While Amma is passionate about sports, Appa just cannot understand what the hype is all about. But she has allies in my sister and me.

What growing up with a sports-obsessed mother taught me about life and learningAmma looking at the Football World Cup schedule pasted on the door.
Blog Blog Wednesday, June 27, 2018 - 12:12

It was June 9, 1990. Cameroon had done the unthinkable. They had defeated World Cup champions Argentina, led by the great Diego Maradona.

Two images remain engraved in my memory forever. One that was playing on the television - Claudio Caniggia brought down by Benjamin Massing, which also meant the end of my footballing hero Maradona’s career. Another was playing at home the tension between Amma and Appa.

Appa believed that sports were another form of entertainment (now that I think of it he was so right!!). He ardently believed that it makes us unproductive. He simply could not understand the 'adrenaline rush' that is associated with sports.

And, on the other hand, Amma loved sports and learned to appreciate games like cricket, football and tennis by observing and listening to the commentary. She loved Sunil Gavaskar, Maradona and Martina Navratilova. Appa, whose sleep was broken by the commotion, was surprised to see his son crying, but was aghast to see his otherwise stoic wife heartbroken for an alien sport and for a faraway country, Argentina.

I will never forget his reaction all my life.

Amma, Meenakshi, born in Coimbatore, was born in a middle-class Tamil family. She was a promising student; however, economic conditions and the general apathy towards girl children’s education means she did not study beyond Class 10.

But that did not stop her from learning. Binaca Geetmala and Ameen Sayani were her windows to Bollywood. After her marriage, radio commentary became her medium to fall in love with cricket. The Football World Cup and Wimbledon television telecast helped her fall in love with more 'alien' sports like tennis and football.

The fact that her husband was not attracted to sports meant that she learned about the game by meticulously watching the proceedings and listening to the commentary closely. She would follow it up by reading about it in the newspaper or a sports magazine.

She often tells me how she struggled to understand the idea of a deuce and advantage in tennis as she was not aware of the existence of a word ‘deuce’. It took her a great bit of persistent observation to decipher this unique format in tennis to break a tie.  

Amma at the Centre Court in Wimbledon.

At times her battle was lonely as not many in the family had similar likings as her. It was not until my sister and I grew up that she found someone to share her passion for sports with.

It is with extreme doggedness that she seeks to learn new things.

Years later we went to see Wimbledon; we saw a game at the Centre Court. She was as excited as a child when we got tickets for the London Olympics.

I had promised her a trip to Europe and asked her to select the places of her choice.

She chose Switzerland (her love for Bollywood, I guess), Paris and then she asked me if we could watch a football match at Camp Nou. She wanted to see her favourite Lionel Messi play.

Amma and the author at the London Olympics.

This year, I am home in Coimbatore for the Football World Cup. Amma has meticulously updated her knowledge about the teams (Panama and Iceland playing their first World Cup) and had stuck the schedule of the tournament on the door.  

I ask her who should win. Amma says, "I want Messi to win, a player of his calibre needs a cup to sign off. A bit like Tendulkar needed a cup before he retired."

How could I argue with her? Nothing has changed - her spirit, her keenness to learn and her strong opinion.

I remember she always made coffee for me during the late-night games. I told her to take a nap for I can wake her up and make coffee for her; after all, I can do this bit for the lady who taught me to observe, learn, and keep learning.

She is still a child, and I am holding on to the one in me.

SS Venkateswaran returned to India after an 8-year stint in the UK. Before moving to Bengaluru, he will watch the Football World Cup 2018 with his Amma in Coimbatore.

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