Speechless on Arrival…
by Curt Russell – Volunteer Khelo Coach from England
We don’t normally get to go to Khelo practice in an air-conditioned Mahindra Scorpio, so this was a cool experience compared with the burning rubbish we were about to come across. We had an easy drive to the location listening to Hindi songs and chatting about the days events. But as Howrah Dhapa came into view, two guys who have lived in Kolkata all their lives could not believe what was in front of them. One described the sight as resembling a post apocalypse movie set, the amount of rubbish was unthinkable.
As we ascended up ‘mount Everest’ all you could see were mountains of rubbish, with what looked like millions of pigs, literally a ‘pigs sty’. We eventually came to a halt. As the car engine was turned off the AC slowly became thinner and thinner. We all opened the door without hesitation; the smell hit us like a brick wall. It was horrendous the smell of pigs bathing in rubbish and toxic waste doesn’t need to be explained further.
We started to round-up the children and all that was surrounding us and the thoughts of our arrival were quickly forgotten. The children made this rubbish dump their home, their playground. As we searched around the community, we came across the Khelo kids playing a game called ‘Pittu’. This game consists of 6 small pieces of brick piled up on top of each other, one person has a small football and has to knock over the pieces of bricks and put them back on top of each other, without another person retrieving the ball and hitting that person. They were making the most of their surroundings to say the least. No Play Station or X-Box was insight, but these kids were happier than any child I have seen in England.
We took to the pitch which is no bigger than my back yard at home,with more glass in sight than there was grass. No Nike or Adidas was to be seen, just the bare feet of 20 boys and girls. We started practice with a warm up drill where the kid’s line up opposite each other, they have to pick up the ball and then run and put the ball down in front of the opposite line. In the process they have to say ball up and ball down, helps in getting them talking which is important for the game.
After we finished warming up the children we split them into two teams and played tag rugby. These children who have been playing rugby for just over one year looked like they had been brought up with a rugby ball in their hands. The match was dominated by calls of ‘ball’ ‘pass’ ‘tag’ which from a coaches point of view is a dream come true. Spectators started to appear, with facial expressions never seen to man. These children, who some barely looked old enough to run, were running at a hares pace with the rugby ball scoring try after try. In the end the match referee and Khelo Coach Nanda lost count of the score and the result ended up in a tie, which was a perfect out come as neither team deserved to lose.
As the practice ended I decided to get the spectators involved and get them doing some passing and catching, with this odd-shaped ball which caused so much confusion. 30 seconds into the passing the expressions of confusion turned to broad grins of excitement, enough that would bring a smile to anyone’s face.
The practice was over and back into the AC Scorpio, which we had all forgotten about. Instead of the conversation being of nice cars, nice clothes etc. It was about how happy we were to have played rugby with these children and how happy they were to have us playing and learning with them and enjoying and sharing the amazing game of rugby!