Now and then Delhi

Meet Prashanti Singh, the only basketball player to be awarded the Padma Shri

New Delhi: President Ram Nath Kovind confers Padma Shri upon Basketball player Prashanti Singh during 'Padma Awards 2019', in New Delhi, Saturday, March 16, 2019. (PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan) (PTI3_16_2019_000028B)   | Photo Credit: PTI

Prashanti Singh’s parents have watched her play basketball only once, very early in her career. Her father, a bank employee, found it too much like combat sport, and simply couldn’t watch his daughter go through the ‘torture’. Her mother, on the other hand, enjoyed the experience, but insisted on cheering for the opposing team too. “I asked her what she was doing, and she said, well, ‘They’re working equally hard’,” says Prashanti. It’s where this national-level basketball player says she got the spirit of sportsmanship: “It taught me always to respect the other team.”

It’s probably one of the reasons she is India’s only basketball player to get a Padma Shri. The other could be her determination. “Coming from Varanasi [in 2002] and trying to make a career in the sport — it gave me the foundation and confidence to stick to the game,” she says.

After school, the now 35-year-old had offers to study at St. Stephen’s College, Jesus and Mary and Banaras Hindu University, but she picked sport, going on to become the captain of the Indian women’s team. She chose the Open School system of Delhi University instead. “I was good at studies. People used to say that I had the potential to make it to the civil services. They saw leadership qualities in me,” she recalls.

Meet Prashanti Singh, the only basketball player to be awarded the Padma Shri
 

After all, she was 11 when she began, and she was determined to make it, the middle sister amongst five basketball players who would later be known as “The Singh Sisters”. “In Varanasi, where most girls are told to be home before sunset, we were allowed to pursue our love for sports,” she says, thankful for parental support.

In the moment

“I joined MTNL [Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited] when I was 17,” says Prashanti. Today, she lives in a flat on Janpath, simple two-bedroom accommodation from MTNL. “I have an executive post, and am eligible for better accommodation, but I am happy to stay here, as a lot of good things have happened to me, and it’s so convenient,” she says, especially since all her friends live around. A bunch of sportspeople, who are from different disciplines, gather together often in the evening, hopping into a car, hanging out in Connaught Place. They’ll do dinner, rotating each one’s favourite cuisine.

Even today, what keeps her happiest is when she’s doing what she was trained for: “I am happy lifting weights in the gym. On many days we play at the Indira Gandhi stadium with coaches and friends in the evening, just to chill,” she says. “Once a player, always a player.”

On the road

She’s one of the few who enjoy driving on Delhi roads. “My sisters and I share three cars in the house,” she says, referring to Divya and Akanksha, who with third sister Pratima, all played for India and Delhi. “But I prefer to drive the [Hyundai] i10 because it is easier to manoeuvre in Delhi’s traffic. I have been to most cities [in India], and Delhi has better roads than all the other metros. We can actually drive here. I drive a lot in NCR for basketball,” she says, referring to her current role as a talent scout for the government’s Khelo India programme. She’s never had a bad experience on the road or felt a sense of personal insecurity.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Prashanti Singh of India runs with the ball during the womens basketball match between India and Mozambique at the Multi Purpose Stadium on day seven of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games March 22, 2006 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Prashanti Singh of India runs with the ball during the womens basketball match between India and Mozambique at the Multi Purpose Stadium on day seven of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games March 22, 2006 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

 

In fact, Prashanti says she’s never felt unsafe while training either. “I can’t speak for individual sports, but with a team sport, we are a group of girls, so nothing untoward is likely to happen,” she says.

It was Harish Sharma, the late secretary general of the Basketball Federation of India, who ensured that a bunch of sporting girls got jobs. This strengthened the Delhi team over the years.

“Harish was a visionary and a kind soul. The best thing about him was that he was not a man of shallow ego, a rarity among top-seat holders. He reached out to the players, coaches and others for the betterment of sport. I wish he could see his players being recognised with top sporting and civilian awards,” she says of the mentor of Indian basketball.

In the early 2000s, the Railways had all the national players, and a pool of 200. “We used to be two or three good players. We used to plead with the college girls to train with us and prepare for the national championship,” she remembers.

In 2003, Delhi won the national championship, wresting the title from the all-powerful Railways in Hyderabad. It was a real victory. Despite being a top-notch scorer and a player who turned matches, Prashanti had to play the full 40 minutes in almost every match. “We did not have quality players to substitute during matches.”

Future perfect

The NBA from the U.S. has been in India for more than a decade, and Prashanti stresses on the importance of capitalising on it to take Indian basketball forward.

“We need a professional league to help the game grow. Women players need more jobs. There is not enough competition, apart from about 20 days for the national championship and the Federation Cup. Basketball players work hard all through the year and hardly get a chance to compete,” she says.

“This journey has not been that easy,” she says, recalling how accolades are hard-won. In order for things to change though, she feels we must re-examine mindsets if we are to build a sports culture over a long-term period. “Some of our achievements went unrecognised. We missed a lot of celebrations, because people understand only medals. Basketball is played by 215 countries, and the standards are very high,” she says of her counterparts abroad who have better infrastructure, competitions, and investment.

New Delhi, 18/07/2019. Sports Series for Monday Pages - Basket Ball Player Prashanti Singh with her family Members. Photo Special Arrangement

New Delhi, 18/07/2019. Sports Series for Monday Pages - Basket Ball Player Prashanti Singh with her family Members. Photo Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

As for her own future, she sees herself enjoying her life and unfolding without micro-planning -- not even marriage. “It is our national passion, even more than Bollywood and cricket,” she says, not mincing words. “It’ll happen when it has to.”


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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 6:08:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/meet-prashanti-singh-the-only-basketball-player-to-be-awarded-the-padma-shri/article28630157.ece

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