HT Brunch exclusive! Sania Mirza poses seven months pregnant, delivers an honest interview that answers the stickiest questions!
India’s gutsiest sports star holds forth on impending motherhood, underlines the importance of fitness during a pregnancy and reacts to talk about her baby being called the Love Child of India and Pakistan
It’s a Monday morning and things at The Park Hyderabad are in a flurry. The city’s most famous citizen is headed here today for an HT Brunch cover shoot that’s more special than any other; she is seven months pregnant, and this picture will make a memory for life.
Twenty-eight weeks expectant, carrying her first child, tennis ace Sania Mirza walks in with the gait of an athlete. She smiles that Sania smile, one that we’ve all seen play many parts. It’s warm Hyderabadi at times, but shows streaks of rebellion at others. It sometimes conveys the distance that a celebrity – often mired in unnecessary controversy – needs to convey, and at other times, it shows sparks of playfulness. Every time Sania Mirza smiles though, she exudes steely strength that conveys confidence and charm, a combination as rare and unpredictable as this super girl herself.
“Because I’m an athlete there is more muscle tone [in my body], so my bump was not showing as much until very recently,” Sania is overheard telling the photographer, who is worried his travel to Hyderabad may be a waste. It certainly isn’t; for the next few hours see Sania handle the trappings of make-up, hair styling, lights, camera and changes with the ease of a film star. Through it all, she good-humouredly cracks jokes, many on herself, then braves an interview with answers that reek of individuality and inspiration.
“You know, Sania, I was just a few weeks into my job as Editor of HT Brunch when a cover we did with you almost got me into trouble…”
My opening words to the country’s best tennis player get me her full attention immediately.
“It was Sunday, Aug 14, 2016, and we were doing an Independence Day Special Issue,” I explain. “We had a great interview with you as our cover story. Since Aug 14 is Independence Day in Pakistan, we decided to use the cover-line ‘India’s daughter, Pakistan’s daughter-in-law: Sania Mirza joins us to celebrate the Independence Days of two countries that should partake in each other’s happiness more often!’”
Sania doesn’t look amused.
“You deserved to get into trouble,” she chides, then adds, “though the thought isn’t bad…!”
Later in the interview, she elaborates: “A lot of people have this notion that Shoaib and I got married to unite the two countries. That is not true. Whenever I have been to Pakistan – and I go once every year to meet my in laws – the love that I get there is immense. The whole country calls me ‘bhabhi’, and they give me so much respect. I also know that that love is not necessarily for me, it is for my husband who has been cricket captain and what he means to everyone there. The respect they have for him transcends to the respect for me… Just like when Shoaib comes here, and he gets the love and respect of our countrymen.”
So when people refer to her yet-to-be-born baby – the child of Indian tennis superstar Sania Mirza and former Pakistani cricket captain Shoaib Mallik – as the Love Child of India and Pakistan, how does she react?
“Tags are a part of being a public figure,” she says. “I play for my country, my family, for myself, and so does my husband. We are aware of the responsibilities we carry, but we do not take these tags seriously. They may make for a good headline, but don’t mean anything to us at home!”
Sania Mirza has shut me up and my tastelessness. Thankfully, she shows no signs of shutting up herself.
Was getting pregnant at this time a planned move? As sports stars with careers and dreams, did Shoaib and she discuss it at length? “When we got married we were both clear that our careers wouldn’t be compromised,” says Sania. “He has been more ready for this than me for the last few years, to be honest. He’s also a few years older than me, so that’s understandable. But he never told me, ‘Maybe we should… this is the time…’ I really respect that in a man. It is often taken for granted that as a woman you will put your life on hold and do what’s expected. I never felt that pressure. I’ve always wanted to have a child and have a family, I just didn’t know when…”
Later in the conversation, she hints at how a knee injury brought out chat about pregnancy, which she seems to be breezing through with ease. “Stop telling me I’m glowing,” she laughs. “It’s just another way of saying I’m fat!”
“I found out early that I was pregnant, and quite by chance. I remember it was the 25th of February, and the only thing that concerned me immediately was that I had been training like a dog. They say you must be most careful in your first trimester, and I was running so much, it got me a bit worried. Once I knew, I took it easy. I didn’t have as much morning sickness as I’d expected, just a few mood swings. And I kept myself active throughout.”
Active like Serena Williams, who was rumoured to be playing tennis till her eighth month? “I don’t think she played tennis till her eighth month. But she did exercise, which every woman can do provided you’ve been doing it before you got pregnant. You mustn’t think a pregnancy is an excuse to put your feet up and do nothing, unless there is a complication. I’ve been doing yoga four times a week through my second trimester, though it did take a bit of convincing my mother. (‘How can you exercise,’ she was worried!) But I’m still walking four to five kms daily, though I am beginning to tire a bit faster. I do miss tennis… I have a court at home, but my mother will kill me if I try to sneak in a game!”
Sania’s effervescent laughter stays in the room long after a joke is over. What about nutrition: has she been an indulgent eater, or disciplined as an athlete?
“Fortunately, I’ve lost the taste for sugar during my pregnancy, so that’s a really lucky thing,” says Sania. “I started craving mirchi… but that’s better than craving chocolate, I thought. My dietician – who was also my nutritionist before I got pregnant – advised me against maida. But I had these sudden gluten cravings. Now, I’ve always loved rice, but I now want nan. It’s amazing the weird cravings one can have…”
“Emotionally, this pregnancy has been a self-realisation. As a woman, you sometimes don’t realise the things your body can do and create; you understand that only when it’s doing it!”
Wise words from the womb
Somewhere during the banter, Sania Mirza lets out an unusual fact: that her mother’s due date when she was expecting Sania is exactly the same as her own due date right now. “Isn’t it funny,” she says. “Of course I arrived late and was born on my mother’s birthday!”
Is she scared about the delivery? “I’m more anxious than scared,” she says. “I have a really good doctor. She has my temperament, which is not very hyper. If I get anxious, she can calm me down. This is also the reason I’m having my baby here in Hyderabad…”
Has there been any moment during her pregnancy so far that has left her scared as hell? “There was this pain that popped up out of nowhere in my fifth month. It was in a very sensitive spot, and that’s when I started freaking out a bit. Now I’m usually a calm person if and when I am ill, but this time, things were different. ‘Should I take this medicine? Or this one?’ I kept asking my doctor. My mother simply smiled. It’s later that I realised what she’d always told both of us sisters. Whenever we’d be half an hour late and ask her why she got so worried, she’d say, “You’ll never know until you become a mother!” This time, Mum saw me panic – not for me, but for my child – and she told me, ‘Sania, you’ve not delivered your baby yet, but you are a mother already…!’”
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From HT Brunch, August 12, 2018
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