The Comeback Story!

I am pretty sure about the fact that by the time I retire from Badminton I will be renamed as  ‘ Aditi Comeback Mutatkar’ .  I have made so many comebacks that I have lost the count. It started at the age of 17, with my first major knee operation which forced me out for a year and I am still making comebacks at 25, this time after almost one and a half year  and three injuries to handle. I have no doubt in my mind that this one is by far the toughest of my comebacks and the most satisfying.
Early last year I came back from  a decent stint in Iran and Austria( semi-finals and quarters) I came back to Pune with a list of things I needed to work on.  I made a plan and started working on it. In fifteen days time my knee started hurting with really great intensity. I couldn’t walk without pain, I limped.  I was really worried I had never felt so much pain in my knee before. I went to my doctor- Nilesh Kamath.  We got a MRI done. The MRI images looked really bad, it was like a mini blast in my knee. Everything looked disfigured.  My doctor looked worried; he asked me what kind of goals do I have set regarding Badminton. I told him. He was as honest and brutal as he could be. “ Aditi, I am not going to lie to you.  Your knee looks like that of a sixty-year old. I can maximum give you two years to play.  You cannot run, nor do anything that includes a lot of jumping around.  You will have to take painkillers everyday and the intensity of the painkillers will depend on how you respond to training.” I hate pills. I told Darshan sir(my trainer) I will do anything but I will not take those pills.
I had to rest for two months, then start with rehab and then play. I came back home and told my parents so. They were a little skeptical with me still wanting to play.  They were not too keen about going through the whole process.  They told me to study something. I told them I didn’t want to, and convinced them that I still want to play.  I went back to doing nothing and sitting at home , waiting for my time to come. My mind was filled with so many things, there was anxiety and frustration and a lot of fear.My brain felt like a bomb ready to blast. The more I sat doing nothing ,more time was I losing. I  had only two years to do what I had to do!  It took its toll on my health. I had a acidity/panic attack. It got so bad that I had to be taken to the hospital. I and my sister have a great laugh till date about that day. She enacts the way I looked, the first time she showed it to me I laughed till I start cramping. Though that day scared the shit out of me. I realized I had to keep my mind occupied with something other than badminton. If I continued the same way I would lose my mind.
I went to a fifteen day holiday to Gwalior to my grand parents. It helped and I had a plan. My mind went from everything to pursuing music to giving the IAS exam. I chose something relatively different I decided to work in an NGO as an intern. I went to meet Sujit Patwardhan who runs Parisar in Pune. He knew me already due to badminton. He was curious to know about my intentions of working for him. I told him my reasons and my will to learn something new. He took me in. My days in Parisar are something I will cherish forever. I learned so much, it got me thinking about things I never knew existed.
Meanwhile two months passed by I started my rehab, I remained patient. I graduated to playing in two months. The knee was responding well, I had to take those pills initially but then with time I thankfully got rid of them. In my practice sessions I knew I wasn’t enjoying mentally. I was constantly frustrated with the way I was playing. My mind still felt like world no 27 and my body was struggling to keep up. There were constant niggles here and there. Hemant sir knows me more than anybody as a player. He told me I was just expecting too much too soon. The doctor had given me two years but it wasn’t like I couldn’t play for a longer time. I needed to enjoy myself. I grew more and more impatient. I wanted to begin with tournaments as soon as I could. I entered a state tournament after a really long time, I struggled to win it. This gave me a clear picture that I had lost my edge I will have to work from scratch. I was not world no 27 anymore. I was just struggling, injured and nowhere near my best.
I came back to training a lot more humble a little more realistic in my ways. I played better because I expected less now.  I was fifteen days away from the Kashmir nationals and a day away from my second state tournament. I really felt good on the court and bang. I broke my right ankle. The whole complex ran towards me  as I  fell. I was sick in pain, I cried myself to sleep for the next fifteen  days atleast. To add to my misery I also got conjunctivitis. I was stranded to the bed with a swollen ankle and five kilos of dressing. I had to start with rehab again. When my doctor saw my ankle he told me it wasn’t too bad, but I will need atleast two months to get back. Those days were the darkest. I felt so pathetic and just so angry with everything. During this my mother very rightly wanted me to stop playing right away. She had seen enough of all this. We had a ground breaking fight. I didn’t want to give up yet, I told her.  We both lost it that day.  It was raining outside I stormed out of the house with my bike key and rode away. I felt like crap about hurting mother. She is my greatest weakness and strength. I still remember seeing a Beatle on my way. I believe in signs. Beatle is my dream car. It is one of my goals to own it someday. I took this as a sign may be god was telling me something. I came back home apologized to mother and told her to give me one final chance. She did!
I went back to pain,to rehab  and to eventually playing.  I should have never entered the tata open or any other tournament. I was no way ready for it. I had to play though I had only two years. I got thrashed by a young Thailand girl in the first round. I went to Lucknow next week and had to play an upcoming Indian junior. I started well, I felt good. It was 14 all, I lunged on my forehand side and on my way back to the centre I pulled something really bad on my right hamstring. I limped my way to my hotel room.
I came back to the room and broke two rackets. I called everyone concerned and told them I am quitting. I felt like the god’s favorite joke. Everyone I called told me they agreed with  my decision. I was young and I could do many more things. There was only one man who told me to not take a decision right away. That man was Hemant sir. He said I will be back I could still make it. I silently laughed at his optimism.
I came back home. My mother was the happiest. I convinced Darshan Sir about me quitting he agreed to it too. I went to meet Hemant sir. I told him I cant take all of this anymore. I have been in pain and unhappy for too long. He heard everything with all the patience in the world, in his trademark facial expression which gives you nothing. He told me to not completely give up on the game. He told me to make studies top priority but to keep training and play the game just for fun, without a goal. I was amazed at his belief in me. He actually thought I could still play decent badminton. I did not believe him and if I believed in myself  I had  lost all of it by then.
I spoke to people and decided to give the GMAT exam and get into Indian School Of Bussiness. I had a great profile I was told. I started studying. I got enrolled in a crash course. I realized I was feeling better day by day mentally. I felt lighter, much happier. I decided to do things I always wanted to do. I played tennis for a month and actually played it well. I traveled. I went to Goa, Germany and Kashmir. Life became easier to live. My maths actually got better with all the studying. I finally realized two plus two is not five.

