Every time, little Joshna visited her ailing great-grand uncle K.M. Cariappa in hospital, she would eye the bottle of candy by his bed. But the country’s first Field Marshal would stop her advances and agree to part with the treat on one condition.

“He insisted that I sing the national anthem for him. And each time, I obliged for the sake of the toffee,” says Joshna Chinappa, the 25-year-old pin-up girl of Indian squash.

As trivial as it may seem, this incident probably sowed the first seeds of national pride in the mind of the Coorg girl. Joshna, like her illustrious ancestor, has done the country proud with her prowess in the glass court.

As she talks about her childhood sitting pretty in skinny jeans and a printed tee, I glance around the sparsely-furnished room. The first thing that catches the eye is a large, framed photograph of Joshna. She strikes a starlet-like pose with oversized glares covering her eyes and open hair framing her longish face.

Next to the picture is a wooden and glass cabinet but I’m surprised to find no proud displays of her many trophies and shields. The only other piece of furniture, apart from the chairs we sit on and a round coffee table, is a mattress, strewn with cushions, on the floor.

“We are renovating and so, most items have been packed in boxes,” Joshna’s mother says as she walks in and catches me surveying the room.

I spot a couple of broken racquets on the mattress even as Mrs. Chinappa attempts to clear the mess. Joshna looks slightly disturbed and asks her mum to throw the racquets away. “I don’t want to see another broken racquet,” she says.

A little over two months ago, Joshna bounced back from a painful knee injury that kept her out of action for eight months, to help India win its first gold medal in the Asian Championship in Kuwait. Weeks later, she went on to win her maiden Chennai Open tournament.

“It wasn’t easy. The first month after the surgery, I could barely walk. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to play again,” she says. In August 2011, while playing in the Hamptons Open in New York, Joshna fell, tearing a ligament in her right knee.

But all that’s in the past now and if anything, she is glad to have had an experience that, she says, changed her outlook towards life. “The poet Alfred Tennyson said, ‘The shell must break before the bird can fly.’ I think the verse best describes my life at the moment,” says Joshna who idolises sprint queen P.T. Usha for her determination in the face of adversities.

‘Hated going to school’

Joshna’s entry into squash at the age of 10 was an excuse to get away from class tests and homework. “I hated going to school and decided the only way out was to take up active sports. But my mum would have none of it,” she says.

Her parents made sure she studied and got through school and college. Joshna went on to do a Bachelor’s in English literature from Ethiraj College. “Of course, today I’m glad I earned a degree,” she smiles, and one can’t help but notice that her trademark braces are off. “I finally got them removed after 10 years. It was a nightmare,” she shudders.

Not a party animal anymore

A typical day for Joshna begins at 7.30 a.m. when she wakes up and heads for training. This is followed by a workout at the gym session, breakfast, and later, lunch. The second training session begins in the afternoon and the third, one later in the evening. “On most days, it is late in the night by the time I get home,” she says.

At the end of a long and tiring day, she prefers the company of solitude. “I hole up in my bedroom with some music and nobody dare knock at my door,” she says with a near-menacing look in her eyes. She uses the time to surf the web and catch up on news from across the world. Seems like a pretty sober life for a young celebrity. “I used to go out and party a lot until a few years ago. But I train a lot harder now than I used to. It is tiring and not worth the while to do anything else after spending so many hours working out during the day.”

Joshna is the youngest national champion in the country having clinched the senior title as a 14-year-old, a record unsurpassed by any Indian till date. She has participated in numerous international tournaments and her passport is bursting at its seams.

Rice, rasam and pickle

And like most Indians, it is home-cooked food she misses the most when travelling. “I am extremely fond of south Indian cuisine, and cannot live without rice, rasam and mango pickle,” she says. Though she is quite strict about her dietary intake, it is only human to indulge in the occasional binge. “Chocolates are my weakness and there’s nothing I like more than curling up with a bar of my favourite chocolate,” she says.

As independent and carefree as she sounds, Joshna is quite close to her family. She is especially fond of her younger brother who sneaks in an extensive ‘wishlist’ in her kitbag each time she goes abroad. “He is very shy and, I think, a little scared to ask too many things of me directly,” says the doting sister.