One year of lockdown: Missing the good-old habit

Coaching didn’t just fill up a few hours of their days, teaching sport filled up a lifetime. So when the pandemic hemmed these super seniors inside their homes for the first time in their lives, these outdoor doyens of maidaan coaching were left rudderless. One used a heart ailment prescription to dodge past cops for his daily walks, another dug out five-year-old newspapers to make sense of the passage of time.

‘Heart condition prescription helped me get around’

Gurcharan Singh, 86
Who is he: Dronacharya awardee who has mentored more than 100 first-class cricketers and a dozen national players over five decades
How life changed: For a person used to spending the whole day at the ground, his outdoor time was spent in a park at dawn and dusk. Watching news or movies was never his cup of tea

I turn 86 today. Bhagwan jo mujhe itni lambi zindagi de raha hai (the long life given to me by the Almighty), it is only because of the cricket ground. When he’s giving me life… when I am still able to walk and wander, why not carry on doing what I do for as long as I can?

I don’t have a circle of friends to chat or hang out with. Cricket has been my life for decades now. A normal day of coaching means waking up at 5 am, finishing a walk at the Yamuna Sports Complex by 8 am and then going to the Arwachin Bharati School (in the Vivek Vihar area of East Delhi). Working with the groundsmen there… finishing chores like going through the balls, replacing the torn ones. Back home by 10 am, and leave again after lunch at 3 pm. I have three training centres and that would keep me busy till I returned home by 9-10 pm. My family would say he comes home only to sleep.

Then came the jolt to the schedule. Itne lambe arse me aise din nahi kaate kabhi (In a long time, I haven’t spent days like these). I still couldn’t be kept at home, away from the ground. During the lockdown, I managed a prescription for a heart condition. Whenever somebody stopped me on the road, I would say I was either going to or returning from the hospital. I couldn’t leave the groundsmen on their own. I asked the coaches to stay at home, but continued paying them. I passed my time roaming around the three grounds.

When it got tough, I would sneak off to a park near my home at dawn and dusk and just sit there for hours. And when it got even stricter… what was there to be done? I tried watching TV, but there’s nothing but commercials and watching news was distressing. I was never fond of watching movies. It was a tedious time for us to pass. And when you’ve woken up at 5 am all your life, what other option was there than to just stay lying on the bed?

Now, it’s almost back to normal. The students from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have started returning to the grounds. The Delhi folks are a little more sensitive and cautious. Whenever I talk to my students, they share stories of how tough the lockdown was for them, how they struggled to stay at home away from cricket.

Those months were extremely difficult. That period was a loss for cricket but in some ways, beneficial too. Jin grounds pe ghaas kabhi ugti nahi thi, vo bilkul hari-bhari ho gayi (those grounds where grass never used to grow, those too became green).

As told to Gaurav Bhatt

‘Started reading old newspapers which I had collected as a hobby’

Merzban Patel, 71
Who is he: Dronacharya awardee hockey coach
How life changed: For 50 years, he would leave home early to coach young players at Mumbai’s various hockey grounds before returning 12 hours later. But the lockdown grounded him in his small apartment

When the lockdown was announced, my first thought was, ‘how will I live my life?’

For 50 years, I have followed a routine – leave home at 8 am, visit different hockey grounds and academies across Mumbai, talk to kids, motivate them, and reach home at 8 pm. Because of my age, I had to now spend entire days, weeks and months at home.

I live in a 35-year-old apartment in the western suburbs of Mumbai along with my younger brother, who is 69 – I am 71 years old. It’s a small apartment, a little bit dilapidated as well – recently, the ceiling of one room collapsed without warning; luckily nothing too serious happened. But in the early weeks (of the lockdown), I started to notice small details of my apartment that had escaped my attention earlier because I rarely spent so much time at home.

Details like the sheer number of newspapers in my house! It’s a hobby I have cultivated over the years – right now, I have five, six-year-old newspapers and they came in handy because from the first day of the lockdown, the vendors stopped delivering papers. A lot of newspapers stopped as well, which was very unfortunate.

So I started reading old news, taking clips and segregating the sports stories, political articles and so on. Reading archival news and also books kept my mind fresh.

Crucially, though, I was able to pass this phase because of my attachment with the players. I coach around 30-35 boys, most of them aged under 14. A lot of them depend on me, so much so that some listen to me more than to their parents. They are like my children.

And while the whole world turned to remote coaching, I could not do that because I do not own a smartphone. I still use one of those old phones that many will call outdated. But it served my purpose.

I used to make 30-35 calls every day, one to each player to make sure they are motivated: that’s my secret to winning the Dronacharya Award. You keep in touch with them every single day and success will follow. We discussed only hockey, not movies and all those things. Every day at 4 am, I watched some yoga on, what is that website… YouTube, and performed those exercises myself. Then, I used to describe those exercises to my senior players who then passed it on to the juniors. It was the same routine for other aspects of fitness activities since that was all we could do during the lockdown.

In the last few months, my players have started to train at a turf inside a mall at their own cost. I keep track of their training through phone calls since they say it is still not safe for senior citizens to go to public places. In the last one year, life as we knew it stopped. But hockey did not stop for a moment. With God’s grace, the lot that I got is very dedicated. Very soon, you will all hear a lot about them.

As told to Mihir Vasavda

‘I would walk or do small fitness sessions on our rooftop to keep fit’

SM Arif, 77
Who is he: Dronacharya and Padma Shri awardee who has mentored badminton stars like Pullela Gopichand, Saina Nehwal and Jwala Gutta
How life changed: Used to being on the court for a large chunk of the day, there was a vacuum as his trainees went home. It was difficult to chart their progress online.

