A few weeks back, a colleague and I were heading out to “Nisarga”, for some delicious lunch. Well, at least it was better than the… than the… Well, better than whatever it was that we got in office for lunch! Unwilling to wait till evening for the lift, we took the stairs down. Growls from our stomachs as we climbed down seven flights of stairs made us wish for a faster mode of travel – (no, not the bleddy elevator; the time spent waiting for one could’ve been invested in taking the stairs with awesome returns!) And that’s when we remembered a favorite childhood sport in most parts of India, and probably the world – Sliding!
For those of you unfamiliar with Sliding, (not just sliding, but Sliding) let me explain.
Aim: To demonstrate the art of Sliding
Apparatus: A staircase with a continuous handrail, and sturdy handrails at that. You don’t want to end up falling on someone, handrail and all.
1. Climb to the top of the stairs, or rather to where the handrail starts sloping down.
2. With one leg firmly placed on the stairs, lift the other one over the handrail and let it dangle on the other side (in empty space, or over the following flight of stairs) while you gently sit astride the handrail. Note that you should be facing the top of the stairs and not the bottom. Though the bottom-facing format is also in vogue in some parts, it is the top-facing part that seems to be more common, and definitely the one I’m more acquainted with!
3. Place your hands on the handrails, but do not hold on too firmly – your hands are going to be your brakes if anything goes wrong. (I sincerely hope not!)
4. Take a deep breath, and lift your landing gear (first leg) from the stairs, and keep an eye out for your destination (the end of the railing). Some people may prefer to lean forward to maintain balance or improve streamlining.
4.a) If at some point, you feel your speed is too high and feel fear knocking on your head, use your hands to slow yourself.
4.b) If you find yourself moving too slowly, check the material of your trousers/pants and get something smoother or otherwise with lesser friction. Or get to work on the railing with some sandpaper (after making sure the owner of the building doesn’t see you).
5. When you see your destination, get your landing gear ready, and gently apply the brakes if required.
5.a) An excess of velocity might take you past your destination and in extreme cases might render your landing gear ineffective, and you may potentially land on your seat with your landing gear stretched out before you.
5.b) If your landing gear is unready or improper at arrival, you might find yourself dumped unceremoniously on the ground at your destination. This is generally not advisable for grown-ups, especially ones who like to look dignified or sedate. Kids usually dust the seats of their pants and are off up the stairs again for the next round.
6. As soon as your landing gear touches the ground at your destination, lean forward gently to ensure any residual velocity doesn’t result in a loss of balance. If you enjoyed performing the above steps, or would like to repeat them for any other reason, proceed from step 1.
Expected result: Assuming the person conducting the experiment has the appropriate velocity and landing gear in proper condition, they should be able to land gracefully (relatively speaking, of course!)
If someone is still unable to grasp how this ridiculously simple sport works, leave me a note (read: comment), and I’ll consider putting up illustrations. Keyword: consider.
As my friend and I walked to “Nisarga“, we wondered why we couldn’t really do that. Of course, we wouldn’t look dignified, but bother that – the fun factor and efficacy more than compensate the potential loss of dignity. Of course, this would potentially result in races, and a new sport would develop. Considering the state of our foosball and TT tables, I was pretty sure this would immediately become a popular sport; at least till the railings broke and reached the state of our foosball tables!
And then it struck me: hey, if we can have races, we can have international races! And championships! Maybe even add this to the repertoire of the Olympics! When I told my friend this he just laughed, but I knew I was on to something big! Kids Sliding is one thing – it’d be called childish, and would at best earn a tolerant smile. Adults engaged in Sliding however, might result in a new sport! I’ve seen a sport where people lie on tiny, one-man sleds and slide down an ice-covered track to see who is faster, in a time-trial format. I did a bit of research and found it’s been part of the Winter Olympics since 2002, and that it is called “Skeleton“. Well, we’d need to think of a cool name for Sliding too!
