India’s squash girls Joshana Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal would’ve tired of bringing glamour to every Games they went to. Not that they minded the attention that comes from being the posh and pretty ones in the contingent. But they were determined they would also bring gold to India’s Commonwealth Games, and make their presence count in words and medal numbers, than just photographs.
Both strokemakers, Dipika and Joshana, brought unbridled aggression to the Scotstoun Campus Squash arena, on the enlarged show glass courts for doubles in beating Jenny Duncalf and Laura Massaro 11-6, 11-8 for India’s first-ever gold in squash at the CWG.
“The sport has been in the shadow of all other sports for so long,” said Dipika Pallikal, a pin-up in Indian sport, but also one of the hardest hitters in the glass courts. “We wanted to make our medal count in the medal’s tally, and we needed a gold for that,” she said, as India picked its 14th.
Delhi had been disappointing, winning nothing at home, and it needed the two friends who’ve known each other since Joshana went to school with Dipika’s elder sister in kindergarten, to forge a winner for the top podium.
The two travel on the circuit together – India has no second string really, good enough to tour. “Doubles is about understanding, and we share a strong bond off the court,” said Dipika, adding, “I’ve always had great respect for Joshana because she started it all in India, this medal had strengthened that bond. For life.”
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They’re an odd pair in Indian sport. No catfights. No jostling for the No. 1. “She’s seen me grow up, and I’ve been there for her always,” Dipika said, adding that squabbling never really crossed their minds as they both fight two lonely battles on the tough WISPA circuit, the country hardly knowing much about them, beyond their poster-girl looks.
But Joshana suffered a career-threatening injury three seasons back, and Dipika, who understood the rigours of squash, was there for her, urging her to come back. “It means a lot to me that I could do this after my injury. I didn’t think I would play again at that point. So to win here with Dipika is just very special,” Joshana said.
It was joy and relief, and utter glee that it was a collective moment for them.
Cheered on by fiancé Dinesh Karthik, India cricketer, Dipika traded tough lines with Joshana as they motivated each other, when they fell back 2-7 in the second game. “We know when to tell each other to rev up and when to calm down,” Dipika explained.
Fulfilment of a career
Joshana, a former British Junior Open champ in singles, believes it is a fulfilment of a career to medal at a Games for a sport that is not in the Olympics. “When I was younger all I wanted was to play squash for India and make it my career,” she said.
The two complement each other perfectly, Dipika with a furious forehand, and Joshana who guards the backhand side. The senior partner remembers Dipika as a “cute 10 year-old who came to the club to hit the ball, and had cute little bangs then”. And though they both go on retail-therapy joint sessions after either of them lose, their tastes vastly differ. “We both like to hit the shops after we have lost a game. She’s more girly than me,” Joshana says, of fashion.
Travelling plenty means both’ve learnt to not be fussy about food. “We love sushi and anything chocolate!” Joshana says, adding that nothing gets the two girls going even after months of off-season or travelling apart like Chennai gossip. “It’s a small city that way, and everyone knows everyone. There’s always lots to gossip about.” These gossip-girls though, also know how to go out and win gold.