Football, or ‘The Beautiful Game’, is not so much a game as it is a religion. And, in the words of Karl Marx, “Religion (read: football) is the opiate of the masses.” Crazy as it may seem in a cricket-loving nation like ours, football can unite as well as divide the masses in a way that nothing else can.
I was very young when I first started playing football in my building compound with my brother and his friends. Initially, I wasn’t allowed to play and was told that the game was only for boys. But then – just in time – the film Bend it like Beckham released, and thus began the best years of my life: I went on to represent first my school (Bombay Scottish,) college (HR), club (Bombay Gymkhana & Kenkre Football Club), and district (Mumbai, Maharashtra), before finally getting selected for the women’s national Indian team.
I believe passion for something comes from a deep belief in oneself. But on the field, I realised we weren’t 11 individuals, we were one single unit. The best part about the game is that it makes you believe – in yourself, others, the game, and that just anything is possible.
The game also offers so much exposure: Having been born and brought up in Mumbai, I’ve been shielded all my life. It was only while I was touring different cities across India with my team that I got exposed to people from various backgrounds, each with their own experiences and stories.
Whether intended or not, the girls I’ve played with have taught me a lot about time management, priorities, hard work, the importance of family, and much more. Some of us who braved the conditions surrounding the sport were passionate about the game. But there were girls who played so they could make a career for themselves – many of them were promised jobs in the Railways if they played for their respective states.
I have never thought of making a career in football mainly due to the lack of facilities and infrastructure for the sport. For starters, there’s federation politics. It was because of these politics that the Indian women’s team didn’t play in the International tournament. But the worst part of being a woman in the game is that that, for two weeks, 20 teams of 20 players each shared just two bathrooms and had no electricity or water. You’d think these were inhumane conditions.
Unfortunately, for most of the players, this was ‘normal’. I hope that in future women find it safe and encouraging to pursue the sport without having to worry about issues of safety, equality and status.