came, even when parts of the court were water logged, he was there, doing what he could to provide dry courts to all who came. One weekend the courts were to be closed to players due to a tournament being held there later in the day. At the last moment, Sir declared that courts would remain open. Why? Well, he felt bad because we had all missed out on tennis for three days that week due to rain.

I have admired, even idolized Sir ever since the day I met him. But only today did something about him strike me more consciously than ever before: he’s happy because he’s doing what he loves, this much is obvious. But he’s also happy because he’s helping people do what they love. He’s not working with people at work; he’s working with people at play. He’s working with people who’re there because they want to be. He’s working with people who pay money to be there. He’s working with people who groan when it rains, because it means no tennis the next day; it means they can sleep late the next morning, instead of getting up at 5 a.m. to be at the courts at the crack of dawn. He may not be at Wimbledon, and he may not train anyone who makes it to Wimbledon either, but when his “team” brings that kind of commitment, enthusiasm, devotion to the court, when every single person is striving every single day to do the best they can, wouldn’t any boss be happy?

Come to think of it, I don’t know about that. But the point is, he’s not any boss – he’s Tennis Sir and he’s the best!


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