Ever since I was little I wanted to be bigger. Sounds ironic, doesn’t it! Well, that’s the truth. I remember my mum taking me to the homeopathic and me enquiring, “Will I be 7 ft tall one day?” The doc (and my mom) managed to keep a straight face and replied, “I don’t think so but you should definitely touch 6.”

Turns out he was wrong. By that I don’t mean he was wrong about me not touching 7ft, but wrong about me even hitting six!

My craze to become taller began as a natural offshoot of playing basketball. More so because I was dwarfed by the college students I used to play with. (I was 5ft 2 inches then, so you can appreciate it from my perspective- it was akin to standing really close to the base of a tree and looking straight up. So even if in hindsight I realise that actually those college guys were 5 ft 10, to me they appeared like beanpoles!)

Height (or rather the lack of it) has dominated my conversations for some time now. Whenever I tell people I play basketball, the responses have widely fluctuated depending on whom I was talking to:

One of my college professors: “Gopal you play basketball? Aren’t you too short for it?”

My relatives (especially various grandaunts): “Oh you play basketball. That’s what has made you so tall!” Current south Indian grandmothers barely scrape 5ft, so that explains their undue appreciation of my height- which is a shade under 6 ft.

But it’s a myth really. Playing basketball will not make you taller, whatever anybody else might say to make you feel good about yourself. I should know, because many of my contemporaries (who didn’t play basketball) are either taller than me or of the same height.

Once when I was watching an NBA game on TV, I asked my grandmother, who happened to be sitting next to me, “Do you know how tall these players are?”

She answered, “Around 5 ft 7 inches maybe?”

When I told her to add a foot to her estimation, she was flabbergasted. “How can anybody be that tall!” she wondered.

Indians are not used to tall people (whether being or seeing), a perception that is changing-thanks to better nutrition or a phenomenon that can simply be described as “the subsequent generations being taller than the preceding ones”. Whether this implies that at the end of the next four generations or so, Indians will be as tall as the Americans (on the assumption that the average height of Americans remains constant over the next 200 years), I cannot conclude. But one thing is certain: Indians are getting taller and taller – though the average height of the Indian male still hovers around 5ft 5inches and the Indian female stops growing at 5ft (while this is still an inch taller than Shakira, it’s nothing to waka waka about).

Height is also often associated with the part of the country that you may hail from.  Punjabis/ Haryanvis are known to be really tall, a fact attributed to excellent genes, lots of makkhan spread on thick paranthas and of course the mandatory tall glass of lassi at the end of every meal.

Again a myth. Milk does not necessarily make you taller. You could ask our college point guard this- a Haryanvi by blood who religiously drank his milk everyday but dominates the skyline as much as a Tom Cruise or an Aamir Khan. Of course, the lack of height has been no deterrent to him as he has more than made up for it in the skills department.

Indeed shorter people are to be underrated at your own risk. Who can forget Allen Iverson’s decimation of the Lakers in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals? All of six feet, AI has been a prolific scorer at around 27 points per game and will retire (unless he hasn’t already) as one of the all time greats to have ever touched the basketball.

A prediction was once made that our college team would never win a tournament because we don’t have a tall guy. But we won last summer and intend to keep winning against our much taller (and therefore more fancied) opponents. I’ve heard stories that in state selections for under-18s, a prerequisite to make the cut is for you to be at least 182 cms tall (approx 6 ft).  If such is the case, I truly feel sorry for those Earl Boykins floating around. It would be easier for them to leap frog into the NBA than play at the junior level in India!

Then again there are many short players who have practically grown taller overnight. NBA stars like Gilbert ArenasDennis Rodman, Lamar Odom and numerous others have “worked hard” every day to become taller and actually succeeded (though how you can “work hard” and grow taller still confounds me!).

As my 21st birthday fast approaches and with it the curtain call for my dreams of Yao Mingness, I fervently look up to these “Complan boys of the NBA” who continue to give people like me hope for a much delayed growth spurt.

Gopalakrishnan R
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