An Accidental Sports Star

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Decided to write something mood-uplifting today. Sometimes you discover that you have hidden talents that are totally unexpected, and these are the pleasant surprises that life throws at you. It happened to me in the sports arena.

I was an overweight and lazy kind of kid who hated “sports”, especially PT (physical training). PT periods were the most boring periods for me. Hated standing in the sun and doing group exercises with dumbbells and hoops etc. I would always end up daydreaming during these exercises and go out of sync with the others and get reprimanded by PT Sir (this is what we called our PT teacher). Very often I used to give excuses like “headache”, “stomach ache”, “fever” etc. to get excused from this class. As a result of this he and I ended up developing a tacit understanding over time, and he used to “excuse” me even before I blurted out the whole excuse with a wave of his hand – that was a signal to go and sit under the tree at the edge of the ground. He had given up on me and realized that I was determined to remain “physically untrained”. So I thought that I didn’t have any prowess in this field, but was wrong.

When we were in the sixth standard, for some reason it was decided that all the kids should participate in the heats before Sports Day. Till then it had been voluntary participation. So I was also lined up with everyone else and asked to run. Ended up surprising everyone (including myself), by winning race after race! So I got selected for a few finals on Sports Day, and also won the Long Jump event that was conducted a few days before Sports Day. It took me a while to adjust to this new-found status of “Long-Jumper”, but nevertheless it was a pleasant discovery. Even the principal seemed to have noticed it because whenever I bumped into him after that, he would give me advice to “drink more milk” 🙂 🙂  The only negative outcome from it was that PT Sir stopped excusing me and would instead pull me aside and give me sermons on “getting serious”, and ask me to “practice” regularly.

I believe that the main reason behind this sudden success was “Elastic”. It was a game that became a big fad when I was in school. It involved making a loop out of 3-4 meters of elastic and jumping in and out of this loop in several different ways. Two kids would hold the loop at both ends around their legs, while the others jumped in and out. There were many “levels” – higher levels meant a higher height of the loop.

My classmates, neighborhood friends and I were so crazy about this game that we looked forward to lunch breaks to play it, then rushed home after school to play again, and this play went on till late in the night until our parents pleaded with us to stop for the sake of the aunties and uncles who lived below us 🙂 🙂 Not really sure where this game originated and if it was played outside Bangalore as well. But, it was a great sports “practice” in the form of a game. However, unfortunately, we lost interest in it after a couple of years and switched to other pastimes.

That year, I won some prizes in the short distance races (100m and 200m) as well. The next year onwards, I was the “Fastest Girl” (no pun intended 😉 ) in school every year till I left school. This was the title given when you win the 100m dash, and I could run it around 13 seconds 🙂 🙂 Also became a member and later Captain of the Throwball team.

All the victories on the sports field had a positive effect, and I did start practicing regularly in the medical college grounds that were adjacent to our campus. It was a better ground compared to our school ground which was much smaller. It also had some nice trees and a covered area for seating during sports events. Used to enjoy all the practice sessions with neighborhood friends in the evenings after school, or on mornings during holidays. Initially, we were doing our own thing without any coach, but were lucky enough to get a great coach later on.

Mr. Somshankar lived in our apartment complex on the ground floor, and he had previously trained the Indian Olympics team and accompanied them to the Moscow Olympics. (And thanks to being part of the Olympics, he was the only one in the whole building to own a telephone. The rest of us didn’t get a telephone until many years later)

He spotted our group on the ground one day and decided to take charge of us. We weren’t very happy in the beginning because he was very strict and didn’t allow any freedom whatsoever. We used to grumble and make faces at him when he wasn’t looking. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we learned a lot from him, and that too free of cost. He taught us the importance of a proper warm-up and would insist on at least a half an hour warm up that involved jogging for 400m and then doing a whole lot of simple exercises from head to toe. And then the real practice would begin. He would also force us to end it all with the dreaded “abdominals”, and stress to me that they were very important for long-jumpers.

