Keerthana P of Karnataka in action at the 14th Sub-junior(Girls) National Billiards Championship in KBA in Bengaluru on Wednesday. Photo/ B H Shivakumar
In today's age of reliance on advanced technology, it is seemingly normal for even teenagers to be glued to the latest smartphones or tablets. Keerthana P, though, chose to be addicted to a slightly different tool, a cue stick.
Things could have been different if her father wasn't an avid snooker player himself, but as fate would have it, she eventually followed in his footsteps and even began to outshine him.
Off the table, Keerthana displays a calm demeanour and isn't a girl of many words, sticking to exactly what she needs to say and doing so with immense poise. But come competition time and she turns into a fierce opponent with a strong winning mentality.
Making waves at the recent Junior and Sub-junior snooker/billiards championship in Bengaluru, Keerthana claimed three titles -- sub-junior snooker and billiards and junior billiards, ending a whisker away from completing a sweep of all the categories she had entered in.
From winning just the solitary title in the Sub-junior girls billiards event at the Nationals in Pune earlier this year, Keerthana finished 2017 with four National titles under her belt. And all this after picking up a cue just over two years ago.
So how exactly did this 15-year-old make her foray into the world of cue sports and take it by storm was the question.
"My father plays snooker as well. That is how I was first introduced to the sport. I used to accompany him whenever I got the chance and happened to try it once. It was an experience that I really enjoyed, so I decided then that I wanted to pursue it."
Her father Pandian, an employee of BEML in Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), and the man responsible for it all, offered a more detailed explanation.
"I used to visit Bengaluru to play inter-club team events at Century Club. My family used to come with me since they needed an outing as well. She happened to see Varshaa (Sanjeev) playing and Keerthana was surprised and asked me 'how is that akka playing?' So I told her that there were no restrictions and that anyone could play.
"After that, she used to come with me to the BEML club and sit and watch. All of a sudden, on one day, she asked if she could play as well, rather just get a taste of it. I asked the marker to teach her some basic techniques but wasn't too keen. Never did I imagine that she would reach this level. She then kept pestering me to take her to Bengaluru for coaching. I saw how interested she was and eventually gave in," he said.
It hasn't been all honey and roses for Keerthana in her pursuit of excellence in the sport and juggling it with her education.
"On weekdays I am forced to practice in the club at KGF. But I ensure I am here (KSBA) every weekend to train her under C Ravindranath. My school is shut on second Saturdays so the other two, I am forced to take leave and come to Bengaluru by train. I finish practice and then, my mother and I take the train back to KGF. On Sundays my father usually drives the family down," said the tenth grade student of Kendriya Vidyalaya, BEML. "I'm trying to manage studies and sports. Let's see how it goes. I can't say too much right now," she added.
With early ambitions of taking up medicine as a profession, Keerthana now leans more towards getting a degree in engineering. That was a sacrifice she had to make to continue playing the sport she loves.
"For a very long time, she wanted to do her MBBS. But that was much before she started playing. Once she decided that she wanted to play at a competitive level, I told her that if she wanted to become a doctor, she'll have to concentrate on that fully and will not be able to engage in the sport. That is when she changed her mind and said 'I can't stop playing, so I'll do engineering," revealed Pandian.
Keerthana bagged a sports scholarship with Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and receives a monthly stipend of Rs 10,000. But that wasn't enough to convince her father to let her take it up as a profession.
"I don't think this sport can be a full-time option for women in India.The encouragement received isn't the same as the men players receive. Of course, the government looks after her expenses internationally. But when I need to travel with her, it gets expensive. I need to pay for myself," he said.
If the ripples she has created in her nascent career are anything to go by, Keerthana could be a formidable force to reckon with on the cue sport circuit. Looking up to Pankaj Advani is sure to enhance that process and she even gets timely tips from the winner of 18 world titles.
"My favourite player is Pankaj sir. I really like his cueing style and his stance. Whenever I meet him, I seek advice and he always helps. He had asked me to slow down my cueing and also said that I need to reduce the distance of my bridge. My game changed after that and I could really feel a difference," she says with an infectious smile.