Sportsfield has always been associated with glamour, fame, and honor. But there is a lesser-known side to it that misses the limelight- the hardships, the sacrifices, and the looming possibility of never really making it to the top and getting due recognition. Not all the sportsmen in our country end up becoming millionaires, some of them are still struggling to make ends meet. Moreover, only some sports are a money-making business in our country. Here is the story of 60-year-old Abid Khan, a former national-level boxing champion who now runs a pickup Rickshaw to transport the grains to earn his livelihood on a day-to-day basis.
His day begins early in the morning… transporting sacks of grain to and fro between bustling Chandigarh mandis. Perspiring under the hot sun and fighting the bitter cold to make sure his hearth back home can keep burning each day. Sometimes, he loads and unloads these heavy sacks on his own shoulders in hopes of earning an extra hundred rupees.
This is what life looks like for 60-year old Abid Khan – India’s boxing champion-turned-pickup auto driver. And his story resonates with countless faceless sportspersons of our country who have defeated the best of contenders only to be taken down by the harshest opponent of all fate.
But do not be deceived! This is not merely a heart-rending account of one’s passions and dreams biting the dust, but one of struggle and glory, of an ordinary person with extraordinary grit, that will leave you awe-inspired!
Discovered recently by the founder of YouTube channel Sports Gaon – Saurabh Duggal, he hails from the city of Chandigarh. A young Abid had neither a strong financial background nor an education that most international schools today boast of. But he did have plenty of passion for boxing. He believed that this could pull his family out of poverty and bring them a better social status but most importantly, that he will make a career doing something that he loves and will help create great boxing champions for India.
Having been an Inter-college Boxing champion at the Punjab University, he had won a silver and bronze medal in the North Senior Boxing Championships. His match at the pre-Asiad (Asian Games) test event in 1982 was the first time he played National. Khan then went on to earn a Diploma in Coaching from the reputed National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala in 1988-89. Here he was trained by master coaches such as R K Sharma, T L Gupta, and even G S Sandhu, who went on to become the national team coach. Following this, Khan coached several regiments and teams of the Indian Army for five years.
But alas! This was as far ahead as his dreams of a career in Boxing would go. After his last tenure as a coach for the army teams, Abid was forced to go job-seeking from pillar to post. “Certificates can’t fill your stomach, they can’t take care of your children”, he says with steady eyes that have witnessed the death of one’s dreams. He continued trying desperately to find a decent job as a coach that could support him financially and allow him to continue pursuing his goal, but each time he was faced with rejection. He was pushed to throes but letting life’s miseries get the better of him was not an option for this true sportsman. He went to Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, where he worked as a taxi driver. Upon his return in 2004, he used his savings to buy an auto for himself which he drove around till it was scrapped. In recent times he had to work as a driver-and-loader who transports grains to the mandi, to make ends meet.
He once went seeking the job of a peon in an institution where he had previously studied, and here he was brashly rejected and belittled. This was the turning point in his life. He decided never to encourage his own sons to pursue sports. “They are now doing small-time jobs after completing their +2 (high school)” he says, with noticeable guilt that he could not afford better education for his children. In retrospect, he finds that gaining some technical education instead of doing boxing could perhaps have landed him in a better position today. Having to move out of his brother’s home because of a growing family, his family has lived in juggis and jhopris before finally moving into their current EWS settlement.
“In this country, poor sportspersons only suffer,” he says, adding that it is only the rich who can take up sports such as badminton or cricket. It needs no further explanation why he seems to harbor such resentment towards something he was once ardent for. On why he could not make it as a coach he says- “Maybe I didn’t have the required contacts or perhaps,” he says most humbly, “I had not put in enough efforts”.
Although age has slowed him down a bit, his techniques and skills are mostly intact, he says, before delivering some powerful straight punches and deadly undercuts with finesse. Given a meaningful opportunity, he would still like to get back to his sport.
“Time element is the most powerful,” he says with the rightful wisdom of someone who has faced much hardship. But even amid all this, he stands dignified, respectable and upright, not seeking sympathy or help but simply calling things as they are. But what is the extraordinary message of inspiration that we promised you in the beginning?
In a surreal manifestation of his words about time being omnipotent, we see Abid Khan rather, Coach Abid Khan in the next video by Sports Gaon displaying full gear, grit and spirit passing on his treasure of knowledge to a team of young Chandigarh boys! Within a week of releasing the first video, Khan was trending on Twitter, YouTube and other social media. He witnessed love and support pour in from netizens across the country. Several boxing icons such as Vijender Singh and Manoj Kumar admired the veteran, while others like Farhan Akhtar and Anand Mahindra also showed the admiration and offered support.
Motivated by such overwhelming support and acknowledgment, the old tiger has made a comeback into mainstream coaching. He now trains young boys from around his area- Rehabilitation Colony, Dhanas in Chandigarh completely free of cost! He has decided to revive his lifelong dream of coaching top-notch champions for India.
This story is a commentary on the neglect and hardships that sportspersons, especially from underprivileged backgrounds, are subjected to in the country. While also being in equal measure a reminder of the power of social media and how communities can come together and change the system to make a difference. With that, we leave you to ponder upon the marvels that the human spirit can achieve, and a fitting George Eliot quote-
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”