My Heart’s Perfection-Flame

Photo by Bhashwar

I play tennis every day
To join my Lord’s Vision-Play.
I am the surrender-ball:
All joy in a body small.
Tennis, tennis, tennis game,
My heart’s perfection-flame.

Sri Chinmoy, I Play Tennis Every Day, Agni Press, 1994.

“Guru loved tennis.  Guru gave us a lot of joy when he played tennis, and he got a lot of joy playing tennis.  So we thought by making the worlds largest tennis racket we would give other people joy.”   This conversation with Ashrita, took place a little more than 5 days before what would have been Sri Chinmoys 81st birthday on August 27th.  Around and about him a crew of boys is busily shaping rather ordinary bits of lumber into something quite unbelievable.  Though it really doesn’t look like it now, in a short time it will somehow all come together making a world record 50 foot long tennis racket.

For several years now Sri Chinmoy’s birthday has been an inspiration for Ashrita and others to create something extraordinary in honor of their late Spiritual teacher.

Last year Ashrita organized the world’s largest floral garland which extended around Flushing Meadow.  This year he decided that building a 50 foot long tennis racket, “was as big as we could do.”

When asked whether or not the Guinness record people ever get amazed at these ideas for new records he says no.  “They have seen it ALLL.  They are serious about it.   They just want to see that it has been done properly.  They gave us permission to use a wooden racket as the model.  That was the conditions.  It has to be made completely to scale, and of the same exact materials.”

“It is a huge challenge but it is going to be amazing when it is done.”  At different times of the process the crew size has varied but by late afternoon everything stops.   The team has been careful about not working into the night and disturbing the neighbors.”

Photo by Prashphutita

Back in the 80’s Sri Chinmoy played tennis for hours every day, with quite a few of his students who were good tennis players.  Ashrita was one of those and I asked him why Sri Chinmoy enjoyed playing tennis so much.  “He loved it.  He was an athlete, and I think he just loved to move.  He made progress.  He got better and better, until his knees started getting bad.  I think it was also a way for him to relate to people on a human level.”

He says that it also gave joy to people who were also there to watch. “It was a way for him to show his love and concern and affection for people, and he loved the exercise.”

He says that whenever he played Sri Chinmoy he never had much time to think about the experience.   “You were just constantly running from side to side and front to back.  There was no thought.  You were just in the moment and trying to get the ball back.”

At this moment with the time remaining there seems like an almost insurmountable amount of work yet to be done but Ashrita says.  “Somehow it will get done.  The big work is done.  Now you might say is just the finishing touches, although there is quite a bit of finishing touches.  I think we are there.  When it is done it is fun, when it is finished.  The actual process is rewarding and it feels good.”

Ashrita interview

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“We are looking at a Billy Jean King old wooden tennis racket, that got enlarged about 22times larger than it should be.  We are building it the normal way a racket would be made, so we are laminating the head.  It is going to be 22 sheets of half inch plywood laminated together before it is done.”  Yuyudhan has found himself managing the construction of many such Ashrita projects. When asked if he is having fun? “O boy.  It was a slow start.  We had some issues with just how to get it done right, but now we have got it.”

The racket is based on the Bancroft, Billy Jean King Model which at the time was 27 inches long.

Bancroft tennis racket commercial

Yuyudhan explains how the wooden bits currently in the middle of the racket will be replaced by tubing to mimic perfectly the strings that would have been used on the original.  There is also going to be an exact size tennis ball made which will be 5 feet in diameter.

At this time in the construction there is still no handle.  It will be created from a rather ordinary pile of pine boards laying stacked under a tree close by.  “It is a lot of lumber.  It is going to weigh about 3,000 lbs for the handle alone.”  The head he suggests will add an additional 1000, making roughly a 2 ton tennis racket.  In order for the racket to get down to its display area it will be cut into 4 pieces and then reassembled.  “Once it is down there we will reassemble the head and string it.  Then we will attach the handle.”

2 years ago he helped construct the world’s largest teeter toter and says that the tennis racket has required a lot more thought.  The teeter toter was pretty much straight and this thing has curvatures.”

Yuyudhan first interview

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Annurakta and Vidhura

“We are basically trying to punch holes in the vinyl, because that is what happened on old tennis rackets.  A lot of the jobs that add up to make the tennis racket look perfect are being created from scratch.  Abhijatri and Amalendu are working painstakingly to punch holes in a gigantic sheet of brown vinyl.  One that eventually be wound around the handle.  As for why it was done so originally, “Breath-ability,” suggests Amalendu, “a little more circulation of air, or absorption of sweat.”

The process involves heating up a metal punch until it is red hot and then systematically punching holes in the correct spots.  The job is not without its risks as Abhijatri is sporting some bandaging on one hand but everyone is still cheerful.   It does look to be slow going and when asked how long they have been at this they both respond with laughter and and add, “quite a few hours.”

“I think the detailing really makes a huge difference.  People look at and say…..O wow, it has got those on it.  When Ashrita did the pencil and put the eraser on the end, it just made it look so good (2007).” I ask Abhijatri if his experience as a civil engineer has given him any experience at doing this job.   “Of course not.”

