Teamwork: Golfers, clubs come to the aid of daily-wage caddies

Published on Apr 06, 2020 11:52 PM IST
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New Delhi: On March 25, Rahul Bajaj, a golfer turned coach who was part of the team that won a silver at the 2010 Asian Games, drove his sister, a journalist, down the Agra Expressway near Noida. His sister was covering the exodus of migrant labourers, on Day 1 of the 21-day, nationwide lockdown.

At around the same time, Kashif Alam, a golfer on the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), was out in Noida trying to stock up on essential supplies. What Bajaj and Alam, roommates on tour for years, saw shook them to their core.

“Watching elderly women carry heavy belongings on their head or a family of four sharing two rotis and some subzi made me feel lucky,” said Alam. He knew he had to do something, and he had to do it immediately.

“Reaching out to people on social media, or to the authorities would have taken time,” Alam said. “This felt like ‘if the coronavirus does not kill us, hunger will’, immediate steps were required.”

​​Alam called a delivery boy, Xavier, who had brought him food the day before. Xavier, being part of a food delivery service was allowed to move around. Alam also called the only functional eatery near his house, and arranged for Xavier to pick up 100 packets of food to be distributed to distressed families along the highway.

“Initially, there were trust issues as the restaurant wanted an advance and I couldn’t leave the house. Xavier took the initiative of paying the first amount,” said Alam. “He comes from a remote village in Bihar, he identifies with the pain. In the past 12 days, I must have called him over 100 times and he has never said no.”

Alam also began to post on social media, trying to get others on board. In a couple of days, he got a call from Bajaj. For the next few days, Bajaj and Alam arranged for hundreds of packets of food, with Xavier doing the legwork of distributing them among the migrants. Both golfers also kept up their social media campaign, with the tag “Each One Feed One”. As of April 6, the duo had spent over R1lakh in on food rations with the help of contributions. Even the police joined in to help with the distribution.

When the migrant situation eased, Bajaj and Alam, now joined by another golf coach and two caddies, shifted focus to the Noida Golf Course and its 350 caddies, most of whom are dependent on daily wages. Bajaj teaches at the course and Alam practices there. Now the rations are delivered to the caddies and their families, rickshaw pullers and domestic workers—each packet has 5kg rice, a litre of cooking oil, soap, and 5kg flour.

The online posts by Bajaj have also helped spread the message to golf clubs across the country. The Kharghar Valley Golf Course in Navi Mumbai has raised R1,89,106 from contributions by members, to buy rations for their caddies. Kolkata’s Tollygunge Club and Royal Calcutta Golf Club have been paying their 200 registered caddies R1000 a week for buying essentials. The Delhi Golf Club has issued curfew passes to its five cooks to come and prepare 600 packed meals at the club’s kitchen. At 1pm every day, cops from nearby police stations collect the food packets for distribution in the New Delhi district.

Given the enormity of the problem, the numbers aren’t big, but Alam and Bajaj say making a difference is what matters.

“After the golf course shut down, survival was a challenge. This timely help is God sent and we are indebted,” said Vidya Sagar, a caddie in Noida.

How long can they continue extending help? Bajaj and Alam are taking it one day at a time, but they believe that they can keep going till the pandemic passes, and the greens open again.


    Robin Bose has more than two decades of experience as a sports reporter. He specialises in writing on golf.

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