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02 Sep, 2020
Coach par excellence, former player, international umpire, referee, technical official, match-controller, competition manager, administrator – it is almost like there is nothing on a badminton court or associated with Badminton that Shri Gaurav Khanna, cannot do. He’s done it all and he continues to do it all with such aplomb and success.
Just been awarded the Dronacharya award for coaching excellence in para badminton, Gaurav Khanna is a pioneer of sorts for the sport. Having seen the potential and dedicated his entire life to badminton and para-athletes, he is probably one of the few, if any, who has had such consistent & meteoric success as a para-badminton coach.
Speaking exclusively to GoBadminton just a couple of days prior to the National Sports & Adventure Awards ceremony, he is in the middle of a training session whilst talking to us. Keeping a close watch on his wards, shouting out instructions in between, while eloquently stating his opinions and points-of-view – one can see how this colossal badminton coach does so many things as stated above, and with such success.
We begin the conversation asking for his reaction about the Dronacharya Award and he explains how this is a culmination of all the years of hard work, toil, and dedication. Many times, others may have mocked him and found what he did inexplicable, but in his mind, he always knew what he was doing and is now elated at the recognition bestowed upon him.
“It feels good to have this recognition and know that what you’ve done is appreciated by everyone. And more importantly I feel it should serve as an inspiration to others to come up and take this cause forward,” says Shri. Khanna.
During the entire course of the conversation one thing that unmistakably comes out is the fact that he all positivity. It is almost as if there’s not a sinew of negative thought in his mind and that is what propels him forward each day. He does see that the recognition has come too late, nor does he see that it is too little. He is a man who has no time to dwell on what could-have-been for he is so entirely focussed on what he is doing and what he believes is possible next.
At one particular time in the discussion, as I bring about the subject of how he imparts a sense of “normalcy” in para-athletes, and pat comes the reply, “everyone here is normal!” And that in essence is the mantra of his success. He seems them as normal, he thinks of them as normal, and he trains them just as normal. No one at his training courts is allowed to think of themselves as any different and less than anyone else.
And it dawns upon me, how we on the outside, need to have this very sense of understanding. Lesson learnt, and an especially important one at that.
“We don’t talk about any disability, because no one is disabled here!” he says ever so emphatically!
This was the crux of my discussion with him – as I understood his unique and refreshingly positive way of looking at people, ability/disability and eventually the possibilities.
“Even if there is a disability in one area, the almighty makes up for it with more ability in an another, and you are bound to succeed if you remain dedicated and work hard,” he adds with a sense of humility.
As a coach starting off training para-athletes was a challenge not because of the disabilities, but because he did not have any point-of-reference, any inspiration and any inclination of the results that were possible. He started when no one knew, no one was looking, and no one had walked the path that he was going to take.
“I never knew what the outcome will be. I didn’t know that one day I will receive the Dronacharya Award. But then I was sure of working hard and that’s all I have done thus far and will continue to do!”
As a coach of several para-badminton athletes who have flown the national colours high on the world stage, when we talk about the measure of his success, his humility takes him back to the grassroots.
He reminds us that the number of players now at the grassroot level has grown manifold and that is what he counts as the most important aspect of what he has achieved.
“From 20-30 athletes all over the country, we have grown exponentially in the last 5-6 years, today we are talking about 700-800 players and that is an excellent base for us to take the sport forward.”
As the discussion veers into the future of para-badminton in the country, I find a coach who blends a sense of reality with possibility. He is not one to handout a list of requirements and point out all the flaws in the system. Instead he looks at this from a more positive light. He believes that things are changing, for the better and at a pace that we must accept.
“I am not one to say this is wrong, that must be better, government must do this or do that. In fact, I believe that we are being given the best we can be, we have a government that has a long-term strategy for sports and things will improve in the days to come,” he says with utmost sincerity.
Finally, I ask him about what keeps him going and he says that it is his family, his support staff and those close to him who have made this journey possible and keep him going. Some of his closest aides have stayed with him from the days when no one knew of him and continue to remain just as dedicated to the cause to this day.
“They aren’t just coaches, they are mothers, fathers, siblings to many of these athletes – doing everything and more that a family can and does, and this award is just as much for them as it is for me.”
And it is at this point I realize, the work of Shri Gaurav Khanna, isn’t just training badminton players, it is actually changing their lives. It is so much beyond sport and so much to do with the heart. He is almost unassuming in all the limelight, and just as we are winding up the conversation, he slips back into the training mode – for it is the badminton court and his athletes where is at his absolute best!