The first six years of my school life were spent in Campus School CCS HAU, Hisar, Haryana. Later, I moved to Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan’s Vidyashram, on the National Institute of Rural Development campus, Rajendranagar, Hyderabad, from where I took the CBSE Class X exam in 2005.
By the time I got to Class X, I was already heavily into badminton and winning tournaments. This, however, meant that I was increasingly missing classes. When it was time for the board exams, my classroom attendance had gone down to about 10 per cent. But I was still allowed to write the exam — the CBSE director (south zone) gave me special permission — and my academic performance was always very good. Possibly, I did well because my family never put any pressure on me studywise.
Notching up titles
My international wins had started coming while I was in high school. In November 2003, I won the Czechoslovakia Junior Open (under-19) and the next winter, I won the Junior Commonwealth Games silver medal in Bendigo, Australia. In India, I had won the under-13 National championship in 2002, following that up with more titles in the next two years. Through all this, my studies and games went on side by side, by the grace of God and thanks to my determination to both win and do well in exams.
After school, I had to put all my energy into badminton — a move that has paid off. There are some compensations of giving up formal education for the sake of an international sporting career — so far, I have travelled to more than 24 counties and have been to all continents except Africa.
Winning the Super Series in Indonesia this year is a personal landmark, besides the two Grand Prix titles in the Philippines (2006) and Taipei (2008).
Taking up a sport is still seen as a secondary activity in India, maybe even a discouraged activity. Parents still tend to go by this dictum: “Likhoge, padhoge, banoge nabab; kheloge, kudoge, banoge kharab (If you study, you will be a king; if you play, you shall be ruined).” But that is not so right. I appeal to parents: Never berate your children for wanting to play a sport. Give them the same love and affection as you would give to a studious child.
Society makes it worse for parents whose children love sport and want to make a career in it. Even now, when my father talks about me to someone, he is at times asked how far I have studied and whether my playing was a hurdle for my education. My father is usually not sure what he has to say to this. If he tries to reply, the other person may go on about how difficult it might be to find a job without a college degree.
Once, my father said to a politician, “My daughter is an Arjuna awardee.” The politician said, “But what about her studies?” It was as if an Arjuna award is just another medal.
Staying on course
Despite negativism from others, if you love something, stick to it, and soldier on. And I would also urge society to change its outlook and embrace all achievers — whether the field is a conventional one or not.
Saina Nehwal As told to Debjeet Kundu