Monday, August 22, 2016

Golden Girls

SIX O’CLOCK ON a winter’s morning. I was kicking myself for promising to show up at the Chhotu Ram Stadium in Rohtak. The sky was still dark, and even the street dogs were too cold to bark. I was certain the officials were mistaken: the kids would not turn up on time. But at 6.30 am I peeked into the practice hall and found a group of boys running circles at the far end. Closer to the door were the girls, already sweating.
The girl leading the group exercises wore a white cap that buttoned under her chin, giving her an endearing, childlike look. Nothing childlike about her manner, though. She was shouting out instructions, driving herself as hard as the others. The senior wrestling coach who had been showing me around pointed her out: Sakshi Malik, Commonwealth silver medallist.
A few of the girls jogged past, bending to touch the coach’s feet. Another girl, without being asked, jogged off and returned with a chair for me. I sat and watched. Sit-ups. Push-ups. Leaps. Squats. Ten. Twenty. A hundred. Then came the special wrestler moves. A girl spinning atop another’s back. A girl spinning circles around herself. A girl grabbing the leg of her sparring partner, forcing her knee into a forward buck until she toppled backwards – the move takes less than a second to unfold. But they do it ten, twenty, a hundred times a day.
Sakshi’s shirt was drenched when, two hours later, she sat down in front of my chair to cool off. We were going to have to talk like this. She stretching, me scratching away in my notebook. She had no time for interviews. Her father was already outside, waiting to pick her up.
I had the good fortune of meeting Sakshi Malik a few months ago while researching a few story ideas around wrestling, women and sports. She was already a star in wrestling circles but not as well-known yet as the Phogat sisters. I also interviewed Geeta Phogat, who did not make it to the Olympic team after all, and her parents, and a few other girls who are not professional players yet but who are starting to assert their right to play a sport in a public space. Read the full essay here:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Book Review : What Lies Between Us

Instead of building up to a climactic event, this novel seeks to examine a tragic chain of circumstances that leads to a young mother’s ultimate failure. This could have been the novel’s main strength for it could have set the writer free to investigate the links in the chain of tragedy and the complex nature of emotional betrayal within a family. However, the storytelling here is laid out flat as a delineation of a set of life events as told in a first-person voice that does not seem to hesitate at the door of memory.

From my review of the novel 'What Lies Between Us' in The Hindu:

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Considering Lucknow

I was asked recently to write about my own relationship to a city. I spent much of my childhood in small townships that qualify neither as towns nor as villages. And though I have lived much longer in Bombay/Mumbai, and Delhi, I don't have the same emotional tie to them as I do with Lucknow, the city where I may have spent a little over a year as a toddler, and then several months of summer and winter vacations through my schooling and college years.

The city is linked in my memory with grandparents, with the extended family, with childhood itself. But it is more than just a personal bond. There are things to admire about the city's culture, its casual, familiar awareness of its cultural capital, the genuine consideration that drives the surface politeness. This is what I've written about, but in addition to the anecdotes in this short article, there are many other memories that have been dredged up.

I had once signed up for a short course in computer programming, at Aptech. I was studying in Ajmer but transferred to a Lucknow centre for the summer months. I sat for a very basic programming test there and clearly, I had flunked. When I called the centre to ask about how I'd fared in the exam, my instructor came on the line but was too polite to tell me outright that I had failed. So he said, "It's gone for a six. You know? It's gone for a toss."

I didn't know. It took me a while to understand that he was trying to say that I had NOT cleared the test. But because he told me indirectly, and gently, that sense of having failed did not feel personal. Somehow, it felt more as if the exam itself, that sheet of paper attached to my name, had gone and done something it shouldn't have. By now, I had understood and privately accepted that computers were just not my thing, and I dropped out of the course soon after. But I have never stopped being grateful for the indirect gentleness of the teacher.

As for Lucknow, what it means to me, here is the article:

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