`I can't imagine life in slow motion'

Racing is in his blood. Quite naturally, Karun Chandhok appears cool and in control. The 21-year-old, soft-spoken, boyish looking champ appears eager to talk about the sport he's been passionate about since childhood. His grandfather, a racer in the 1950s, founded the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India and the Madras Motorsports Club. His father Vicky is also a popular name in the field. After successes at the National level, Asian Formula, British Formula-3 and world series, Karun's machine is revved up for more twists and turns on the track.

His Take Two partner, squash queen Joshna Chinappa grew up following her father to the squash court. The first Indian girl to win the British Junior Open (under 19) and reach the world championship final, she has the style of a catwalker on the court. But it's the fame from the game that matters to this teenager, whose trailblazing victories have inspired many youngsters.

Chitra Swaminathan listens to their conversation.

Karun: These days you seem to be making your presence felt in the newspapers.

Joshna: I know what you are referring to. Those huge ads announcing me as ambassador for the girl child. The Union Health Ministry has put them out to create awareness of gender bias.

Karun: It's quite an honour for a young sportsperson. Do you still play in the junior category?

Joshna: I will be entering the professional circuit as a senior with the Pakistan tournament this month end.

Karun: Squash is quite a popular sport in Pakistan, isn't it? We have always associated it with Pakistani champions Jansher and Jehangir Khan. Now, of course, there's Joshna. (laughs)

Joshna: Can you believe it that in Pakistan, squash is the second most popular sport after cricket. You must be enjoying living in England because racing has a major following there.

Karun: Home is home. That is India. But I have a good set of friends in England. When I first went there, winter was at its peak. The sun would rise at 11.30 in the morning and set at 3 in the afternoon. I felt completely spaced out. I also remember the first meeting with the members of my racing team. They asked me to make some tea. I just stood with the kettle in my hand and didn't know what to do. Today I can cook a full meal for them. The highlights being Andhra rasam and potato roast.

Joshna: I hope you are aware that the proof of the pudding... .

Karun: I know, ... lies in the eating. Ask my neighbours in England, they will vouch for my sappadu. Once the lady living next door walked in to see what I was cooking. She said she couldn't resist the aroma of the masalas.

Joshna: Luckily my mother travels with me. She takes care of my diet. So I don't go anywhere near the kitchen.

Karun: Indian women have really arrived. (ha...ha...ha... )

Joshna: Living life in the fast lane, you are bound to learn things fast.

Karun: That's a smart defensive stroke. Do you sometimes feel you should have taken to a more popular sport?

Joshna: No way, I love my game. It must be tough for you guys to put together a winning team.

Karun: Quite a task. Racers can't do without the support of technical experts. What's more important is, at 300 kmph, your machine should perform flawlessly.

Joshna: I too believe in a strong professional bond with the coach. Like you said one should have the talent and temperament for it. It can't be like one coach today and another tomorrow. You will then be messing up your game.

Karun: There could be some ego clashes because under pressure each reacts differently. Off the track, we have a good time partying with fellow racers and the technical crew. If you are serious about the game it's not difficult to win over people.

Joshna: Though our sport (racing and squash) lack mass appeal, it's heartening to see growing awareness about them. In Chennai, almost 100 kids are training in squash.

Karun: People need a personality to follow the game. When Narain Karthikeyan set the track on fire, people started following the sport seriously. We should also tell them about the hard work, gruelling training and the money involved. This would give a clear picture to amateurs. At 16, when I told my father I wanted to be a racer, he said `First, get your body in shape.' I used to run at the MCC Club for hours. In nine months, I lost 26 kilos.

Joshna: Can't believe you were plump. I too hate missing my fitness session. Winning and losing have a lot to do with an agile body and focussed mind.

Karun: In racing there's a lot of strain on the neck as you drive non-stop. It also hurts the back as you are seated just a few centimetres above ground level. Besides, the cabin is a hot seat literally, with temperatures soaring beneath the fire-proof suits. It makes a racer lose anything between 3 and 4 kilos during the working week. So it's essential to learn to relax.

Joshna: That's why I love going out with friends, shopping, partying and shaking a leg at discotheques.

Karun: What about endorsing products?

Joshna: If done within limits, it's fine. Just ensure that your celebrity status doesn't affect the game. After all you do need money to pursue such expensive sports. As it is, it's difficult to attract corporate support for these games in a cricket-crazy nation.

Karun: Racers cannot do without sponsors. The money involved is mind-boggling. Consistent moral and financial support depends on your performance. So, luck should be on your side.

Joshna: One reason why I have started taking academics seriously though I really don't enjoy being in the company of books.

Karun: I too cannot imagine living life in slow motion.


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