Jwala Gutta’s first day of training at the LB Stadium in Hyderabad, on her return from Singapore last month, was interrupted by TV channel reporters who wanted her opinion on the ‘doubles trouble’ in tennis. She points to a corner in the stadium, where a small room has been converted into a gym where all badminton players work out.
“I got this made, with a government grant and some of my money. Nice na?” she asks. The gym indeed was cosy enough for the cameras to be set up. But something went missing before the shoot — the lip gloss. “Insi please give me my lip gloss,” Jwala asked her sister, even as the camerapersons waited. They don’t call her badminton’s glamour girl for nothing.
“About time!” she tells you if you ask how it feels to be a part of two doubles teams at the Olympics. After becoming the first Indian shuttler to qualify for women’s and mixed doubles events, Jwala is certainly enjoying the moment of history she has created.
“I would have qualified for the last Olympics also,” she says, hinting at her tussle with the national federation a year before the Beijing Games, which was the qualifying period for shuttlers. “It was so depressing at that time, I even contemplated quitting the sport.”
The pressure of two events seems to have changed Jwala’s perspective towards fitness and endurance to an extent. Ever since the qualification year ended, she has been on a protein-rich and zero-carb diet.
“I put on weight easily. Even though I have lost a few kilos now, I still feel fresh and there is no sign of fatigue.” Ask her how much is her weight now, and she gives a naughty smile.
Her Dronacharya awardee coach, SM Arif, is also happy that Jwala is taking her diet seriously. He has been her coach since Jwala was nine. “I remember this ‘Chinese doll’ had come with her parents to the LB Stadium. She wanted to join badminton, but she was very small at that time, so I advised her parents that maybe swimming or gymnastics would be better at this age,” Arif says.
Jwala returned to badminton after two years of gymnastics. Her father talks fondly about how she caught everyone’s eye when she started winning all the major domestic titles and clinched the doubles junior and senior national titles in 2001.
She has always been labelled the ‘rebel’ and this bindaas Hyderabadi knows it well. “Yes, I am a rebel,” Jwala says matter-of-factly. “I fight whenever I think I am right. I don’t have to hide anything or be afraid of anyone.”
She goes on narrating instances when she felt she had been let down by many in the badminton fraternity, but instantly forgets about it the moment her two pet pugs — Lola and Tyson — come running towards her, fighting for attention.
Her father, Kranti Gutta, continues. “We used to hear a lot about draws of tournaments being tampered with, but there was no way of knowing whether it was really happening.”
“Jwala used to get upset at hearing such things, but I used to encourage her, saying, ‘Ja beta, Sher ban aur court pe ja’,” he says. Looks like Jwala took that quite literally, and her roar has now reached London.