mid-day's 39th anniversary: Ball game with a difference
After sizzling on the squash court with quicksilver moves, a national champion wants to make winners of tribals from Mokashi village
Ritwik Bhattacharya, 38
Like the acronym of his squash academy, START (Squash Temple and Real Training), Ritwik Bhattacharya too has a new start in life. The former five-time national squash champion, started the academy in Thakurwadi of Kalote Mokashi village in Raigarh district, one year ago. He also calls the place home.
"I don’t live in the city anymore; it is too chaotic. Here, there is no air or noise pollution. I need to enjoy life instead of chasing so-called financial freedom in a metro. You cannot wait till you are 60 to start doing that. I chose to retire at 31, and I am living life on my own terms".
Bhattacharya became the first Indian to break into the Top 50 of the Professional Squash Association (PSA) World Rankings in 2006. He was ranked World No. 38 in 2008 and stopped playing competitive squash in 2010. Of his academy spread over three acres, he says, "I bought this piece of land in 2011 and then, with the help of friends Manish Makhija [former VJ and restaurateur] and Sridhar Gorthi [Head of Trilegal], I was able to make this [academy] a reality. It is the only one of its kind in the world and that too, in a village".
The academy has one squash court with all-black walls, and the complex offers accommodation facilities for trainees. But the experiment that Bhattacharya is most pleased about is training adivasi children. "Their talent is unbelievable. It will make me happy to see them achieve something."
But he is aware that winning awards and medals for Indians isn’t easy. "As soon as you win an Olympic or Commonwealth medal, you land prize money and endorsements of close to Rs 15 crore. Most players haven’t seen that kind of money. Instead, I think the government should park Rs 1 crore into the accounts of sportspersons who they pinning their hopes on, five years before the Olympics. If all the probables for Tokyo 2020 have security, their only motivation is going to be to win medals," he thinks.
His wife, and former model Pia Trivedi shares his love for squash, and the two are also advanced divers. A holiday is on the champion’s mind, clearly, when he says, "Next up should be diving in Galapagos, Ecuador."
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