CHENNAI: If you observe the walls at the Indian Squash Academy practice courts in Chennai, they look like one giant charcoal painting of many comets descending on land. As if Vincent van Gogh forgot his paintbrushes and decided to showcase his art with a black carbon stick. On closer observation, it looks like Van Gogh put layers and layers of charcoal, like his 'Wheat Field with Cypresses' or "Starry Night Over the Rhône". It's a sight to behold. At a time when people her own age are either busy learning the chemistry of charcoal or some of them even venturing into "Art History," Anahat Singh is busy painting her masterpiece on the squash courts. Day in and day out.
At 15, in her first-ever Asian Games, Singh helped lay down the foundation for a medal in the women's team event alongside seasoned campaigner Joshna Chinappa and Tanvi Khanna. Despite a loss against Malaysia, the three-member team secured a spot in the semi-final, with that assured a medal in the Asian Games.
"I am excited that I get to travel with the whole team," Singh told The New Indian Express before leaving for Hangzhou from Chennai. "And of course, just playing the Asiad is such a huge privilege and, hopefully, we bring a medal. I have come here to Chennai for a lot of time. It's always good to be back and practice with all the senior players and interact with them."
While she has helped India secure a medal in the Asian Games, Singh had very little time to prepare for the selection trials. "She had just finished her Class IX exams and she had to fly out for the trials to Chennai the very next day," Her mother, Tani Vadehra Singh, updated this daily on what was happening behind the scenes. "Anahat hadn't been able to train too much so we didn’t have any expectations. She was determined to get into the squad so I suppose she put all her effort into every match. We didn’t know till the very last minute of her last game if she was selected so it was quite unnerving. Of course, once it was announced we were all happy for her," her mother mentioned.
Singh was not even born when her teammate, Chinappa made the quarterfinals in women's singles in the 2006 Doha Asian Games. With so much experience around, Singh is trying to absorb all the knowledge from the greats of the game. "I think I am the youngest one in the squad (the other members) have been playing for so many years, and they have so much experience. They know so much more about the game than I do. Just being around them and even getting to play with them is incredible. Even a few lines of advice from them is of great help," she added.
Along with experienced seniors, Singh believes Chris Walker, a player-turned-coach, has guided her in achieving her best. "He is an amazing coach. He knows so much about the game. I went with him for the Commonwealth Games and he has been helping me out in every way." The same Commonwealth Games in Birmingham saw her become a household name. Her inspiring run at 14 ended in the Round of 32, but it gave her an experience of a lifetime.
"When I went to the Commonwealth Games, I didn't think about the medal because I was excited to go there. The Commonwealth Games and Asian Games are classified as one of the biggest sports events. Because we don't have squash at the Olympics and these Games are the highest you can play. I was lucky to play it at such a young age and get that experience, while also learning about the game when I was 14. This time for the Asian Games, I am prepared and I understand what it takes to push for a medal," her determination shows.
Beyond senior players and international coaches, Singh thanks her sister, Amira, for introducing her to the game and being her first coach. "I started playing because of her. She is the main reason why I am here today. During COVID, when courts were shut, she was helping me train. Whenever she is in India, she travels with me for tournaments. She is like my coach, helping me strategise even when she is not in India. We share a few notes about how to play and what to do with the opposition players." Even when Amira is in the USA for her education, the sibling bond is stronger than ever. "They both respect each other and their capabilities in every field as they are very different individuals, and that's why they end up learning a lot from each other," Tani adds.
Van Gogh spent years and years perfecting his art to be called a genius. Layers and layers of paint were added for a painting to be called a masterpiece. At 15, Anahat Singh has laid the foundation of a career many can only dream of. If the comet-like marks in Chennai are any indication, the future of Indian squash is in good hands.