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Shuttle and life

Gopichand loves his food whether he eats at home or during his travels abroad


"I WILL have a Hyderabadi meal," says P. Gopichand as he settles down at the Dum pukht restaurant, ITC Kakatiya Sheraton Hotel and Towers. The Badminton champ agrees with Chef Farooque's recommendations. "I can eat things cooked at home forever and not get bored. I like fresh food - dal, roti and vegetables. Normally I love whatever I eat." He is off aerated drinks and milk so opts for tender coconut water. Sweets are an occasional indulgence, he smiles. "When I play a good match sometimes I have a scoop of ice cream as a reward and then feel guilty. Once in a while if my grandmother makes a sweet I eat it."

The Shorbabaksh (mutton shorba) arrives along with the shikampuri kebab and as Gopichand savours both, he remembers his days in Germany when he used to cook in his kitchenette. "I had no idea of cooking and couldn't even boil rice. I bought a book and learnt to cook by trial and error but no dish would ever taste the same twice."

Gopichand spent about four months every year at Langenfeld, a town between Dusseldorf and Cologne in Germany for quite a few years. "I loved my stay and visited quite a few places - the Black Forest which was beautiful. One of my first trips in nature was in Austria. I took the ropeway up the mountains and it was breathtaking. Prague is another city I liked. England is like India."

"It's best to eat local food abroad and I enjoy the variety. I avoid beef and pork and therefore steaks. Pasta, of course, is delicious. But I like the pancake houses. Cereals are aplenty which I eat with yoghurt. The fruit-based yoghurts like blackberry, strawberry and peach are good. The thought of having burger and French fries does not appeal to me. So I avoid McDonalds."

He narrates an interesting incident on his trip to Korea for the Asian Games. "The temperature was -10 degrees. Nobody knew the language. I used to just put my hand on a dish in the menu without knowing what it is and have it. I found the Kimchi (a Korean cabbage salad) amazingly spicy." Gopichand does not much care for sushi (a Japanese speciality), but talks of the traditional Japanese food. "They give steaming sticky rice in a bowl which has red pepper on one side with a few pieces of chicken and they just break an egg into it. I ate it since I am not fussy though my friends refused. The service is really quick at small eateries. Food is served to hundreds of people in just half a minute."

The conversation veers to the Art of Living (AOL). "Mental training went hand-in-hand with sport. I always did things which were good for concentration like yoga, surya namaskar and breathing exercises. A friend suggested AOL. I benefited physically. In fact I used to suffer from frequent cold, cough and would be on antibiotics every second month. Perhaps due to AOL I didn't suffer for five years though it seems to have recurred now," he says sniffing heavily. I visit Guruji's (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) ashram at Bangalore (where I do meditation and participate in satsang) and travel with him some times. It gives me peace of mind and I have implicit faith in him." Gopichand listens to the Vishnu Sahasranamam and likes classical music, bhajans and old Telugu film songs.

While having the Kachchi gosht ki biryani along with mirch ka salan and burrani raita Gopichand emphasises the need for improving the sports infrastructure in the rural areas so that children have access to facilities. "Coaching programmes are necessary. There should be a director who should have the energy and expertise to train. This programme should be monitored. Talent in the rural areas needs to be tapped and the students should be transferred to the local academies for further training."

He has a few other suggestions. "We need to conduct events in badminton - get in foreign players so that our budding players get to learn and interact with them. Schools too should re-orient their thinking and have more time for sport." Gopichand has plans to start an academy shortly. "One should not just look at sportspersons alone but also at development of sports culture through lifestyle. Health and fitness need to be addressed. Corporate sponsorship and government support is necessary," he advocates.

Life for Gopichand has revolved around badminton for more than a decade. Having some khubani ka meetha (without ice cream) he articulates, "I missed a few things but what I got balances what I lost. I am content with what I have in life." Gopichand is all set to participate in the 10K Run on November 30.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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