ACROSS THE WALL
Stars in her eyes (Indian Express, 2007)
Just 13 years old, Afsana Mansuri has already jumped over the wall. The wall between her jhuggi and the local basketball court. The wall made by society, for a girl who washes utensils for a living.
The gender wall her mother had put up for her. Today, Afsana herself has become a strong wall of NBA, the Nagpada Basketball Association of Mumbai.
Today, she is the source of strength for five other girls who have come to the basketball court, leaving behind the problems of their everyday lives.
Today, she is the star of a young team. This team has managed to surprise some of Mumbai’s club teams. With a lot of guts and courage, the team has reached the semi-finals of a district-level tournament.
Meeting the team
We read in the newspaper about Afsana and the Nagpada basketball team. We thought of meeting these girls and introducing them to you. We took the train and got off at Mumbai’s Victoria Terminus Station (railway station). From there we walked towards Nagpada. It took us just twenty minutes to reach there.
There we met Afsana and the other girls of the Nagpada Basketball Association. Read the interview with the team members.
Meet this special team!
Meet Afsana, Zarin, Khushnoor and Afreen. At first the girls were
quiet, but once they started, they just did not stop!
Zarin began, “My house is just in front of this ground. My brother used to play here. I would stand in my balcony and watch the boys play. I was in Class VII at that time. Whenever the boys played a match, many people came to watch.
The winning team got a lot of praise. Everyone cheered the players. On
seeing all this, I wished I could also play. Would I too get a chance to show my talent? I asked the coach, but was afraid. He is a good friend of my father.
The coach said, “Why not? If you bring some more girls, you can
make a team. Then I will teach you.”
We asked – Was it easy to make a beginning?
Khushnoor: At first my parents refused. But when I insisted they agreed.
Afsana: My mother works in the flats and sends us to school. I also help her. When I told her about my plans to play basketball, Ammi got angry.
She said, “Girls do not play basketball. Do your work, go to school and study hard. No need to go to the ground to play.” But when my friends and Coach Sir talked to her, Ammi agreed.
Afreen : We were not allowed, because we are girls. My grandmother gets very angry with all of us. But still, we three sisters come here to play. Grandmother scolds us and even scolds our Coach Sir!
She tells us, “You need proper equipment to play. You need to have a lot of milk for strength. Where will the money for all this come from?” But daddy understands our feelings. He even teaches us some special moves used in the game.
My daddy also used to play on this ground when he was young. He did not have proper shoes or clothes. He used to practice with a plastic ball.
Daddy tells us that Bacchu Khan was the coach when he used to play. He saw my daddy playing once. He realised that the boy played very well and that he should be trained properly.
He gave proper shoes and clothes to my daddy. My daddy could have become a very good player. But because of his responsibilities at home, he
left the game and took up a job. So he wants us to play and become good players.
We asked – Tell us about your team
One girl: We felt a bit strange in the beginning. We were the first girls’ team here. People used to come and watch us practicing.
They were curious to see how girls would play basketball. Now people are no longer surprised. They have begun to accept that we girls can also play well.
Afsana: I was eleven years old when we first started playing. At that time we were not allowed to go anywhere else to play a match.
It has been two years since then. Now we go to other places also for matches. But all this could happen only because of our hard work and Sir’s coaching.
Another girl : Yes, we really work hard. Sir is also very strict. We first jog together and then do our exercises. Sir teaches us how to play the game well. We practice how to keep the ball with us, to dodge the players of the other team, how to throw the ball in the basket, to score a goal, to pass the ball well, and to run fast on court.
Afreen: Sir says, “While playing, don’t think you are girls. Play like a player. Keep playing even if you get a little injured.” We support each other and say – Come on, get up, you will be fine!” Now our game has improved a lot. Everyone says that we play as well as the boys’ team.
One girl: We also play with boys’ teams. We want them to play with us as equals. They should not be lenient because we are girls. Sometimes we get angry when the boys imitate us. But we take it as a challenge and correct our mistakes. If the boys try to cheat, we scold them!
