ORIENT EXPRESS

Express

Jwala Gutta has squared off against many players from China on the badminton court. As she celebrates the mixed doubles Grand Prix gold she won last week, she tells us about her Chinese connection
It's more than skin deep. But what Jwala Gutta likes most about her Chinese legacy is the flawless skin she owes her mum. That and the authentic Chinese noodles that her mother cooks for her. "That's it. The food and the good skin. What more do you need?" she says. Last Sunday, though, when the badminton player won India's first mixed doubles Grand Prix gold title at Chinese Taipei with partner V Diju, she must have also said a thank you to her Chinese genes.

Gutta, who is ranked seventh with Diju among world mixed doubles pairs and who picked two GP titles at the Bitburger and Bulgarian Open last year, was nudged into badminton by her Chinese-born mother Yelan. After much prodding, the player, who turns 26 tomorrow, gives away the fact that the two cultures she was born into—Indian and Chinese—moulded her into becoming one of India's finest badminton players. Her father Kranti Gutta comes from a Telugu family of freedom fighters and progressive Leftists, while Yelan was the fiery, straight-talking grand-daughter of a Gandhian from China. She was the eldest in her family and took care of her two younger brothers in her early years in India, then a foreign land. "I was very bindaas. Jwala's a reflection of me, that's why she reacts so sharply and honestly to everything," says Yelan.

Indeed, Gutta's aggressive not just on court, but has been outspoken off it too. Two years back, she took on badminton officialdom after differences of opinion with the coach who insisted on a particular regimen for training and long camps, while she believed playing tournaments suited her better. After the row was resolved, she pushed hard to return to the circuit and go up to No 7 in the world. "She speaks her mind and will cross every obstacle you put in front of her because she doesn't like unfairness," says Yelan.

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