The Mighty ‘Lift’


By Indira Halder & Indranil Halder

I sat with my Dad in his Sydney hospital canteen as he contemplated to have Harissa Lamb or Lentil Cottage Pie for dinner, he spoke about his art therapy class. In his class, he had to paint a picture with a theme – ‘The Creator’. His water colour painting highlighted the sunrise for a new day. He believes that everyone is a creator of his or her own ways. What did that mean for him? The psychologist who observed his painting, told him, he loves undertaking activities that are meaningful for him. He couldn’t have agreed more. That is part of his life. A quote by George Bernard Shaw, is what he goes by- “This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.”

Hence, he took a job with a company that pioneered in pacemaker market, but also manufactures insulin pump to mange diabetes. Working in a medical sales team, his goal was to save one life at a time with multi-layered team in Australia and Philippines, which he could not do for his own mother to save her life in India. It was a great moral ‘lift’ for him. With a McLaren like productivity, he became the perfect example of Kaplan and Norton’s Balance Scorecard but his brain was left traumatised. Severe depression, increased stress, and high performance anxiety were part of his life. Interfering with the quality of family life, and causing a brutal blow to his larger than life, self confidence.

Not long ago, before he got admitted for his recovery, we went to Winston Hill. A small crowd was gathering to meet and greet the Wallabies players selected for 2023 Rugby Seven World Cup. It juggled my childhood memories. This is not the first time, that I accompanied him to a rugby event. During my childhood days, I remember Dad took me to TJ Miller, Eastwood to watch a game being played between Sydney University and local Eastwood Rugby Club. After seeing a rugby ‘lift’, I made dad lift me in the air with a ball in hand, while mum gave us a surprise look. She knew as a transnational human, he has embraced Australia and its sporting culture to its best.

Recently, mum took dad for his 50th birthday celebration to watch Argentina snatch away a win from Wallabies at Comm Bank Stadium, in Parramatta. He was struck with panic attack. He suddenly remembered the traumatic moment at a concert interval, when a man snatched his camera while photographing the majestic Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. With controlled breathing, wearing his Wallabies scarf and in the warmth of mum’s company, he tried his best to keep watching the game as calmly as possible. Mum held his hand and told him the story of his Australian Corporate Games rugby debut nearly two decades ago to cheer him up. It reminded him of the fun, he had, facing the well trained HSBC rugby team. He didn’t know what had hit him, other than he was there for recreation. Just passing the ball without any training was a challenge in field but he stayed till the end to enjoy the friendly match which became his memory of a life time.

He remembered, next morning, after losing the corporate rugby match to HSBC, he tiptoed his way to his office desk over looking the Zen garden in Sydney’s Central Business District, only to be welcomed by loud cheer from enthusiastic colleagues. His low scores, imperfect passes and limited understanding of rugby game didn’t matter, it was rather a significant moral ‘lift’ which increased his self confidence for a lifetime.

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One day in his office lift packed like a sardine, he was unable to press the button to his floor, he confidently declaring, “the most expensive corporate address in Australia must have a lift man(one who operates the lift)”. An idea he was used to, from his Kolkata childhood days. To his surprise, a co- passenger in the lift pressed the button for him after enquiring which floor he was going too. Later on he learnt that the man who pressed the button for him, introduced Indian cricketers with unconditional support to Australian cricket scene. That is the kind of support he wants for sportsman in Kolkata, India , especially who are making grass root level changes.

I recall pre- Covid pandemic, dad took me to Kolkata, where he threw open his free standing residence in the suburb of Ballyjung and hosted 180 rugby playing kids from for lunch. I had never witnessed so many joyful kids together who were welcomed with sounds of blowing cone-shells, bells and nutritional Bengali lunch. During lunch, my granddad watched on with teary eyes. Granddad loves football, played in district level and proud of his Bengali football heroes. Being old school, he grilled dad for inviting so many kids at once in their residence. Unable to tackle granddad’s attack like pro rugby player, my dad stormed out of the room. Granddad yelled out, “They are all invited as per our Hindu culture. We say Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The World Is One Family).” Mum and me looked at grandad and giggled.

