Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Caddie (Fiction)

Shamminder Kaur had started playing golf at thirty years of age. It made her stand out amongst the majority Indian women on the courses around the country who were either in their late teens or past their forties when they first picked up a club. “Don’t copy me, I have learnt it all wrong,” she was fond of saying. Her self-deprecating statements confused her playing partners; the words just did not go with the spectacular flights she sent her drives on from their flying tees. Many a mouth would follow agape the stunning trajectories her driver smacked the balls onto.

They made for a brittle bunch, the women pushing against the velvety fairway with bodies past their primes, spongy egos and spirits leveled by life’s ravages. Barely beneath their polite masks lay something raw and stinging. It called for a curious mix of stubborn courage after all and bruised sensitivity to step onto a public space such as the golf course, a complete novice. For even in the civilized world of the gentlemen’s game, there was caddie chatter, stolen looks assessing one’s golf swing, triangular updates on how the game was progressing with the others and unsolicited advice from the male golfers. For the odd woman that flowered, she did so under a cloying cloud of low expectations and that indulgent air.

“You know, they should have prizes for every lady in a tournament. This way, everyone goes home happy. Better to distribute it all than to give only one lady the trophy.” In this conspiracy of the mediocre, it suited everyone to keep peace, for women did make for bad losers. They came to golf at such established phases of their lives that it made it difficult for them to come to terms with their temperamental golfing. Many preferred to play with the non-judgmental men for this reason rather than with another woman and her strong sense of the right and wrong.

So there it was, one pearly daybreak on the Clover Greens, a drama unfolding in this world of unmet challenges. The polished exterior of the Golf Club just about kept from the public view, the gladiatorial desire of everyone from the Manager downwards to see Shamminder pitted against Aarti, the only other woman golfer of self-belief there. A late bloomer, Aarti negotiated the golf ball with pure will, no skill for her. “Just keep hitting, I barely spent one month in the practice bay, it comes by playing,” the feisty one was fond of sharing her hands-on experience with the tentative new entrants to the game. Having played several years as the club’s sole woman golfer, it had become hard to tell self-delusion from an undeniable talent. “I carry home most of the trophies,” was a refrain of sorts with her. Blessed with a tenacious desire to win, Aarti had one flaw.  Even in a game where players blamed any and everything for a bad score, Aarti had made an art of dumping each of her golfing misfortunes on her caddie. Little wonder that Teepu’s face had come to arrange itself in five dimensions, each of them confused on what to hold and where to stretch.

Like two combatants fighting for the post of Prima Donna, Clover Greens, Shammi and Aarti would stalk each other on the course most days, assessing and waiting to prove their superiority. Before long, the opportunity presented itself in the form of a Pink Golf Tournament for a Cause. The club inhaled deeply, then waited to exhale. Would Aarti take the bait and pair up against Shamminder?

Everyone got to work, forces were drawn up and the penultimate day schedule launched. Adequate rest, special putting ball, sunscreen in place, glares firmly sitting on the noses; the two took their places in ceremonial golf slacks. 

“I want a caddie who will not open his mouth at all today,” Aarti faced the Caddie Master, a fidgety Teepu skulking near the tournament bulletin board. Shammi’s regular caddie was accompanying her; a buzz had begun though, over Teepu’s replacement. Equally suddenly, the din subsided around the ongoing arbitration. Aarti interrupted the Caddie Master’s embarrassed stuttering rudely, “It’s alright. Let it be. I will take Teepu but he better not squeak today!”

And the game was off the tee with two clean, metallic notes. Like the two seasoned golfers they were, Shammi and Aarti made rhythmic progress. One played with joy, the other with a burning desire to win. Shammi had to curb her usual impulsiveness whence she would stop and wave at the wild life on the beautiful landscape. Aarti staying focused, swinging and pitching with power and precision. A day would come, like it did for every golfer, when their bodies would not cooperate but in the heat of the competition, that sobering thought was farthest from their minds.

Even in the tense scribbles on the scoring cards, the meditative nature of the golf course reigned around them. A fuzzy rich moistness curled upwards to their nostrils, the sun dithering in the wings, not ready to step out in all its golden glory yet. It was a charmed hour and all was right with the world.

Aarti drew in a sharp gasp all of a sudden; the ball had caught the shaft end, ricocheting into a dismal slice. She glared at Teepu, her eyes flashing. “Run ahead and wait for me near the ball!” her voice commanded with urgency. The caddie scrambled ahead in a mum flurry. His player though had beaten him to it and was already addressing the wedged in ball, “Watch me now, I am going to punch it well out then hit past that tree ahead to take the dogleg,” she called over her shoulder.

True to her word, Aarti went to work, executing her plan with force and resoluteness. Releasing her breath with relief as she looked up at the ball in flight, she turned to Teepu with an uncharacteristically goofy grin, “How about that? You can speak now. I give you permission. Come on, how did you like that shot? Speak a bit louder. I can’t hear you.”

Teepu cleared his throat and repeated himself, a shade louder the second time, “That was not your golf ball Mayam (Teepu lingo for Ma'am)!”

No comments: