Till a few years ago, Rajnikanth R would often accompany his brother, a garbage collector, to his work-place. During one of those excursions, as the orphan sat sifting through the waste-bin at Hyderabad’s Sanjivaiah Park, the teenager noticed ‘large white sheets’, as he puts it, attached to a boat sailing along the adjoining Hussain Sagar. With eyes wide open, Rajnikanth stood up scratching his head and wondering about the spectacle he was witnessing. That curiosity took him on a journey where the sheets would eventually become ‘sails’.
Today, 17-year-old Rajnikanth is a regular on the country’s sailing circuit, fostering hopes of qualifying for international events in the coming years. There was no such serendipity involved with Leela Sagar’s initiation into the sport, however. The son of a domestic help, he was introduced to the Yacht Club of Hyderabad (YCH) through the Nandi Foundation, an NGO supporting his family. But he hasn’t had to wait to make the step up like his fellow Hyderabadi.
At 12, Sagar was one of the probables for the Incheon Asian Games this September after making the core group of the Indian contingent for the Optimist class sailing-dinghy in the U-16 category.
“I have seen few kids progress as dramatically as Sagar has in just two years. It’s amazing. And that he could be representing be the country at just 12 makes for a great story,” says Suheim Sheikh, the president of the YCH and Sagar’s coach. Sagar’s acquired knowledge of the art was also evident over the weekend as he won three successive races in the Optimist U-15 division of the Mumbai-based JJ Memorial Cup.Sagar claims to not remember much about his father, and for a better part of his young life he has looked up to Sheikh, who in turn has taken the youngster under his wing. And not just in terms of his sailing dreams.
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Rajnikanth on the other hand only has his elder sibling to call family, having been orphaned at a young age. He has no memories of his parents but does remember all too well the day he was approached by Sheikh near the YCH as the curious-eyed teenager stood staring at the boats.
“He came up to me out of nowhere and told me that he had noticed me watching the boats for a few days. He then asked me whether I would like to try my hand at sailing. I just said yes,” recalls Rajnikanth.
Though he might not have made the progress that Sagar has managed to, Rajnikanth, one of the seniors of the YCH boys’ group, has played a role mentoring his younger teammate. While a ticket to the Asian Games might have eluded him this time around, he hasn’t given up hope of making the step up himself one day. His biggest high so far came last year when he won a bronze at the nationals in June. And he currently competes in the 11-foot Topper dinghy, and is looking to make the switch to the Laser Standard dinghy, a criteria at the Asian Games.
“Some day, Sagar too will have to leave the Optimist dinghy and I look forward to sailing with him in the same category,” says Rajnikanth.
For now, their immediate concern is to utilise the experience, gathered from the Mumbai event, of competing in the sea. After all, landlocked Hyderabad has only provided them a wave-less lake.