3:33 Sports Short #54 // Connections by Vandana Khanna

Filed under: 3:33 Sports Shorts, Blog |

Thousands of miles away and 10 hours into a new day, my grandfather would call me, when his phone line was working, to talk McEnroe and Connors, Lendl and Amritraj. Tennis was the one of the few things a nine year old in America and a 60 year old in India had in common. We would watch the matches separated by oceans and time zones and continents, me on the small boxed TV in our cramped living room in Virginia, he on his first-ever color TV in Greater Kailash. Over the random static and echoed voices of a typical transatlantic phone call, we would talk shots and drama.

At three dollars a minute, we had to get to the important stuff quickly: what of Lendl’s serve, Connor’s backhand? Did I see McEnroe smashing another racket on the court? What did I think were the chances of an Indian player ever winning Wimbeldon? It was these brief conversations that bridged the distance between our lives, that brought me closer to the world that my parent’s had left behind. This was a connection that became uniquely ours. It had me up early mapping out every match on the program guide at the back of the newspaper, had me listening to commentary on Navratilova’s serve and volley so I had something to offer up, something to fill in the awkward silences when our voices failed and cracked in between his country and mine.

Soon, watching from the couch wasn’t enough for me and it was an old black and white photo of my grandfather in a blurry row of young men holding rackets that pushed me out on to the courts. His stories of garden parties and tennis matches and country clubs had me pulling out my own racket year after year, practicing my topspin and slice on neighborhood courts all over the city. I spent too many humid hours hitting a tennis ball unsuccessfully across the net or over the fence into the next court, begging my parents for lessons each spring once the air got warm and soft.

Years accumulated and I never got very good but my love for all things tennis solidified, resisted my mediocre strokes: the sunburns and white shorts, the yellow fuzz of the ball, the way my wrist ached when I hit the wrong spot on my strings. It was the first time I loved something I wasn’t very good at. But it was those conversations every championship final where my grandfather and I talked fist pumps and tiebreaks that still stay with me every time I sit in front of the TV watching match after match. It was how we belonged to each other in a language we knew best—game, set, match.

Vandana Khanna’s first poetry collection, Train to Agra, won the Crab Orchard Review First Book Prize and her second collection, Afternoon Masala, was the winner of the 2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in the New England Review, The Missouri Review and Prairie Schooner, as well as the anthologies Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, and Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry.