Monday, May 22, 2017

Ace Against Odds - Imran Mirza and Shivani Gupta

I believe Sania has more tennis left in her and was wondering why the biography now. It's written by her father Imran Mirza and journalist Shivani Gupta and pretty much outlines her growth to become an icon in Indian and world tennis.
Harper Sport, Rs. 499. 238 p
The book starts dramatically. Sania and her parents miss a flight in the USA due to some scheduling issues and the flight crashes - this was when she was six. They take the same flight next day and arrive at their destination only to be covered in the national news. Sania spends a bit of her childhood in the USA when her father attempts to start a business and settle down but within an year he gives up and the young parents return to Hyderabad with their daughter - who has already picked up a liking for tennis.

Sania's early indoctrination into the game, her mother's determination to get her into the coaching classes, and the trouble the parents take in taking her to and fro tennis classes etc is well documented. A budding skating career is nipped when Sania falls and is knocked out unconscious for a while - and after that her mother threw away her skates (or something like that). Early promise is recognised, a coach says she will win a slam, and she starts winning tournaments at the Under 10 level. This brings into focus the sacrifices and troubles the parents took while giving their daughter all opportunities. Imran Mirza, a cricketer himself and one who moulds Sania's attitude by telling her to go for it and not nudge around, buys an old 1000cc Maruti, dieselifies it and the family of four (with her younger sister in tow now) travels to places as far away as Trivandrum and Ahmedabad. I marvel at Imran Mirza's driving skills and patience and even courage. Sania wins all the tournaments with consummate ease and is picked up to represent India in the juniors. She starts playing international tournaments, wins prize money, has a hilarious African experience, a yellow fever quarantine and then graduates to the seniors.

The years of uncertainty in the senior pro level. Her injuries and the pain. Her comeback and the golden period are documented but its a story we know a bit of. As with other celebrities who have achieved much in their younger years we sense that disappointment and hurt at the way the media behaves and misinterprets them when all they are trying to do is do a good job despite the pain and the injuries. The controversies that erupted rather unnecessarily about the fatwa (explained well by the cleric in the book), the engagement and heartbreak at breaking it off, the Mecca masjid controversy and even her marriage to Shoaib Mallik which was so badly handled by the media. But she has always handled it well with her typical gutsiness.

As she moves on to conquer further glory, it is clear that sportspersons who reach that level of achievement start early, need parental and coaching support, put in far more hours than the others and most importantly have a deep desire to be a champion in spite of the pain and uncertainty and doubt. It is what is mentioned in the article 'How to be an expert' as well. A growth mindset, a routine that they do not miss and great support system. I am pretty sure there will be another book written after Sania is done and dusted with her tennis.

Whatever she has achieved is wonderful but what she has given women and girls in India is perhaps even more. A way to live her life on her terms and not take any crap from anyone. For that one thing, Sania will always be someone I will admire. And she does it with a smile, an energy that's infectious. Another wonderful role model in a world that seems to be having so few. But I wished the book had waited a little longer - for the simple reason that her journey is not over yet - and until the discovery is complete, the story will not be.

No comments: