Tuesday, April 14

10 things that you didn't know about sports

Sport is exceptionally transformative. No other activity enjoys the kind of attention and excitement that sport does. It helps one overcome barriers of culture, class, gender, and unites communities. How many of these fun facts about sports did you know of?

Parvati Pujari, our Youth Leader is a role-model for many girls in our programme
1. It disproves the belief ‘Girls are weaker than boys’.

2. Sport helps stay active and healthy.

3. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, an old adage that holds true even now. A child who steps out to play concentrates better and performs well in academics.

4. Sport develops a good appetite. Athletes or aspiring sportspersons naturally demand a higher nutrition than the others.

As Jordan famously says, failures are stepping stones to success
5. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketballers gives credit to his failures “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”.

6. A child who has lost a game knows the importance of hard work and the sweetness of its rewards.

7. Sport helps build endurance and promotes emotional and mental stability. An underprivileged child who plays a sport pumps energy to any situation and brings out the best among peers too.

8. Sport gives everyone a second chance.

9. Sport teaches one to overcome inhibitions.

10.If you thought team-work, cooperation, caring, and friendship are slowly dying away, all you’ve to do is to get down in the field and play a game.

With a mentor, sport can be much more than just fun
Magic Bus’ sport-for-development curriculum is premised on the transforming power of sports. Each underprivileged child on our programme experiences the remarkable potential of sports by participating and learning through it. You can be a part of it too. Here’s how.

Friday, March 20

Remember Shivam, our bright and courageous Community Youth Leader?

“I joined Magic Bus two-weeks ago”, says 18-year-old Arti. “My brother Shivam encouraged me to join Magic Bus. He has been with Magic Bus as Community Youth Leader for over a year now”, replies Arti when asked why she joined Magic Bus.

Arti and Shivam are appearing for their higher secondary examinations. Both of them study in a government school in Nangloi in north Delhi, a few blocks away from their one-bedroom house.

Shubham and Arti, the stalwarts of courage
For Arti, stepping out of home was a challenge, “My mobility was limited because of my gender.  As a result, my decision to join Magic Bus was fraught with resistance. However, Shivam’s constant support egged me on and I continued fighting.”

Shivam is a role-model for Arti as he is for the rest of the children in his community. “The best thing about him is his positivity – the way he looks at life and lives it”, says Arti. They are a family of four - three children and a mother - surviving on a salary of just Rs. 3000 a month. The youngest child studies in the ninth standard. “I have seen my mother toil relentlessly to bring us up. After completing school, I want to find a job and study simultaneously so that I can relieve her”, shares Shivam.

The family- unperturbed despite numerous struggles 
Both Shivam and Arti have gone through some difficult experiences in their life so far. They had barely recovered from the shock of losing a parent when Shivam had met with an accident which crushed both his legs. Arti stood by Shivam through his most difficult moments, never allowing him to lose his spirit or his grit. In return, Shivam inspired her to pursue her dreams, to step out and claim the world as her own.  

“The Magic Bus journey has helped me introspect. From being a notorious child in my community I was transformed into a leader who taught good practices to children, young adults, and parents. Today my community identifies me as a hero; one who stood tall despite unfathomable crisis”, he narrates.

Shivam believes that his sister can be a good leader too. “I want Arti to galvanise her friends and other women from the community to step-out and be an agent of change”, says Shivam.

There are many more Artis and Shivams out there waiting to realise their potential as a leader. They need your support. DONATE

Monday, February 23

#Throwback16: Our Sweet 16 stories

A 16-year-old's diary

Shaikh Abdul Rehman Amin, Karjat

Diary entry 1:

I was in the ninth standard when I was 16. I was active and therefore, was selected as a class monitor. If a teacher was absent I would stand in front of the class with a stick in one hand and a chalk in the other and jot down names of the most talkative children. I would complain about them to the teacher the following day.