When the lockdown was announced, we were about to open the Jwala Gutta Academy of Excellence near Gachibowli, Hyderabad in March end or April. But it had to be delayed. The trainees at the Lal Bahadur Stadium went to their respective states. At first, we thought that they would return after the initial phase of the lockdown.

In a way I am happy that they went away as with cases rising and the lockdown extended, it was good that they were home. But it posed a challenge to me in terms of training and maintaining their intensity levels during this period. While I would spend more than four hours in the morning and three in the evening in training sessions prior to the lockdown, now I had to keep a watch on every single trainee through online sessions and make sure that they did the required agility exercises. The initial days were spent making a schedule for them. I believe that without the right intensity, there’s not much value in training and it was not easy to assess the intensity online.

During my whole life, I have never sat at home for such a long time and it was mentally challenging in the initial days. I would walk or do small fitness sessions on our rooftop to keep fit and would later watch my personal recordings of more than 1,000 matches featuring the likes of Tai Tzu-Ying, Carolina Marin, Jwala, Ashwini Ponnappa, Saina and others. It helped me in explaining some crucial points to the trainees as well as sometimes, you cannot remember a particular point or a strategy and watching those recordings helped me mentally as well as tactically.

I stay at Noor Khan Bazar area in Hyderabad and my son stays in the same complex too. He used to help with ration and other essential commodities. But the biggest worry for me was that my trainees would return rusty. And that’s what happened when the academy opened in November. It was emotional to meet the trainees but the biggest challenge has been to not let their interest dwindle with no domestic tournaments taking place.

The lockdown taught me that come what may, one has to be careful about one’s mental as well as physical health. With Covid cases on the rise again, we are still watchful and training while following the Standard Operating Procedures and guidelines has been the biggest change for us.

As told to Nitin Sharma

‘I was feeling fatigued though I was not training anyone’

BI Fernandez,66
Who he is: The Dronacharya awardee was Vijender Singh’s coach when the boxer won a historic bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games. He is a coach at the Punjab Institute of Sports, Mohali.
How life changed: He was mentally fatigued because of being unable to step out and train boxers. Fell back on cooking, meditation and Skype calls with family.

After the first few days of the lockdown, I found it difficult to stay indoors. I was mentally upset and found that I was feeling fatigued though I was not training anyone. My biggest worry was the well-being of my wife and daughter who live in Houston, Texas. At that point there were a high number of Covid-19 cases in the United States as compared to other countries. I would talk to both of them every day. My daughter worked in a car showroom, so I would advise her to take all precautions.

We used to talk over Skype so it helped me teach my granddaughter how to greet people with folded hands while saying namaste, a safe option during the pandemic.

In order to stay in the right frame of mind, I would listen to Spanish songs and would meditate daily before going to sleep.

When the Janta Curfew was announced on March 22, I called one of my Indian friends to find out why people are banging utensils and other things. It was my off day and I was sleeping when I heard the loud banging. This was being done, I was told by the friend, to thank Covid-19 frontline workers.

I had to find a way to keep myself busy. I cook my own food, so that helped. I cooked butter chicken and rajma. Before mental fatigue could drain me completely, I started taking online video classes for my trainees, in the morning and evening.

As told to Nitin Sharma

‘I watched old videos of me winning medals to keep mind busy’

Mann Kaur, 105
Who is she: Active track-and-field athlete and multiple World Masters Games medallist
How life changed: For a person still competitive at her age, she found it difficult to sit idle at home. Not being able to meet younger people made it tougher

When we returned from Delhi after receiving the Nari Shakti Puraskar from President Ram Nath Kovind on March 8, we were looking forward to meeting fellow athletes and attending some functions to honour us at Punjabi University, Patiala. But weeks later, the lockdown was imposed and we could interact with them only through video chats.

Before the lockdown, I would train every alternate day with light sprints of 60m, 100m and 200m at the university ground apart from doing some light fitness sessions with my son Gurdev Singh at our apartment in the university. During the initial days of the lockdown, it was mentally tough to sit idle at home. So, we would walk or do brisk walks in the corridor. Since we take a diet of Kefir, soymilk, sprouted wheat, wheatgrass powder and pulses, we faced some scarcity after a while but the volunteers at the university got the stocks for us. A lot of friends would ask us about wheatgrass and amla juice as it boosts immunity and we would advise them to take these items regularly.

When I used to prepare for marathons and other walk events before the lockdown, my schedule took me to various cities. Now I missed all those competitions and meeting young athletes and fans. Inspiring young children and athletes also works as a tonic for me and without them I felt fatigued. So I would spend more time reciting Sukhmani Sahib path, meditating and listening to religious scriptures, which helped us pass the months in lockdown.

I had been preparing for the World Masters Games scheduled in Canada last year and this year too, but all those events have been cancelled. I had to watch my old videos of participation and winning medals to keep my mind busy.

Two months ago, when the grounds at the university reopened, practising and meeting athletes gave me a fresh lease of life. We did light training on the athletics track and a lot of kids, who stay at the campus, would watch me. On my birthday on March 1, Milind Soman and his mother visited us. To meet people after a long time felt good. But with the second wave of Covid-19, we all need to be careful. Whenever we go out or train, we make sure that we follow the six-feet-distance rule and also intake hot steam immediately after coming back. My grandchildren stay abroad. With the lockdown and other travel restrictions, I am waiting to meet them again. It will be one of the biggest joys for me.

As told to Nitin Sharma

 

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