'I am totally against people who don't support girls'

'I am totally against people who don't support girls'

It was not long when Saina Nehwal wrapped up an excruciating practice session. While her teammates headed to the hotel to cool off, the 24-year-old was out in the sun fulfilling a few media obligations.

It was still early in the day but a small crowd of youngsters had already begun to crowd aro­u­nd her. Unperturbed, she we­nt about her job with the same finesse and focus she exhibits during her matches.

Such has been the life of Saina, the Olympic bronze medallist, and one of the best badminton players India has produced, since her iconic rise.

Training, endorsements and unforgiving spotlight, occupy her.

She, however, does not complain and has never allo­w­ed her focus to stray from the sport. For, she says, she was born to play badminton.

“The last eight years have be­­­­­­en like a dream. To maintain my form for so many years is not easy in a sport like badmin­ton which is so physically demanding. The pain we (shuttl­ers) experience after training each night, only we know. We can’t even get sleep, our legs hurt. But when you are there playing at the highest level you forget everything,” Saina told Metrolife in a free-wheeling chat on the sidelines of BWF Li-Ning Thomas and Uber Cup, currently on in the Capital.

 “I really feel I was born for this. It is a great feeling that I have done something for India and given something to a sport like badminton where we never had so many results before.”

It was the vision of Saina’s mother to make her an Olym­pic champion. “My father is a scientist and he could never think of putting me in any spo­rt. He wanted me to be a doctor. At that time the sport was also not that big to think about taking it up professionally. But my mom would tell me secretly that I will make you an Oly­m­­pic champion. I would tell her don’t joke around with me. I was only nine but she was very serious,” laughs Saina, who won bronze in 2012London Olympics.

 “Things just happened with me. My father supported me in every way. He never made me feel we have less money .I used to go to school, in an auto, which was 25km away and everyday he would give me Rs 200-300. It was only when I was 18 that I got to kn­ow that the last 10 years were so tough on him.”

Such has been her drive to toil that her coaches often ha­ve to ask her to take it a bit ea­sy! But Saina has lived no other way. “I just love working hard,” she puts it simply.

A “reserved” girl, she is am­o­­ng those for whom indul­ging in banter is a tall ask.

“Pe­o­ple find me a bit non-friendly, but I am like that. I don’t have in me to talk for hours and to sit with friends. Spending time with my parents is more than eno­ugh. Sometimes, they also feel I do not talk much. It’s not intentional but this is who I am.”

For someone so buttoned up appearing for endorseme­nts was not easy.

“Touchwood, I have got some good looks to get endorsements. They want me to smile every time. I have to tell them to give me some break as my cheeks would be paining from smiling for 15-20 minutes!” she says flashing a big one now.

“But shoots can be fun too. The only other time I laugh is when I watch Comedy Nights With Kapil. I find it so funny th­­­­at I have tears coming out of my eyes. It really surprises my mom to see me laugh so mu­ch.”

Whenever she could take time out from her strenuous schedule, Saina likes to catch up on movies.

“The last time I saw a movie was Dhoom 3. I lo­ve to watch Shah Rukh Khan and Ranbir Kapoor. Ranbir is doing so many characters so easily. Obviously, he is good looking,” she grins coyly.

Her smile, though, vanishes when one talks about women empowerme­nt. A ha­rd, unrelenting look peeks out.

Tho­ugh Hyderabad based, Saina has roots in Haryana, a state with one of the highest ratio of female infanticide.

“I am totally against people who don’t support girls. Girls are capable of doing so much, especially in sports, where the­re is fame, respect and money. Parents have to be broad-min­ded. The life of sportspersons may be short, but what you achieve in a short span is enough for 10 births.”