A teenage Ar­juna Award win­ner and a 23-yearold Padma Shri awardee—how shut­tler PV SINDHU and squash player DIPIKA PAL­LIKAL came to be the coun­try’s top fe­male ath­letes. By Sid­dhanth Aney

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR -

The world of sports writ­ing is in­cu­ri­ously af­fected with the seem­ingly in­cur­able af­flic­tion of the cliché. In an effort to por­tray sports as the epit­ome of all that is noble and pure about the hu­man spirit, we of­ten weave nar­ra­tives that fit con­ve­niently into par­a­digms of black and white, good and evil, have and have not. In this al­most un­con­scious effort to paint a pic­ture of the un­re­al­is­ti­cally ideal Olympian—the creation of a hero, as it were—we de­hu­man­ise our subjects al­most to the point of ir­rel­e­vance. Dream as we may, about this ide­ally level play­ing field, level it is not. How­ever dif­fi­cult it may be for male ath­letes to com­pete with the best, for women it is in­fin­itely worse.

For­tu­nately, in the case of bad­minton player PV Sindhu(19) and squash player Dipika Pal­likal(23), no one sent them that memo. Chil­dren of the ’90s, Sindhu and Pal­likal have a com­mon fi­bre bind­ing them that runs through vir­tu­ally all of In­dia’s minis­cule fra­ter­nity of elite fe­male ath­letes. Sindhu’s par­ents were both vol­ley­ball play­ers and her father, Ra­mana, played for In­dia and won the Ar­juna Award. Pal­likal’s mom played cricket for In­dia, and her father bas­ket­ball for three states at the Na­tion­als. It turns out this is im­por­tant not so much be­cause the two girls are nec­es­sar­ily blessed with bet­ter genes (though that might well be the case) but be­cause play­ing sport helps break down gen­der bar­ri­ers. Both par­ents played team sports and Sindhu’s mother wanted the same for her daugh­ter. Nei­ther were con­cerned too much with the ‘pro­tec­tion’ and sup­port that would come from be­ing part of a team. “I was in­spired by Gopi sir (her men­tor Pul­lela Gopic­hand), and for me bad­minton has been the only sport since I can re­mem­ber,” says Sindhu. Pal­likal’s mothe ris the youngest of three sis­ters; her grand­mother had seven daugh­ters. “We have al­ways been a fam­ily dom­i­nated by women,” says Pal­likal. “The con­cept that there might be things boys can do that girls can’t, never oc­curred to me.” She is the first In­dian to be ranked in the top 10 in the world (cur­rently 10th) and, to­gether with Joshna Chi­nappa, took In­dia to a fifth-place fin­ish in the World Team cham­pi­onships in 2012. You can also call her Padma Shri.

Sindhu might be a few years be­hind but is catch­ing up with Pal­likal’s achieve­ments. She told us she would crack the world top 10 by end2013; she did. She has al­ready matched her dad’s Ar­juna Award and, if she stays fit, will be a fan­tas­tic prospect to bet­ter Saina Ne­hwal’s bronze at Lon­don 2012 when the Rio Olympics come around—she wants noth­ing less than gold. Al­ready her head-to-head against the Chi­nese girls—Ne­hwal’s achilles heel—is six to one in her favour and, as she gets older, wiser, and stronger, Sindhu is on course of a zenith as yet un­imag­ined in In­dian sport.

For those of you who think cricket is where it ends for In­dia, here’s a gen­tle sug­ges­tion—keep an eye on these two and don’t let them hear your thoughts.

Shut­tler PV Sindhu. Jacket, 56,000 (ap­prox), Schu­macher. Sit­tings ed­i­tor: Avani Puro­hit.

Ace squash player Deepika Pal­likal. Dress, 3.1 Phillip

Lim at Le Mill.

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