How I dealt with retirement

I still remember the day when I came home after losing to P.C. Thulasi in the Quarterfinals of the Pune National in June 2015. That was my last competitive match in Badminton. When I came home my parents and sister gave me a group hug and my father joked, “So already retired at 27? I am 58 and I still have two years to retire. What are you going to do now?” I smiled at him and realised I did not have an answer to his question.

Netflix has a documentary called, ‘Broke’, that talks about how 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. For 78 percent of NFL players, it takes only three years. Sucked into bad investments, stalked by freeloaders, saddled with medical problems, and naturally prone to showing off, most pro athletes get shocked by harsh economic realities after years of living the high life. Ian Thorpe one of the greatest swimmers in the world confessed to dealing with depression and alcoholism after retirement. Abhinav Bindra in his book “A shot at history” speaks about how after winning his gold medal at the Olympics he felt depressed because he had nothing left to prove. Recently there was a full page feature in The New Yorker on Micheal Jordan with the headline “How Air Jordan became Crying Jordan”.

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To see one of your heroes like this is scary.

 

Dealing with retirement is tough and hard. You are used to a routine. You always have goals that you set for yourself to achieve. You are used to the adrenaline of competition and your will to win against all odds. You are used to the fame, the awards, the felicitations, and the applause. The day you retire you are set to lose all of this. Your life is much silent and you lose the limelight. There are no articles about you in the newspaper and suddenly you find yourself becoming a part of the millions of other people whose success is not merely defined by being featured in the newspaper. You have to change your definition of success from winning a match to something else which you may still not have figured for yourself. That realization for any athlete can be pretty intimidating.

I really can’t compare my achievements to the the great athletes I have mentioned above. They are way more successful and have a much bigger bank balance than mine. I can though compare myself with them for the love and passion I feel for my sport and a certain degree of hard work I put in the sport to succeed for 15 years. I too had to go through my share of post retirement issues and it was interesting to see myself go through it.

The best thing about being born to a traditional middle-class Marathi family is that you are a part of a tradition. A tradition which is based on age, marriage, and kids. There is a particular age to do things and they need to be done as prescribed by your elders. I have a lot of friends who defy this tradition and don’t believe in it. For me though I never had a problem being a part of it. I believe in marriage and family just like my parents do. For me it is a wonderful thing and makes life much fuller and complete.

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🙂

 

Unlike my counterparts in the western world who are not big on fixed traditions or marriage for me being part of a tradition turned out to be a joyful distraction from retirement. My marriage took me to a foreign land, United States of America. In the first six months I realized my limitations as a house-maker. I had to learn cooking, washing, cleaning, rationing, budgeting, setting up the house, and decorating it. In a course of six months I set myself goals to get better in each of this department. I think my approach to this challenge was very athlete like. I refused to accept the fact that I couldn’t cook. Playing a sport makes you pretty tough on yourself. It is a blessing. From making chapatis in the shape of a triangle I started making round phulkas by the end of my six months. Believe me the joy of seeing a round phulka on the gas gave me as much joy as seeing my name in the newspaper. By the end of a year I had people come over the weekend for dinners and lunches. When some of them complimented me and asked me for an extra phulka because they loved my vegetable curry I did a small dance inside my head.

The one year post retirement has been a story of a lot of such small victories for me personally. Professionally though I have gone through anxiety and some tough patches. The H-4 visa in America gets tricky from the get go. You can’t work on this visa. Being an independent woman all these years, not earning was killing me. To keep myself busy I wrote a lot and self-researched on a lot of topics that I was interested in. Though I realized very soon that this alone was not enough to satisfy my needs. For quite some time I wanted to get a master’s degree. I started looking for courses in University of Texas in Dallas. Looking for a course in universities in America is a harrowing task. There are more than 100 degrees to choose from. My search led me to a degree in Public Administration. I loved all the courses the degree offered. Courses on Government, policy making, public management, non- profit organizations and so on. In my limited time working in NGOs and social sector I knew this is an area that I would love to officially be a part of. I applied for the summer term of 2016. After a series of tests, an essay, transcripts, grade evaluation and interviews I finally received my admit letter last week. When I visited the UTD campus and attended my first class I immediately knew I was in for a roller-coaster ride and an experience of a life time.

As I write this I am in a peaceful place professionally after a year of uncertainty and searching for a goal to per sue. This year made some very important revelations to me. I realized everything in life is temporary. The success, the failure, joy and sorrow. Change is the only constant. If you can embrace change, never resist it and actually use it to build you and not break you the world can be a pretty amazing place. A year and a half back I was a professional athlete today I am a student at UTD. The transition is not going to be easy. I am in a place where my past really doesn’t count and I have to start from zero. To never live in the past, to put yourself in a spot where you naturally don’t belong but you still try and make a place of your own. Isn’t that what life is all about?

