Sania Mirza – A Name to Respect

Olympics 2012. India won 6 medals. Some, including myself, are happy over what has been India’s best performance in the Games so far. Many others are not so happy, reasoning that a country of a billion deserves to do better.

Two sportspersons from Hyderabad – Saina Nehwal and Gagan Narang – won bronze medals in the Games, making this edition of the Games special to the city. When they won the medals many congratulatory messages were posted on social networking sites. Rightly so. Everyone is happy at their success and achievements.

During the same time, I also came across two specific images on social networking sites, which I felt were improper, unfitting, and disrespectful towards another respectable sportsperson from Hyderabad, who also participated in the Games but failed to win any medal – Sania Mirza. The first one had images of Saina and Sania, proclaiming Saina as a champion or something to that effect (rightly so), even while using an unpleasant term to describe Sania (not appropriate at all). The second was a comparison of two images of Sania – one in which she was dressed in a traditional attire and the second in which she was in her playing costume, with a caption that read ‘Sania in Pakistan’ and ‘Sania in India’, or something to that effect. The image seemed to suggest that she appeared traditional when visiting Pakistan, but very un-traditional while in India (as though it were an offence to be so!). I found both these images to be in bad taste.

Normally, I would brush aside these images and get on with my work. That’s what I have been doing for years. However, of late, I have been seeing a greater danger in these kinds of images and communication – a danger that goes beyond the person depicted or attached in those images. A danger that I have been sensing for some time now. Something that I think needs attention. And, that is our increasing tendency these days to get both judgmental and abusive, impatiently, without having any regard to full set of facts and circumstances that exist. We may have somehow started to believe that disagreements are a license to abuse. Can’t be so, isn’t it?

Comparisons between Sania and Saina are unavoidable – they have so many things in common. Striking similarity in name, both are based from Hyderabad, both burst in to the scene as teenage sensations, played and achieved international success in a game that hardly had a serious following among girls those days, ended up as role models and inspiration for countless young girls. But the similarities have to end somewhere. And they do. But, as much as the comparison between them seem unavoidable, it is unnecessary. They are certainly not in a race to outdo each other. Better performance from one cannot and should not undermine the performance of the other.  I think we should just enjoy and appreciate the performances and achievements of both these talented people instead of pitting one against the other.

As far as the second image goes, I must first admit that I don’t wear my traditional attire anytime other than when there is some function at home. And all the people whom I know are similar. So I don’t understand the big deal that is attempted to be made about in the image. There is no certainty when they were shot, where they were shot, what was the occasion – the list of uncertainties would be endless. Anyway, what she chooses to wear is nobody’s business but hers alone. What she wears is not offensive by any standards. One may not approve of it, but then many others may not approve of what that oneself is wearing. So, what is the purpose of all these images except trying to be disrespectful towards her? And, by the way, what else does one expect her to wear while playing the game?

Let us move aside from these silly images and focus on what she has done on the tennis court so far. For beginners, Sania’s achievements are definitely staggering, appreciable, and make her a personality to respect. Let’s take a look at some of the things she has accomplished so far:

  • She is the highest ranked female tennis player from India, ever.
  • She is the first Indian woman to be seeded in a Grand Slam (and to the best of my knowledge, maybe the only one so far – please correct me if I am wrong).
  • She got up to the 4th round of US Open in 2005.
  • She won the 2003 Wimbledon Girls Doubles title.
  • She is the first Indian to win a WTA tour title of any kind.
  • She is the only Indian woman to have won a Grand Slam. She has won 2 Grand Slam Mixed Doubles titles – 2009 Australian Open and 2012 French Open. She was also the finalist on two more occasions – 2008 Australian Open Mixed Doubles & 2011 French Open Ladies Doubles.
  • She was named the WTA newcomer of the year in 2005. Some prominent stars who were at some point of their careers named the newcomer of the year, include, Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters, Serena and Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, Gabriela Sabatini and more such stars.
  • She has wins over Martina Hingis [former World No. 1 and winner of five Grand Slam singles titles], Svetlana Kuznetsova [former World No. 2 and winner of two Grand Slam singles titles. Kuznetsova was the reigning US Open Champion when Sania beat her early 2005] and Dania Safina [former World No. 1] among others. What does that mean? It is like me winning some cases against Ram Jethmalani, Harish Salve and Soli Sorabjee. May be just one, but wouldn’t that be enough for most?
  • She was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2004 and Padma Shri in 2006.

Take a look at the list above. They include some which no other Indian woman has ever achieved. None from your family and mine. None by me or you. Definitely not in tennis, and most likely, not in our own fields as well. And that, undoubtedly, calls for respect. Yet some appear to be disrespectful to her and her achievements? Why? Maybe they think she didn’t achieve her full potential. Maybe they don’t approve some of her actions off the field. But that surely doesn’t call for any disrespect towards her.

It might appear to some that maybe she didn’t justify her full potential. I might be one of them. But that shouldn’t take anything away from all the good work that she has done. If there was any such failure, it would surely hurt her the most. More than all of us. And if any of her actions do not have the approval of some, let’s remember, she doesn’t need one to begin with. She doesn’t need approval from you and me for whatever she does. And, she hasn’t broken any rule or law or authority. She played by the rules and none of her achievements listed above came by way of any special treatment to her. Instead, they all came on the back of hard work and performance.

It would appear to me that Sania Mirza has, for most part of time, appeared to be, has been, and behaved like someone of her age. She didn’t attempt to exhibit maturity beyond her years. While that should be no fault, guess some mature men couldn’t accept that. Maybe they had higher expectations, but that cannot be her fault. And surely, that doesn’t warrant any disrespect towards her.

It is only when you see the effort that went behind any achievement that you will truly be able to appreciate the magnitude of that achievement. Take into consideration the cultural background that she came from, the state in which Indian Women’s tennis was at the time she came on stage (and the stage it is in even today), maybe lack of adequate coaching facilities during her formative years, and many more such factors, and you may have a glimpse of the effort that went behind all her achievements.

The purpose of this post is only to reflect upon how I think we, as a society, are often straying into a dangerous habit of getting disrespectful and abusive towards other individuals, without properly appreciating facts or giving due consideration to their situation and circumstances. The post is only an attempt to share that view through the example of Sania Mirza. I must admit that I am no big fan of her. I may not personally endorse or agree upon all that she says or does. And I may disagree with her views on more than a few things. But I do respect her. For all her achievements, for her effort and for her success. And, anything less than that might be totally inappropriate.

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