Dad loved the idea that so many young kids were learning the close contact team sport of rugby. Rugby was itched in his mind from his school days, when he had watched the sports being played by multiracial natives in ground of Calcutta Cricket & Football Club (CC&FC). Followed by his international student days in Wollongong University grounds, where he watch locals play the game and during his 2007 trip to Africa, he watched multiracial South African team winning 2007 Rugby World Cup. During his Africa tour, he keenly watched South African’s win to understand how players from diverse backgrounds can play cohesively for their country with a history of racial fragmentation and turmoil. He believed rugby is a sport to develop Indian youth who were, are and will be faced with unlimited adversities in life.

Rugby as sport has survived in Kolkata for 150 years but it is time to harness the benefit of playing rugby in the Indian subcontinent. Dad believes with rugby, the subcontinent youth can get a chance to learn how to tackle possibilities, build confidence and master the ‘can do’ attitude. For India, it is crucial, as it is going be the youngest nation in the world in the future. Dad wants to play a part in this nation building just like Hem Babu (Bengali aristocrat) who put together a cricket team that changed the way of life for many Indian youth in mid-19th century Kolkata including Narendranath Datta. In 1893, Mr Datta became famous as Swami Vivekananda for his groundbreaking speech in World’s Parliament of Religions, Chicago, United States. He wants Indian youth to take charge while non resident Indians like him to volunteer their unconditional support to India’s grass root development. The idea was also echoed at the 17th Prabashi Bharatya Divas (2023),Indore, India.

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In India, Kolkata as a megapolis is inhabited by people from every corner of the Indian society, including Bengalis, Biharis, Jatts , Oriyas, Rajasthanis and Santals to name a few. It’s time to include everyone for the progress of India energised by the sport of rugby. Dad strongly believes that sport like rugby can bring a real societal change. He has seen it work well for South Africa during his holidays in Africa. He knows that’s the case for Fiji. The photos of the Fijian rugby team training at The Sigatoka sand dunes which is making round in social media only to inspire dad that Kolkata rugby team can join the World Cup one day. The Fijian team doesn’t have a high tech training facilities or proper nutrition or equipment like players from Wales in United Kingdom but they are still one of the best. Once, he meet one of those international Fijian rugby players, Sireli Bobo at Sydney airport too. Bobo had been torural West Bengal to coach how to play rugby. With bit of concentration dad recognised his face and during their conversation, he praised Kolkata based rugby player Akash.

Akash has been playing rugby for a decade, representing India at various tournaments in Indonesia, South Africa and SriLanka with his magnificent kick at goal that passes between the two posts and above the crossbar. An invitation to watch Akash play a game of rugby at CC&FC with his cousin Dr Sarba Halder, helped dad, to relive his old memories and understand how sports can be a defining tool to develop India’s new ‘can do’ identity, keep young people engaged across every section of the society and continue economic development.

In both domestic and international level, Akash played in the ‘Fly Half’ position for 15s and 7s. Attending numerous rugby camps held at Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology(KIIT), Bhubaneswar, Odisha had only made him a tactical rugby player. Whether it be in monsoon rain or unbearable summer temperature or cold foggy morning, Akash continues his practice so that after a ‘Try’, he can make the best of his ‘conversion kick’. And he does it by placing the Kicking T in the soft grass CC&FC ground, aim with his eagle eye and giving the rugby ball a kick with all his energy to score a goal. As a Fly half, his daily training includes both personally and group training. At CC&FC ground, Akash and his team scored 30 points, to be photoed like heroes in front of the camera.

Without being upset by not making to 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou, People’s Republic of China, Akash brings certain resilience, understanding and energy to win the 2023 Calcutta Cup in Kolkata. Winning the cup would most certainly define Akash’s future but not more than his understanding of the round the year nutrition, training and outreach programs for various rugby teams including his mates Arun, Kumar and Subrata. Dad feels Akash is the most suitable rugby player to make historic rugby debut for India at the next Olympic or to play a game in Twickenham,United Kingdom( birthplace of rugby) or to champion the survival of rugby in eastern India. Argentina keeps playing rugby, having the world’s third highest inflation rate (113%). And players in Fiji lacking high tech training facilities, keeps playing world class rugby too. We are confident that India with its 5th largest economy, youngest population and modern sports infrastructure can definitely play rugby. Wouldn’t it be good to see dad and other non resident Indians collaborating with players like Akash to provide that mighty ‘lift’ for others in India to make history?