Just over 2,200 people reside within the village of Ballo Ke in the Barnala district of Punjab. The 27 km distance between the village and its closest city has for long led to a laid-back lifestyle among the residents. Satnam Singh Bhamara too exhibited that casual mindset when he first ventured to the United States in pursuit of the National Basketball Association (NBA) dream, but soon had to shed the stoic nature in favour of a pro-active approach.
And now that the 19-year-old, the first Indian in an NBA draft, is just a day away from the draft itself, an unprecedented degree of enthusiasm has gripped Ballo Ke. “Sab jashn ke liye taiyaar hai,”says Satnam’s father Balbir Singh.
The elected village head has steadily noticed an increase in interest over his son’s exploits. The few homes with televisions have found the occupants viewing news channels more often, gladly forgoing the usual movie or soap operas. “They only watch news channels for the sports update programs. They’re all looking for any small piece of information about Satnam,” he says. Newspapers too have found an increase in circulation within the village. “The uneducated people keep pestering the ones who can read to check the newspaper and look for anything on Satnam. The whole village knows that June 25 is when Satnam will know if he is selected or not,” he adds.
Not many know what exactly a draft is beyond it being just a date where they get to know Satnam’s fate. The morale in the village points to the famous Punjabi optimism. The Bhamara family however, has sought divine intervention.
“Of late the entire family has been going to the Gurudwara everyday,” says Balbir.
Living his own dream
Prayers aren’t kept within holy shrines though. Balbir has found himself praying more often than he used to. In Satnam’s success, Balbir sees dreams he himself was never allowed to live out. Just as Satnam, Balbir stands at 7’2″ and was advised to take up the sport as a teenager. Balbir’s father would not hear of it, and confined him to the farming chores he would later inherit.
The same would not happen for Satnam though. At nine, he was already taller than most adults in the village. The youngster was expected to learn wheat-farming and flour-grinding trade his father practices, but Balbir gave his son an opportunity in sports. “He was strong, muscular and tall. I told him, ‘tu khel pe dhyaan de, khet pe nahi,'” recalls Balbir.
Consequently, Satnam left for Ludhiana and Balbir was left alone with no help to tend to the crops. Yet that would not be his only sacrifice toward his son’s future.
When Satnam moved to the Ludhiana Basketball Academy, a bout of homesickness, and a fear of bullying by seniors kept the cager rattled. The only remedy Balbir could think of was to take the five hour return-journey to Ludhiana once a week. He’d cycle six km to nearby village Raiya, where he would catch a bus to the academy 100 km away. “It gave him some peace of mind to know that his father was there to meet him,” he says. “A few senior players saw my height and got scared. So they kept away from Satnam later,” he adds, lightly.
The weekly visits were also meant to clear bills accumulated from nearby juice stalls. Balbir had told his son to get food and juice – carrot and sweetlime, outside if what was available at the hostel wasn’t sufficient. Balbir would then clear the bills when he visited.
By the time Satnam got used to living away from home, he secured a scholarship to the IMG Academy in Florida. It’s been five years since the teenager moved abroad, steadily adapting to the western culture. Balbir lightly complains that his eldest son is always talking to his siblings in English. And then there is the reversal in his clothing patterns. “When he was here, he’d wear kurta-pajamas as casuals and trousers and shirt as formals. Now he wears trousers and shirts as casuals and dressy kurta-pajamas on special days,” he mentions.
What may be the youngster’s most ‘special day’ happens to be this Thursday in the form of the NBA Draft. The villagers of Ballo Ke have done their research to determine if the New York-based event will be televised. During the cricket World Cup earlier in the year, neighbours visited friends with televisions within the village to watch matches together. The same plan is underway with people trying to figure where they will watch the draft, hoping to see the person they fondly called ‘Chhotu’ become a bigger man.
Draft highlights: 7 pm and 11 pm IST on June 26 on Sony Six and Sony Six HD, and at 5 pm on Sony Six HD on June 27.