The curse of Big Bazaar

Every game is incomplete without one person. Till that person does not announce the winner, a team, a player cannot officially win. That one person is the umpire. As a player you always tend to take umpires for granted. They slog through weeks of tournaments day in and day out to play their part in making champions. Dipika Kulkarni -an upcoming junior player, always wondered from where they harnessed so much patience and inspiration to sit on a chair and see over 50 to 100 matches on a busy day (in case of Badminton).  She always respected them for what they did and made a special effort to thank them after every match she played.

A sport is incomplete without an umpire

Deepak Mahajan and Dipika shared one thing in common, their birth place- Gwalior. Deepak sir had a reputation of being a very strict, honest and a fearless umpire. All the players loved him off the court but were scared of serving a fault serve or giving a bad line judgement when he sat on the chair. It was almost impossible to win a point unfairly when he was the umpire. Players in the circuit had great respect for his ability to never give way to any kind of injustice on court.  Deepak sir had slowly rose up the ladder and had just qualified to be an umpire for International tournaments. Dipika and Deepak sir had a great bond. They had their roots from the same city and that helped them develop a strong sense of affinity towards each other. Deepak sir would give Dipika advice on her game and tell her stories about the International circuit. He told Dipika with pride about the time when he called a service fault to the World no. 1 men singles player at match-point and how the player made a ruckus for almost 15mins but Deepak sir never budged.  He told Dipika with almost a sense of pride, “It was a fault. You can watch the video online. I was right. He might be World No.1 but on the court he is just a player. I will not allow an unfair point on my court.”

Dipika always wondered if Deepak sir had ever made a mistake on court. He was only human after all. He surely must have made mistakes when he started. In a tournament in Lucknow, Dipika saw Deepak sir sitting and drinking some nice hot tea and chatting with the shop keeper near the stadium. He was alone and did not have company. She approached him and he offered her chai. After the usual chats on her game and how the draw looked for her, Dipika asked him, ” Deepak sir, can I ask you something? Have you never made a mistake on court? Like say, called a bad line judgement or a service fault? I mean there must have been atleast one mistake in all these years right? Is there any episode where a player lost a match because of your mistake? ” Deepak sir smiled, asking the chai wallah to repeat his chai. Dipika could not guess if he was thinking of an answer or just laughing it off. “Why would you ask me this suddenly? he asked Dipika. ” I don’t know I was just curious.”  Deepak sir looked at his cup and said,” I will never forget that match in my life. It was one of the best matches I have ever seen. It was also the only match I let my guard slip and make a mistake. I couldn’t sleep well for quite some time after that match.”

And hence the story began.



” I woke up in the morning did my yoga and was sipping my chai while I read the newspaper. My phone rang, it was my mother from Gwalior. “I need you to come home as soon as possible. Your father doesn’t look well. He hasn’t spoken a word to me since that day. He isn’t eating properly and he keeps complaining about chest pain. I am admitting him to the  hospital.” I told her I understood and that I will be on my way to Gwalior tomorrow, right after the national finals in Cochin today. As I kept my phone down I felt so much anger and helplessness that I smashed the tea cup on the floor. My father was my hero, to see him in this state  broke my heart to pieces.

My father was popularly known as ‘Sethji’ in the Dal Bazaar area in Gwalior. He ran a grocery store in Dal Bazaar. He sold everything from the daily ration to vegetables. He started the shop small with only vegetables, but slowly and steadily he grew his shop and named it Deepak after my name. We lived in a small space behind the store itself for many years. My father ran this store for almost 20 years till he had to shut it down and sell it. That store was his dream, his bread and butter and his identity.

Gwalior started growing so did its industries and its markets. The malls started coming in and so did the super-markets. Three months before my father had to eventually sell his shop, a Big Bazaar opened right in from of his shop. He first did not see this as a threat to his business. He knew he had a loyal customer base for almost twenty years and a Big Bazaar could not change that. But things started changing. He quickly lost customers and business. All his suppliers started selling their produce to Big Bazaar rather than him. There were massive losses for him to survive. So two weeks before I got that call from my mother my father sold his shop for a small amount. “That day” my mother spoke about on the phone was referred to the day he had to sell his shop and his identity.

