Winning with Zoltan

ECLA of Bard Campus Badminton

In the 1970s, the Pakistani government recruited my father for civil service. He underwent training at a well-known local academy, thus preparing for a career in the government sector. The academy itself was established during Britain’s rule of the subcontinent; therefore, training bore an English influence in the academic and physical education curricula. Officers attended courses in world politics, law, history, and other geopolitically related subjects. At the same time, students honed their physical strength in activities like badminton, horse riding and swimming. My father, who comes from an exceptionally poor background, was perhaps only marginally acquainted with badminton (as it is often a sport reserved for the leisure class). Undaunted, he quickly took to it and emerged as a star. Years later, when my siblings and I were still young, my father would often reminisce over the days of his early youth and the time he spent at the Civil Services Academy playing badminton.

In the early 2000s, my two sisters (following my father’s example) also successfully passed the academy’s entrance exam and began their training for civil services. Despite us having received a much better upbringing than our father (as we were much more aware of and exposed to a variety of sports), our love for badminton remained the same. My sisters won various matches during their time in the academy and brought back similar stories of success. This thread of badminton spun around our lives and connected our youth to that of our father’s. Badminton thus remains for me a way to relive my father’s successes and his youth. It is a constant reminder of a man whose love and patience never leave my heart.

However, unlike my sisters, I always played badminton only inside the familiar circle. That is, until I came to Berlin, where to my surprise I found a host of others who play it very enthusiastically (including ECLA of Bard’s very own Residential Life Coordinator, Zoltan Helmich). Zoltan often entices students to energetic matches, as he did one afternoon advertising a badminton game for Sunday, the 14th of April. I could not help but long for it—especially since my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on that very Sunday. I went to Spok, the local gym, to play a game for my father. I teamed up with Zoltan, no doubt ECLA’s best badminton player. During the game, I thought of sending love and warmth back home, and secretly hoped that, no matter how insignificant this match might be, it definitely connects me with my family which is now scattered in almost all parts of the world. Zoltan and I made an excellent team, and we won a very humble round against students David Kretz and Lotte Braam.

In this manner, the campus life here offered a way for me to relive my childhood experiences and memories. In fact, my life in Berlin bears a strong resemblance to my childhood, since I constantly learn and unlearn lessons for life here. Be it through academic or leisure activities, I often find myself rediscovering the world all over again. And it is in the moments when I attempt to play a badminton match that I am completely transported to my backyard in Lahore, to a childhood of absolute warmth, love and unending curiosity.

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