Rugby Building Futures

Talking Rugby Futures with Akash and Puspendu

by Disha Musaddi

The Jungle Crows Foundation, through its unique open-for-all sport-for-development approach, has supported many children from disadvantaged communities over the years to express themselves through the medium of sports and reach their full potential. This interview series is an attempt to bring out the stories of several such young people associated with the Foundation. We aim to develop a platform for further discussion and dialogue on the theme of sports for development. In the first of the series, Disha Musaddi speaks to two young rugby players – Akash Balmiki (19 years old) and Puspendu Tudu (20 years old) about the experiences and opportunities that have come their way since joining the Jungle Crows and starting to play rugby.

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Puspendu and Akash

So Puspendu, first of all, what’s the story behind your unique nick name ‘Commando’?

Puspendu: As a kid I used to play and jump a lot. One day I jumped from the second floor and climbed three floors from the pipe. On seeing this, my friends told me I should be called Commando or ‘fauji’. They eventually stuck to Commando and gradually everyone started calling me by that name.

For how many years have you boys been playing rugby?

Akash: I have been playing for the last 6 years, started sometime in 2008.

Puspendu: I started playing in 2004 when I was just 10 years old.

We’ve heard that, initially, you both have practiced and played a lot together; tell us about those days and how you both started playing?

Puspendu: At first, I wasn’t friends with Akash. We both belonged to different groups. Then gradually we became friends, then I asked him to join me in rugby, but he wasn’t interested. But when I got the chance to go to England one day to play, he was amazed to know about it and then decided to join me for practices. We would go for practices together…go everywhere together. If it rained, then the two of us would play in the maidan…sometimes only the two of us would be there.

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Akash and Commando with the Jungle Crows U20s

Which position do you both play?

Akash: I play number 10, I personally feel it’s the best position ever. In this position the player has a lot to do and to think about. He has to take along all the players together.

Puspendu: Centre. It is an important position in the back, they are the ones who make the game.

How do you prepare for a match? 

Puspendu: One day before a match, we increase our water intake because we get cramp easily during a match and even tire easily. I then try my best to calm my mind and be at peace.

Akash: Before a match, I drink lots of water, focus on the game and listen to our coach, what he has to say.

Who is your inspiration, as far as rugby is concerned?

Akash: It’s Sailen Tudu. According to me, he’s the best player; he has taught me well about rugby…everything in life. He’s like a big brother to me.

Puspendu: It’s Sailen Tudu for me too. When I came to Calcutta the first time, I met him. We belong to the same village. There were only two people from my village those days, Tudu bhaiya and me… no one else. He taught me, sent me to school. Those days I used to only play, I didn’t have any knowledge about rugby. One day he took me to the Maidan and introduced me to Paul (Walsh) sir. Since then I’ve been going for training.

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Comando makes a superb break to score: All India Rugby 2012

An advice given to you, which has helped you?

Puspendu: Respect is the most important thing for me. Respect the players and your coach. No matter how great you are, if you don’t respect your coach, you’re nothing.

Akash: Tudu bhaiya taught me to respect my position in the team, team mates, and coach. His advice is the most useful as he leads by example.

What about respecting the opponents?

Akash: Yes, we do respect them in the game. When they get injured during the game, we help them. Because at the end of the day, it’s just a game.

You both have gotten the chance to visit UK, how was your experience? Was it the best experience of your Rugby playing career so far? 

Puspendu: I never imagined I’d go to England… never thought I would get the chance to travel by plane. The first time I went on a plane and lived there, it was a very nice place. It’s a very clean, no dirt at all, the people were good… everything was amazing. From then on, I have never looked back and my Rugby playing has only improved. Recently I also got the chance to play for the India team and that for me is my big achievement.

Akash: I had just played my second game in La Martiniere school tournament, where I played well. Arijit Sirkar had asked me for my birth certificate and told me that I would go to UK, but I took it as a joke. My passport was made and Paul Sir came to my house to tell me about the verification. When I went to the station, the officer couldn’t believe that I am going to UK. He looked at me condescendingly and said, “this boy from the basthi will go to UK?”  My mother wasn’t happy with this decision; she was scared about who will take care of us and how will we manage. But, I really wanted to go and convinced her. It was the first time I was on the plane and that made me nervous, and Commando told me that the toilets in the plane are very small… that freaked me out more.  On reaching, we met Peter and Steve, after which we got divided into two’s to live with different families. Sanjay and I got to stay with a Punjabi family. And, we met Curt and Tudu at Caldy Club, where we played our under 13 tournament.

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Akash leads a session at Winter Camp 2014

If there’s a new kid who wants to play rugby, what would be your advice to him or her? 

Akash: First, I will describe the ball! The kid will be surprised to see an egg-shaped ball, and then I will talk about rugby and tell them that if they want to play, they should eat good, healthy food.

Puspendu: I will do the same. I will speak to him, and tell him that he’s a good player. I will tell that if one gets into bad habits, it will instead affect one’s health… the game too… I will try to explain the harmful effects of indiscipline.

