“Excuse me? Did you want to speak to me?” comes the voice from behind.
It belongs to a lean, smiling youngster. Pankaj Shaw. 19. Slightly dark with a scar on the chin. Tired of beatings by his father, he ran away from home in Bokaro eight years ago. Cleaned trains in Bihar for two years and occasionally got beaten by police constables. Survived. Entered Don Bosco asylum in Kolkata where he studied and played rugby.
He not only speaks fluent English now, but is studying for a diploma in French. Pankaj is playing for defending champions Jungle Crows in the under-20 national rugby tournament, underway at the Bombay Gymkhana. “I liked to fight as a child,” he says with a grin “So rugby is the perfect sport.”
Like Pankaj, there are many who have received a lifeline in the asylum and the club, Jungle Crows. The team, formed in 2004, derives almost 70 per cent of its players from poor or broken families and street children.
“Rugby is a sport with strong educational values,” says Christopher Plais, who along with Paul Walsh established the team. “It teaches respect and teamwork. Most of these boys have been on the street, haven’t been treated very well and so have lost confidence in people. Rugby is a way which helps them create that trust,” says Plais. “They have struggled for so long in life, they have that inner resilience; we use rugby and other sports to channelise that strength.” And it hasn’t been a futile exercise. Jungle Crows have emerged as one of the biggest teams in the state and is making waves on the domestic circuit.
The Magicians are weaving their own tale of wonder in Mumbai. Born as a part of a city NGO, the club has broken free and is now on its own. The team, mainly made of children from the slums, rubs shoulders with the rich and famous at the Bombay Gymkhana.
The Crows and the Magicians are only two examples of the ever-growing reach of the game. Once the bastion of the moneyed, rugby is now glowing with the pride of the less fortunate.
KNOW THE CLUBS
Jungle Crows (founded in 2004, is a Kolkata based club, Players: 200); Magicians (founded in 2004, is based in Mumbai, players: 100); Chennai Cheetahs (Chennai based club is founded in 1997, players: 200)