Squash champion Dipika Pallikal wants children to do what they love
At a recent event on alternative careers in the city, squash ace Dipika Pallikal has some unequivocal advice for a schoolgirl who loves dancing but is being asked to do an MBA. “You can’t do something which is not going to make you happy,” Dipika said. “You’re not going to get results. You have to be happy to be successful. I’m sure your parents will get it”.
The 20-year-old is happy to encourage children who want to pursue offbeat careers such as beatboxing or dancing. “It’s a concept I really believe in. I relate to it because I just passed out of school a few years ago,” she laughs. “It’s great to come back to school.”
For Dipika, at least part of the reason she’s involved in pushing the ‘follow your heart’ message is because she followed hers: she was 12 when she made up her mind to playsquash full-time. And she was fully supported in her decision by her family. “I’ve always done what I’ve wanted to do, something that makes me feel happy,” she says.
In an educational milieu where good grades are the only goal, are attitudes to alternative career choices changing? “Definitely,” she says. “There are a lot of people who want to do sport, who are taking up sport. You can definitely make a career of sport in India.”
That said, she’s aware that squash isn’t exactly given top priority in the country’s sport pyramid. “It definitely feels great that as a squash player I’ve been called to advice children,” she avers, adding that media attention to squash “has definitely grown over the years”. “But honestly, like any other athlete, we want equal recognition – that’s asking for too much, I know,” she says.
For now, she thinks the country’s squash players aren’t complaining. “We’re happy we’re playing for, representing and winning medals for the country.We’ll just let our racket do the talking”.
Pallikal certainly has let her racket speak: she’s currently ranked 15 in the world. Earlier this month, she was presented a Vocational Excellence Award by a Rotary Club division, and she’s thrilled that she’s in the company of chess whiz Viswanathan Anand. “I was at the function and they said Viswanathan Anand got it 10 years ago when he was 15 in the world, and now he’s number one in the world. So hopefully in the next few years I can be number one!”
Pallikal’s day begins with a run at 6a.m, followed by gym and squash training till noon. A short nap later, she’s back at it, till 10 p.m. “I come back and pass out,” she grins. She loves the life, and recommends the fun-and-learning combination that sport brings. “I think sport is one of the best professions. You travel the world, you see people, you play as a team. You learn a lot of qualities.”