After I spoke to my mother that day I went to the courts with my mind filled with emotions. I tried to put my emotions in the background and decided to focus on the junior boys singles  final I was scheduled to umpire. It was a very interesting match. Aditya Waghmare was supposed to play K. Rajan. Aditya came from a village in Maharashtra and had no academy or sponsors. His coach was a state level player from Nagpur. A very passionate guy. K.Rajan on the other hand was the junior number one and trained under the top academy in the country. Aditya had a great run into the finals. He came from the qualifications beating all the higher ranked players on his way.

The match started with great anticipation. There was a packed stadium and both the players had great support. The rallies were electrifying and the standard of Badminton for their age was brilliant. It was 20-18 in the third game and Aditya was leading.  Aditya had won a great rally and asked for a water break. I hesitated but then I let him have it. Both the players were sipping water and looking at coaches for instructions. I looked at both the sides. Aditya was searching for something in his kit. He took out a big Big Bazaar plastic bag from his kit and took out a banana from it . I don’t know what happened to me after that. I suddenly remembered my father and his sorry state. All the images of the shop, his struggle, our small house behind the shop, everything just seemed to have come right in front of me. The players went in and played a great rally again. Aditya hit a cross over head smash on Rajan’s backhand. Rajan didn’t reach it. It was on the line I saw it.  Aditya was on the floor celebrating and people were cheering. Rajan’s coaches knew Rajan had lost. The linesmen sitting at the back in the pressure of that moment gave a late call and called it out. Rajan suddenly shouted and roared back, picked up the shuttle and got ready to serve. Aditya rushed to me, shouting almost crying. “It is in. You saw it. Come on, please! Come on.” I didn’t over rule the decision. For me somehow in that very moment Aditya became Big Bazaar. It was like the curse of Big Bazaar had a spell on me. In all my helplessness I felt about my father’s situation at that moment I somehow felt this was my only chance at retribution. I wanted to beat Big Bazaar. It was Aditya’s Big Bazaar plastic bag that caused him to lose that match.  From 20-18, he straight away lost 22-20. He could never come back into the match after that bad decision.

I came back home that day and I just couldn’t sleep. I realised that I let Big Bazaar win again that day. It had beaten my father and the umpire in me. It was Aditya’s right to win that day but I let him lose.”

big bazaar
The big super markets are slowly killing the old ration shops. Where do the people that own these ration shops  go?


He finished the story and looked at Dipika. Dipika had not touched her tea. Aditya Waghmare was her senior in the academy she trained in. “WOW! Now I know why Aditya  never has great things to say about you.” Both of them laughed. “It’s ok. He has beaten K.Rajan every time he played him after that. That loss helped him.” She smiled. “I should tell Aditya about this may be it will change the way he thinks about you.” He got up and put his hand on her head and left. On her way back home she and her friends stopped at a super-market in Lucknow to get some grocery. While going to the super-market she saw a fruit stall across the street. She told her friends to carry on, and decided to go to the fruit stall instead.

fruit stall
“Apple kaisa diya bhaiya?”  You can’t have this conversation in a Big Bazaar.








Ideas on coaching


 Work on strength from a very early age

I believe that Indians lack in strength as compared to the Europeans and the Asians. Work has to be put in right from the age 10 on the strength training of a child. The main two areas in badminton are the core strength and strong legs (especially calves). As a kid I started learning about strength training only after I turned 14. Though it is scientifically right that gym training should only start after the age of 13 because it hampers the natural growth of the child. It is also true that there are a lot of exercises that can be started which don’t involve going to the gym. A child needs to undergo a strength program right from the start, the earlier the better.

