“Ready?” she calls out. I gulp, and nod, and cup my hands. The ball hurtles towards me, and I put an arm over my face. The slightly-deflated ball makes contact with my arm, then bounces to the ground and lays there, mocking me. I am thankful that the instructor doesn’t sigh. “Okay,” she says, “Again.” And I just stand there, a pout already marring my face, the pout that appears when I know I am dealing with the impossible — in this case the basketball training for our annual shindig.
Not that I am not enthusiastic about it, not that I do not suddenly wish to unravel my cape and discover that I was a basketball star all along. Just that I am no good at it. Just like when we went for badminton practice a day earlier. “Youhave played badminton as a child, haven’t you?” the stunningly athletic colleague probes. I have dropped the shuttlecock thrice and the racquet once. “Umm hmm,” I reply, my dismal performance already blurring the memories of the few times I had awkwardly held a racket time in my previous incarnation.
But worse was to come – table tennis. Another super-sporty colleague patiently crooks my elbow within hers, shows me how to serve, how to hit back. And then … well, nothing. I am paralyzed by the feeling of everyone crowding around, even though they are only just giving me friendly glances. My hands shake, I miss an easy shot, and then I slump down and give up as usual.
“Girls,” the male of the species will roll their eyes heavenwards and snigger during a break in their football matches, “Girls don’t play games.” Why, though, why? Why shouldn’t we play games with all the boyish swagger and finesse? I do not know others well enough to speak for everyone, but I will give my own example. No one ever told me that I must not play. In fact, I studied in a school that encouraged us to swim, bat, serve, toss, the works. For one glorious season, I was the vice-captain of the junior girls’ basketball team.
Even outside the court, I was an active child. Too active, I would say. Rushing out in the midday heat for a dozen games of hopscotch. Goading my tired companions to race the whole way to the bus stand a kilometer away. I remember hanging on for dear life from the monkey bars before a senior rescued me. From what I remember, most of my friends were equally enthusiastic about all the running around. Until one of the other, all of us stopped going out. At all. Except the staunchest ones, but more of that later.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened next. We hit puberty. Or rather, it hit us — very hard. And unlike boys who seem to have precious little to deal with except a breaking voice (I am sure they have their list of grievances, this is no slinging match), there were suddenly a hundred things us girls had to keep track of. When you have to put up a book in front of your trainer bra in the hope that people will forget you exist, there is no way you are going out to play. I felt so exposed, so vulnerable, I had trouble walking without being self-conscious, forget jumping around. And of course the dreaded periods, where I was too busy worrying if I would begin spotting while the class was on, to even concentrate on what the teacher was saying. Sports took a far, far, backseat. To anyone who scoffs at the idea of periods hampering sports and calls it a ‘biological process’ just imagine someone slashing a hot knife in your intestines, for up to seven days a month. Many times, the knife hits home. As I lie doubled over in pain, wishing the constant cramps in my back would stop, I am most likely to kick at any person who suggests we go and kick a ball.