One day, we had a visitor in our class; he was an army pilot. He gave us tips on how to study smart. After the session, many children started talking about their ambitions. When it came to me I was totally confused and didn’t know what to say. I kept quiet and after few minutes the teacher shouted at me and told me to sit down. The class burst into laughter!  

I came back home and shared this with my mom, she counseled me and said, “Don’t worry; just concentrate on your studies”. After a few days, I forgot everything.

Diary entry 2:

I am the youngest in the family. By the time I turned 16, my sister was married and my two elder brothers were working.

My school timings were 9am to 4pm. I used to get up early and take a cycle ride for almost 1.5 kms to buy milk and bread. I would come back, have breakfast and then rush to school. After coming back from school, I would quickly finish my homework and help my mother in the kitchen.

All this helped me learn how to deal with people, bargaining, calculating on finger tips, and decision making.

Those were the days when I would be out on the streets all day. There was no curfew for me and my parents trusted me. My friends would tell their parents that they are with me and they would be okay with it.

Sometimes it was also a headache for me because my friends would lie about being with me and would sneak out to other places. Their parents would ask me about their children and I would lie to them saying that they were with me.

Red Letters from my 16th

Anirban Sarkar, Noida

Being 16 in a Bollywood-affected cultural atmosphere, a teenage boy started to look around for faces, for the curls in the hair, or for a piercing stare. This search reached its climax when one day, on a crowded street of Gariahat, I saw her! She was waiting for somebody or someone with a cigarette in her hand. The red lipstick, the smoke... took the left side of brain into a different world, a world of endless walk.

PO! PO! The bus was waiting continuously for me to get out its way....so I crossed the road.

For the next few days, I turned up at the same hour she appeared, rushing to the same spot where she stood and waited, and I succeeded! Although I knew she was waiting for a man I didn’t care...who cares...it was a relationship between her eyes and mine!
One day her wait lasted for an hour and I gathered the courage to walk upto her and ask,

-“Whats the time?”
“You have a watch!” she said.
“You want to talk to me?”
- (silence)
“Bring a red rose the next time you come. I will think...”
With a pocket money of Rs.80, and that rose cost Rs. 15.... but I never saw her again.

“She smiled at me on the subway.
She was with another man.
But I won't lose no sleep on that,
'Cause I've got a plan.
Flying high....
And I don't think that I'll see her again,
But we shared a moment that will last 'til the end.

You're beautiful. You're beautiful.
You're beautiful, it's true.
I saw your face in a crowded place....”

-You’re Beautiful
, James Blunt

Life as we know it: such was 16!

Rahul Brahmbhatt, United States of America

I turned 16 in 1995. I was in the 11th grade at my hometown of Baton Rouge, LA.  Listening to music, playing basketball, and studying - that was how most days came and went. Around us, the US, and the world, was changing rapidly. 

A new way to view media had just been announced, the DVD, and a small company called eBay tried convincing people that one could use a personal computer to buy and sell things to complete strangers.  Most people didn't think anything of it, probably because of their attention during my 16th was focused on the OJ Simpson double murder trial.

16th brought with it a lot of excitement: I got my driving learners' permit and my first car, a 1991 Nissan 240SX sports car.  I remember the day I got it: August 4, 1995.  I drove it to school and to the library for all the research papers and terms papers I had to do. Those were the non-Google days!  

It was the year I studied and took both the SAT and ACT, the US college admission examination. I took them twice and did quite well on both the occasions.  Applied to 10 universities, and a year later, I got a call from seven of them - Universities of Michigan, Texas, and Louisiana State University were the memorable ones.  

Looking back, I was a good kid at 16- playing by the rules and living by the book.  It's a good thing we're not recalling how life was at 26- that would be a very different story!

