Presenting Kiran Nadar, the bridge player who never bats an eye! An HT Brunch exclusive
When the Asian Games ended this year, the Indian contingent returned with 69 medals (15 gold, 24 silver and 30 bronze). Beaming at the airport on their return from Indonesia were a bunch of competitors ranging in age from teenager Saurabh Chaudhary to 67-year-old Kiran Nadar.
Hang on! Kiran Nadar? The art collector and museum founder? What was she doing at the Asian Games? Well, just like the others, she represented India. But unlike the others, her sport took place indoors. It was bridge, and the card game was, for the first time, introduced as a sport in the Asians Games, as it could be in the next Olympics.
For the last 30 years, Nadar has been a professional bridge player, representing India at various tournaments around the world. This year, not only did she, along with the rest of the India International Bridge Team, bring back a bronze from the Asian Games, but in February, she also brought home a gold from the 5th Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship at Gold Coast, Australia.
“Even so, the bronze at the Asian Games was special,”smiles Kiran. “We had some really strong teams from Indonesia, China and Japan. Everybody had been preparing hard and Indonesia even sent their teams to play all over the world before the Asian Games started. As for the Indian team, we were pushing ourselves and even had a coach to guide us.”
Bridge is a card game, so why has it been elevated to a sport? “According to an international judgment last year, a sport is any activity requiring a certain effort to overcome a challenge or an obstacle, which trains a certain physical or mental skill,” explains Nadar. “Bridge sharpens your intellectual capabilities and power of thinking, and helps you see things from different aspects. It’s a mind game like chess but much more strategic because bridge is a team game and depends considerably on the subtleties of communication. Unlike chess, you don’t see your opponent in bridge, but you need to be aware of the other person’s situation and what the other person is holding, based on which you play or defend the hand.”
More than 60 million people in the world play bridge: its fans believe the game is a better teacher of strategy and even war than chess, which means it is likely that the late Sam Manekshaw, India’s first Field Marshal, and the late Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War II, and the 34th President of the United States, drew upon their bridge skills in their fields of work.
Kiran has been playing bridge almost her entire life. Now 67 years old, she’s been a professional at the game for the same 30 years she’s been an art collector. Both her passion for art and for bridge come from the same background: as the granddaughter of an ICS officer on her father’s side, and an income tax commissioner on her mother’s side, she was exposed to bridge parties from the age of 10. And while she spent eight years at boarding school in Sanawar, being home for the holidays meant family time over the bridge table, a passion that continued after her marriage since her husband, Shiv Nadar, founder of HCL technologies, is also fond of bridge. In fact, HCL sponsors bridge tournaments, including an HCL bridge championship.
“While most children of my age were playing video games, I preferred to pick up the nuances of this game,” says Kiran. “It makes you learn a lot about team building, about strategy and also about how to decode truth and lies. These qualities have helped me handle all kind of situations in life.
The art of sport
It was in 1987 when she took a break from work that Kiran began exploring her options as a professional. “I got involved in high and duplicate bridge, and met a few professional players playing for the country who told me that I had the potential to go professional,” she says. “Motivated by their comments, I started playing ladies bridge.”
In 2000, Kiran realised that if she wanted to pursue the game at a higher level, she needed to ‘up’ her game. That meant playing with male players too. “There were a few issues with playing with an all women team,” she says. “Firstly, there was too much politics there and secondly, the standard was not good. And, compared to women, who usually look at bridge as a means to socialise and relax, men are more aggressive in their game and concentrate more on planning their moves. Soon my partner B Satyanarayana and I decided to form our own team called the Formidables, and we are still together 20 years later.”
Over the last 30 years, Kiran has had several memorable bridge moments such as fangirling over actor Omar Sharif, also a bridge enthusiast, who she met in Tunisia while playing ladies bridge, and once competing, though only for two hands, against Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
“I’m not superstitious and don’t believe in pre-game rituals, but I do say a small prayer in my mind before starting a game,” says Kiran. “Though meditation and pranayam are suggested to improve concentration, I don’t do anything.”
Bridge and art are time consuming passions, but Kiran still has time for other sports, religiously going for Wimbledon every year, and visiting Spain for the football. “I don’t play myself, but I’m all for having more facilities for sports and feel that we need to focus more on football as a sport in India,” says Kiran.
With a new museum and cultural centre set to open soon in Delhi and a medal from the Asian Games in her kitty, is there anything else that Kiran wants? “A gold medal soon!” she replies, laughing.
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From HT Brunch, December 9, 2018
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