His hard-work and dedication aside, Pankaj Advani's [ Images ] mother, Kajal, thinks it is a "supernatural hand" that has taken the champion cueist to such dizzy heights at such a young age.
"He has had a phenomenal run. Winning the world snooker and billiards titles, including a doubles in billiards, winning the Arjuna (award) in 2004 and now the Khel Ratna; that's why I believe there is some other hand behind him," his mother told rediff.com from her residence in Bangalore.
Pankaj, 21, currently part of the Indian contingent at the World snooker team championships, in San Jose, USA, broke Geet Sethi's record, becoming the youngest national snooker champion in 2003, when he was 17. He followed it up by winning the World Snooker Championship in China. Last year, he made history by becoming the first player to win both the world Time and Points format billiards titles.
Studded with his achievements, it has been an incredible journey for the Advani household as well. The death of Pankaj's father in 1990 brought the family back to Bangalore from Kuwait, and it was at the KSBA (Karnataka [ Images ] State Billiards Association) where Pankaj's affair with the green baize began.
"He was too short to play the game then, but once he touched the cue he was hooked for life," remembers his mother.
"It was basically because of my elder son [Shree] that he started going to the parlour. Pankaj used to go and watch and that's how he took to the sport.
"Being a lone parent was difficult, but he never gave me any trouble. We had an understanding where he could play as much as he wanted but had to keep up with the studies also. He would finish his school work and go to the club for two-three hours. During the vacations he used to be there from around 11 to 9 in the night, have his lunch everything there.
"The game kept him on the right track and I guess the only thing that suffered was his social life."
Pankaj's talent was spotted very early on by coach Arvind Savur. His mother thinks Savur's influence has been the most crucial.
"Savur has been a father-figure to Pankaj. He has not taken a single penny to coach Pankaj.
"Everyone around has been really supportive. Right from the KSBA to his college, which held special classes for him and allowed him to attend just one month."
Despite the financial strain on her, Kajal made sure that Pankaj pursued the sport and didn't push him to academics.
"If I had forced him he would've got 90 per cent, but then his game would've suffered. And still he wasn't a bad student. He even passed his B Com (Bachelor of Commerce) exam with 75 per cent, which is very good."