I was born plump and nothing’s really changed in that department since then. But, because I was plump, and because I was more inclined as a child to bury myself in a book than to busy myself with sports, I was largely terrible at all sorts of games. When the class was told to split up into two teams and captains were chosen and the captains took turns to pick the people they wanted on their teams, I was the last man standing, the one nobody wanted. When you’re ten years old, plump, shy, and wearing glasses, that sucks.
Maybe one of the reasons I never wanted to have a party on my birthday as a child was just that: there would be running games and I would be horribly embarrassed. One year, we did have a party on my birthday. We were in the house in Chandigarh, the big house with the big garden described in this old post. I have photographs of that party, and I’m wearing a thick new jacket my parents had gifted me, which I loved. We played Pass the Parcel, which was ok because you didn’t have to run. Then we played Catch, followed by Vish-Amrit. That was such an ordeal that I can still recall it distinctly.
I don’t know whether I couldn’t run because I was plump, or whether it was more complicated than that. Maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t run because I thought I was fat and everybody laughed at me because I couldn’t run. Maybe it would have been different if I hadn’t thought I was fat (even though I was). But kids – even eight-nine year old kids – are complicated and so for some simple and complicated reasons, I couldn’t run.
When I say I “couldn’t” run, I mean, I tried, of course. My legs moved as fast as they could, but the rest of my body didn’t get anywhere. Sometimes we played the version of catch where the den hopped one-legged, while everyone else ran around on both legs. This was the most humiliating thing ever, because the one-legged den would catch me without even making the slightest effort; and then it would be my turn to be den and everyone would get bored waiting for me to catch someone. Sometimes, they took pity on me and just let me give up. Sometimes they let me chase on both legs – but even then, someone would have to get bored and let themselves be caught or I’d just never catch anyone. The girls who were really fast even on one leg would scorn catching me altogether, and would take pride in going after the faster kids. It was horrible.
So of course I didn’t want to be subject to this humiliation, especially not on my birthday!
The only sport I was ever any good at in school was throwball, which didn’t involve any running. But that only lasted as long as I remained one of the taller girls in class. When everyone else overtook me in height, suddenly I wasn’t so popular on the throwball team anymore. But by then I’d found my niche, something I really was good at and which even most of the brainy boys looked up to me (and resented me) for: Maths.
The most excruciating years for being plump and slow, then, were from about 8 till about 15. By then, I managed to lose some of the puppy fat (though, in recent years, it has come bouncing back) and in school the emphasis shifted from being fast to being “fast”. And “fast” was something I discovered even I could be, glasses notwithstanding. So it mattered less and less how terrible I was at sports.
The “plump-and-lazy” gene I was born with has never gone into remission. Though I’ve enjoyed playing tennis the past five years, and before that have periodically enjoyed long, brisk walks, trekking, swimming, and badminton, I still consider myself essentially a plump-and-lazy person. But it has never bothered me… till now.
The twins have recently started talking about “running race”, which, apparently, is all they do in daycare. They’ve also started doing “fighting”. I don’t know if they specifically mentioned “catch” or whether the idea floated up on its own, but one evening Amit set both of them to work catching him. He is of course an alpha athlete and even dodging around furniture and electronics in the small, cluttered living room, the girls hadn’t a prayer of catching him, not even two-against-one. I tried teaching them strategy by getting Mrini to turn in her tracks at crucial moments, instead of both of them running around in circles behind him, but even so, he was much too fast and agile for them.
“Your turn,” said Amit, grinning at me.
Well, when he did it, it looked easy, so I agreed. I didn’t last thirty seconds! I tried again and again, and though I did get a little better at it, I still didn’t last beyond a minute or two. After a bit, Mrini took pity on me and retired from the game, leaving Tara and me one-on-one. By this time, Tara was really good at it. I stood behind one chair and she stood in front of it, bouncing from side to side like a Kabbadi player. She swung her arms and jiggled her body for comic effect, so that I almost died laughing, but she bounced in a professional manner all the same, pinning me to my corner behind the chair. Every time I made a run for it, she caught me right away. I was so proud of both of them – they would never have to struggle the way I did when kids around them wanted to play running games.
It was hysterically good fun and by the end of half an hour, we were all tired and sweaty. But though I laughed and enjoyed just as much as everyone else did, a slight tinge of that old sense of humiliation came back to haunt me. I could hardly believe it – despite the trekking, the tennis, the numerous futile attempts at dieting, was I, at 36, so plump-and-lazy that even a four-year-old girl could catch me in thirty seconds? What was even worse was the next thought: So many years, and nothing’s changed. I still can’t run and I’m still ashamed of it.