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A slow kayaking day

A slow kayaking day

Another day of training started early and I was awake by 7. A look out at the water though sent me back to the covers. The tide was way out and there was no wind at all. Despite having to tackle the afternoon sun if I lingered, I decided to catch up on some much needed sleep. After a quick breakfast, I slept off for 45 minutes. Re-woke at 8:30 and was on the water by 9.

Conditions had improved marginally, and I set a decent pace down to the rocks just off Mandwa beach. The tide was out and I could clearly see the rocks. Just to highlight their presence, the breakers created white froth as they crashed on them. I steered well clear to the point of pointing towards bombay. Once sufficiently out of harms way, I turned south to coast down the coastline. Rounding the turn the is the north face of the mainland, I turned to find the blue fishing boat from yesterday. Abandonment is a thing. I dwelled on the loneliness of the boat for a few seconds and then carried on. About 4.5 kms into it, I had my first break. I saw a clearing in a beach I’d not docked at and pulled in; If for nothing else, but the beauty of this picturesque house / villa / resort on it.

Kayak against someone's sprawling house on the beach
Not a bad property is it? The house in the back’s not bad either.

I got back in the water quickly and made for Awas once more. This time I met the fishermen of Sasawane and had a quick chat. The sun was coming up quick and I didn’t linger. I was looking to head back after 7 kms but in the distance I saw a group of people playing on the beach. It seemed like cricket, but the love for games on the beach is something I couldn’t resist. So when I drew up alongside, I was happy to see that they were playing a real sport. Football. Before the breakers could toss me out the kayak I was on the beach, ready to join in.*

Football. Not cricket.
Who can resist a good game of football?

In return I let the eldest of the family sit in the kayak for as long as he could. Having had his fill of sea water, he re-enquired about my expedition. I got on with my training and had barely gone 200 metres, when a fish flew straight out the water and back in again. Such sightings are now a common thing, but when I say fish I mean, a fish the length of my arm and the height of my face. Short of a catapult, I could not fathom the power that would propel this, easily 5 kg, beast out the water and a metre into the air**. Barely had I had the time to say ‘Whosbeenfeedingyouyoumonster’ when it had gone back in. I’m not sure what he was doing getting some air time, but I think we both left with the impression that strange creatures abounded in the waters near Awas. As if by mutual understanding we decided to put each other out of our minds and paddle on. Paddle Hard fish.

The rest of my paddle was uneventful except when rounding back to the jetty, the tide had found it’s feet and was crawling up the beach. I hadn’t accounted for it, and at the lovely breakers that were so pronounced, I miscalculated my turn and found myself in the midst of the rocks. Feeling through the rises and falls around me, I gave the rocks the slip, but it was a bit of tricky business with the water falling and rising and waves hitting me from three sides for that minute I was hung. It quickened my heart rate a little and I have to think that Mr. Fly-So-High fish must have had a “that’ll teach you, you white-black-and-orange surface dweller” smile on his Fly-So-High lips.

I returned to a healthy lunch of chicken and rice. A few phone calls to sponsors and media ensued and I spent the afternoon recovering. After a quick snooze, I got back into gear and headed out a second time. I made for the fishing village of bodani aided by the light evening wind, which was a trickle compared to what I’ve had on this stretch in the recent past. The tide had gone back out again, and ahead of bodani I saw teams of fishermen in pairs, out a km from land but standing up at waist length.

Fishermen with their hand nets
Low tide means get the fishing net out to go shrimping

It made for a fun way to unwind with no wind in sight, and I spent some time going from one fisherman pair to the next. Once content they knew what they were doing, I headed back. Job done. The kayak back didn’t offer much excitement, but was an hour of paddling in the wind again. Finally back to shore, I practiced my re-entry without the jacket, and I must say it’s a lot easier. I’m tempted to tuck it in the back and pull it out only in emergencies.

*This is disputable, as the author might have been thrown out of the kayak by a vicious wave that didn’t respect the rules of kayaking. As there were no witnesses to this, (football is a very immersive sport) the author is entitled to deny this allegation entirely.

**No, I didn’t take a picture of this fish. But it would look something like this –

http://lonestarchronicles.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/BertDan015.jpg

The goatee is a little misleading.

Every smiling face

Every smiling face

Yesterday I wrote about how sport helps transcend boundaries. Today it played out before me in spectacular fashion.

I woke up early today to attend the MagicBus session. I was a little nervous and my perennial stubble / beard was the first to take a hit. A dear friend of mine,  Siddharth Menon, architect, sports lover and humanitarian, was accompanying me to see the kids. Reaching Dadar with 25 minutes to spare, we were hopelessly lost much to our and our hosts despair. We finally found the distinctly red Sai Swamy Vayam Mandir and seeing the white tshirts with MagicBus emblazoned on them meant we had arrived.

First things first, I was surprised to see it wasn’t a closed room the children were in. They were merrily gathered in the open field that is Shivaji Park. While a whole military parade practiced for the upcoming Republic Day, 21 children listened intently to their bubbly, confident and charismatic mentor, Manohar. Sandhya from MagicBus welcomed me and before I knew it I was part of the circle playing a curious game of Introduce Yourself. It took just one Dabaang-inspired-move to get everyone to join in and chime out my name. As I laughed at the hilarity of watching 20 small kids turn up their imaginary collars and strut to the center of the circle saying – Hi my name is Kaustubh Khade (in imitation of me) I realised that in that small act, I’d already been accepted. Everything after that ran as smooth as a hot knife through butter.

