Mumbai hockey player Venkatesh Devkar was stunned when he returned home to Nanded from Mumbai last month. A large part of the tin roof shielding his tiny house had broken, with no money for repairs despite the monsoon fast approaching. His father and elder brother, both daily wagers, were without any work and income since the lockdown in March, barely able to put food on the table for the family of five through their fast-dwindling savings. Desperate for money, Devkar, who had just finished his B.Com course from Rizvi College, frantically applied for a couple of jobs in Nanded but to no avail. Options were fast running out, until help arrived from unexpected quarters.
The 23-year-old received a one-time payment of R10,000 late last month courtesy “Let’s Stick Together”, an initiative by former hockey captain Viren Rasquinha’s Olympic Gold Quest and Go Sports Foundation that raised R22 lakh to support people at the grassroots level of hockey, struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic.
Devkar was one of the initiative’s 220 beneficiaries across the country identified through trusted intermediaries like Conroy Remedios, the former Mumbai player and coach of Bombay Republicans club. Remedios knew the plight of his academy boy who represented Mumbai in the senior nationals earlier this year.
“This help has come at a time when we were struggling to even survive due to the lockdown,” Devkar, who grew up in Shelter Don Bosco (a shelter for homeless children) before being picked up the Bombay Republicans four years ago, said. “There was no work and multiple problems. I too had no money to give to my family. That’s when the call and the money came.”
The broken roof is almost fixed now, while the family has also stocked up on essentials with the money. “If the roof had not been repaired before the rains, I don’t know how we would have lived here. The amount is huge considering the situation that my family is in. What Viren sir and Conroy sir have done for me I’m indebted to them,” Devkar said.
So is Arjun Gupta, another Bombay Republicans boy whose father sells fruits on a footpath in Marine Lines for a living. With no business since March and anticipating his meagre savings well to dry up soon, Arjun’s father took a loan from an acquaintance to ensure the family’s survival till things return to normal.
And while normalcy might still be some time away, the money received by the 19-year-old Arjun due to the initiative has helped his anxious father pay off a chunk of the loan.
“We have got relief just at the right time,” Arjun, who was part of the Mumbai squad for the 2018 sub-junior nationals, said.
“My father is the sole earner at home, and since March our stall has been shut. Nowadays he delivers fruits once a week to four-five nearby customers, but that is hardly enough to run a family of six in the city. In these times, even R10,000 is a big amount.”
For state player Santosh Bhosale, the problem was slightly different. Enrolled in Pune’s Krida Prabhodani, Santosh is currently in class 12 and has been in his village in Kolhapur since the lockdown. While online classes are the norm now, Santosh’s father Sanjay could not afford to buy a smartphone necessary for his son’s virtual learning.
Sanjay—himself a former Bombay Republicans player—is a coach in a local school in his village, a job that earns him R4,500 per month. But no school meant no income, forcing Sanjay to take up odd farming jobs in these times. It’s barely enough to fulfil daily needs, let alone pocketing a smartphone.
“I bought a second hand smartphone costing R6,000 for my son with the help we received. My son’s hockey has stopped now and I didn’t want his studies to suffer too because of my poverty. It felt so nice that my fellow hockey lovers in Mumbai did something for my son in this crisis,” Sanjay said.