A shuttle in the wind that ruffled my feathers

Have you ever tried playing badminton outdoors? It’s a different sport in itself.

And I’m talking about windy outdoors, where along comes a “gentle” breeze, does a little tango with the shuttle, fucks up your point and briskly walks away from the crime scene.

“What are you gonna do, huh punk?” and swoosh, it’s gone.

Someone at some point of time must have thought “let’s take the most exhaustive racket sport, one that’s based on the flight and trajectory of a cork-end attached to assorted feathers (FEATHERS!), and play it in the open, in the wind. Wouldn’t it be rad?”

I think that’s where the domestication of badminton began. Now, it exists in two forms — the intense, sweaty, exhausting, indoor, non-windy, serious version, and the garden variety badminton you played with your cousins on a Sunday afternoon, with a side helping of tea, biscuits, and summer loo.

But was badminton meant to be casual? Was it meant to be like evening tea and chitchat?

It started out as jeu de volant, or battledore and shuttlecock, in British India. You know, when the colonists weren’t busy looting and plundering a colony, exploiting its resources and people, and flogging mutineers, they played cricket and badminton. Fine ladies in frock, hitting the shuttle back and forth with the solitary aim to keep it in the air (totally opposite to what professional players go for these days, by the way).

It later took its name from the Badminton House, a sprawling country manor in Badminton village, Gloucestershire, England. Many consider it the home of the sport.

Proper badminton, the non-windy type, is played with rackets made out of graphite or aluminium — stuff that goes into building a fighter jet. They are lightweight, maneuverable, fast and sexy and are nothing like biscuits or tea. They are more like a viper and cocaine. Or a viper on cocaine.

So, back to the garden variety badminton. My post-graduate college had all but a single table tennis table and an outdoor badminton court in the name of recreational facilities available to a batch 150 students. After 5, when we were done with classes, the table tennis area would become a bazaar. It was like a bare-knuckle boxing ring — a teeming crowd encircling the area of the fight. And contrary to bare-knuckle boxing, everyone wanted to go next.

And then there was the badminton court, right beside the water tank, which was beside the clothesline. And the court surface was made of one material that you must not play badminton, in fact any pivotal sport, on — concrete!

There was never a big line to play badminton, except on days when it was fashionable. And in Chennai, fashionable days maybe few, but everyday was a windy one. The sea was a stone’s throw away from our college, for fuck’s sake. So, shuttlers would be going at it and then right in the middle of a point, a gush of wind would blow from the West and fuck everyone’s shit up. And it would not stop. Players, meanwhile, would just stand and stare at each other or chitchat, as they waited for the right time to resume playing.

And these interruptions became a regular feature in badminton games. After a point, people weren’t even annoyed.

Now, competitive badminton is played indoors, on a wooden court, under halogens, in flat-sole shoes. There’s lots of grunting, lots of swearing, and lots of sweating. But there’s no tea or biscuits, and there’s definitely no wind. The funny thing at our college was that the sport had been tamed, but the participants were feral. And I always wondered; why are you guys taking outdoor badminton so seriously? Why are you trying to defeat each other when you both have already lost to the wind?

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