My Dad Taught Me To Love The Game I Play - Dipika Pallikal

The squash champion, who has inspired many children, tells us how her father supported her choice of career, and enabled her to explore the same with freedom and alacrity

By Deepika Mohan  • 10 min read

My Dad Taught Me  To Love The Game I Play - Dipika Pallikal

Multiple international titles, awards galore and an unconventional sport – well, Dipika Pallikal is all of this and much more. At just 25, this stunning squash player is an inspiration for the younger generation. Her success would not have been possible without her parents’ support. Sanjiv Pallikal is not just Dipika’s father, but a mentor and an inspiration to all those parents who want their daughters to carve a niche for themselves. In an exclusive interview with ParentCircle, Dipika talks about her father’s role in helping her reach for the stars. Here are the excerpts:

Q. You are the only one in your family (of three sisters) to become a sportsperson…

A. With three daughters in the family, each one of us is very diverse. My eldest sister Divya is a chartered accountant, the middle one Dia is a graphic designer and I’m an athlete. So, we are all very different. The first one is very studious, the second one is artistic, while I’m sporty. Choosing different careers wasn’t a conscious decision for us. It just happened that way.

Q. The early days were never easy, but with your father around, the journey has always been rich…

A. My family, especially my dad and mom, has been extremely supportive. When I was 13, I left India to train in Egypt. My dad gave my mom the confidence to let me go there. It is very hard to imagine a 13-year-old living abroad all by herself. So, that’s where my dad played a very important role in my career and life. I don’t think a lot of parents would allow their girl child to go out of their country and live by themselves when they are 13 years old, and that too in a country like Egypt.

Even for my sisters, at every step of their way, my dad has been there. My sisters always asked my dad first for his opinion on things related to education and job. Whatever we are today is because of our parents.

Q. You made India proud when you became the first female Indian squash player to win the Arjuna Award. How did your family react to the news?

A. I was in Australia, participating in the semifinals of the 2012 Australian Open, which was a big event for me. I had switched off my phone and disconnected myself from social media. After losing the semis, I switched on my mobile and the first message I saw was from my dad’s best friend Ashok uncle, who congratulated me for the Arjuna Award. That’s when it struck me that I had won the award. I spoke to my parents after that. The actual feeling of winning sunk in when I entered the Rashtrapati Bhavan. My family was there with me. That was my proudest moment. I later won the Padma Shri as well.

It is very hard to imagine a 13-year-old living abroad all by herself. So, that’s where my dad played a very important role in my career

Q. We appreciate and admire your opinion on gender equality. When you made the decision to boycott the National Championship four years in a row between 2012 and 2015, how did your family, especially your father, support you?

A. It wasn’t a decision I made overnight. It was a decision I kept pushing for many years. I knew I had to become someone big to take the stance. I had to make a name for myself in the world of squash and only then take the stance. Decisions are made by each of us and our parents support us whether we are right or wrong. My dad was especially supportive during this period. He brought up three girls in a manner that made us feel we are no less than anyone else in this world. That’s what gives me a lot of confidence.

I go out into the world thinking I can do anything that men can do. It all stems from my upbringing. It starts at home.

Q. Was gender equality the norm in your household?

A. While growing up, we never realised that there was something known as gender equality. There are seven granddaughters and four men in the family. Unfortunately, we lost my grandad in April. Both my uncles and my father were always surrounded by very strong women. My mom is very strong and my grandma is an even stronger lady. I have two aunts who hold their own fort. We have our own opinions and stick to it. We’ve been brought up in a family where women are an integral part of the decisions. We’ve always created our own choices. Nothing has been forced upon us. We were always treated equally.

Q. If you had to describe your father in six words, what would those be?

A. I think if I say patient six times, that would be enough. He brings that very important quality into the family. He is very very patient. On a lighter side, he has lived for four ladies (myself, mom and two sisters), so he must be patient. We are a close-knit family. Regardless of where we are in the world, whatever time it is, we can pick up the phone, call my dad and ask him for anything. He will give it to us without second thoughts. My sisters and I would like to thank him for always being there for us and sacrificing a lot, believing in us and giving us the option to choose our careers.

Q. What is the one piece of advice given by your dad that you remember during your challenging times?

A. Compared to my mom, my dad thinks more practically. My mom thinks with her heart and my dad thinks a lot with his head. That merges into a very good relationship. My dad has always told me to play the sport with hope, love for the game, and for the right reason rather than to achieve things that are beyond my control. He always said, "don’t play the game for the bonuses and awards you get but for the joy and happiness it brings."

I try and enjoy my sport as much as I can. The day I stop enjoying squash, I will hang up my racquet.

My sisters and I would like to thank my dad for giving us the option to choose our careers

Q. What is your advice to youngsters who make unconventional career choices?

A. Firstly, I’m glad that barriers are broken because, in the past, it was always about security while choosing careers. Mainstream career options like doctors, engineers were first preferences. A lot of the change has to do with the results we are getting from unconventional careers. Parents look at these results and let their children choose unconventional careers. It is always important to have role models and people to look up to. Parents are coming out and saying, ‘If Sindhu can do that or Mary Kom can do that so can my child’.

My Dad Taught Me  To Love The Game I Play - Dipika Pallikal

Sanjiv Pallikal, Dipika's father, shares his experience of raising his three daughters Divya, Dia and Dipika.

Q. Tell us a little about your daughters and the bond you share with them.

A. Each one of them is different, violently different from the other (laughs). They have a common trait though, and that is they are family-oriented. Every weekend, we must meet and have lunch together, whatever it is. That keeps us going since each of us are busy with our schedules. I spend time with each one of them and I relate differently to each one of them. All my daughters prefer to take me for shopping because I’m patient. Earlier I used to pay for them and now they pay for me. They don’t allow me to take my purse out (looks at Dipika and smiles proudly).

Q. Your advice to parents on their children’s career choices.

A. I have three daughters and I always believed each one of them must find their own life and path. You must have faith in what your child wants. You must also be confident that the child has the talent and passion. Sports careers call for a lot of sacrifices. You should back your child. 

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