'Nurturing talent takes time in India': Asiad silver medallist Jaggy Shivdasani

Shivdasani, who won silver in Bridge, was the oldest Indian medallist

56-Jaggy-Shivdasani Jaggy Shivdasani, 65, the oldest Indian medallist, with Karthika Jagadeeswaran, 16, a medallist in roller skating, in Hangzhou.

JAGGY SHIVDASANI, 65, was the oldest Indian medallist at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, where he and his team won a silver in bridge. He is also the youngest Indian national champion: he set that unbroken record at the age of 18, winning the Holkar Trophy in 1976.

The Chinese were more than nice; they played absolutely fair. We beat China in the semifinals. They were one of the favourites and were very, very warm about their congratulations.

Shivdasani has won all the national titles multiple times and has represented India in numerous international events. In 1987, he became the first non-American ever to win one of the three major North American team events: the Spingold Knockout Teams.

“Bridge requires technical skills, the ability to read your opponent, hand evaluation, maths, statistics and probability, as well as stamina and nerves,”he says. Edited excerpts from an interview about his experience in Hangzhou:

Q/ Anju Bobby George of the Athletics Federation of India said the Chinese tried to cheat India of medals. Javelin champion Neeraj Chopra said his first throw was not recorded. What has been your experience?

A/ We didn’t have any such experience. The Chinese were more than nice; they played absolutely fair. We beat China in the semifinals. They were one of the favourites and were very, very warm about their congratulations.

Q/ Why did you stay outside the Games Village? Were the facilities inside the village inadequate or the rules too rigid?

A/ The facilities were top class. But they had these five-bedroom apartments with only three bathrooms for eight people and I couldn’t manage with that, even though I would have had a single room. That is why I chose to stay in a hotel. It was just two metro train stops to the playing area, and another two stops to the village.

The security was very tight in the village, and it was also nice for me to be in my own world and see the city a bit.

Q/ What are your impressions of Hangzhou, the city and the people?

A/ The city was brilliant. Every street, which could be a smaller road, had four lanes on either side and a separate lane for bicycles and a separate lane for walking. People are so disciplined, and no car or pedestrian will cross on a red light. There are security cameras everywhere. You can leave a bag of $100,000 anywhere in the city or on the metro, and no one will dare touch it. There was no crime that I could hear of or see. They are at least 20 or 25 years ahead of India in terms of infrastructure.

57-The-Indian-team-that-won-silver-medal-in-men’s-bridge-team-event All that glittersL: The Indian team that won silver medal in men’s bridge team event.

Q/ How did you get interested in bridge?

A/ It is quite an interesting story. Obviously, I had some innate ability because my father, Bhagwan Shivdasani, was a national champion. But I got exposed as a young teenager through my cousins. Then I started learning by watching players and reading. My father had retired from playing, but he came back to play the nationals with me, which he had not played for eight years. And we, as father and son, won the nationals in 1976. I was 18 years old and I was the youngest. And 47 years later, that record has not been broken.

After I started playing for India, I met for the first time in Calcutta one of the biggest superstars of bridge, Zia Mahmood, who is a Pakistani. We became friends. Actually, we beat him in an invitation to a world event which took place in Calcutta in 1982. “You are wasting your time in India,”he told me. “You should travel abroad, and you can really blossom.”

Q/ India has won more medals this time than ever, but is still far behind China. What is lacking?

A/ India won more medals this time because the athletes have more exposure now and are getting financially rewarded. Our 4x400 men’s team was on the same flight as mine from Singapore to Hangzhou. I chatted with some of them. These incredible athletes won the gold in Hangzhou. And the girls team won silver. Our athletics programme has developed, but we were 20 years behind in developing it. India has talent, but nurturing it is taking time.

Bridge was always a capable sport, but we didn’t have bridge in the Asian Games until 2018 ―we had to beg them to let us go. After that medal, they started supporting bridge, and we did well at the world level and at the Asian Games. So it is all a question of nurturing and time. India will go far, but we have a long way to go before we win 300 or 400 medals.

Q/ Did the Chinese you met mention tension on the India-China border?

A/ It’s possible that the people I interacted with have not even heard of the tension at the border. I think it is all at a macro political level in China. Individual people were more than friendly. They wanted to take selfies with me, they chatted with me. Language was a problem, but everyone had a big smile and was very encouraging.

Q/ Were they aware of Indian leaders, films, culture, literature?

A/ I didn’t really ask, but a few people I talked to were very well aware of Bollywood and they said, oh, you live in Bombay where the movies are made.