Quite engrossing

Pullela Gopi Chand The World Beneath His Feat Sanjay Sharma & Shachi S. Sharma Rupa Publications India Rs. 495

People who know former national doubles badminton champion Sanjay Sharma will remember him as a gritty, no nonsense player of some class. Known for his keen observations, it comes as no surprise that he should be at his best when he is writing about another champion whose career reads like a dream, Gopi Chand, who is one of the finest India has produced. In his playing days, Sanjay, like many players of his time, often had no good word for the Badminton Association of India. And he would convey his displeasure to BAI through Gopi in no uncertain way!

The book gives an insight into the true character of Gopi, that he can be reticent to the point of seeming indifferent (as the media realised much to his displeasure!). The incident in Chennai in the mid-nineties on the eve of an Asian satellite championship is a case in point. Everything has been mentioned in the book. The fact is his failure to turn up for that event would not have been a topic of adverse reaction in the media if only Gopi had been a bit more communicative. To that extent he was a misunderstood man and the book throws some light on that.

Sanjay and Shachi had taken pains to go through the entire gamut of the champion's life, from the time of his birth in Chirala to his ultimate glory in Birmingham by becoming the second man after Prakash Padukone to win the coveted All England Championship. For someone whose career almost ended with a tragic knee injury at the Pune National Games in 1994 but later became an internationally reputed player, Gopi's career was a fairytale.

What is more, it was “a tale of raw courage and fortitude of deep determination and will to fight against odds. A classic story of a boy and a family which struggled to make ends meet but then went on to conquer the world.”

The post-All England success, his stint as coach of champion player Saina Nehwal, their unexpected but brief split have all been detailed in the book. Saina herself has penned the foreword and described Gopi as a “major icon of young India. If the youth can emulate even a fraction of what he achieved, of what he is in real life, we will become better people.” This book makes for a compelling read.

S. R. Suryanarayan