Parineet Wakhru could still hear the stadium cheers long after the match. The joy of winning was one thing but the sounds of cheers absolutely another thing. Football was in his heart long before he became a prodigy. Winning India a place at the FIFA was not on his agenda but it just happened. The money that the winnings over the years brought him, made him one of the richest sportsmen in the world. The mass appeal was fraught with it’s own slights. He could not step out unattended and had to forgo pleasures that he once loved and lived for. He could only ask his assistants to bring him his favorite Khan Chacha rolls that too when he was in Delhi between all the travelling that he did with the team for the various football matches. Parineet missed dearly his college friends, though they were always eager to catch up with him, his days were mostly spent being in close connection to the coaches, his teammates and otherwise with marketing professionals who were hell-bent in having his face on every merchandise available. Parineet was in the peak of his career, single-handedly he managed to not just put together a dream team but even harness every player’s potential to bring them to the world stage finally securing a win. It was impossible till well how they say, it was made possible. Humble to his core he managed to stay aloof from all the trappings of fame. Kindhearted and loyal he remained firmly rooted to the ground with his head fixed on his shoulders.
But then Parineet had an inkling, we just wanted to do something that he felt would make a difference, not to the pockets of the capitalists but to people he could have an actual real connection with. And then an idea began forming in his head, while on a break in Delhi, he wore his sneakers, put on his sweatshirt and marched into the twinkling dawn. Praying that his appearance unguarded would not cause a reason to worry for his security team he tried being nondescript. Once in Khan Market he walked across to a footpath where he would during his younger days see some homeless families sleeping on the footpath. As the sun began to rise he could see some grey mounds of people sleeping on the footpath covering themselves in blankets that were frayed, torn or at times just plain infested. Such was the cold in Delhi that keeping warm was equivalent to keeping alive. He kept looking at a mound that seemed relatively smaller than the others as he stationed himself on a ledge on the footpath. Willing the mound to wake up he kept staring hoping that he could set the creature that was slowly breathing to wake up deftly.
Not a mentalist, he had to wait and the living being slowly stirred and finally came out of the coccoon. “Eh! Kya Chahiye be!”, the child called out when he came out of his temporary blanket dwelling to see a weird man staring at him. Breaking into a grin, Parineet replied, “Tu Chahiye be!” and shook the boy out of his sleep with a quick head bang of the boy with a ball. “Arre said the boy as he sleepily rubbed his eyes and recognized Parineet.” “Bhaiyya kaise hain aap? Aapke photu dekhte rehta hoon woh Coke ke can pe!” Parineet always shying away from recognition said tentatively, “Haan haan, coca cola peeta hain tu?” The camaderie reminded Parineet of those carefree college days when he would stroll into the book shops of Khan market buying books by the dozen and munching on rolls delectably made by Khan Chacha. Guddu as this boy was called then was left at Khan market and made his days by running errands for shops in the market. Delivering a chai there, polishing a car here he simply managed to get by. But the boy had to be smart enough to evade the cops who landed up every now and then to collect their rents for allowing the homeless to sleep on footpaths. The chowkidaars literally felt that they owned the footpaths of the government.
Breaking out of his reverie Parineet said, “Chal Guddu, apne dost ko lekar aa. We are onto something.” And just like that Parineet made his army of homeless boys from central Delhi. They met at Lodhi Gardens first before they got a bit better moving to Talkatora Stadium. The whole exercise was kept under the wraps, even Parineet’s security counsel had no clue. No one knew what Parineet was upto, if at worse they thought we was running away to meet a girl, possibly a love interest, possibly a fling that he wanted to keep under the wraps so even when they saw him ducking out while they were in Delhi, they tried to turn a blind eye. The boys worked their normal shifts but watched what they ate. Parineet gave them an allowance to play but did not spoil them at all. He chose each of his players carefully and spent six months watching them closely and keenly. And then there came a time when he felt the boys were ready. Signing them up for a regional game he bit his fingers while they played. With his game schedules he had to make the most of the time that he had with the boys and he did. The times when he had to travel for tournaments and games were times the boys managed to play by themselves discussing strategy like their loving “Parineet Bhaiyya” would teach them.
Then one-day Parineet watched them play and decided it was time to play it big. The boys showed up in under-16 selections, then they showed up at state events, stunning the selectors and other players alike. With Parineet as their Godfather, albeit under-cover they sidestepped the red tape that usually surrounds any sports in the country. Then the boys made a club team and entered national events, slowly transitioning into the Indian team for football.
And then the boys played internationally. Reaching the finals when the boys reached penalty kicks in a nail-biting final. The country cheered hard. No one knew even till the end who was behind the squad which surprised all. The boys were loyal, they never would divulge. When the boys waited for Guddu to kick the final penalty kick, he cheered the loudest as his blue-eyed boy kicked into the goal. And then the rings of his own cheering set his heart on fire. Never before did Parineet feel the warmth that melted his soul.
the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.