To Joshna Chinappa life is about racquets and bouquets.
The wooden floor of the squash courts at the Madras Cricket Club rises to meet Joshna Chinappa's footsteps in a familiar greeting. All of nine years when she first played at this facility, she has since bounced numerous balls off its walls. As her father, Anjan Chinappa, is an inter-club squash player of repute, Joshna got swept into a clique comprising kids of squash-playing MCC members. “The children were as addicted to the sport as their parents,” she says.
It is, therefore, surprising that 24-year-old Joshna regrets not having had enough squash in her childhood. She explains that in Western countries, coaching begins at six, and before long, the kids enter competitive squash. But Joshna does not feel the disadvantage of a late start while playing on the domestic circuit.
With eight women's national titles, six of which came on the trot, she is the undisputed queen of women's squash. In all modesty, the reigning national champion, at present in Delhi defending her title, says: “Most of the girls are younger and handicapped by their inexperience. Dipika Pallikal is an exception. When I play Dipika, I can't relax my concentration without inviting disaster.”
Joshna misses the excitement that comes from having to climb a greasy career pole, and also the fear of failure, which always spurs a sportsperson on to better performance. But, on the international circuit, she is always stretched to her limits. A month ago, she rose to her highest world ranking — 32. “I have since slipped to 33,” reveals Joshna with a hint of regret. She adds with an air of determination: “Next year is big. There is the Commonwealth Games and also the Asian Games.”
When you learn how a typical day in the life of Joshna goes, you'll realise she has not reconciled herself to staying on the periphery of world squash. Most part of her day is consumed by working out at the gym, yoga and squash practice. Her well-toned physique is an effective advertisement for the gym Primal Patterns. She idolises P.T. Usha, the epitome of fitness. “The only time I met her I was so awe-struck that my lips did not move,” laughs Joshna. “The only other person who left me speechless was Sunil Dutt (the late actor-politician and father of actor Sanjay Dutt).”
Apart from trying to master painting (under artist Ilango), she has denied herself any major diversion. She removed herself from Facebook once she found social-networking pointless. “I am in touch with my circle of friends through either phone or e-mail.”
And, you get the impression that most of Joshna's friends are from the world of squash. “Bonding among squash players is inevitable. Every tennis player has an entourage waiting on him / her. As their sport can't rival the popularity of say, tennis or cricket, squash players fend for themselves. And, we tend to stick together,” explains Joshna. When Indian squash players train or play outside the country, they stay together. The closeness is often a result of having trained together at the ICL-TNSRA Academy in Chennai.
Counting herself lucky to be living in the city, Joshna pities eleven and twelve-year-olds who have to leave their home towns, and stay alone in Chennai to get quality squash training. “It would be so much better if state-of-the-art squash facilities were available in other parts of the country as well,” she says. Joshna considers coaching fun and noble, and sees herself training children once she reaches the end of her playing career. She knows good coaching can make a difference, and feels indebted to coaches Cyrus Poncha and Major Maniam (who work at the Academy), and Malcolm Wiltstrop (her coach when she's in England).
She plans to do a course in psychology as it might help her while working with children. Joshna clarifies that she is not very studious, even admitting that she was aiming only at pass marks at school and college.
A student of Lady Andal, just as Saurav Ghosal, a star in men's squash, she says the management encouraged her to play the game. Joshna did her Bachelor's in English Literature at Ethiraj College. “I got into the course by default. I did not want a subject that would require me to go for tuitions. I wanted to play squash. Nothing else matters.”
It's the same, even now!