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I’ve been in Bangalore all my life; a running joke would be that I’ve been here 21 years but truth be told, add 6 more years to round it up to about a 27.
My folks are a sporty bunch while the rest of my family are wholly immersed in Academia – Docs, Lawyers, Engineers – we’ve got ‘em all and how! Ivy league, too!
Footballers? Nah. :) A woman footballer? Yes! And that would be me :
From what age are you playing Football?
I have been interested in sports from when I started studying Grade One at The Valley School – I would take part in track and field events all thru’ middle school as well as a smattering of team sports – Basketball, Softball, Volleyball; some Badminton, TT and of course the beautiful game of Football from the age of about twelve.
What made you choose Football?
I was a sickly child while I was growing up – I had a life-threatening surgery at the age of 7 and went on a downward spiral of illnesses due to a feeble immune system that resulted in a very exhausting childhood. Sport made it better to cope and football kept me going.
Some boys told me I couldn’t chip the ball while we were playing one day. Oh boy! Did I love a challenge? In some sort of style, I chipped the ball to the fella who was waiting to receive on the right wing - it landed perfectly at his toes. It was one stepping stone to a huge push of confidence to Do, Be, Focus better and to eventually play competitively.
The repercussion was also that my health stabilized after my footballing antics took off on a surge and made me believe in my body’s ability to heal itself whilst playing football!
Football has been a major part of my life and continues to be something I am deeply passionate about even to this day.
What is your biggest personal achievement so far?
Back in 2003, I made my debut on the Karnataka State Team. I was thirteen years old, and football was in its nascent stages overall in the country- for women, you could call it a seed that was just unwatered and uncared for. The extension of that meant that nobody could have cared two hoots to have age categories for us to actually take ourselves seriously. The team that I played for was the only category that existed for five more years until someone, somewhere woke up– ‘Senior’ which meant that I played with a couple of my coaches who were in their late 20s or early 30’s while I was tweening to teening. We did OK in my first nationals in Imphal, Manipur and reached the quarters until we got kicked out in the knockouts to our hosts Manipur 0 goals to 2.
Manipur also went on to win the tournament and have consistently been one of the two states winning each year (the other being Orissa)
Any funny or interesting story from the field that you can remember?
We were playing one of our Senior Football Nationals in 2014 in Assam against Haryana; Haryana was sledging just a bit, it’s a part of the competitive sport. But towards the end of the second half, one of our teammates got triggered and suddenly there were two red cards for our team, fisticuffs, screeching, lines-women getting whacked with corner flags and a hysterical two teams mixed with a nice dose of bloodshed and a teammate stretchered into the ambulance and shipped to the hospital immediately. It was hilarious… But only now when I think about it as a movie flashback! Can you imagine the intensity of the situation? It was incredulous and pretty funny :D I remember this incident vividly. Good memories!
What is it like for a girl to play football in India?
Playing football in itself is considered a pretty ‘jock’ activity; after that, if you’re a girl/woman footballer there’s always two sides to the coin:
You are immediately put on a pedestal as a goddess with people who adore the sport and a small role model to others who’d like to be inspired
BUT “you’ll become muscle-y, no one will marry you” “you look black” “too thin” “your thighs are huge” “football is for boys” “you play good for a girl” “why don’t you focus on studying” … the tosh you must be able to shield yourself from and dust yourself off of constantly (sometimes, unfortunately, even to this day..)
Do you feel any kind of gender disparity in the game?
I’ve been raised quite gender neutral and I have been a typical Enid Blyton’s ‘Georgina’ of The Famous Five fame AKA quite the tomboy. Climbing trees was a passion, wearing shorts to school was the norm. Playing football was as inclusive as it got… but always with a section of a mature society and I don’t necessarily mean the educated or the rich ;)
Rest of it was the ‘questions’ I’ve had to hear over the years like a stuck record.
In terms of the State Governing Body and it’s the way towards Women’s football – it’s a bit of a joke, let’s be honest. The two coaches I have trained under are pretty much self-made, strong-willed women who did their bit to fuel the women’s footballing brigade in the 2000s but definitely with mediocre spends. The main stadium in Bangalore had men/boys training early mornings and evenings so our training slots invariably would be during the afternoons in scalding heat!
We were once at Faridabad in 2008-09 for another Nationals and out of curiosity, I asked the ‘head chef’ how much money was allotted for a day’s worth of meals for the athletes – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and a tea time snack with tea of course; I was told he was given Rs. 100 per head. It was plain ridiculous – runny dal, bread that tasted like flat-hard breadsticks, etc coupled with despicable accommodation and filthy bathrooms.. overall an absolute disaster. The men I’m sure were perhaps going through the same nonsense, but I reckon at 200 per male human form ;)
The Nationals would be called off for women some years erratically, no leagues, training facilities were outdated, etc. While it was the same for the lads on some themes, it was always focused on more and definitely got a lot more funding and priority
What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced in your journey in terms of unavailability of gear etc.
I’m barely 5’2 and my feet are sized 35 EU. Yep, this means all my life I have bought kids shoes.
While it’s a great starter joke at parties - It’s a bit of a headache J for the cushioning and the feel of the ball because kids don’t have specific boots depending on the style of play; that leaves you with either no ball feel or too much of it along with a ridiculous half circle shape in the front.
They’re also usually in extravagant colours – I wore them anyway and made it through but I wish we had some cool colour options. I’ve had only one pair of BRIGHT red shoes I have genuinely adored for how they fit me and my style of play- I had tried to salvage them for many years. No other pair has come close and I’ve had at least ten pairs over the years.
Apparels were always bought at the men’s section – so the fit was men-sy; and so I’ve always had baggy clothes that I have liked and never complained about. Having some women’s fitted clothes would be quite a welcome change too.
What would you like to tell other girls to encourage them to play the sport?
Girls and womenfolk of today, listen up!!!
Cut the naysayers and background noise of your brothers/aunties/neighbours (who are so terribly bored in their lives that they resort to a full-time job in the ‘women’s football - to play or not to play’ advisory board. Play to your heart’s content – no sport is meant only for one specific gender. Just play and you’ll fall in love with the beautiful game I ASSURE you.
Football, in general, has come a long way; whilst in general women are pushing boundaries, it applies to football too. We are still a second priority but I can already see a huge push to capitalise on the number of women who are picking up the sport these days! There was a league conducted in Karnataka for 6 odd women’s teams! From only THIS state! At age twelve, I would have scoffed if we found more than 40 of us who could understand, training and play the game.
The last Nationals I went for, we were put up at a clean hotel with all women referees and decent food. Please don’t hesitate to try out for State anymore J
Women are a powerhouse, I have seen in my teammates who have come back from broken thighs, ACL’s and whatnots and continued in their footballing journey... Footballers are a cool, global community and you’ll forever learn the spirit of teamwork, determination, hard work, loss, wins, and discipline with a ball at your feet.
You’ll also be a hero when you nutmeg a boy ;) Just kidding (No, but really)
Football’s changed my life, given me direction and helped me bust some silly stereotypes and even surprise myself with my capabilities.