“Can I call you back in a while? I am walking down the stairs and I need to be very careful”.
That is the first line Manasi Joshi spoke to me. She was on her way to Raj Bhavan in Hyderabad, where she would be felicitated by Telangana Governor ESL Narasimhan for her gold medal at the World Para Badminton championship.
For the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad where Manasi has been training since June 2018, it was a gold rush at Basel. If PV Sindhu emerged as the golden girl of Indian badminton, Manasi announced her arrival as the golden girl of Indian para badminton.
A road accident in 2011 in Mumbai resulted in Manasi losing her left leg. Though she was a qualified electronics engineer, having graduated from Mumbai University the year before she met with the accident, Manasi in order to surmount the biggest challenge in her life, decided to turn to her first love – badminton. She had played badminton as an able-bodied player till district level and later in college and corporate tournaments. Returning to the sport she had embraced since childhood was both a challenge and a balm over the trauma she had undergone.
“Lying in the hospital, I remembered my days as a badminton player. Initially I wanted to do it for fitness reasons as an amputee tends to lead a sedentary life. The game helped me acquire a new identity, it helped me in rehab,” Manasi told Filter Kaapi.
Manasi got a job with a software firm in Ahmedabad but she did not give up on para badminton. She honed her skills playing with her brother, who is a badminton player. The big break came in 2015 when she was selected in the Indian team for the World championship. She won a silver in the mixed doubles category in the competition that year followed by a bronze in the women’s singles in the 2017 World championship.
If you want something very badly, the world conspires to make things happen for you. It did in January 2018 when Gopichand happened to visit Ahmedabad to deliver a guest lecture. That’s where Manasi, prodded by a colleague, asked Gopi if he would be open to the idea of her training at his academy in Hyderabad.
“He was more than happy and six months later, I was in Hyderabad. Though I am now employed with Bharat Petroleum, I have the flexibility to train in badminton all day. I have three sessions everyday. On days, when I do not have my evening session, I go to the clinic to get my prosthetics fixed,” says Manasi.
Gopichand admits he was clueless about coaching a para badminton player when Manasi came to the Academy. The National coach gives credit to the three coaches – Rajendra, Harry and Raju – who focused on Manasi and prepared her for the World championship.
That’s because beyond the superficial of the court, the racquet and the bird, badminton and para badminton are very different sport.
“It differs in so many aspects. We have to evaluate the physical limitations of the rival players, their strengths and weaknesses. So we approach the game differently because able-bodied players do not have to bother about such aspects. It is a beautiful sport because each para athlete has different ambitions, different reasons why they embraced badminton. What is common is each one of us pushes ourselves,” explains Manasi.
This year was the first time that the badminton and para badminton World championship were held at the same venue. Some of the best performances were actually witnessed in para badminton, says Gopi.
Manasi says her Mission Basel was to enjoy the journey while being prepared to win gold. So when the moment came, it was almost as if she was prepared for it. The podium finish, singing the national anthem, the realisation that she had come a long way. Governor Narasimhan put it aptly when he said Manasi represented the `Hum Honge Kaamyaab‘ spirit.
The para badminton team has requested for time with the Prime Minister. Is there something she wishes to tell PM Narendra Modi, I ask.
“I wish to tell the PM to make our roads safer and the infrastructure better. So that no one has to go through what I went through and then have to tell the PM this,” says Manasi.
Her parents in Ahmedabad are over the moon. Manasi laughs and talks about how they are busy posting her pictures and videos on social media, including different Whatsapp groups.
Para badminton as a sport will make its debut in the Olympics in Tokyo next July-August. India will want nothing less than a Manasi sunrise in the Land of the Rising Sun.