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An ode with India’s Golden Girl, Nayani Bharadwaj

It seemed just like any other day, donning the grey suit with a smile, I boarded the flight to Tokyo. The smell of artificial roses and machinery diffused in the aeroplane. People hurriedly rushing to occupy the space overhead for their bags, kids with their heads stuffed into the cell phones, everything seemed as it was expected to be, except, of course what was going to happen next. The smile on my face broadened, when I got the window seat as am not much of an aisle person, the seat felt slightly comfortable, courtesy of the paid business trip. Anyways, while I was trying to take off my blazer, my elbow bumped into a lady.

“I…I’m sorry”, said my anxious self.

“It’s Ok”, she said after a pause, reassuringly, sensing my embarrassment.

“Quite a start”, I told myself embarrassingly. She had a sizeable bag, which was kept on the rack above, and occupied the seat next to me. ‘Morning’ I said with compensating demeanour, an affirmative nod came from her side. After the due procedures, the flight took off and out came the smartphones which were prematurely asked to be turned off, mine included. “Q3 report analysis EOD” by Boss, “Utar ke call karna” by Mother India, “Of course Anurag Kashyap is underrated but that’s not the point…” by Vrijesh, etc. messages popped up on the notification bar, at the bottom however, were my usual dose of news on infeed. “Nothing in depth, just a casual glance”, is the lie I always tell myself before realizing after 2 hours.

Scrolling through, an interview titled “Journey back to Myself- One shot at a time”, caught my fancy. As soon as I clicked on it, our flight went through an air pocket and jerked which caused my cell phone to fall into the lady’s lap. She picked it up to pass it on to me, before she too saw the title of the article, her gaze stuck upon the screen and mine on her. “Uh-huhh?” She smiled and gave it to me, “What’s that?” I exclaimed, “What, uhh, nothing, have you seen her? I mean do you know who she is?”. “Not actually, heard the name for the first time, didn’t even know it was about a she” I said flustering my head, “Ahhhh, alright well carry on”, the smirk on her face now intentionally visible as she flowed through the pages of a magazine. “Fine, what is it” I said, looking at her and admitting my ignorance.

She paused, kept the magazine back on the desk, turned towards me, and said “Her name is Nayani Bharadwaj. We’re childhood friends, from the same college, LSR. She’s 23 and almost has equal number of international medals as her age, in pistol shooting. After we left the college, I became a novelist and she started preparing for UPSC along with a dream to take her talent to Tokyo Olympics this year”.

“Really?” I paused trying to comprehend, “That’s, that’s neat.”

“Yeah.” she said, “Neat would be the appropriate word.”

“Umm not quite, Neat would be modest, frankly speaking that’s awesome, makes me wonder why haven’t I heard her name before.”

“Yeah, believe it or not, neither did I” she said and got back to reading.

After a few minutes as I started reading the article, it came off from my inside,

“Alright look, you know her probably better, so maybe it’s better to ask you about her, than read it in the article. Besides, that’ll be a good conversation starter”. Yup you mustered up the courage to ask her I said to myself.

“Accha? Well I do know her quite well, but the question is, are you willing to sit through and hear me talk about someone else”.

“Yeah, why not” I said without giving it much thought “Besides, it’s a long flight”.

She smiled “Now do pardon me if I delve a bit deeper into the story telling part, Occupational habit”. Smiling and nodding I said “I’m all ears”.

“Yeah so, she has been very consistent with aim, second to none, of course that’s what everyone else says, but there goes a lot into the making of that. It all began when she was 11, a curious girl, wearing a purple top she was running through the corridors when she bumped into a lady carrying a tub of dry clothes from the rope downstairs. It was her mother, smiling at her. She had been of tremendous importance to her, and yes that’s the case with everyone’s mother but never has the case been more appropriate than here. Coming from a humble middle-class family of Haryana, her parents had always been there for her. Sports are of great importance along-with studies and while shooting is certainly not what comes into your mind, her mother made her join The Jaspal Rana Shooting Academy. At the time, she didn’t know that Nayani was that good at it, so after a few months when her coach told her parents that she seems to be pretty good at it, why don’t they buy her a pistol, things got serious. Aside from how different this sounds, to buy an Air pistol which costs around 1.2 to 1.5 lakh, for a 12-year old daughter was a big decision. I remember she told me that one morning she was getting ready to go to school, and she noticed that the shiny silver coloured box kept near the temple was missing, the next thing she saw was her father enter the house with a different and a bigger box, she stood there as he came forth and handed her that, it felt heavy but not as heavy as the expectations riding on her shoulders.”

“Wait a minute, she started shooting at the age of 11?”

