Sania gets even!

Sania skipped a tournament that would hurt her ranking in order to play for India at the Asian Games

There are some tight forehands, funny faults, long rallies, plenty of volleys and a couple of break points as Sania Mirza serves Ace Against Odds to chronicle on as well as off-court events from the cauldron of her celebrated career. Having soaked in much caustic censure for more than a decade, Sania seems to summon all her energy to pound a winner and settle scores of scores with her autobiography.

The book is a mix of taunts, targets, tragedy, trauma and triumph as she sets about narrating her side of the story, rather tellingly, especially with regard to concocted controversies that are an inseparable part of her life. There is plenty in it for the tennis players as well — the technique, the mental preparation and thinking on one’s feet while at play. Her best win, worst loss, journey to the top, et al.

Destiny’s Child
There were ominous signs that Sania was born to beat the odds. As a four-year-old, she had been fortunate along with her parents to change a flight in the US from Columbus (Ohio) to Los Angeles (California) that had subsequently crashed while landing, claiming 24 lives.

Later, the tennis coach at a club in Hyderabad refused to enrol her as he found the six-year-old too tiny to wield a tennis racquet. In fact, tennis may not have been a priority for roller-skater Sania had it not been a freak accident in the rink that briefly knocked her unconscious. A rare racquet position gives the Hyderabad ace stranglehold on court. She attributes her lethal forehand to a semi-western grip that experts felt could not be taught to budding players and that one will have to be born with it. It is well known that the forehand fuels her aggression and powers her go-for-broke flamboyant game.

Well, flamboyance also contributed to the fracas and left Sania frowning, courtesy the “fatwas”, portrayals of which she explains were flawed. From the skirts she wore to court, to being accused of shooting an advertisement at Mecca Masjid while she only sat there “looking for a peaceful spot away from the crowd” that had gathered at nearby Charminar, where the shoot was planned; comments attributed to her as supporting pre-marital sex; putting her feet next to a paper national flag placed on a table at the Hopman Cup in Australia, 2008, which she blames on the camera angle; male chauvinism in the run-up to 2012 London Olympics and questions being raised on her domicile when she was named brand ambassador of Telangana state, Sania deals with them all in her style — aggressively.

“I was absolutely livid at being put up as a bait for the feuding men,” she fumes about the national tennis body’s move to pair her with Leander Paes as a compromise formula after Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna did not want to team up with Paes for the London Games. Sania also takes a deft dig at the western media’s portrayal of Indian women saying her nose ring was viewed as a symbol of rebellion. “The nose ring that I had worn since I was very young is a traditional form of jewellery in our part of the world. But for the Western media it was more scandalous than a belly button was at that point of time.” Later, in 2014, a buoyant Sania begins to treat controversy as part of life, evident from this line: “With the latest controversy done and dusted, I moved into the US hard court season.”

Oh Tear!

Her tough demeanour notwithstanding, Sania admits to being an emotional person in private. During the London Olympics team drama, she admits to crying “bitterly in a corner of the Wimbledon locker room”. The alleged disrespect to the national flag episode was another heart-breaker. A wailing Sania told her father and Mahesh Bhupathi that she wanted to quit tennis.

Patriot Games
In an apparent rebuttal to the raging rows, Sania makes it a point to project her patriotic side. “I’m an Indian who will remain an Indian until the end of my life,” she writes in reference to the Telangana brand ambassador controversy. She also talks about skipping a tournament that would hurt her ranking in order to play for India at the Asian Games, even as the top three Indian men — Leander Paes, Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna — decided to skip the Asian Games to protect their professional rankings.

Roger That!
Sania makes special mention of former World No. 1 Roger Federer, who “apart from being a legend, a genius and the greatest ever exponent of his craft, he remains warm, caring, accessible, untouched by fame, and a thorough gentleman.” “When the case was filed against me for alleged disrespect to the Indian flag, Roger Federer was among the first to enquire about the situation and my welfare when I reached Melbourne for the Australian Open. He also surprised me many months later with a message of concern when Mumbai was tragically struck by terrorist attacks on November 26, 2008.”

Boys beat, fox meat
Federer also provides the laughs in the book. A school friend of Sania’s did not recognise him when he walked up to their table at the Players’ Lounge at Wimbledon and chatted with Sania, and actually asked her “who is this guy and what does he thinks of himself”. Sania’s answer is cheeky: “Oh! He’s just a nice guy who hangs in here and plays tennis a bit.”

Mahesh Bhupathi contributes a double fault. “The 32-year-old was not allowed into an Australian casino — twice — as he looked boyish and didn’t have the documents to prove he was above 18!” The spirit of fun was essential to Sania, who was part of the “Boys Gang” at college. Talking about her junior days, she writes:

“I remember being down a match point when I heard a popular song from a Govinda film that was being played in a nearby marriage hall. Subconsciously, I started to sing to myself and did a little jig (a la Govinda) on the baseline, while receiving the serve. Not only did I hit a winner on that particular return, but I also went on to turn the tables and win the match against the stunned Junior No. 3.” In another tournament in Botswana, though she had a plateful of trophies, her appetite had dwindled as fox meat and snake delicacies were a bit too much for her taste.

