BANGALORE: Sunday morning, 6 am. In the open ground adjacent to Hasnath College in Bangalore, the true picture of co-existence emerges. Footballs are racing across in all directions along the ground while cricket balls whizz in the space above. Various teams manage to play their games without any confusion. Sometimes, a football may land up in the pitch and be kicked back while an odd cricket ball lands squarely in the palms of a football player. But not to worry, the players carry on undisturbed.
At one corner, you can observe children of ages ranging from 3 to 17 standing around a young coach in the centre. In a blue jersey and knickers and fluorescent sneakers, Tejas looks much like the kids he is training in football. Warm-up, followed by some initial exercises of passing the ball, tackling, etc soon lead to a game among the older lot, while the younger lot replicate the same action in a mini area marked out for them.
Watching the players in action, one observes that this is a game of contrasts. There is strength and finesse, agility and poise, action and concentration of an individual and the team, brute force and poetry, the play between mind and body. No wonder that the game gathers passionate followers. Like Tejas.
21 year-old Tejas chucked his engineering degree midway to not just follow his passion but spread it among the underprivileged. A football player since 11 years, Tejas even picked a college after CET simply because it had a big football ground!
He soon quit when he realized his calling lay in the open grounds out there and not in the confines of classrooms.
Having played for the state team, he could easily have pursued a career in the game, but as he says, “If Baichung Bhutia couldn’t do anything for the team, how can I?” He joined a football academy to coach kids but soon found out that he hardly had a say with so many experienced coaches around. He wished to do things differently. Once again he was footloose. Watching kids gave him an insight. “I noticed that it was just a recreation with no application of life-skills. There was no spirit of team play, trust, sportsmanship though there was talent. I started approaching a few schools and organizing workshops for the children.” A series of workshops followed.
He even coached scientists at a research institute, he says, besides some 150 children from various schools. Then there were the matches where he was the referee.
All the while Tejas never stopped practising free style football, his favourite hobby. An exercise in total unison of man and ball, freestyle football combines gymnastics, acrobatics and timing. The onlooker can be forgiven for holding his or her breath as the football goes rolling all over his hands and body, head and back, sometimes pausing in mid-air as Tejas takes a few turns.
Some performances, like the one for Red Bull, saw him winning recognition locally. He went on to become the 2014 freestyle football champ at the Channel V fest. But money was hard to come by. And having dumped his degree, it was not all hunky dory at home. He started working at a call centre at night to make money and teach football during the day.
He was now focussing on underprivileged children in orphanages. “It was tough because I had not enough money to buy the footballs and shoes the kids needed. Using word of mouth and friends’ assistance, I managed to get some quantity. Through crowd-funding on the Net, I got quick response from groups like Second to None.”
But the going is still tough. He is now in the process of registering a NGO for his work. Inspired by the Humans of New York movement, Tejas watches kids at play wherever he goes, in the streets, grounds, talks to them, jots down their dreams and challenges, and charts these stories in his blog.
His aim is to take football to every street in the country, but more importantly to make sure that values like humility, team play, sportsmanship are ingrained in every player. Tejas’ commitment is evident in the way he turns up every Sunday at the Hennur ground, biking all the way from home in Electronic City, to coach the orphans. He has now taken up a degree in psychology at National College.
How he juggles studies, coaching and work is something a few youngsters can pick a cue from. Following one’s dream can be a tough journey. Many will fall aside, much like the football that strays outside the field. A few will make it to the goal post. Tejas is aiming for the goal.