The weather was cloudy but I wasn’t waiting for the rains. I was inside the huge open air corridor of Hyderabad’s Pulela Gopichand Badminton Academy, excited to meet the fastest woman of India, sprint queen Dutee Chand. The rains poured and my heart thundered in my ears as I saw her entering the academy compound. My ‘date’ with Dutee was about to begin…
As I saw her approaching towards me, I also noticed the shopping bags in her hand. Last minute shopping before Rio, I presumed. The academy was teeming with badminton trainees, all of whom had an air of sophistication around them. But Dutee dressed in black colour track pants, a blue T-shirt and a red coloured slipper, somehow stood out for her simplicity. She looked at me and smiled, and her smile reached her eyes too.
I realised I was feeling hungry but seeing her made me forget about food as I suddenly developed this appetite for a candid interview of sorts. But thankfully for me, Dutee had not taken her lunch either. Just as we shook hands and were about to make our lunch plan, a phone call came. And, so she handed me over the keys of her scooter as she took the call. I got the cue and we headed for some good food since the lunch time at the academy canteen was over long time back.
Although she was over phone, she could easily guide me to the destination. Exactly a ride of 1300 metres on the Hyderabad Mumbai Highway, she asked me to stop by a South Indian restaurant. Till then, she was on the phone and she appeared to be upset. From what I could understand from the conversation, she was talking to some corporate guy who probably was bargaining with her for an advertisement. Dutee denied bluntly, not for the small amount they were offering but for his bargaining attempts. For a player who has made her state and the country proud, more than money, respect mattered and I could understand her decision.
To me, Dutee personifies excellence. Although her eligibility to participate as a female athlete in the Commonwealth Games was questioned, she fought back and how! I asked her about her anger and outrage. She was calm and replied with a smile, “I had little scope to mourn and so I had to fight back and I got the victory of a lifetime. Now, none can question me about it.” She smiled at me again and this time it reflected her confidence.
By the time she completed the story, we had ordered some fried rice and ginger chicken with some starters. The waiters at the restaurant were hospitable to her. Later, she informed me that the one who serving us was from Kendrapara and that she was regular at the joint since both the food and service were good.
I moved ahead with my questions. The next thing I wanted to know was how she was dealing with the expectations of people right now! Being the fastest woman of India and making it to Olympics 100 metre race after PT Usha is a big responsibility. The hopes of 120 crore Indians are now pinned on her. And then came the pertinent question – What are the chances of winning a medal at Rio? She took a pause and replied with an example. “It’s very difficult to predict or assure about winning a medal. Earlier I have failed to better my own records despite best preparations. Victory will depend on my physical condition that day, my mental stability, the weather and also the condition of my opponents. Basically, if everything falls into place on that day, you become a winner. So, I don’t want to talk about winning a medal right now and pressurise myself. I am practicing hard and I want to give my best on that day. It does not matter if I win a gold, silver or bronze. For me, what matters most is that I will run for the country and for the Tri-colour.” I had goose-bumps seeing the patriotic spirit and passion in her eyes.
I drifted from the topic and asked her about her family. She appeared content as she mentioned how her sister athlete Saraswati Chand had a huge impact in her life. As she stated sharing more about her family, she became a little nostalgic.
I got her back to the present world with a question that was relevant for all sprinters from Odisha. Is the state government doing enough to promote them considering the fact that we have so many talents, be it Rachita Mistri, Anuradha Biswal, Amiya Mallick, Dutee Chand, Srabani Nanda or Budhia Singh? She rightly pointed out, “Infrastructure for sprinters is not good in the state.” However, she also praised the government for helping her out many a time.
By the time, we were done with our lunch, it was pouring outside and so we sat for some more time in her favourite South Indian joint. I utilised the time to discover other interesting facets to her. Since she was so popular, I wanted to know about her social media presence. She was quick to answer with a laugh, “Do I really need it? But I am happy people are talking about me on social media due to my achievements. I do not believe in self-propaganda.” However, she does have two Facebook profiles, one official Facebook page, a dedicated Twitter handle and little presence over Instagram.
We chatted some more, till the rains stopped and then it was time for her afternoon massage. By the time we came out of the restaurant, the rain soaked streets had started getting crowded. We clicked a selfie and shook hands. I gifted a packet of Salepur rasogulla to her and wished her for Rio. She bid goodbye, turned back and started walking. I kept looking at her till she merged with the crowd. I looked atop and saw a beautiful rainbow in the sky.
And, that’s how ended my beautiful date with Dutee Chand.