There is hot tea brewing in a large vessel at a tea stall opposite the IITM Research Park, just off OMR. Glass jars filled with a variety of sweetmeats, are lined up in the front, and Sumithra is busy selling them among the curious crowd gathered around the shop. Their eyes are on the three girls practising karate nearby, throwing punches and kicks in the air. And coaching them and shouting out instructions is Sumithra’s husband C. Rajendran.
A karate Sensei — black belt (fifth Dan), Rajendran daylights as a tea stall owner, in order to continue his family business. His father, who had a tea stall in Santhome (and has since moved his business to Karaikudi) was interested in martial arts and enrolled his son in karate when he was eight years old. 'I learnt karate from some masters who were from Dubai. When I finished my studies, I moved to Saudi Arabia to teach karate in the International Indian School, Riyadh. I taught there for five years (1992-1997) and then came back home,' says Rajendran. Rajendran can speak Arabic, English and Tamil.
Once here, he began taking classes in Mylapore, where he met Sumithra. 'I lived in Mylapore at that time and when Rajendran saw me at a temple, he just came up and asked me to marry him. We were married a month later,' she smiles. The tea stall, which they started together a couple of years ago, is a shared responsibility in the family.
Over the last five years, Rajendran has been grooming his daughters Abinaya, Nivethika and Lathika in the art. While the youngest is a brown belt, the other two are black belts (first Dan). Rajendran hopes that if karate is recognised as an Olympic sport, one of his daughters would participate in it. 'Karate is very good for the health, helps improve concentration and gives one confidence,' says Rajendran. 'My eldest daughter is a bronze medallist in the State games, and has won gold medals in private games at Asian and international levels.'
He is currently preparing them to participate in the Tamil Nadu selections next month and the National Karate Championship in Delhi this May/June. His daughters bring out four bags of medals and trophies they have won in karate so far. Sumithra is happy that karate has given them the confidence they need. 'People would always come and ask how I manage with three daughters. But what is wrong with having daughters? I took this as a challenge and have raised them to be strong and confident individuals.' Has she learned from her husband too? 'I know how to handle myself if I am attacked. After all, I’m a karate master’s wife,' she laughs.