Friday, February 20

Day 6: Drowsy at Sea

By Kaustubh Khade

The only sadness in beauty is leaving it behind. Waking up at the doorsteps of a superb temple here in Divegar, I had my breakfast of cold milk and cereal. The three eggs from yesterday evening's home stay / restaurant were protein and I took a tablet for the upset stomach that I'd developed. I had slept a bad 4 hours last night, a condition brought about by collapsing into bed in the afternoon after a 5.5 hour paddling run and the aforementioned stomach. 
I trudged down to the car in my dry-fits, and a short and damp shoes. When you’re in Kayaking everything is always in varying degrees of wetness. Your phone lifetime is less than halved and when you check into a hotel, you look for a good place to dry your wet clothes. Everything chafes, sores, gets sunburnt. While practising for the Asians in March 2013, I developed a tan that lasted 6 months. That’s 6 months of not being on the water.
The cold morning air cut through the cocunut trees and my thin clothes. The driver was found watching a marathi soap in the morning. Everyone tells me I know how to enjoy life. They haven’t met my driver. In his eyes life is a breeze. If it’s too far he says it’s too far. If he can’t make it through a thicket of leaves that my mother has just walked through, he says he’s not going through. If it’s 5:30 in the morning and he prefers watching the climax of the fisherwoman who lost her son to gambling, well. He does do a mean massage though.
We were checking out. That’s the other plus point of an expedition. You arrive and unpack, then eat, get a few laughs in, then you pack again. It’s really just a circle of life kind of a thing. Minus the sunrises from cliffs. That costs extra. Getting everyone into the car and then down to the beach was a fun exercise. If we were any more awake, we’d check on who’s the most awake. We don’t. Except when my driver is lost. He tells us.
Down at the beach, our good boatsmen are on patrol. The safety boat, more a measure of appeasement of parents who worry a bit, is a km out. It will take an hour to get the local water-sports owner to take out a rubber inflatable boat (RIB) out to the boat. Mid-way he tells them it wasn’t inflated properly. Never a dull moment.
I get down to stretches. My driver gets down to the aforementioned massage. My mom inspects proceedings, while my dad takes in the aforementioned beauty that is Divegar. I like that word. Reminds you that there’s an important aspect you might have trivialised. Like putting all your life jackets into the boat. Then parking the boat a km into the water. Trivial. I mount my go-pro, stow away my rehydration drink, and pick up my kayak. Down at the water, I wade in. The water is cold for the first 3 metres. Then the warmth kicks in. I slide in, wave bye and paddle away. No safety boat or life jacket today. Dirty Harry and his 9mm.
Dad staring out into the sea
Kaustubh's father
I survey the water ahead, I have to make a beeline for the cliffs to the left. It’s easy going at first. A strong high tide pushes me to the rocks and I clock in at 8km/hr for the first 30 minutes. I sip my drink. At the end of the first hour I am at 7.5 kms and I venture a guess that the safety boat is readying itself. In an hour my go-pro will give out. I need that safety boat. Ever since Limca asked for video proof that I kayaked the whole way, I’ve been paranoid about it. 
I paddle on. Between 7:30am and 8:30am I see the coast. It’s the kind of quiet you’d get in a British town after an air raid siren went off: or a Tom Cruise movie about aliens coming to kill us, minus the waves. The waves have a calming sound that you want to listen in to. Around the same time, I hit a stretch of choppy water. Every turn, every swell costs me and by the end of the 2 hours, I’m down to 14 kms. But I am not tired. It’s not as hot today and I feel pretty good. I glance back for the safety boat. I hope they’re safe. Then I paddle on.
Mom and my driver giving me a morning massage
Getting ready for the long day
