It’s a Pain in the…

February 5, 2011


That’s the tragedy I was referring to in my previous post. Tragedy is a strong word for a little, niggling, nagging, clicking sort of pain.

But then again… Amit had a pain in the knee and that kept him away from the tennis court for three whole years. I saw him struggle with three years of restlessness, three years of boredom, three years of building up muscle to support the tendon.

Whoever has gone off the tennis court in our circles due to some little, niggling pain in an arm or a leg, has rarely made it back. We are, after all, neither young, nor professional. I don’t even know yet what is wrong and how long it is going to take to fix it. The whole prospect of starting yet another round of doctor’s appointments is depressing beyond belief.

It’s already been three weeks since I played, but the little, niggling, clicking pain is still there. At first, I was (stupidly) optimistic that a week or two of rest would take care of it. But now, I just don’t know.

Tennis has been a wonderful thing in my life these past five years. It has motivated me to get up early and get out there. It has motivated me to do at least a bare minimum of exercise to keep moving. It has (probably, hopefully) prevented my weight from shooting up even faster than it already has done and has (probably) helped to keep my cholesterol numbers in a very healthy range. It has been a good companion to me, especially in the days when I was a SAHM and it was practically the only time I got out of the house on my own.

It can’t possibly be time to say goodbye.

A Happy Confluence

January 18, 2011

Today I feel like a million dollars.

After a long time, the past few sessions of tennis have been good, and – what’s even better – improving. I’ve been swacking the ball and it feels great!

Last year, my game had completely disintegrated. Tennis Sir said I had lost conditioning, and I could see what he meant, I just couldn’t understand why. In September, after I could barely stand after a brief half-hour on the court, I finally decided it was time to see a doctor. He treated me for chronic fatigue syndrome, and I started to bounce back in days. But it’s taken time for my general conditioning level to recover. Now, after really going for the ball for over an hour, I can feel some stiffness in my arm. Two years ago, that wouldn’t have happened even after two whole hours on the court. But six months ago, I wouldn’t even have been able to stand on the court for that long.

Another thing Tennis Sir has been telling me is that I’m not keeping my wrist firm while hitting the ball. After struggling for months to fix the problem, and almost giving up in despair, late last year I decided I was just going to ignore it and go back to enjoying the game like I used to. Then my parents came to visit and one idle morning, my mother started playing tennis against the wall in our living room, using Mrini’s tiny racket. “Our coach used to tell us to hold the racket tightly,” she said, referring to an event that must have taken place at least 50 years ago. I realized that I should be doing that as well. Strangely enough, it was not something either Amit or Tennis Sir had mentioned, though they are both usually extremely perceptive in identifying the mistakes in my game and suggesting strategies to fix them. Still, in the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing exclusively on holding the racket tightly, and suddenly, my loose wrist problem has improved dramatically!

Then there was that gastro problem that has been plaguing me for a year-and-a-half. I remember exactly when it started – I had decided that I really needed to lose weight (for, of course, the umpteenth time in my life) so I’d started a new diet and exercise regime. When the bloating developed, I thought it was the sprouts and boiled channa I’d taken to nibbling on, so I cut those out of my diet. Then I cut out wheat and milk for a week each. Nothing worked. After some months, I went to a doctor. He tested me for various things and then gave me a list of pills to pop and sent me away. The pills worked, but only to control the symptoms; they didn’t fix the problem. And I didn’t want to be on pills for the rest of my life.

So then, in the winter break, with many reservations and much reluctance, I finally consulted a homeopathic doctor. He gave me more pills to pop and suggested that I avoid wheat. After a few false starts and a few denials and rebuttals, I’ve succeeded in weaning myself off all kinds of wheat and flour for about a week now. It’s much more difficult than I’d thought! When I’d gone “wheat-free” for a week or so the last time around, I hadn’t realized that it also meant no bread, and no beer. I hadn’t thought to check which of the processed foods and restaurant dishes used flour. I’d just cut out the rotis and not seen any difference. This time, I’ve really tried to avoid even microscopic bits of suspected flour. Like, boondi laddoos. They should be made of besan, but unless I make them myself (unlikely!), can I be altogether sure they don’t have some flour added?