In the circle with the kids
The Inner Circle

Manohar was running a small game to gauge the kids attentiveness and from the screams of delight, it was going very well. Barely had Sandhya started on telling me about the program that our attention was diverted to a much more pressing issue. The kids were sorted into teams and were about to start their practice game for the inter-zonal MagicBus football tournament. It was naturally of paramount importance to play for a team. And old friendships were turned into rivalries as Sid was chosen to play for the blue team and I was playing for the whites. As any game of football this one was particularly important and I was chided early by my young captain for letting Sid past me( a cheeky nutmeg I inquired very sternly about later). I hate letting any team down and I resolved to do better against sid later ūüėČ The excitement was palpable and my side found its feet very fast. Some deft passing and clinical finishing from our forwards put us 2-0 up in no time. As anyone in football will know,¬† goal celebrations¬†are everything and I was blown away with how inclusive they were in my team. Everyone high fived everyone and I would be lying if it didn’t melt my heart when the smallest girl on our team, would smile the shyest smile, run over with both hands in the air for her high fives. Everyone contributed and our defender Jyoti made me smile a proud smile when she cleared a clear run from the opposition and then asked me – ‘was that good?’ More than you know Lil one.

Everything was a blank slate. And all that mattered was the moment. Falling on your knees, shrugging it off and getting back to the game became commonplace. The team urged me to attack and score some goals, but I chose to play the playmaker role, lest the blues feel cheated in practice. There was a time though when the build up play left me with the ball in front of the keeper and I lobbed it in. And I turned to look for my team, and they came rushing in. Much excitement followed. And all the familiar feelings of winning as a team came rushing back.

As one team came off to make space for the other, Manohar ran the kids through the technicalities of the game and what constitutes a clean game. There was much happening, and I was caught between the kids¬†repeating after their mentor, the engaging game going on, where Sid was conducting his side’s defences, and Sandhya’s effervescent answers to my many questions. I was immersed and it felt good.

Me with the kids, trying to answer some questions
Manohar Conducting. Kids Engaging.

Right after we played some team work games and while we all played for points, one could clearly see how teamwork and understanding and taking defeat magnanimously was the purpose. Everyone laughed and discussed strategy and played their part. When our white team lost, the victorious yellow team shook hands and were taught to say ‘well played’. If everyone in real life were like this, the world would be a better place no?

While Sid was busy discussing the details of MagicBus, I was busy¬†being dragged from one group to another and playing with the children. I would not have known we had¬†spent 2 hours there were it not for the phone calls and list of emails I’d so easily ignored. Right after the program, we boarded the MagicBus Bus. Sandhya and Manohar kept us both engaged with stories on how long the program has been run and the impact.

The bus took us from Dadar to Dharavi, a place I’ve known for a while now. The idea was to visit the homes of the children and meet the parents. And it was a very rewarding experience. MagicBus also organizes for football tournaments for the parents of the children and we met with 4 mothers who’d played this year. Talking while washing the dishes, taking time off sewing or house hold chores, we met a very bubbly and alive set of mothers who clearly enjoyed being associated with MagicBus. While the first mother we met spoke forcefully about her matches and having to fight to win, another regaled how her son was now practicing football at the Sports complex just opposite their chawl. We were told that the water lasted 2 hours in the morning and it explained the rush of people washing and cleaning; and that the tiling above the gutters that ran between two houses (that sufficed as a road) had been built in light of the elections. The open sewers that emptied into the ‘khaadi’ had resulted in 2 dengue deaths and hygiene was a constant problem. To be faced with such reality was to open one’s eyes to the Pandora’s box we so often neglect in our daily lives. As a testament to the mothers though, not a single one spoke about it. All they talked about were their children, and how they enjoyed MagicBus. How the tournament was a welcome change in their lives. How MagicBus would come to individual houses to ensure children stayed regular and learnt their lessons. There was much to be happy for, much to stay in the program for. Dropouts are at a minimal and children are transitioned from the learning phase to the livelihood phase. The mothers were thankful and I sensed a great satisfaction and pleasure there.

 

Induced smiles from a parents stories in Dharavi
Induced smiles from a parents stories in Dharavi

One doesn’t have to ponder too hard¬†whether¬†a program this inclusive and engaging can have long term effects on a community. Will the next generation in Dharavi learn right from wrong by learning to respect one another on a playing field? Will the shy girl on the field find a place and be loved as we did when we won? Will they be humble in victory and strong in defeat? I believe so.

As an end note, there is much and more that we are fortunate enough to have in our lives. In conversation with the children, mothers and the staff at MagicBus, a lot of joy can be brought in the little things. The white t-shirt and black shorts with the MagicBus symbol depicts a symbol of unity and hope here. I urge you to support the cause. Please come forth and visit the centers. Find out for yourself. So I request you to visit the page Рwww.ketto.org/kayak4acause and be generous.

When I was being introduced, one of the MagicBus staff said – he is helping raise funds for the cause. I feel a great sense of pride in it. I know you will too.

The bus!
The bus!
All aboard the bus
All aboard the bus!