I knew this book would be lacking without a sports figure, especially one who has provided us with so many nail-biting moments. I had given up all hope of reaching PV Sindhu. I had followed every friend and agent, asked for connections and finally hit a brick wall. I attended an event to understand what it takes to nurture an Olympian, with a minuscule chance of landing this interview, knowing that there was clear no path to it. Although, four months after the event and consistent follow-ups, I managed to contact Mr PV Ramana, PV Sindhu’s father and who manages PV’s time. He impressed me with his openness, simplicity and crystal-clear communication since I first contacted him.

I immediately flew to Pune to meet him and, of course, PV. What I found was a sports-loving family with two parents who had sacrificed everything for their daughters’ athletic careers. At the age of eight, PV Sindhu began to play badminton. Her father would get up at 3 am daily to drop her off at the train station, from where she would then travel a distance of 120 km.

Her sister, Divya, is a gynaecologist. Sindhu was born to two volleyball players who worked for the railways. Mr Ramana recalls the moment he lost his football player father at the age of three. “This sport will not give you any food or pay your bills,” his older brother, who raised him, would frequently say. “Even though he said that, if you really love the sport, you can’t give it up. To all the children who want to play sports but feel unsupported, it’s only a matter of time till they see your performance and the results.”

“It was in my genes”, he exclaimed, “Just imagine being a state-level player in the 1960s. With a tough situation at home, I started my sporting career in the twelfth grade. I played all kinds of sports until then but focused on volleyball only after. I played 20 nationals for the Indian Railways, with six national gold medals, four silver medals and five bronze medals. I rarely sat on the bench as a substitute in my sporting career. My wife played for the South Central Railway.”

He thought it was important for the kids to play sports because he himself did. “It gives them a certain cushion with a guaranteed job in railways, banks etc. I think being a sportsperson’s child is a big advantage for Sindhu. I knew the ropes early on and I enrolled her to train at the age of eight,” Mr Ramana confessed.

“For someone like me who has played team sports, I was very clear that she should play an individual sport and I could see the commitment it took to be a sportsperson in Sindhu’s eyes at the age of eight. Not once did she complain about waking up at 4 am. I would wake both my girls and Sindhu would say, ‘Dad, it’s okay if didi isn’t waking up, let’s go. We will be late.’ I never had to wake her up,” he said with pride. So I asked him the crucial question – why badminton?

“Choosing badminton happened by chance,” he said, “because I would pick the girls up from school and they would come with me straight after for my volleyball practice to the grounds. We were both working parents, so my kids spent their childhood entertaining themselves as we practised our sport. Next to my volleyball court was a badminton hall. That was her first brush with badminton.”

Mr Ramana opened up about the struggles, “There were days when I wanted to take a break, but being a sportsperson and having a partner who played sports professionally too, we knew champions are built on consistency. Parents of sportspeople cannot have any laziness or lack of commitment in them. With limited resources like no car or driver, we had to juggle sports, our careers, practice and school.”

As parents, we all keep asking ourselves, “How is my child ever going to make it to the nationals or internationals or play competitive sports?” Trust me, you are not alone when you think of that. It’s difficult to be one in a billion. I questioned him, “What really motivates you? Or how can we, as parents, alter the belief that ‘it’s not okay if they don’t succeed’?”

Mr Ramana was prompt to respond. “You see, Mansi, it’s a really good question. As parents, if your child is weak in studies, you get additional help, right? You have to have patience and make a road map for it. Then why not in sports? Why are we expecting immediate results?

The truth is, we want to outsource the work but do not make the effort to do it. This job is to not only be a coach, but also seeing popular videos, strokes and repeats of games. See, it’s not a big job – in those days, we had to see, observe and learn. Today, parents don’t even have the time to go and spend two or three sessions with their kids. Check recordings. Explain to them their mistakes. Let them observe.

As parents, you want results as well as your child’s motivation and interest. Some students may drop out, but the lessons will stay with them forever.” He was also quick to add that any child can always pursue a degree online and through distance education, through which Sindhu also completed her MBA.

The question still lingered in my head: if studies and that extra nudge are essential tools for survival, what if your child doesn’t make it to that Olympic gold, coupled with injuries and short fitness spans?

“As parents, we find it hard to balance our duties as parents with our work and home, but we still do it with planning. Just like that, the child can also do it. In fact, he becomes very efficient in managing studies and sports if you don’t allow him excuses. She saw me wake up at 3.30 am, prepare everything, then get ready. I used to wake her up at 4.30. For half an hour, she used to get ready, get into the car and sleep. I used to then take her to the ground that was around 29 km away and she used to play there, then we would travel 29 km again to get back. I requested the school authorities, worked with them to manage her studies and even made her miss the first period. I would come home in my two-wheeler and rush to work and life was tough, but no one complained. We knew this was what it would take. Mornings were not enough. The same routine took place after school as well. I would excuse myself from work, pick her up and drop her home to finish her homework before I came back after work to take her back for practice. I asked for permission to make things happen and support her wherever I could.”

Excerpted with permission from The Parents I Met, Mansi Zaveri, Penguin Ebury Press.