The Olympic Charter affirms, “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Following this, it can be stated that sport can play a major role in bringing communities together by having a strong social and cultural impact.
However, when in Lussane the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is relentlessly working towards how to use sport in diversified form for peace and humanitarian development; some 7000kms away from there, at Goregaon area in Mumbai, a group of local people is exactly doing the same work -fostering social development and integrating communities – with all ‘Olympism’ to cheer aloud.
Jal Mangal Deep Society (JMD), a cluster of 8 buildings with around 145 flats, was established about 50 years ago. There are residents who have been living here for long, there are some who have grown from child to man and there are also some who have recently shifted or just having a rental accommodation. The society has been celebrating festivals and national holidays with keenness and interest, but for the last 5 years that has turned into zest and zeal. And that has happened when a bunch of old and new, elderly and young, children and ladies believed in themselves and thought to channel out their time and energy for sports and sporting activities.
JMD is gifted with a huge open space inside their premises which is generally not found in big cities like Mumbai. But till some years ago the residents did not use the space properly. Earlier, the young people and children played Cricket on the ground. Sometimes there were occasional Badminton or Football sessions. But there was no idea among them that they can use sport as an ideal medium to reach men and women from every age-group.
It is here that a more relevant game came into play. Pickleball was introduced in JMD some 3 years back when a veteran resident Manoj Jadav first saw the game being played in a nearby building. “I found that the game was ideal for all age group. You don’t have to use power like in Tennis or have to use your shoulders like in Badminton. But the sport gives a great physical exercise,” referred Manoj Jadav.
The unknown but the unique Pickleball changed the whole concept of sports in Jal Mangal Deep. The boys were seen with paddles and balls practicing on a small cemented stretch between two buildings. Moreover, the ladies were totally blown away by the game. Chetan Sanil, who resides in the society for the last 20 years said, “The ladies never used to play outdoor games except for Badminton sometimes. But the introduction of Pickleball brought them on the ground; they are now the stars of Pickleball Club of JMD.” As Pickleball grew, the sporting culture in JMD also took a massive jolt. People started joining in, got involved in multiple sports, took part in events and even the senior residents made their presence felt by either taking part in activities or just cheering along.
A walk along the ground of JMD in the evening is a real treat to watch. The vibrant smell and lively sounds carry the glimpses of friendship and fraternity prevalent in the society. The small stage set at the centre of the ground has Carrom Boards for one and all. After the children and the ladies finish their cluster of matches, it is time for the elderly dwellers to carry on. It is a favourite pastime for them as the mere gossips of households cannot rule over their game of Carrom. It is ‘their’ time; that valuable time which they dedicate completely to themselves.
A 180 degree turn from the stage and we find youth having their game of Cricket. India is the land of Cricket and hence it can never be averted. On a makeshift pitch with fielders spread, the JMD boys have some really good practice of the game. They often participate in local tournaments and come back with trophies. Prashant Rawool, a regular in the JMD Cricket team narrated, “This whole Bangur Nagar area has about 30,000 to 40,000 population residing in more than 40 residential complexes. But I can guarantee that this exuberance of JMD is not to be found in any other society. We bond over sports, that’s our uniqueness.”
The local government is also quite impressed by the huge sporting activities in JMD. Hence, it has helped in setting up some physical exercise equipment at another side of the ground. This has attracted a big women crowd. They have some good time in keeping their body fit. They all are of the opinion that sporting activities have really changed the way of their living. They are not now confined to the four walls of their house but always actively take part in every occasion that the society celebrates. Sports brought them together- they have even formed a group that have “Day Outs”, ‘Parties”, “Celebrations”, “Picnics” and a “Whole lot of fun”.
This fun continues throughout the evening. At the front of the stage, supporters gather to cheer for their players who are involved in the game of Pickleball. The Jal Mangal Deep Youth Club has split the playing schedule in three parts. The children have their timing from 5pm – 7pm followed by the ladies group. It is really encouraging to find so many female gathering and getting involved in a game with sheer love and joy. The last session of the evening is scheduled for the men of the society. Here to, after a heavy day’s work, they burn away all their stresses through sports. Some win, others lose; but what scores is their bonding with each other.
Witnessing the enthusiasm of the residents, the managing committee of the society could not refrain from supporting in the making of two dedicated Pickleball courts in the society premises. “We could not keep our eyes close. The residents here are so much passionate about sports. So we have tried to support them financially for making the courts,” said Sashi Nair, Committee Member of JMD. On 14th February 2019, the Pickleball courts were inaugurated in the presence of Ashok Mohanani and Sunil Valavalkar, the President and the Founder Secretary respectively of All India Pickleball Association. The way the ‘JMDians’ celebrated the occasion was the talk of the time. Manish Rao, the ace Indian Pickleball player, wrote in his social media account- “14 Feb is a date to remember for love. But for Pickleball India it’s a date for Team JMD because of their love and passion for Pickleball. This court is a tribute to the passion and bonding of TeamJMD. We can say sky is the limit for JMD Pickleball.”
The benchmark they are setting is quite high. Another feather to the cap of this society is its annual Khel Mahotsav event. This event has further strengthened the claim that JMD is definitely unique. A three-year old event, Khel Mahotsav continues for one and a half month starting from mid-December and ending on 26th January. The 500 residents with a mix of children, young and elders are divided in teams who participate in different sports during the 45-day ‘premier league’. “But what stands out is the auction process through which we divide players in the team,” revealed Vineet Barot, a driving force behind Khel Mahotsav. Barot added, “The captain of every team chose players according to their ability. Accordingly, the players compete in different disciplines. A group plays Cricket, some play Football, others are chosen for Badminton or Pickleball and so on, so forth. At the end the team having the highest score is declared the champions.”
The Khel Mahotsav is a testimony of the vision and effort of JMDYC. The ‘JMDians’ volunteer in this process of community development that has helped them to have a greater voice and cohesive attitude. They have developed an encouraging sense of place and pride that in turn has imbibed tolerance and respect among the young people. Let us sign off with what Nelson Mandela has once said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.”