August 22, 2016

My badminton story

Rio and the badminton matches inspired me to write about my own tryst with badminton – an important part of my life because I am what I am today because of this sport. Really.

If you ask me what I was doing from age 8 to age 19, apart from the things all children do, the one significant thing I did a lot was play shuttle badminton. I belong to a sports family, and badminton, particularly, was a rite of passage for each of us.

I was born in my grandfather’s ancestral house in the heart of Hanamkonda, in Warangal district, and lived there with my father’s seven brothers and two sisters, his mother and her co-sister, and several other extended family and friends. It was a house that welcomed everyone, and was always buzzing with activity. My uncles and their friends played cricket in the limited space we had. They also played gilli danda, marbles, tops and flew kites when it was the season. There was also an air gun with which some of them practised shooting…the gun was also fired in the air to scare away monkeys!

When I was six, my parents began building a new house - designed by my mother's brother Seetharam -  and everyone was very excited because the original plan had a badminton court on one side and a swimming pool on the other, thanks to my father’s love of sports and the good life, despite all odds (believe me, there were plenty of those)! Eventually, the swimming pool idea was chucked because water was scarce and there would be maintenance issues. But we did get that badminton court!

When I was seven, we moved to ‘Ratnakara’, our new house. It was beautiful, and much bigger than the old place. As we settled down, my uncles and their friends began working on the shuttle court. They brought a manual sports ground roller from somewhere and used to work very hard to make the ground smooth, sprinkling water as they went along, after which they used to draw the lines with lime powder. Soon a fine shuttle court was ready, to exact dimensions, and my father, his friends and the older of my uncles and their friends began playing in all earnest. 

My father’s badminton days date back to his college where he used to play a number of sports. Very good at all the games he played, and a very stylish player at that, he soon won my mom’s heart (she was his junior in Law College) when he defeated the guy who was stalking her, and who she wanted to see defeated! :)

Back to Ratnakara. So while the older people played in the court, my youngest uncles and I played in the open space in front of our house. So I started playing when I was about 8; my brother started at 2, very often interrupting our attempts at playing! It was serious stuff, and over a few years, we were allowed to play for a while in the shuttle court, and we played enthusiastically every evening, guided by my father. There were many young people around, and they all were greatly interested in the sport. And soon ‘Ratnakara Club’ was born. 

We began having serious matches for seniors and juniors, complete with a chief guest, prizes and all! We all just loved playing! There was nothing else we would rather do with our evenings -- remember there was no TV, leave alone computers! My mother also started having serious doubts about our progress in academics.

In the meantime, the Officer’s Club (renamed Warangal club in later years), 2 km away from my house, built an indoor court. Quite a few members began to play and we slowly graduated from the outdoor court at home, to the indoor court in the club. We now had a wider selection of players to play with. We took advantage of this space, and apart from having a lot of fun, we also improved our game to the best of our ability.

We then started playing district tournaments – it was a big thing in Warangal. There were a lot of good players and good competition. We played as Ratnakara club and won most of the matches. There was a rolling shield and we won it year after year! My father invariably won the men’s singles title…I don’t remember when he stopped competing. For some time, I played as his partner in mixed doubles, we were a great team, and we used to win every match. Winning that shield was a heady thing, and we worked for it all year with a great deal of determination. Like the singing Von Trapp family in Sound of Music, we were the sporting family of Warangal!

I had my share of initial highs before better players came in -- one year I won women’s singles, doubles (with Lakshmi), and mixed doubles (with Srikanth). The headline in the newspaper read, ‘Triple crown for Ratnakara’, one more said, ‘Sadhana shines’…my two seconds of fame tasted sweet indeed!
Year after year we played district tournaments, and other matches held elsewhere. Then for the first time, we had a coach. Rammohan Rao Sir arrived from Hyderabad, and we signed up for coaching. We had to wake up at 4 am, exercise, jog and then play badminton. He taught us the right strokes, he made us practice shots, drops, rallies. It was tiring, but our game improved. Rao was a tough task master and we had a love-hate relationship with him! He expected a lot from me than from the boys because it was easier for women to get to somewhere worthwhile. But I don’t think I could give so much of myself to the game at that time, and meet his expectations.

I came to college and represented my university twice, once to Dharwad University and once to Calicut University. The trips were great fun, but both times, we hardly had any practice, we had no facilities, and returned after the first round. I played in the state tournament a few times, and the highest I reached was runners up in under 19 in AP. I never tried to better this title. 

Years passed, and each of us reached a stage when we had to leave Warangal to go to study elsewhere. I applied for Communication and Journalism in Osmania University, a much sought-after course at that time. I did not get the seat in the general category. I got it through sports quota…all those certificates I had earned came into good use and I got myself an education!
Then 'life' followed, and somehow badminton was not part of it. I often wonder why not, but I haven't found an answer to this. Perhaps it was the time we lived in.  
Last week I was in Warangal, watching Olympic badminton matches sitting next to my father. I would not have traded this for the best sports bar in the city. As we watched the games, we felt what the players were feeling, we knew exactly what they did right and what they did wrong. And both of us rejoiced in the fact that shuttle badminton, which had been an insignificant sport when we were playing it, has come to be a much-loved sport now. 
This post is:
-  For Pa, who introduced a whole generation of us to badminton and the wonderful world of sports.
-  For all the people who constituted Ratnakara Club and made our growing up really unique and wonderful.
-  And for the people we played with at Warangal club.

PS: The photos are from our albums - pardon the bad quality - I took them with my phone. There are photos of us with prizes the rolling shield, etc. but I couldn't find them on this trip to Warangal. The post couldn't wait!


Nithin Gentela said...

☺☺☺☺ I won badminton championship during my Law graduation while staying at 'Ratnakara'!!!!

Sadhana Ramchander said...

How wonderful, Nitin! Badminton is in the air at Ratnakara!