Blog by Vijay da aka Chetak – Cricket coach and Pahadi Khiladi coordinator
Champawat is a small district in Uttarakhand. Every time I tell people that I am doing an internship in Champawat, they are like – kis jagh bole, yeh kahan hua?? (where did you say, where is it?).
Champawat has the beauty that characterises Himalayan regions. Being a far removed district where the entry of modern ideas and development has been slow, social and environment related issues are plentiful. Not that these don’t exist in ‘developed cities’, it’s just that the nature and magnitude of the issues vary.
The beginning of an extraordinary tale:
For me, sports have always been more than just physical exercise and playing. It gave me an identity, something which I could call mine. Whenever life gave me lemons, I made sure that I played ball with them. (turning everything into sports terminology, that is my new favorite thing to do).
Upon coming to Champawat, two things stuck out. First, deep-rooted societal issues; the second, love for sports, physical fitness, and dreams of army selection in the locals.
My colleague Bombil has a mind like an ATM or I should say IPM (Idea Producing Machine). She suggested addressing the problems in Champawat society by relying on the very things people love. (Bombil gives credit to her MBA for making her mind like this, but I think she is a prodigy in the field of giving ideas. If there was an Olympics for this, she would win the gold medal by a huge margin.)
We started a project called ‘Pahadi Khiladi’ in Champawat to subtly address some of the social issues through sports and to leverage sports for the holistic development of an individual. (after writing the project description for the umpteenth time, I’ve gotten quite good at this. :p)
See this video to know about the Eureka moment behind Pahadi Khiladi.
Our first public event, a Throwball tournament, was aimed to introduce Pahadi Khiladi to the community and to get girls out of their homes and onto the field.
Initial backlash: (Seeta iss Laxman Rekha se bahar nahi aa sakti )
Girls playing in the volleyball/throwball court was something that didn’t go well with the male population of the community.
They asked them to just return home and not linger when the boys are playing. We even had to deal with an eve-teasing incident during the tournament.
The girls kept on playing though and one day we were able to play mix-gender too. (See Anecdote of the great heist.)
Aaj field jaane ki zid na karo: (Don’t insist on going to the field)
Still, the girls’ visit to the field/court was once in a blue moon-like thing.
Since we had lost the momentum that throwball provided for getting the girls on the playfield, we decided to try cricket coaching.
Through cricket, we were aiming to challenge inequalities on the field and in the long term, see a change in society that indicated the leveling of gender scales.
Sport in Champawat is dominated by teenage boys and men in their 20s, hence girls of all ages, lower caste children and pre-teen boys face the maximum inequalities on the field and in real life also. It was decided to include these groups in the programme.
As expected, it wasn’t very smooth in the beginning.
The girls were having verbal WWE matches amongst themselves. The competition between the girls was so intense in the beginning that once the captain of the losing team went home crying.
When things improved and the girls started calling each other sisters, then came the boys.
Boys from Shaktipur (a nearby village) said they also wanted to play but they were already quite good at cricket and a bit older. It wasn’t feasible to include them. They were like that annoying Uncle who always says like this- Beta, tum to ye bhi nahi kar sakte. Mai to apne time mein aise kar deta tha. (Beta, you can’t even do this. I used to do this easily in my time).
So, we said no to them. No. Now there’s a word that causes digestive problems for young males in the mountains.
This didn’t go well with them and they tried their best to interrupt our play. They would comment while the girls were playing, start playing on their own in the field while our coaching was in session or arrive before us, leaving no space to play. This went on for 4-5 days.
We called them out several times – don’t pass comments at the girls; the programme is only for girls and boys who are learning how to play; you can’t play inside the ground while the girls are playing. The girls even organized and met with the ground’s owner one day when the boys were not letting them play.
I still remember very vividly how frustrated I would feel when they used to interrupt our play. I don’t think I have ever shown so much restraint in my life. It was like living the dialogue from Ghatak starring Sunny Deol- “Ghusse ko palna seekh katiya”(stop blowing your fuse).
Finally, we reached an agreement that both groups would play on alternate days. And when the girls would play, older boys wouldn’t intrude or disturb the play in any way and these rules would apply to the girls too.This went down well with both parties.
I was really happy with the way the girls managed all this. They didn’t give up, fought back when the teasing went too far, quarreled with the boys over their rights. Even the girls who I pegged as docile were raising their voices against all this.They went to the ground’s owner to complain and showed exemplary unity. They took part in a live conflict management session. :p
After that, the game went relatively smoothly.
First few days of training: Ye ball hai, bomb ka gola nahi jo pas aate hi fat jaega. Isse dur nahi bhagna, iss k pass jaa k pakadna hai ise. ( It is a ball, not a bomb, which will explode as soon as it comes near. Don’t run away from it, go near it to catch it.)
This was the line I had to repeat a gazillion times in the beginning. The girls were so afraid of the ball that when a catch or fielding ball came towards them, instead of running towards the ball, they ran away from the ball.
While batting, they were swinging the bat way above or below the ball. And were getting hit on the head quite often. Everyone knows the FREE FIRE terminology in Champawat. Every time the ball would hit their head, someone would shout at – aur ye laga HEADSHOT!!
Bowlers were finding it hard to make the ball reach the other end of the pitch in one bounce. Sometimes, it took 6 minutes to complete 1 single over!!!!
But they didn’t give up. They showed up day after day, did the very same thing again, and were slowly improving.
I still remember the very first boundary catch someone took. Boundary catches are a bit difficult as the ball takes a longer and much higher trajectory to reach the fielder.
So, when Kavita (one of the girls who is good at batting) hit a high shot towards the boundary, I thought to myself – Let’s see if the fielder will be able to stop it before it clears the boundary line.
Anshu was the fielder on patrol at the boundary. No one in the field would have anticipated the next thing that happened. She not only caught the ball but completed the catch with one hand only. And the joy and celebration that followed brought happy tears to my eyes.
A few moments like this one that motivates us to stay course on the programme with even more energy:
1) LADKE AUR LADKI MEIN ANTAR KAAHE!!!! (why differentiate between boy and girl?)
When we were planning how to divide the playtime of volleyball between girls and boys, a boy suggested that the girls can play from 3 to 5 and boys will play from 5 to 7, as it is very hot from 3 to 5 and the sun is at its peak.
Then one of the boys intervened in the conversation and said – kyun, ladkiyon ko dhoop nahi lagegi kya.
It was very heart-warming to hear this, to know that some are seeing the girls as equivalent to boys.
2) ANECDOTE OF THE GREAT HEIST:
There was an instance when girls wanted to play but they had come late according to their stipulated time. So, the boys were playing. Some of the older men were telling girls to return home.
But we decided that we will make a mixed team, 3 boys and 4 girls. All other teams had only boys/men in them.
The rule was that the team that wins will keep on playing and the losing team will sit and wait again for their chance.
Play time started and our mixed team played from starting till the end. No team could beat us.
And the best thing was that the men who had been telling girls to go to their homes were cheering for them.
3) FIELD JAYENGE, CHAHE ZIDD KARNI PADI!!!! (we will go to the field, even if we have to insist)
After the girl’s game one day we were walking back towards our home. Rahul was strolling outside with his dog. He told us that his sister Manisha was having a bit of pain in her hands and legs, so her mom forbade her from going to the field to play.Then Manisha started crying, saying ki muje jana hai khelne (I want to go out and play).
She did come that day, so I guess she was able to convince her mom. 😉
4) HUM WAIT KARTE HAIN KI KAB 4 BAJE AUR HUM KHELNE JAE!!!! (We wait for the clock to strike 4 so that we can go out and play)
There were instances when I had to cancel the training/play because of a meeting or other work. Whenever this happened the girls used to feel very bad and often replied to me with – humare din ka sabse acha part hota hai vo. Hum wait karte hain ki kab 4 baje aur hum khelne jae!!! (playing is the best part of our day, we wait for the clock to strike 4 so that we can go out and play)
July 16: 18 days after the start of the cricket training
Girls have started to pool in money for the games equipment; everyone gives a rupee per day.
This happened when the boys didn’t respond to our suggestion of depositing money for a new ball and net. I didn’t even say it to girls. After the boys/men didn’t give the money, they said – hum dege paise, aap humare liye ball lao, humara match karao. (We will give money, you get the ball for us, organize matches for us)
I planned a trip home for 15 days and the girls were upset. They were afraid that in my absence no one would let them play and things would return to the way they were earlier.
One day before the training few known young boys were sitting near the ground. To give you a background, these boys are the ones “jinki area mein chalti hai” (who have a better say on things happening on and off the field)
I thought- why not give these boys a responsibility to make sure that the girls get to play on the field.
So, I went to them and told them about the responsibility. The way they reacted gave me an insight that these boys have never been given such a task.
One of them said- hum nahi kar payega, hume bharosa nahi hai itna apne pe!!! (We will not be able to do it, we do not trust so much on ourselves)
Eventually, they agreed to it, though reluctantly.
Was quite happy to see that in the beginning men/boys were not happy with girls playing and now some of them are agreeing to help in organizing their game.
July 17: MANISHA PULLING OFF BLINDERS LIKE IT IS CHILD’S PLAY
When Manisha came in the beginning she was hardly able to catch a ball.
Then gradually her confidence grew and one day she took two one-handed catches and that too on the boundary.
Since that day she has been asking me to give her catches for practice.
She would say,“Dada, muje bahot high catch do”. (Dada, give me a high catch).
I thought- normal height ki deta hun. (I should give a catch of normal height).
So, I gave her a medium high catch. She took that catch easily and replied – Are, itni se kya hota hai. Aur high do. Jitni phenk sakte ho utni. (Hey, this is child’s play! Give more height to it. As high as you can.)
Then I thought – okay, why not. Let’s give it a shot.
I threw a very high ball then. It was so high that at one point it was almost not visible. She almost took that catch. Then I told her – Nahi nahi, itna high nahi karte hain, lag jayegi. (I am not giving high catches like this. It might injure you.)
She replied,“Da, nahi lagegi. Aap karao”. (It won’t. You carry on).
I became infected by her confidence and again threw her a very high ball.
Now, she has a peculiar style of catching the ball, meaning very unorthodox.
And to my surprise, she caught that ball.
I gave her another one to see if it wasn’t a fluke. She again took the catch and I stood there in complete awe of what just happened.
So, now every time we take a break from play, she comes to me and says,“Da, high catch do na”. (Give me another high catch).
And then other girls also join the party and do the same.
ROLLERCOASTER OF EMOTIONS
It has been a rollercoaster journey for me and the girls till now.
When I was chasing my dream of being a cricketer, there was a different kind of satisfaction I got once my head hit the pillow in the night. After getting injured and declared unfit for playing cricket, I have always longed for that kind of satisfaction again.
Training these girls has satiated this longing of mine.