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A Lagaan in the Slums

A Lagaan in the Slums

Author: Mohammed Wajihuddin
Publication: The Times of India
Date: April 22, 2007

Introduction: Had it not been for Anandini Thakur, these Khar Danda kids might have gone

Every fortnight, Anandini Thakur takes a round of the Khar area, halting on the way at a moribund municipal school and a public library before she reaches an improbable destination: a cricket pitch. She has also done something even more apparently improbable; she has created a cricket team.

Many privileged children have had the opportunity to get into flannels after joining expensive cricket academies that milk their parents. But when the cricket-crazy impoverished boys of Khar Danda - a deprived slum snuggling the sea near Bandra feel the pangs for the game, they knock at Thakur's door.

Thakur's efforts to engage the poor adolescents in cricket has nothing to do with any love for the game. She just wants to distract them from going astray. "They would fight, steal and gravitate towards big crime with so much time on their hands," Thakur, wiping beads of sweat with her sari's pallu, says. She is sitting in a cavernous classroom of Laxmi Nagar Municipal School near Khar Gymkhana. "They need to be engaged in something constructive. And, since cricket is a popular obsession, I played the role of a facilitated."

So a team was formed and cricket gear, including uniform, landed in the young, eager hands. "Earlier we would kill time roaming around the mohalla. Now we play cricket," says 18-year-old Ganesh Giga Solanki, son of a dock worker, who idolises Sachin Tendulkar. Since she is involved in various charitable projects, including citizen-supported initiatives like the Mohalla Committee, the Slum Rehabilitation Society and the Khar Residents' Association, Thakur could use her vast connections to bankroll her pet project. "Mumbai has a big heart. Funds are not a big problem for a dedicated social worker," Thakur, whose family once owned a battery-manufacturing unit in the city, said. Encouraging the boys into taking up sports has also helped quell communal tension in the area. "The boys, from different communities, have developed a bond and help maintain peace during religious festivals. They catch potential trouble-makers and isolate them," she says. Fifteen-year-old Aslam Abdul Rasool, a small trader's son, says proudly: "Many of my neighbours are non-Muslims. I have not seen any communal trouble in my locality."

Thakur has spent her youth as a fiercely independent individual and this is a trait she wants to pass on to the children. She was a Christian who graduated from St Xavier's College but could not help losing her heart to her Maharashtrian neighbour's son, a handsome lad with a fascination for the good things in life - including fast cars and music - who would play records at loud volume. They courted for seven years, hoping their parents would agree to the marriage. But, when the parents did not budge, they eloped. "We sailed in a boat to England where my fiance joined a company and eventually made up with his father. We returned to India after three years.
But his father died aboard a ship on the Suez Canal while returning home." Her obsession with the underprivileged took her to Laxmi Nagar Municipal School last year, months ahead of the Mumbai Marathon in January 2007. "We selected 14 students and gave them intensive training for over three months before they took part in the six-kilometre rain. It was a dream come true for the kids," principal Geeta Wankherkar, who - along with Thakur and others - arranged for a special diet, health check-ups and shoes during the training, said. The efforts have not gone in vain. "I love the certificate I got after the marathon," class-VII student Akshay Sunil Nage said.


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