Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Birdie In The Hand

A Birdie In The Handby Jeff Kagan

Shuttlecock. No, it isn’t a term to describe a sex act in outer space, but rather, it’s the small, feathered object used in the game of badminton. The shuttlecock, also called a “birdie” is smacked back and forth by racquet-wielding opponents, each hoping the other misses the birdie, as it falls, lifelessly to the Earth. Badminton has been an Olympic sport since 1992, although it was first introduced in the mid-18th century in British-occupied India as a pastime while trying to avoid getting Cholera.

Suman Chakraborty started playing at the age of seven in a suburb of Montreal, Canada, where he was raised. He and his classmates would attend Sunday school at the local junior college where they learned to speak in the family’s native tongue, Bengali. While the kids were in school, their parents would pass the time playing badminton. As classes ended, the kids came out to join their parents on the court. Suman recalls, “It was part of my childhood for as long as I can remember, and one I cherished. My friends and I spent our formative years trying to get good enough to beat our parents. I do remember the amazing feeling I had the first time I beat my father on the court; it was like I had finally grown up.”

And having grown up, Suman moved to New Jersey to attend college, and then eventually settled in New York City. But sadly, the badminton birdie was no longer in his life. He carried on. Some years later, he joined the local gay basketball league to expand his social circle. But after only one season, he had the opportunity to go abroad, to London. “When I first arrived in London, I didn’t know a single person. I had been playing in the NYC Gay Basketball League before my move and met some great people. I figured joining a sports team was a good was to make new friends in my new city.” Upon searching for a group, Suman was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are four gay badminton clubs in London.  He immediately contacted one called Goslings and within four days of landing in London, he bought a cheap racquet and headed to his first session. 

Being on the badminton court always brings back wonderful memories. He says, “Every time I get on the court, I feel like I’m going back to a place where I’m comfortable. I always think about my days as a kid playing with my dad; I think about my days as a teenager playing for my high school.”

After a year in London, Suman returned to New York, wanting his life to include the friendships and fun that Goslings of London brought him.  He didn’t have an inkling of how to find others who were interested in badminton, but he tried some unconventional methods. He sheepishly says, “I’ll admit that in my profile on a certain iPhone app (which shall remain nameless), I suggested that anyone who played badminton should contact me.”  That didn’t turn out to be a great source of leads (for badminton, anyway).  But after setting up a page on, things started to roll, and the organization mailing list grew from a handful of “smashers” to 175 potential players, which helped Suman to successfully launch New York’s first gay badminton club. And as an homage to the group which inspired him, he named the club Goslings NYC

Suman hopes that the people who come to play will see Goslings NYC as a community within the gay social scene -- a place where they can make new friends in a positive environment to share in the enjoyment of the game that he holds in his heart. Suman has many plans for the group, including participation in the Gay Games in Cleveland in 2014. He smirks and says, “And if I ever get my American friends to stop giggling like a schoolgirl whenever they hear the word ‘shuttlecock’, I’ll consider that a major accomplishment too.”

Learn more about Goslings NYC at