Lucknow: Surendra Gupta, a national-level basketball player once known for his mesmerising trick shots, is now forced to sell vegetables in the congested lanes of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's bastion of Gorakhpur.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it tough times for the 30-year-old Gupta, a resident of Jungle Sikri in Gorakhpur, forcing him to sell vegetables and leaving behind ten years of professional basketball.
Gupta, who has bagged several awards for his feats on the court, including one from CM Adityanath, said that his family of ten began struggling to meet their daily needs as soon as the lockdown to contain COVID-19 was imposed.
“Seeing that the situation was getting out of hand, my father asked me to go and sell vegetables as it would bring in some money for the family,” he said, adding: “I could not begin with the business since we did not have enough money for it. I then decided to sell tea as it was available at home because my father was already selling it,” said Gupta, who has been running the shop for the last one and a half months.
The initial days of the lockdown were difficult, he said, adding that the family had no savings and the impromptu nature of the it further added to their woes.
Gupta said he began playing basketball when he was 12, and was selected to play for the Uttar Pradesh under-17 team in 2013-14. “The first National Championship I played in was from October 7 to October 14, 2014 in Chandigarh. In May 2016, I got the chance to play a second championship and was in the third Junior National Championship in 2017-18 at Bhubaneswar,” he said. Having put in the miles, being forced to sell vegetables has left him feeling disappointed.
“I did not want the lockdown to affect me or my talent. The need for money forced me to do whatever I could. Seeing my family survive without food was very painful for me, but I decided not to succumb to the situation but fight it instead. As long as the government does not help me and I keep selling vegetables, my game will become weaker day by day,” he told NewsClick, tears rolling down his cheeks.
'Took a Loan for the Vegetable Business'
Gupta began his business at the Deoria Bypass by borrowing Rs 6,000 from a close friend. He felt overwhelmed by the affection and help he received from the people of his town after his story was published by a local Hindi daily. After the story went viral, a number of people came forward to help, including Amrish Chandra, the principal of the renowned St. Paul’s School in the city. The latter assured him of a job of his choice.
“I offered the use of our school ground for practice until the institution does not resume work. Once the school resumes business after the pandemic, he can teach basketball to the students and practice as well; we have a basketball court. Surendra can not only practice but also groom a committed and hardworking basketball player like himself," Chandra told NewsClick, adding that the school management also offered him financial assistance.
His father, Rambricha Gupta, said that his son may have won awards but he does not have a job at the moment. The senior Gupta said that the government needs to make arrangements so that a national level player like him is not forced to sell vegetables on the roadside. “Many people do not know that he is a national-level player. He does not want to talk about his game to his customers since he feels embarrassed,” he added.
NewsClick reached out to the Uttar Pradesh Basketball Association (UPBA). One of its members, on the condition of anonymity, said that the association was unaware of Gupta’s situation and had come to know of it through the media. He added that the association will extend its help soon.
In a similar case, Shatrughan Lal, an international power-lifter and a silver medalist at the senior Asian Championships, was forced to sell vada pav in Lucknow to tide over his family expenses.