Changing lanes and letting go of something you love to move on to something else can never be easy but for former World No. 13 Indian badminton star, Ajay Jayaram, this was an inevitable plunge.
Having stomped around on the badminton court for almost two decades, Ajay Jayaram has been a part of the tidal wave that has taken India to the top spots of the sport, alongside veterans Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap, Gurusai Dutt and Anand Pawar, back in the day.
Now 34, Jayaram has decided to part with the racquet through a social media post and turn to books in a bid to make a switch towards the next phase of his life, now that Indian badminton is also in safe hands with the likes of Lakshya Sen leading the way.
Speaking to The Bridge after his retirement announcement, the Chennai-born shuttler was brimming with a mixed bag of emotions mostly tinged with excitement for the future ahead as he gushed about joining the prestigious Indian School of Business (ISB) – Hyderabad and making a return to academics.
A student of science in his plus two and driven towards taking up engineering, Jayaram couldn’t pursue it because he chose badminton back then and studied B.Com instead – cut to 2022, Jayaram is finally going back to academics as he is looking for a fresh start at a B-school.
“Some time in the middle of 2021, I found the motivation to explore something new and I’ve always wanted to get a higher education post-retirement and I had my eyes on ISB, so when I got through it was a no-brainer” Jayaram mentioned, delighted to have made it in with a full scholarship after an impressive GMAT score.
Pandemic blues, painting hues
Ajay Jayaram in action at the Sudirman Cup (Source: BWF website)
Dilly-dallying with the thought of hanging up his racquet ever since the pandemic hit in 2020, Ajay Jayaram’s desire to get back to academics kept playing at the back of his mind ever since.
The 2-time Dutch Open winner, Jayaram, who has seen Indian badminton grow from extremely close quarters and was a part of the revolution, explained, “When COVID hit, I was still very pumped up and motivated to get back and continue playing.”
“But after one year of it, things didn’t look too promising in terms of many happenings on the regular circuit,” he continued.
Plagued by injuries in 2017-18, Jayaram’s body was also tired of the wear and tear and the pandemic only dampened his motivation to return after a great period of lull on the competition front.
“I had only a few years left in badminton prior to COVID, so I decided it was time for me to make the switch,” Ajay explained.
“I even spoke to Viren (Rasquinha), he quit hockey and joined ISB and then went on to join Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) and do some great work,” a path which Ajay also aspires to follow and give back to the sport that has given him so much.
An artist by hobby as well, the pandemic also saw Jayaram take a step ahead from being just a sketch artist to a full-fledged painter and now that the racquet has been hung up on the wall, Ajay’s plans with the brush will also take a front seat, alongside his hectic B-School life ahead.
“I used to sketch a lot, I started painting during the lockdown. Next year I won’t have time, I will keep in touch with it, of course, but as a profession, well you never know,” Jayaram hinted with a laugh.
The evolution of Indian badminton
Looking back at the years that transpired as a professional badminton player, Jayaram has nothing but a treasure trove of happy memories and gratefulness for the life he has lived so far and for having watched Indian badminton spike to such great heights.
“I started my international career in 2005-06,” Jayaram recalled. “Every generation of the top Indian players contributed their bit and every new generation takes inspiration from it and has strived to do better and that is clearly seen in the evolution of Indian badminton,” he gushed proudly.
“Back in the day, in the early 2000s, beating a top player or doing well against one would have been seen as a good achievement but now the top players have become Indians and that is a stark change,” Jayaram mentioned with a chuckle, having defeated the likes of current World No. 1 and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen thrice in seven meetings, to his credit.
“The belief that you are the best out there is very strong among Indian players especially with them playing finals, semi-finals of big events regularly,” Jayaram analysed, extremely assured of the successes lying ahead with the NextGen of Indian badminton already taking the world by storm.
Giving back to the sport
Ajay Jayaram (Source: BWF Website)
While it was never an easy decision to part from badminton and give it all up, Ajay remains excited and scared about the next phase, in equal measure.
“It will be a huge transition for me, it’s going to be challenging, I will be caught up and busy in different ways now,” Jayaram chuckled and mentioned.
But as always, he isn’t planning down to the nitty-gritty and is rather leaving room for life to happen to him.
“I’m a little unclear about how my career path will move. Along the course, I will figure out where my interest area lies – in academics or corporate life and then if an opportunity opens where I can contribute to sports in some sort of way, in a managerial capacity, that would be great,” Jayaram explained.
Proving how there is no one ‘right time’ to make a switch in pursuit of one’s dreams, Jayaram continued, “I’m open to a lot of options and would love to somewhere come back and do my bit for sports,” he quietly wished.
Signing off, Jayaram also hinted how the veteran shuttler would still be picking up the racquet from time to time, whenever he gets the chance and it’s only au revoir and not a complete goodbye to badminton for him.