Spotting Bhairav Dutt and his trainees at the Diesel Locomotive Works ground in Varanasi is not that difficult.
Reaching him, however, is a different deal altogether. The DLW Inter College ground, on the outskirts of Varanasi, is quite expansive but on any given day there are at least 10-15 teams playing cricket. Getting hit by a ball, therefore, is one of the concessions one has to make if attempting to walk across the ground.
Dutt’s world is unique. It comprises around 200 footballers, including 70 girls between seven and 16 years. What is different is that they are from slums, including the nearby Ganeshpur Pahari village, where people are unable to make ends meet. There are mostly labourers, rickshaw-pullers, roadside vendors and sweepers.
Till 2010, no one in the village played football. The wheels started spinning the day Dutt, an 11-time Santosh Trophy player, saw a few youngsters gambling in the corner of a field. Dutt felt football was the best way to salvage their lives. But the football ground was nowhere close to suitable for play. Peppered with dust and potholes, it needed immediate and large-scale attention.
But the adversities failed to dissuade Dutt. He started the ball rolling and soon enough the youngsters started to show interest. Within 20 days, the ground was cleaned, levelled and ready for football. To the locals, it was a welcome sight. Now their kids were focusing on football rather than giving in to the addiction of gambling.
Or so they thought. Dutt’s initial investment of Rs 40,000, used for buying shirts, shorts and footballs from Kolkata went down the drain as within a few days the youngsters vanished with the kits. Dutt almost quit. But Shalini Pandey approached Dutt and asked him to train her. Pandey got a new coach and Dutt found a new reason to believe in his dream.
Within a week, more girls joined Pandey. Eventually, boys too started to take the game seriously. “The response to my mission was amazing and even I didn’t care about the funds and put in a lot of money from my own pocket to buy kits again,” said Dutt, who hails from Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand.
“That was the real kick-off to my plan to help these kids get a direction in their lives through sports. Today I am proud of them as they, especially the girls, are doing wonders not only in the state but in the country too,” says Dutt, who holds many degrees of football coaching, including a diploma from NIS Patiala. Dutt had played football for almost five years when he was a student at Guru Govind Singh Sports College in Lucknow.
Nowadays many of his trainees have joined SAI Hostel in Goa, Army in Secunderabad, Railways and police. Four of his trainees --- Kazal, Pooja, Pratiksha and Gunja are in the senior national camp while over half-a-dozen are in the state team for the zonal tournament at Noida. Overall, 33 players, including 22 girls, have played nationals in the last five years.
Dutt spends Rs 3,000-4,000 on each player at his training centre. Many of his friends and well-wishers too support him financially. “Many friends have lent me a helping hand in managing these kids. Without my friends, all this would have stopped,” said Dutt, who is also known as the Pele of Varanasi.
Among his students, 12-year-old Jyoti Kumari is the most promising. The pint-sized forward has already scored a record 15 goals in the recently concluded state championship in Gorakhpur. Daughter of a roadside vendor, Kumari loves to dodge rivals. She was specially honoured by Gorakhpur’s district magistrate. “I got Rs 1,800 cash and a quilt as gift for my success,” said Kumari who struck the goals in the final against hosts Gorakhpur.
She feels that in a short duration of one year, the game has changed her life. “Now, most of my friends feel jealous and even ask me to mention their names as my friends if I appear on local television channel,” said Kumari.
“My mission is to wear the India colours one day as success at the top level would help my family come out of the shadow of poverty. I am seeing how my family is surviving and how much labour my father puts in to taking care of all of us,” she said.
“Establishing a football village is my ultimate dream. I am committed to this,” said Dutt. Apart from sending girl footballers to play in the state and national tournaments, Dutt also ensures adequate exposure at home. He conducts a league tournament, involving six local teams – Kumaon Heroes, Football Nursery and Malviya Club to name a few. “Here trainees keep playing football throughout the year and even if I am away, they manage everything on their own at the ground. They believe that the loss of even one day in training can take success away from their hands,” he said.
“I wish that the village would be known as a hub for slum footballers in the world. When I was at their age, there was no one to guide me. I was always looking for an opportunity to guide young footballers to become a good human being,” said Dutt who is also known as ‘Pele of Varanasi’.
It seems like Dutt has succeeded in his mission. “The girls here are like a family as even at a marriage function in the village, they go together and help the bride’s family and don’t even eat anything to avoid extra burden of them,” he said.
“Unlike in the past, now more and more parents from slums are encouraging their daughters to play football. They believe the success of their daughters could change their lives as the game gives money as well as respect in the society,” said Dutt.