Monday, 16 September 2013


Have you ever read the book "I heart New York"?  Well, it's about a British girl in her mid twenties, who takes the first flight out of London to New York to get over a bad ugly break up (she finds her boyfriend cheating on her, in case you were wondering). While I understand the need to leave a country when upset, I don't see this working in case of an Indian girl in the middle of a bad break up. To start with she'd have to have a valid visa to the USA, which for just a tourist visa would take her about 2 weeks or more to get. But even if she has a valid US visa already, she'd need to apply for something called an "Airport Transit Visa" to get there. Most flights to the other side of the world are through the European Union or UK and require a Transit visa which is not only expensive to begin with, but is also time consuming to acquire. By then she'd be more frustrated than before.  

Why do Indians not travel as much? This is precisely the reason. My grandfather often flaunts his American passport and says with pride "I can travel 166 countries with this". Even though he has no intentions of making those trips at this age, I am sure it is a relief to know you don't have to go through paperwork and stand in long visa queues to travel to another nation.

I recently experienced something similar. I got an internship in Colombia and I was mighty excited. But soon the excitement died down when the paperwork started. I got my Colombian Visa in a day, after I submitted my papers and I was given a courtesy visa which was free of charge by their ministry of external affairs since I was going there to help teach kids. But that was not the real problem. The real problem was when I got to the airport they said I cannot travel coz I do not have a "transit visa" for "Germany", since I had to switch flights at Frankfurt. I was confident I didn't need one because I checked the rules online and even my travel agent assured me that I won't need a transit visa because my layover was for less than 12 hours and I have a visa to the final destination country. I checked a lot of other sources and all the information was so scattered and on sites which were not very authentic. Some say you only need one if you are travelling through two Schegen countries and others that you need one if your even flying over one of them(just in case you have an emergency landing).

Well bottom line, they made the rules stricter more recently so I had to come back and apply for a German transit visa which cost me 6200 Rupees, only to sit at their airport for 7 hours (and change my travel agent).The irony of it was my visa to Colombia was for free. The German visa delayed my travel by two weeks, only because their appointment dates were so booked and I was made to go back this one time for not having an already booked ticket. Now you tell me, if they say the visa processing takes anywhere between 3 to10 days, when do you book a ticket for? What if you book it for the 3rd day and they give the visa on the 5th day? Ugh!

Imagine a world without borders. It would be really confusing and pose many problems, I guess. But there was a time when there were no passports. That was the time when explorers could just get on a ship and name a piece of unclaimed landmass after their name, nations could conquer and rule other nations without a war and trade spices and other goods without an import or export duty.

“During World War I, European governments introduced border passport requirements for security reasons (to keep out spies) and to control the emigration of citizens with useful skills, retaining potential manpower. These controls remained in place after the war, and became standard procedure, though not without controversy. British tourists of the 1920s complained, especially about attached photographs and physical descriptions, which they considered led to a "nasty dehumanisation"…..Passport standardisation came about in 1980, under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).” – Wikipedia, passports.

I agree with the ‘dehumanization’ part. Everything from having to prove your purpose of visit to standing in the queue and being directed like cattle and treated with mistrust is rather dehumanizing. But unfortunately that’s what the world has come to. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

All about Sports - Part 2

What does being a female sports player, at any level, in India mean? 

Believe me when I say - there is NOTHING glamorous about playing at the All-India-Level for the Girls University Basketball team! Apart from being a sort of a short lived celebrity back in college among peers, being acknowledged on stage by the principal on annual day and bettering your game playing next to some of the most amazing female players in the country; the experience of actually playing for the university team is anything but worth remembering. With no funds, resources and sponsors, most of us make it to the tournament in improper shoes with no ankle support, last minute sports-quota-tatkal-train-tickets with no confirmed seats, in terribly designed Jerseys with substandard Jersey material and barely 10 days of practice of playing together as a team. This is the case with most Indian universities barring the autonomous institutes. 

What Indian sports meets really lack is hygiene and infrastructure. Sure you get to meet the best players of 91 teams from all over India at one place, but you also need to share a room with three other teams and sleep on hard wood or steel classroom tables and benches or the floor. The worse is not fighting for place to sleep on but the queue to the bathrooms. With the bathrooms all booked in early mornings and evenings the best option is to take a bath at odd hours like 2 AM. The toilets are in a worse condition and not equipped with proper dustbins to dispose waste. The whole restroom experience is worse than that of a general class compartment. If you are used to home made food and not hostel food then you will dread the two boiled eggs, milk, a banana and porridge breakfast they provide, which although an ideal sport diet is bland and tasteless.