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I wonder where this takes me! Excited 😀

 

The story of New York

When Henry Hudson an English sailor left the Dutch shore, his mission was clear: “FIND CHINA”. He set sail with his men and after a few months reached this massive piece of land to the east of the Atlantic Ocean. He called upon his men with joy. They finally found China. After a couple days of living on the land, calculating and giving it a thought, Henry Hudson realised it wasn’t China after all. As he left the island to continue his search for China, he named the island ‘Manhatta’ after the tribal people who lived on the island. He also wrote back to the Dutch West India company who were his sponsors, that although it was not China it was a great island which could be a port and a place where trade would flourish.

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An artist’s view of Henry Hudson’s ship Halve Maen reaching the island as the Native Indians look on.

The first Dutch colonies arrived on the island of Manhatta in 1624. They soon realised the potential of this island. Being a vast resource of forest and animals they invested in beaver skin and the fur trade. It became a provincial extension of the Dutch Republic as of 1624 and was designated the capital of the province in 1625 and they called it ‘New Amsterdam’. The Dutch were not interested in anything other than making a buck. This purpose of the Dutch led the foundation of New York’s materialism.

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Peter Stuyvesant the one-legged General was called upon by the Dutch to bring order to the island.

The birth of ‘Wall’ Street

By the time Peter Stuyvesant started ruling this Dutch Colony in 1653 it wasn’t doing too well. There was disorder and chaos and people were leaving the island. In a span of few years Stuyvesant turned things around. He increased manufacturing and enforced policing to establish some order. New Amsterdam was flourishing again with business and trade. People from all quarters of the world sailed in to share the profits of the island. The first to come in were the Jews in 1654. Slowly the island had inhabitants from different parts of the world, with about 18 languages being spoken. The English rulers soon realised that this place was a gold mine and they needed to own it. Even though Peter Stuyvesant, the great one-legged General, would build a 2340 ft wall around the island to protect his colony from the English it would not help. The English would annex New Amsterdam in 1664 crushing the Dutch resolve. They would bring down the great wall in 1699 and name the street Wall Street. They would also give a new name to the island and call it New York, after The Duke of York to whom this island would be presented as a gift. George Washington would win back New York from the clutches of the English in 1776 when America would finally win her freedom from the colonies.

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The map of New Amsterdam in the 1600s.

Man on the 10 $ Bill

George Washington had some great men in his first ever cabinet of the American Government. Alexander Hamilton was one of them. The most interesting thing about Alexander Hamilton was that he was an immigrant. He sailed like millions of other immigrants that came to the city wanting to achieve their dreams. He came from the West Indies. He was an orphan who studied, thanks to some wealthy men in his city. The same men would then sponsor his education at the Columbia University in New York. He loved the city and his passion for it soon made him one of the most important men in American history. Alexander Hamilton realised that the city could not just depend on agriculture and needed to get into manufacturing and commerce. He was the founder of the nation’s financial system, of the Federalist Party-the world’s first voter-based political party, the Father of the United States Coast Guard, and the founder of The New York Post. The foundation of banking, manufacturing and emancipation of slaves was all led as early as 1790 by him. His focussed vision for the city so early in time remains one principle reason for New York being the financial capital in the world.

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Alexander Hamilton

Most powerful city in America

New York is one great human experiment. Hell, its a human miracle. It is a war between the human species and the nature, which the human species seem to have won. When Henry Hudson found Manhattan it was an island of hills, forests and lakes. It was in the early 1807 when DeWitt Clinton who is known as the greatest New Yorker of all time and was the Governer of the city had a vision. Realising the potential of the city he knew the had to build a city not just for thousands but millions. In 1807 he led out a plan with his team of engineers and architects for the city in a grid system. The map was 8 ft long, 12 avenues wide, 155 streets long covering about 1000 acres. Today when you roam around the city you realise even though you are surrounded by huge buildings on all sides you hardly feel suffocated. It is because there is the sea breeze coming in from both the sides of the island due to the grid system. DeWitt Clinton would also build the Eerie Canal which would connect New York to rest of America and Canada. It would take seven years to complete and man power of thousands of men. By 1825 thanks to the canal and the trade opportunities, New York would confirm it’s place as the most powerful city in America.

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DeWitt Clinton
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The map of New York in a grid.
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Erie Canal took seven years to build. The Government had denied to sponsor Clinton’s vision. Clinton raised money anyway by approaching business men and people. Erie Canal was a project completed truly by the people, for the people, and of the people, showcasing strength of a democracy.