The good thing I did through this period was to never miss my gym sessions. I love to keep fit. I was still not ready to play though. I went to Hemant Sir after a gap of two months. He only asked me one question, “When was I going to start playing?” I told him I wasn’t too sure about it. He told to come and just play.  His belief in me was infectious. I told him I will start playing but I would change certain things. He gave me a week. Make your plan, set a goal for every month and get back to me.

I had learned a lot of things about the mistakes I had made in the whole of last year. All the traveling I did, helped  me to retrospect on things. I had been too impatient. My mind and body were never in sync. I had let “you have only two years” statement affect me too much. I had stopped enjoying the game and only felt pressure. I was unduly giving importance to playing  an attacking game. That wasn’t my strength. My strength was my endurance, my ability to play a good length, to make no errors. In my quest of attacking I had lost on my strength. I had to get my strength back and then worry about attacking. I could achieve this only by getting back to the basics, by spending more time on court less on training.
I went to Vasant Gore. My first coach in Pune, the man responsible for my strong basics. He is 80 years old. He had quit coaching long time back. I told him I wanted to start from zero and I couldn’t think of anyone but him who could get me back on track. He agreed right away. We spend one hour everyday.  He would make a box on every corner of the court and I would play the shuttle in those boxes,just like old times. His knees hurt quite a lot. I would feel guilty of keeping him standing for so long. I would tell him to sit, he wouldn’t.  He would stand for an hour right next to the court watching my every step, correcting my every step. After two great months with him I graduated to Hemant sir.
There was a significant change in me. My length was better, my movement better, my endurance better. Hemant sir looked happy about my growth after a really long time. He told me to continue with the same things. We decided to increase the pace of the rallies after every fifteen days, increase the time I sustain by five minutes.
My knee,ankle, hamstring everything felt stronger. For this only one man was responsible, Darshan Wagh. He made me lift heavy things. I told him I would become the lady Hanuman of badminton and nobody would want o marry Hanuman. He told me to believe in him. I did, I never questioned him. If I have faith in anybody regarding my body its only him.
I rose in confidence. There was maturity in my approach. I was very patient. I didn’t think of a tournament even once. I just worked at getting better day in day out. I achieved every goal I set for the month. I was at peace, my body and mind spoke the same language after a really long time.
I asked hemant sir a month before the Pune tournament, if he thought I was ready. He told me, I was. The last month was the most difficult. I was scared to push in practice. Given the past record the moment I felt good an injury would crop up. I shouted a little louder in the games session. I told myself to stop being a pussy. To push as I hard as I could. My training stint had been much better than any of the last three years.
A day before the tournament, I told sir I was struggling with questions, of how should I approach this tournament. Should I think of winning? Should I think of winning the first round? What will be a good performance? He calmed me down.He told me to stop thinking of the results. He told me a good performance would be, playing at the level I was playing in practice. If I could do that it would be good enough. It didn’t matter if it was the first round or the final.
As the tournament started there was a lot of fear and anxiety. My first round was crucial against Saili Rane. Shes a good player and a fighter. In the initial points a lot of things were going on in my mind,even the thought that I will lunge in the front and my ankle will break. Just before that day I read these lines in a book, “ if you really fear something, you should know that you have got to do it. fear is a good sign if used wisely. It tells you exactly what you need to do”  these lines became the my tag lines for the tournament. I overcame all my fear in that match. A convincing 21-12,21-12 victory gave me a lot of confidence.
After that I went into a zone. My match against Arundhati was an epic as usual. A lot of emotions, a lot of tension and pressure on both sides. I fought like a dog,and ended it with tears of joy. By the time I played Sayali I was playing my 7 match in 4 days. I was drained mentally and physically. I gave it a 100 percent effort, but lost. Sayali played a great third game she didn’t give me a chance. She knew I was tired,suffering and she punished me for it.
Today I am a really happy person. I have made  hell lot of mistakes. I have made everyone that cares go through  hell with my stubbornness. The last year and a half have changed me as a person. I feel like I am 40 already, mentally. I learned so much that believe it or not I wouldn’t change a single fact about everything that happened.
There is one eternal truth that I have discovered. There is going to be heartbreak,pain, tears, lows , a broken knee,ankle and a hamstring, that’s a given. What is unknown and  crucial is what you choose to do about it. Do you let the circumstances win or you fight and live your dream. I chose to fight. You should too. Its absolutely worth it.