There is corruption in every department in India, so by default in sports. With scandals at the highest level and in international sporting events like the common wealth games there is little to say about the state of sports in India. The funds don't reach where they are suppose to be invested, or there are not enough funds allocated for 'a girl's sports tournament' to start with. But there are other forms of corruption too. The most popular of all is what I call - 'knowing someone that knows someone'. Our first year university team had a girl who's dad was the coach's friend. She certainly was not as competent as the other girls who were far better than her. But they weren't selected because the 12th player doesn't matter as long as the coach's friend's daughter gets her national level certificate to get her sports quota for a government job. With that kind of attitude the coaches seem least invested in us and we barely get the motivation we need. No one seems to care whether we win or lose, or even try.

Its not like female players do not get the encouragement they need. I've always had plenty of encouragement from my PT sirs in school. In fact they even made us play matches against the boys, treating us equal.  The basic barrier most girls need to get past is family encouragement. Then again there are examples of girls like, Surekha I met at the All India university matches in Amaravati University '08. She was a 19 year old girl who played for the Rajasthan university team and was on phone with her husband and daughter every night giving them updates on the matches. If conservative states like Rajasthan can give their married women the choice pursue their passion, why can't we expect more from others?

Even though boys tournaments have little bigger budgets and better equipment, the story is the same. It seems like the capitalistic approach towards sports is what gives a sport the due attention it deserves. With IPL and more recently IBL spending in crores on players-bidding and having league matches with media coverage, this is what is earning the players the kind of luxury only affluent sports like golf could once earn. Although to play golf one needs to be born into an affluent family to start with. So unless you want to end up as a sports coach after retirement; capitalism is the only way of achieving true upward social mobility through sports.

Hopefully one day all sports in India will receive the notice they deserve and sports players the respect. 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

All about sports - Part 1

Having been a sports enthusiast all my life, I believe it has played a very important part in shaping me as a person. I bet most sports players will agree with me when I say that although a stress buster, it is hard to manage time for sports with our hectic work schedules as adults. We wish we could go back to our golden childhood days where we had hours to practice and perfect a skill.

Kids pick up sports faster than grownups, are more agile on field and have a bottomless stamina reserve. That’s why it becomes that much more important to channelize this energy to yield maximum result. To be on the national team one needs to have a coach from age 8 and 30 hours of practice every week. The reason china churns out so many Olympic medalists a year is they find their players young, as young as age 6. At that age how does one tell whether they have the skill it takes to play a sport? They have a series of tests from medical to body length measurement to scout their trainees and subject them to the tried and tested sports person diet and discipline to turn them into champions. But if you trace back stories of Indian Olympic medalists you will find it is either painful, driven by the need to earn or out of sheer coincidence. The access to resources is the biggest challenge in India. That is the reason most Indian Olympians are from the Indian army.

I was lucky enough to have access to these facilities as a child and have fond memories of horse riding, Olympic sized swimming pools and golf summer camps. But even though our school had a huge play ground we lacked proper coaching. Affordable private schools do not even have a privilege of that. Hijacking the games period to finish the syllabus is the worst form of torture you can put a child through and happens all the time here. Thus, the fact remains that sport is not given the due importance it deserves in our academic curriculum for the overall development of a child here in India.

Sport instills integrity, honesty, teamwork, leadership and teaches one honor, the importance of participation and also teaches to cope with defeat. It’s an easy choice when it is between learning life skills versus sitting in a class every single day, staring at the black board and mugging up pages and pages of things they don't comprehend. It is unfortunate to see crucial aspects of personality development that sports adds are being left out in a typical school schedule.

The concept of mixed sports and gender equality is non-existent in most APSs. The year before last a couple of IDEX fellows had tried to have a mixed team cricket league, but of course were faced with a lot of opposition from the conservative and regular schools alike.  ‘Girls-versus-boys’ in a classroom environment is the norm but never in a playground. They say the only way to get better at a sport is by playing with people better than you. But girls are never given a chance to. Girls don’t have hand eye coordination because they play with dolls and not throw around a ball high up and play catch. But if they are allowed to they can do as good a job or even better!

The basic idea of a school sports program in my placement school was to make them pick up a sport, understand it, play by rules and in the process get kids to lead healthy active lifestyles. With after school and before school programs for Kho-Kho and ultimate Frisbee we sure had a good performance at the year tournaments. It doesn't have to be a sport which requires high level equipment. Any sport from kabbadi to kho-kho to gulli danda, does it. With a little investment of time energy and effort you can teach students way more valuable lessons outside the classroom.

                                       Picture Credit: Aditya Sanjay (IDEX 2013 Kho-Kho league)

Refereeing a Girls kho-kho match is no easy task. 

Sindhu from R.S.K after winning MVP

The winning Team : R.S.K Girls - It was a pleasure coaching them 

Photo cerdit: Karolle Rabarrison (Boys Cricket league 2013)