Nakul Shivani/ New Delhi
“Parents should allow their children to play sports. Let them be out of the comfort of their homes to excel in their passion,” says 16-year-old Ayeera Chisti who along with her twin sister Ansa has soared beyond the unthinkable to become role models for young girls in Jammu and Kashmir.
Ayeera and Ansa, daughters of an engineer father and a professor mother boast of a cabinet full of medals from various meets in Wushu, the martial art sport that has become somewhat of a revolution in the Union Terrritory.
They won their first national level medal in 2018 in Jammu. They haven’t stopped since then. Today they have stood on the podium 15 times in different national and international competitions.
The sisters broke into the headlines after they returned from Georgia with a gold and silver medal from an International Wushu Championship in August. Infact, the two of them were so good there that they demolished their rivals to set up the title match among themselves.
“Now we are dreaming big. A medal in Asian Games, World Championship is realistic. That’s what we want,” says Ansa who fights in the 52 kg category.
The twins won their first international medal in Georgia recently
Their journey started six years ago when they spent their afternoons after school watching martial art movies on TV.
“We enjoyed them. In any case we loved kicking and punching each other. Watching these physically enduring actions in movies excited us,” she says.
It was also the year when PV Sindhu had won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics. Sports was catching the imagination of the youth of the country. The twins were no different.
“They were interested in sports. I let them do what they wanted,” says Raees Chisti their father, who has a major role to play in their successful journey.
Ignoring the taunts of close relatives and friends, Raees was determined to let his children be happy and enjoy what they wanted to do.
He took them to a stadium to learn badminton. Instead they persuaded their father to enroll them in martial art classes.
“We didn’t know what Wushu was. Watching girls and boys punching and kicking excited us,” says Ansa.
“We googled and researched on the sport. Our father took us to the Sher-i-Kashmir indoor stadium and put us under the wings of Asif sir,” adds Ayeera
31-year-old Asif Hussain, himself a national level Wushu player initially was skeptical about them. He made them go through the paces as complete novices.
But their dedication and discipline drew him towards them. “They were extremely disciplined, very hard working. Always the first to report for practice. How could I ignore them,” says Asif.Ansa going through her drills with coach Asif
Such was their passion that even during the phase of lockdown due to the Covid pandemic, the two sisters did not stop training.
“They are so dedicated that even during that time they woke up at 4:30 am and came for practice. Once they struggled with stray dogs. So, I decided to pick them on my bike. Even before I would reach their home, they were ready to start their practice,” says Asif with a little disbelief in his voice.
That’s how it’s been for these twins for the last six years. Early morning training before school, then school, back home, run for practice, study in the night and early to bed to wake up fresh for the next day’s routine.
“I have let them fly freely,” says Raees.
Asif cannot stop praising Raees and his wife. “First school is home; first teacher is parents. The two girls are here because of the huge role their parents have played in their lives.”
But the journey so far has not been easy. Like all parents of young girls, Raees was discouraged from sending his daughters for sports training. “They were very discouraging. They would taunt us, ridicule them,” he says.
“I was told sports is not for girls. They will get injured,” he adds.
Ayeera and Ansa with their coach Asif
Wushu is a physically enduring sport. It requires strong shoulder muscles, leg strength and stamina. The girls do weight training, run for close to 10 kilometers on weekends and are bearing kicks and punches on their bodies.
But Raees was determined to prove everyone wrong. “Darr kea age jeet hotee hai”.
Once Asif, their coach saw the eagerness and determination to excel in both the girls and their parents, he knew he had a task in hand. He could not let them down.
“I unlocked their skills,” he says.
“One thing followed the other,”adds Asif. The twins started winning medals in local and national level championships. Sports Authority of India spotted them and invited them for training camps.
But the way they were writing success stories, also brought its own share of problems.
“People started getting jealous. Many times, they were not selected despite being the best in the valley,” says Asif. In fact, in 2021 junior nationals, they played for Ladakh as they could not reach the trials on time from Bhopal where they were attending a SAI camp.
“Saare obstacles pheekay pad gaye. They are not made to give up,” adds Asif.
Ayeera and Ansa are multi-talented. Apart from the excelling in Wushu, they are good in academics too. And they can dance and paint well too. Ayeera was recently appointed head girl of her school.
The two girls have set a benchmark for their peers in their school and the Union Territory. “The other day one of my classmates queried about how she could also learn this,” says Ayeera with pride in her voice.
Ayeera Chisti in action
In the conservative society, one that has seen such turmoil, Ayeera and Ansa stand as a beacon of hope and inspiration for girls their age in the Kashmir valley. The twins are great examples on how far girls if they have the desire can go.
“All parents should be as supportive as our parents. We are lucky. I wish all girls here can be as lucky,” says Ansa before running off with Ayeera to go through the drills with their coach, Asif.
It is time for Kick-Punch-Throw for now.