Sunday, March 6, 2016
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.”
NO PLACE FOR US?
Jatryabhai was sitting at the door with his daughter Jhimli. They were waiting for Sidya. It was almost night but Sidya had not come home. Two years back Jatrya’s family came to Mumbai from Sinduri village.
Here, they only knew the family of a distant relative. With their help, Jatryabhai began to repair torn fishing nets. But the money he got
was not enough.
They had to pay for the medicines, food, school fees and rent for the house. Here, they even had to buy water. Young Sidya also had to work in the nearby fish factory to earn some money.
From four o’clock till seven o’clock in the morning, he cleaned and sorted the big and small fish. Then he would come home, take a nap, and go to school in the afternoon. In the evening he would wander around the vegetable market.
He would help some memsahib (lady) to carry her bags, or go to the railway station to pick up empty bottles and newspapers to sell to the kabadiwalla (junk seller).
Somehow they were managing their life in the city. It was night, but Sidya had not come home. Jhimli was watching a dance on TV, through the neighbour’s window.
But Jatrya did not like watching TV. Here, everything was so different. The day would pass running around for work, but the evening brought back old memories.
Thinking of old days:
Jatrya was born in Khedi village, in the middle of thick green jungles and hills. His people had been living here for many years even before his grandfather was born.
There was peace in Jatrya’s village, but not silence. There were so many soothing sounds – the gurgle of the flowing river, the murmur of trees and the chirping of birds. People did farming.
They would go to the nearby forest, chatting and singing together, to collect wild fruits, roots and dried wood. While working with elders, children also learnt many things – to dance together, to play flute and dhol, to make pots of clay and bamboo, to recognise birds and imitate their sounds, etc.
People collected things from the forest for their use. Some of those they would sell in the town across the river. With that money they would buy salt, oil and some clothes.
It was a village, but people here lived together like a big family. Jatrya’s sister was married in the same village. People helped each other, in good and bad times. The elders would arrange weddings, and settle quarrels.
Jatrya was now a strong young man. He worked hard in the fields and caught fish from the big river. He and his friends would go to the forest to collect fruits, roots and plants for medicines, and fish from the river, to sell these in the town.
During festival time, Jatrya would dance and play the drum, with boys and girls of his age.
Across the river:
One day the people of Khedi heard that a big dam was to be built on the river. For this, a big wall would be built to stop the flow of the river. Khedi and many nearby villages in that area would be drowned under water. The people would have to leave their villages and their lands, on which their forefathers had lived for centuries.
After a few days, government officials along with the police started visiting these villages. Small children of the village saw the police for the first time. Some children would run after them, and some would get scared and start crying.
The officials measured the width and length of the river, the fields, forests and houses. They called meetings with the elders of the village. They said, “Villages on the bank of the river would have to be removed. People having land at Khedi will be given land far away, on the other side of the river.
They will have everything there – a school, electricity, hospitals, buses, trains, etc. They will have all that they could not even dream of here in Khedi.”
Jatrya’s parents and most elders were not happy about leaving
their village. Listening to all this, Jatrya would get a little scared, but also feel excited. He would think that after getting married, he would take his bride to the new house in the new village.
A house where he could just press a button for the light and turn on the tap for water. He could go by bus to see the city. When he would have children, he could send them to school. They will not be like him, who had never been to school.
A new place:
It was a summer afternoon. Jatrya was feeling faint in the hot sun and wind. His feet were burning on the coal tar of the pucca road. There wasn’t a single tree to offer some shade.
Just a few houses and shops. Jatrya was on his way home after buying
medicines. He had an old tyre on his back. These days, he had to light his stove with just these rubber pieces of old tyres.
These caught fire fast, and also saved some firewood. But the smoke and smell of burning tyres were terrible! In this new Sinduri village, they had to pay money for everything— medicines, food, vegetables, firewood, and fodder for the animals.
They could just not afford to buy kerosene. But from where to get the money for all this? Thinking of all this, Jatrya reached home. The roof made of a tin sheet made the house hot like an oven.
Jatrya’s wife had high fever. His daughter Jhimli was rocking her little brother Sidya to sleep in her lap. After all, there was no other older person with them.
Jatrya’s parents had been so sad about leaving Khedi that they had died before he moved here.
In Sinduri there were only eight-ten families he could call his own, those from his old village. The whole village had got scattered and people had gone wherever they had been given land.
This was not like the new village Jatrya had dreamt about. There was electricity, but only for sometime in a day. And then, the electricity bill had also to be paid. There were taps, but no water!
In this village, Jatrya got just one room in a tin shed. It had no place to keep the animals. He also got a small piece of land. But that was not good for farming. It was full of rocks and stones.
Still Jatrya and his family worked very hard. But they could not grow much on the field, and could not make enough money even to buy seeds and fertilisers. In Khedi, people did not fall sick often.
If someone fell ill there were many people who knew how to treat them with medicines made from plants. People felt better after taking those medicines. Here in Sinduri, there was a hospital but it was difficult to find doctors, and there were no medicines.
There was a school here, but the teacher did not care much about the children from Khedi village. These children found it difficult to study in a new language.
The people of Sinduri did not welcome the newcomers from Khedi. They found their language and way of living strange. They made fun of the Khedi people by calling them ‘unwanted guests’. Not much of what he had dreamt had come true!
Some years later:
Jatrya stayed for a few years in Sinduri. The children were also getting older. But Jatrya’s heart was not here in Sinduri. He still missed his old Khedi.
But there was no Khedi now. There was a big dam and a big lake of collected water in and around Khedi. Jatrya thought, “If we are to be called ‘unwanted guests’, then at least let us go to some place where our dreams can come true.”
Jatrya sold his land and his animals and came to Mumbai. Here, he started a new life with his family. His only dream was to send his children to school, to give them a better future, a better life.
Here too, things were not easy. But he hoped that things would get
better. Jatrya started saving money to repair his one-room shack. His
relatives would tell him, “Don’t waste money on this. Who knows, we may have to move from here too. In Mumbai there is no place to stay for
outsiders like us.”
Jatrya was scared and worried. He thought, “We left Khedi for Sinduri, we then left Sinduri for Mumbai. If we have to move from here too, then where can we go? In this big city, is there not even a small place for my family to stay?”