The city of Immigrants

The city and the great advancements made by it was followed by one of the biggest migrations in the world. Immigrants came mostly from Europe that was suffering from famines, poverty and corrupt government. In 1836 a ship carrying 15825 passengers sailed into the port of New York. Immigrants also came from Ireland, more than a million of them. There was a lot of African-American population right from the 1600s due to the slave industry. There were Jews, Germans, Russians, Japanese, Chinese, Italians; almost every race and religion in the world was a part of the New York population. Just imagine the confusion, the awe, the shock, the fear people in the city must have felt looking at each other’s differences. It is said that New York was a very democratic city. It wasn’t. Everybody was scared of everybody. A new immigrant was a danger to food, water, houses, jobs and thus also to the very existence of the present population. There were riots, (the period during the Civil War saw the worst riots in New York’s history), and protests all through the history of New York. But just like every great city New York would always survive and come back even stronger and better from all of it.

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The hustle bustle of the city in early 1900s. What an exciting place!
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School in the tenements
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The tenements in New York were occupied by the immigrants who came with mostly nothing in their pockets. They were the most crowded places and mostly ignored by the City Government which lead to very bad conditions to live.

 

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The immigrants came through Ellis Island. This was the place where immigrants were checked for diseases and mental problems. If they were very ill or mentally disturbed they were sent back by the same ship that they had traveled months on. There are some great stories about this process on Ellis Island today. The family in this picture seems to have made it.

Who REALLY built the city ?

This great migration caused a lot of problems. The most important of them all was creating enough jobs. Most of the migrant population was not really educated and did not know English. They were of no value to the financial workings of the city. The New York city Government found the answer to their problem in public works. Every great structure that New York city claims today is a produce of the millions of immigrants that came to the city. The Erie canal, the Brooklyn Bridge, The Central Park, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, the subway system and so many more. What is ironic is that all these great structures were built between 1800 to 1900 ; a period when industrialisation and technology was not at all its peak. Most of the dangerous things that machines do today were done by human beings. The migrant population did all these things with great spirit. New York was the city that gave them hope, work, food and a shelter. It did not care about the language they spoke, the clothes they wore, the religion they practiced. If they were ready to work hard New York would pay them back in more ways than one. Some of the world’s greatest people from different fields rose in the this period of migration in New York. New York became a symbol for whole of America for how accepting different people would only strengthen America and not weaken it.

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The early map of Central Park. It was planned by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. None of them had done such a big project before. The park was built by African-Americans and Irish men. After the park was ready the same men who had built the park were ironically not allowed in it. It took some years for them to gain access.

 

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Central Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is the much-needed breathing space required for the ever-changing and a fast-paced city like New York.
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Ordinary men did dangerous things to make the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. The first stone was laid in 1869 and the bridge was completed in 1883.

 

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There was great rivalry between the Irish and the African American communities. They were fighting for the same jobs and the same houses. Children did not seem to share the same hatred.

 

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Hanging by the fire escape.

 

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Protests was one of the strongest weapons of the labour unions. They fought for higher wages and better working conditions.

 

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Women in New York have always been a rebellious bunch. They fought for years to get their right to vote. It was 1920 when the first woman in New York cast her vote.

New York today is not very different from what it was in the early 1900s in spirit. It is still the land of opportunity, diversity, culture, pace, ideas and protests. It is the place where the richest people in the world live and also the poorest. There is an undying spirit to the city which is not brought by the massive structures in the city but by the people who live in it. I don’t think there is any other city in the world that can claim that the whole world lives in it. New York is the only city that can claim to be a city of the world and that in itself makes it an unforgettable place.

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Vibrant colours in Greenwich Village.
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New York is home to a lot of homeless people. Parks, subway stations, places under the bridges is were many of them live. Notice the pigeon on his hand.

 

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New Yorkers don’t care about anything you do. No one will give you a second look if you take off your shirt and sit in the park. Expect me of course!

 

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You will hear music everywhere in New York….everywhere.
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China Town
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37 languages. A million people. One mad place. – Times Square.
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The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French. The statue stands as a symbol of hope that New York holds for all the immigrants who come here leaving their homes behind with hope of finding a home here. Most of them do!

 

How Arvind Bhat won the German Open GPG?