Amalendu adds, “I have done an IT degree which doesn’t prepare me for this.”

“One of the nice things about this is that you have got to make it up as you go along.  You don’t really know, and you have never done anything like this and you look at and think.  What do I do now?  Then you work it out and then off you go.”  Abhijatri.

“And you work as a team.  It is great fun.” Amalendu

“This job will be finished by 9 o’clock but there is a lot of other work yet to be done.” Abhijatri

Interview with Abhijatri and Amalendu

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“I am pre drilling the timber in preparation for the slots around the racket which takes the string.  The string is recessed around the edge of the racket to avoid it being damaged normally when playing.”  Ambarish is responsible for the stringing of the racket a job quite unlike his current occupation which is an architect in Dublin.

“So we are mimicking that here, by creating this routed out affect.  My role mainly has been in the setting out of the strings in scale to that of a standard racket, and working out the complexities.  It is fairly complicated as the strings pass over each other and they are pulled through at different heights and so forth.”

“This is all set out in proportion to an exact racket”

When asked if he is a specialist.  “I am the string person.  A specialist is one who is an authority on this.  I have only studied one racket and I am applying it and applying what visually appears to be the situation.”

Asked if he has played tennis……..(dramatic pause) “I have played a little bit of tennis, but is is all aluminum rackets now, never with a wooden racket.”

“This is really fun.  It is a challenge.  It is not straight forward.  You have to have a real plan.  If you work it out as you go along then you going to have some strings that are not quite parallel.  You have to really preplan everything, before you start drilling.  Otherwise it will look odd.”  He points at his work and says, “this is the easy bit because we know what we are doing at this point.  Physical bit is the easy bit.”

Click to play Ambarish interview

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Yuyudhan briefly pausing

Painters

Papaha graphics artist

One last late night

A quiet one

On the 27th it is all carried down to the drive way of the Aspiration Ground and the final touches are applied.

Last minute jobs

Finishing touches

Nice soft handle

No short cuts

It is really starting to look like one now.

“It was not surprising because we have done a lot of surprising things for Guru.” Sevati and Charita were the ones responsible for creating the crucial final element of the project…..the scale model tennis ball.

Making a 60 inch tennis ball was of course not a usual request for them but with a time table of a little over 2 weeks it seemed like there would be enough time to work it all out.  Especially since they were given a pattern already to start with.

Sevati: “He had a pattern for a tennis ball, that is what he thought he had.  But when we did it, it actually didn’t fit at all. It was not the right shape.

Charita: “It was like an extra large shirt on a baby.”

Sevati: “When we saw that the pattern they gave us didn’t work, we had to start to undo the ball.  I would say it took us 3 days to completely get it.

You have to be good at math and I am not so good at math.  So we called a cousin of ours who is very good in math,  and he did it in like 5 minutes.  So we finally get the proper shape, using this thing we got from the inventor of the baseball.  It is the same pattern, the same shape.”

They were given fabric that matched perfectly a real tennis ball.  “We luckied out.”

The whole thing had to be blown up and then deflated many times.  The presence of an electric air mattress pump was a real savior. It was only on the final day did they actually see it then fully inflated. “It was really cool.”

Charita: “We were standing on the other corner looking at the truck and the racket and then all of a sudden you see Udar coming down the street with this ball and everybody was looking at it and everybody was just happy.  It was joy coming down the street.  This huge thing, they loved it.”

 

Sevati and Charita Interview

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The ball arrives via Udar

Crane crew discussion

A final check with Yuyudhan

Going Up

“It is a joyous occasion for us, and we are glad that we can offer some joy to the people around us.  You can’t help but smile when you see a large tennis racket like that.”   For Ashrita this is his 151st Guinness world record.  “This is not really my record.  I was just the organizer.  It took 35 people to do it.”

Ashrita Interview

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Photo by Prabhakar

“I am exhausted and loving every minute of it.” Yuyudhan who managed the construction is now watching as some kids are leaping up and down on the strings of the racket.  “It worked out, not according to plan.  The rains set us back, and we had a final push that was great.  It all came together.  It is mind boggling when you actually see my frame take life with Papaha’s detailing, and Ambarish doing the netting, and the signage coming in.”

I ask him if he ever worried.  “No.  I knew we would be done.  The disciples always come through.”

“The fun part is when it is done and you see people playing on it.” (6000 lbs. 50 ft 1 inch long)  It brings the child out.  When you are standing next to something this big, you are reduced in size.  Your ego goes down.  The whole of what self transcendence is is transcending the little ego.  This is all grace.”

Yuyudhan final interview

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Question: What are the different qualities of tennis and running?

Running reminds us of our inner journey, which is ahead of us. The goal is ahead, and we are running towards the goal. It is a great feeling, which eventually grows into a great achievement. Playing tennis reminds us of being an instrument. The tennis ball is a self-giving instrument, always trying to please us in our own way. Whichever way we want to strike it, the tennis ball surrenders. It is always ready to listen to us, according to our capacity. So tennis reminds us of a divine goal, which is to become a perfect instrument of God and to please God in His own Way, and running reminds us of our continuous journey along Eternity’s Road toward the destined goal. Tennis and running are like two paths going to the same goal; they both ultimately reach the goal, but they reach it from different directions.

