All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. But all play and no work will make it even worse!!! I know of a Jack who played all day and night, he read no book did no work. All day he wandered looking for his lost self, but not all those who wander are lost its said…from the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king
This is the story of a jack named Akhilesh Paul, the phoenix who rose from the ashes. A very intriguing journey of how sports can turn an ordinary Jack onto a king. Playing soccer revealed Akhilesh’s character and it gave his life a purpose. Akhilesh played his first soccer game just to earn Rs.5/- in return. But that turned out to be a no return event of his life. With 40-45 police cases registered against him, he was declared a fugitive yet he swooped a goal of his life and got selected in India’s International Slum Soccer team. Can a soccer game change one’s character? Akhilesh Paul not only bends the ball like Beckham but also turned around his life from being a ‘tadipar’ to ‘a God for the less fortunate kids’. Let me run you through this very interesting story about the making of the Akhilesh Paul- the journey from ‘Gaaliyan to Talliyan’.
Scene 1- Imagine a scene were very young kids of 10- 12 years skipping school to play cards while sipping alcohol, some chewing ghukta, someone making rings of bedi smoke and feeling like a hero while speaking filthy language, ill mannered and ready to do anything for money. We all must have witnessed goons or local gundas of the galli. One of these gunda was Akhilesh. Sixth fail, lost interest in studies he got into bad company and soon had around 50 police cases against him. His family made all possible attempts to get him back on track, but all in vain.
Scene 2- Young boys and girls of same age as above. Attend Municipality school in day or night (many of them funding their own education). Most of them are children of sexworkers staying in red light areas who are unaware who their father is and often depressed by this bitter truth of their life- a life which they did not choose rather were just thrown in. These kids have absolutely no form of entertainment, struggle each day to meet the basic needs of life, very few friends, exposed to all the cruelties of hard life and absolutely no social life. They are like lotuses growing in the mud and filth. Yet, there is one thing that keeps the smile intact on their faces and the hard life then just becomes a little easier for them. And that one thing is – Sports. They play, they play galli cricket, soccer, volley ball, hockey, table tennis and almost any game of their choice. This acts like a booster dose for these young minds that immunizes their character and shields them from the bad company. Wow! wished such immunization was really possible!
As our Virat Kohli says- ‘Go out and play.’ One needs to find the sportsman in himself/herself. So how is a less fortunate kid from the slums be able to, firstly, find that sportsman in himself when he is unsure of going to bed having dinner? And even if he/she bumps into the sportsman how is he going to keep him alive? Fortunately, Akhilesh had Mr Vijay Barse, founder of ‘Slum soccer’ who pulled him out of the filth he was surrounded with. It is a very interesting story of how Barse Sir had to offer Rs.5/- to the local gundas to convince them leave aside the cards and alcohol to play a game of soccer. Initially for 15 days they played in return for the money. They realized that all those 15 days while they were enjoying soccer game they were actually not involved in any sort of crime. Barse sir had channelized their energy into playing this game that changed Akhilesh’s life forever and gave him a purpose to live for. Giving a new meaning to the lives of the less fortunate kids from the slums and red light areas is the purpose of Paul’s life. After all these young minds need to be ignited as they are India’s future. We need to shape their talent in the right way, give a purpose and direction to their very difficult lives. After all, they too are the hands that will help in the development of the nation. We need to stop the young minds getting carried away in bad company by utilizing their talent in self development which will result in National upliftment and make our country free from all sorts of social evils. Akhilesh had been playing soccer since many years and its been 9 yrs he has been working as a coach. He started as a soccer coach with ‘Slum Soccer’ and now he runs his own NGO called ‘Slum Sports Development’, where he has 11 coaches covering 12 centers and more all over Maharashtra. He believes each child has an inclination to some sport or the other. Therefore, he has started coaching in ‘Galli cricket’, volley ball, hockey along with soccer. As on today, he coaches approximately 250 plus children from various schools and colleges, 30 of them being from red light areas. He can relate to the hardships of these kids and thus does not charge any fees from them. All he wants is they get to live a normal childhood like any kid and become responsible citizens. There were days when Paul had to work in the bar for a living, was forced to spend 45 days in a graveyard to hide away from underground goons and police. When no one wanted to help him because he was a fugitive. God had tested his patience and perseverance when he got selected in the Rio games after a lot of hard work and his passport was stuck in local police verification due to criminal records. Somehow he was able to convince the police with his good behavior and change in character. Today he repents wasting his most precious childhood days in bad company and not being able to balance education and sports. Although, he has fame, respect, family and love but he wishes that he had completed his education. His life has become an inspiration to many. He gets invited to schools and colleges to give a Motivational speech. He has also appeared in the season 3 of ‘Satyameva Jayate’ and soon will be having a Biopic made on his life. Akhilesh Paul, has a message to give to the parents and the young generation- he says the kids who are blessed with financially well off parents should know that life is not easy. They should not take the hard work of their parents and the liberty they enjoy for granted. Such kids shouldn’t waste their precious childhood days by watching a lot of TV and playing games on smart phones for long hours. At the same time they should indulge themselves in some physical activity or some sport that will help in their holistic development. On the other hand there are less fortunate kids, who may not be lucky enough to attend a school.
Their parents (illiterate and uneducated) don’t see any good reason to send their kids to school when they can spend that time in learning the family occupation that comprises of pick pocketing, robbery, stealing, etc. Convincing these parents is difficult task for Akhilesh. Many a times they are not convinced even after hearing Akhilesh’s inspiring real life story. They often ask if he can guarantee that their kids will definitely become officers and get a job after going to school or how will playing a sport help them. These parents can guarantee that they can make their kids a polished and skilled pick pocketier if they train their kids. To this Akhilesh replies- ‘I can make your kids be good human being and Indian by being with me, I can guarantee them a respectful life.’ Isn’t that the best gift every coach/teacher can give to his student. Blessed are such students who have a coach, mentor and guide like Akhilesh Paul in their lives. And my heartfelt gratitude to this one man army who is contributing to the development of responsible citizens in future generations.
‘Study Hard. Work Harder. Play Hardest’– Krishna.
-Aarti Mardhekar Kagwade.