A tear and a prayer follow Daniel Farid’s entry into the IBL
“Was I okay?” asked the young badminton player’s mother to him. “I think I choked.”
The player, Daniel Farid, was the state junior champion and had been included in the Bangalore team for the Indian Badminton League. Banga Beats – for that is the name of the Bangalore team – had an introduction ceremony on Tuesday at a five-star hotel and there was a sizeable media contingent. The team was introduced and small talk made, and as an afterthought, the MC asked Farid’s mother, Nirmala, to speak a few words. Nirmala stiffly thanked everyone, and as she walked off, wiped a tear from her eye.
For a neutral observer, the Indian Badminton League has come to mean many things: essentially, it’s in the increased profile for badminton players and greater earnings for an essentially middle-class community. Going by the first few events, the IBL promises a warm halo around the heads of the top stars. Even the lesser ones are getting a share of the limelight, something they haven’t been used to until now. There has been controversy, and I don’t think the criticism was unjustified.
But it’s in the instances of players like Daniel Farid that events such as the IBL might turn out to mean life-changing experiences. To his mother, his inclusion in the team, and his welcome among the likes of internationals like P Kashyap, Arvind Bhat, Akshay Dewalkar and Aparna Balan was an anointment of sorts – an acknowledgement that the hard work had not gone unrewarded.
In the Indian badminton community in particular, it’s the parents who are the backbone of the circuit. Team sports don’t seem to require so much of day-to-day management by parents; individual sports such as badminton require a great degree of hand-holding.
Players start out by the time they are seven or eight, and it’s up to the parents to ensure they turn up for training early in the morning, attend school on time, have their meals, and retire early to bed. Generations of parents have sacrificed their social lives; indeed, their social lives become badminton as they catch up with other similarly harried parents.
A typical day for a badminton parent begins at 4 in the morning: she has to cook, get the kid ready, drive him or her to the academy and school (and back), and prepare dinner. That’s why badminton players are generally upper middle-class – those from lower strata simply cannot keep up. Those who stay far away either relocate close to the badminton hall, or give up the sport.
Daniel’s family stayed at Hessaraghatta Main Road, well outside the immediate neighbourhood of any badminton facility. “It was so difficult,” said Nirmala. “I used to take Daniel to Bangalore City Institute with his newborn sister in my arms. I didn’t have a choice. We had to change three buses… His badminton expenses were very high – like a racket would cost Rs. 8000, and his shoes would wear out quickly. It was very difficult to manage.”
Her story is certainly not unique, but the remarkable thing is how these everyday stories of persistence are overlooked unless the child becomes a star.
Things changed around three years ago – Daniel is now 16 – when he was selected by the Tata Padukone Badminton Academy. With his equipment sponsored, the load became less stressful, but difficulties remain. The family stays 14km from the academy, and it’s still not easy travelling to and from the academy.
“He gets funding from GAIL (Gas Authority of India Ltd) but he still travels by bus,” says Nirmala. “Sometimes he sleeps on the bus and gets down somewhere else.”
Daniel has made promising strides in junior badminton. The opportunity of training with some of the world’s top stars, and watching them at close quarters, is an unbelievably lucky break. “I hope it will work out well,” says his mother, a fervent prayer on her lips. For people like her, the IBL will mean something vastly different than for anyone else associated with the event.