Bounce, bounce, they go. Back and forth, the eyes follow them. SMASH! And the magic is lost. The delicate harmony that keeps them going is broken. The fight is over. Now the real game begins.
Table tennis has been a fast-growing sport in the schools of Dhaka in the past few years. Not every educational institution is lucky enough to have the large playing fields that most other sports demand. For places like these, table tennis is the perfect option. A standard table will not be much larger than the average dining table. Equipment comes cheap too, if you're just playing for fun.
“We noticed that our students used to loiter around the campus during free periods. They would sit in groups and gossip, doing nothing productive whatsoever,” A games teacher tells us how their school decided to introduce the sport to the students, “Nowadays, I find kids who will bunk class just to play with their friends!” Yes, it's that addictive.
It's not just the high school kids that have caught on to the craze. Many private universities also have table tennis tables, and they are doing pretty well, too. And the best part is, unlike most sports which are male-dominated, table tennis seems to appeal to both girls and guys alike. The fact that it's a non-contact sport and the marked lack of sweat soaked T-shirts may have had something to do with it.
Those who play look at it as an interesting new hobby. Some are looking to put it on their CV when they apply for higher education. But most are just in it for the fun. “They brought in a table at school so I thought I'd give it a go,” says one A' Level student. “My friends all started playing, and I was getting tired of just watching them from the sidelines all the time,” says another.
Table tennis is also a blessing for those who are into sports but are not serious about playing themselves. It's a low-intensity activity, so there are no worries about pulling a muscle or spraining an ankle. Home kits are easy to set up on dining tables. And the more cousins you have on a rainy day, the better.
Of course, it's not all fun and games. Some people take their sport very seriously indeed. Table tennis tournaments are the next big thing after gaming contests. Ark Interactive, a non-profit organisation, recently organised a table tennis tournaments for charity with quite a turnout. This tells us that like underground football, table tennis has made its mark on the youth scene. And it's a good thing, too. With the sorry state of football and cricket, Bangladesh could do well to diversify a bit. And with so many young people getting into the sport at an early age, things can only look up.
It all just goes to show how a little bouncing ball can go a long, long way. Table tennis is definitely here to stay.
Last week our BetaWriter topic was Crooked. Quite a few entries turned up and the submission below, while appearing to be sappy on the surface, held the darker, heavier undertone of a conflicted soul. For next week, our topic is High Voltage. Submissions have to be within 500 words and have to be sent in to firstname.lastname@example.org before Sunday noon. Good luck.
By Samiha Matin
She was exactly the way he had ever imagined her to be: long, beautiful hair cascading down to her shoulders, full round lips, the elegant pose her face always displayed, protruding cheekbones, with a cleft at her chin. All these pictures had been seared into his mind ever since he was a young lad, who dreamt of love and happiness. Now, ten years later, he could hardly believe his luck.
She was perfect too, in every manner he could think of. His friends laughed at him, calling him 'crazy' and 'lovesick,' but he didn't care. For once, it didn't matter what others said. She was just too beautiful; he didn't even mind making a fool of himself for her. He often came home early from work and just stood there and stared at her remarkable features, feeling so proud of himself. Sometimes, when he was too enthusiastic and could hardly contain himself, he talked to her about absolutely anything that came to his mind. But most of the time, the days were passed in silence. It was the most comfortable feeling in the world, and he finally felt that someone understood him. It was almost as if they were made for each other.
However, love and life didn't go as smoothly as he planned. One night, he was so distraught by the overwhelming pressure at his job and problems with his family members that he finally lost it. He ended up punching her in the face. He cried all through the night after he hurt her. He even stopped counting the times he said sorry and cursed at himself. He couldn't help it, he was so mad at himself. How could he have ever laid a finger on her? What explanation would he give when everyone would come around? How could he stop the tears and guilt that was crashing down around his ears?
The next day, he sat in the corner of the gigantic hall where he worked, very sober and solemn. Everyone else was busy, tinkering with whatever it is that interested them. A woman, with a clipboard at her hand, came up to him with a smile and said, 'Let's see what we have here?'
He removed the cover without any dramatic sweeps and returned to his seat, with his face turned down.
'Ah, good piece of work, my boy. Extremely fine, but we do have a problem…'
He didn't even bother to look up.
'It seems so unrealistic, doesn't it? These eyelashes, eyelids, hair; it's almost like you've conjured up some sort of a perfect person. But… this nose here, it's crooked but that's what makes it so lifelike and beautiful. Almost like, pardon me if I'm mistaken, you hit it deliberately. You do know that the hardest job in any kind of art is to always produce a lifelike image of something; you've certainly done an amazing job with that nose. That's fine sculpting. Well done.'
He just stared at her expressionlessly.
I have heard you talk about her, in silent nights when our neighbourhood was knee deep in a puddle of darkness. From your stories I fabricated her; an arrogant, explosive persona. The stories hovered in the night air and made furrows into my mind, solidifying her essence.
I felt her presence in the faltering heat of the candle, for I knew you saw her there. She was the colour of the light you recited your poems by, in the hours after dinner when the electricity played hooky with us. You told me how her scorching beauty attracted the velvety moths whose flutters I only felt. In that hounding darkness, the only things real were the light of the candle, and the words you read from that book. All other things were only hazy outlines, effacing the boundaries between earthly and ethereal for a while.
“Where else do you see her?” I asked you. That was when you told me about the weddings. As the ornately done henna dried during the night, bits of it wore off, and she revealed glimpses of herself from behind the murky green. Then she became, for me, the smell of henna - not the chemical tang of recent years, but the earthy one that reminded me of caterpillars and things like that.
Sometimes I felt you growing irritable as I asked you whether she was the sari you were wearing, or whether the curtains threw dancing shadows of her on our walls, and yet at other times you told me that she was the colour of the tea that I was sipping. Then I thought of her as the unsweetened chai in my cup; the hard, round feel of the tealeaves between my thumb and index.
When I felt the cool monsoon wind on my face and shoulders, I asked you to describe the tangerine sky at sunset. I could hear about it over and over again, until it darkened to deep purple and the lights switched on with a click.
Reminiscing about your schooldays, you spoke of the mud and 'butterbuns'. I waited patiently until you came to the part where you would describe grandma's betel-stained lips, or the marigold wreaths that left yolk-coloured marks on your black and white saris on the twenty-first of February. You would take me to magic places with your words, but I would inevitably get stuck in the marshy swamps of Sundarbans, and make you retell the stories of the dwindling Bengal tigers. Sometimes I would hear about the rolling Orange County of California, where you learnt to love music for the first time.
Mournful afternoons would find me lying on my bed by the open window, absorbed in reverie. I would be fixated by her - she was Orange; a colour. A concept I would never understand. To me, she would always be the wail of a wedding shanai, the taste of tea on my tongue. A rare privilege it would be, to see her, to perceive her; catch a coveted glimpse of her with my unseeing eyes.
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