Row, row, row your boat, [not so] gently down to ‘Netty’ Jetty

Published: January 28, 2011
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Preparing for the regatta mean intense training.

This is a shout out to Sophia A. Sophia rows a boat. So do 15 other schools from all over Karachi who competed at the regatta at the Karachi Boat Club. But that’s not important right now. What’s important is that she rows a boat.

And before she gets to that, she does this:

“Oh my God. They train you like a dog. You have these squats, these endless jogs, and if you’re late you have pushups and then something called fishies. Imagine lying down and then trying to lift both your legs and your torso at the same time.”

Fishies for the rowing team, how fitting.

“It’s not funny. I nearly broke my back.”

But it’s all good, because after that:

“The sun is rising over Jinnah creek, and the water is dancing. Cliché, I know, but it is. And you’re rowing between mangroves and the ruins of this mandir, and then you have all that industrial development [crap], of course, oil spills and food and dead stuff hitting your oars.”

The tone here doesn’t mind the debris, it’s just as much a part of the water as their boat is. And for some, it is the boat.

“There was this kid, right, on a floating car tire. We were in our fiber glass, streamlined boats, and there he was in his car tire with weeds and plastic bags. Sometimes we’d race with him, and sometimes, you know, we lolled about and he lolled about. We kept bumping into each other.” Did you know his name? “Nah, but he always waved.”

Then she’s laughing. In her narrative, the boats have arrived at Netty [Native] Jetty Bridge.

“Here we are, all sophisticated, wearing our tights and gear and then our boats are capsizing and the Netty Jetty people just think we’re retarded. They stand on the bridge and collapse laughing. Then they point and laugh some more. So friggin’ embarrassing, yaar.”

Sometimes it’s the little things. “There’s freedom on the water. OK, the coach is always yelling left, right, go back, don’t crash, [peeved] off like a traffic warden, but I mean apart from that it’s just you and your little boat.”  Or it’s the food for breakfast. “Dunkin’ Donuts, halva puree, Red Apple.” Or even accidents: “And then, he took off his shirt, dived into the water and saved her! Can you believe it? Full hero scene on!”

But when it’s the big day, everyone sits up. They row out 500 metres to the starting platoon, where a speedboat yells ready, set, puts the flag down and then, “it’s all a blur. You row fastest, then fast, then medium speed, and then you row like your arms will fall off.”

The crowd helps, in a way. “Have you ever had your name screamed out by 50 people? When you come closer you can actually hear them chanting, and you pull harder, and they scream louder until it’s intense, it’s nationalistic – can you even say that about school? It’s like, on that day you fully understand your identity as being part of your school. You’re not Sophia A any more; you’re what it says on the rowing jacket.”

Her voice fades away. I cut across anyhow. How are you now? “Sorry, what? Oh, I’m exhausted. Everything hurts, even my butt hurts!” But it’s the exhaustion of a victory. “You’re on the water. Are you going to lose or are you going to win?”

They won.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.