'Anam has always been the baby of the family': Sania Mirza on sister Anam
Having made Dubai their home away from home, KT caught up with the Mirza sisters to gather their thoughts on love, life and their memories of the festival of lights.
For sports enthusiasts in the subcontinent, Sania Mirza is more than a tennis champ. She is a trailblazer. If she has made her mark inside a tennis court, Mirza has - over the years - also sparked conversation outside it.
Married to former Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, today, the Sania Mirza one sees on social media and paparazzi photos is not just a sports star, a loving wife and mother, but also a doting sibling to her younger sister Anam Mirza. Anam, a fashion stylist and entrepreneur, has not just been a witness to Sania's celebrity, but has, in her own way, anchored her journey through fame.
Having made Dubai their home away from home, we caught up with the Mirza sisters to gather their thoughts on love, life and their memories of the festival of lights.
From your social media posts, it becomes evident that you two share a warm camaraderie. Did you ever fight?
SM: Anam has always been the baby of the family. She is almost eight years younger to me. So, I am like a second mother to her. I started playing when I was six. When she was born, one of our parents had to always accompany me to the tournaments. Over the years, she had to slowly adjust to one parent's absence, but had been supportive all through.
AM: I have dabbled in multiple careers - sometimes, doing 10 things at the same time. One person who supported me through everything was Sania. By default, she has been the brand ambassador for every single business that I have started.
Are you also each other's fiercest critics?
SM: We are as honest with each other as possible. I meet a lot of people, who I cannot be sure are being completely honest with me. But I know for a fact that if I am wearing something that's looking really bad on me, she will say, "It's horrible." Also, we hardly ever fight, perhaps because of the age difference.
Anam, you have been in the fashion business for a while and have even hosted a show in Dubai. How have the sensibilities of consumers changed?
AM: When I came to Dubai, I realised people are open to different kinds of fashion. We did pret and Indian wear and discovered it's not just the people from the subcontinent who like desi clothes. People here are quite open to experimentation. There was a time when people wanted to wear clothes that a celebrity would wear. While that culture still exists today to an extent, I think people are more open to trying new things.
Sania, you're a new mother. In one of your interviews, you mentioned that you were quite superstitious about putting the pictures of your baby out there. Does the media scrutiny of your son unnerve you as a parent?
SM: I don't think I said I was being superstitious, it's just that I believe in the concept of nazar (evil eye) a bit. We had to make a conscious decision about where we are putting his pictures because it was getting very difficult with the paparazzi and social media. I have been under the spotlight ever since I was 16. It's something that I chose. Shoaib and I understand why our son would get attention. He's got fan clubs, which is kind of scary because he is so young. As parents, our job is to normalise life for him as much as possible.
Has Dubai provided you with that kind of a neutral space to raise a child without too much of camera glare?
SM: It is definitely more relaxed here. But given the number of people from the subcontinent who live here, it's not easy for us to simply head out to, say, Dubai Mall. Also, we don't get to spend a lot of time here because both Shoaib and I have professional commitments in our respective countries as well.
Anam, when an older sibling is an achiever - whether a brighter student or a sports star like Sania - the younger child is often burdened with expectations of achieving certain milestones. Did that happen to you?
AM: The thing is that she and I have never let others define what we should be doing with our lives. What has always mattered to us is what those who are close to us have to say. Our immediate circle never had those expectations. In their own way, they made both of us feel very secure.
Sania, you have often spoken about the kind of love that's showered on you whenever you visit Pakistan. Is it overwhelming?
SM: It definitely feels good. I visit my mother-in-law, who still lives there. When Shoaib comes to India, he receives the same love and affection, with people calling him Shoaib bhai, irrespective of whether they are older or younger than him. In any case, we Indians are known for giving our damaads (son-in-laws) a lot of respect. Even when I meet Pakistanis in Dubai, I get a lot of love.
How does motherhood change the way one looks at the world?
SM: Everything becomes secondary (laughs). For instance, I am speaking to you, but the moment my son cries, I run towards him. There is no other choice, no other option. It's the most selfless kind of love I have experienced in my life. You will be surprised to know that I wasn't exactly the most maternal person and was actually worried about myself when I was going to have a child. But it came naturally to me even before he was born.
AM: When she was playing tennis, she would put herself first. Now, even when she has to practice, she does that when he is not awake, even if it means she has to get up four hours early. That is amazing.
Anam, there has also been a lot of talk about your impending wedding to Mohammed Azharuddin's son Asad.
AM: Since Sania has been in the media spotlight, a shadow of it has also come to me (laughs). Yes, we are getting married in December and currently, figuring out a bunch of things. I am quite excited about it.
When it comes to a woman's success, do you think beauty, at times, eclipses achievement?
SM: A lot of times, people notice the way a woman looks rather than acknowledge her talent. When a man does something, it's an achievement. When a woman does it, they will also talk about her beauty and style, among other things. To give you a small example, every time Anam has to do a set-up for her fashion exhibitions, she takes my father along with her simply because the men are more likely to listen to him.
Sania, women's bodies, especially when they are celebrities, are often up for scrutiny post-childbirth. How was your journey through this phase?
SM: There is a lot of body shaming now due to social media. You scroll down the comments section of your page, and you will inadvertently find some negative remarks. While I wasn't particularly subjected to body-shaming, I do not understand how people expect someone to produce a child without putting on weight. That kind of perfection is unrealistic. I put on 23 kilos and wasn't ashamed of it; I was giving birth to a human being, after all. I ate what I wanted, it was the best phase of my life. The day I felt I had to shed extra kilos, I did.
How do you deal with the expectation of a return to the tennis court?
SM: I don't want to play tennis because some people want me to do so. I am looking forward to being in a court. It will be amazing if I am able to make that comeback, to have my son by my side this time.