Nationals

“Dil chhota mat kar. National level ke champion se hara hai tu”. This dialogue by Amir Khan in Movie Dangal… struck me of two things. That, my inner voice has been saying this (though not loudly) to many who belittled me in the journey of my life. And it also struck me that even I have a bronze medal at nationals!

This journey began in 1989 (when I was 9), in Delhi. National Championship for artistic skating (solo round).

Those were the days when getting a medal at this level was not as important as coming first in school academics or qualifying through scholarship exams. I distinctly remember those scoring high in math and science exams were called on the podium and were congratulated in front of the entire school.

I knew I will not come first in these subjects any day for sure. But, I knew that one day I will climb up the podium to receive the applause from my friends, teachers and entire school. For me at the age of 9, winning at Nationals was not as important as the Principal calling my name from the standing mic.

I don’t blame the school for not announcing my name because those were the days when missing school for participating in tournaments and “homework not done” due to late hours practice sessions was a criminal offense.

But, I still knew that one day I will be called from the podium; from the standing mic. A year passed with this question in my mind: “Why wasn’t I called on the podium? Did my achievement go unnoticed or was it that futile?”

I remember that moment, that silver stretchable frock, that silver matching hair knot… I was performing solo for artistic skating event (8 to 12 years’ category). I could see my mom’s eyes focused on me. I could read her thoughts: “Just be yourself, do the best, and don’t give up… play those 5 mins in your style, but, keeping rules in mind.” I followed her thoughts and bagged bronze. I realized my mom was my first guide and she knew exactly what I should do.

Months passed and the practice of skating in the morning at 6 am and running in the evening at 5 pm was a regular routine. I was enjoying every bit of it. Though it pulled everything out of me.. love, passion and hard work kept me going.

It was the next year, this time I qualified for 400 meters skating ring under 12 category; nationals at Bangalore this time. I was 10 then. Mom asked whether I wanted to go for it. The answer was a no-brainer (coz I still wanted my name to be announced from the podium). But there was a problem. The specially designed skates with shoes attached to it were a must! Those days they had to be specially ordered and made in Mumbai. They cost Rs. 4700 that time. My mother had to sell some gold and my father had to take some loan. (This was happening in the background and my parents thought I know nothing about it). I knew that winning was a priority given what was at stake. But, another shocking news was my mom could not come for the tournament because of some family emergency. My mom was my inspiration, my guide, my philosopher. I travelled with my loving, newly married small town young aunt.

This time the competition was tougher. It was not a solo event. I had to compete with other contestants. These girls were Haryanvis, Punjabis, girls from south India; all of them tall and well-built. Were they really under 12? Tall built, muscular bodies. And look at me.. a tiny mice trying to bend her moustache.

So, it started, I was trying to copy the latest trend of standing on the mark. This time I looked at my aunt. She looked petrified and I was signaled that I was all alone… before I could hear the blow of the whistle, the race had started and David started chasing all the Goliaths ahead.

Those 8 rounds were like a film’s reel revolving around in my mind. And my mind full of scenes from the past, present and future…

Out of the 12 contestants, I was the last to start and I have no clue how and when I reached 6th position. Thanks to the adrenaline pumping? Now I could see clearly though; 6 rounds remaining, 5 girls to chase. I could now hear my aunt’s voice… come on Radhika! I said to myself this is it… I want my name to be announced in school… 2 girls crossed in 2 rounds. Now 4 rounds – 1 more girl crossed. I want my mom and dad to feel proud of their daughter. I concentrated more.. emotions were flowing high and it was getting tougher… crossed 1 more girl! Now 3 girls remaining and 3 rounds. Come on Radhika…. gold seems difficult but at least bronze. Come on just one more girl to cross and finish the unending 3 rounds. I summoned all my powers and crossed the girl to grab the 3rd position. My bronze was sure now… I kept going… 2 rounds left and suddenly the ring master pulled me outside the ring to finish my game.. In such a ruthless manner that I can still feel the pain on my left arm. Game over!!! I was made to sit down. Why? Why? Please tell me, why?

All the jubilant noises penetrating into my ears from the parents of the winners were killing me from inside. I looked at my aunt. She was talking to the ring master who was trying to explain something and not letting her reach me. I was sweating and breathing fast, anxious to know what went wrong. Even from a distance I could hear him saying, “Her skates touched the ring line. She broke the rule”. What? Hello… our family does not teach us to break rules. No! That wasn’t correct.

