Table tennis is a hobby for Jaya Gyamlani, 19, a second-year commerce student at Jai Hind College, Churchgate. “I signed up for a club membership near my Bandra home to play over the weekends,” she says. “But last year, I heard that the seemingly drab gymkhana in college had upgraded its facilities, and received sponsorship for events and competitions. I decided to forego the club membership and practice on campus instead.”
Until two years ago, the college’s gymkhana — a space with a carrom board, chess board and a pair of dumbells — saw only 60 students participate, of a total of 2,000. After they upgraded their facilities to include equipment such as treadmill, boxing bags and a lounge area to sit in, and invested in inter-class events for sports such as kick-boxing and volleyball, this number rose to 300.
St Xavier’s case is emblematic of the scenario at most Mumbai colleges. The gymkhana, a mandatory fixture, is meant for students to exercise and practice indoor sports in. However, with a lack of facilities, outdated equipment and better options available outside college, student interest in the gymkhana has dipped. At RD National College, Bandra, for instance, the space would see about 70 students visit two years ago; now, hardly 10 students are seen there.
In an age where students have easy access to sleek gym equipment in residential buildings, clubs or gymnasiums around home, they prefer to work out outside of college, they say. Few students are seriously interested in carrom or chess, and few colleges offer a range of indoor sports facilities at the gymkhana.
“Gymkhana fees — typically Rs 400, which each college student pays for — are often not utilised well,” says Uttam Kendre, sports director at the University of Mumbai (MU), ahead of the MU indoor sports tournaments. “Until last year, less than 20% of colleges had teams for the indoor sports tournaments. A major factor for this was the lack of proper gymkhanas. From colleges that have upgraded their facilities, we have seen better participation this year, especially in sports such as badminton and boxing.”
To rekindle interest in and repurpose the idea of the gymkhana, several city colleges have taken measures to upgrade the equipment on campus — to good results.
Evidently, colleges that haven’t updated their gymkhana facilities have seen a decline in student interest.
“The college gymkhana is an old, boring room, and does not offer anything except chess and carrom,” says Viren Sarchandani, 18, second-year BMS student at RD National College. “It isn’t appealing to spend leisure time here — we prefer hanging out at the basketball court instead.”
“The gymkhanas end up being used only while university tournaments are coming up, for students who are participating in indoor sports events,” says Agnelo Menezes, principal, St Xavier’s College, Fort. “While there is a definite decline in the number of students using the gymkhana for exercise and leisure, it is necessary, because these students may not be able to afford high-class gymnasiums.”
“If the college offers the latest amenities and makes gymkhanas look more appealing, students like me will want to use them more,” says Siddharth Brija, 20, third-year arts students at the college.
NEW AND IMPROVED
St Andrew’s College, Bandra, renovated to add treadmills, dumbbells and exercise bars at the gymkhana to attract more students. “We also introduced inter-class tournaments for table tennis, badminton, chess and carrom,” says Januarita D’Souza, sports director at the college. “Now, about 80 students visit every day — double of what it was two years ago. About 70% of these students will represent the college at university tournaments for indoor sports
A few metres away, MMK College in Bandra installed a multi-station gym, a smith machine and calf raise machine last year, and the number of participants increased from 40 students two years ago to 90 every day. Of these, 60 represent the college at university tournaments.
“Now we get so many students at the gymkhana that we have had to divide them into slots — degree college students use it in the morning, junior college students in the afternoon,” says Eustace Saldanha, sports director at the college. “We have a separate treadmill for girls in the girls’ common room too.”
Mass media student Sabina Alla, 18, is one of those to have recently signed up. “After renovation, the MMK gymkhana has two boxing bags, good quality gloves, paper towels, all wellmaintained and hygienic,” says Alla. “I have a coach too, who is encouraging and flexible with time-slots.” Alla will represent her college at the university boxing tournament this year.
The gymkhana at Jai Hind College has done away with exercise equipment. “Students are more inclined towards kickboxing, volleyball and table tennis,” says Brijesh Singh, sports chairman. “We have surveyed student demands and will cater to them accordingly.”
For similar reasons, KC College, Churchgate, has eliminated the gymkhana altogether, and added a sports hall in its place. The sports hall offers table tennis, kick-boxing, carrom and chess, but no exercise equipment.
“We also counsel students on the latest news in indoor sports through lectures at the hall,” says DK Chatterjee, sports director at KC College. The club holds interclass kick boxing tournaments every month. “These tournaments have gained popularity. My friends and I have started practicing at the gymkhana for it,” says Amit Sehgal, 19, second-year commerce student at the college.
Wilson College, Girgaum earlier had a gymkhana off-campus, at Marine Lines, which shut in December 2015 due to low participation, and students preferring not to commute to it. Since then, they installed one on campus, and conducted a student poll to decide what equipment they should upgrade to. “Since we pay the gymkhana fees, we have the right to choose the equipment,” says Mohit Bajaj, third-year arts student. Now, the gymkhana has a dozen badminton racquets, high-quality gloves and boxing bags among other facilities.
“This has encouraged many students to sign up — we have full teams for all the indoor sports tournaments at the university this year,” adds Bajaj.
“The gymkhana sees 100% more students this year, and of 90 visitors every day, around 30 are girls,” says Rajan Jothady, sports consultant at the college.
HR College of Commerce and Economics does not have a gymkhana due to lack of infrastructure. “We use the club a kilometer away from our college for playing indoor games, swimming and exercising,” says Vardha Chheda, 20, third year BAF student. “The club offers us better infrastructure and facilities than a college gymkhana could have.”