Indians need to get out of "biryani" mentality, says squash superstar Dipika Pallikal
India's squash superstar spoke to Sportskeeda about her career, relationship with coach Sarah Fitz-Gerald and fitness in general.
Perception and perspective are key factors when it comes to bringing about a change at any level, be it individual, institutional or social. Indian sport (excluding cricket) is going through a metamorphosis and though there are some gaping holes that need to be filled, there is a great deal of hope in the form of some really successful athletes. Dipika Pallikal, the poster-girl of Indian squash, believes that India is second to no country in terms of the potential to be the best in the world.
Pallikal, World No. 19, spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda during the Adidas Uprising 2.0 event, which was held to promote sport across the country by inviting people to reinvigorate their interest in playing. The 25-year-old comes from a sporting family; her mother played international cricket for India and her siblings are into sport as well. That makes you wonder why, against popular opinion, Dipika did not decide to play cricket.
“It was irrelevant what sport my mother played and there was no pressure from her side to take up cricket. Sports were promoted heavily in our family and my parents told me to pick up any game. The basic idea was to go out and enjoy ourselves,” Dipika explained.
“In fact, I took up squash as a weekend hobby and there was no no intention, initially, to play it professionally. It so happened one day that I ended up winning a local tournament, which triggered me to pick up the racquet permanently. Ever since then, I have never looked back,” she said in an emphatic tone.
Dipika’s rise in the squash circuit has been meteoric and she, along with Joshna Chinappa, represents the future of India in the sport. She has won tournaments like Winnipeg Winter Club Open, Macau Squash Open and Crocodile Challenge Cup, and is hungry for much more.
A lot of her success can be credited to her coach Sarah Fitz-Gerald, who is one of the greatest squash players of all time. The Australian has won the World Open five times and a Commonwealth Gold Medal, along with several team titles.
The role played by Fitz-Gerald in shaping Pallikal’s career cannot be overstated, and the Indian did not mince any words while lavishing praise on her coach. “Sarah’s influence on my career and life has been unprecedented. There is no need to define her credentials as they speak loudly on their own. However, a big reason why my partnership with her has been incredible is due to our personal bond as well,” she said.
“She is an incredible human being who has shaped me, both, as a squash player and person. Sarah hears me out quite patiently and then gives her advice. I hope she can guide me to being the best in the world,” Pallikal added.
Fitness is one of the biggest issues plaguing Indian sport and it is often stated that the country's athletes are not capable of reaching the fitness levels of Europeans or those from other continents. A big reason that is usually attributed to this are the eating habits and nutrition patterns followed by Indians. But Dipika believes none of that is true, and that everything is based on a person’s mindset.
“It is high time that we came out of this ‘biryani eating’ mentality. We need to start thinking about fit and believing that we are lesser than nobody, which is actually true. If you look at it closely, a lot of our athletes are already as fit as any in the world. Training cleverly is just as important as training hard. We need to dispense our energy in the right direction and should that happen, achieveing high fitness levels is very much a reality,” she stated vehemently.
“We need to promote a sporting culture in our country, and events like the Adidas Uprising are great initiatives to get people involved. I have been lucky enough to get support from the squash fraternity internationally, and the game’s condition is improving day by day. I hope more women take up sport in the country,” Dipika said with a sense of optimism in her tone.
There is a stirring battle for equality being fought by women in various fields across the world, including sport, and Dipika Pallikal is a shining example of how to work towards achieving parity. She boycotted the domestic championships for almost half a decade because the prize money for women was way less than that being given to men.
She achieved success in 2016 when prize money was made equal. Pallikal celebrated that victory by winning the National Championships after defeating Joshna Chinappa. “The treatment dealt to women squash players was totally unacceptable. Female athletes work as hard as male ones and I do not see any reason why we should not be given the same level of prize money,” Dipika said.
To see a woman shining so brightly and having opinions as strong as Dipika’s is quite heartening, and lays a strong precedent for women athletes across the country to follow. Pallikal also spoke about her better half and Indian cricketer Dinesh Karthik, whom she married last year. The squash player had previously spoken about how she “hates” cricket, but says she was misquoted.
Explaining her stance, Pallikal said, “I never said I hate cricket, and what I said was blown out of proportion after being used out of context. I just said that before I met Dinesh, I had no interest in cricket and neither did I watch any.”
Talking about her marriage to a star as big as her, Pallikal said that it was definitely an advantage to have a sportsman in her life as there is a lot less explaining to do.
“It is not that non-athletes do not understand but things are better when you have someone who knows the pressure involved,” she added.
Rivalries in individual sport are not uncommon, even when the athletes are compatriots. One can draw an immediate parallel between Dipika-Joshna and PV Sindhu-Saina Nehwal, but Pallikal insisted that she has a lot of respect for her colleague and doubles partner.
“I do not know what it seems to people and media from outside but we have a great relationship that is defined by mutual respect and admiration,” Pallikal said while describing her bond with Joshna Chinappa.