I pass by a stretch of beautiful beaches, and a bunch of inlets. Fishing boats passing by wave usually. This one didn’t. It made a beeline straight for me. I could hear it with the sound of their engine rising. Finally, he killed it and asked me where I was going. Once a kayaker in these parts was towed away to police once by a fisherman. I didn’t fancy towing. So I explained him the plot. Goa would make me sound wonky. So I stuck to Harihareshwar. Placated, I was not as daft as I dressed, he waved me on with good fortune. I sipped some energy drink. Then I paddle on.
When my Go-pro finally gives up, I’ve been paddling for 2 hours. When the safety boat finally gets to me, I’ve done 16 kms, and they congratulate me on making it so far. I’m glad they didn’t get lost. I take my first break for the day. As I swap my go-pro, refill my energy drink, and down an apple, 4 minutes pass by. It seems Harihareshwar is just-yonder-hill. 
What a waste. I was in such good form. I calculate 5 kms. At 21 kms that would be my leanest day. But I’m based out of Harihareshwar for a few days. And it’s silly to press on. I resign myself to it, and follow the boat. 17,18, 19 kms. Then the boat draws parallel to the beach and stops. I pull up close enough for them to say there’s a jetty just beyond the next turn. Bankot. My boatsmen want a dock to tie the boat tonight. The things you own, end up owning you. So I paddle on.
Dolphins. Schools of 5 or more. Graceful, grey, godammit dolphins! I love this part. The way they surface, snort and go back in again. After the sound of the waves, they’re the next best sound. Or before. It’s a grey area. I pause for dolphins. Then I give chase. They are a little faster. So I paddle on.
Dolphins at Harihareshwar
Dolphins at Harihareshwar
On the cliff face to my left a crowd of people are walking. It’s getting to hot to discern them waving, so I paddle…
Around the turn I see a big creek. Bang opposite is Velas. The sand is a dark shade of brown. And tall pines make for a sight to take in. My safety boat has stopped, and we confer. The jetty is deeper into the creek, but Velas is a safe beach to land on. We have to part ways, when Santosh says “Police.” Sure enough a grey police RIB is making straight for us. I sip some energy drink. But mom goes into a frenzy. My mom is the most proper person I know. 
She couldn’t do a dishonest thing if her life depended on it. (She’d do it for mine though.) She gets out the papers from the Coast Guard and the Maharashtra Maritime Board. Before the police man can whip his gold-rimmed aviators into the back of his shirt collar, she’s at the bow telling them we have papers. In the back of their RIB, I hear one person say – “Kayak Ahe!”. I’m on the safety boat’s starboard side and I holler a Namaskar. I tell them we are on expedition. A short pause later the policeman asks us – “Are you on an expedition?” Cool.
We tell them we are going from Mumbai to Goa. He inspects the papers, one leg in the boat, one on the edge of the boat. It’s just 3 hours into paddling and my go-pro is juiced. I reverse and make for their starboard side to get it all on HD. As I go by I see the same policeman leaning over the other side of the boat with his phone out. Taking a picture. I ask him if he wants a close up. As I bring it closer, he asks me about my sponsors. Touchy nerve man. So I paddle on.
Refurbishment before diving into another leg of hard work
As I make for Velas beach, I take in a good place to land. While the long stretch of beach lies just beyond a small creek, I spot a small 50 metre stretch that looks like it has a bright blue tempo. There must be accessible road, so I make for it. I land nice and slow, checking for rocks. As I up the rudder, and brace for surf, I see two young men on a bike. I dismount, pull up the kayak to safety and take off my wet skin. As I’m doing stretches, I field questions from the men there. Everyone loves photos, so I take one with the quieter of the two. 
Shadab asks me if I’d like to come up to his house. I welcome some shade and I stow my wet things in the day hatch and walk up. He tells me he’s got African Turkeys. Hilarious. So we make for it. As we climb up the rock steps Shadab tells me about his rooster and it passing away abruptly. As we go to the back of the house, I see the monster of a turkey. It’s a black feathered beast that’s having its fill. Shadab tells me it can swipe the flesh right off your arm. I think about the rooster. As I look up, I meet Shadab’s father. In just my black shorts and a hydration pack, I must have been a sight. Even the turkey flared up it’s feathers and that big bag of blue flesh under it’s beak turned a blood red. I don’t enquire about the rooster.