 Individual centric training

The big problem with academies is that because there are a lot of children, coaches tend to make one similar program for everybody because it is easier to run it that way. Though this is a good idea in the earlier or basic stages, after a certain period of time it is crucial to have a very specific training program for a specific player. As a coach from the 20 children I am in charge of I should pick up 5 to 6 kids who I think are doing better than the others and jot down a program according to their weaknesses. It just makes no sense to work on someone’s attack because others are weak on it , while  actually the player needs work on the defence.

 To push players to think about their game from an early stage

It is extremely important to push children to maintain a diary. Self-analysis is the best way to move forward. These diaries should include them writing down about their own weaknesses and their own solutions on it. There should be a discussion every end of the week on this with the coach. As a kid learns to think independently about his game it helps him to make his own strategies against different opponents in the future. A ten year old kid won’t have too much skill in writing about his weaknesses and there is 80% chance that he also might be wrong. The point here is not right and wrong but the ability to think independently. Badminton is a lonely sport. You have to make decisions very quickly in matches. The earlier they get into a habit of thinking for themselves the easier it will be in the advance stages.

Injury management

I think it is crucial to have an expert in this field in the academy. We need to build a system where a player is not worried about getting injured. Also we have to find ways of funding them if they are financially not too strong. Injuries need to be handled in a very scientific way. If not, the players tend to find themselves in a vicious circle. It needs immense amount of mental strength to get out positively out of it, and not every player would have that strength. There needs to be a team which is working on making their physical pain as less as possible. A masseur, an orthopaedic, a physio-therapist is a necessity as the academy players enter a competitive stage. Just the feeling of having a team to fall back on, brings in a lot of confidence in their performances. It helps immensely in their preparations.

Right kind of marketing, funds and corporate sponsors at the right time

When a player is doing really well with their performances. It is extremely important to get him sponsors. We need to have a vision for a kid. Every player that is doing well should have some kind of sponsorship behind him. Having financial backing is crucial in planning international tournaments for the players. A player should not be dependant on the associations that run the sport to play the tournaments they want to play. Ofcourse only the top few players of the academy should be given this help. this not only helps the players who are getting the sponsors but it generally helps in having a healthy competitive environment within the academy. Every kid will have a motivation to do well in competitions realising that they would be rewarded for their effort. Also the ones who are at the top will have to maintain their level knowing if they don’t they could be replaced by the next lot of players waiting in the wings.

Finding Extra in the Ordinary

As an athlete I sometimes feel like I have felt and survived every human emotion there is. My life as an athlete has shown me success and failure. I have been pushed and tested to my limits. In all the battles I have fought on the court and off it I have learnt lessons that have shaped my life not only as an athlete but as a thinking individual. I was a Psychology student in college and I have always been curious of how we as humans react to the emotions we feel. What do we do when we succeed and what do we do when we fail? The best stories of human strength and character are the ones that have come from failure and pain. They have always taught me more than the happier stories. The underdog is always my hero and the one that I always root for. The story that I am going to tell you today is a very personal account of a man I met in a hospital. He inspired me in one of the toughest and lowest period of my life. He pushed me to never give up on my goals and to keep fighting. I hope he inspires you too.

I was 17 years old then. I was the country’s best girls singles player. I was winning every tournament I played nationally and was selected to represent India in the Junior World Championships. I was focussed and excited. I was in the best form of my life and I knew I could get a great result in this prestigious tournament. Destiny though had its own plan. In one of the training sessions a week before the tournament I twisted my knee. The twist was very bad. I couldn’t walk on that leg for the next month. I was rushed to the hospital and the doctor told me that my meniscus and my anterior cruciate ligament was completely torn. This meant I needed a surgery and I would be out of the competitive circuit for the next whole year. This news was a big blow. A year without Badminton was an impossible thought for me to fathom.

I was operated on my leg. I still remember the way I felt the next day after my surgery. I was lying down on that hospital bed trying to put up a brave face while inside I just felt so broken. My mind was a box of unanswered questions. Will I walk again? Will I ever play again? Is this end of my badminton career? Will I ever be number one again?  At that time I had no answers for all these questions. The next few days I was in constant pain. I gave up on putting up a brave front. I sulked, cried and constantly complained about my fate. I gave a hard time to my parents and doctors. My 17 year old mind felt incapable of handling the situation more mentally than physically. I felt like I was left alone at the bottom of the ocean.

