What price patriotism??

Well, well, she may not possess the most lethal serve on the circuit (huge euphemism)..but Sania Mirza has really served an ace on the media, the religious zealots and the fervent pseudo-patriots. She has indefinitely quit participating in any tennis event held in India. That’s right, she’s gonna play tennis, she will play FOR India, but not IN India. There are a lot of questions now about her spirit, her character and lot of strident exhortations to take all in her stride and participate. I….I give her a whole-hearted thumbs-up on this one, she has once again shown that her verbal volleys seem to have more sting than the ones played by her on the tennis court! 😛

Cut to 2005. Sania Mirza, fresh from a decent and encouraging showing at the Australian Open, wins the Hyderabad Open, a Tier-IV event (read: easy opponents). An eager, and lamentably uninformed, Headlines Today correspondent announces that she, unlike the Indian cricket team, showed real fighting spirit. Remember our team was in the throes of the “To sack or not to sack Dada” crisis at that time and the amazing victories against the world’s best team in Kolkata (2001), Adelaide (2003) and Mumbai (2004) were already well and truly forgotten. Ironically, today there are calls for Sania to draw from Sachin or Dravid’s example and accept controversy as part and parcel of fame.

To digress, much water has since flown under the bridge. Sania Mirza’s doubles performances have been steadily improving but in the singles, she is unable to go beyond the last 16 of a Grand Slam simply because she neither has the firepower nor the consistency to break into that league. Form is fickle, but class is permanent and the Indian cricket team meanwhile have gone where no subcontinental team, not even Pakistan of the 80s , have ever gone – beating Australia at Perth. India also won the Twenty-20 World Cup in the meantime, putting cricket firmly back in the throne as far as Indian sports is concerned.

Perhaps the effect of that was to somewhat negate the wave of sympathy towards other sports that was gathering strength in the wake of the ODI World Cup debacle. Maybe or maybe not. But the first thing I said when the controversy of Mirza resting her feet “near” the Indian flag arose was “Chak De!!!”. If you have seen Chak De India the film, in the opening scenes, Kabir Khan misses a penalty shot that would have equalised the score in an India-Pakistan hockey match. As he goes down on his knees dejected, a sympathetic Pakistan player commends him for his efforts and offers him a handshake. An opportunistic journalist immediately photographs this gesture and cooks up a match-fixing slur on Kabir Khan. Doesn’t the Sania Mirza incident strike you as uncannily similar (maybe the photographer was – in the great tradition of Bollywood – inspired by Chak De??) ?? Henceforth all photos must come with the warning, “Objects in a photograph may be farther than they appear.” Rohan Bopanna has said that the flag was nowhere near as close to Mirza’s feet as it appears to be in the photo. He may only be expressing his solidarity for her, but there is a lot of truth in that statement. It also appears from the photo that there clearly was no intention to offend the tricolour in anyway by Mirza; for God’s sake, she was just watching the match!!!! It is easy for me to see that the insidiousness of the whole thing must have deeply shaken and hurt her. It is as if a billion pairs of eyes are watching her actions – Truman Show, you bet!!! – to spot anything ‘condemnable’ in them. If indeed it is so important that her conduct must be worthy of a Goddess, surely she might as well not risk playing in our beloved country, right??…it solves the problem for everyone – everyone, except the media. Now there’s one less story to crow about, to sensationalize, to ignite fires with….it also offers a certain tennis player the chance to fire a volley at his one-time doubles partner.

It is ironic that she used to sport a shirt with the caption, “Well-behaved women don’t make history”. Sadly, it seems that’s what the zealots and the swadesis are affirming unwittingly. It is also ironic that I should write a piece in defence of Sania Mirza….I have always been critical of her performance on the tennis court and scoffed at those who said she will get there with time – on the evidence of her records, she hasn’t. On her day, she can topple the top seeds – not necessarily by playing superlative tennis for there are too many weaknesses in her game for that to be a possibility!!! But even the top seeds aren’t always at their best and especially in the early rounds, they take time to get into their rhythm. If Sania plays close to her best tennis on such an occasion, she can and has beaten top seeds. What is required is for something that is merely an aberration at present to become habit. She has to capitalise on opportunities to advance and needs to be a little more disappointed about losing to Venus Williams after serving for the first set, not satisfied that she NEARLY got a set, the nearlys of the world are never even nearly recorded in history. I have been afraid that she’s just a little too satisfied with what she’s got – much like Harbhajan Singh – and doesn’t quite seem to realise that she needs to work harder to get to the next level.

However, all that cannot excuse such rampant, self-righteous scrutiny of what she does off-court and she has driven exactly that home in her original Sania isstyle. Way to go, Sania!!!!

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