For journalists, especially, it is always tempting to write a quick biography of a sports celebrity at the peak of her career. But Saina Nehwal, currently the hottest property in the Indian sports scene — not taking into account the cricketers of course — is still scaling the peak. In hindsight, any biography would look premature, and might appear no more than as a threaded collection of reports.
Intended to capitalise on the expectations of sports fans during the run-up to the London Olympics, T.S. Sudhir, a TV journalist, documents Saina’s preparation for the big moment, but is forced to leave out the story of the bronze medal success. The book, after the Olympics, is already looking dated.
In a way Saina has done better than her mentors, both coach Gopi Chand and the ace Prakash Padukone. Her success is a moment in the history of Indian sports that can never be missed in any retelling. Perhaps the author decided on the book in an attempt to charge up the aspirations of both the players and the big group of supporters this comely girl has gained in a short period. That being so, it must still be mentioned that after all those hours he spent with Harvir Singh, Saina’s father (not to forget “sipping black tea”), Sudhir has done justice to the various aspects of the life of the badminton star. From her childhood days to the current status where she could seek her father’s indulgence in adding an Audi A8 car to her collection, Sudhir has put in everything. Including the fact that she ended up buying a Rs 4 crore villa instead of the car.
The unassuming and often child-like enthusiasm of Singh comes through nicely as the discussion on Saina’s progress in badminton warms up. Indeed Singh managed the struggle off the court just as Saina did on the court. When his provident fund got periodically dried up for his daughter, his concern still was on seeing a new dawn for his talented girl. “I drew money from my provident fund some six times, mostly citing my wife’s illness as the reason. Everyone in the office, of course, knew what the real reason was.” Interesting as the father’s account is, still, this section would have been only complete with mother Usha Rani’s observations. After all she was the one who accompanied Saina for all the tournaments.
The much publicised rift between Gopi and Saina has been captured well to give revealing insights into the former as a coach and the latter as a willing learner. There are also hints and insinuations about Saina’s personal relationships. “Ask about what went wrong and everyone clams up. ‘These are personal issues, let us not talk about them,’ is the guarded response. ‘Personal issues’ is a euphemism used to avoid talking about the ‘friendship’ between Saina and [fellow badminton player] P. Kashyap.” Yet, for all this mix of facts and gossip, the book cries out for an Olympic post-script.