Friday, December 7, 2012

Physical Education - 6


Churchill said that the British Empire was built on the playing fields of Rugby, Eton and Harrow.

When I was in my 5th Form (Class X) I read an abridged version of Tom Brown's School Days and was enchanted (without following it closely). It is the story of two boys Tom Brown and Harry East who became friends after being admitted to Rugby. It is all about their growing up there and their sojourn in the famous school whose iconic HM was Thomas Arnold, father of Matthew Arnold. The story is all about play, games and fights and the building of tough and sportive character. And very little about acads.

Last month during my long hiatus in daily blogging, I picked up two slim Wodehouse Rupa Paperbacks I had bought in the Nampally Bazaar for Rs 100 each three years ago. I had never heard the titles earlier, though I prided myself that I read all popular PGWs. 

And I had kept them aside.

The two titles are:

1. The Head of Kay's
2. The White Feather

They don't read like PGWs. And it took me 25 pages each to make out that both of them were stories about British Public Schools written in his youth. And they were absorbing thereon, if not thrilling. One is about Cricket and the other Boxing, with lots of misadventures and misunderstandings and Rugby Football thrown in between...there was never any mention of Drill.

And I was reminded about Tom Brown's School Days.

More than acads, games played in boyhood build character, in particular the sporting spirit I find missing in the urban Indian life nowadays, including in politics. 

The first sporting event that I participated in my school was when I was 8 and in the lowest Form. It was called 3-Leggged Race (sub-junior). The race is over 75 yards (there were no meters then). And there were about a dozen pairs of racing kids. 

Each kid was allowed to choose his partner from the same Squad (I was in the Arjun). The two stand side by side with the left ankle of one tied firmly to the right ankle of the other by a longish hankie; and asked to run:

I was a skeletal kid of less than 4' height, but I could find my perfect partner of the same build in my classmate and friend, Sudhakar. We were like twins. Or like Tweedledum and Tweedledee (only much much thinner) :


A couple of days before the Race, we started preparing for the mega-event of our school. And we tied ourselves into firm knots and within minutes found that we could run with arms over each others' shoulders at a fantastic pace. We ran all over the Village streets and the onlookers were amazed at our speed and ease. We ran in the morning, noon and evening for two hours each and practiced the run till we were perfect.

On the morning of our Race in the school, we were in the middle with the other pairs on either side and we presented an ideal picture by our looks, confidence, and eagerness. Everyone in the crowd was pleased with us and if betting were allowed, it was a non-event.

As soon as the starting whistle blew, we took off like a pair of falcons....but within a few yards of the start, we stumbled, fumbled, tumbled, and fell down over each other sprawling with our legs tied fast.

And there were surprised shouts and jeers and hoots from the audience that the HM's son made an ass of himself. Meanwhile our Captain who was heavily banking on us ran in, stood us up on our feet, dusted us and asked us to run on.

We ran like the devil, but ended up in the 4th position in an event that had only three prizes.

We untied ourselves and slunk away.

To this day, I can't figure out what went wrong...we left it at that.

But that was my first failure in the race of life and it taught me how to face the hundreds that were to follow with equanimity.

And here I am at 70 still batting, thank you! 


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