Once a coach at Harvard University, Bajwa now teaches squash to the underprivileged in Chandigarh30 September, 2016
World champ coach Satinder Bajwa is training underprivileged children for a living. Squash is just an excuse.
He is quietly watching the game. Two ten-year-olds bathed in sweat are moving all over the squash court. The sound of the ball tears through the building, amplifying the background silence. Nobody is talking. Not even the coach. He just gestures when the players look at him with guilt after a wrong footplay.
Satinder Bajwa leads us to his small office inside Khelshala. The sound of the squash ball refuses to leave us. "Sorry, can't do anything about that, the junior national championship is approaching, they have to train hard," smiles Bajwa, who was Director of Harvard University's Squash Programme for 10 years between the years 1999 and 2010, and was manager/mentor to eight-time world number one Pakistani squash player Jansher Khan.
Bajwa now trains underprivileged children--wards of rickshaw pullers, hawkers and domestic helps who earn less than Rs 10,000 a month in his world-class squash facility Khelshala that he opened in the year 2009 in Sector 42 of Chandigarh. It currently has two centres--at village Attawa for squash and Majra where tennis is taught. The champion coach, an Aircraft Avionics Engineer from Southall Technological College (1978), UK, may be coaching the children to play squash but the Khelshala programme has much more to offer than just learning the game under the supervision of a world-class coach.
Something must have happened that made him leave it all and start this project for the underprivileged? "There is never one incident that makes one take such a decision. Honestly, I just wanted to give back-you know, despite being of a different race and colour, I was 'accepted' in the UK and US because of my squash racquet. Sports can be a great equalizer. It gives you the push to move forward," he says.
"Let me be very honest. Squash is just the honey to lure the bees. For three months, the 200 students who have been through the programme were allowed to play only on weekends. Even for the 60 children who are enrolled presently, the focus is on ascertaining that they do well academically, don't lag behind in homework and are introduced to using computers," says Bajwa. His centre, which has three volunteer teachers besides a computer instructor, does not let anyone enter the two squash courts unless they have completed their homework.
The facility, which has produced eight state champions, charges each student Rs 100 (a squash ball costs around Rs 150) per month, where he/she is also given a proper kit to use. While two of his students may have grabbed the first 20 positions at the junior national level, Bajwa says that the aim is not to make them ace players.
"The attitude that everybody should win gold at the nationals is the problem. Do you think with an experience like mine, I am naÃ¯ve enough to believe that these undernourished children will grab top spots at the junior international level? Yes, I would love to see a brilliant player, but you don't make champions. They have something special and you just groom them. I am pretty clear-here a sport is the catalyst for their studies. My aim is to train them so that they can get admitted to good private schools in the region, which give such children scholarships after they demonstrate exceptional performance and dedication.
We are teaching them about life here. We are training them in academics, discipline, yoga and manners through sports. There are no janitors, they have to learn that keeping the surroundings clean is not below them. The West has a brilliant model. Out there, sports are prioritised not to make champs, but to get children to make it to college. Remember, you cannot be a champ for life, education is what you need." The NGO, which survives on private grants, has never asked the government for help. "All that paperwork scares me. I once went to the elite Lake Club in Chandigarh to ask for permission to use their courts for training these children, but the response was not really encouraging."
What about his former students from Harvard? Do they offer help? "All the time. They keep telling me to allow them to give donations. I just received the permission from the government to get foreign grants and may go to the US for a fund-raiser soon. Most of my students are pretty enthusiastic about the project," he says.