Bhuvneshwari Kumari- The decorated athlete who set the ball rolling for Squash in India
A glimpse into the life of one of India's most decorated female athletes who has won over 50 accolades in Squash
Between 1977-1992, the Women's National Squash title went to a lone female athlete. This particular sportswoman exemplified consistency, dedication, class and commitment to one sport only. Bhuvneshwari Kumari, a 16 time National Champion and winner of around 41 state titles is a sporting icon in India who often goes unnoticed. Squash has never been at the forefront of attention in India despite several athletes having achieved accolades in multiple events across the world. It might not be an Olympic sport but it is definitely engaging, exciting, and extreme skillfully.
Bhuvneshwari Kumari began playing squash at the age of 16 by a twist of fate. Her father requested her to be part of the women's national championship since the organizers were falling short of a player to have an allocated match-up roster. Given that she was already a tennis player, the request was to fill in at the Nationals for a day and then go back to playing tennis as usual. As fate would have it, Bhuvneshwari Kumari reached the finals of the tournament in a run that included beating the top-seeded Indian women's player as well.
Her luck ran out in the final as she lost but it was the start of something special. The next year she took part in the nationals again and steamrolled her way to the final and won. This was the beginning of her long tryst with winning the National Squash Championship for a total of 16 years.
Amongst many achievments, she has also won the Kenyan Open in 1988 and 1989. Following her feats at the national and international level, Bhuvneshwari Kumari was awarded the Arjuna Award in 1982 and Padma Shri in 2001. It is pertinent to note that an unfortunate knee injury forced her to retire for good in 1992 even though it was a peak period in her career. Despite that, her passion for squash continued in the form of her taking up coaching as a full-time job. As of today, Bhuvneshwari Kumari is a certified squash coach and has been associated with the Squash Federation of Delhi as a secretary.
Back in 2018, Bhuvneshwari Kumari was part of the coaching camp for the squash players at the Asian Games. She has been heavily involved in the team set up, management, coach selection and other administrative aspects along with notable squash coach Cyrus Poncha. Given her experience and credibility in the Indian Squash circuit, there is a lot to look forward to from the former champion in terms of promoting Squash in India.
Despite the sport having being excluded from the Olympics edition after edition, players like Joshna Chinappa, Sourav Ghosahl and Deepika Pallikal have maintained a continuous effort of giving their level best at international tournaments. Grooming such players to take Indian squash to greater heights is a task that experienced professionals like Bhuvneshwari Kumari can do. The efforts of individuals such as her have been seen on and off the court and it is imperative to recognise these in light of immense contributions to the Indian sports fraternity.