On 2nd March 2014 a tall man with curly hair, lean but strong walked into the RWE- Sporthalle in Mulhiem, Germany. He wore a t-shirt that read BHAT and INDIA right below it. Arvind Bhat at 34, was the oldest men’s singles player in the tournament as well as the Indian team. He had entered the finals of the German Open Grand Prix Gold. It was drizzling on the evening he stepped on the court. The match was scheduled at around nine in the night. He had followed his routine perfectly that day. Being a regular practitioner of the Sudarshan Kriya and Pranayam he knew the importance of focusing on his breath. He was constantly keeping tab on the intake of his breath and the speed at which he was letting it out. He had not talked much to any one that day. There was no discussion on a strategy to play Hans Vittinghus from Denmark, a player who has one of the best defence in the circuit. Arvind had decided to rely solely on his instincts. The same instincts that almost 12 years back guided him to take up Badminton professionally and choose a path less traveled. Especially when he already had an Engineering degree in his hands. Before I get to the German Open and Arvind’s historic win, it is crucial for me to talk about his journey. A journey that is nothing short of fascinating. The journey is always more interesting than the destination. The destination never teaches us anything it is always the way to the destination that has all the lessons.

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Arvind on the finals day of the German Open

Nothing about Arvind’s Badminton career is conventional. If you ask every top player in India today when did they start playing serious Badminton, the average age would be anything between 10 to 13 years. If you ask the same question to Arvind his answer would be 22. Yes 22 ! Arvind had almost quit Badminton as he was pursuing an Engineering degree. He did engineering like any other student. Regularly going to college and attending majority of classes. He would play Badminton as a hobby 3 times a week. He would do odd jobs for money to cover his expenses. His main objective at the age 18-22 was not trying to hit the shuttle on the lines but making money to support himself. But destiny had other plans. He got his first sign from the universe with a break to represent the Indian team when he reached the final of the National Championships in 2002. He did his first running and weight training session that year at 22. Mostly all professional players start weight training at the age of 14 (he was 8 years late). He was introduced to the concept of diet and supplementary diet only at the age of 26. At 22, another significant thing happened that inspired him enough to play the sport and listen to his heart; Pullela Gopichand won the All England Championship !

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Arvind with his professors during his Engineering days

After joining the party pretty late compared to his contemporaries, he realised there was a lot of catching up to do. Even though he knew this he loved and enjoyed every change that Badminton brought to his life. The training, the hardwork, the sacrifices, the wins and also the losses. At 22 years of age it certainly takes a decent amount of bravery to completely switch your life from being an Engineer to becoming a full-time professional athlete. Courage is a very rare thing to possess. Arvind’s courage was put to test a lot of times all through his career. He had his share of injuries every year. He was regularly injured. He had a serious injury that needed surgery and threatened to finish his career in 2006. But he marched on with just one aim in his mind that he had to win at least one big international event before he retired. By the time he reached the peak of his career he was playing opponents atleast 4-5 years younger than him. They were faster, fitter, and stronger than him. But if he was ever worried about this, one never saw it.

I had won my first senior national the same year Arvind won his second national title. In the final he beat P. Kashyap. I remember very vividly that for most of us Arvind did not stand a chance. Kashyap was in such a great form. But all of us witnessed one of the most clinical, sharp, and brutal finals we had ever seen. Arvind won the match in straight games and showed us all some of his best Badminton ever. But that was not his best Badminton, not yet. His best Badminton came two years later in 2014. This time not just India but the whole world took notice.

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The ankle injury that needed a surgery in 2006
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Arvind with the Men’s Singles trophy in Rohtak Senior Nationals after beating P.Kashyap in that clinical final.

A week before he played the German Open; he entered an all India event in Bangalore. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to play the event at all. He had a severe back ache and he was not too sure about playing. His physio, Muthu gave him enough confidence and asked him to play. Arvind lost to 15-year-old Siril Verma in the second round. After this loss Arvind had almost made up his mind to withdraw from the German Open. Though he knew that even if he didn’t play the German Open he had to go to Germany and play his club matches the weekend before the German Open was scheduled to start. At this point he was ranked 87 in the world. He was not sure if he would get a main draw entry in the German Open. He waited till the draws of the tournament came out. He made the main draw. He decided he was going all the way to Germany anyway, so he might as well play the tournament too.(Thank God!) He spent the one week in India doing weights, resting and meditation. He never entered court the week before he left for Germany.

He played two singles for his club in the club matches. He beat two decent players in the league. In both the matches he won beating his opponents in a under-10 score. These two wins were crucial to get his confidence back. Arvind had to play a higher ranked player right from the second round in the German Open. He was never scared of playing anyone in the draw. In fact his experience told him it was good to play top players in the beginning as they were most vulnerable. He beat Hu Yun in the second round who was world No.4 at that time. After passing the Hu Yun test he felt anything could happen if he really focussed. His back held up pretty well all through the match. Also the rest and treatment from the week before; which he thought would be a hindrance to perform; actually seemed to have helped him to peak.

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Training hard!

