A 40-year-old woman standing on a prosthetic leg and selling flowers in a tiny neighbourhood of the Rajasthan capital hardly betrays any hint that she is a national champion in shot put and javelin.
A peek at 40-year-old Deepali Singh’s small house at Jhalana Doongri shanty town reveals the truth: more than 100 medals and trophies stacked inside a tin trunk and gathering dust. All these were won for Rajasthan and for a touching reason — that each trophy fetched a small sum of prize-money to keep Singh and her tea-seller husband’s home fires burning.
“I don’t like begging … asking for favours from anyone is the most demeaning thing. That is the only reason why at this age, I still workout every morning in the hope that I will win another medal and a little prize-money,” says the para-athlete, who lost her left leg at age 11 in a horrific accident in West Bengal, her native place.
The young girl was brought to Rajasthan for the famous Jaipur foot, a low-cost artificial limb. “Soon after, I was married off … my husband used to serve tea to patients at Sawai Man Singh hospital,” she blushes and quickly adds, “But we started living together only when I turned 18.”
Her introduction to sports happened purely by chance in 2003 when she and husband Shiv Pal Singh, who is also disabled, used to sell tea near Sawai Man Singh stadium. “A sports meet was being organised for the disabled people in the stadium and coach sa’ab asked me to give a shot. I won the shot put event that day and thus began my career,” she recalls.
Deepali, with an amputated leg, is now a veteran of 12 years in para sports.
She has won medals and trophies in various sports events for the disabled. Some of these trophies are in her tiny room while many more have been gifted away as keepsakes. “Often, my relatives’ kids take my medals and trophies to their homes. I don’t mind as long as these metal objects bring happiness to a child.”
The tournaments help the poor couple augment their income a bit, because cash awards to disabled athletes are much less than what is being paid to their “regular” counterparts. “At the recent Bangalore para-athletics, I won Rs 5,000. Usually, the cash award ranges from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000. Regular athletes get lakhs of money from their state governments and are honoured at functions. Is our honour less important?” she wonders.
This is what forces the champion to sell flowers at Malviya Nagar despite being a mentor now to many budding athletes.
Deepali’s dream is to get a government job. She has applied several times in the past through the sports quota but her education — she has studied till class 5 — probably came in the way. Hence, she is desperate to clear the class 10 boards next year and yet unsure if she “will be a good student after all these years”.