ISA Junior Open 2015: Time has not dimmed Mekhala Subedar Srivatasava's passion for squash
The former player and current coach reminisces about her time playing the sport and talks about what it means to her.
The centre court at the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai brought back memories of her 2002 final in the national championship. Mekhala Subedar was inching towards her fifth woman’s title but local schoolgirl sensation Joshna Chinappa had other ideas. In keeping with her rising stature, Joshna bounced down from the jaws of defeat to script a grand win. Now Mekhala Subedar Srivastava after her marriage, the former national champion does not regret one bit that the title slipped away from her hands that January afternoon. “Joshna was a rising player. True I had beaten her in a couple of tournaments prior to the national but her talent was there for all to see. And see where she is now,” said the Bangalore-based Coach now in all humility.
Perhaps Mekhala’s only regret would be that she had played in an era when squash was not as visible and popular as now. Nothing reflected her feeling better than her own experience to find a breakthrough as a coach in Bangalore where she had moved to after her wedding a decade ago. “It took me more than a year and after applying here and there and to convince people of her genuine intentions on coaching. Yes, it did not help despite the fact that I was a national champion. But then I was in a sport which not many understood so how could they know me,” she said of those early days. However well settled now in coaching with a level-II coaching certificate to boot, Mekhala found in Bangalore club authorities a helpful lot as also Dayanand Sagar Educational institution (College). “I have coaching sessions at both these places though the Bangalore club is exclusively for children of members there,” she said.
Hailing from a family where her father is an armyman (Colonel) and mother a nutritionist, Mekhala expectedly had an easier access to sports, though basketball was her first foray. But the team atmosphere discouraged her, rather made her take a resolve to move to ‘individual sport’. Squash was the next choice thanks to her father’s background and incidentally it was her father who was her coach too. Even though Mekhala moved to squash only when she was 14 years, the rise was quick and achievements too were not far away. “Yes, it was not like now when it came to competitions. Our travel was limited because expenses can be high and sponsors were few and far between. When government grants came international participation became easier,” she said.
Mother of a five-year old son now, Mekhala does not believe in being a sit-at-home type. “My husband supports my decision to keep myself attached in some way or other with squash. Hence this coaching routine which takes away much of my morning and evening hours, so much so even my little son would often look to his papa for his small issues,” she said giggling. In recent times, Mekhala had gone with the Indian senior team as one of the officials for the Asian championship in Kuwait. “That was my first assignment with the senior team,” she said.
How much has squash changed from her times? “Well, it was gone faster. The players are lot more fitter and swifter. Over all the game in the court has lot more variety. In our times, yes we were a little slow and would often depend on touches to get points but today even a 11-year old would slam the ball sharply,” she said. It heartens her that squash is evolving into a great Television sport. The visibility makes her heart jump. “I feel so happy for the players of now. Facilities have improved. The Indian Squash Academy is truly a boon for them. Surely this will inspire a steady flow of champions,” she said.
Mekhala said in her times, much of the knowledge of the sport came to players through interaction with foreign players. “I remember we used to ask them and jot down the points. Even nutrition aspects come into our discussions,” she said. “Only when I had the opportunity to practice in the ISA sometime in 2002 I realised true training, that we had seen abroad, was available under national coach Cyrus Poncha and (Consultant coach) Maj Maniam sir,” she said.
Such is the level of inspiration at seeing the current facilities that Mekhala is thinking of a come back to national championship. “I had reached the quarterfinals in the recent national Games in Thiruvanthapuram as a representative from Karnataka. So why not the nationals too,” she asked. But her current focus is very much on coaching and it is her dream to have her own training centre in Bangalore. But then who will help. Will there be sports-minded sponsors. Can some joint venture be worked out. These are some of the questions that spring to her mind. May be answers too will follow, for squash needs such enthusiastic and top quality players to plough back their knowledge.