Lessons from on and off the court

My first brush with badminton was rather tragic. Or should I say, it followed after a tragic episode. Of a right hand elbow fracture. I must have been 5-6 years then. A very active pre-schooler, who decided to pole-dance (it was fun then, and my 5 yr self had no idea of any other notion attached to the simple action of going around pole, in giddy merriment). But then my world came crashing down. No, that’s rather dramatic. came crashing down, resulting in a fracture, and no more naughty tricks for a 3 week period. My parents must have breathed a sigh of relief. I transitioned from a right handed person to a left handed one, for the time being. Back then there was no such thing as physiotheraphy. The doctor asked my parents to buy me a racquet and play badminton in way of getting my hand back to working order. And that’s how I came to wield a raquet (stop it, auto-correct, I know the spelling, and it’s not racket, as you are hell-bent on correcting).

Cut to the present. I happen to be married to an Indian guy who is not crazy about cricket (yes, such species exist). On my very first trip to Taipei, I was whisked off on a Saturday for some court time. (The newly wedded bride in me was grumbling about how this is supposed to be “our” exclusive time, while The Scientist happily rubbished all such notions). My resentment didn’t last long. This group met religiously every Saturday from 4 PM to 6 PM, enjoyed many games on the court, and usually had dinner (and gossip session) following play. I was astonished that all my fellow players (The Scientist included) were really good players. I, on the other hand, was just returning to the game (after a very long hiatus). That was just the beginning.

The first question I was asked when I joined work here was whether I played badminton. Yes, it’s BIG here. On hearing a positive response, I was asked to join them every Monday and Thursdays at lunch-time. I was super enthused. And that’s when my lessons started.

My fellow colleagues took me under the wing. I must have seemed an exotic creature to them, as it was. The fact that I could hold a racquet correctly, and wield it well enough, turned the scales in my favour. (This was before P.V. Sindhu proved her mettle, and the fact that Indians do play games other than cricket).

I was taught how to serve, and surprise the opponent with a beguiling service. I was myself misled, and missed the shuttle cock, quite a few times before I learned to look closely at the body language of the server. Will he serve lightly, or with a force, send the shuttle cock arching in a trajectory, way behind  you? That’s when the footwork became important. You had to position yourself such that you could move forwards or backwards very quickly depending on how you were served.

The Scientist was more than happy to sermonize, and get me upto speed on the theory. You can’t do the “dhal gaya din, ho gayee sham” play, he said (watch that song here, at your own risk). You need to keep moving. And fast at that (which was a lot of work, I can tell you).

I then, learned the rules, and point-keeping system. And when you serve from zou-bian or you-bian (left or right side of the court). It also helped that I had started learning Chinese, and I could actually now follow the score, and these instructions (though I sometimes still get confused).

As a few weeks passed, I came to know it’s all about strategy. Being aware of where your opponents are on the court, and aiming for the space, where they cannot reach quickly. And then using light strokes near the net to just tip the shuttle onto their side. And ducking down quickly for your partner to be able to execute his stroke. And also being in sync with your partner. Whether you will be in the forefront, or cover the back – so to speak. And also which shots are better left untouched, unreturned.

You learn a lot by watching others’ games. A lot of techniques could be picked up from that. It was usually fun watching games played out on adjacent courts. One such player was the Taiwanese Bappi-da. Middle-aged, muscular and sporting gold-rimmed spectacles, bracelet and thick gold chain to boot (now the Taiwanese really don’t do jewellery, so it was an anomaly), with the sort of silky black hair falling on his eyes, (yes the one you in dandruff-free shampoo ads), he caught my attention (and the name Bappi-da, unwittingly came to my mind, and has struck since). (How I would love to reproduce his foto here! but that would have been rude, hence the lengthy description). He would partner with a rather amateur player (a blonde bimbo (BB), who would just awkwardly hold the racquet and stand around- ok, I am being rather harsh here, but I say it as I see it). What amazed me about T.Bappi-da was despite his age, and slight paunch, his agility, service and footwork, was amazing. He could single-handedly fend off a strong opposition, while BB would try and get in a stroke edge-wise, but miss most. He taught me a lot. And for that, I respect him a lot, gold chains and bracelets not withstanding.

All in all, I am glad I broke that arm, all those years ago. The adrenaline rush this game gives you, is a reward in itself. Added to the fact that for sedentary types like us, it gets us moving. And makes full use of the generous lunch time. And you make new friends, and bond over the game, in a country, where you don’t speak the language. See, the benefits speak for themselves.

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