Cage that Monster
In and around the sea
Shadab’s father insists on giving me tea. And I for one am not complaining. In a parallel universe where Monster flesh eating fowl flock hillsides above brown sand beaches, my safety crew has docked and mom and Shanj are having their own interrogation about the vessel with customs officals. My dad and the driver are enjoying a ferry ride with the car. I would have had network had my phone not already gone swimming. So I sip my hot tea and have the crispest toast I’ve had. Shadab’s father is the baba at the Dargah at Velas. I have landed at the footsteps of the dargah. He was studying in a school in Bandra when, at the age of 12, he was called to succeed his grandfather at the Dargah. I see pictures of him over the years, and his seat at the Dargah. 
He’s really the nicest man. Mid sentence, I get an inkling that I should man the road, lest my worrying mother speed on. With the kayak tucked away under the wall, it would be easy to miss me sitting here atop a hillock. Literally the minute I reach the gate, I see a rick running past with my white adidas jacket on the left seat. Before I can holler, they pass us. I try Shadab’s phone but apparently there is no network where they’re headed, so his father sends him down with me. We jump on his nifty bike and run through Velas village. 
A quaint village that sits on a small river that runs down to the sea. Shadab tells me it’s popular for turtles. And people come all over to see them. As we zip through the village, me still in just my hydration pack, I imagine my mom being the last person interested in turtles if she doesn’t see her son. It would make for a fun line of enquiry. As we run through the town at great speed, I see my mom just alighting from the rickshaw. No Shanj in sight. I wave to mom. And she slaps her head. Then starts calling out over a bridge. In the distance I see an orange-life-jacket-clad Shanj running through a field. Russel Peters would be so happy.
Moms make for great selfies
Mom and selfies
My mom tells me how the rickshaw ride has last 20 minutes during which the only thing the rickshaw driver has told them is that Velas beach has a point where the water drops 150 feet and is a deathtrap, even for locals who know the area. Why this would make for good conversation with two women who are worried sick eludes me and Shadab and I have a quiet laugh over it as Shanj returns to hit my arm. One less area for my driver to massage.
Shanj on a ferry
With supportive friends
We head back, me still on the bike, and dismount at Shadab’s house. Here the network catches and we inform dad about where we are. I finally change out of my dry shorts and sip some water. (We are out of energy drink.) As dad arrives, I introduce Shadab and I make good on my promise of visiting the Dargah. Back in the day, Shivaji had once halted at Bankot on his way to conquer Murud. The good Baba, that is Shadab’s father’s ancestor, had warned him against it and told him to wait. Shivaji, being the hot blooded guy that he was, pressed on and hit a storm. He returned to get counsel. We visited both tombs and the Baba wished us safe passage. He invited us to see his Takht (Throne) and he insisted on getting his robe on for it. On leaving he presented us with an Ittar(perfume) that he got from his trip to Haj, to remember our trip by. Shadab walked us down and I found out he’s just in the 10th standard with a board exam on the 3rd of March. He likes motor cars. I wished him all the best and promised to send him pictures.
Baba in his robes and me in mine
At the Takht at Velas, Bankot
Bundled in the car, we drive back. The ferry ride at Bankot meant more eyeballs on the kayak and it gave us time to laugh at the day’s events. Tomorrow we take our safety boat and kayak back to Velas and set out to conquer Murud. And so, I’ll paddle on.
Ferry, Car, Boat, Kayak
Ferry, Car, Boat, Kayak
Kaustubh's 20-day long kayaking challenge will help 1500 children escape the poverty cycle. Your support is vital to help him succeed. Support NOW!