The match against Hu Yun had drained him and he had to really dig deep inside for the win. It gave him the confidence of going right till the end. Although he also knew he could not survive the full week if he played long matches every single round. Fortunately the next 2 rounds he won quite quickly, in half an hour each. The easier matches helped him save some energy. He beat Darren Liew and Victor Axelsen in straight games. He felt he had luckily managed to save enough fuel to survive right till the very end. Arvind played a thriller of a match in the semifinals against Chinese Taipei’s Tien Chen Chou. Arvind had no problems in disposing off Chou in the first game after taking a 6-3 lead which he was able to maintain all through the first game. Chou however meted out the same treatment to Arvind in the second game when he broke off at 6-6 and marched ahead. But in the decider, Arvind fought till the end after Chou had stepped up his game. They battled from 6-6 to 14-14 with the lead changing hands frequently. Arvind was ahead by a point lead after that and even though Chou caught up at 20-20, he successfully staved off the challenge in the end.

If you ask a player how exactly did he win a final, it is very difficult to get a precise answer. Finals are always very difficult. You are tired both mentally and physically. You are in a zone. Arvind had played some great matches throughout the tournament. Vittinghus was a tough opponent, a fighter. Arvind had a lot at stake with this match. If he won this final he would create history. He would be one amongst ten Grand Prix Gold or Super series victories in the history of Indian Badminton. He would be the only Indian player to have won the German Open title. He would also be one of the few players in the history of modern Badminton to have won a 4 star event at the age of 34. Most importantly he was one win away of his very own dream title. That one title that he had worked towards for the last twelve years ! Though none of this was on Arvind’s mind that day. He had lost enough finals to learn his lessons from. He entered the court calm and confident. His control over his emotions worked wonders. He won the first set and took the lead in the second at 17-12. That was the first and only time he thought about winning and celebrating which soon made him lose focus and become complacent. After losing the second game he told himself to fight till he couldn’t fight anymore. He did exactly that. He kept fighting until he won. After the win there was absolutely no outward celebration on his part. He moved along the court with the calm of a meditating saint.

It took him almost half an hour to realise the magnitude of his win. Following were some of his initial reactions.

Initially for the first 30 minutes or so I was quite cool. Also since I had trained myself to think like a Champion I behaved like one. Not too much excitement, not showing it too much. Just a cool demeanour. I had promised myself in the 3rd set the same too. No celebration if I win. But after about 30 minutes all hell broke loose. But only inside of me. I was like ‘I did it!’ I did what was unexpected and I did something which none of my peers had done. Only a handful of Indians had done this before me. Maybe about 8-10 people only. So I felt like Top 10 all time greats of Indian Badminton. I felt good and proud, but all inside of me. Nothing outside. Post 2 hours I had lots of congratulatory messages from some unexpected quarters. It looked like many people in India had watched it live simply because there was a cricket match of India which India had lost against Pakistan. So the disappointed crowd were channel surfing and found my win satisfying. “

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Kissing the German Open trophy

Every player has their own story. What makes Arvind’s story different is that he did not start his career as a normal sportsman would. He had never played good level of Badminton till he reached the age of 22. He didn’t have any wins in the junior level to build his faith on. There are struggles, challenges, sacrifices, frustrations, injuries in every player’s life and Arvind had to face it all after 22 years of age. Being a champion is not age bound. He always found a way to get past everything and get to his dreams. It took him close to twelve years to realise his goal but he never lost sight of the goal till he finally achieved it.

Arvind’s journey teaches me a lot of lessons. Lessons in belief, in fighting society’s norms about age and careers, in making your own rules and sticking to them, in patience, in perseverance, in fighting the battle within and keeping the demons in check. Arvind announced his retirement recently knowing he had fulfilled his destiny and with no regrets. His German Open win will always remain an inspiration. Arvind Bhat is etched in history with the stars of Indian Badminton where he will always very rightly belong.

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In 2006 we were in the Indian team for the Hong Kong Open. This was my first Senior Super Series event. He was my team-mate for a lot of great tournaments 🙂 (from left to right): Arvind, Me, Saina Nehwal, Ajay Jayaram, P.Kashyap, Anand Pawar, P.Gopichand, Anup Sridhar.

The Scarborough Renaissance Festival

There are not too many times when you get to revisit history and live in it for a while. Times when you are transported to a different place. A place that is so back in the past that you question yourself -Do you truly belong to the same human civilisation? We have left so much of history behind us. So many people,cultures, songs, dances, food,stories the list can keep on going. History is a fascinating subject. The more I read into history the more I realise that globalisation has made us lose our differences. We slowly have become the same people. As I was heading back home from the festival I asked myself this question -If I had to start a festival of my own showcasing my culture, my clothes, my food, my songs, my dances how will the festival look? Take a minute and think about this. The truth is globalisation has killed culture. We all have the same stories to tell. Global warming, scarcity of water, corruption, the growing inequality between poor and rich, politics and media that is run by the corporate sector. They are all the same stories, the same struggles, the same history we are leaving behind. Our clothes, our music, our struggles are all almost the same.

