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Arunima Maharshi

IWB Blogger

Vahbiz Bharucha, Indian Women’s Rugby Captain, On How Her Dad’s Gender-Neutral Parenting Empowered Her

  • IWB Post
  •  August 5, 2019

When I first phoned Vahbiz, our conversation started on the “tell me a little about yourself” note, and turned out that she had a lot of interesting anecdotes to share. But before the excited me jumps to narrating her achievements and them zesty life stories, let me tell you a little about the young skipper, under whose captainship the team earned their bronze in a nail-biting 21-19 victory in June. It was only their fourth international match in the 15-a-side version of the brutal contact sport. Just last year, when they made their 15s debut, they had lost 30-5 to the same Singapore team.

Twenty-five-year-old Vahbiz Bharucha is a physiotherapist by profession and rugby player by vocation. A true sportsperson, Vahbiz loves cycling, running and, thanks to her father, has been close to sports for as long as she can remember.

Handball was her game until class X, though on the suggestion of a sports teacher, she had given a hand to wrestling in class VIII, but the whole idea of the pushing someone to the ground did not go well in her mind. “When I began to plan Rugby, it was pretty much like wrestling in motion,” she laughingly told, “but I didn’t even realize when I got so comfortable with the sport, that 2009 to now, I have never looked back.”

Vahbiz Bharucha

Vahbiz identifies herself as an “intimidating” player on the field, and though her favourite player is New Zealand’s Richie McCaw, she looks up to Jannie du Plessis, a South African Rugby player who also happens to be a doctor. “Every time someone tells me to not follow the sport as much, I tell myself – if he can do it, so can I.”

Full conversation at your scroll:

Let’s begin with talking about your shift from Handball to Rugby. How and when did the transition happen?

A few months before my class X board exams, Mr Suhrud Khare, one of the pioneers of Women’s Rugby in India, visited our school. Back then he was scouting for young players and when he met me, his first reaction was, “you are perfect for this sport”. That marks the beginning of my tryst with Rugby. 

You mentioned that your father helped you direct towards sports. How exactly did his parenting break gender stereotypes for you?

I have two elder brothers and there has been absolutely no discrimination between us. For instance, if a heavy item had to be picked, my father would call all three of us instead of asking only the boys to do it, how it normally happens in families. And he followed the same attitude when it came to buying us toys or enrolling us in summer camps – I was never told to choose a soft sport or forced to take the toys meant for girls. He let us make our choices in every sphere of life, and didn’t allow any gender stereotyping.

Vahbiz Bharucha

Do you recall an interesting conversation regarding sports with him?

He’s only always asking me to better my performance, and also keeps giving inputs on improving my stamina. Like recently when we were to go to Singapore to play, he asked about the match details and on learning that the game would be divided in two 40-minute halves, his reaction was, “nope, you’re not going to last”, she laughed as she recalled.

Haha. It’s been close to nine years that you have been playing rugby, how have things faired on the learning front for you? 

The first time I played in the National Team, the match was in Thailand. For the next four years, I mostly played Rugby Sevens (seven players per side; each half of game is for seven minutes) and got selected as the captain of the said format in 2013. The recent Asia Rugby Women’s Championship, for which we went to Singapore, was my first match as the captain of the 15a format. After all these years of my association with Rugby, I feel that I have grown in the sport in parallel to its growth in the country, and I couldn’t be happier.

Vahbiz Bharucha

Speaking of the first match, any mad memories?

I don’t have a lot of memories from that match, but the one instance from it that got etched in my memory is of the time when I just held the ball and instead of running, lay flat on the field and threw my legs in the air in attempt to save the ball from the opponent team. Hahaha. Everybody on the field was new to the sport back then, and though we knew the rules by heart, we hadn’t put them in action before that day. It was hilariously embarrassing for me. 

From the time you became the captain to now, what changes have you observed?

A lot of positive changes have come in the recent years, and especially with regard to training. Earlier the sessions incorporated extra running and very little strength training, because of which we would get extremely exhausted by the time the match neared, but a major improvement has come in the training methodologies now. We hoped for longer duration of camps, better food, specific training, increased awareness of the sport, and slowly and gradually, changes are happening.

Vahbiz Bharucha

Any area that remains a disappointment?

Yeah, so nutrition is one area that is very important for any sportsperson, and if I may say, it has been taken a bit for granted. Not to say that we are not fed well, but a ‘nutritious diet’ somewhere remains missing.

Hmmm. And how about the financial aspect, is it satisfactory?

If you are asking whether we receive any remuneration or match fee, the answer is no. Everyone is playing out of passion. 

Vahbiz Bharucha

Filmmaker Aditya Kripalani and wife Sweta, with the team at their Singapore residence, post the match.

So how does it work out?

We have asked these questions but the fact remains that the sport has not grown as much, and neither does it attract much audience, so where to even generate funds from? A lot of women drop owing to the other life priorities, and that also hinders the growth.

Do you think it could be both the reason and the consequence? Not to stress, but the absence of remuneration ought to make you shift your priorities eventually.

Yes, I don’t disagree. It could be one major reason. And that’s why I feel that a lot of work needs to be done on the grassroots level, in terms of both infrastructure and long-term planning. And kids need to be prepared and trained in the sport from the beginning. 

Vahbiz Bharucha

Hmmm. Any locker rooms talks or gossip that you could let out? *winks* 

Ah, we rarely have any locker room talks, everything for us happens on the field. Though the mention of it reminds me of a very interesting incident. We were playing a match and had a group of girls from Delhi on the team; they had a very interesting slogan, it went like – no compromise, only bhata bhat. The first time I heard them, it went above my head, she laughed. But after a very dull first half, one of the team players collected everyone and said, “no compromise, only bhata bhat”, and the wave of enthusiasm that it sparked off, got us to win the second half – I am yet to figure out what it meant, she chuckled.

Vahbiz Bharucha

 

And before we bid adieu, tell me about your other interests and hobbies, too? 

I love to cycle, to exercise, and music is my forever companion. Also, watching those five-minute crap videos on YouTube is my go-to activity when it comes to killing time. Hahaha.

Vahbiz Bharucha

 

 

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