Over the last couple of weeks, I came across some excellent sports writing features which I thought I should blog about.

Mary Kom: India’s Shot at Gold by Rahul Bhattacharya was published in More Intelligent Life in the July/August 2012 issue is an excellent and insightful study of arguably the best sportswoman in India today.

The portrait photograph itself tells its own story and the text quietly fills in the details. There are a couple of lines which made me pause and reflect:

When she walks the streets of Delhi with her fellow north-eastern athletes, they are sometimes mistaken for Nepali domestic help. “I tell them we are not Nepali, we are Manipuri, so don’t speak like that, this is very bad manners.” At other times they are taunted with the gibberish dispensed to those with oriental features: “Something ching ching ching ching they start speaking, I don’t know what. Even they don’t know what! We are feeling bad. We are Indian. Ya, the face is different. But heart is Indian.”

This sentiment could be attacked by the more extreme Manipuri insurgents. But if Mary retires as an Olympic gold-medallist, she knows her life will be forever changed; and with it, a little bit, her country’s standing in the world.

I will leave it to all of you to contemplate this.

I bought Rahul Bhattacharya’s debut novel “Sly Company of People Who Care” which is based in Guyana. Those who have read Rahul’s cricket writing are aware of his talent as a wordsmith. The novel itself, while I have not read it fully, had me convinced enough in the first few pages which I flipped through in the bookstore to immediately put it into my shopping basket. It is lying on my bookcase waiting to be read, which I will once I finish this set of National Geographic back issues which I found tucked away in some cupboard while renovating my house.

Pinki Pramanik is the woman accused of being a man. In this piece in Open, Anirban Bandhopadhyay does not try to investigate and solve the mystery. In fact, that part of the story is dealt with quite matter-of-factly in the article. Rather, it opens more questions – about the definition of gender both from a biological point of view and a cultural point of view; about the Indian legal system; about life of athletes once they fade away from the spotlight; about lifestyle preferences of people and the social reaction to them. Questions which serve two purposes – first it puts away all the morons who try to rationalise and come up with linear cause-and-effect answers which instead of simplifying the issue only make it trivial and simplistic. Second, it takes a seemingly small local crime beat news item and puts it up as a trigger for discussing and engaging with deeper social constructs that govern us (including human rights). Here is an example:

“I don’t understand why everyone is so caught up with doctors and tests,” says Sanjib Guchhait, the partner’s lawyer, “You define a man by his uninhibited sexual life with a woman, isn’t it? This girl says Pinki had all the sexual features and capabilities of a man, and that alone seems to be strong enough evidence.”

The implication, it would seem, is this: anyone who drives motorcycles, drinks beer, displays aggression, swears freely, wears T-shirts and trousers, has sex with a woman and assaults a sexual partner must be a man.

+++

Is an individual’s gender then a function of how her actions are experienced and perceived by those around her? “No,” says Dr Partha Datta, a senior psychiatrist and specialist in psycho-sexual disorders. “There are clear medical parameters to determine an individual’s gender.”

A medically proven woman behaving like a man – will Pinki Pramanik face greater flak if she is proven to be a “he” or if she is proven to be a “she”? In the first case there are legal implications including the Asian Games gold medal at Doha and other events. But in the second case, there is the question of “character”, that classic quality of which Indian women are expected to exhibit at all times. Questions.

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