“Precisely. She said she fell in love with the sport, it gave her a world of her own, not detached from the bells and whistles of the reality but more of an introspection into herself. Anyways, one year after that, she won her first medal, that too at the national level team drawn event, representing Delhi. Of course she couldn’t look back, but her school on the other hand was quite strict and academic oriented. You’d assume that they’d recognize the talent and give a bit of leeway, the reality however was different, and trust me, even with all these things, she managed her academics quite well. This one time she had won 7 gold medals at a national event, she felt swollen and was quite excited to show this in her school. She had those medals with her and went to the Vice-Principal’s office the next day, thinking of a thousand reactions and smiles she might get. On the other side of the wooden doors, however, the surprise was the other way around. He was furious as to why didn’t Nayani submit a formal leave application, the medals and everything is fine but the level of indiscipline is intolerable he said, all while she stood by the door, eyes looking down and gloomy, her hands holding the medals back into the pocket”.

“See the thing is, shooting is still not seen with the same lens as Cricket and other sports are, and while she never takes much credit for this, Nayani had to ensure that she stood by her decision while others disregarded it. That’s why I said that there goes much more behind this than what we see on the surface. Get selected in the state team of Cricket and people would laud you through the roof, win medals at the national level and what you get is comments like, “It’s a niche Sport” or “Well all I can see is the name of the country but where’s the name of the school on your jersey?” To hear all that and still manage your studies and passion just because you love both equally, is the real challenge”.
And I sat there looking at her, hearing her speak about the things that you face, even when you go beyond what is expected of you. It made me look back at my own first world problems and feel pity. Of course, this Nayani Bharadwaj wasn’t some super athlete, but she did go through with her life, by being insanely committed to her dreams, so at the end of the day, what else can you hope for.

“You there? Should I continue?”

“Yes… by all means, say who did Nayani look up to, as in inspiration wise?”

“Uhh well I do recall her saying that she did look up immensely to ‘Heena Sidhu’, two time Olympian in shooting. The most important thing here is that perhaps she saw herself in her, both of them are passionate about the sport, both of them going against the odds and doing good in their academics, so yeah, there’s a lot more than what meets the eye. But where she looked up to her the most is the way she went about her life, Nayani used to say that Heena ma’am is perhaps the most humble and amazing personality she’d ever met, one of those people who have this light about them everywhere they go. Now that I think of it, having someone to look up to is very important, the most perhaps, like a pole in the distance, you know that the pole won’t pick you up when you are down but rather serves as a hope, an embodiment that there is someone out there” she paused and looked towards the window “It’s as simple as it gets” she said.

“So, she got into Lady Shriram College which itself is a testimony of hers to education, and she knew that there’ll be a rigorous curriculum but that was the point, she liked studying and that place is as good as they come. But I guess and even according to her, the toughest time for her shooting was the first year of her college, her scores had dropped down to an all-time low, a few of us even tried to talk and help her out, but in her head, something concrete had to be done. She had to either choose academics or Shooting, what she did is again both, which meant increasing the effort instrumentally and I remember more than a few eyebrows were raised. She had just shifted a coach who she had been training with for a long time, the transition didn’t go well with her, scores dropped down, the academic pressure was building up, and in this case her mother had been of a tremendous help to her, both of her parents actually. They made her realize that whatever the issues she had, the answers lied with her and she was the only person who can help herself out. Her scores again went up, later on she met her current coach Mr. Ronak Pandit, and things started looking great. She largely credits where she is now to her current coach, from the shooting to confidence he helped her get in her personal life”.

“Then she graduated the college and now she is preparing for IAS and her shooting, I guess for some people, there is no final goal, it is the culmination of dreams and targets and the continuous hustle to achieve them”.

“Why IAS though?”

“She says that at both places she is serving her country, one at an athletic representation level and the other at a much more specific and ground level, a country which has given her so much, so it’s just a step of giving back”.

“Okay… wow that is a lot to take in, I’m surprised that you even knew these peculiar details about her too, look, uhh I had never asked your name because I was saving it for the dramatics later, so with no obligatory formalities, Thank you, sincerely.”

“O, well it’s alright, we’re about to land anyways, felt good sharing this.”

The tires came screeching on the tarmac and we had landed, people got up and started moving out, ‘Anubhav’ I said offering a handshake.

“Well It was pleasure talking to you Anubhav.”

“That is usually followed by telling you name” I said quirkily.

“Yes” she smiled and got up to leave while I sat there slightly bemused.

When she went ahead the aisle, she took out a coat from her bag and wore it,
I said in the head, immediately I took out my cell phone and searched Nayani Bharadwaj, as my gaze stuck upon the picture, I was awestruck, “Of course she knew all those things I said to myself”. “There can be only one person that would’ve known Nayani this good, and that one person had to be Nayani herself, to disclose the identity early wouldn’t have garnered the honest response from my side, that she got”, the dots started getting connected as I sat there still sitting alone with a big glee on my face. I guess that counts for one of those things which’ll stay with me for a long time.

 

 

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