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.