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
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.