A chat with ex-NDTV journo T.S.Sudhir who has penned Saina Nehwal’s first biography
With the London Olympics round the corner and much hope pinned on Saina Nehwal, who romped home with her third Indonesian Open Title last month, a book on the young badminton player’s life is perfectly timed. Her parents, coach and a nation of a billion people are looking ahead to her Olympic medal, and the book rewinds to trace her career until now. The first edition of Saina Nehwal, an Inspirational Biography will be rolled out in book stores from today (Friday) and the author is already mapping out a second edition. T.S. Sudhir, a familiar face on Indian television news, is positive that Saina will climb the medal rostrum in London Games. And a post-Olympics update of the book will be imperative.
“A lot depends on the draw and Chinese opponents are always difficult. But Saina has the mental toughness,” he says. Sudhir has been tracking Saina's matches and career since 2005. “I have closely watched her this time, practising for 12 hours at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad. She was very focussed, more agile having lost five kilos, much more mature, in a different zone altogether."
He cites the reason for the book. “I have not come across another such spirited and deserving candidate who is a perfect role model for today’s youngsters. Her attitude to the game, her determination to move on, her obedience and discipline are amazing. At 22, she is an awesome package and everything about her in the book makes it wholesome.”
There is already a chapter on Saina Nehwal in primary school text books across Andhra Pradesh. When Sudhir left NDTV after 16 years last June, the idea struck him to take Saina’s story to every child in the country that worships only one sport as religion. To reach out to young players, Sudhir says, he has kept the language simple and lucid, and the book is full of anecdotes. “Anybody who picks it up will be drawn into Saina’s story.”
Being a family friend, he did not find it difficult to broach the matter with her parents. Her father, Dr. Harvir Singh, turned emotional even as Sudhir found his first assignment post-NDTV challenging. “All these years I only spoke live on camera, short, crisp and fast and always on the go. Now I had a lot of time to write, rewrite, think, analyse, meet and interview Saina’s family and friends, watch every game she played. It was a different experience altogether.”
Sudhir relied much on his years of journalistic work and notes during the six months that he took to write the chapters. Observations embellished the book. “I didn’t want it to read like a match-wise growth of Saina as a badminton star, but her journey from a no-pretensions middle class family in small town Hissar to the biggest international shuttle courts. How destiny intervened, how hard she worked her way up from childhood, support of her parents and the guidance of her coach to take on the world.”
After working as an agricultural scientist for 25 years in Hissar, Dr.Harvir Singh decided to shift to Hyderabad and Saina was enrolled as one of the 20 kids in Gopichand’s coaching camp. By that time she had already won national and international titles and was known as a prospective winner. Once Gopichand noticed her and took her under his tutelage, history was created.
The book traces Saina and her progress, about which not much is in the public realm. For instance, it cites small incidents like what she did on the night she won her first Indonesian Open title in 2009. Overwhelmed by the victory and unable to sleep, she gobbled up ice creams through the night. Or what Saina’s parents, who themselves were badminton players, gifted to her school. They bought a harmonium for Rs.2,700 and still can't figure out why they did so. How she watched badminton as a toddler sitting in a pram.
When other children in the neighbourhood played kiddies' games, Saina was already playing badminton. Her love for the game started when she was nine. “And this is one relationship that will never break,” says Sudhir.
The book has been published by Nimby Books and distributed and marketed by Westland. Priced at Rs.250, it contains 231 pages. The cover photo is taken from The Hindu archives.