Love all
Sania writes about her broken engagement with college friend Sohrab Mirza, finding love in Shoaib Malik and the media mayhem before their marriage too, rather frankly. Malik, after being tipped off by his teammates present there, had connivingly made his way to the Indian restaurant in Hobart (Australia) where Sania was dining, reignited their acquaintance and evinced interest to watch her play the next day. Sania duly arranged for the tickets and Shoaib was there at love all. That was early 2010.

“The situation took an ugly turn when a woman made allegations against my would-be husband and certain sections of the media on both sides of the border took it upon themselves to discuss threadbare the intricate details of our personal relationship. Filth and muck began to be thrown around publicly.”

Travel Travails
Sania also describes the travails during her initial years, when travel was a huge financial drain on the Mirza family. Mother Nasima used to run around and queue up for discounted train tickets athletes were entitled to. The family of four even squeezed themselves into a 7x6 ft room in Mumbai once during a tournament. Sania also mentions travelling in a three-wheeler “auto” – the kind that are used to carry groceries to the wholesale market or to transport lambs to the slaughter house — to a tournament in Botswana.

Pious Parents
The Almighty is credited with much success several times in the book, pointing to Sania’s faith in divinity. She goes on to showcase her pious parents as well via an episode when her father (and co-author) Imran refused to be on television to comment on her brilliant run at the Australian Open in 2005 as he was in the middle of his Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. A decade later, she spots Imran nibbling at a date when she won the Wimbledon women’s doubles with Martina Hingis. It was the month of Ramzan and the precise time for Iftar, she mentions.

Woman power
The 29-year-old serves one for women too and says being brand ambassador for the girl child and UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador gave her lot of satisfaction and that she intends to continue doing this. Having achieved so much, she now wants to nurture the next generation of Grand Slam champions, who, she believes India richly deserves to have.

An extract

September 8, 2005, will always remain etched in my memory because the events of that day virtually transformed the course of my life. That was the day when a “fatwa” was reported to have been issued against me for the clothes that I wore on the tennis court. The world’s perception of me changed overnight. I received an excited phone call from a friend in the media, asking for my reaction. A Muslim cleric belonging to a religious organisation had reportedly issued the fatwa against me in an interview with a journalist of a national newspaper. He had, in fact, said that Islam did not allow women to wear skirts, shorts and sleeveless tops in public, in response to a query posed by the reporter. Excited analysts quickly jumped to their own conclusions. They claimed that the gentleman had threatened to physically harm me for wearing the clothes I did.

This piece of news, blown well out of proportion by an agency report, spread like wildfire and, within hours, became the talk of the country. I was naturally stunned and disturbed. The “fatwa” that was attached to my name that day and the hastily drawn conclusions by “knowledgeable” commentators who did not bother to fully comprehend and verify the facts of the matter, confounded me for a long time.

Ace Against Odds by Sania Mirza with Imran Mirza  and Shivani Gupta  HarperCollins, Rs 499 Ace Against Odds by Sania Mirza with Imran Mirza and Shivani Gupta HarperCollins, Rs 499

Fatwas are big news, and one pertaining to an international female tennis player was a very big story indeed, particularly at that point of time, when I was all over the media after an extremely successful run at the US Open. I think most people assumed that a fatwa meant an order or edict to kill a person as a punishment for breaking Islamic rules. It was this false perception that was most likely responsible for the controversy snowballing the way it did.

According to the dictionary, “fatwa” is a legal pronouncement in Islam, made by a religious scholar (called a mufti) on a specific issue based on Islamic doctrines. It’s an Arabic word and literally means “opinion”. Most fatwas take the form of advice on how to be a better Muslim, based on Islamic teachings, in response to specific queries. A fatwa could be on as simple a matter as the right way to eat: with your left hand or right hand.

It is, of course, possible to rake up a controversy by asking a cleric a leading question and then presenting his “opinion” in a manner that would provoke a public reaction. If a scholar were to be asked whether he thought my tennis clothing was un-Islamic, I do not see how a conservative, religious man could have answered the question in the negative in the light of the teachings of the religion.

In a similar vein, if a scholar of religion were asked whether it was permissible for a Muslim man to watch a film on television in which a woman dances to music, I am sure he would have to give the verdict that it was un-Islamic. But, again, most importantly, this would not imply that he had issued a fatwa against the lives of all Muslim men who admired a heroine in a film and that he was going to kill them if they went against his edict!

The person who thought it important to raise a question on what he possibly knew was a contentious issue, could have chosen not to highlight the cleric’s response in his story. Instead, he went to town with it. Had he bothered to understand the true meaning of the word “fatwa” and shown the maturity to write with a little bit of sensitivity, I personally believe I would have been spared the burden of living under the stigma of a misunderstood fatwa for a major part of my career.

I have never claimed to be perfect in the way I practice religion and have not tried to justify my actions when I am in the wrong. In today’s world, if anybody professes to follow the tenets of their religion to the last word (no matter what faith he or she may belong to), I would like to meet that person. Yet, I have complete faith in all that my religion preaches and stands for in its purest form and this includes the dress code.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
Next Story