I am a wedding lover. I love everything that comes with it. The food, the flowers, the romance, the relationships, the emotions flowing around and most importantly the people who I get to meet. I always take a wedding invite seriously. On 20th March it was a very special wedding. My little sister Anagha got married in a lavish two-day ceremony to Tejas Dangi. It was a pretty emotional affair for me. I saw my sister grow from a girl to a woman in a span of two days. The wedding was wonderful ,though what made it very memorable for me was running into one very instrumental woman in my life – Mrs. Jayashree Pai.
The one thing common that I and Anagha share with Tejas and his sister Tanvi is our school. We are all proud Abhinavites. I didn’t know Pai Madam and Meena Chandavarkar were in Dangi’s guest list. When I suddenly saw both of them in the marriage hall I almost ran to meet them. All my memories of school came right in front of me in a flash.
When I came to Pune from Bombay I was 9 years old. I was to join school in the fifth standard and Anagha in the third. We were mid-term admissions and it was very difficult to convince schools to take us in. Karnataka High school told my parents that they could admit Anagha but not me. (Apparently I had scored pretty low in Maths, some things never change). My parents wanted us to be in same schools so they came to Abhinava Vidyalaya next hoping their Maths phobic daughter surprises them this time around. I didn’t surprise them. Jayashree Pai the principal of the school did! She told my parents that though their elder daughter had mediocre marks her background in sports was interesting and she would let both their daughters be a part of the school. Her nod to let me be in her school played a very important role in me being a professional sports woman.
Right since I joined Abhinava my Badminton career was going strong. I was just 9 but I was doing well in national tournaments. Being a player meant I had to train in the morning and reach an hour late to school, it meant I would not attend school for atleast two weeks in a month, it would mean my school work and projects would be late submissions, it would mean I needed extra help with subjects like Maths, it also meant I would miss unit tests and would have to give them later on to catch up. There was a lot of support needed from the school. My mother would visit the Principal’s office almost every second week. She would meet Pai Madam and get her to sign on all kinds of applications and requests. Not once till I graduated from the tenth was my mother sent back with a negative reply. Pai Madam allowed me to do everything that was necessary to play Badminton and to be a decent student. I would take my trophies and medals to school and show it to her. She would always give me a tight hug, make announcements in the morning assembly and put my paper cuttings on the school notice board. She always made me promise that come what may, with my playing career I would always strike a balance with studies. ” No special treatment for you. You can do both equally well. Believe in that! No excuses. ” She would tell me.
In my tenth standard I went to Pai Madam’s office with a special request. I was very nervous and though I was never scared of going to her office, this time around I was almost sure she would tell me to choose studies over sports. I was selected to represent India in a very prestigious international junior tournament in Malaysia. The dates of the tournament were colliding with the prelim’s date. I was hoping Pai Madam would make an exception and let me play the tournament instead. I went to the office with almost no hope. I knew tenth standard was a very important year. I went to her office sat down and calmly told her my request. She made a call and called a few of my teachers in the office and told them the situation. Two out of three told her that I shouldn’t miss the Prelims. My heart sank. Pai Madam must have felt my disappointment. She sent all the teachers back and told me to give her the letter. ” Before I sign I need us to make a deal. I will let you miss the Prelims and you will give me a first class result in the boards. If you agree to this we have a deal.” I almost jumped on my seat. I made the promise and she signed the letter. Before my board exams I got a call from her. ” Remember our deal?” she asked. On the results day my mother reached the school two hours before the given time. She was almost sure that I had flunked in Maths. She went to Pai Madam’s office and requested her to just tell her if I had passed or failed. Pai Madam got up from her chair and held her hand out. She shook my mother’s hand and told her I had 78.2 % and I had kept my part of the deal.
Today looking back I can say this with no doubt that Jayashree Pai and her staff of teachers played a very important part in making me a successful player and an individual. They encouraged me to do what I loved to do. They didn’t think sports was a waste of time. They also helped me and taught me the importance of striking a balance between sports and studies. I was pampered by my school for all my achievements. I remember being given ‘The best behaviour award’ for three years in school. This, when I hardly attended school to behave or misbehave. My friends in schools accused me of bribing teachers to get these awards. My teachers, peons, my class-mates, Pai Madam and the whole Abhinava family together gave me such a great environment to grow as a girl. I was treated with so much love, respect and care that when I graduated from the tenth standard I was confident and fearless. Ready to follow my dreams without any hesitation.
When I met Pai Madam in the wedding she recognised me instantly. (I have no clue how teachers always remember all their students. There are so many of us.) She asked about my whereabouts while telling my husband that he is a lucky man. I told her about being in the United States and my inclination of getting a Master’s degree. “All that is ok. But you should work towards running an academy it will do very well in America. Studies are important but keep in touch with the sport. Your experiences will help other players. What did I always tell you?” She asked.
” You can do both.” I replied. I wish every kid aspiring to be a sportsperson gets a person like Jayashree Pai as their Principal.