The result of all this excessive paranoia and obsession? I’m not ready to bring out the champagne yet (and I’d need to check that it doesn’t have any flour), but my bloating really does seem to have reduced. This morning, I woke up feeling light, flat, and hungry! I haven’t felt that way for months!

According to various sources on the internet, lactose intolerance, wheat sensitivity or gluten intolerance (or, in more extreme cases, celiac disease), tiredness, joint and muscle ache, and possibly even chronic fatigue are all related. Also, wheat/gluten intolerance runs in families. I told the chronic-fatigue GP about my gastro problem, but he ignored it. I told both my allopathic gastro doctor and my homeopathic doctor that my sister has gluten/wheat intolerance, but the allopathic doctor just shrugged it off. If this gluten-free diet that I’ve been struggling to adhere to actually pays off in terms of putting an end to that eternal balloon-like bloating, I’ve got some nasty words in mind for those allopathic doctors. (But then again, according to the Internet, in most cases, gluten intolerance is misdiagnosed for years – so I’m actually ahead of the curve here, thanks to that homeopathic doctor that I didn’t have much faith in.)

So, right now, with my general conditioning, stamina, and strength improving, my tennis looking up, and my bloating showing signs of reducing, I have much to be happy about! Funny how sometimes what it takes is a happy confluence of circumstances. Or maybe it has to do with the alignment of the stars and planet. Whatever it is, I like it.

All Part of the Game

January 12, 2011

The past couple of weeks have been one long blur of tennis. Not me, mind you – it’s the kids I’m talking about. Tara started the weekend after Mrini did. I still think she’s not all that enthusiastic about tennis, but she clearly doesn’t want to watch Mrini playing while she sits out. I would have perhaps dissuaded her from taking on something just because Mrini’s doing it, but Amit was so keen for both of them to be into tennis that I didn’t stand a chance.

Predictably, while Mrini diligently does everything that she’s supposed to be doing, Tara can be found missing her turn in the queue, or facing the wrong way when it comes to her turn to hit the ball. Somehow, she manages to hit as many balls as Mrini does, though.

At home, Mrini has completely lost interest in writing and football. The moment she gets home from daycare, she runs to fetch her tennis racket. She doesn’t bother to wait for Amit and me to play with her, but starts tapping the ball right away. She has learnt to tap on every alternate bounce and can keep it up almost indefinitely (well, at least for about 15 taps). After a bit, she starts playing against the wall. She doesn’t manage to hit it to the wall more than twice in a row, but that doesn’t stop her from trying.

Tara didn’t have a racket. Initially, Amit insisted on getting just one racket for the two of them, and now that Tara had joined tennis class, she had to use a spare racket at the court. At home, she had to share the one racket with Mrini. Since Mrini was more devoted to tennis and since she had started playing at the courts first, their one racket had become “Mrini’s” racket by default. So we ordered a racket for Tara and got it at last just yesterday. I showed it to her in the morning as they were leaving for school. She was delighted, and told me not to open it, she would open it herself in the evening.

Yesterday evening, as soon as we got home, Mrini grabbed her own racket, and Tara got to work unwrapping her racket. A few minutes later, they were standing at opposite ends of the living room, hitting a ball to each other. One of them would play the lead ball; even if it went directly to the other, she would inevitably swing and miss. Then she would run to pick up the ball and start again. It was adorable!

When I was about 13 or so, my parents bought wooden tennis rackets from my sister and me and we went down to the nearby clay courts to play. There was a coach, or perhaps a marker, there, but he wasn’t very interested in coaching. There were a bunch of other girls, who also didn’t know how to play. There was an uneven, low wall to play against, an uneven ground for the ball to bounce on, and a massive, boundary-less field for the ball to get lost in. Whether you played in the court or against the wall, the rally seldom progressed beyond a single shot. Only if you were very lucky, did you get to hit a second or third shot, before walking off in the blazing sun to pick up the ball. (Of course, we used only one tattered ball at a time – balls were frightfully expensive.)

For a thirteen-year-old, it was a frustrating and short-lived experiment. It took almost two decades for me to come back to the game and actually learn how to play.

