One of the boys in the black-and-white collage that takes up an office wall took to drugs. Marriage at 14 made another give up.
Of the first batch of six Indrajit Bhalotia tried to teach golf the attrition rate was 100%. Ten years later, he has eight boys between 10 and 17 in the national junior circuit. The father of at least one is unemployed and has a drinking problem. The rest come from families surviving on a monthly income of less than Rs 4000.
All of them have finished among the top five in every tournament they played this year. A ninth, Sudipto Das, recently joined the Railways.
Of the eight, Mohon Sardar, 17, had to show his father on TV what he does most of the day. He is also the only one in his family to have visited the Red Fort. Sardar’s father pedals a rickshaw for a living.
Also in that group is Sandip Yadav. Bhalotia said this Rory McIlroy fan won 13 tournaments in Kolkata and east India in Category D (11 and below age-group) last year. Now 12, Yadav finished second on Thursday in the Tollygunge Juniors Challenge on the Tata Steel East Zone tour. His father is a groundsman at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC).
Rajib Ali, the youngest, smallest and quietest in the octet, was another winner on Thursday, in Category D. Bhalotia’s son Udayjit won Category B (11-13) and Irfan Mollah Category A (15 and above).
Having represented India at the World Junior Championship in San Diego last year, Tutul Ali is the first among equals in this bunch. He and Sardar skipped this competition due to school examinations.
“To change so many flights was scary. I had never been on a plane and traveling alone, I had to change four. I had high fever and was about to be deported before an Indian family known to sir (Bhalotia) helped. I finished the first day at one-under,” said Tutul, 16, speaking in Bangla. He ended 24th and blamed missing a top-10 to “one bad day.”
Tutul’s father repairs golf clubs for a living. “I saw chachuji (his uncle and pro Firoz Ali) playing and seeing me fiddling with his set when my father brought me here,” said Tutul at the sunny Tollygunge Club eatery by the driving range.
Bhalotia’s programme has 60 boys and is run by a trust. He said he needs around Rs 10 lakh annually to cover expenses including school fees, travel, yoga and personality development.
Some help comes from the RCGC and Tollygunge Club and their members. “Arjun Atwal gave four clubs and SSP Chowrasia takes care of his nephew Sumit who is with us.” The boys use golf sets worth R 80,000-R 1 lakh, said Bhalotia.
Golf’s bridged the massive economic divide between the boys and most of their fellow trainees, said Bhalotia. And being on the road for most of the year ---- India to them is a tapestry of different courses --- has boosted their self worth, he said.
“I don’t know what the future holds but I have learnt the importance of mehnat. I want to do well for the sake of my parents and for sir,” said Tutul. He could have been speaking for all of them.