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The Dusty Racetrack
On the last of the steep steps, I turned around to help my grandmother. I knew she didn’t need it, yet it was the right thing to do. She was so comfortable and agile in her sari, yet I couldn’t imagine how she could walk up those stairs with a six foot flower-printed sari wrapped in some complicated way around her. Personally, if I had a long piece of cloth wrapped around me, the first thing I would do is fall. My grandmother, on the other hand, could climb, walk, and cook (her meals were the definition of perfection itself), all in her sari. My grandmother was vastly knowledgeable in many areas. She had lived in India, England, and the United States, and traveled many lands. She had learned English at a late age and learned to manage in a foreign country. She had experience that was worth more than gold itself.
As I pushed open the heavy door leading to the roof, a blast of the sultry desert air hit me in the face, whipping my hair about my head. I stepped out onto the dusty surface of the roof, my bare feet tingling in the heat. I swiftly climbed up the ladder that led to the top of the water tank to absorb the taste of India. The few trees in the area, which my grandmother had planted, were misted with a pale green, from the new leaves that were sprouting. The wind was tossing up aromatic scents of dinner: fresh cilantro, roasted cumin seeds, and sautéed onions. Rising from the street below were the excited peals of laughter from the neighborhood kids playing an intense game of cricket.
My grandmother yelled at me to get down from atop the water tank, due to her constant fear that I would somehow tumble off the roof, which I may add had a railing around it. I obliged to her request, knowing that she would not rest until I did so. I jumped down, and tiptoed hastily across the sweltering floor to sit next to my
grandmother on a large green bench. The end of her sari was tossed over her shoulder and as the wind blew, it fluttered along like a lone butterfly. Her single braid hung down her back, unlike my hair, which seemed to be engaged in a furious battle with the desert wind.
My grandmother asked me how school was, how I was. And those questions were the key to my chatterbox. I talked and talked, about my teachers, how I had sprained my ankle, swim team, my room, my trophies, everything there was to talk about. I had to make up for the year and a half since I had last seen her, when she came to visit us in America. The sun sank low, blushing the evening sky with a dusty pink, and the wind dwindled to a breeze, and yet still I talked. My grandmother did not interrupt, just made the appropriate comments at the right places and gave me praise or advice for the future. I had surprisingly almost run out of topics to chatter about, and my pause was lengthening into a silence, when I suddenly remembered a whole subject I had forgotten to address: track and field!
As soon as I mentioned the word “track”, I noticed a new light around my grandmother. Her eyes were brighter, she sat up straighter, and I could tell that she was remembering something from long ago. I kept on my babble, hoping my chatter would slowly ease out of her the bygone times she was pondering. Just as I was describing the actual track in full detail, she interrupted, “Did you like track?”
Surprised, I answered, “Yes, I did. I wasn’t very good at it, but I improved over the course of the season. My grandmother looked at me, a mysterious fire burning behind her eyes, and began, “When I was young, I was a very good runner…
I was on the running team, or athletics as we called it back then, at my school. At that time, it was unusual for a girl to be participating in a sport at all. My father was not terribly excited at the thought of me being on the team; however he consented after repetitious insistence from both me and my mother. I was already good at running, but after practice, I became even better. At the competitions, I would fly past the other girls. I remember the feel of my two braids bouncing against my back as I ran past the finish line. The track was not made of special material like your track; ours was just soil and gravel. I remember falling on that track once; my knee was scratched very badly and began bleeding terribly. My mother made me opt out of that race because she didn’t want me to get hurt.
I ran in the 200 meters race and in the 400 meters race. I was one of the best on my team. After more and more practice, my timing became better and better. When my team competed against the others in the area, I won both of my races and was among the few chosen to compete against individuals from other states. I trained very hard for the state competition, and my hard work paid off. I was chosen to go to the national competition!
I practiced and trained very hard and very long for nationals. I knew that although the previous competitions had been easy, this one was going to be very challenging. After all, I would be competing against the cream of the crop. My time improved as I continued to practice. I grew confident that I would do well. Nationals were to be held in a bigger city, I don’t remember exactly where, but one that was far away from my home town. As the big day drew near; I asked my parents how we were traveling to nationals. My father shot a glance at my mother, and then told me, “You are not going.”
I stood still, shocked. “But I have trained so hard. I must go!” I cried.
“You are not going,” my father repeated.
“But, I have qualified! I will win first place, I will make you and Mummy proud!” I wept. However, my father’s resolve was unbroken.
My father would not let me go because girls in those days did not do such things. They did not travel so far to take part in an athletic competition. They did not race in front of a large crowd. I did not race in nationals. I suppose if I had fought hard enough, my father might have conceded to allow me to participate, but I realize I was too weak to fight against my father’s and society’s laws. All my trophies are in my mother’s house now, all except for one. The trophy from nationals is missing.”
My grandmother slowly finished the tale of her past. I could see from her eyes that she had had a burning desire to attend nationals. I could also see that she regretted the fact that she had given in to her father’s opinions. She felt that she had been incompetent. Her eyes told me to follow my dreams, no matter what the obstacles. With that last glance, my grandmother went downstairs, muttering something about helping to prepare dinner.
As soon as my grandmother had reached a safe distance down the stairs, I quickly clambered up the ladder to the water tank. Staring at the many water towers in the distance through a dusty sheen of air, I thought about what my grandmother had said. I agreed with most of what she said; after all, it was good to follow your dreams, it was respectable to overcome obstacles, but in my eyes she was not frail when she obeyed her parents. In my eyes, she was brave when she gave up her own dreams, so that her father’s wish could be fulfilled. Sometimes, fighting the authority is the easier way out, however when you obey the authority, and give up your own dreams in the process, that is a courageous act indeed.
My grandmother or Nadi, as I call her, taught me three lessons with one story that day. She told me to follow my dreams, and face the obstacles that I come across. She taught me that although people believe it weak to give into others’ wishes, it actually takes some pluck to set your own ideas aside and follow someone else’s. And she taught me indirectly to always respect my elders because they have the experience and knowledge that I lack, and therefore are better decision makers. My grandmother taught me that the racetrack could be littered with pebbles or boulders, and although the path over them may be arduous, the finish will be sweet indeed.