I don’t want to generalise this but I believe most Indian girls, including myself, are not the least bit interested in playing sports.
If we do play a sport at all, it would probably be one where we could play indoors. It doesn’t take much to guess we want to avoid the sun as much as possible. Blame it on our skin pigments but we don’t need any further tanning. That’s our logic.
So imagine my dread when my school announced that it was compulsory for us to play a sport as one of our co-curricular activities. All the sports offered were outdoors with the exception of badminton.
I thought my fear of the sun would be snuffed if I selected badminton. But it was not to be. The club had an outlandish rule that declared only students who were pros at it would be selected. If I could have seen through a magic looking-glass that I would have been subjected to such a rule at the tender age of fourteen, I would have begged my parents for badminton lessons while I was wearing Pampers.
I ended up playing netball. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m. under the boiling sun, we dribbled, jumped and chased after a miserable, orange ball.
We played netball throughout the year including the school holidays. We were never spared from the sun even then. The principal and teachers, in typical Singaporean kiasu (afraid to lose out) mentality, believed in rigorous trainings to prepare us for imaginary competitions.
As the majority of the students were Chinese, they didn’t mind turning golden-brown. I never got that colour. I went beyond that. I became like a piece of dried bak kwa – barbecued meat the Chinese love to eat. To add pain to my already grieved soul, my mother, like a 6-year-old child, would repeatedly ask me “Why so burnt today?” after every netball session.
My woes about playing sports followed me through college. There we were subjected to another rule – compulsory swimming lessons. My most dreaded sport. In all the eighteen years of my life, I had never been in a swimming pool.
To prepare for this soon-to-be life-changing event, I persuaded my best friend, Ida, to accompany me to buy a swimsuit. Ida, excitement at full throttle, selected various sexy costumes in eye-piercing colours. They were either high-cut at the hips to reveal long legs or low-cut at the chest to reveal great boobs. I had neither.
Fearing Ida’s displeasure if I refused them, I tried them on in the department store’s changing room. I didn’t like the girl looking back at me from the mirror. My chest looked like a table. And my legs cried out to be waxed. Another Indian trauma – having too much hair on our bodies.
Anyway, I bought a black, one-piece swimsuit that reached all the way down mid-thigh. Ida called it “grandmother costume”, but who cared when you were desperate.
The big day arrived. We gathered like shorn sheep in front of the swimming pool. I felt traumatised and exposed while my classmates had toothy grins plastered on their faces. When the coach shouted “Jump!”, all jumped in except me. I stepped gingerly into the water. Before I knew it, I missed my step and sank. Fearing for my life, I flailed my arms and screamed, gulping down gallons of water and a chewy glob of somebody else’s mucus. This drama must have gone on for a couple of minutes but it felt like a lifetime. Somehow, I managed to stand up and that was when I realised the water was only chest-deep. My classmates and the coach stared at me as if I just landed from Timbuktu. My coach, with a bored expression on his face, asked, “Are you all right?”
I wished I could be swallowed by the water.
I never attended swimming lessons again after that incident. I hid myself in the toilet or behind some bookcases in the library and kept my fingers crossed that my class teacher would not see me. She didn’t but the discipline master did.
“You’re going to get a black mark in your school record for this,” he said.
I took his word literally and expected some kind of ‘black mark’ in my report book. I spent two years in college worrying over nothing. There wasn’t any mark or spot in my report book when I graduated.
Now, I only go for daily walks. Whoever invented the sun-block lotion, I would prostrate before him if I could. I never leave home without slathering some on. Also, I walk in the direction where the sun always shines on my back.