Besides playing, the two of you have also done some coaching Tell us a bit about that.

Puspendu: I don’t do much coaching. To be frank, I find coaching a bit challenging; I don’t think it’s something I can do too well. When I go for practice, I explain the format and rules of the game to all those who are new.

Akash: I started my coaching experience with netball. Initially, I was very nervous and didn’t know how to go about it. I would just observe Lovepreet and try to work it all out. Paul Sir would encourage me, which did give me some confidence and I’ve had training. Currently I’m coaching at three communities in our Khelo Rugby project (Bhavani Bhavan, Bijoy Basu, and KPT Colony), a couple of schools, and I am also involved with Netball coaching in a few Girls’ schools.

Can you tell us a bit about Netball?

Akash: Netball is the best sport for girls, according to me. It’s a no contact sport, so the girls can play without hurting themselves. It can be played in basketball courts too.

What more you want to do for the children associated with Khelo Rugby?

Akash: I would want them to study while becoming a good player at the same time.

Puspendu: I want to teach them, want them to play well… be a good player… work on fitness, eat healthy food…

Akash: Yes, don’t eat junk always… Most important!

You both have played a few seasons of Rugby now. So can you talk us through your day during the rugby season?

Akash: During those times, we don’t think much about studies! We only think about how we are going to play, about winning the game.

Puspendu: I don’t think about school and studies too.. To be honest, I don’t think much about it otherwise! It’s the rugby season, so my main concern is how we are going to play; we make the game plan, focus on fitness, and go to the gym.

What’s the best thing about each other when it comes to rugby?

Puspendu: Akash is a complete player, has the skills, his passes are good…

Akash: Commando has good skills, passes, running and the best part is, he is always one step ahead of the others.. always thinking about what should be done next.

And, the weakest

Akash: Commando doesn’t talk much, he has to talk more! He can be one of the best player in the country if he talks more..

Puspendu: Akash’s tackle is the weakest; he misses the tackle at the most crucial point and the opponents manage to score a try.

Will you teach him how to tackle?

Yes, of course.

Will you learn, Akash?

Akash: Definitely, there are a lot of things Commando has taught me regarding rugby, before I joined Jungle Crows. I will continue learning from him.

Puspendu: I will be very happy if Akash becomes a better player than me one day!

Can you tell us about Paul Sir, what do you think about him and his influence in your life?

Akash: I’ve never seen anyone like Paul sir in Kolkata, because he took local boys like us and spoke to us and made us what we are.

Puspendu: He has helped me a lot. He would be always very happy to see me play well. Whenever I needed something like shoes, shirt, shorts, he would give it happily.

Commando, tell us about your special interest in the children from the Adivasi community.

Puspendu: Adivasis are very fit… they play football, hockey and so many other sports There are people of all cultures who play… there are Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims… I want there to be a separate team where the Adivasis get a chance to play and have an identity of their own … I want them to organize and play very well, make a mark for themselves. I want people to recognize them, because many don’t know about our culture, and they think we are just illiterates from the jungles. What I really want to do is to train them hard, and learn a lot. If rugby can change me, my brother Tudu, then it can surely transform many other youngsters and prevent them from exploitation.

Other than rugby, which sport(s) do you play?

Puspendu: Football, cricket…

Akash: We play these sports just for fun.

Tell us about your future plans…

Puspendu: Studies is a big challenge for me! But I want to work hard, finish my studies and maybe join the army team one day. I also want to work hard to promote Adivasi Rugby.

Akash: Last year, I played for the India team and that was a very proud moment of my life. I want to be the best coach and retire as one of the top players in the world!

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Comando and Akash with the India U20 team playing in Pakistan

Young Leaders in Action

Duke of Edinburgh Gold Team from Scotland in India

by Rory Higginson

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Starting line-up: Nanda (host), Anna, Hugo, Lauren, Pedro, Sophie, Rory, DP (host)

As the plane touched down I started to get anxious. What was I doing bringing my Fettes team mates all the way to Kolkata in India to a place almost the polar opposite to where we are all living? Would they appreciate the hot, hot weather, the chaotic travel, the dusty, dirty streets or the food?  None of them had done anything like this before and I was now worried this was going to be a disaster.  However 45 minutes later, after we collected our luggage and left the arrivals and were met by a smiling Paul and Hari who would be our companions for the week and DP our driver, who even gave me a hug I knew it would be OK.

We immediately went to our guest house and dumped our stuff before heading to lunch with Tiger and Ajay – our introduction to food in Kolkata was hot and spicy Chinese.

