From mortgaging ornaments to representing India in Olympics, story of fencing player Bhavani Devi
This year India has had one of the most splendid performances in the Olympics. From clinching Gold in Javelin to Bronze in Weightlifting, the laurels Indian players brought to the country have been tremendous. What makes this year even more remarkable is the fact that there have been many sportsmen and women who have qualified and achieved wonders in games that were never opted and reached before.
One such athlete is Chadalavada Anandha Sundhararaman Bhavani Devi, shortly known as Bhavani Devi who is the first Indian fencer to ever qualify for the Olympics after qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
From the streets of Chennai to the world stage, Bhavani has come a long way. She has had her own set of challenges in achieving all the glory. She is now the role model to all women who aspire to enter the sports arena.
In conversation with Life Beyond Numbers, Bhavani walked us through her inspiring journey and what more she is looking forward to in life.
Born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Bhavani is the daughter of Mr. C Sundararamana, a Hindu Priest, and Mrs. Ramani, a homemaker. She has two brothers and a sister, namely Suresh Kumar and Ganesh Ram, who works as an investment advisor and lawyer, respectively, while her sister Renuka is a lawyer. Bhavani says that her family never stopped her from anything for being a ‘girl’.
“My parents were really surprised by my life choices. They were rather happy that I was doing some other activity. They liked my attitude of trying something new and they were always supportive. They never said, ’No, no, you are a girl, you should not go for sports’. It was the same for my siblings. So, when people ask me how I chose it despite being a girl, I never faced it. The thought just never crossed my mind,” says Bhavani Devi to Life Beyond Numbers.
The sabre fencer started early as a child and climbed up her way to the world rankings. She did not study in any fancy school but was fortunate enough to be introduced to the game. Bhavani chose something that she never heard of before, and she was happy about her choice.
“I started fencing at the age of 11. It was also the first sport I picked. I was in 6th class in a government school when they announced that four new sports are being introduced. Six students were to join each sport and when my turn came, it was only fencing that was left and I took it. They never explained what it was and the next day we went to the stadium and I was very excited to see all the protective equipment and swords. It was very attractive and had never played this sport before and I was happy to choose it. But then I was into a lot of other sports such as squash and wasn’t very sure. Then one day I lost a match of fencing and that’s when I decided that I need to focus on it,” shares Bhavani.
But the road was not an easy one. Bhavani came from a humble middle-class household and so had to face a shortage in funds. She had to make many adjustments for choosing something very risky, yet her family went the extra mile to provide for her.
“In the beginning, we were not very strong financially so purchasing equipment was very tough. They were very expensive and we had to keep purchasing new equipment. So, I used to train with bamboo sticks instead so as to keep my real swords intact for the competitions. Also for entry in each category, there was entry fees involved which was difficult for us to pay. But my mother, ‘If you want to play, you play, I will arrange somehow’. There was no support from the government and no sponsors for fencing so my mother used to take loans and mortgage her jewelry. That’s how they used to support me in the beginning 10 years of my career,” the fencer narrates.
“In fact my entire family supported me. My brother used to play cricket but since he is the first child, he had to go for a job to support the family. It wasn’t exactly easy as there was no historical achievement in the sport, no one to look up to, and we didn’t know how to reach the international level. I was not sure whether I am going on the right path or not. All we athletes are spending our whole lives on winning some medal. We can’t go back again if something happens. It is a very risky career especially a sport like fencing. But not a single time, they hindered me. Everyone who has supported me is important to me. Even the ones who called after they saw me winning a competition and gave some money voluntarily,” she added.
But things changed for the good. Bhavani’s hard work and achievements bore fruit, and she started receiving scholarships, funds, and now she is in the care of KIIT University that has become a haven for hundreds and thousands of players like her.
“Then slowly I started to receive scholarships and support from the state government and the KIIT University happened. Before I joined KIIT University, I had heard about Samanta Ji but I didn’t believe that story. Many people told me about what are the world he has been doing for children and sportspersons. I was like it’s not possible. But when I joined KIIT, I realized no, if we are willing to do, anything can be done in the world. That’s how I see Samanta sir. It’s not easy to let someone else’s dream come true. When I met I was like, ‘Why I couldn’t meet you before?’ Because if I met him, I would have won in both Rio and Tokyo Olympics. But better late than never. The support KIIT is giving to sportspersons is unbelievable. The facilities they are giving here are seen nowhere else in India. As an athlete, after the medal, the felicitation we receive gives us the energy to move forward. That is very important which I received here. The moral support,” says Devi.
Bhavani also mentioned the change in the nation’s attitude towards players this year. She specially mentioned PM Narendra Modi for his special attention and interaction with players.
“There’s a big change this time. All the participants and winners are receiving support. We met PM Narendra Modi and he remembers our names and stories and he interacted with all. It is really great to come from our Prime Minister and really important other than the financial support. In fact, all states are bestowing their players. There are many factors that affect the winning and for me, this Olympics was an experience of how I could win the next one. I believe if one gives 100 percent there will be the result,” said the player.
Expressing her inner feelings and the growth that she achieved with the game, Bhavani quoted, ”When I play fencing, I feel more powerful, responsible, and courageous. Fencing made me a better athlete, a better person. It has helped me to understand the real meaning of life. Because if I were not playing fencing. I would rather be a very normal girl. I wouldn’t understand life this much or know other cultures or what it is about having an objective in life or about planning, discipline, determination, and education.”
Previously, Bhavani has bagged several medals starting at the 2009 Common Wealth Championship held in Malaysia, 2010 International Open, Thailand; 2010 Cadet Asian Championship, Philippines; 2012 Common Wealth Championship, Jersey; 2015 Under-23 Asian Championship, Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, and 2015 Flemish Open. In the 2014 Asian Championship in the Philippines under 23 categories, she bagged the Silver medal, becoming the first Indian to achieve the feat. She has received 2 Gold Medals at the 2012 Common Wealth Championship, Jersey, and the 2014 Tuscany Cup, Italy.
She became one of the 15 athletes selected in the ‘Go Sports Foundation’ for the Rahul Dravid Athlete Mentorship Programme in 2015.
This was story was first published on Life Beyond Numbers.