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As I nock the arrow onto my bow, a glimmer of some long-forgotten words diffuses into my mind, at which point I recall memories of my mother’s bedtime stories when I was little. My head would be delicately settled on her lap with my long legs dangling from the edge of the white-leathered living room couch, and her fingers, stroking my hair, would animate the stories that have passed through my culture for centuries. My Amma’s fingers, soft and small as they were, would carry the strength of Arjuna’s bow arm as he destroyed the evil Kauravas, and mimicked his ambidexterity as an archer when he fought in the great Indian epic, Mahabharata. No matter how my mother orchestrated her fingers while depicting these stories, they were always about Arjuna, India’s peerless archer who embodied the dharmic ideals of courage, morality, and focus.
It was easy for my younger self to be enthralled by these stories. I devoured each word unquestioningly until my intellectually burgeoning self started questioning everything from the science of cooking to why my dad had a moustache. Consequently, it was no surprise that I started questioning my family’s religious and cultural beliefs; I had faith in my parents, but my evolving pragmatic nature wanted to figure out its own place in my spiritual beliefs. Along with the white couch—now ridden with crayon marks—my naivety was also discarded. The shiny new cognac couch now seated a mother and daughter side by side. Amma’s fingers were gently patting my back.
“Sometimes, you have to look beyond the literal. Understanding is more important than believing.”
My mother’s words inspired me to start reading more about Arjuna.
Arjuna’s stories, ever-present in the literature of ancient India, were easy to find. My mind, consuming story after story, eventually began approaching the tip of the deeper truth—it was the morals and lessons we were taught that held significance, not necessarily the stories themselves. One particular story is about Arjuna shooting a moving target just by looking at its reflection in the water. This inspired a new sense of focus in me– mental focus is the by-product of intellectual vitality, passion, and skill. Archery is my will power, and everything else after that is the enhancement of it.
The owner of the range, Lynda, projects her British-accented voice towards the thirteen other archers and me as she yells “Clear!” which was our cue to start shooting. As I nock the arrow again onto my bow, my thoughts—the uncertainties and insecurities—seep away into my carbon arrow shaft, racing towards the target of focus. My culture’s dharmic traditions and stories introduced me to something that was more than a sport; it was a spirit. A millennia ago, it may have been Arjuna, today it may be Brady Ellison, the Olympic medallist, and tomorrow, it might be me. However, the goal of the sport transcends the line of what defines a recreational activity. Archery was the medium that channelled my mind when I needed to focus on a singular bull’s-eye, both literally and metaphorically. Archery was an enhancement to my mind and a connection to my roots (however many centuries ago it may be). It was the manifestation of my Amma’s personality in mine, her fingers, delicately strong and vehemently fierce in the way she told the stories that our ancestors once told, without doubt, with ardor for novelty, and with unrequited passion. My fingers are hers every time I draw the bowstring.