Cijy Mathai beats PhD stress with her racquets

Cijy Mathai is not your regular, brains-only IIT student. She has managed to cope with the hectic demands of one of the most reputed institutions in the country, as well as simultaneously play her heart out with two different forms of racquet spor

One would think how she manages it. But the truth is that both badminton and squash act as stress-busters for her. As a PhD student in physics in the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT B), the demands and expectations are sky-high. Yet, her effervescence for badminton and squash is indeed amazing. And only five years ago, she was a newbie to both.

A late start

“Before coming to IIT B and enrolling in PhD, I was not at all into sports. I hardly did any sporting activities,” she says.

So how did it all start?

“After coming here, I noticed many of my friends playing badminton and other games like cricket, so they encouraged us to come to the court and play badminton. It was just that I wanted to see what I was good at. I played cricket, badminton, tennis and squash and I felt I was very comfortable with racquet games. I felt I could handle badminton and squash well. That’s how it all started,” she replies.

The learning process

But it was not easy at first as mastering the game of badminton took some diligent and dedicated efforts. “I started from scratch five years ago. It was difficult for me at first. Then these friends and some of the coaches came to my rescue and provided training. They gave me many tips as to how to handle each shot, how the positioning should be and how the movement should be. Afterwards, I would come to the court regularly for four or five days in a week. So, that helped me improve my shots and I became comfortable striking the shuttle from the middle of the racquet. The experience helped,” she recalls.

She made steady progress in badminton, and what started off as curiosity, became a habit, and much more. “Now, I am in the position that I can represent my hostel. I even got a call for playing the inter-IIT tournament but the thing is I cannot allot most of my time to playing tournaments [as studies take up most of her time],” she confesses.

She then explains, “Badminton for me is kind of a stress-reliever. In PhD, studies and all are very tiresome, it makes us fed up of the work that we do. So to get out of the system and release the stress, I play and that helps me a lot.”

And it also helps her in an otherwise normal student-like routine. “Badminton is kind of helping me with the studies. It has helped me get good sleep. And then I can start a day fresh. Many of the frustrations are taken out of the system, because of the passion I have for sport, so I like it,” she says with a warm smile.

Then squash happened

Love for one racquet sport soon led her to another racquet form. “I also later on found out that I am ok with squash. I went for some of the tournaments that took place, like the PG Sports (Post Graduates Sports) tournament and even though I was playing for the first time, I was able to score some points. I guess this was because of my badminton experience. I felt I could play this also or at least could try and see how well I can go on with it. That’s how I started playing squash. And I went on to became the player of the GC (inter-IIT General Championships), a competition within the hostels in IIT B. And once I achieved that, I felt like, oh, it’s possible! I just have to allot a little bit of time to it and I can do something,” she says proudly.

Motivation for others

“I conveyed to other friends that even if you don’t know anything about a game, it’s ok that you can come and start it and give yourself some time for it. You can start from the very beginning and come at least to the level where I have reached. So that gave them inspiration, and people have told me that I have been an inspiration and I am happy with it.”

And she plans to keep playing throughout her career, no matter what.

“It (badminton) helped me a lot you know. So what I think is, wherever I go, even if I have to pay for playing badminton, I will just pay and play. It has become a very important part of my life. I will definitely carry on with this,” she admits.

Cijy also has an important message. “The thing is I would encourage everybody to enroll in some form of sporting activities or physical activities. It can be yoga, it can be basketball, it can be badminton or swimming - anything you like to do. These are very good stress relievers that divert us from the real-life situations and stressful things like studies. Physical activities help you a lot, especially for giving you a good sleep!” she concludes with a chuckle.

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