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Tuesday, February 17

#Throwback16: Our Sweet 16 stories

On Magic Bus' 16th birthday, our contributors shared what it was to be 16!

16 again!

Sucheta Ghosh, Kolkata

I am a married lady. I manage home and office simultaneously. When I see happy faces of Magic Bus children, I go back to my childhood, especially when I was 16! I was in school then and I enjoyed playing and chatting with my friends. I miss their company, but now I have more than 500 little friends who make me happy and I go back to being a teenager again!

16-years-old “Young Man”

Dr. Sujeet Ranjan, New Dehi

Turning 16 is an unforgettable milestone and everyone has his/her own story to tell. The transition between childhood and youth is thrilling and yet confusing because you are considered neither a child nor an adult. Since I did not know what was expected of me hence, many of my actions were looked upon with awe. The following incident was one such act of mine.

The year I turned sixteen was also the year I was to appear for my board examinations. As was quite common in those days a Master Ji came to my house to teach me Mathematics. He believed in the phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child”; so he used his stick on me at his own sweet will. If he was unable to explain anything to me he would shout and spank me as if it was my fault. He would often complain to my father that I was weak in Mathematics. This would aggravate the problem further as I was scolded by my father as well.  I tried to explain but in vain.

It was then that my sixteenth Birthday was celebrated. Everyone told me that now since I was at the thresh hold of youth, bidding adieu to my childhood; I must learn to solve my own problems. An aunty often called me ‘Young Man’ the adjective I really liked.

The next day my ‘Master Ji’ came to teach me and as a routine took out his stick to beat me. As soon as he raised it I caught hold of it. Now the ‘Young Man’ that I was, I decided to solve my problem in my way.  Before ‘Master Ji’ could understand, I tied him up with the wire of a pedestal fan and beat him black & blue. The rest is history…

Now when I look back I feel very sorry for my immature behavior and deeply regret my action; but as you know it was simply the effect of turning ‘SIXTEEN’ and proving that was indeed a ‘YOUNG MAN’ ready to take on the world.

Coming of age: Such was 16!

Joieta Roy, Noida

Such was 16! Being a rebel, starting on a novel adventure or just penning down a journal thinking it would become famous one day, or even counting the number of birthday cards and orkut testimonials – 16 had it all; till I met Sheuli, my house-helper’s daughter. She was shy but when coaxed, would sing the most beautiful Bengali songs. 

Usually she would hang around my study when her mother helped out with the housework. Initially, she would sit silent looking at some point in the floor and tracing it with her toes. I hated being disturbed during my reading hours so I would not try to strike a conversation. She would sit and silently leave when her mother called. 

One day I found her peering at the cover of my book. It was a Bengali novel. I asked her, ‘Do you like this book?’. She was startled by the question and went back to staring at the floor. Three days later I found out that she had never been to school. Three more days passed by and she told me that she loved to sing. In two weeks, I would eagerly put my book down and coax her to sing a song.

Later that month she told me she was about to get married. I asked her whether she was happy or sad. She did not reply. Till something hit me, ‘Wait a minute: How old are you’. ‘Sixteen’, said she.

Friday, February 13

From Dharavi to a Magic Bus Peer Leader: Suryakant's story

20-year-old Suryakant dreams to be a businessman and take his parents on a world trip.
‘My father is a cobbler; my mother, a home-maker. We were a family of five – two sisters and I – living on a meagre income of Rs 3000 per month. But, no matter how bad the financial struggles, my parents never compromised on my education’, he narrates, ‘That’s why I want to be a rich businessman and take them around the world. They have not seen anything beyond our 4 * 6 room in the dingy lanes of Dharavi’s Kala Killa’.

Magic Bus football team- Suryakant sitting second from the left
Suryakant is pursuing a BCom degree at the Ambedkar College in Mumbai; and is simultaneously employed at Rhapsody, an international company, as a business developer. On Saturdays, every week, he trains all those who are a part of Magic Bus Football Team (MBFT).

This brings us to his other passion, football.

“ I was always passionate about sports, particularly football. It was this that drew me to Magic Bus. I attended a Magic Bus camp and it was fun. There are no open grounds in my community so it was a great thing to go out and play. I liked the camp so much that I started going for the sessions. A bus used to come to our neighbourhood to pick up all the children. We would go to Shivaji Park in Dadar for the sessions. Those were the best days of my life”, Suryakant remembers, fondly. 