My aunt looked helpless. I came out. I then thought cameras and replays could have changed the result. Few patted me and said, well chased. They also could not understand why I was taken out. Few said they didn’t think I touched the ring line. At the age of 10, I did not know one needs to fight even after the game is over.

We were back home. I could not sleep few nights – not because I lost it but because politics, partiality were the new words introduced in my dictionary. I decided to unlearn the words politics and partiality. Unlearned them because I never wanted this to happen to any other player; not due to me in future out of revenge. Another hard lesson learnt: Rules are meant to be broken. The instructor broke the rule. He made me lose the medal. From now on even I will break rules as and when required. Believe me it works in India very well.

Days and months passed. My only regret was that my mom could not accompany me to the Bangalore tournament. She would not have let the organizers go without questioning. Cameras are not needed for a person like her, who has a lioness’ heart. What actually happened is… the event actually killed my love for skating. Another year passed and I continued athletics as my evening routine. Here I found my first “Guru” Bhau Kane. A guru not only teaches you but, he is also a philosopher. Till the age of 12, I played 100 and 200 meters events and bagged 2nd or 3rd place in every competition I took part in. I am a natural go getter, chaser, and have an attacking approach. So, I competed in 100 and 200 meters and not for the longer 400, 800 meters or marathons. Moreover, I was underweight and did not have the stamina required for the longer runs. I was growing up and my father took the place of Bhau as my next coach. He chose to give me the lead role in the mega dance drama “Durga Zali Gauri”. This is where I had my first break in dramatics and was talk of the town in just few months. Drama is my first love. Plus I was growing really fast and wanted to grow my hair, use Vicco turmeric cream. Soon I started seeing myself more in the mirror than on the playground.

Nationals

By now I had seen a variety of coaches; school teachers, tuition teacher, mother as a teacher for skating, Bhau for athletics. But my father was the toughest! We players have a typical kind of attitude that we carry when we are on a playground; that we know everything, we are already a winner, we always keep our egos high. And sometimes even pray that no one should be better than us. When I first climbed the rehearsal stage, I kept the same playground attitude and also carried the baggage of winning trophies. Now, that’s where I went wrong.

Players and actor needs to carry a certain level of attitude sometimes but, one must not forget that they are not the super-humans. Rehearsal started and I just decided to follow my style and – my father’s instructions were falling on deaf ears. He is the most respected director in children’s theatre with huge experience. I was on cloud 9 though. He was taking me patiently. One day I crossed the line. I had a heated argument with him. He lost control, and brought his hand straight to my ear, looked deep into my eyes and left the room. Even today I can feel the heat generated from just bringing his hand close to my ear. The slap which he didn’t complete, hit me harder and brought me on the ground. I understood that the stage was a playground and director was the master. Actor’s job is to follow the director.

I learnt the hard way, but, the right way. I was sorry for underestimating my director. After that I just followed each and everything with utmost trust in him. Being a player helped me handle the 8 hours dance routine in the summers of Nagpur, follow discipline of the highest regiment, manage time. I just followed the tools and techniques taught by my father religiously… I had understood the role of “Durga – depicting anger and ego and Gauri – symbol of love and peace”, the central character of “princess” named Durga, who turns into Gauri after some events in her life. I lived that character those days. Natural love and understanding of the theatre since childhood helped me reach to the top during those mesmerising days. We had more than 75 shows all over Maharashtra.

Since 1992 till date, acting is my daily routine. For 6 years now, I have been pursuing it professionally. Played an interesting character named “Geeta” in the super hit serial on Marathi channel; I think I have just stepped in. I now have my own creative house “Radhika Creations” dedicated to children’s theatre and I still pursue running and cycling as my regular routine exercise and run marathons too!

The journey has just begun, the road is clear and the climb is tough! Excitement rushes through the veins, adrenaline pumps through the heart and passion takes me forward…

Sports teaches you a lot in life. The sooner you learn the better. India needs sportsman spirited citizens and to become one, there is no shortcut.

Once a player always a player! Every battlefield in life is a playground!

So, what’s the game plan? Or I would say game play? Hahaha. It is just to play in the game!

Ahh… and yes my name is still not called from the podium of my school and from the “standing” mic to be specific. And of course I am yet to receive silver and gold at Nationals 🙂

Someone has said this very well, “Giving is the highest form of receiving”. I have kept receiving in abundance… while I am in the process of giving….

I know nothing, I just follow the guidance of my “Gurus”.

This blog is to only share my experience and not to boast about my achievements, so please read in the right spirit.

———- Ranee

Ranee's Blog

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