A Birdie in the Hand

Suman Chakraborty brings his passion for badminton to the United States.
November 16, 2012

(Suman Chakraborty)

Shuttlecock. No, it isn’t a term to describe a sex act in outer space; it’s the small, feathered object used in the game of badminton. The shuttlecocks—also called “birdies”—and badminton have been an Olympic sport since 1992, although it was first introduced to  British-occupied India in the mid-18th century.

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.”

Chakraborty moved to New Jersey to attend college, and then eventually settled in New York. But sadly, the badminton birdie was no longer in his life. That is, until he had opportunity to work in London. “When I first arrived in London, I didn’t know a single person. I had been playing in the New York Gay Basketball League before my move and met some great people. I figured joining a sports team was a good way to make new friends in my new city.” Upon searching for a group, Chakraborty was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were four gay badminton clubs in London. He immediately contacted one called Goslings and within four days of landing in London, bought a cheap racquet and headed to his first session.

“Every time I get on the court, I feel like I’m going back to a place where I’m comfortable,” he says. “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, and found himself wanting his life back home to include the friendships and fun that Goslings brought him. He didn’t have an inkling of how to find others who were interested in badminton.  “I’ll admit that in my profile on a certain iPhone app I suggested that anyone who played badminton should contact me,” he admits. Finally, after setting up a group on Meetup.com, things started to roll and the organization mailing list grew from a handful of “smashers” to 175 potential players, which helped Chakraborty successfully launch New York’s first gay badminton club. And, in homage to the group that inspired him, he named the club Goslings NYC.

Suman has many plans for the group, including participation in the Gay Games in Cleveland in 2014. “And if I ever get my American friends to stop giggling like a schoolgirl whenever they hear the word ‘shuttlecock,’” he jokes, “I’ll consider that a major accomplishment, too!”

Visit Meetup.com/GoslingsNYC for more info.