Previously published on 20th October, 1983
The other day a friend of mine and I were talking about women and sports. She said, “I’m not in favour of women jumping, shaking, running, exhibiting their bodies in front of men.”
I was a bit surprised at her attitude. Yet, I wasn’t worked up. Personally, I am not interested in sports. I have this attitude towards sport: ‘If somebody wants to play, let her/him play. And leave me alone.’
I am also not concerned if male spectators are allowed or not to watch women playing. Well, just a minute. Yes, I do think if women players are spared of Hungry Pakistani male eyes, so much the better! Perhaps my disinterest in sports is typical of Pakistani women. I think it’s both — personal tack of interest and social discouragement. I did go through temporary bouts of craze for a few indoor/ outdoor games but the interest wore off quickly.
First it was cards we went mad about. My brother, two cousins and I spent whole days behind locked doors. Then it was chess. Also behind closed doors. Because Tai-Amma (it was a joint family) thought it was ‘a sin to indulge in those Satanic games’. So we children had no choice but to sin in secret. Then it was falling in and out of love with badminton.
Today the only game I might watch on the telly is tennis. I suppose what fascinates me is not the game itself. Rather, to tell you the truth it’s Chris Evert’s beautiful athletic body, McEnroe’s foulmouthed-ness and Billy Jean King’s proclaimed lesbianism… ha, ha, queer me.
I wonder if the attraction (or whatever you call it) towards tennis goes back to college days. There was a club right behind our house. It had a shiny, grey-walled, tennis court. In the evenings my cousin sister and I would go to the terrace, stroll and chat and look enviously at the boys playing.
One day a strange thing happened. “Look!” my cousin exclaimed, pointing towards the court, “A girl!” “A girl?” I couldn’t believe it. We had never seen a girl before in the .club. “Yes. It’s wearing shalwar and qameez. It’s a girl,” she said. “And where is her dupatta?” I squinted my eyes. “It’s tied around her waist. A sportswoman!”
We watched her mesmerised as she played with the coach. It was quite an event in our lives. We waited for her anxiously every day to appear at the court. We talked about the way she dressed and the way she handled the shouts. We dreamt of stepping into the tennis court like her. Though it wasn’t tennis we were excited about. The idea of playing with boys was more tempting (here I go again). ‘They’d be impressed with us, floored’, we secretly thought.
The girl disappeared after a week and never returned. We wondered why. It only strengthened our suspicion — girls cannot play! It was the year 1971. There must have been many girls playing different games in the country. But in our family and social circle — bourgeoisie and conventional — women and sports were quite unrelated.
Despite this indifference towards sports there are two activities I would love to indulge in. First is cycling. I learned to ride a bike when I was in Class 6. We didn’t have a bike. We used to get one on rent. And I rode on deserted streets in hot, sultry afternoons.
My brother had told me, “You’ll learn to ride the day you fall.” He declared there was no way to become a successful cyclist except by having a fall. “Then it just comes on its own,” he used to say.
But poor me. I never fell. I pedaled slowly, cautiously, laboriously. The idea of hurting myself didn’t appeal to me. All the same, I wanted to learn. And since I didn’t fall, I wasn’t learning.
My brother was six years elder to me and past the cycle craze. Each day he would ask me: ‘Did you fall?’ And I would say, quite embarrassed and rather ashamed, “No, I didn’t.”
I was convinced I could never learn to ride properly. I equated cycling with going on full speed, keeping my hands off the handle, taking crazy turns and twirls like my brother could do. Besides, I was fed up with my mother’s daily lecture: “Are you crazy? Come to your senses. Girls don’t ride a bicycle”, blah, blah. So I gave up before I could learn.
The other sport I dream about is swimming! But it’s just a dream. Because I love the sea. I still wouldn’t get up and say, ‘Let there be a team of women swimmers in Pakistan’.
You see, for me it’s a matter of priorities. Sports is a peripheral issue. Or so I think. Sports is not one of the core issues in a woman’s life.
I never had a chance to swim. But I had a chance to go to school, college, university. I had a chance to learn, to read, to educate myself. And I did that. And I am quite happy. If I didn’t have a chance to swim, so what!