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The magic of the body

How the spirit of genius is often a physical thing

Tishani Doshi
Shoaib Akhtar goes airborne (but wicketless), Surrey v Nottinghamshire, The Oval, September 19, 2008

Shoaib Akhtar: nice inflections  •  Getty Images

The human body is truly a remarkable thing. Yesterday I went back to my ENT doctor for phase two of my treatment, and he managed to remove, with some pretty sophisticated equipment, a horrific amount of gloop. Now I don't want to belabour the point of earwax, but really, it's a miraculous thing. How small things affect big things, how the body keeps itself in check with so many mechanisms that we're barely aware of. The inner ear, for example - that bony labyrinth is not only an organ of hearing, it also controls our sense of balance and motion. When I was emancipated from my earwax, it was like being reintroduced to society all over again. Not only could I hear, I could also walk in a straight line!
For many years I studied yoga and worked as a dancer. So I know about the body's limitations and possibilities. I believe dancers share certain qualities with sportspeople in that we work with our bodies on a daily basis in a way that other people don't. There's less taking for granted, and there's also a greater understanding of how things work. But I also believe that there's something of a genius spirit in each body. For some, it's a creative genius spirit, which is more cerebral, for others, the spirit is physical. Watching Adam Gilchrist yesterday confirmed this notion.
The ease with which Gilchrist sent those balls flying to the boundary was really something of genius. To the casual eye it didn't appear that he was working hard at all. Everything seemed effortless. The ball was just bound to go wherever he willed it to go. He didn't play like someone who had taken a break from cricket. He looked like he was born to do this: walk up to the crease and thwack away. The genius spirit isn't an on/off switch that can be reached for at your own will. It has something to do with an alignment of factors. Some days things click, and the effect is awe-inspiring. Other days your body weighs you down and the result is a struggle.
I remember talking about this with my late dance teacher, Chandralekha. In the last years of her life she watched more television than she would have liked, only because reading hurt her eyes. Cricket, a game she had never watched before, suddenly became something of an addiction for her. She would watch for hours, not keeping track of runs and wickets, but watching bodies. Shoaib Akhtar was her favourite. She watched him just to marvel at the circularity of his body, the beauty in his arms. "Look at his inflections," she said to me, "Just like Nusrat (Fateh Ali Khan)." It's amazing the connections we can make if we see them.
Yesterday watching Adam Gilchrist reminded me of that possibility of the body. One minute you're an ordinary little man walking around like a billboard, with names of sponsors all over you - ridiculous, really. And in the next moment you're transformed. Bigger, more powerful, more beautiful than you can ever dream of being. The reason why sport has such fascination for human beings is because it presents us with these possibilities. Most of us will never experience these moments of transformation for ourselves because our own bodies do not hold the requisite magic. For us, to be spectator to these occasional flashes of genius is enough. More than enough.

Tishani Doshi is a writer and dancer based in Chennai