Sri Chinmoy, I Play Tennis Every Day, Agni Press, 1994.

22 Comments to “My Heart’s Perfection-Flame”

  1. Kamalakanta says:

    Wow! Thanks to you, Utpal, for this fantastic article, and thanks to the guys involved in building this racket! A real joy to watch!

    Kamalakanta

  2. Shardul says:

    Hi Utpal,
    Fantastic record of a fantastic record! Loved the interviews and pics of the team. Thanks for letting me know about it.
    Cheers,
    Shardul.

  3. Savyasachi says:

    Now it is very easy to see that breaking a record is not an easy task. It requires a great deal of skill, energy, multiple talents and many people all working together. Then the result is amazing, as you have shown. We are all very inspired and very grateful… to you, Ashrita of course and all the others who assisted. Thank you!

  4. Abedan says:

    What a racket!

  5. Snehashila says:

    Hey Utpal!

    This was so amazingly well done! I have tried to describe this latest ‘Record’ to my friends and never could quite do it justice….You jumped right in there and wrapped it up in such a spectacular way.

    You’re a real reporter par excellance! I love it!! And I want to thank all the workers for their dedication in completing a real dream of Guru’s ‘Love and Serve’.

    Fondly, in oneness, Snehashila

  6. Carol_Anne Bennie says:

    Really mind boggleing. Well done

  7. Francesco says:

    Thank You Utpal
    it is always nice to share inspiration,
    you are doing a great job.
    Gratefully.
    Francesco

  8. Amalendu says:

    Utpal,
    Fantastic job of recording and presenting the creation and of this record tennis racket! It is a great historical record highlighting Guru and the Centre’s achievemnets.

  9. Arpan says:

    Gratitude Utpal. You really bring to life the reality of this event from start to finish just as you have done many times for the 3100 mile race and other important events as well. It is so valualble and thrilling at the same time for people all over the world to see how these events take shape and to experience some of the inspiration and dynamic energy involved in these manifestations. Even us locals don’t usually get to witness many of these things on the level that you presented here, even though they are happening right outside our own homes. Bravissimo!

  10. Premananda says:

    Excellent detailed and fascinating coverage of a supercalifragilistic record of herculean proportions! 🙂

  11. Astika says:

    Utpal,

    I’ve always wanted the inside scoop on how Ashrita pulls off his wizardry. I suspect the background story is often as fascinating as the actual record day events. Your’s is a very focused look at the inner workings of the Record Maestro’s secret operation. The photos are particularly professional and editorial in composition. Maybe it’s time for a video-internet magazine – a kind of “Inside Edition” to the Sri Chinmoy Centre? Suggested subject – “Behind the Lens of Utpal – Video Chronicler.”

    Astika

  12. Bhadra says:

    I loved the racket. Now I love the pictures and reading about it. It’s great to have the words and the images to remind me about it. This is a great piece. Thank you, and thanks to Ashrita and everyone who worked so hard on it!

  13. Bhadra says:

    Great work everybody!

  14. Satyakarma says:

    I really enjoy these records by Ashrita and everyone who helps make them happen each August to celebrate Sri Chinmoy’s birthday. These big projects help show us what is really possible for us with everyones support and help. Lets keep them happening. Thanks Utpal

  15. joe says:

    I hope to see this tennis racket on 9/29 at the race. Utpal, put this in your forthcoming book due out?

  16. Salil says:

    Great story. Read it from start to finish. Fascinating to see all the different people involved and how they each bought something unique, valuable and no doubt essential to the project.

  17. Yuyudhan says:

    Utpal,

    You made all the workers look and sound good, almost like we knew what we were doing, Thank you. Seriously you pulled the racket story together in a very beautiful way from concept to completion as only you could do, always an inspiration to follow your work. I want to inject here and say thank you to everyone that helped out in any way on this project, for it was a pleasure to work with all of you.

    Yuyudhan

  18. papaha says:

    Thank you so much for documenting this in such fun detail! What can bring more joy than to see all our spiritual brothers and sisters working together with such spirit and focus!

  19. Bigalita says:

    Utpal, thanks for that GREAT background story! I must have been very “spaced out”, I didn’t even realize what Ashrita and the rest of the team was up to this time. Now I am giving away my age – but I used to play with wooden tennis rackets for most of the time – I loved them!
    So much joy, so much fun, so much creativity – you are all amazing! Thank you very much.
    Bigalita

  20. Unmilan says:

    Great job as always. We have come to expect nothing less from your joyful work.

  21. Mark Dorion says:

    Here it is October and I am only now getting around to reading ALL the descriptive words Professor Marshall has employed in describing Ashrita & Company’s latest amazing creation! Like Bigalita (who is younger than I) I played with a wooden racket back in the day, and also met and chatted with Billie Jean King on several occasions.

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