Of Medals And Men, Or, How One Man Boosted My Self-Esteem By Doing Very Little

Ah, topical blogging. How I’ve missed you.

The first time I flirted with co-curricular success, I was given a merit card and a bright yellow badge to pin onto my Uniform, in addition to my House badge (Bronte all the way!), which I treasured so dearly. It was one of my greatest moments, having beaten my classmates in spelling the most complex words, such as, but not limited to, c-a-t, b-a-t, and s-c-h-o-o-l. What, five letter spellings? At three years old? Yes. And Yes. Yours truly had announced himself to the world. I could see it in my little brown eyes, in the distance. People queuing up for my autograph, people waiting for photos, while I wore my sunglasses and smiled.

In my world, I was a rockstar. The parental love affirmed this.

This trend continued. I brought home merit cards for things like poetry recitation, show &tell, singing, drama, and, my favourite, “Student of the Month”. Merit Cards were all I cared for outside of my studies, and the little cardsheet squares are treasured possessions till date. I was the talk of the town in Kindergarten, with the Gold stars my friends & I had collectively accumulated for our row. We won the “Best Row” award for two years in succession.

And that’s when first grade happened.

You see, children don’t understand “success”, and schools capitalize on sporting participation by incentivizing it to levels that are unimaginable. Can we get everyone to do a drill? Of course. Then by all means, let’s make all the parents sit on steps and cheer for their kid who is one beat out of sync with everybody else (that was me). I wore floats while swimming, tripped repeatedly while running, ran out of breath within 10 minutes of starting any sport.

The rules of sport were pretty well-defined, however. You were chubby? Goalkeeper. You were good at Math? Scorekeeper.  You had a bat or football, you got to pick who you wanted on your team. You had a bat or football? You decided how long people played. You had izzat and aukaat. A rare combination.

I was knock-kneed and had flat feet, which meant I tripped everywhere I went. I was also extremely, extremely chubby, and I couldn’t tie my shoelaces. Add all that with the schedule of studying and reading set up for me at home, and I was your quintessential nerd. Not for a lack of trying though. My parents enrolled me for classes or coaching in every single sport that is known to man. I think the only thing I haven’t tried till date is horse-riding, and anything related to it.

Nobody handed out medals for academic/co-curricular success. And thereby begins my tale.

I got certificates and merit cards, and was overjoyed, only to discover the adulation and celebration was reserved for those who were presented with medals and got to stand atop a podium, biting their medals for a photograph.

Those medals. How I longed for them. I wailed after Sports Days, merely because the only thing I got out of it was a ribbon. Or some other piece of memorabilia. As a child, I couldn’t cope with the horror of being bad at sports. And I was severely disillusioned by the fact that nerds didn’t get medals. So much so, that my parents recently informed me that they considered buying me a medal and a trophy. Just so I could feel like a part of the crowd.

That was until I got a Cricket Trophy. Just for participation. But still. A Trophy to keep at home, one that was all mine. My father was there for the entire duration of that match, and watched me wicket-keep, miss a stumping, but go on to play 20 balls of pace bowling and remain not out. He was proud. I was just happy and excited. There’s a photograph of this moment somewhere – I need to dig it out.

I still had 0 medals though. And it ached, and ached, because I kept trying to get my hands on one, but it never came.

Till I met Prem sir. Prem sir is my Basketball coach. He took me inn when I was in the 6th Grade, when my friends made fun of me for missing baskets from underneath the board, and over the course of 4 years, nurtured me into exploiting one side of the Court, enough to ensure that my friends didn’t make fun of me anymore.

I’m not an excellent basketball player, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it took a lot of work from him, every weekend, to ensure I had the confidence in my ability, and trusted my body enough – to coordinate with my brain, to run without thinking, and ensure I didn’t fall.

It worked wonders. I was happier, finally found a sport I was reasonably good at, and I began to enjoy playing – something I had only experienced with Hockey and Cricket before.

But I still didn’t have a medal.

It took me 14 years to get a medal of my own. Prem sir did this amazing thing where he brought together every community he coached at and hosted a tournament for every age group. Nobody went home feeling sad – it was mostly a celebration of how much we had learnt under him.

He didn’t have favourites, we were all his kids. And he took care of us on that day. Everyone went home with a medal of some kind, and a trophy to boot.

Nobody cares about the nerds in school. Nobody gives them medals.

Except Prem sir.

That small piece of metal changed the way I looked at myself for years to come. And I’m immensely grateful for him. All it took was the desire to recognize sportsmanship, and reward a bit of mediocrity. In times where meritocracy is failing, I think it’s alright to do that. Help people believe in themselves a little more.

On that note, I think #MedalsforNerds should trend soon. Maybe on Twitter or something. #NerdPride

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