THOUGHTS FROM A FOOTBALL FIELD

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Not far from where I stay is a ground.

To one side of it is a skateboard rink taking shape; to one corner is a volleyball court. The rest of the space hosts cricket and football matches and once in a while that Indian weakness for elaborate marriages and prayer meetings.

One day, my friend Prashant informed that work seemed underway on a proper football field. The following Sunday, we went to take a look. There were laborers toiling in summer heat at its worst. The supervisors on site confirmed that the objective was a football field. Near the entrance to the ground, a board installed by the municipal corporation mentioned work completion by October 2017, when the FIFA under-17 World Cup is due in India with a well-known stadium in my neighborhood, among hosts. What we were witnessing appeared a practice field being built. Still, it isn’t a small thing for a community to get a good quality football field.

The suburb I stay in is part of India’s declared smart city projects. I am skeptical of `smart’ from smart phones to smart cities. If happiness is what matters, I am yet to see happiness multiplied because we have more smart phones or shifted everything to digital. I get happiness from a morning run, a climb or cycling. In several parts of India, running has acquired the dimension of a popular movement. Organize a marathon and a few thousand turn up. Why is there no push for sport cities in India?

The trick is to have this born from within and not as an imposition capable of commerce, which is what smart city does. Or yoga packaged as right / righteous living did. Thanks to branding, both `smart’ and yoga now possesses the character of divide; you are with it or against it, which isn’t how it used to be. The idea of sport city should be as organic as your morning run. You get out and run not because somebody organized a marathon or you want to be seen running but because it feels nice to begin your day with a run. Sport city must be a state of mind first, a state of infrastructure building only next. To indulge in sport is to indulge in physical and mental regeneration. I respect this regeneration. It restores one’s brain to where it belongs – one’s head.

One’s brain in one’s head is apt setting for human creativity. Instead of trends deciding your life, you live your life. Maybe you even author a trend. Urban regeneration includes creatively reusing already used spaces. You don’t always have to build anew to find space for sport. Acquiring land, building afresh – that is what the real estate lobby wants. That is also when sport becomes expensive for somebody has to pay the bill for fresh capital cost incurred. How about negotiating with authorities and convincing them for a grant of space, long term lease instead of land purchase and imagining with depreciated assets instead of newly made ones? Redesigned and spruced up, an abandoned garage or warehouse can become home for a climbing gym. A road closed to traffic or road in community given less to motoring, attracts joggers. Reduce the number of cars in a housing society and erstwhile car park can be a shuttle court. A community agreed on less pollution, accidents and congestion will automatically bring forth the cyclists in their midst. Check sea pollution, clean up rivers and backwaters; imagine what all water sport blossoms on it. Indeed an aspiring `sport city’ has to do no more than state that it wants to consciously promote the active lifestyle; that it will stand by citizen’s initiatives in that direction.

Question is – do we genuinely want it?

Aside from active lifestyle parceled as real estate opportunity or event management I haven’t yet heard of any Indian city genuinely promoting sport. None saying we are committed to becoming a center of excellence in sports. None saying we love having residents who are into the active lifestyle. None that put up boards cautioning traffic to be sensitive towards joggers and cyclists on the road. It is the absence of a certain instinct. It is like the question I am frequently posed – nobody asks why I blog or what I write as blogger; they all want to know whether I make money. “ What is your business model?’’ – That precedes interest in subject. To those sticking on past my silence, I usually say: this blog has no specific purpose except contribute in what small way it can to sustain the life interesting. The day life stops being interesting, I wouldn’t know what to do.

Life interesting – that’s the promise in that football field.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)    

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