‘I always fight for the right Cause’

AP

“If someone criticises me, and if I feel it is genuine, I will take that as a suggestion to correct myself. I wish to see a similar attitude in the officials too,” says Jwala Gutta in a chat with V. V. Subrahmanyam.

For someone who is fighting a system that she strongly believes is not doing its primary job of taking care of the players’ interests, India’s premier women’s doubles badminton player Jwala Gutta comes as a refreshingly relaxed character. The 30-year-old flamboyant player is unfazed by the furore that erupted after the disciplinary panel of the Badminton Association of India threatened to slap a ‘life ban’ on her for alleged misconduct during the recent Indian Badminton League. “I cannot change my character just for the sake of it; or to please someone. I always believe in speaking the truth, which sometimes can be very bitter for some,” says Jwala in a freewheeling interview with Sportstar.

Question: At this juncture, how do you look back at your career?

Answer: Very satisfying given the kind of results I have produced over the years. The kind of support I got, first from my parents and then friends and fellow players right through, there was never a moment when I thought I was on the wrong foot. I was in the Indian team at the age of 15 on the sheer weight of my performances. I enjoy playing badminton and can’t think of anything else even now.

What has been the biggest challenge since you started playing badminton?

I wanted to do things differently. Normally, many players prefer doubles once they retire from singles competitions. But in my case, I thought I should be good in doubles from the word go though I was a very good singles player to start with. (Jwala was a junior national singles champion before her mentor and Dronacharya S. M. Arif advised her to focus on doubles). So, in this context, choosing partners was apparently the main challenge.

How is the feeling of being a specialist doubles player?

I can confidently say that, with my achievements, I have successfully changed the attitude of many players — especially amongst the current generation of players — towards doubles, more so in the last four to five years. If you remember, doubles — both mixed and women’s doubles — performances played a big role in India qualifying for the prestigious Sudirman Cup for the first time. Results that made many realise the importance of doubles in badminton in India.

How was the initial response from the powers-that-be?

To be honest, we always got the impression that we were being fielded with the gut feeling that we will be the first ones to exit from a tournament. We were tried, but without any hope of winning. We were never classified as potential champions. But thanks to our great commitment, we could pull off some improbable performances even in the Commonwealth Games where we beat countries that we have never defeated in the past.

Having decided to confine yourself more or less to doubles, how do you rate yourself now?

I can confidently say that I can partner anyone in the world, for such is the passion I have for the doubles event. To start with, Sruthi Kurien and I (they won the National women’s doubles title for eight years) enjoyed it. I had to part ways with Sruthi once I felt that we were stuck and not moving ahead in the international circuit. That is why I had to look to Ashwini (Ponnappa). I tried it unknowingly and what happened turned out to be good for me. Yes, playing with Ashwini is something different. We won the Commonwealth Games doubles gold and the 2011 World Championship doubles bronze and they are by no means ordinary achievements.

What makes you and Ashwini so special in this regard?

Firstly, she is young, has a wonderful game for a doubles player. Most importantly, she is ambitious like me — to do well at every given opportunity. We believe in ourselves and have a very good relationship, both on and off the court. This, I think, is the reason why I gel so well with her. Let me tell you, we have plans to be together until the 2016 Rio Olympics.

How difficult is it for you to keep motivating yourself despite having so many run-ins with the officialdom?

Well, I don’t feel the pressure at all. I don’t keep thinking only about these things. Fortunately, I have a mental frame that shuts out all negative thoughts once I decide to be away. You feel it only if you keep thinking about the same subject right through. And the fact that I have not cheated anyone or resorted to any act with mala fide intention makes it pretty clear that I always fight for the right cause.

But isn’t it difficult to keep questioning the people who govern the sport and generally don’t like any dissenting voice?

I look at it this way. If someone criticises me, and if I feel it is genuine, I will take that as a suggestion to correct myself. I wish to see a similar attitude in the officials too. After all, what are they here for? To help the players, groom young talent and promote the sport in a big way. Do you think these officials are doing this? I don’t think so. I am glad that I have shown the way to the younger lot to express their views if they feel they are victimised. I should thank my dad (G. Kranti), for he always had great faith in me. Essentially, I don’t like people saying sport is full of politics and corruption. This image has to be wiped out.

Is there a feeling that despite some fabulous achievements in doubles, you don’t get the same kind of recognition that a singles player does?

Yes, definitely, but it doesn’t hurt. It might have been the same (for any other doubles player) if I were in the other player’s (singles player’s) shoes. So what I feel is that there is a strong need to educate the badminton lovers and parents on the importance of doubles. This is what Vimal Sir did so well when V. Diju and I started playing mixed doubles. If you recall, it was he who first conducted the national doubles camp in Bangalore. So, I don’t blame the fans if they tend be indifferent to doubles. It is the BAI which should take care of this important aspect.

What sort of goals have you set for yourself?

Nothing like that. Every time I play in a tournament, I look at every match as important and every win as the next big step towards greater glory. But for sure, my dream is to win an Olympic medal. That is what I have been fighting so much for. Touch wood, not many athletes of my age have been as lucky as I have been in terms of having an injury-free career. I have no serious injuries and am really working hard to realise that one big goal. And partnering Ashwini, I am confident.

Looking back, do you have any regrets?

I am born to play and I will love to be there on the court. Maybe, I was born to fight the system too. I don’t see myself as a victim or anything like that. In fact, I am very relaxed for I know that I have not committed a crime or done anything bad. There are no regrets absolutely.

What about roles in films?

Well, there are quite a few offers coming. But I tell you, I will not take up acting as a career as such. I just enjoyed those four days of shooting for that movie (Jwala had done a song in a Telugu movie). The film terminology like ‘lights on’, ‘shot ready’ is really interesting. I have a lot of good friends in the film industry and I love meeting them.

You had your ups and downs in personal life too...

I never thought that I am the only one suffering or a victim in any given situation. I think it is important to have a relationship based on trust and sincerity. My simple philosophy in life has been: ‘love all’ (the tattoo on her right forearm suggests this).