So athletics was my main extra-curricular activity in school, and I grew more and more dedicated to it. Even started reading up some Sports Medicine textbooks that were in the medical college library, to get better at it. They had some really good books with a lot of great advice on practice sessions, exercises, and stretches. They even had advice on good nutrition that I tried to follow. Those were the incredible days when I could consume around 12-13 idlis or dosas for breakfast, and easily eat one kg of Bengali sweets from K C Das at one go! Also learnt why I could excel only at short distance races, but never really win (though I came second or third) long distance races. Apparently one predominantly has either fast-twitch or slow twitch muscles. Those with fast-twitch excel in short distance running, and if you have slow twitch – you’re better at long distance and marathons. PT Sir would always chide me for not doing well in long distance and I would try explaining this muscle fibers theory to him, but it would fall on deaf ears 😦 😦

In my final year in school (Std 10), got an invitation to join the Karnataka State Athletics team and declined the offer after some thought. Joining the team meant traveling to and fro to the Kanteerava Stadium every day for practice and that was pretty far from our house. And sadly after I left school, never pursued athletics or practiced sports with the same fervor.

Caught Red-Handed – 1

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One of my biggest regrets in life is that I never really got to know my father or spend much time with him. He fell seriously ill when I was around three years old and was hospitalized for a few weeks, never fully recovered, or even if he did was never the same again and had become somewhat aloof. Few years after that my parents separated and he became the “enemy” – someone whom one is not supposed to think or talk about. However, I’ve learnt that most things in life are not so clearly black or white, but mostly shades of grey, and wish I’d taken some interest in getting to know him before it was too late.

Nevertheless, I do have a few vivid memories of time spent with him. He was a scientist who did research on plants, fruits and vegetables and worked in a horticultural institute on the outskirts of Bangalore. His office was around 25 kms from home, and in those days it was considered a formidable distance even though there was no troublesome traffic or pollution like now.

I remember that he used to often bring home huge amounts of flowers, fruits and vegetables from his institute. We could never fit all of them into our fridge, and would distribute them to friends and neighbors as well. They were all grown for research purposes and once the studies were over, the employees could take a few home, and the remaining were mostly dumped into the garbage. Used to often hear my mom lament about all those succulent vegetables being criminally wasted day after day.

Apart from being a scientist, he was also very enthusiastic about photography and music. There was always music playing in our house when he was at home, he had a huge collection of records and cassettes – mainly Hindi and Telugu film songs, but also some Indian classical and English songs. He would also buy the latest music player that had arrived in the market every six months or so. It was the same with cameras and photographs, he used to spend a lot of time and money on them, but I was too young to know exactly what he was doing. Have only two vivid memories involving my father. One has to do with rose plants and the other with vegetables.

When I was around five, he once brought 3-4 rose cuttings home, and very enthusiastically planted them into pots telling me that they were really rare and beautiful ones that he’d procured from someone. I was also very excited to hear that since I loved roses and couldn’t wait for them to bloom. We lived in an apartment on the fourth floor, so these rose pots were kept in our balcony. Every morning I would wake up and rush to the balcony to check if they had bloomed – of course I hadn’t yet studied biology and didn’t have any idea about how long these things take. Every morning, I’d be disappointed to find that there are still no roses on those plants. This went on for probably ten days and then finally few reddish green leaves popped out of the cuttings.

Instead of feeling happy that they were beginning to show signs of life, I was very disappointed to see those leaves. I grew very sure that my father had made some terrible mistake and that the plants he brought home were not really good ones, they were yielding some funny looking leaves and no roses. And in a fit of irritation and impatience I pulled them all out of the pots and chucked them out of the balcony. I had absolutely no regrets regarding my action because I was convinced that those rose plants were no good and deserved to be thrown out. When my father walked into the balcony that day he was shocked to see that the cuttings had disappeared and the pots were empty.

Suspecting that I had something to do with it, he asked me where they were. Very confidently I told him that I had pulled them out of the pots and thrown them out of the balcony because they were no good and were not yielding any roses. His face turned angry and red and I’d never seen him looking that scary before, and he screamed “How could you do something like that, they were really rare and expensive ones?!!”, and I got a resounding slap on my face. This was the only time he ever slapped me 😦 😦

I guess I fully deserved that slap not only because of those roses, but for all the other things that I used to chuck out of the balcony. It had become kind of a sport with me to hurl things down from the fourth floor to the ground below. Used to chuck my toys, mugs of water and almost anything I could lay my hands on out of the balcony.