We said – Tell us more about your team.
One girl : Our team is very special. Our team is united. Even if we quarrel, we quickly make up and forget about it. Here we have learnt how to stay and play together. Some of the girls from our team got a chance to play as part of the Mumbai team. The match was at Sholapur.
Zarin : When we went to Sholapur we found that the team had girls from different parts of the state. They did not talk to us nicely and treated us like juniors. They would not even give us a chance to play properly. We felt very bad. There was no cooperation at all in that team.
During the match I threw the ball to one of the team members. But she could not catch it. In turn, she started scolding me, blaming me for the mistake. In all this misunderstanding we lost the match.
But this never happens in our own team. If we do miss a basket
because of someone’s mistake, we do not get angry. We say, “Never
mind, next time we will do better!” It is most important to support each other, because we are all part of a team.
Afreen: After playing in Sholapur we realized what was special about our team. Cooperation between us is our strength. We understand and support each otherwell.
Even if every player is excellent, the team can lose a match if all do not play together as a team. To play as a team it is important to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
We said – You have done so much. What next?
Afsana: We have been playing well. So we have got a chance to go to many places. We have played for our city and our state. We hope to work hard and play for our country some day.
Yes, then we will also be popular like the cricketers! We all want to play well. We should bring glory to our area and our country. We want to show that the Indian girls team can win a gold medal! We will make this happen.
We asked – Did you face some other difficulties?
Khushnoor: To tell the truth, we have not got all this very easily. As girls, even to be able to start playing was difficult.
We had to convince our families. Sometimes we even had to fight. Even today not many girls can play like this. Forget games, earlier some people did not even allow girls to study.
My mother wanted to do many things, but she never got a chance. So my mother encourages me to take part in all activities – like games, swimming and drama.
Afsana: Even now, we are supposed to go home as soon as we finish playing. The boys go here and there, and can chitchat till late. No one says anything. After coming from school, I help my mother with the cleaning work in two or three houses, do my studies and then come here to play. I also help at home. If my brother wants tea and he makes it for himself, then mother says, “He has three sisters. Yet, he has to work.”
One girl : Now, just look at Zarin’s younger brother. He is only five years old but he says, “Mummy, why do you send didi to play? She does not look nice playing like that on the ground.” Ask him if he will play and he says, “I am a boy, of course I will play!”
Afsana: But it is good for everyone to play. We have now realised, how much we benefit from playing. I want to be such a good player that other girls and boys would wish to be like me.
Afreen: I just want to say that if you have some dreams for yourself, give your best to fulfil them.
Khushnoor: If you have a wish or a dream, have courage to speak about it. If you don’t do this now, you may regret later.
We said – The newspaper wrote about all of you. Now students
will read about you in this book. How do you feel?
Afreen: We are so happy about it that we have no words to explain our happiness. We now feel we must play even better, to make our area and our country famous.
All Girls : Yes, this is our wish too.
The coach who made this team, Noor Khan told us – “This part of Mumbai is very crowded. This is the only playground in this area. This is our small ‘Bacchu Khan playground.’ A person named Mustafa Khan used to live in our area.
Everyone was afraid of him. But children were very fond of him, so everyone started calling him Bacchu Khan. There was no ground then, it was just muddy land. Bacchu Khan used to train children to play. We were among those children.
It is because of Bacchu Khan’s devotion and training that players from this area are able to compete with the teams of other countries. Like Bacchu Khan, I have trained the children of this area.
Today our team has some who play at the international level. Some have even won the
Arjuna Award.” Noor Khan continued – “In the last few years we have also prepared a girls team here.
Our girls play for the Maharashtra State team. They practice well with good discipline. Our girls and boys come from different types of families.
Some are from poor homes, some from richer. Some study in Urdu medium and some in English. But once they come here, they all make a team.”