The twins didn’t seem to mind so much. The ball went all over the living room, but they are already used to running after it and picking it up, and they are especially adept at getting it out from awkward places like behind the TV or from under the steps. So they continued their game until I called them for dinner and hung their rackets up out of reach. Of course, Mrini has perfected the art of pulling up my computer table’s chair and standing on it to reach her racket, so that isn’t very effective anyway.

You never can tell with kids – they might be all enthusiastic about something one day, and then lose interest in it completely and move on to the next exciting activity the next day. I hope tennis is an activity they will continue to enjoy for a long time – it would be nice to be able to play with them as they grow up. And at least they do have a good court with a good coach nearby and they see Amit and me go there every day to play, so hopefully that will inspire them to continue. But even if they lose interest and move on to the next thing – it’s been fun watch them this far.

Wimbledon, Here We Come

December 20, 2010

No, we’re not going to watch (hopefully) Federer win on grass again next year. But another 12 years or so down the line, we’re going to sit in the Players’ Box.

In other words, Mrini started tennis coaching this weekend.

She’s been diligently practising both tennis and football with Amit (at home, in our living room, much to the detriment of the TV, music system, glass-fronted framed paintings, glass fronted bookshelf, and new inverter) for the past month or more. When Amit can’t play, she deigns to play catch (with a ball, I mean, not running catch) with me. In sports, as in other spheres, she’s diligent, focused, and persistent. She doesn’t easily get frustrated and she won’t take “no” for an answer.

It was more her eagerness and desire to learn than any innate skill that convinced me that she was, maybe, ready to start formally learning tennis. Amit spoke to Tennis Sir, and he said, “Ok, bring her in, let’s see.”

So on Saturday morning, no more than 30 seconds after I turned on the light, Mrini crawled out of the big, warm blanket and climbed into my arms. Then, as usual, she said “five minutes” and went back into the blanket. Less than five minutes later, she was up, grinning, and pulling on her tennis clothes – a straight-cut, short skirt and a full-sleeved, collarless, white T-shirt.

Tara followed suit and by 6 a.m. we were all in the car and ready to go.

Until 7.30, Amit and I played together, while the kids ran around picking up balls, throwing balls, talking to us, and generally keeping themselves busy. Then Mrini played (somewhat distractedly) with Amit for 20 minutes. (By “played” I mean, Amit threw the ball at her, and she tried to hit it. Mostly, she either missed it, or sent it right over the 12-foot fence.) By then her batch had assembled and done their warm-up and Sir called both of the girls to join them. Tara refused to go, but Mrini marched off excitedly with Amit.

For the next 90 minutes, we all had a blast watching as she made her mark on the world of tennis. She was the shortest of the ten-odd kids in her batch, the youngest, and the newest. One of the girls who was a little taller than her had started last weekend, but she was over six years old. Another boy was a newbie, but he was taller and older and much better co-ordinated. Mrini was so short that when she stood at the net to volley, she couldn’t see the ball coming at her. When she ran to the basket to take out a ball, if the basket was less than half full, she couldn’t reach down into it to pick up a ball.

But she didn’t care. Heck, no. She watched what everyone else was doing and did along with them. She swung at every ball and missed more than half the time, but never mind that. She ran around the court full tilt, picking up balls and sometimes forgetting to throw them back into the basket. She watched other kids and learned that you can collect more balls if you gather them on your racket, so she did that and then watched half of her hard-won collection roll off the racket head when she tried to pick it up.

The best part was when she ran to the net to pick up a ball. Sir told her, don’t pick up a ball from this side of the net, go to the other side. He meant, cross the net and look around the edge of the court for balls that have landed there. What did Mrini do? She took him literally, and instead of looking around the edge of the court, she ran all along the length of the net, right across one court and halfway across the next (where a halfway serious game was in session) to pick up balls!

Then the kids were told to take a ball each and tap. Mrini hasn’t learnt to tap, but she worked at it for a good ten minutes, unmindful of the fact that everyone else already knew how to do it.