It was so bad that my parents had begun to regret having opted for a fourth floor apartment, given the fact that they could have chosen a ground floor one. After hearing my mom talking about this a couple of times, I asked her why they’d opted for the fourth floor. She replied that both of them were from small town Vijayawada, and had never seen a “high rise” (back then 4 floors were high-rises), and wanted to be on the topmost floor. There had been vacant apartments on all floors including the ground floor, but they had been most excited about the fourth floor. But I was glad they did because one certainly derived more pleasure chucking objects from the fourth floor compared to lower floors 😉

The second vivid memory I have involves visiting his institute and of an incident that happened there – a pretty embarrassing instance when I actually flicked something, was immediately caught and reprimanded. It was the first and last time in my life when I actually tried to steal something – will write about it in my next post.

PS: Photograph my father took in Lalbagh.

Morarka Haveli

Here are some pics of the Morarka Haveli – now a museum, in Nawalgarh, Rajasthan. This Haveli was built by a merchant called Jaichandji Morarka in 1900 and has beautiful well preserved frescoes in it.

Le Prince Haveli (mansion)

Visited an interesting Haveli in Fatehpur, Rajasthan, that’s being restored and maintained by a French painter – Nadine Le Prince.

She was horrified to see the condition of the Havelis back in the 90’s and decided to purchase and restore one of them in 1998. The one she bought was built in the 1840’s by the Deora family who were opium merchants, was in a state of utter disrepair and being used as a stable for goats!! She had fallen in love with Shekhawati and India and planned to make it a cultural center for French and Indian artists to meet.

The Haveli is now part museum, part cultural center and part hotel/restaurant. You can visit and get a detailed guided tour of it, if interested you can also check out their collection of paintings – including those of Nadine as well as those of other painters. There are always some prolific European art students in residence there, helping Nadine restore the frescoes. A fee of Rs 200/- is charged for the tour, and this money is used for restoration.

Met a very friendly and passionate French art student – Lorraine, who took me around the Haveli and explained a lot of things. Like Nadine, she also loves Shekhawati and India, and is planning to stay on for a few months and study Indian art.

Some of the rooms are now being rented out and you can stay there as well. They apparently have a great restaurant as well, but I didn’t get a chance to dine there since we were staying in Mandawa and had to drive back.

I also noticed another fabulous newly restored Haveli behind the Le Prince Haveli. However it was closed when we reached there. You might like to check that out as well. Thanks to a few passionate people like Nadine and others, the Havelis of Shekhawati are finally getting their due 🙂 🙂

On the Road

Simply love road trips. Here are some pics I took on the road in Rajasthan, and an excerpt from a lovely poem by American poet Walt Whitman:

Song of the Open Road – Walt Whitman

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.

Alsisar Mahal

Here are some pics of the 18th century Alsisar Mahal in Rajasthan (5 hrs from Delhi) – a wonderful and romantic place where you can while away some time exploring history, and daydreaming about the glorious old days 😉

Got a room on the topmost floor which has a huge terrace and great views, as well as many nooks and corners to explore. There’s a “Badal Mahal” on top that has now been converted to a restaurant. However it was closed since there were very few guests around. But we could explore it and take a lot of pics since it was vacant and peaceful.

They have another beautiful dining room on the ground floor, that looks like a splendid movie set – with many chandeliers, candle stands, frescoes and huge mirrors and paintings, especially at night. Overall, its a very tastefully renovated and beautifully furnished palace 🙂 🙂

Glimpses of Shekhawati

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. ― William Blake

Here are a few preliminary glimpses of my Rajasthan trip and my travel through the Shekhawati region (North-Eastern part of the state) – will post more details later. “Rajasthan” literally means “Land of Kings”, hence decided to check out a few affordable palaces and experience the “royal” life 😉 🙂

Before Independence, there were many small independent princely states in this region and each state had it’s own fort or palace. All these states were later integrated into India after Independence. Some royal families have converted their forts or palaces into hotels, and guests can get a peek into their heritage, traditions and history.

Many towns in this region fall on the ancient “Silk Route” (old international trade routes), and were home to a lot of wealthy Marwadi merchants. These traders built magnificent “havelis” (mansions) to showcase their wealth. However after the (silk, opium and spices) trade declined, many of them moved to Calcutta or Bombay, abandoning their mansions. A few descendants have restored and preserved their ancestral homes, and they are the main attraction in this area. All have distinct architecture and beautiful frescoes and paintings in them.

It was an enchanting experience to stay in these palaces and visit the havelis on the Silk Route and feel transported back in history 🙂 🙂 On some days we were the only guests in the palace, and almost felt like we owned it!! In addition, the people of this region are very warm, friendly, hospitable and proud of their culture, so I ended up having a truly wonderful trip!