"Ethan, wait for your man. You got 10 seconds."
The captain of the team barks out a tactical message. If you think its soccer or American Football we are talking about, think again. It's the only gender blender team sport we know of. Yes Ultimate Frisbee is a game where both men and women can play side by side. A non-contact sport, Ultimate (as it is commonly called) sees a high participation from women as well. This makes it devoid of rough or unfair tackling and high physical contact.
In Delhi if you have to witness this game of equality then visit Nehru Park in Chanakyapuri, the capital's posh embassy area. The motley group comprises expatriates and natives, men and women, young guys and a couple of middle-aged men.
Ultimate Frisbee is slowly gaining popularity in many Indian cities. Even though it involves a lot of running and jumping around, the sport is attracting young players willing to try something new. Something other than gully cricket.
Anne is one of the many women Ultimate players. Hailing from Philadelphia (USA), she works in India with an NGO. A slim and lithe woman, Anne confesses that she "likes playing a lot of football." It is no surprise that she looks like Jules (the character played by Keira Knightley in the hit British comedy Bend It Like Beckham), but only with lighter hair.
Anne said she looked forward to playing in Nehru Park every weekend. "The game attracts quite a number of people," she said. "The least I've seen here is four-five people. 12-15 of us generally play every Saturday. It is quite a big group."
Many Indians are now developing an interest in a previously almost-unknown sport. This has also been favoured by the return of students educated in foreign universities, who took to frisbee while studying abroad and carried their acquired taste back to India as well. Ultimate attracts people from all walks of life and in different phases of life. For instance, Srinivas Ketavarapu is a 45-year-old father of two children, currently employed with CISCO. Having worked in the USA, he returned to India a year back.
Srinivas and wife Meera have been playing the game for 16 years now. They are perhaps the only couple that try to make it to Nehru Park every weekend.
Meera, wearing a bright pink t-shirt and capris, with a cap perched on her head, is running around on the field with a bunch of youngsters. While she is engaged in the match, Srinivas notes that there is a slight difference in the way Ultimate is played in the two countries. "It's more like a pick-up game here," he explained earnestly. "In the US, the speed is faster, people on an average are better organised. There is more tactical play." The primary reason for this being that players in the US play in clubs and leagues throughout the year, which gives them more expertise.
But even the non-physical nature of the sport sees player colliding. A few injuries are picked up in the process, as happens in every sport.
"Meera once fractured her hand while playing in a game in the US," he said. "It's a part of sports, such things happen," he explained in a matter-of-fact manner.
A cheerful-looking Thai lady sitting at a safe distance claps and shouts encouragingly at every point. "I come here to cheer my daughter Mo," she said, pointing out to a petite-looking girl. 21-year-old Mo is enthusiastically sweating it out on the field with the guys.
"Ultimate is an amazing sport. I have been playing it for the past few years," Mo said quite out of breath after a game had ended. "We are trying to get more and more girls to come and play with us," she said.
The casual banter and repartee on the field refreshes the tired limbs and cheers up the players. The first-timers develop acquaintances and make new friends. With a bit of socialising on their minds, the players hang out in Khan Market after a game for a couple of beers. Ultimate Frisbee is not only about slugging it out on the field. It is also about cultivating and nurturing the right spirit.