Next, they were made to line up at the net and play catch. Mrini can catch a mini-basketball size ball with two hands, but a tennis ball? That’s just asking too much! Still, she lined up, and several times she caught the ball, albeit after one bounce.

Right at the end of the session, two captains were elected and they chose their teams. Naturally, Mrini, being the smallest, the youngest, and the newest kid on the block, was the last to be selected. She was then made the first to run in the relay race that followed. I wondered what she would do, considering she hadn’t seen this particular activity being done. But she understood what she had to do, and, tired as she must have been after a good three hours at the courts, she scrambled as fast as she could all the way around the courts and ended up no slower than the smallest kid on the other team!

Much to my relief, Sir told her to sit down after that. But when everyone was done running the relay race, he made them all do pushups! My baby! Doing pushups with the best of them! What a sight!

Obviously such a prolonged and physical morning outing called for a masala-dosa breakfast. The girls had had a couple of bananas each earlier on, but they still went through one whole masala dosa each, much to my amazement. And when we got home around 10.30, they still had space for their glass of morning milk!

The next session was on Sunday morning. Things went as per expectations except that Mrini was more distracted than on Saturday. At one point, she was looking at us as she walked around picking up balls. A boy who wasn’t looking where he was going slammed into her. Down she went, just exactly like ninepins, landing full length on her back with a thud. Obviously, she wailed and headed towards us. We shooed her away (though that was SO tough to do) and she went sobbing back to her place in the batch. She continued to sob for the next 15 minutes or so, but, resentfully, continued to do her part in all the activities. Of course she walked rather than ran, and continued to glower at everyone and to sob when she came near us, but she continued to do her bit right up to the relay race at the end, in which she ran as fast as she could. Sir jollied her along, firmly but kindly. Amit predicted that by the time the session ended, 40 minutes later, she would come to us with long, loud floods of tears, but I bet she wouldn’t. And she didn’t! She came looking sulky, but a minute later she was smiling again and when I asked her if she had fun and wanted to come back, she nodded happily! Even Sir was a little impressed – “she must have got hurt” he said, when she wasn’t looking.

It was a fantastic experience! I was so, so proud of Mrini. Getting bowled over by a bigger boy mustn’t have been too nice for her, but she held on all the same! And up until that point, she was so comfortable with everything. What coolth that girl has, what complete self-assurance. I love the way she just waded into the throng of six- to -12-year-olds and made herself at home. I love the way she didn’t get fazed at all the things she couldn’t do. I love that she came home thrilled to bits with herself, saying, “I played well!” on Saturday and even after falling over on Sunday, was still happy and looking forward to going back next weekend. I admire her spirit.

Achievement of a Lifetime

October 28, 2010

I’ve been learning tennis for five years now. I suppose, after five years, one could just as easily say “playing” tennis, rather than “learning” tennis. But I’m still learning.

To be honest, I’m struggling. When I started learning, I picked up surprisingly quickly. I earned much praise from both Amit and my tennis coach. I even surprised myself.

Since then, it’s been largely downhill. I improve for a while, then, suddenly, I completely lose it. I work and struggle and despair as my game unravels, and I slowly claw my way back up to an acceptable level; then, suddenly, I lose it again. A bit like Roger, actually.

I’ve been in the “struggle-despair-claw-my-way-back-up” phase for several months. No doubt part of my difficulty was due to the Chronic Fatiuge Syndrome; retrospectively, I’m beginning to see just how great an impact it had on my physical ability and my state of mind. In the past few week, Tennis Sir has been making a real effort to put my game back on track.

Sir normally either doesn’t play at all, or plays only with the weaker members of each batch; the more accomplished players can play well against other players or against the markers. But in the past three or four weeks, Sir has been playing exclusively with me and it’s done wonders for my game. He has allowed me to slow my game down to snail’s pace while I work on fixing all that was wrong with my stroke. Of all the people on our courts, including Amit (who is a superb player), nobody can control the game as well as Sir can, especially when it comes to playing really gently, against beginners or erratic players.

And my game had become so bad, it was worse than that of many of the beginners or more erratic players I have seen. Only a few weeks ago, I watched a beginner rallying against Sir and envied her slow, regular stroke that allowed the rally to run on uninterrupted for a very long time. I felt extremely despondent – I used to be able to play like that when I was a beginner, too. Where did it go?

