From daring to dream to busting myths
myth and stigma around tuberculosis in the country, tennis ace Sania Mirza chats with The Telegraph on the year that’s been, what she misses most about being on court and what she would like to be remembered for the most.
Belated birthday wishes (Sania turned 34 on November 15). What was your special day like this year?
Thank you so much! This birthday was as special as others have been. I was surrounded by my loved ones. I got to spend time with my husband (Shoaib Malik) and my child (Izhaan), and that made it even more special. While this year has been about uncertainties, I couldn’t be more thankful to have my people around me, every day.
How has your tenacity and temperament as a sportsperson been tested as we all deal with these globally unprecedented times?
The nationwide lockdown did bring a lot of uncertainty about things, and that was the case with everyone. The best way was to be at home and ensure everyone’s safety, especially my toddler’s. I’ve always been a positive person, I’m realistic but very positive, so I knew that it would all settle in. But yes, it has been challenging for everyone in different ways. The best part has been that I got a chance to spend some quality time with my family to do so many things together at home, which we wouldn’t have had otherwise, owing to our busy schedules. As a sportsperson, these times have been challenging, especially with the Olympics being postponed.
Your fitness has always been inspiring. In a year where most of us have been spending days staring at our laptops at home, what will be your advice to keep fit and healthy?
For me, it has always been about maintaining a fine balance between eating right and working out well. During the lockdown, I have relished delicacies and experimented with my culinary skills and yet ensured that my physical training is on track. While our movements were restricted due to the lockdown, people resorted to in-home workouts, focusing on simple exercises that make a lot of difference.
This phase has been a strenuous one, more so for mental health. But the unprecedented lockdown also got us closer to our families and gave us ample time to talk to them and engage in simple yet heartwarming conversations. I can’t stress enough on the importance of maintaining good physical and mental health, and it is these little things that can create a huge impact.
What’s spending quality time with Izhaan been like?
Since March this year, we have spent each day together and what a blissful time it has been to watch him grow. He’s such a loving boy, and every moment feels beautiful when your child is around you. He would just come and give me hugs for no reason or would cuddle, and that is an amazing feeling. We like talking to each other, communication with a toddler is different, yet most special. We’ve spent hours playing and talking together and it has been every bit enriching for me as a mom.
You have put your weight behind the MTV Nishedh Alone Together initiative. What made you sign on?
When my team and I were approached for the series, we immediately decided to go for it! While I was happy about my digital debut, it was the cause that the show highlighted that prompted me to come on board. When I read about TB (tuberculosis) in detail and its consequences, I felt there was an urgent need to draw people’s attention and talk about it in a way that impacts the audience. I was appalled to know that in India, one person dies of TB every minute, and it was alarming to say the least.
MTV Nishedh Alone Together (streams every Friday on the Facebook, YouTube and Instagram handles of MTV and MTV Nishedh) is our effort to raise awareness about the disease, especially its resurgence in the Covid-19 pandemic, and challenge the stereotypes around this menace. And it’s wonderful that we have a show to drive word-of-mouth around the same. I’m really happy to make my debut with such a thought-provoking issue and that’s what got me to be a part of it.
What do you think needs to be done to eradicate the stigma and apathy around TB in the country?
From raising awareness around the symptoms to access to medication at the right time, there is a long road ahead. The misconceptions around this disease have led to a lot of reluctance among individuals to speak up and take proper medication. All of us will have to collectively work towards challenging the stigma around TB, and I firmly believe that every single voice matters, especially the youth, who are the drivers of change. The need to create awareness is a small yet a significant step to address this concern and that’s what we aim to do with MTV Nishedh Alone Together.
What do you miss most about being on the tennis circuit and being on tour?
I think live sport brings with it a strong sense of adrenaline and realness that’s tough to match otherwise. There is no other form of entertainment that’s as real and raw as live sport. On the court, nothing is pretentious, the joys are real and so are the tears, the victories are real and so are the outbursts. For a sportsperson, it’s a different kind of a high to be able to play in national colours and perform amid an encouraging audience. So I would say that’s a huge miss this year.
What is it about the game that first made you fall in love with it and still remains such a passion?
As someone who started playing tennis at the age of six, it came naturally to me. I was born in a family where sports was more than just a hobby. What started as a summertime activity when I was six turned into my passion in no time. So, I think I was destined to be a tennis player. Moreover, my family and the people who were around me at that time have been the biggest support, they encouraged and persuaded me to give it a shot, and there has been no looking back ever since. Just the idea of being at the court and experiencing all kinds of emotions at that moment makes me fall in love with the game every single day.
For someone who has challenged and broken many a glass ceiling, what is it about the life of Sania Mirza that you would want the world to remember the most?
My dare to dream. In our society, a woman has to choose between embracing motherhood and fulfilling her passion. While the scenario is changing, there are a plethora of challenges that a woman has to face to create a fine balance. Motherhood has been the biggest blessing in my life, it has taught me a lot of things. But people did have a lot of question marks on my comeback. I had faith in myself that I’ll be able to overcome all the challenges — be it about losing 26kg or getting back to the court while managing my baby, with sheer determination and grit. It is not a smooth ride, but an enriching one and it doesn’t end here! I continue to maintain this balance between my family and my career and move ahead in life.