| Leander Paes with father Dr Vece Paes during a press conference at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center on Monday. (AP)
The speech was just a trifle slurred, otherwise Leander Paes sounded fine when he took time off to return a call (via father Dr Vece Paes’ cellphone) from The Telegraph early on Tuesday. In perhaps his first interaction with a hometown-based Mediaman, since being admitted to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando, Leander spoke for around 15 minutes. It’s unclear how soon he can return to India, but Leander has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of concern on a national scale. Indeed, he said as much.
The following are excerpts
On his state of mind
Very relieved… It’s nice to know that I’m not a victim of the worst case scenario… I’ve been lucky… Of course, at the moment, I’m sedated and so the speech is slurred… That apart, I’m feeling good.
On his thoughts when, last week, it was suspected he had a brain tumour
That first thought was… (After a pause) Actually, being the son of a doctor, I knew the implications and, if it was a tumour, wanted to know its size and the mode of treatment… I could appreciate what I would probably have to go through… Still, I was determined to keep my chin up — after all, that’s the way I am… Looking back, then, I took the initial fears well but, yes, there were moments when I was all alone and… That’s when…
On the past week or so
(Laughs) Quite like a rollercoaster ride, in terms of the diagnosis… First, they talked of a tumour… Then, it was an abscess… Later, it became a parasitic infection… I was relieved only when the Atlanta-located Center (for Disease Control) confirmed an infection…
On the medical fraternity in India bombarding his father with suggestions
It was overwhelming… So many doctors either called, e-mailed or communicated via SMS… However, I’m specially indebted to Dr B.S. Singhal, who is head of neurology at the Bombay Hospital… His initial diagnosis itself was spot-on and he sent some medication over with my father… In fact, Dr Singhal’s diagnosis helped the Orlando doctors, particularly the ones who specialised in infectious diseases.
On all of India joining in the prayers for his speedy recovery
Starting with the Good Lord, I’ve got to thank over a billion people! From the President of India to so many whom I’ve never met and probably won’t ever meet… Prayers, pujas… The South Club gesture (of a prayer meeting last Saturday) also touched me… That’s where I grew up, as a tennis player, and I’ve forever treated it as my second home.
On Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar having been distressed by the initial reports
I read your story from Bangalore, about Sachin and the others praying for my well-being… That gave me more courage, made me more determined to come through whatever I would eventually be diagnosed with… It was a big boost… I have a lot of respect for our cricketers and, when somebody of Sachin’s stature expresses such concern, how can I not be moved' Through your columns, I wish to specially thank him and Sourav.
On talk that he even managed a game or two of the odd sport last week
Oh, no… With the risk of seizure, there’s no way I could have exerted myself… I’ve been doing light sit-ups and yoga. On and off, I meditate as well. That has a calming influence.
On whether Mahesh Bhupathi’s gesture of flying over to Orlando (from New York) will help bring the two together again on the pro circuit
I do appreciate what Mahesh did… He spent three hours at the hospital and his gesture touched me… At the same time, while we make an effort to play as a team as often as we can, we do have commitments with our regular doubles partners (on the circuit)… As is known, Mahesh and I would have played together in Long Island, had my illness not played spoilsport.
On the legendary Martina Navratilova deciding not to play mixed doubles at the US Open without him
(Emotionally) I don’t think I can ever have words to describe Martina’s affection for me and the influence she has had on my career… I regard her as a spokesperson not just for tennis, but mankind… The other day, before the confirmation from Atlanta, I promised Martina that I would pull through this illness and again be her partner, in 2004… For me, playing with her has always been a huge opportunity to learn.
[While Martina has been in regular contact with Leander — they are the reigning Australian and Wimbledon champions — she hasn’t yet visited him at the hospital. A few days ago, a TV channel had incorrectly reported that Martina and Bhupathi had gone to Orlando on the same day.]
On ladylove Mahima Chaudhary being by his side
She left Mumbai within four hours of getting to know I may have a serious ailment… Her presence has been a source of inspiration and, really, I’m thankful to the entire Chaudhary family for moral support at a difficult time in my life… Indeed, I’m also thankful to Mahima’s producers and directors who gave her leave at such short notice. It’s generally believed that the film industry treats its stars as public property and not human beings who can and do have emotions. Well, I definitely don’t subscribe to that… Will she continue to stay' Now that my illness isn’t serious, probably not.
Finally, on the expected date of his release from hospital
Going by the doctors’ opinion, I will have to remain for anywhere between 8-21 days… Even after that, I’ll have to stay in the US for some weeks. While the treatment has started, the response of my system will obviously have to be monitored. An early return to India, therefore, is ruled out.