Written by Supreet Kaur
Nine-year-old Mannat Singh is one of the youngest squash trainees at Khelshala in Attawa village of Sector 42, Chandigarh, where she is accompanied by ten other medalists from last week’s Chandigarh State Squash Championships. Mannat, whose father, Amrish Singh, works as a peon in Punjab and Haryana High Court, won silver medal in girls’ U-11 category in the championship. She is among the underprivileged players and is supported by Khelshala, an initiative of Satinder Bajwa, former director of squash at Harvard University, USA, and coach of eight-time world champion Jansher Khan.
“I got to know about squash from my brother and started playing the sport at Khelshala when I was five-years-old. Playing the sport made me feel good and made me forget all the hardships faced by our family. My father works as a peon in the high court and when I won the silver medal in the Chandigarh State Championships, it meant a lot for him. Although I missed the chance to play in nationals this year, this silver medal will motivate me a lot,” shared Mannat, who is a student of Government Model Senior Secondary School, Sector 35, Chandigarh and idolises Indian squash player, Sourav Goshal.
Like Mannat, 17-year-old Anjali Devi has also been a trainee at Khelshala for five years. Devi faced a lot of hardships as her father passed away, while her mother, Gayatri, works as a peon at a private company. Despite this, Devi has pursued squash apart from hockey. She has so far played in 16 squash tournaments and three hockey tournament and bagged the gold medal with a 3-1 (12-10, 8-11, 11-2, 11-9) win over Anjali Kumari in the Chandigarh State Squash Championships. The youngster won bronze in school-level nationals in 2017, apart from a silver medal in school-level nationals last year. Last year, Devi finished eighth in Vedanta Squash Open, Mumbai.
“Winning the medals at the state level and in school-level nationals gave me a lot of confidence. Playing hockey also helped me in squash as it improved my reflexes. Reaching the quarter-finals in Vedanta Squash Open boosted my confidence a lot and I will be aiming for a medal in this year’s nationals,” shared Devi, who also idolises Sourav Ghosal.
16-year-old Anand Gupta, too, started playing squash in an effort to utilise his time and the youngster won a bronze medal in boys’ U-17 category last week. Gupta scored 82 per cent in class 10 Board exams earlier this year. “I wanted to utilise my time after school, which is how I started playing squash. Playing the sport made me realise that winning and losing are part of the game. Whether I win or lose, it always boosts my confidence and brings a smile on the face of my parents. Seeing me compete brings them joy and I aim to win more medals,” shares Gupta.
21-year-old Priya Gupta has been one of the most successful players to come from Khelshala and the Attawa resident was ranked 11th in women’s category in national rankings by Squash Federation of India. Gupta, whose father, Suresh Gupta, is a scrap dealer, won the women’s title in Chandigarh State Championships last week with a 3-0 win over Khushi Verma.
Last year, Gupta was awarded with Young India fellowship from Ashoka University, Sonepat, where she completed a PG Diploma in Liberal Arts. Last year, Gupta finished fourth in Hamdard Delton Squash Open in New Delhi and was also the member of Panjab University squash team, which won All India Inter-University Squash Championship in 2016 and 2017.
“I started playing squash in 2009 at Government High School, Sector 35, under Bajwa sir and initially, I saw it as a leisure activity. Winning medals at Chandigarh level boosted my confidence and it encouraged me to spend more time training. Being a part of winning Panjab University team was a special feeling and getting the Young India Fellowship also meant a lot for me and my family. Kids like us need direction and Bajwa sir provided us the direction to succeed,’ shares Gupta.
Bajwa, who shifted base from USA to India in 2009, has been training more than 50 village kids at Khelshala campuses in Chandigarh and Majra village in Mohali. “Our focus has been on providing sports, academics and yoga (SAY) to children. We will be completing ten years of Khelshala this year and the performance of the trainees here has been extraordinary. Sports plays a huge part in shaping up career of such children, helping them to win medals and in giving them confidence to excel in life. Eleven players from Khelshala won medals in last week’s tournament and Akhilesh Kumar was called for the trials by SRFI for Asian/Junior World team. Competing in more tournaments will provide these players the much-needed exposure and I am sure they can win more medals,” shared Bajwa.