Architect and writer Gautam Bhatia shares how he has modified his passion for tennis, to suit his age.
I love tennis. I can’t live without tennis. I am drawn to tennis I suppose the way a banker is drawn to Wall Street, or the way water gravitates naturally into a bowl. A day without tennis is a day not lived. Without the game, I don’t feel alive.
The obsession is incurable. I travel only on Mondays, when the courts are closed. I’m sorry, Wednesday just won’t be possible, you see, there is the National Housing policy Seminar. Could we make the meeting next Monday instead?
While I grapple with a plan for a housing complex, my mind veers away into its most natural inclination-tennis. And though the pencil is moving on the drafting board, its focus has shifted to a racquet and ball. Why wasn’t the backhand slice working today? Was the timing off or wasn’t I following through correctly?
Can’t keep my hands off the racquet
At a friend’s house for dinner (knowing him to be a tennis player), I excuse myself, and rush upstairs to where he keeps his racquet. Unable to resist it, I grab it and swing wildly into the air – a couple of sharp backhands, a few down the line shots, with a follow through that has the crowds cheering on the sidelines. Wah! What shots. So crisp. So sharp. Then I sneak down the stairs again, avoiding everyone’s eyes.
Wobbly knees and injury slow me down
Or at least that’s the way it was, fifteen years ago. Today I am a “senior citizen” whose knee is wobbly. Playing tennis one hour a day almost all my life has worn out the cartilage.
A longstanding tear in the shoulder rotator cuff has made serving difficult. The ache in my lower back is a result of years of aggressive swings. A tennis elbow has slowed down my playing arm.
Tennis is a way of life now
Why tennis? Why not cricket or football or squash? Why this obsession with a silly game where the ball crosses a net a few times and then is captured by it, like a fish in a net. And you walk up there and retrieve it again and again.
When it first began, I drew tennis into my life as a form of exercise, a way of fitness that was less trying than squash, more energetic than golf. Till somewhere in middle age, its ideas and nuances crept in, and took it over completely. No longer just a sport, it became a way of life.
Today I play what Osho calls Zen-tennis. I approach the court defiantly, hoping for a miracle, hoping that my achy joints won’t assert their needs in the midst of my game. But play, I must.
When a little sweat and skill is directed to no purpose at all, when you lose yourself in something- if only for half an hour- it’s still worth it. For a short while you are the centre of the world; you feel good about yourself. If it’s hard to give up an obsession, you change it to suit your age.
Gautam Bhatia is an award winning architect, sculptor and writer.