Suryakant at the Mumbai fund-raiser
Even to this day, a bus comes to his neighbourhood to pick up the children for the sessions.” If I happen to be in the neighbourhood when the bus comes to pick up the children, I can still feel the thrill and enthusiasm of boarding it knowing that there would be something exciting waiting for us at the destination.” The thrill of running towards a goal, dodging opponents, air whipping through the air is something that he cherishes still. So, in his spare time, he instructs boys and girls on playing football. “They are my students and I am incredibly proud of them. I have 11-12 girls on that side and seeing them play gives me a great sense of accomplishment.”

“My association with Magic Bus is more than just sports. We lost everything to the Mumbai floods once. We didn’t know how to get it all back –the roof on top of our head, my father’s livelihood. It was at this moment of misfortune that Magic Bus stood by me with all the help that my family needed at that hour”, he shares.

Managing work, education, and sports at the same time can be pretty taxing. Not so for Suryakant, who remains unfazed even with multiple equally-pressing responsibilities. “I learnt time management at Magic Bus’ Connect classes. It was here that I also learnt how to go through and interview, how to speak in English, and other communication skills”, he replies after being quizzed about his excellent spoken skills. He shares an anecdote where he his confidence and communication skills helped him clinch the job among other interviewees who were better groomed than he was.

The unmistakable confidence in his voice tells us that here is a person who sees more than just his dream. He knows how to reach there and is open to facing the challenges on the way.

Suryakant is more than just a peer leader. He holds out to hope to millions of youth in this country and world who regularly lose their dreams in the relentless maze of poverty.

Support someone's journey to livelihood. Donate NOW! 

Tuesday, January 27

Every smiling face

Yesterday, I wrote about how sport helps transcend boundaries. Today it played out before me in spectacular fashion.

I woke up early today to attend the Magic Bus  session. I was a little nervous and my perennial stubble/ beard was the first to take a hit. A dear friend of mine, Siddharth Menon, architect, sports lover, and humanitarian, was accompanying me to see the kids. Reaching Dadar with 25 minutes to spare, we were hopelessly lost, much to our and our hosts despair. We finally found the distinctly red Sai Swamy Vayam Mandir and seeing the white t-shirts with Magic Bus emblazoned on them meant, we had arrived.

The inner circle
First things first, I was surprised to see it wasn’t a closed room the children were in. They were merrily gathered in the open field that is Shivaji Park. While a whole military parade practiced for the upcoming Republic Day, 21 children listened intently to their bubbly, confident and charismatic mentor, Manohar. Sandhya from Magic Bus welcomed me and before I knew it I was part of the circle playing a curious game called Introduce Yourself.

It took just one Dabaang-inspired-move to get everyone to join in and chime out my name. As I laughed at the hilarity of watching 20 small kids turn up their imaginary collars and strut to the centre of the circle saying – Hi my name is Kaustubh Khade - in imitation of me, I realised that in that small act, I’d already been accepted. Everything after that ran as smooth as a hot knife through butter.

Manohar was running a small game to gauge the kids’ attentiveness and from the screams of delight, it was going very well. Barely had Sandhya started on telling me about the programme that our attention was diverted to a much more pressing issue. The kids were divided into teams and were about to start their practice game for the inter-zonal Magic Bus football tournament. It was naturally of paramount importance to play for a team. 

And old friendships were turned into rivalries as Sid was chosen to play for the blue team and I was playing for the whites. As in any game of football this one was particularly important and I was chided early by my young captain for letting Sid past me, a cheeky nutmeg I inquired very sternly about later. I hate letting any team down and I resolved to do better against Sid later.

Manohar conducting. Kids engaging
The excitement was palpable and my side found its feet very fast. Some deft passing and clinical finishing from our forwards put us 2-0 up in no time. As anyone in football will know, goal celebrations are everything and I was blown away with how inclusive they were in my team. Everyone high-fived everyone and I would be lying if it didn’t melt my heart when the smallest girl on our team, would smile the shyest smile, run over with both hands in the air for her high-fives. Everyone contributed and our defender Jyoti made me smile a proud smile when she cleared a clear run from the opposition and then asked me, ‘Was that good?’; more than you know lil’ one.

