“I really don’t remember my first meeting with Arif Sir,” says badminton champ Jwala Gutta, talking about her coach of 20 years, S.M. Arif.
But Arif remembers it well. “She must have been around four or five when I first saw her. This tiny Chinese doll was peeking from behind her father’s legs, when she accompanied him to Lal Bahadur Stadium for admission. When I was talking to her father, she was peeping from behind. I could not stop laughing. And I told him that she was too tiny to even hold a racquet. Let her learn gymnastics or swimming for two years then I would start her training.
“When we started training, after training sessions she would climb on to my shoulders. It was a bond, so pure... and the love for the game,” Arif adds.
The former chief national badminton coach used creativity while coaching Jwala. He instilled a textured variety in her to place her along the path to being the best. That’s the synergy between them. “The fact that I wanted and enjoyed the challenges helped build our relationship. I am what I am today only because of him,” says Jwala.
Has the bond developed over the years? She says, “It struck from day one,” adding, “The day my dad put me under his charge, he told me, ‘Never question your coach. Even if he asks you to jump from the building, just do that.’ That was the trust my dad had in him, and so do I.” How special is Jwala to Arif? “Very. She is totally uninhibited which was evident right from the beginning. I love her nature, totally fearless on one hand — she is a fighter — and on the other hand she loves to help her juniors and friends.”
Jwala adds that the lessons she learnt from her coach on court will stay with her forever.
She says, “He has never stopped me from doing anything. Right from my childhood I used to physically fight with boys. He tried telling me once or twice not to do that. But when I told him, ‘Sir if boys will fight with me, I am not going to leave them’, he encouraged me to compete with them.”
Arif may no longer be her coach, but that doesn’t stop her from being his favourite. She says, “Even though he has trained Gopichand, Saina and so on, I was and will always remain his favourite.”
The bond they shared as coach and player was trying at times, but he is the one who made her what she is today. “Even if we don’t speak to each other for days, I know he is there. I can call him for any help or tips,” Jwala says....