Cricketer Anjum Chopra recalls starting the career at her alma mater, St. Stephen’s College

Extension of school days! Well, not quite. It had its tough regimen but also the freedom that was so precious. I went to St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi and spent three of my most memorable years (1995-96 to 1997-98) at this prestigious institution, which was said to be strict and disciplined, an extension of school days that way. But I loved it. It helped me build on my cultural and social roots and made me what I am.

St. Stephen’s had a great cricket background but not for women. For many years, it dominated college cricket and I was aware of its sports history when I took admission on the strength of my basketball talent. I had represented Delhi in Youth National and Junior Nationals in basketball in my last two years at school. In fact, I got through to all colleges I had applied to but St. Stephen’s it was to be.

I was aiming at Economic (Hons) but my professors at St. Stephen’s advised me to study History since I was a sports woman. English or History was the choice and I am so grateful to the professors that they helped me make the right choice. Economics would have demanded greater time in classrooms than history and pursuing a career in sports would have increased the mental and physical stress on me.

I vividly remember the interviews and interactions with the principal (late Dr. Anil Wilson) and the head of the department as part of the initiation process to St. Stephen’s. I took pride in telling the principal that even though I had got through SRCC also but St. Stephen’s was my choice because it was one of the best colleges in Asia.

My first day at college! It feels like yesterday. There was excitement brewing within and also optimism as I boarded the U-Special. The orientation in the auditorium for special guidance was a nice feeling. The assembly hall was to become a part of our growing process at St. Stephen’s with lessons in life from Monday to Thursday. The principal apprised us of the privilege of studying at St. Stephen’s, what to do and what not to do and the importance of arts, culture and sports. Let me also tell you there was no ragging.

I was engulfed by basketball as soon as I joined college and remained busy until October that year. And then the cricket season began. Few in college knew my interest in this great game. In December, I was picked for India ‘A’ against Australia under-25 and a month later I was touring New Zealand with the Indian team. I returned to college in February next year. I can never forget the colours ceremony that followed.

In my first year, I received the college colours for my cricket and ground colours for my basketball. The announcement at the sports dinner was so thrilling for me. Along with a couple of friends, I was picked up by a senior from home. As she drove, another senior in the car raved about some Anjum Chopra, who had excelled at cricket. Imagine her pleasant surprise when she was informed that Anjum Chopra was one of the occupants on the back seat. It was a sit-down dinner with a British tinge to it. Wine glasses (we were served apple juice) and formal speeches. It was a special day in my life.

My college days were spent in a protected environment. There were no DUSU elections for us; we had our own world inside the college. The café with a superb cuisine — scrambled eggs and mince cutlet, submarine sandwich; the Rohtas dhaba that served samosas and nimbu paani. Just two people served us and I always marvelled at how they remembered the orders and the bills. Hari and Mohan were two brothers serving us. They were like family and I still visit the dhaba and the café.

I can share an incident from the second year at college. As the teacher took attendance, she noticed a new voice answering to Roll No 7. “Are you in this class?” she asked. “Yes,” I blurted. “Are you sure you are in this class?” she repeated. “Yes ma’am, I am a sports woman,” I explained. Well, not her fault. It was my first day at the American History class with the session almost over by then.

One more thing please! I just can’t describe the astonished expression on the librarian’s face when I returned my cards at the end of third year. The cards were shining. I had never used them.

The three years at college flew past me. I had learnt so much from some brilliant teachers, like Prof. Dwivedi and Dr. Baker. I had also gained friends like Parul Seth, Pooja Kumar and one of my seniors, Varsha Hoon. We still play the annual college basketball tournament as part of the Alumni team and ensure we don’t miss out on the samosas and the nimbu paani. Every time I go to college the same staff greets us and it feels like college days again.

(As told to Vijay Lokapally)

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