Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Mixed Doubles

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Vinitha talks about life with U. Vimal Kumar, the former badminton player and coach of Saina Nehwal, World No. 1

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Photo of Vinitha by M. Jithindra

On November 6, 2010, badminton coach U. Vimal Kumar, wife Vinitha and daughters Aishwarya and Priyanka went for a holiday to a resort at Masinagudi, 260 kms from Bangalore. “My husband is passionate about wildlife,” says Vinitha.

One morning, Vimal and Aishwarya went for a trek, along with a Swedish couple. After a while, the lady and Aishwarya sat on a rock, near a stream. Vimal was standing behind them. All of them were watching a National Geographic magazine photographer take pictures.

Suddenly, there was a growl. A bear came rushing at them. Aishwarya and the Swedish woman got up and ran down the rock. So, the bear grabbed Vimal in its paws, and lifted him up. But, at that moment, the bear lost its balance and both of them went rolling down the rock. A guide, who was nearby, picked up two empty plastic bottles, and banged it together. The noise scared the bear away. But, by then, the animal had caused a huge gash on Vimal's left thigh. He was bleeding profusely.

Immediately, he was bandaged and the family returned to Bangalore. Vimal went straight to hospital. “It took him one-and-a-half months to recover,” says Vinitha. “It was a close shave for Vimal. Later, when we watched TV programmes on victims of bear attacks, parts of the face were ripped off. If the bear had not lost its balance, I dread to think about what would have happened.”

This is one of Vinitha's unforgettable memories of life with Vimal. The Bangalore-based couple, who are originally from Thiruvananthapuram, had an arranged marriage, on December 10, 1992, at the Sree Mulam Club in the Kerala state capital.

However, the days before the marriage were a time of tension, because, on December 6, the Babri Masjid had been demolished. There were riots all over the country. “Till the 9th we were unsure about whether the marriage would take place, since there were no vehicles on the roads,” says Vinitha. “But on December 10, life returned to normal.” And so, the marriage went ahead. Thereafter, they went for a honeymoon to Goa.

Asked to list her husband's plus points, Vinitha says, “Vimal is an honest, sincere and down-to-earth person. His biggest passion is badminton.”

In fact, badminton is his first love. And when Vinitha goes to see Vimal train Saina Nehwal, the World No. 1, she sees a different side of her husband. “On the court he is so concentrated that he looks through me,” says Vinitha. “I don't think he is aware of my presence at all. Sometimes, he makes Saina play a particular shot more than 500 times. He will keep at it till the shot is perfected.”

Another character trait is his straight-forwardness. “Vimal will not say anything to people just to please them,” she says. “He tells the truth. As a result, sometimes, he rubs people the wrong way. But, for me, personally, this is what I like about him.”

Plus he gives Vinitha space. Like him, Vinitha is busy in her career as a scientist in the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at the Indian Space Research Organisation. “But we always try, as a family, to have one meal together,” she says. “Usually, it is dinner.”

Asked about his role as a father, Vinitha says, “He is not strict as far as their studies and friendships are concerned. But Vimal insists that Aishwarya and Priyanka should be well-behaved at all times. My daughters treat him more like a friend, rather than as a dad. They get their things done through him. I am the strict parent who keeps saying no to them. It is important to keep a balance.”

To maintain balance in their marriage, Vinitha ensures that she spends quality time with Vimal alone. They get that when they go for a morning workout. Vinitha began jogging when Vimal teased her that she would never be able to run. “So I took it as a challenge,” says Vinitha. “Now I am addicted to it. I can run five kilometers on alternate days, but on weekends, this can go up to 10 kms. But Vimal does not like to jog as much now. He prefers gym work.”

Vimal's drawback is his absent-mindedness, off the court. He also has an addiction of watching all the news channels on TV. “Vimal likes to keep the remote in his hand before he goes to sleep,” says Vinitha. “But, after ten minutes, he would have gone to sleep. Then I have to switch off the TV.”

In their spare time, the couple sees a lot of Malayalam comedy films like 'Killukam', 'Meesa Madhavan' and 'Nandanam'. “My favourite comedian is Jagathy Sreekumar,” says Vinitha. “I feel so bad that he can no longer act, because of a car accident. It is a huge loss for the Malayalam film industry.”

Finally, when asked to give tips for a successful marriage, Vinitha says, “Both husband and wife needs to be committed to make the relationship work. It is a give-and-take. Even if a woman is financially independent and equal to the man, I think she has to play a major role to ensure that a marriage works. At the end of the day if you have a successful marriage and a lovely family, then it is all worth it.” 

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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