Bouncing back to life

August 31, 2020. US Open 2020 commenced at the Flushing Meadows, first Grand Slam to witness since curtains went down at the Australian Open 2020 in February. It is another US Open, unlike any other though. There would be innumerable aces, long rallies, powerful cross-court shots, killer drop shots; without any fans to witness though.  Moreover, with major stars having bowed out, more uncertainty about the quality of competition looms. Courtesy: Covid-19 outbreak.

In the meanwhile, back home in Kashmir, lawn tennis activity at J&K Sports Council-owned Gindun Sports Complex, Raj Bagh has resumed with safety protocol in place. Lawn tennis courts at Gindun  have been opened for registered members with activities picking up throughout the day. Morning and evening are the busiest as professionals, businessmen, students etc. all seen grappling on the synthetic courts in course of a win or a loss, only end up exchanging forehand, backhand and service techniques theory. It is all camaraderie flowing.

Covid-19 having snatched millions of lives has not even spared those alive across the globe, Kashmir being no exception. Newspapers here quoting the number of deaths – averaging around a dozen a day now – are horrendous to those alive. And beyond death, the uncertainty about future – course on development on various Covid graphs, vaccine invention, reopening of schools, resumption of economic activities across all the sectors, restoration of social gatherings – is stressful.                                 

Of all the melancholies this virus has inflicted, health-wise, restricted socialization and its ramifications – docile life and behavioural fatigue-are more dangerous. With the onset of Covid pandemic, health clubs, sports stadia, gymnasiums, swimming pools and other sports infrastructure have lost all hustle and bustle. Otherwise busy Sher-i-Kashmir indoor stadium having correctly been converted into a Covid-19 rehabilitation centre, has left badminton, table tennis, body-building etc. lovers life sedentary.  But with steady unlocking, lawn tennis players here have resumed their sporting activities, thanks to the proactive Manager Gindun stadium and his team. 

Mushtaq Zargar (Manager) boasts of its only Government-owned lawn tennis courts in Kashmir valley with intake capacity of 100 members, with more than 30 active registered members. He further adds that Gindun thematically reflects sports – housing a gymnasium, lawn tennis courts and other sports facilities like table tennis, swimming pool etc. which on the anvil.                   

During prime time slots (morning 6 to 9 and evening 4-7), one finds a lot of activity on the courts with all players busy –  doubles teams on the courts in pursuit of defeating the opponent, and those in the waiting praying for a quick rap up, mentally preparing for their turn to fight it out on the court. 

Shahjahan Khan owner of a renowned food packaging firm and a registered member at the courts shares his experience as, “lawn tennis at Gindun positively impacts my life. I stay fit and with every hit of a ball, I am able to counter the frustration and pressure I experience during normal course of life. Moreover, it inculcates habit of fighting back. From 0-40 in a game down or  1-5 down during a set, you can always turn the table and win the game/set. ”

On the quality of Gindun courts Shahjahan comments, “courts are good but need routine maintenance in line with standard maintenance protocols.”    

Engineer Javed Dar – a versatile sportsman with cricket, football, badminton and volleyball skills under his belt, despite his professional and social commitments, manages a time slot for lawn tennis at Gindun. Javaid says, “playing lawn tennis at Gindun stadium has helped me not only to remain physically fit, but also to gain mental strength.”

Another lawn-tennis-crazy at the courts Tahhafuz, known for his aces, finds a healthy culture at the courts. Tahhafuz says, “ lawn tennis is inherently all about positivity. Players from all walks of life competing for each point on the courts, only end up exchanging forehand, backhand and service techniques theory.” For him, lawn tennis at Gindun courts fosters camaraderie.  

Zahoor Sideeq, a professional working in a power-sector company in Mumbai, has recently attained membership at the courts after returning to Kashmir amid the pandemic. Zahoor, an avid tennis player, having experience of playing in different tennis courts in Mumbai like Malabar Hill Club and Bombay Gymkhana expresses, “during these times, lawn tennis at Gindun stadium has helped a lot to remain healthy and relaxed. For me the game of lawn tennis has acted like a relief valve to the lockdown stress.” Compared to the lawn tennis courts Zahoor has played on in Mumbai, he is satisfied with the quality of courts, albeit pointing out lack of some basic facilities at Gindun like washrooms, water cooler, change rooms, lockers etc.              

If we judge the quality of synthetic courts and ancillary facilities at Gindun by the amount of fee charged by the Council from each member under different age groups, it is reasonable with 3 good quality synthetic courts, fenced by steel wiring. The courts also have four flood lights – two each on the east and west end of the court; albeit non-functional. However, given the fact that Gindun is Government-owned sports complex, the facilities are expected to be of standard quality.  At the courts one does not find basic facilities like a toilet, a change room, player and umpire chairs, a practice wall, drinking water dispenser, lockers or a store for safekeeping of personal equipment, which are otherwise quintessential to any standard lawn tennis court. Flood lights already installed, need “switch on”.

While there are some qualitative gaps at Gindun lawn tennis courts to be worked upon by the Sports Council, but for players, Gindun is a fascinating venue to play, work out and make friends.           

Covid-19 may have inflicted melancholy, crumbled economy, created uncertainty and induced docility; yet despite all odds, lawn tennis at Gindun fosters camaraderie.