Unlike us our ancestors were not at all boring. India is a haven for history and culture. We have such amazing stories to tell. Imagine this! You walk into the Raigad fort for a weekend festival. (Raigad is a hill fort situated in the Mahad, Raigad district of Maharashtra, India. Shivaji Maharaj built this fort and made his capital in 1674 when he was crowned King of a Maratha Kingdom which later developed into the Maratha Empire eventually covering majority of modern-day India. ) Inside the fort everything from Shivaji’s era is re-created the costumes, the dances, the songs, the food, the stories. How would that feel? A festival like this would be such a great outing. For the people who love history it would be heavenly ,for the ones who don’t they might get intrigued about their history. I think a festival like that would be a major hit.

Scarborough Renaissance Festival was  first run in 1981. The festival is open Saturdays and Sundays from the first weekend in April until Memorial Day Monday. The festival is historically based in the 16th century, under the reign of King Henry VIII. The festival is 35 acres (140,000 m2) in size, taking place on a 165-acre (0.67 km2) site. There are 21 stages with more than 200 performances. Three jousting shows take place each day. There are about 150 cast members that make up the characters at Scarborough Renaissance Festival. Almost all of the cast members are volunteers.

The  Festival also features 200 shops selling goods such as candles, soaps, jewelry, children’s toys and even musical instruments. Many of the craftsmen selling their goods also provide demonstrations on how the items are made. The festival also features the Crown Kitchens – a selection of food stalls serving turkey legs (the festival serves over 20 tons of this signature food item per year), food skewers, sandwiches, ice cream and other items.

The moment I entered the walls of the festival I was transported. I was almost jumping with excitement and pure curiosity. My husband had to calm me down most of the times. The festival has made me so curious about the medieval times. Being a lover of history this one day was pure heaven. I am going to stop talking and let you got through the pictures. Hope you love them!

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As a rule they all spoke Shakespeare’s English. Both of them were standing on the patio of the castle to welcome us!
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The music all through the festival was divine.
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I just had to take this picture!
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They all danced in the true Medieval form. I and my husband joined them in the couples dance. Yes! I know some dance steps from the past. Also the guy standing on the left side of the frame was an actual maker of maps .He had a small store on the grounds where he took us and told us all about the art of map making. I got to dance with him too.
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There were sword fights happening all over the place. It was pretty random, funny and sometimes serious. If you notice the people walking behind him, some of them are dressed in medieval costumes. Not all of them were working for the festival. Most of them owned these costumes as they have been coming to this festival as a custom right from their childhood.
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The Frumpies store

 

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The wonderful Harpist. Amazing sounds!
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There were stages set all over the place. There were shows by jugglers, dancers, musicians, artists, glass makers and so much more.
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I called her the ‘Beautiful Butterfly’. She was deaf and mute.
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The Parade
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A man as King Henry VII
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What Colours!

The Scarborough Festival was an experience that justified my love for history and made me more determined to always be in search of it.

 

 

 

 

An ode to Jayashree Pai

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.

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The Happy Couple 🙂

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.

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With Jayashree Pai and Meena Chandavarkar at the wedding

 

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.

umpire
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?

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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.

WC
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. 

 

” I do!”

Heena and I were best friends. We met each other when we were both 7 years old and lived in the same apartment in Mumbai. She was beautiful even at 7. She had long hair and green eyes. She was the best dressed child in any gathering. I was exactly the opposite. I had hair cut so short that I could easily qualify for Aditya, dressed in a frock. My clothes would always be dirty because I would roll in the mud, fall down while riding the three-wheeled cycle. I have no idea how I managed that but I did. Heena hated mud, she would always be neat and tidy. My mother would always tell me to be like Heena and learn from her. From a very early age I had a very strong sense of self and hence it was impossible to try to be someone else even then.

After school I would have lunch and a nap and I would run to Heena’s house with a plastic cricket bat in my hand. I would want to play cricket and she would have her ‘Barbie’s Kitchen set’ ready for us. I could never convince her to throw a ball at me and even if she did I would hit the ball hard and had to run after it myself, because she just stood there looking at the ball like it was a beast that would eat her up. I realised it was too tiring to hit the ball and also be the fielder. So I would role -play the dad of the house and she would play the mother and cook food in her small kitchen set.

As we grew up the distance between us grew geographically  but we always remained a phone call away from each other. As kids growing up I was the unconventional one with my choices in career and life. As a kid Heena loved romance and totally believed in a prince charming coming on a horse to rescue her. I laughed at her, even mocked her at her silliness. Heena loved marriages and romance and love stories. I hated them. I told her that we need to dream about bigger things. We need to do things that will change the world. Boys and love can wait.