There are still some goals left to be achieved in badminton. Though my next immediate goal is very clear, I need to date a nice guy. I have been, ‘the strong single independent woman’ for too long. I want to be a girl, I want to be pampered and I need to be told I am the most beautiful woman in the world. Its time!
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Born to be free!

 Bombay never fails to amaze me. The city embraces everyone. Right from the rag pickers to the millionaires. If you have a dream, the work ethic and some luck, Bombay is the city that can change your life. While people are always in search of some physical space, this is for me one of the very few cities that gives you creative freedom. It’s said, ” When in Rome behave like the Romans” , but in Bombay you can be exactly who you want to be a Roman, a Chinese, a player, a painter or  a writer ,anything and anyone and be sure of acceptance. Bombay is home to so many people, I met two men this time around who left their homes to live the life they want to.

My friends told me that they wanted me to meet someone. They said he’s intelligent, funny, and very interesting. This wasn’t exactly setting me up kind of meeting but a casual one. My friends know how fascinated I am about meeting new people. They wanted me to meet Dean.

 Dean lives in Bandra. It is one of the cutest streets in Bombay, it has all these small and old houses. There are no tall buildings there. Majority of the people living on the street are Christians. There is a constant smell of a bakery and nice food on the street. Dean came down the street to pick us up. My first impression of the man was not too great. He was fair, with a French beard and was a little taller then me. We said the formal “hi’s” and he took us to his flat.

Dean’s flat is a character in itself. The first thing that welcomes you as you remove your chappals is, a huge photo of Micheal Jackson, with a garland made up of cloth. As I stood there for a while admiring it, Dean comes over and says, ” He is god. He protects my house from bad karma.”  We laughed. I have no doubts about Micheal Jackson being God. As I entered,  I realised it wasn’t exactly a normal flat. It was  like a bachelor pad where Dean lived with his friends. The flat was really small , with three very small rooms. Though the space was small it spoke so much.  The place was filled with books, clothes, paintings, pictures and photos. There was no symmetry of design in the whole thing. There was one wall that was just splashed with colour with a big eye painted right in the middle. I told Dean I loved the place, and asked him if all the things in the room belonged to him. He explained, ” well, I don’t own most of the things in the room, I’m living in this place for the last six months. There are too many people who have lived here and then left, most of the stuff has been left by them. This wall you see has been painted by everyone who has lived here and then left. ”  There was this one room in the flat that looked like a that of a tailor’s. Apparently there was somebody who made clothes who lived there. That kind of explained the amount of different kinds of fabrics and accessories  all over the house.

