Two girls slam-dunking their way through life

They like Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan. They like dancing and taking selfies. They seem like your average young women, but they’re not. Average, we mean.

  • Published 1.04.17

They like Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan. They like dancing and taking selfies. They seem like your average young women, but they’re not. Average, we mean.

Meet Sitamani Tudu and Anjana Daisy Ekka. They’ve dribbled their way past particularly rough childhoods to make a mark on the basketball court, but off court they’re incredibly nonchalant about all the hurdles they have faced. Que sera sera.

At 23, they’re both forwards on the Eastern Railway Girls’ Basketball team, but it’s a sport neither of them grew up playing. They both grew up in (then) Orissa — Sitamani in Binjhua and Anjana near Rourkela. There, they made a mark as particularly fast runners, winning the 100-metre dash in school races and the like. It was their speedy ways and the fact that they were among the tallest in class that they were snapped up by the Sports Hostel in Bhubaneswar in 2007. 

“That’s where we really learnt how to play basketball. And that’s where we met,” smiled Sitamani, whose father has recently retired from the Indian Army. The two used to wake up in the morning to go running for an hour at least.

“I’d feel sleepy but my mother always woke me up and made sure I went. I didn’t know I would play basketball when I was young but my mother was encouraging of anything I wanted to do.” Her sister, Parvati, also went on to be an archer.

Anjana grew up without a father and when she moved from Bhubaneswar to Chhattisgarh in 2009, it was her mother who counselled her through the initial months of settling into this new world. 

Dangal is a world the girls can identify with.

“Things were so different, I just couldn’t adjust, I couldn’t make friends. Then we went to Mumbai for the Under-16 tournament and we qualified for the finals. We also beat Maharashtra in the semi-finals, which was great because we were so nervous about playing against the home team,” recalled Anjana, who scored 22 baskets in the quarter-finals against Karnataka. “That’s when the others realised I could play and things became a lot better,” she grinned.

Anjana emerged a winner after that tournament, even though the Chhattisgarh team lost to Kerala in the finals. Kerala remains a nemesis, beating them in the finals of every other tournament.

Anjana and Sitamani have both participated in FIBA (International Basketball Federation) tournaments. Anjana in the 2012 FIBA Asia Under-18 Championship for Women in Malaysia and Sitamani in the 2015 FIBA Asia Women’s Championship in China. They both agree that the experience was singular. “The international players do things differently. They eat differently, train differently. We train for a tournament maybe a month in advance, they train the whole year,” they explained. 

“Defence is the hardest thing about the game. It’s easy to score but it’s much harder to stop the other person from scoring,” said Sitamani (right) after a spot of dribbling on the basketball courts of the West Bengal Basketball Association.

Unsure of the kind of meals available to them in an unknown land, the team carried much of their own food. 

These days they’re putting up at the sports hostel by the Eastern Railway in Behala and working part-time at the Eastern Railway Office in Howrah, Sitamani as a clerk and Anjana as a helper. Their day begins early and they put in a couple of hours’ practice before work. 

They return to the gym and more basketball practice on the Behala grounds in the evening. They go back to their hometown for a while after every tournament. Their photographs adorn the school walls — they are local heroes there.

Aparna Ghosh

Sitamani and Anjana don’t question this life that has been thrust upon them, a life they hadn’t consciously prepared for.

They are thankful for it. They are mostly happy-go-lucky and incredibly grounded, almost unaware of how difficult their journey has been. “They grew up with so little to eat, which is why they’re still so thin,” said their coach Aparna Ghosh, who represented India for 16 years in basketball.

The girls looked surprised and then they shrugged. “Now I eat eight bananas at least,” laughed Sitamani. Gulp! What else comprises a professional basketballer’s diet? “Boiled eggs, fruits, dalia, dal-sabzi, curd, some chicken and fish.” What about dessert? “Not every day. Sometimes a sandesh,” the girls revealed.

They like watching movies and their recent favourite is, of course, Dangal. “It’s more convenient to play with short hair, you know. I used to have a boy-cut a few years ago,” said Anjana. 

“I promised my parents I won’t cut my hair, but long hair gets so dirty and needs so much more care,” said Sitamani, swinging her long tresses. Anjana laughed at her and said: “She loves taking selfies.”

“I do. And I like modelling for the camera. And I like watching Hrithik dance,” Sita smiled. 

“I like Aamir (Khan), I like most of his movies,” added Anjana. 

“Are we here to talk about the game or not?” butted in Aparna.

The girls blushed and sat up. Aparna sent them to the court and watched them run. “They’re good girls, you know. And they can run 7km at least at the same pace. How many people can do that?”

Well, certainly not any girl in t2!

Text: Ramona Sen
Pictures: Shuvo Roychaudhury