Monday, January 02, 2006

All the best, Nikhil

Many years ago, I was reluctantly attending the basic course of Art of Living. One of the guys attending the course looked vaguely familiar. He was tall, wiry, shy, and carried with him, a big pillow to sit on. He introduced himself as Nikhil. I was the chatty kind back then, and within two days, I had made friends with him. As luck would have it, he and I got grouped together in one of the interactive sessions. In the course of the discussion (about our lives), he revealed that he was a badminton player. "Nikhil + Badminton-player" resulted in a google-like search of my sparse brain, and a tiny bell tinkled somewhere in the depths of my mind.

Me: What's your full name?
He:Nikhil Kanetkar
Me:*mouth agape* THE Nikhil Kanetkar? I've seen your photo in the papers!
He:*Smiling unassumingly* Yes, you might have.

My brain morphed the shy, unpretentious guy in front of me into a sportsman, racket in hand, and a steely determination on his face. Then it morphed him back into the guy in front of me. I now knew why he looked so familiar.

I took some time to come back to normal. My head was whirring. I was in the same room as an international level badminton player from the past two days, and I got to know it only after he told me! And there he sits, completely unknown, without anyone gawking or asking him for autographs!

I listened as he reeled out all the tournaments he had won, the championships he had played in, and the countries he had visited. "I am out of action for a while", he said. "Jaundice and a leg injury". Well, that explains the pillow, I thought. "Gopi (Pullella Gopichand) says he benefited highly from the Sudarshan Kriya (taught at the Art of Living course). So I thought I would try it out".

That night I went home and googled him out. The information about him was painfully little, but what was there, was very impressive. I remember being very proud of my new celebrity friend :) I was also suddenly intimidated, but his easy demeanour put me at ease. He even gave me a very sweet card, thanking me for being a good friend. (Yes, I still have it, and treasure it!).

We met once or twice after the course, at one of the follow-up Kriya sessions. After that we called each other a few times. He was training at the Prakush Padukone academy, and stayed in a flat with other players. He told me that the female players stayed next door to them, and they all ate dinner together. Calling his flat was a kind of thrill. When someone else answered the phone, I would wonder which player was on the line. If it was a girl, I would think "Could it.... could it be Aparna Popat?" :)

In later years, we kept in touch only through email, as he was travelling a lot. I kept him informed about all the milestones in my life - my degrees, my change of jobs, my wedding, and I also sent him a birthday wish every year. He kept me updated on his life too - but still, our correspondence came down to half a dozen emails a year. I kept track of him through the World Badminton site, as the newspapers talked next to nothing about badminton. Sometimes, caught in work and other activities, I would neglect to see the site, and would lose track of what was happening in the Badminton arena. Then out of the blue, I would get a mail from Nikhil, which would be just like him - Simple, straight, to-the-point. It would update me and some other of his friends, on the latest. And the mail was always from some other country - Germany, Malaysia, South Africa.

One of his mails read "I am happy to tell you that I got selected at the last moment to represent India at the Athens Olympics, as someone else dropped out." I whooped with joy. I hold the Olympics in great esteem, and my friend was actually getting to play there! Added to that, Indian Oil(with whom he was employed), had put up huge hoardings on the Mumbai Highways. It carried photos of the four badminton players in their employ, who were representing India in the Olympics, and wished them luck. Nikhil looked very good in that hoarding, composed and smiling softly. I would silently wish him the best. At the actual event, he cleared the first round, and entered the second, before being beaten by Peter Gade of Denmark. Both his selection, and his first win, were just given a one-line mention in the newspapers.

Another mail in June of last year informed me "I am glad to inform you that I won the South Africa International championship". A couple of photos were attached. It was a big thing for him - the first international event he had won (He has been runner-up in a number of prestigious events, though). I was thrilled. I took down the newspapers, and combed the sports pages for a mention of this victory of his. Nothing. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Shunya, etc.

Last month, I received a mail from him. He had attached a scanned picture in a German newspaper. It was the news of his engagement to Shruti Kurien, another elite badminton player. The photo was quite a big one, and the write-up seemed substantial. In my initial joy, I almost missed the irony. That the news of his engagement, which occured in India, between two top Indian players, was conveyed by him to his Indian friends, through a news item in a German newspaper. Well, what can I say about that?

Today I read the news that the National Badminton Championship is beginning today, and Nikhil is playing. As usual, here is a silent wish from me to him.

All the best, Nikhil.


Update: Happily, this inspired an excellent post by Sue at Dutch Diary.

27 comments:

Useless Mortal said...

Can't say i recognised the name when you mentioned it. But i guess all sports personality (including the famous cricket team) have similar sounding names :-D.

Sri Harsha said...

When i first read thru his name,my immediate recollection was of the cricketer,Hrishikesh Kanitkar, then nikhil came to my mind.

He was a bright hope for India in Badminton, after gopi, a couple of yrs bck...tht's all wht i remember abt him.

:-I

Anonymous said...

best of luck nikhil :) .... *sigh* i dont have any celebrity frnd... once i saw the snap of one of my classmate (frnd) in a newspaper he was throwing stones at a truck who smashed one of the student frm our college .... well tht student is fit and fine now and my frnd ..he is still searching for the truck driver who somehow managed to escape tht day .. hope to see my frnds snap again in the newspaper beating the crap out of tht truck driver then even i can write abt my frnd being a celebrity and apparently finding some place on the newspaper every now and then :))
nice blog keep posting
~neo~

Abhi said...

