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Teddy bears and tournaments

They found love amid sweat, struggle and competition. On Valentine’s Day, HT caught up with India’s sporting mates-turned-life partners for a conversation on their most coveted match.
By Sanasi Kelkar, Dhiman Sarkar and Parishmita Gogoi | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 14, 2008 01:45 AM IST

They found love amid sweat, struggle and competition. On Valentine’s Day, HT caught up with India’s sporting mates-turned-life partners for a conversation on their most coveted match.

Nikhil Kanetkar and Shruti Kurien (badminton)

Jab we met: At the 2000 Thomas and Uber Cup camp in New Delhi, which was coincidentally on during Valentine’s Day.

“It was Shruti’s first time at the camp. We went out for lunch, dinner and then a movie, and that’s how it started,” recalls Nikhil. “We dated for five or six months after which we broke up because I thought it was affecting my game too much. But in 2004 we got back together and got married in 2006.”

Gifts to remember: Says Nikhil: “I’m a pretty sad romantic… I bought a bunch of flowers for her for our first Valentine’s Day and I don’t think I have done that again.”

Plans for V-Day 2008: Nikhil is in Bangalore while Shruti is in Hyderabad for the Uber Cup camp.

“We haven’t been together for Valentine’s Day the last couple of years,” says Nikhil. “Once we stop playing, we’ll make up for it. I look forward to that.”

Jwala Gutta and Chetan Anand (Badminton)

Jab we met: In 1995, when Jwala was playing under-13 and Chetan under-16. Since both of them were the only two players representing their State, they kept meeting each other frequently for various tournaments. The friendship took a romantic twist when Jwala was 18. She was not sure whether Chetan was serious about their relationship but Chetan assured her about his commitment. Finally they got married.

Gifts to remember: Chetan is very bad with gifts. The only gift that Jwala remembers is a teddy bear which Chetan gave her when they were dating each other.

Plans for V-Day 2008: No plans as such since both of them are busy with their training. However, they plan to go out for Dinner. Moreso, since we insisted on knowing about their plans.

Bhaichung and Madhuri Bhutia

Jab we met: About 12 years ago at a friend’s party in Kolkata.

Plans for V-Day 2008: I’m flying out at 6am for Ludhiana so that effectively kills any chance of spending time together. But it’s just as well because the day holds no special significance for us. If I want to take my wife for a date, I would prefer our birthdays or our anniversary. So, even if I were to stay here, there would have been no gifts or dates. It would have been just another day.

Kamlesh Mehta and Monalisa Barua (table tennis)

Jab we met: Both knew each other since their junior days, and later would be part of the same senior Indian teams that competed abroad.

“We came from different cultures (Monalisa was from Assam) but our nature was similar,” says Kamlesh. “Both were accommodating, family-oriented, cool-headed, and the sport was the common bond. We became more friendly and started dating.”

Two years later, in 1988, they were married.

Gifts to remember: Once Kamlesh returned from a tour in Hong Kong on the eve of Valentine’s Day laden only with heart-shaped gifts.

“Everything was heart-shaped, even the card,” remembers Kamlesh. “It was the first time I gave something to her. So it was quite a surprise for her.”

Plans for V-Day 2008: Kamlesh plans to take Monalisa out shopping for clothes, which she loves. “That’s if shops are open after Raj Thackeray’s arrest…”

Manan Chandra and Anuja Thakur (cue sport)

Jab we met: Until the 2000 World Championship in Holland, both knew each other merely as fellow snooker players.

“In Holland, we were away from home and we grew close,” says Manan. By the end of the trip, they were dating.

“I used to help her with the game, and though our approaches to sport were different, we shared the same kind of life. Besides, we would never get bored of talking.”

Gifts to remember: It's actually the first time the two will be together on Valentine’s Day to exchange gifts. Anuja is fond of jewellery so a special shopping stint is on the cards.

Plans for V-Day 2008: It’s their first since their wedding in 2007, which they plan to celebrate with a quiet dinner. “We are both in Mumbai for a tournament. Had we been in Delhi we would have gone partying with friends. So in a way it’s nice that we would be just the two of us.”

Gaurav Natekar and Arati Ponappa (tennis)

Jab we met: Their tournaments rarely crossed, both competing on separate circuits across different age groups.

“When I was 12, Gaurav was already an established player,” recalls Arati. “Later we were part of a close group of friends, alongside Mahesh (Bhupathi), Sai (Jayalakshmi) and Manisha (Malhotra).” But during the 1995 SAF Games in Chennai, both came to know each other well.

“He was a good guy, very easy to talk to,” said Arati. “My parents were hesitant but Gaurav really took the effort to know them well and they agreed.”

Gifts to remember: Both don’t always exchange gifts, even on birthdays. “Gaurav’s a good husband and a good father. I have got the freedom to be what I am. These gifts are better than materialistic ones,” says Arati.

Plans for V-Day 2008: Arati is in Pune, Gaurav in Mumbai.

“I’ll be with my in-laws, our children. After all, Valentine’s is about spending time with everybody you love.”

Compiled by Sanasi Kelkar, Dhiman Sarkar and Parishmita Gogoi

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