PUNE: I’m at the World Juniors. The stadium, situated within a ‘sports city’, is stunning, apparently one of the best exclusive-badminton facilities in the world. As with all other such sport cities, this too is located on the outskirts of Pune city. Such sporting facilities have their problems — they are too far and too initmidating to attract the average man on the street. The event is attended by the usual suspects — players, coaches, parents, journalists. Sport, from its origins as a means of popular recreation, has become a competitive vocation and has alienated the common citizen.
Pune and Gachibowli have the two best badminton stadiums in India. Both are located in an area which can only be described as other-worldly. The first day, having met players and coaches of the lesser teams — Iraq, Bangladesh, Jamaica and France — I left for my hotel. The road outside was deserted — so unlike Indian cities — and it was a uniform grey-blue outside, somewhat offset by Diwali crackers. When I reached Hinjawadi chowk the celebrations were in full swing and bombs were going off everywhere. A car nearly got blown up; and a few people nearly stepped on live crackers.
But the next day it was back to normal, the sports city located in a forlorn part of the world, and even the chowk seemed part of some frontier town.
I’m sharing the hotel room with Balan. We’re catching up after a long time. He gets a call from Aditi (Mutatkar) this morning — she tells him she took Zhou Mi to three games at the French Open. We feel happy for her… she’s doing a lot of things right, and she’s slowly climbing the ladder.
I meet her at the stadium and she looks cheerful. She’s been travelling a lot, it must be a long time since she’s last been home. “Two months,” she says. I ask her about the Zhou Mi match. “I think she couldn’t read me in the first game,” she says. “She’s very fast while moving straight, but she’s not so fast moving diagonally. I found I was able to catch her on the turn. But I got too tired in the second and third.”
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