Its a nice feeling to know about such successful yet modest guys in these times when guys blow super sonic trumpets and dive into the pond of self glorofication even at a bacteria sized win.my best wishes to nikhil.

Supremus said...

Beautiful post. The way you decribe the events was really nostalgic; and add to it, the irony of german newspaper.

Can our media, every come out of their cricket fixation, and for once wrie about other players of repute.

Great post!!

Suyog

Shruthi said...

@Sachin: That's the whole point :) Nobody recognizes any names other than that of the cricketers :(

@Harsha: Yes, the shuttlers of India have some good achievements under their belts - but not many ppl know about it!

@Anon: ROTFL!! Nice celebrity friend :) Anyway glad that guy who was hurt is fine now!
P.S. I wish you could leave a name.. at least an alias or an initial :)

Shruthi said...

@Abhinav: That was a very cool rant! "...guys blow super sonic trumpets and dive into the pond of self glorofication even at a bacteria sized win:)"
Yes you are right!

@Suyog: Thank you. You got it just right. Cricket-fixation. Badminton, hockey, lots of other sports are totally neglected. Actually that's one of the reasons that cricket makes me angry!

*`~. R a j .~`* said...

I thought u misspelled Hrishikesh as Nikhil.. but tht's too big a mistake to occur.... but surely smaller than one committed by our media to create hype for only cricket and not any other sport except for if the female playing the sport is too hot to ignore .. no prizes for guessing it right ... Saniaaaa

Nicely post indeed

Mridula said...

What a lovely post, I for a change follow badmintion. I come from the town from where Sayyad Modi was and have seen a lot of international stars in action including Padukone (past his seriously competitive days) Modi, Vimal Kumar, Gopi Chand (had a lot of injuries in pre-all England winning days) but not Kanetkar. Though, I of course recognize his name. The player who amazed me most was Rajeev Bagga, the deaf and mute national champion and not the special category. He had such a lovely game and could gaze at the audience sometimes after a particulalrly brilliant shot to see if the applause was still on. Thanks for writing about badmintion, it is a lovely sport.

Bhupi said...

i thought u used to fake about ur celebrity friend....just kidding. I still remember the excitement u had when u got to know Nikhil is playing Olympics. All the best to nikhil

Shruthi said...

@Raj: Exactly, that's what I mean. It's sad, but it's happening.

@Mridula: Thank you! I am a regular on your blog, and the compliment, coming from you, is all the more special! ;)
Glad that there are some people who do follow badminton seriously.
I remember Rajeev Bagga too. I was a big fan of his - and I was fascinated by him, somehow. What you said about him looking at the crowd to see if they were still applauding is particularly touching.

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Great post!

I don't follow much of Badminton, but am sure awed at the humility of your friend! Here's another all the best to Nikhil, both for his future career as well as his married life.

Shriedhar said...

Hi shruti,
it was nice reading ur post..
here go my best vshes..
Best of luck nikhil :)

Shruthi said...

@Bhupi: Sorry, I think we posted at the same time! Yes, I remember, I think I got his mail at office and was so happy :)

@Sudipta: Thank you! :) And yes, humility is a remarkable quality.

@Shreedhar: Thank you!

witnwisdumb said...

Hello! I see you have offered no other channel for communication other than the comments forum. I wanted to ask you for permission to feature your post on blogchaat. It would appear along with a link back to your blog, of course. Please check out the 'About blogchaat' page for more on the site. Please send me a response at your earliest.

Shruthi said...

@witnwisdumb: Sure, please go ahead and link to me - and Thanks!

BangaloreGuy said...

Good post. As for the german papers linking it, well, I'm speechless!

PS:It says "In later tears"

Shruthi said...

Thank you BG, for pointing that out.
Corrected.

Sue said...

nice post!

looks like I need a blogger signin to leave a trackback here, so thought I will put in a comment instead. Your post prompted me to write a long overdue post. Thanks.:)

Bhargav said...

This reminds me of the Millet sisters. One of them had complained that nobody recognised them (the participants) even after wearing the T-shirts of the national games on Brigade road. Sad that cricket sidelines all other sports. Moreover, no other sport is that accessible as cricket. We have worked out all odds to make it so simple to play cricket I guess.

Shruthi said...

@Sue: That is a truly excellent post - and I am glad my post inspired it :) I am linking to it.

@Bhargav: Ah yes, the Millet sisters... I did follow swimming, but if I had come across them on the road, I am not sure if I myself would have recognized them! Their snaps were not splattered all over the newspapers, like those of the cricket team.
And yes, you have a point there. A rubber ball, a plank of wood, and a little space, and you can play cricket.

Swathi said...

what else can we expect from a cricket-frenzed nation??? but i think the media is not justified in omitting other games...

indiacorporatewatch said...

Interesting shruthi

I wish such players got a
lot more attention in our media
Though I don't really follow any sports

I do have a active interest in the daughters of former badminton players
like Deepika Padukone for instance :)

Manasi said...

Great post.
it is really ironic and embarrassing that a german newspaper wrote about it and we in India were informed abt it thru them. But then with cricket taking centerstage, or rather whole of the stage, you can hardly expect place for other sports and such modest sports personalities, who wouldnt go out of their way to market themselves.

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Prakash Gurnule said...

Yeasterday I visited Balewadi Status,Pune where Nikil Kanetkar Badminton Academy is there.It will nice to see this guy there.

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