Sourav Ghosal sounds a lot older than his 20 years. Having been on the international squash circuit as a professional for the past three years, he can claim to have seen quite a bit of the world early in his career.
Ritwik Bhattacharya can claim to be the harbinger of popularity of squash in the country. At 27, he is the archetypal pro, all concentration on court - and a happy-go-lucky guy off it. At first glance, the two have nothing in common, except for the fact that both are Bengalis. Then again, there is a lot that is similar - both play a game not really big in popularity stakes, and both have made it to the top 50 in the world, a first for Indian squash.
Their camaraderie is evident, as is the respect they have for each other. "For me, playing Ritwik feels real good, and if I win that is great since I have practically grown up watching him play," Ghosal says. "I was perhaps 12 or 13 and his biggest cheerleader when he won his first national title at Kolkata in 1998."
Bhattacharya returns the compliment: "I think Sourav is very talented and being the two Indians on the pro circuit, it means we get to interact and learn a lot form each other."
This is a mutual admiration club. Ghosal, who trains with Malcolm Willstrop at the Pontefract Squash and Leisure Club, says Bhattacharya's presence on the circuit helped ease his road a lot. And he admits he has had it comparatively easy. "He had it much harder. For me, he has always been very helpful. Like, initially, I would not know what to do against an unknown rival. He would tell me what to do and what not, based on his experiences. And he would tell which tournaments to go to."
"It helps to have someone you can talk to on the circuit. We generally play together in international tournaments, about 6-7 every year, share rooms, so we are very friendly and there is healthy competition," avers Bhattacharya, who trains with Neil Harvey.
He admits it was tough to be the first Indian pro. "It was a trial-and-error method; that's perhaps one reason it took me so long to reach the top-40s in world rankings," he adds.
Among other things, both prefer to stay calm on the court. "I am aggressive but not short-tempered. I think that is the best way to go about it - not waste your energy in expressing frustrations, don't you think so?" suggests Ghosal. Bhattacharya adds: "You haven't seen me ever lose temper, have you? I think staying clam helps a lot." And no swearing for this duo. "It is disgusting," is the refrain, though Ghosal admits having faced it a lot. "Like, at the World Doubles Championships in Australia, the sledging was really bad," he says.
There are other similarities, like both aiming for a top-20 spot; but there are differences too. Beyond the game, they are chalk and cheese. Bhattacharya is a happy-go-lucky guy; Ghosal appears wise beyond his years, and thus must have the last word: "There have been times I felt I was robbed of a win by dubious decisions. But, I think, bad things happen to good people because God wants something better for them."