When one fine day, Khyati Mody, then a regular college student decided to bunk college and go out for some leisurely go-karting, something changed. A fire was rekindled. A lost love for racing, cars and Formula 1 suddenly overwhelmed her, so much so that she decided to come back to participate in the local go-karting race being held there the very next day. Things were never same for India’s female elite rally racer who took home the runner-up trophy that day, and from then on, it was Get Set Go for her.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Khyati still remembers her very first toy as a child. “It was a blue coloured open-air car,” she reminisces fondly. Coming from a traditional business family, even dreaming of becoming a rally racer was too over-ambitious until she could no longer hold her dreams in. Khyati started competing in local matches and slowly paved her way to nationals. Today, the 31-year-old competes nationally and internationally, faring well at top races such as the MRF Rally De Goa, Rally of Jaipur, Maruti’s Women Rally, Heat Stroke organized by Dune Adventures, the MRF National Karting Championships in 2007, the JK Tyre National Racing Championship in 2009, London NKA Championship, and the 16th Raid de Himalaya, Autocross, the Royal Rajasthan Rally and also being the only girl finishing the 50,000 km mark in the Tata testing event.
However, being a female athlete in India comes with its own set of challenges. Family and societal pressures, gender stereotypes, sex-based discrimination, unequal opportunities for women are all part and parcel of it, especially in a sport like racing that is still at its nascent stage in India and is largely a male-dominated sport. However the game has been seeing a remarkable increase in women drivers, Khyati Mody being one of the contingent who too had to fight many battles of sexism to get to this stage. “It was tough being one of the few girls amongst so many men. They would never take us seriously and perceive us as clueless damsels. They would like for us to be around but wouldn’t want us to be faster than them. However, the illusion faded once we started performing,” Khyati states.
Another big challenge for Khyati Mody was convincing her parents to let her race. “Sports was always treated as a leisure or a Sunday hobby. I had to change that perception. Moreover, they were also concerned about my safety. So initially, I would bunk college and just go for races without informing and stock the trophies in my cabinet. Then once I needed to travel for my nationals and had to tell them. I nervously sat down with them and confessed about all the local tournaments I had been racing in. They were shocked and proud of me at the same time. They agreed to it and have been supportive ever since then,” Khyati narrates.
Like most sports in India other than cricket, finding funding and sponsorship was an issue. So was getting leaves at a very demanding job that she had in a shipping company in London. However shuffling between the both she managed with the help of her mentors Akbar Ebrahim and Rayomand Banerjee under whose supervision she participated in Rotax where she won the rookie trophy, despite all the other competitors being more experienced than her.
Talking about Rotax, Khayti Mody recounts some of her other favourite memories as a rally racer in India. “Mumbai autocross has always been special for me. I won 5 trophies in 2014 and 6 in 2015. However, my favourite rally is desert storm since I love sand and desert rallies. It is India’s longest and the toughest sand cross-country rally. I also got to be an instructor in Jaguar track events. It is not every day that women instruct men how to drive. Being one of the elite female rally drivers of India is an honour. Every rally that I have done has always taught me something” she states. Khyati Mody now aspires to do INRC soon and participate in other rallies in Dubai.
There happens to be a lot of talent for motor sporting in India, however, it remains untapped due to no government support and invisible sponsors. Only a few cars and tyre companies are keeping the sport alive. The scenario is changing a little because of media coverage of performances by Gaurav Gill and CS Santosh at the international level, however, the future still remains bleak. To give a boost to an unconventional sport like Motor racing we need to start honing talent from a young age. She says, “Schools need to be more active in encouraging sports. It always enhances the vision and brings out the competitiveness of the students. Tracks need to organized, adequate funds for sports infrastructure should be kept aside so students not just inculcate skills, but also get an opportunity to turn their sporting passions into promising careers.”
Feature Image Courtesy: Hot Friday Talks
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