In the afternoon the Jungle Crows under 18 team were playing the rest of the Jungle Crows in a practice match before the U18 all India tournament the following week. Pedro and I took the opportunity to join the training and play with the team. I almost lasted the first half, but totally shattered from the journey and the heat, with the sweat streaming from my head into my eyes, hardly able to see what was going on I made the earlier exit. Pedro, from Hong Kong was more used to the heat and he managed all of the first half. It’s a great experience playing with the team as they are so enthuastic and although we were so much bigger in height and body mass they were not afraid to tackle and came straight for us, and my goodness they are fast…so fast. We wished them all the best in the All India Tournament.

ft2After a quick sleep we headed out to dinner. DP our driver met us at the guest house and walked us to the New Market – the market is so very old so we don’t know why it is called new. See the pictures we found here, this is how it looked in 1945.  Think this was quite a surprise for everyone as it was so busy and there was so much to see.

Dinner was great, somehow we had managed to get a table in the coolest restaurant in Kolkata – 1658  …….we all enjoyed the food which was a mix of Indian, European and Asian so something for all.  After dinner DP met us to take us back to the guest house and although DP’s plan was to make two journeys we persuaded him otherwise and all 6 of us squashed in for the 5 minute journey.

We all crashed after such an eventful and enjoyable first day but excited about what the week would bring. Some of the highlights included………..

Working With The Children

ft3Sunday there was no resting as we were met at 8am and headed out with all the stuff we had brought with us to our first training session at Salt Lake Dhapa. When we got there it was obvious that the Khelo coaches had been here often as the children were very familiar and treated us all as good friends. They knew the games and were skilled. They loved our hula hoops, as this was new and fun.  There was quite a crowd of children so we split them into three groups with Lauren, Anna and Sophie coaching the younger group and Hugo, Pedro and I coaching the older groups.

Over the rest of the week we went to Brooklyn, Siliguri, Howrah, each Khelo Community was completely different but all had expectant children eager to meet us, be coached and have some fun. When we found something they were good at they just didn’t want to stop and loved the positive praise.

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Night Train to Siliguri

ft5That night we were getting the night train to Siliguri and we had been told we had a luxury coach. We had also been warned to sleep on our possessions and not to go to the toilet alone so it was with some trepidation that we boarded the train. Our luxury coach was interesting – it was a compartment with two sets of triple bunk beds separated by a table. The compartment had no door so as people walked down the corridor they could look in. However, it was luxurious as it did have a fan!!

It was a new experience for all of us and we had lots of fun but not that much sleep.

The Elephant

Meeting an elephant was a totally unplanned experience – when we were up in the village of Saraswatipur we could see an elephant in the distance. When the locals saw our surprise at seeing it one of the them brought it over to us. Seemingly it lived outside the village in the forest. For most of us it was the first time we had seen a wild elephant –  it was furry (a surprise) and very friendly and obviously used to people as it would play with our hair and legs with its trunk.  The girls got to ride it and it was very photogenic as we all got to take photos with it.ft6

The Sun Rising on the Himalayas

ft7We visited Darjeeling on our way home from Siliguri and Paul and Hari asked us to get up at 4am for a special trip – we did and made a journey up a rocky, sketchy road to the top of a hill where there was a lodge. We stood on the balcony with lots of other locals waiting to see the sun rise on Everest. It was really cold – a surprise as I was in my shorts! As we had just been boiling in Darjeeling. Despite our poor choice of clothing and although we didn’t see Everest we did see the most breath-taking sunrise over the Himalayas. Well worth the early morning trip and when the sun came up it was a lot warmer 🙂

Diwali

ft8We were lucky enough to be in Kolkata during Diwali which is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. The festival, which coincides with the Hindu New Year, celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Christophe who runs Terra Indica works with Calcutta’s street children, providing them access to education and vocational training in woodwork and carpentry, many of them also play rugby with the Jungle Crows. Terra Indica has the most amazing roof terrace looking over all of Kolkata and Christophe was persuaded to have a party – we all dressed for the occasion. The roof was all lit by candles and we had fireworks. We also had great Indian music and were taught how to dance – not sure we were much good at it but we did have fun.ft9

Painting the Jungle Crows Nest

ft11The organisation that manages the Jungle Crows and Maidan Hazards rugby teams and supports all the Khelo programs is called the Jungle Crows Foundation and they had just moved into new offices which were on the top floor of a school. The school didn’t use the top floor as it was so run down and they didn’t have enough teachers for so many classrooms. ft12It is a great facility for the Jungle Crows as it not only gives some office space but also can provide some accommodation for the Khelo coaches and any visitors. It also has shower and kitchen facilities. When we were in town they had the official opening and we helped prepare for it by painting the school yard and outside walls to make it more welcoming for visitors and kids.

ft13Outside the school is a field so some of the training can take place here and on the open day we had about 100 kids turn up to play sport – we had brought some hula hoops and play tunnels with us from the UK and the kids loved them.

ft15We had such a fantastic trip and felt we really had made a difference and had learnt a lot about ourselves. Our hosts Paul and Hari who coordinated our whole trip were absolutely fantastic and along with all the coaches gave us a really memorable experience that none of us will ever forget. Thanks to everyone!!!!

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Hula Hoop Team!