Kolkata's Karate Girl Inspires US Documentary Makers

Kolkata: Her father, a driver, died when she was 13. She has epilepsy but wanted to learn karate. She did and won medals in India and abroad. The US-based Independent Television Service or ITVS, that has won Emmys in the past, is working on a documentary on women who inspire which will now feature the story of Kolkata's 19-year-old Ayesha Noor.

Also, Ms Noor is Muslim and has inspired dozens of others to break taboos and join her karate classes every Sunday at a Kolkata park. Many come wearing the hijab and even the burqa.

"Ayesha is such an inspiration. Even I want to learn karate," says Saleha Tabassum, mother of one of Ayesha's students. Tabassum wears a hijab. "Why should the hijab get in the way?" she asks.

Ms Noor is very happy about the taboos being challenged and the documentary. "I am also feeling a little proud," she smiles.

"It has been a struggle. My father died, my mother sews for a living. Food at home is short. But my parents always told me to work hard and I did. Thanks to my coach, MA Ali. Without him nothing would have been possible."

Mr Ali won gold at a major tournament in 1988. He coached Ayesha's brother who brought her to class one day, because she insisted.

"She had a shine in her eyes," recalls Mr Ali, "Also, she was from a slum and suffering from epilepsy. I decided to train her." He trained her for free, raised funds for her medicines and foreign trips. The documentary is just honour, he says. ITVS is filming stories of four women, from Jordan, Kenya, Peru and Bangladesh, and Ms Noor's.

News of the documentary prompted a call to Ms Noor from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's office. The minority affairs office wants to help. But she doesn't want charity.

For a salary, however, Ms Noor has offered to teach karate to the state's women police. "Even they need to know how to protect themselves," she smiles.