Today we are not kids. Heena changed, so did I. She has evolved so much from being a girl to becoming a woman. The Heena who loved “Barbie’s Kitchen Set” then, today is a lawyer. She lives in Mumbai in a flat she rents. She chooses to live by herself even when her parents live in the same city. She is fiercely independent financially, in thought and in beliefs. I am so proud of the work she does today. Heena doesn’t believe in marriage, in love that lasts forever or in commitment. She is in and out of relationships. She has always been very open about it to me and to her very traditional, hence worried parents. I have never judged her for her choices. I never will. Everyone has a right to living life exactly the way they want to. When I told Heena I was having an arranged marriage she didn’t seem too excited or happy, like my other friends. She just told me that she needed to meet me and talk to me about it. The conversation I had with Heena ten days before my marriage was one of  the most interesting things that happened to me in that period.

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I entered the coffee joint almost nervous. Heena had not yet come. I always reach a place at least 15 mins before, call it an athlete’s syndrome. The reason of my nervousness was the conversation I was about to have with Heena- my marriage. I was sure she was going to argue,debate and ask me all kinds of questions about my decision. I respect Heena and her opinions. If it was anyone else  I would have not cared a damn. Heena came wearing a long skirt and her long curly hair was wet ,unkempt and in a mess. In all her mess she still managed to look beautiful. We hugged, ordered coffee and Heena came straight to the point. In that hour of conversation she asked me a series of questions.

“How long do you know that guy? You have known him for a month and you already know you want to spend your whole life with him? You are sacrificing your job, your life,your friends and everything you know. Why can’t he come down to India? Marriage as an institution is failing. There are thousands of divorces filed every year. You really think it is worth taking that chance? You have always been unconventional and care-free with your choices. Marriage will change everything. It will mean responsibility, being accountable, compromises, adjustments, sacrifices. Do you really want to live with all that? Will you be able to really change the world like you wanted to? When everything about  you will have to change?”

I answered these questions the best way I could. I knew I didn’t do a good job of it. She didn’t seem convinced. That night when I came home I was surrounded by all my relatives. I needed to be alone. I was a little disturbed. I thought about all those questions all night long and by morning I had my answers. When I want to feel lighter I choose to write and so I sat and wrote.

***********************************

Dear You,

I know you are scared and almost petrified of what lies ahead. The feeling is like entering a match you have not prepared for. You don’t really know if you are going to win or lose. It is really strange the way this world functions. There are classes for everything out there but there is nobody to teach you about marriage apparently the most important thing you are going to ever do. May be because nobody really knows the secret to a successful marriage. May be you just have to find your own way through it on your own instincts.

You have seen Aai-Baba all these years. They are the only reference you have to learning something about marriage. Marriage is tough,complicated, it involves responsibility, compromises, adjustments, fights and all things difficult. But marriage is also love, companionship, sharing, caring, dreaming the same dreams, laughter, making mistakes together and learning from them. Yes Aai has made more sacrifices than Baba has. But that is  may be because woman are just much more stronger than men. For me really the secret of their happy marriage is Baba accepting his weaknesses and Aai knowing her strengths.

I know you respect Heena and her choices. I know that there is a part of you that thinks her life is more glamorous and fearless. It takes strength to live alone in a society like ours and to make the choices that Heena has made. Though what if Heena’s choice of life is because she is afraid? Marriage may be a commitment she is afraid to make. Just as living alone takes strength so does marriage. Marriage is not weakness. It doesn’t have to mean losing the “I” in the “Us”. In fact a successful marriage might be the one that preserves the “I” in the “Us” and helps it grow. You are not Heena. You need someone you can hold on to, you can love and share your life with. Knowing what you want is strength not weakness.

Marriage as an institution has failed, is a flawed statement. Institutions never fail, people do. Institutions are incapable of failing.  You know the man you have chosen is right for you. Right now the most important thing for you is to have faith in your self. You have never doubted your decisions, or regretted them. You need to be secure in the person you are. Insecure people lead to disastrous relationships. Leaving your friends and job was not sacrifice for you. Friends that are lost because of distance are not worth your friendship. The job you were in, paid you well but wasn’t something you wanted to do all your life. You chose to live a life of adventure with a defined purpose. Believe in that purpose always. It will do you wonders.

Now Go Get Married!!

