It’s Sunday morning. I’m in Laxmi Narayan Park in the posh Vasant Vihar area of Delhi. A young boy walks into the park carrying two bulky bags on each side. An excited group of children, aged between 8 and 12, come huddling in from a nearby Bhanvar Singh Camp, one of the many slum settlements in the city. The young boy hands over the bags to them, upon which they reach a spot and swiftly assemble two nets, grab the tennis rackets and eagerly wait for their trainer Akash to teach them a new tennis skill.
The Bhanvar Singh Camp community largely comprises of migrants from Rajasthan and the remoter parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They live in small huts with roofs made up of cemented slabs and plastic sheets. Men are mostly engaged in daily waged labour work or are cooks, sweepers, drivers and helpers.
Akash’s mother, Monica Logani got in touch with Magic Bus in September 2012 when she was looking forward to getting her three children, 13-year old Akash, 11-year old Priya and 8-year old Shailen into Magic Bus’ volunteer programme. “I heard about Magic Bus from my sister who was there in New York for a Fundraiser and it’s always been at the back of my mind. She told me how Magic Bus works with marginalised children and youth at such a grassroots level teaching them important lessons through sport. When we shifted here, my son Akash was moved by the poverty he saw around him. He told me that he wanted to help less-privileged children. This innocent desire of my young son prompted me to get in touch with Magic Bus. Soon after, Akash became a volunteer at Magic Bus and started out with weekly tennis training for the Magic Bus children,” shared Monica enthusiastically.
Akash Verma has been an avid tennis player from a very young age. He has been trained by one of the top tennis coaches on the East Coast of the U.S. and has frequently been cited for his solid fundamental strokes and footwork. He has competed in United States Tennis Association Tournaments for the last few years. In 2012 he was ranked #2 in the State of New Jersey for boys aged 12 and under. Last year, he stood 2nd in the U.S. National Grass Tennis Tournament.
Since moving to New Delhi last summer, Akash was admitted into the very prestigious Tennis Academy at Siri Fort, which prepares young tennis stars for the Davis Cup. From there he came up with an idea and told his mother, “Hey Mom, what if I was able to take a bunch of kids and teach them how to play tennis, teach them a new sport and how great sports is and the important lessons you learn through sports like hard work, team spirit and being able to relate to each other?
“It’s been a beautiful and adventurous journey for me since then - meeting these enthusiastic children who have so much potential. I have had a great experience and have learned many things. Before I came here I didn’t know the face of poverty and what these children looked like and I thought that they would be very different. But the children are so enthusiastic. They are very kind, they always want to help one another. You can tell that great values have been instilled in them like they always let the girls go first,” shared Akash quite excitedly.
Akash continued, “most of them have great athletic ability, probably better than some kids in the U.S. being trained by some of the greatest tennis players.”
The raw athletic ability and the enthusiasm being displayed by the children coming forward to learn the new sport are immense and surprising. “It’s very overwhelming to me and it makes me also so excited to come here every Sunday and spend time with them, to get to know them better. I am aware that I am having an impact on these children but in return I am being impacted by them too. They are helping me to believe that I am able to do something good, and in turn I can see that these kids just need somebody to believe in them and they can soar the skies,” shared Akash.
By: Harshita Arvind