Somewhere in hell, a girl nails a slam dunkShivani Kshirsagar
My school did not have a whole basketball court, and by that I mean it was halved, then quartered, then left cratered. Last I checked — a tip: do not attempt alumni reunions or nostalgia visits because then you’ll realise just how mundane the stairwell behind the basketball court/assembly ground really is; unlike the flight of fancy of your memories — the red tiled ground was a broken mirror. No child should be out playing on it.
But we did, slicing the skin off our feet like cheese on the toothy edges of the red, the red of our bare feet vanishing into the cracks, nourishing the barren underneath with our salt. And on such a ground, we played basketball.
Only the older ones, aged 13-15, played basketball, and when we arrived at that (st)age, we quickly learnt that only girls played basketball. The boys were content kicking the monochrome chequered balls into makeshift goalposts, marked by bottles and dusty bags, on a surface next to our meagre court that was already subsumed into a sandpit that no one played in, because no one changed the sand, and the metal of the slides and the monkey bars and the seesaw were already red with rust. Or crusted blood. Kids don’t enjoy being needled and pierced. Plus, there was a rumour that they made the sandpit because a girl died there, and to dispel it, they lowered all that sand; a grave for a ghost.
But this isn’t about sandpits and the horrors of childhood.
Before puberty, we were one race.
Post the hormonal uprising, we became a war zone.
As kids, we used to play all kinds of games together. Dog and the Bone, Athletics, Kho-Kho —
However, when puberty turned our bodies inside out, games became sports. Breaking boys and growling girls went off to their patches of the world. And when the girls came together, on the deathly basketball court, it was no party.
A teenage girl is Primal Rage.
There on the basketball court, away from the reed red voices of boys, we were marooned, unmoored, on the wounded maroon land.
We had one Games period per week. By the time we stumbled into highschool, we were grateful if we got a chance at that one 30 minute period of physical recreation, for teachers swooped in to convert it into another of their lessons because of pending syllabus. And we were even more grateful if it fell in the morning hours because the Indian summers are infernal. But the older you get, the less luck favours you.
And so, whenever we could, we were demonic girls playing demonic basketball on a demonic court in a demonic clime.
Whack the ball, smack away the body. Guard the ball like it’s your life. Kick a shin and call it unintentional. And what fouls and what rules when none knew the game? Instead, watch the tallest girl stand underneath the basket for the entire duration of the game. Watch the faces raised to the halo of the ring, time coming to a standstill as the ball tittered and tottered on the edge, which if fell inside the embrace of the sometimes netless rim, someone would whoop, “goal!” only for another to counter holler, “BASKET!” Watch the half hearted attempts to block the ball, arms flying aimlessly, resigned to an addition on the scoreboard.
The boys came away with arguments, suppressed tears and maybe a torn edge of a trouser, only to make up and move on within minutes. The girls shredded t-shirts, stormed watches, shattered glasses, ripped toe nails, and scarred faces.
We taught the other the art of dribbling and leaping; we learnt from the other the jump shots, the shuffle, the between the legs, the nameless passes and moves that were passed around as an inheritance.
In those 30 minutes of play none gawked or chastised our freakish metamorphosis that made its presence known despite the despotism of the thick pinafore, the thin button down shirt, and the stifling brassiere.
Girls were the first cockroaches. Quartered, dissected, hunted.
But on that devastated court, lost in our make believe sport, unpinned from gravity, we were like cockroaches with wings. Wicked, deranged, powerful.