But it’s improving. Playing exclusively with Sir, at a slow pace, focusing on my stroke, my game has slowly become more consistent and better controlled.

The proof of the pudding is in the rally. At my worst, I couldn’t sustain a rally beyond five or six shots. My shots were too wild for even a fit and enthusiastic opponent to retrieve. Plus, of course, I didn’t always manage to get the ball past the net.

Now, at last, I’ve managed to bring that under control. Last time I played, I managed a single rally of 49 shots, and several other rallies of 20+ shots.

Today? My first rally lasted 85 shots! And close to the end of the session, another rally went to 58 shots. In between was at least one rally of 30+ shots and two or three of around 20 shots.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small victory. I haven’t won a tournament; I haven’t even played a match. But 85 shots is a personal record. It’s a testament to the power of sheer, dogged determination. And it means a lot to me.

Eulogy of a Tennis Court*

March 8, 2010

Some things in life seem so much like permanent fixtures. Not people, institutions (though some people can be institutions in themselves!). People come and go – sometimes by choice, sometimes without a choice. Institutions, certain hallowed institutions, are forever. Or so we are lulled into believing.

Amit has played tennis at the same tennis courts for about ten years, or more. The courts have always been there – they’re tennis courts, where can they go? Of late, I‘ve had to realize that they must have come into existence at some fairly recent point in time – say about two decades ago. But as far as I’m concerned, they are timeless, they’ve always been there, they’ll always be there. Tennis Sir has been there for 17 or 18 years, Amit has played there for almost our entire married life, and I’ve been there for a good four years now. I have a lot of good feelings about my tennis and that inevitably extends to the physical space of the courts themselves. It’s been a happy place.

Yes, been. Now, no more.

See, some years ago, the City decided that a flyover in that area would greatly reduce the congestion on the road. Great. So they set to work building the flyover. Great. It took them about… I think… maybe five years. That’s a conservative guess; it could be more. Ok. Having finally built it, they boarded it up and refused to allow traffic to use it. Great. So we waited for the “inauguration” (Inauguration? It took five frigging years to make the flyover and they want to celebrate the opening? Shouldn’t they go hang themselves somewhere? Or at least open the road as inconspicuously as possible so that nobody notices?). The first attempt to inaugurate it was thwarted by the local shopkeepers, who wanted a proper side road made. Again, this is completely bewildering to me. You haven’t had enough of the construction nuisance over the last so many years, you want more of it?? The rationale, apparently, was that once the flyover was inaugurated (pah!) nobody would bother to build the side roads. Possibly true, but still!

So the inauguration (pah!) was put off by another couple of months. Work started on the side road. And an engineer came and dug up our tennis courts.

Apparently, the land the courts are on is leased to the Club by the City. So the City can come and take the land whenever they want. Also, apparently, the Club is not unduly concerned about the tennis courts – they don’t even really want them there. They just keep them, so they can call themselves a Club and continue to focus on their primary business area, which is playing cards and guzzling cheap liquor by the gallon.

So the City came and gobbled up our tennis courts. At first, they said they only needed about a ten-foot strip from the empty space surrounding the second court. There was a fair bit of empty space there, so that seemed ok.
Then they said they’d need all the space right up to the net post. Not so good, but well… at least we’d still have the two courts.
Then they said, oh, hey, we need half of this court as well.
We were all shocked as we watched them (figuratively – I didn’t actually stand there while they did this) move in with earth moving machinery and throw down the wall and dig up the court. The next day, it was gone!
What was worse was that they also announced that they’d need the other court. For what? The “road” was already broader than the broadest road in Bangalore. They seemed to be tearing up our courts just out of sheer malicious pleasure. Parking area, they said. Oh, right. Like we usually have so much parking area bordering every road in town.