Everything was a blank slate. And all that mattered was the moment. Falling on your knees, shrugging it off, and getting back to the game became commonplace. The team urged me to attack and score some goals, but I chose to play the playmaker role, lest the blues feel cheated in practice. There was a time though when the build-up play left me with the ball in front of the keeper and I lobbed it in. And I turned to look for my team, and they came rushing in. Much excitement followed. And all the familiar feelings of winning as a team came rushing back.

Aboard the bus
As one team came off to make space for the other, Manohar ran the kids through the technicalities of the game and what constitutes a clean game. There was much happening, and I was caught between the kids repeating after their mentor, the engaging game going on, where Sid was conducting his side’s defences, and Sandhya’s effervescent answers to my many questions. I was immersed and it felt good.

Right after we played some teamwork games and while we all played for points, one could clearly see how teamwork and understanding, and taking defeat magnanimously, was the purpose. Everyone laughed and discussed strategy and played their part. When our white team lost, the victorious yellow team shook hands and was taught to say ‘well played’. If everyone in real life were like this, the world would be a better place, no?

While Sid was busy discussing the details of Magic Bus, I was busy being dragged from one group to another and playing with the children. I would not have known we had spent two hours there were it not for the phone calls and list of emails I’d so easily ignored. Right after the programme, we boarded the Magic Bus bus. Sandhya and Manohar kept us both engaged with stories on how long the programme has been run and its impact.

At Dharavi
The bus took us from Dadar to Dharavi, a place I’ve known for a while now. The idea was to visit the homes of the children and meet the parents. And it was a very rewarding experience. Magic Bus also organises for football tournaments for the parents of the children and we met with four mothers who’d played this year. Talking while washing the dishes, taking time off sewing or household chores, we met a very bubbly and alive set of mothers who clearly enjoyed being associated with Magic Bus.

While the first mother we met spoke forcefully about her matches and having to fight to win, another regaled how her son was now practicing football at the sports complex just opposite their chawl. We were told that the water lasted two hours in the morning and it explained the rush of people washing and cleaning; and that the tiling above the gutters that ran between two houses (that sufficed as a road) had been built in light of the elections. The open sewers that emptied into the khaadi had resulted in two dengue deaths and hygiene was a constant problem.

Aboard the bus with Sid
To be faced with such reality was to open one’s eyes to the Pandora’s box we so often neglect in our daily lives. As a testament to the mothers though, not a single one spoke about it. All they talked about were their children, and how they enjoyed Magic Bus; how the tournament was a welcome change in their lives; how Magic Bus would come to individual houses to ensure children stayed in schools  and learnt their lessons. There was much to be happy for, much to stay in the programme for. 

Dropouts are at a minimal and children are transitioned from the learning phase to the livelihood phase. The mothers were thankful and I sensed a great satisfaction and pleasure there. One doesn’t have to ponder too hard whether a programmme this inclusive and engaging can have long-term effects on a community. Will the next generation in Dharavi learn right from wrong by learning to respect one another on a playing field? Will the shy girl on the field find a place and be loved as we did when we won? Will they be humble in victory and strong in defeat? I believe so.

As an end note, there is much and more that we are fortunate enough to have in our lives. In conversation with the children, mothers, and the staff at Magic Bus, a lot of joy can be brought in the little things. The white t-shirt and black shorts with the Magic Bus symbol depicts a symbol of unity and hope here. 

I urge you to support the cause. Please come forth and visit the centres. Find out for yourself. So I request you to visit the page -  and be generous.

When I was being introduced, one of the Magic Bus  staff said – he is helping raise funds for the cause. I feel a great sense of pride in it. I know you will too.

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