After a week my rehab programme began. I was brought in the rehab room on a wheelchair. My doctor told me that before I started my rehab he wanted to introduce me to someone. His name was Ravi Mohanty. He looked a little older than me but still pretty young. Ravi had lost his leg in an accident a month back. The accident wasn’t his fault. A young car driver jumped the light and hit him on a signal. Ravi was on his bike. The first few days of my rehab program I was too consumed with self-pity and anger to register Ravi or his story. I hardly ever spoke to him. I did observe him though. I never saw Ravi unhappy. He always smiled and laughed. He would crack jokes on his condition. He would flirt with the nurses. The room just always seemed to have lit up once he entered it. I hardly smiled, or talked during my rehab sessions. Ravi’s attitude towards his situation always surprised me. I wanted to know how could he be so happy when he had lost a leg. What was keeping him sane? One afternoon I finally let go of my inhibitions and spoke to him.

I approached his bed and asked him if I could talk to him. He immediately moved a little and patted on the bed, asking me to sit down. “Finally. I have the great privilege of sharing space with an international athlete.” I was a little surprised that he knew things about me. After the initial awkwardness I felt a lot easier to talk to him. “ Ravi, you have just lost a bloody leg. You are just 25. Why are you so happy? Aren’t you worried about your future? You will never be able to walk or run normally again? What is your secret?” Ravi looked at me and smiled. “All I am really worried about is that will I ever get a girl-friend. It is difficult to get one with two legs now-a-days.” I burst out laughing and Ravi joined. “ Oh Aditi! Life is too short. Yes what happened is a bad thing. I didn’t do anything to deserve this. But most of the time things are out of your control. Life is unfair, accept it. I have two options right now. To sulk and cry or to accept things and still be the best I can be. A lost leg doesn’t really define me. What will define me is what I am going to do from here after? I choose not to fail. We live in the 21st century. I have already registered myself to get an artificial leg. I am sure I will not only walk soon but I will run soon and may be then we can have a race. I might just beat you. The key thing Aditi is to win the battle within you. That is the toughest battle you will ever encounter. If you decide you are going to be India’s number one even after all this, then nobody can stop you. You need to believe in yourself. The world will soon follow.”

That day I realised how poorly I was dealing with this. Here was Ravi who had lost his leg telling me he will run soon. I had just injured my knee. If Ravi could remain so positive with everything he was going through, I had no excuse to not do the best I can do. Talking to Ravi made a huge impact on me. From the next day onwards I was much more focussed and pumped up about my rehab. I knew a good intensive rehab was my only way of getting out of this situation. The next six months of my life were the best days of my life. I didn’t really have money to hire a professional trainer. My only way to get myself a good rehab was research. I researched like a student. I wrote exercises down, different diets, supplements, etc. I set myself short term goals and achieved them. Every time I felt like giving up I thought about Ravi and his smiling face. It just always helped me.

A year after the surgery I entered my first national tournament in my hometown and I lost in the finals. Even though I had lost I won a lot of respect from my family, coaches and opponents. I was respected for my belief, effort and my will to not give up. The respect that I got from my loved ones was secondary to the respect I felt for myself. I knew this time I had won the battle within and irrespective of the result of my finals I had won. The best years of my badminton career came after this surgery. I achieved the world ranking of 27 in the Womens singles, a silver medal in the Bittburger Grand Prix and the Commonwealth Games (mixed team event) and also became the national champion in the juniors and the seniors.

It is a shame that I don’t know where Ravi is today. I owe him my most important lesson. The most extraordinary things in life are taught by the most ordinary people. If we just keep our eyes and heart open, we can be left so inspired. I will always be eternally grateful to Ravi for showing me how to find the extra in the ordinary.

For me the most dreaded part of the hospital experience was sitting on a wheelchair. But by the end of my time there I realised it is by sitting on this chair that I learned some of my greatest lessons.