Meanwhile, one court and the boundary wall was gone, and a ditch was dug just outside the remaining court. So now when we played, not only did the lights, noise and pollution from the traffic come right at us, we also had our balls getting swallowed by the ditch. Meanwhile, their workmen and machines trampled all over the remaining court and turned it into a particularly vile cricket pitch. Tennis Sir promptly put up a net and re-laid the remaining court. So the next day the fellows said that, hey, you know what? The inauguration is on Monday. So we need to put up the canopy right over here. Yep – they dug that shamiana right into the one remaining, freshly laid court.

And now that the inauguration is over and done with and the flyover is actually open to traffic, we are left wondering how a batch of ten enthusiastic players is going to play on one lousy court. As for the flyover making traffic move more smoothly – apparently it just moves the bottleneck to a different place on the road. And anyway… it’s not of much use to me. How can I drive on that road, knowing that I’m driving over our tennis court?

I feel especially bad for Tennis Sir. He is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He must – at some point – have fancied a career as an ace tennis player himself. Obviously, for whatever reason, he didn’t make it. For at least the last 18 years, as far as I know, he’s been the coach at these courts. It’s a dead-end job if there ever was one. He’s coach to the likes of me – past 30, overweight and under fit, just playing for the fun of it and never going to make anything of it. He’s coach to the likes of Amit, who could (maybe) have been great, but now just play half an hour three times a week with players who don’t challenge them at all. He’s coach to kids who are never going to make it past state-level… if they ever get that far. If any real talent is spotted in any of the kids, they are transferred to another batch and another coach.

You’d think he’d end up being sour, but no. He’s the most cheerful and positive person I’ve ever come across. He knows how to teach without criticizing, how to correct without demoralizing, how to tell you to your face when you’re not playing well, without making you feel bad about it. If that weren’t enough, he also, intuitively I think, knows how people learn. He doesn’t burden a beginner with more goals than they can handle. He identifies one step for the student to learn and doesn’t start another until you have largely mastered the first. He knows how far to push you so that you are stretched, but not unable. He knows how to handle kids, adults, and elders and how to put you at your ease whichever you might be. He makes me forget my self-consciousness – and that’s saying a lot!

The best part is, he seems to genuinely enjoy his work! How he can turn up there and provide insight, encouragement, inspiration to duds like us (mostly duds) and do it day after day, hour after hour and evidently enjoy it… is just beyond me! He plays with the best player and the worst player and seems to enjoy both equally – challenging each according to their abilities. And if a player Is really skilled enough to get a ball past him – or if a player just gets lucky – he has no hang-ups in acknowledging it. He seems to be totally at peace with himself, his work, his path in life. Seems to be – it could be an illusion, there could be some discontent festering under the surface, but it has never been visible to me. And if I take him at face value, then I can only envy him – to have chosen a path and to enjoy it, to love it, to be happy to do it every day for the rest of your life, to have that kind of peace with your choices and the choices life made for you – that is surely to be envied.

And it is to this person, this wonderful, gem of a person, that life serves up this crap. All he needs is for his two tennis courts to be left in peace so he can keep doing what he does and making all of us players happy. And wham! They come and take his little kingdom of joy away from him.

This should just not be allowed to happen.
*PS: The fact is that I’m completely clueless: should it be eulogy for, of, to, on, about, in honour of… or “in eulogy of” like “in memoriam of”? Is even that correct? Why are prepositions so arbitrary and lawless anyway???

Tennis Shyness

November 12, 2008

Last Sunday, I broke yet another small shyness barrier. I went and played tennis on our nearby courts. Alone.

Alone? How does anyone play tennis alone?

Oh, that’s easy, you play with the wall. The wall is a very faithful partner.

But the thing is, being very shy and particularly about my sporting ability, I hate to even play with Amit in a new environment. And this nearby court is not the one I play at regularly (for various complicated reasons I go to one 7 km away). If Amit were with me, he’d be coaching me, so I’d have to swallow my self-consciousness and submit to being coached. But alone, I felt, as usual, that I’d be under the microscope of any other players present.

I went at the unlikeliest of hours, at 1 p.m. when all sensible would be indoors, out of the heat, eating lunch and snoozing comfortably. But no – the courts were full! I almost came away, but then decided to try to play anyway. So I marched determinedly on to the court and requested the players occupying centre court if I could please use the wall. They agreed, and then I was stuck – having asked, I could hardly turn around and leave.