We wouldn’t have to worry much about accessibility of the sport to amateurs. Most people around the world will have access to staircases with handrails, and they can practice on those. Considering the high appeal to kids, we will have a broad talent pool to pick potential champs from. We’ll also be able to establish relatively inexpensive training centers around the world for these chosen kids to practice on. As for sponsors, we can start off with manufacturers of handrails. More will join later. You will soon have glove manufacturers who talk about the braking efficiency, or clothing manufacturers who talk about how the seats of the pants are designed to be low friction to provide maximum speed when required, while the insides of the thighs on each leg have extra friction pads, just for braking back up when the gloves alone aren’t enough.
As for the sport itself, we could have specially designed handrails for this, with twists and turns and crests and troughs, where the “slider” will have to appropriately shift his weight at the right times to ensure maximum velocity. We can potentially add some ice to parts of the railing to make it more challenging. And like we have dirt, concrete and asphalt tracks for car races, we can have metal, polished wood (of each type) and ice-covered railings to slide on. Don’t forget the indoor/outdoor variations or the light-weight/bantam-weight/heavy-weight categories!
At the end of every track, we should have a big patch of snow or a lot of cold water. This should be positioned such that as soon as the slider finishes his course, he lands on the patch of snow or cold water, and he is allowed to sit there for precisely two minutes or till the snow melts, whichever is sooner. This is to provide photographers enough time to take pics of the expressions on their faces. We ought to see if they really do make faces like the cartoon characters that accidentally get their rears on fire and finally find something to cool it off in.
As for the sportsmen, I can see them in my mind’s eye. Here’s one: An athletically built man in a skin-tight speedsuit, wearing goggles and a safety helmet and other protective gear for his elbows and knees and wherever else he deems necessary. He straddles the railing, inhaling and exhaling rapidly through his mouth as he prepares for the start. His trainer stands next to him, yelling encouragement or potentially saying the material of his outfit is not a perfect match for the material of the railing. That the increased friction between the two will slow him down, or maybe the decreased friction might result in a reduction in control. (I guess most sensible people would be worried about the temperatures their rear would encounter if the friction was going to be higher, but I don’t see this guy worried – maybe he has protective gear in the seats of his pants as well!)
The trainer then probably proceeds to tell him off for having eaten that Dutch truffle cake for dessert the previous night, which might have caused an increase of a few milligrams in his weight, which in turn might completely ruin their speed plan and control strategy. Hey, an increase in weight would cause an increase in both downward pull due to gravity, and friction from the railing! The trainer would also have to calculate how hot the seat of the slider’s pants would get, how much that heat and friction would contribute to the melting of any ice covering, and the resulting decrease in friction. Assuming the place is cold enough for the ice to refreeze quickly, and assuming there’s enough ice, he wouldn’t have to worry about the effect of preceding competitors. Then we come to aerodynamics. The slider would have to accommodate for wind velocity and direction and what effect it could potentially have on his descent. He’d also have to lean appropriately to maintain balance and ensure maximum aerodynamic efficiency. The trainer would have to take care of all this and more in his calculations. This is a complex sport, see? The trainer would probably have a PhD in physics and would sit with equations and computer simulations all day long!
And after the race at the award ceremony, I can imagine the speech of the victor as he looks at his teary eyed mom and the neighbors who got him kicked out of his apartment: “My mom always encouraged me to slide down the hand railings. Even when I broke the handrails of my apartment staircases, mom never scolded me (though everyone else in the building wanted us kicked out)”. And someone in the audience will give an impromptu interview: “Oh, I used to live right next door to the boy at one time! He always had it in him – he changed homes so many times, but wherever he moved he always managed to either break enough railings or land on enough people at the end of the railing that the entire building would decide to kick them out. I always knew he’d reach great heights!”
See? We’ve got everything figured out. Thing is, I’m too busy with loads of better things to do – so I can’t really go and get this started as an official sport, let alone get it into the Olympics! In case someone reading this blog decides to make a sport out of this yet and sets up an organizing committee and stuff, please make sure you give me credit as the founder of the official form of this sport! And just in case I manage to find a nice photo of mine, I might also ask you to put up that pic in your hall of fame or whatever as the founder. In return, I’ll give you the right to use my ideas relating to this sport as mentioned in this blog, and if perchance I get around to thinking more about it, I may be able to give you even more ideas!