Sportsman. That’s the best way to describe me. I love to play. And engage with people according to the rules of the game. To play gives me a great thrill. I grew up thinking, perhaps, sports is the best way to interact with fellow humans.
I couldn’t pursue a career of a cricketer due to a debilitating injury. This was an important phase in my life.
I realised fairly early in my life, encouraging and facilitating children to play gave me the thrill of playing a sport. I was barely twenty when I started earning, and from the day one, a part of my income would go towards buying teenagers in the neighbourhood cricket kits. I helped them level a barren patch of land to make it suitable to play.
This passion galvanised into a vision and STAIRS was born, some fifteen years ago, to encourage and support poor children and youth, initially in India’s urban landscape, to come out and play.
Sports helped me understand the inherent potential of a human being. Sports is the simplest, yet the most effective tool for social transformation. Sports works at many levels—mind, body and soul. A healthy body harbours a healthy mind. A robust sporting culture is a must healthy society, inculcates the sense of fair play. Sports is, and should be where it isn’t, an essential part of education, as it ensures legitimate and just engagement of people from all walks of life unrestrained by the barriers of caste, creed or gender. Greatness of a nation, region or a city can be judged by its sporting acumen. I see sports as a great instrument to bring about social transformation for better. I plan to use sports as a policy initiative in various situations and places, be it a conflict zone or in places reeling under economic depravity.
I believe that people who are handicapped for whatever reason, are also blessed with a special, inherent and unique ability. In other words, adverse circumstance vitalised hidden talents. And to hone hidden talents is a good way to ensure differently-abled live a life of dignity and self-reliance. To achieve that, there’s a need of constant, affirmative and supportive attitude of the society, government and various other stakeholders towards them. The society at large should be able to cater to their special needs to reap benefits of their special abilities. That calls for a focused approach. I have seen how honing of talent of a differently-abled person in a field of sports can give new zest and meaning to their life. This has to be extend beyond sports and inculcated into day-to-day lives
Food security will be a challenge. To me the solution lies in maintaining a balance between traditional agriculture practices and the use of technology. I belong to Hindi heartland of India. For generations, farmers are treated as agriculture scientists—custodian of traditional knowledge of the soil types, water, climate and biodiversity. This knowledge is bequeathed generations after generation. Inadvertent and indiscriminate use of technology has resulted in problems. Punjab is a glaring example. Globally, there’s a move towards the basics and natural way of life. The popularity of ‘organic’ food is not a fad—is a way of life. The food security would require a focused approach keeping the needs of the farmer at the forefront. In my view to ensure food security, technology has a major role to play. Technology has to serve the farmers by helping them increase the productivity in a sustainable fashion, not to replace or subjugate the farmers.
The idea was to persuade poverty stricken families—those residing in shanties and slums in subhuman conditions—to allow their children, including girls, and youth, to play for some time every day. Playing is a luxury not many in India can afford.
A small initiative was started near Majnu-ka-Tila in north Delhi. Youth, children, even the elderly, came out in large numbers, cleared and levelled a barren patch of land, otherwise venue for gambling and such activities, next to a busy highway, and started to play. In a couple of years, there were more than hundred such centres running in Delhi, engaging thousands of urban poor, hidden away from the affluent gated communities, by way of sports. A small initiative galvanised into a movement.
Charity begins at home, so does transformation. As Gandhi said, ‘My life is my message.’ I believe my actions are my philosophy. In some measure, we are all a potential change agents. I’m part of an endeavour that paved the way for hundreds of thousands of children and youth to play. They played hard and changed their reality—achieved success, were recognised and rewarded, and, most importantly, they could reclaim their lives.
Sports, just didn’t provide them with a positive avenue to life, was a vent to their pent-up frustrations. Sports helped them realise their inherent talent and gave them an opportunity to hone it. Their outlook to life is changed by engaging with self while competing with others in a field of sports.
We’re victim of our own growth, humanity is 7 billion and growing. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “there’s enough for people’s need, there isn’t enough for people’s greed.” The world order is inequitable. The fruits of development and technological revolution is confined to few privileged. The worst sufferers are teeming millions of young people, who have the energy and drive, but no jobs or positive avenues to life and opportunities for a fruitful engagement with rest of the world. The rising violence, radicalism, or other hate crimes, unrest in the society is a consequence of growing disparities. Youth, and society at large, is disillusioned and bitter—feel have been denied their rightful due. This phenomenon is not confined to the less developed world. The West, particular Europe and the US, are feeling the heat. To engage youth productively and constructively will be one of the greatest challenge and opportunity in the decades to come. I commit myself to reap huge demographic dividend by focusing and devising interventions with, for the youth of the world.
I’m against gender discrimination, both positive and negative. I demand and will work for an equitable treatment of women. Parochial and patriarchal mind-set is ingrained in our societies—East or West—which prevents half of the humanity to realise their inherent potential and talent. Gender roles limits capabilities of a society. The women have come forward, but men also need to mend their ways. Safety of women is a concern, not just in Delhi, but in all the metropolis of the world in some measure or the other. It’s a matter of shame that the body of a woman has remained a venue of violence and exploitation. There is need to work to create equitable, just society where women are equal partner. And this requires, inherently a mental revolution. The focus has to be man, his attitude is the genesis of all crime against women. I’m not a supporter of a special exalted status for women, but that of parity. I will work for a society that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender.
Clean environment is life force. Nature is mother. Nature can be fury, as well. Last 200 years of unbridled development has made humanity achieve the improbable, in the process, however, they have reduced the planet over last few generations into a furnace and a chimney. The essential balance of the nature seems to have been disturbed. There are potent signs for humanity to change the way it treats environment in its quest to excel or face disastrous consequences. To me, clean surroundings and healthy environment is the most fundamental of all fundamental rights. There’s a need of awareness. And there’s a need of a focused approach on multiple fronts. For instance, water is just one of many issues that underline the predicament we face, victim of our own, so called, progress. Humanity has failed to provide clean potable water to all, yet, has contaminated, destroyed natural water systems all over the world.
Sports is a tool for social transformation—basis of a healthy society with sense of fair play and optimism in face of the challenges that life many have to offer. It’s an essential part of education, also, is the most cost effective way of tapping into huge demographic potential of India—an ancient country of a billion young people.
Not just India, 7 billion humanity on this planet, most of them living under distressed conditions in the various less developed parts, are waiting for positive interventions in their life. Sports is the answer.
My tryst with humanity has given me some insights. Many of the problem that plague the world, is due to lack of a larger, holistic and sensitive approach to engage with the masses, at the grassroots, with a humanistic touch.
Many of us live in denial and feign helplessness. I don’t. I have great faith in the genius of humanity. It can also lead to disastrous consequences if not tempered with positive reinforcements. I’m committed to contribute my bit to help people attain self-actualisation. I will focus on certain critical areas, work with people, to contribute secure a healthy life and sustainable livelihood to all.