After the admiration of the house we settled down. Dean made himself a smoke and started smoking, while playing some cool music on his laptop. I was dying to know his story, I asked and he was more than happy to tell, “I belong to a normal middle class family. My parents live in Bombay itself, but I had to leave my house. They don’t seem to understand me. I studied anthropology in Pune. I was a decent student and I loved my life. After I finished my studies, I came back to Bombay and got a job. My parents were happy.  I wasn’t. The job sucked, the people who worked there sucked. There was no creative freedom. What I did, what I said was never understood. Well, I can’t blame them. I never understood them and neither made the effort. It was a torture. After a year and a half of the torture I quit. There was an idea in my mind about what I wanted to do. I wanted to make my own brand of hooka. I was really excited, I came home and told my parents about the plan. They weren’t too happy. There were constant fights, and just no peace. I left the house and came here and it’s been totally great.”

I found him really cool. There was this, ‘ I  don’t give a shit of what you think’ in his ways. He  sat on the his small chair, cross legged, wearing loose payjamas, smoking, and very honestly telling me his story. Dean’s hooka business is on nascent stages.  He gets his raw material from a small village in Madhya Pradesh. He goes up and down every month to get it, comes home and makes his hooka. As the taste is new, he has to go from client to client all over the city and give his stuff for free, just so that they can taste it. He says it’s picking up, people are liking it slowly. He has named his product ” Gudguddi” . ” when you smoke it, it gives you the tickle effect.” Dean is pretty excited about his recent client. He is in the U.S , he is a rap artist and Rihanna’s boyfriend. ” I am sending him Gudguddi soon, if he likes it I will be kind of set.” I looked at him amazed. ” how did he manage to contact Rihanna’s boyfriend? He laughed, ” All you have to do is follow your heart everything else will follow.” Just then the bell rang. ” It must be Himanshu, my room mate.”  It was Himanshu the room mate.

Himanshu came in wearing basketball shorts and a formal t- shirt. He was much taller then everyone else in the room. He was a little surprised to see all of us there, and took a while to settle down.  He sat next to me after getting his orange drink from the fridge, switched on his laptop and said he had to check his mail. Dean pestered him  to show us his work. Himanshu is a painter, a writer and a teacher. My friend asked him, if he was a Christian. He said, ” well I don’t really follow religion. My mother is a something, my father is a something so by that logic I am something- something.” We all laughed. Himanshu was schooled to be a painter. Today he teaches painting in an art school. He is an awesome writer, he did eventually show me his writing. He doesn’t exactly write stories. He writes small things on religion or love or sex, compiles it, gets them printed and then sells them. He sells his stuff depending on the size and content. It ranges from anything from 50 to 200 rupees. There is a lot of depth in Himanshu’s writing. A lot of wisdom. It seems from his writing that he has seen a lot, experienced a lot. I bought one of his books which I really loved. The best thing though about Himanshu is that he also works at Dharavi with the kids living there. He teaches them painting and the best part gives them a camera and tells them to click pictures. One of his books has a selection of photos clicked by the children. It’s wonderful! Himanshu had a very calm demeanor. I asked him if I could see his paintings. He showed me one of them. It was a superman in his various moods. I looked at it for a while and hoped he didn’t ask me what I thought of it. He did, and I had to tell him I didn’t like it. He laughed, ” It’s cool I do like the honesty.” I smiled.  Soon it was time to go. I wished both of them all the best and waived good bye.

Dean and Himanshu are people who are born to be free. The society, peer pressure, money, parents cannot chain them down.  They live lives the way they want to, without regrets. People like them always gain my respect. I believe that living a life exactly the way you want to requires a lot of courage. They dont own the best clothes, cars or mobiles. There is always shortage of money but they are intrinsically very happy. They are free souls, they fly, they constantly learn and have fun while doing it.

I am nothing like Himanshu and Dean, though I can completely relate to their core values of following your dream and living life on your own terms. Saying this, I can’t dream of leaving my parents in my quest for freedom. I can’t see them stressed even for five minutes. I care about  how the society thinks of me. My actions are altered according to the ways of the society I live in. I don’t smoke a cigar and I can’t paint for nuts.  But I think that’s the beauty of life. Himanshu,Dean and Aditi need to be preserved just the way they are. We can very easily co- exist. Just the mere fact that we are different individuals who live in the same world and can be friends is so exciting. Just imagine living in a world with the same kind of people it would be unbelievably  boring! Won’t it?