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It has been 7 months since I wrote this. When I look back at it today it does make me smile. Just like every other girl before her marriage, I went through my period of fear and doubts. Today I have no doubts about my decision. There are a lot of women like Heena today and I do have a lot of respect for them. But there are also woman who have achieved professional success in spite of being wives and mothers, I will always respect them a little more. It is just a lot tougher and it is the kind of success I want to achieve. I am sure Heena will understand that someday.

 

 

 

समुद्र

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समुद्र म्हणजे माझ्यासाठी जीवन आणि त्याची अखेर सुद्धा. समुद्र म्हणजे मुंबईचा जुहू बीच आणि तिकडे खाल्लेली पाणीपुरी , ” गणपती बाप्पा मोरया पुढच्या वर्षी लवकर या ” असे म्हणून केलेले विसर्जन. समुद्र म्हणजे चिन्मय बरोबर घेतलेला पहिला रोमांटिक लॉंग वॉक. आमच्या हातांचा झालेला पहिला स्पर्श. समुद्र मला नेहमीच आपला वाटलाय. डोंगरा सारखा तो आपल्याला क्षुद्र वाटू देत नाही. ही आपुलकी मुळात माझ्या बालपणीची नऊ वर्षे मी मुंबईत काढल्यामुळे असावी.

तुम्ही पहिल्यांदा समुद्र बघितल्यावर तुम्हाला काय जाणवलं , आठवतयं का? भीति वाटली, आनंद वाटला , मज्जा वाटली , कुतूहल वाटलं , आठवतयं का ? माझी समुद्राची पहिली आठवण मुंबईच्या मरीन ड्राईवची आहे.

मी नऊ वर्षांची असेन, मी माझ्या पहिल्या बॅडमिंटन स्पर्धेत भाग घेतला होता आणि उपांत्य फेरी मधे माझा दारुण पराभव झाला होता.माझ्या मॅचचा अंपायर मॅच संपल्यावर उद्धटासारखा माझ्या बाबांना म्हणाला होता , ” अहो, तुमची मुलगी रॅकेट , क्रिकेट च्या बॅट सारखी धरते. तिला काही धड मुवमेंट नाही. नुसती पळत सुटते .बॅडमिंटन तिच्यासाठी नाही हो. ” मला आठवतयं, बाबांनी अंपायरवर खूप आरडाओरडा केला होता आणि मी भोकांड पसरले होते. मला रडताना बघून माझी लहान बहीण सुद्धा रडायला लागली. ( आजही काही बदल नाही. मी रडले की ती हमखास रडते आणि तिला बघून मी हसायला लागते ) या सगळ्या गोंधळात आई मात्र शांत होती. तिने आमचा झालेला पसारा आवरला आणि आम्हाला स्टेडियमच्या बाहेर आणले.आईने सुचवले, अंधेरीहून एवढ्या लांब मरीन ड्राईवला आलोच आहोत तर समुद्राकाठी जाऊन फेरफटका मारावा.

मरीन ड्राईवला पोचल्यावर मला जरा बरं वाटायला लागलं होतं. रडणं पण बंद झालं होतं. बाबांचा राग पण शांत झाला होता. आम्ही सगळे शांतपणे बसून समुद्राकडे पाहत होतो. माझ्या मनात बरेच विचार चालू असावे. हारण्याचं दुःख तर होतचं पण आई बाबांची आपल्यामुळे नाचक्की झाली असं मला वाटत होतं. त्यामुळे मला स्वतःवर राग येत होता. तेवढ्यात बाबांनी आईला विचारले ” आपण अदितीला कोचिंगला घालू या का ? खर्च आपला जरा वाढेल .” मी व बाबा दोघे ही आईकडे बघत होतो. आई थोड्यावेळ शांत होती मग ती म्हणाली ,” अहो, तिला विचारा आधी, तिला खरंच खेळायचं आहे का ? माझी काहीच हरकत नाही.” बाबांनी माझ्या खांद्यावर हात टाकला आणि मला विचारले ,” काय गं , घेणार ना कोचिंग ? आवडतं ना खेळायला बॅडमिंटन ? ” माझे डोळे नक्की चमकले असणार आणि मी लगेच हो म्हणाले असेन. बाबा हसले, मला मिठी मारली. आपला उजवा गाल माझ्या डोक्यावर ठेवला. मी शेजारी बसलेल्या माझ्या बहीणीच्या खांद्यावर हात टाकला. सगळे मुटाटकर आम्ही हसत समुद्राकडे बघत होतो.दूर सूर्य आकाशात मावळत होता. आकाशाचा रंग केशरी झाला होता.

समुद्राने लोकांच्या डोळ्यात लपलेली अशी कितीतरी स्वप्नं पाहीली असतील ना ?

माझी पहिली समुद्राची आठवण म्हणजे मी बघितलेले बॅडमिंटन खेळायचे ‘ स्वप्न ‘.

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