So I made up my mind that I would not think about them and worry about how good they were or about whether they were watching me or what they thought of my game or what they thought of this strange woman wandering on to court alone and playing with the wall… I decided I would put it all out of my mind and just focus on the ball and the wall.

Of course, I couldn’t. But I did manage to play regardless of all these thoughts and considerations. And, in my estimation, I played well. I don’t know what the other fellows thought of me, but what’s important is that I went alone and I did it and I enjoyed it and now I know I can do it again.

Another small victory in my battle against my shyness.

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.


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!

Self-fulfilling Prophecies

December 12, 2005

When I was studying Psychology, I read of an experiment where some duffer kids were told that they were the best in the class, but, being late bloomers, their time had not yet come but soon they would outshine everyone else in a radius of 17 miles etc. So then, these kids, who naturally had low self esteem, slowly began believing in themselves, and, moreover, their teachers (who did not know this was an experiment) began believing in them and giving them more attention etc (rather than focusing on the bright kids) and lo and behold, several months later, the duffer kids were at the top of the class.

The point being, that if you believe in yourself, you can achieve much more than if you don’t, and that it is much easier to believe in yourself if you have people around (particularly people whose judgment you respect, teachers, superiors, close family and friends) who believe in you.

On the flip side, I have often enough seen or heard of people who get discouraged and stop believing in themselves because just ONE PERSON – maybe not even a particularly important person – keeps telling them how worthless they are. It is so easy to wear down someone’s belief in themselves by just being derogatory and scornful all the time.

This doesn’t often happen to me, because I have a very stubborn conviction that I am good at most things. But, in music, that is an exceedingly tenuous belief, due partly to the fact that my teacher always used to run me down and scorn me. In some people that might bring out the best, but in most people it only turns them into failures, and so it almost did with me. Until one day, I decided that if playing in a group with my teacher and so many others was going to make me so miserable, if he was always going to snub me in front of everyone, and if I was really so much worse than everyone else, then I was just going to stop.

It was one of the most difficult things I ever did in my life. I hated and feared my teacher. I was young and significantly lacking in social confidence ( I hadn’t started my working life then). I enjoyed music and I really did want to play and to be respected by the other players. I worked hard at that. I didn’t want to quit. But I didn’t want to be humiliated. So I called up my teacher and told him that, very quietly and firmly. I remember rehearsing my speech, and then forgetting it all, but getting the words out anyway.

To my surprise and embarrassment, my teacher apologised most humbly and begged forgiveness. This was strange! But it was nice. After that, he made sure he never said anything I could take as derogatory. Somehow, I felt good about myself. My playing improved too.

Tennis, now, is a different story. After playing with Amit for a few months more than a year ago, I haven’t even touched my tennis racket. Then, I started tennis lessons, on 1 December. Surprisingly, I hadn’t forgotten much. My teacher was impressed. Today was lesson number three, and he was most impressed. He kept saying “too good”. 🙂 Is he the sort of teacher who says this to everyone to encourage them? I don’t think so. For one thing, last time there were another two beginners with me, and he didn’t say such things to them (though the girl was clearly not very good at all). For another thing, he says good when I know I’ve hit a good shot, and then too, not always. So he doesn’t just say it all the time.

As though this were not enough, Amit surprised me the other day by saying a most unexpected thing. He said, I have talent!!! Me? Talented??? I could hardly believe it. I have NEVER thought of myself as talented at ANYTHING. I think I am most ordinary at everything.

Ok, I’m not asking for anyone to write in and tell me how talented I am…:-) I mean, it’s just that my own concept of myself is not of a talented person.

I felt pleased as punch. I still haven’t got over it. Me. Talented. At tennis, what’s more. I mean, I have never been much of a sporty person. I play badminton abominably (though I love it) and I even swim only moderately well (though I learnt when I was 3).

So anyway, what with being so talented and my teacher being so pleased at my progress, I’m feeling positively gung-ho about tennis. I can’t wait to get out on the court and get better. Why do I have tennis only three days a week??? I want to play tennis NOW!

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