The story of 60-year-old Subhash Mahajan and the Sampoorna School, where he passes on his lifelong passion for basketball in India to thousands of kids in rural Karnataka.
Subhash Mahajan looks out of the first floor window of his two-storey bungalow on the outskirts of Bangalore. The sun has barely risen from behind the many distant hillocks, and a light orange glow is beginning to spread across the sky. He bends his torso from side to side, taking long deep breaths while doing so. In a few hours, the open environs of the industrial district of Tumkur will be bathed in brightness. By then, his work for the day will have anyway wrapped up.
Today, the recently turned sexagenarian will be scaling the 1,117 metre tall Makalidurga hill along with 60 children (20 from the NGO Shishu Mandir and 40 from Vidyaranyapura Sports Club) and two lady chaperones. Mahajan has been climbing hills for close to 50 years now but looks forward to this latest ascent as eagerly as his students. He smiles at the thought that these kids – boys and girls aged ten to 15, many from underprivileged backgrounds – clamour to be taught the myriad skills associated with a big, orange ball the size of a pumpkin.
The seeds of his basketball obsession were sown many years ago. Punjabi by birth, he was born and brought up in the North Western town of Kapurthala. “It is the nursery for basketball players in India, having produced four Arjuna Awardees,” he says. At the age of nine, he was bundled off to The Punjab Public School, Nabha. By tenth standard, he was named captain of his school team. Armed with a commerce degree from the Punjab University, Chandigarh in 1973, he moved to Bangalore and founded his own business selling medical and laboratory equipment.
It was a chance incident that made him return to basketball. “It all started as a programme to teach my son this game – and one thing led to another.” Mahajan has been a basketball coach for the last thirty years, running sessions at the Vidyaranyapura Sports Club, St. Theresa’s Girls School, Chamarajpet, and other clubs and high schools in and around Bangalore.
The Sampoorna School
His decision to immerse himself into basketball made, Mahajan began the Sampoorna Basketball School in the village of Betta Shambhunahalli, in Tumkur district in 2005. The residential school is open “for all children of this country, at absolutely no charges”. His focus was on village youth who had probably not heard a great deal about the sport widely associated with Western urban society. “Selling the game to city kids in posh schools might change the commercial culture, but the love of the sport has to come from the grassroots level; it seems that I’m fighting this battle alone,” he explained in a 2010 interview in the SLAM magazine.
The Sampoorna campus has two standard size RCC basketball courts. An additional clay court for practice purposes is also in place. Children are first explained the basics of the game. Theory classes are followed by practical demonstrations and skill development sessions. This is then capped off by matches which instil a ‘competitive spirit’ in the participants.
Mahajan went on to organize the Sampoorna Annual Basketball League or ‘SABAL’, a unique competition currently in its third edition, held every year in October. Twelve teams registered in the initial edition in 2010, and the numbers have grown since. “All the officiating is done by students themselves. The matches are videographed and photographed for inspiring others to join or create their own SABALS.”
Mahajan has always been vocal about the life benefits of basketball. He makes it a point to propagate his views through all available channels: starting a blog, a Facebook page, and using his personal social media accounts to regularly upload pictures and status messages from his various camps – “Lazy games like cricket do not allow young players to develop ‘fitness’ and, in turn, creates very few athletic children. This is where basketball can come in.” He even managed to inspire visits from popular fellow grassroots coaches Shiba Maggon, the NBA’s Troy Justice, and J.D. Walsh, who wanted to witness for themselves Mahajan’s “grassroots basketball revolution”.
Now in its ninth year, the Sampoorna project, which initially focused on Bangalore and Tumkur Districts, has plans to expand to other rural areas across Karnataka. “The objective is to contact and network with schools which are willing to share a larger platform for training programmes, tournaments and other basketball activities.”
Financed purely through Mahajan’s personal savings, Sampoorna has definitely come a long way. “Slowly I am retiring away from my business activities, promoting basketball in rural areas of Karnataka and living out a childhood dream of playing 24×7 along with children.”
This feature was originally published in The Alternative Magazine. Here’s the link to the original post: http://thealternative.in/inclusivity/spocial-revolution-bringing-basketball-in-india-to-the-grassroots/