When The New Indian Express reporter I S Gopika posted a photo of a group of us office colleagues on Facebook, just after we had played a hard-fought 60-minute six-a-side football game on a Tuesday night in Kochi recently, my mind flashed back to the past. To my student days at St. Xavier’s School, Kolkata.
And there I was, in Class Four, running down the right flank, frail-looking but fleet-footed, reaching the corner, stopping suddenly, half-turning towards the goalpost and sending the ball floating across. What happened next I cannot recall. But I do remember the moment when I drifted to the middle, the ball coming to me, accidentally, and then I quickly swung my leg, and bang, the ball entered the net. The first goal of my life! It seemed as if a bolt of lightning had struck me.
And today, years later, the charm of the game remains. The group I play with includes reporters, writers, designers, photographers and desk people. In other words, they are earning a living by expressing themselves. And that can be seen on the football field. A cohesion as well as a collision of strong personalities, and strong bodies, expressing themselves with vigour, confidence and the occasional foul.
In the past six months, ligaments have been torn, toenails chipped, backs have been hurt and muscle spasms have occurred. Sometimes, in the heat of battle, you don’t even know you are hurt. Once when I was having a shower after a game, I felt a pain in my foot. When I looked closely, I saw two round stud marks. The blood had congealed but I was puzzled. When did this happen?
Twice I landed, as if in slow motion, on my back. Twice the ball hit my face but thankfully, no major damage was done. Still, there were sublime moments. One such instance: An exchange of passes between four players, and finally, I got the chance to deliver the coup de grace, with the goalkeeper out of position.
But not always. Gopika is the only woman in our group.
She plays as a goalkeeper and is improving game by game. During a recent match, she saved two certain goals. And she has an unflinching look even when a player is heading towards her with the ball. So, this is what I understood after playing several games: The body has been designed by nature to be used to the maximum physically. So the more you do so, the happier you feel.