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Lalita Iyer
Lalita Iyer


Raising a champ

  • Leading light
    Leading light: Saina Nehwal with her father, Harvir Singh | PTI

It is a large house in Hyderabad that Saina Nehwal lives in, with her parents and a tiny, pugnacious pooch called Chopsi. Often stationed behind a net door on the front, Chopsi likes to startle unwary visitors by leaping and pushing open the door with her tiny paws. But, once she gets to know you, Chopsi turns a tad frisky.

When Saina is on tour, she calls home regularly to enquire about Chopsi. Saina's parents, Harvir Singh and Usha Rani, are now waiting for her triumphant return from the Malaysia Open. Shy and reticent, both of them were former badminton players and are now homebodies. Saina's maternal grandmother, who has come visiting, gives them company. “We have no friends or anyone visiting us,” says Singh. “We do not celebrate birthdays and have no guests. People invite us for the society dos, but I do not go for those either.”

Two BMWs and an Audi stand idle outside. “I take it out to fill fuel and pick up Saina when she returns from her trips,” says Singh. Apparently, Saina keeps telling her father to use the vehicles more often.

Singh, who often accompanies Saina on tours, watches every single match his daughter plays. But he cannot handle tight situations. “I just get up and go for a walk,” he says. “I do not want my tension to be passed on to her.”

He proudly talks about Saina's achievements: winning the Arjuna Award, Khel Ratna and Padma Shri and being bestowed an honorary doctorate by Mangalayatan University. “She has not changed at all,” he says. “She has no friends. Her friends are her mom, sister Chandranshu and Chopsi.”

Saina's career has so occupied Singh that he has not watched a movie since 1998. “Even Saina does not go, but she gets invites. Aamir Khan sent her an invitation to see PK,” he says.

Now that she has scaled the peak in badminton, a certain bemusement pervades his thoughts. “A university in Aligarh confers a DLitt on her and then Icrisat makes her brand ambassador to talk about hunger and food. It is all wonderful, but sometimes I sit back and wonder what she will do after badminton. She is 25 now and, maybe, has one more year in this field,” he says. Saina, however, maintains that if the Williams sisters could play tennis even in their 30s, she, too, should be able to do it.

From shopping to money management, Saina's parents help her in all matters outside the court. “She is very innocent,” says Singh. “She does not know much about the world outside. She has no understanding of her money and I handle it all for her.”

Singh says Saina was no ordinary child. “She never played with dolls. Sometimes I feel I designed her life. She followed me, obeyed me. Hard work in sports brings results,” he says. Why did she choose to part ways with coach Pullela Gopichand and train under Vimal Kumar? “We just tried another lab,” says Singh. “We shifted there for better training. That is all.”

As father and daughter, he says, they are similar to Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. “I have seen the entire world thanks to my daughter,” says Singh. “Mera to wajood meri bachi ke waje se hai [my identity and my existence is because of my daughter].”

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