I love Squash and have been playing for many years. For those who may not know, Squash is a racket and ball game played inside four walls. Two players usually play a game. The idea is to bounce the ball off a wall, in such a manner that the other player cannot strike it as it returns. If they miss, you get the point. If they hit the ball, they do the same thing – bounce it off a wall towards you.
The game is believed to have originated in Harrows School For Boys, London, sometime in the 1830s. A similar game of rackets, played with a stiff ball, was already in existence at the time. But the boys realised it was more fun to use a punctured rubber ball, which erratically bounced when it was whacked into a wall at high speed with a racket. The ball ‘squashed’ on impact – making it more unpredictable.
This game has been growing in popularity around the world, and currently some 20 million ‘jubes’ officially play the game around the world. And I am one of them. Indeed, I love it so much, that at the age of 37, much to the utter confusion of my family, I started learning the sport from one of the best coaches in India.
Here, I want to talk about Vijay Kumar Goel. For over 20 years, he has contributed to the sport in the country. His efforts have not only helped bring out the best squash talent in India, but his initiatives have also given direction to many talented young people who come from rural backgrounds. And it all began in a sugar mill!
Here’s how it all began.
Dhampur Sugar Mills was set in 1933 by and has operated ever since. It is one of the leading sugar producers of the nation. A chemical engineer, Vijay Kumar Goel has been a Promoter Director of the Dhampur Sugar Mills since the 1960s and had been an above-average Squash player himself.
However, the game didn’t dominate the mill until the 1990s, when his son Gautam began playing Squash in a court within the mill’s compound. Eager to help his son develop in the game, Vijay Kumar hired Shyam Lal as a coach. Shyam Lal had been in the Armed forces and was one of the top three national-level Squash players in India at the time.
This simple coaching, begun by a fond father for a son, would go far. As the years progressed, Goel would grow from being a leader in the sugar industry and attentive father to one of the biggest promoters of the sport, and thus ‘Dhampur Sugar Mills’ has become among the best Squash academies in the country.
(Years later, Lal also supported the Hamdard Education Society in Delhi to develop sporting talent there as well.)
Goel’s help comes in many forms for young talent. He supports various academies, of course. But that aside he has opened up one his homes in Delhi to provide accommodation to players from the academy who go there to train and prepare for tournaments. Along with that, he arranges for the dietary and other requirements, pays the participation costs for crucial matches and provides financial assistance to exceptional players.
During my conversation with him for The Better India, he credited young squash players for his support, with whom he appeared to maintain a close mentorship role. Their simplicity, dedication, and commitment to the game galvanised him, he said.
He also stressed how he endeavoured to keep freedom, equality and respect at the core of all interactions, irrespective of age, gender, religion or position. This attitude seemed to reflect in the squash players he has supported as well. They might come from small towns, or be from any background. But they were all equally ferocious on a Squash court.
Here’s a sample list of some of the academy’s graduates:
- Kush Kumar: Won Gold in the Asian Youth Games, Bronze in the World Juniors, Gold in the South Asian Games; won the National Championship (Junior) 9 times.
- Ravi Dixit: Won Gold in the Asian Junior Championship, Gold in the Malaysian Junior Open and Gold in the South Asian Games.
- Parmeet Singh: Won Silver in the Asian Junior Team Championship; Bronze in the Qatar Team Championship; Won the National Championship (Professional) 6 times.
- Ranjit Singh: Won Gold and Bronze in various Asian Junior Team Championships.
- Abdur Rahmaan: Highest National Ranking (Men’s) – 9; Winner of All India Inter-University Men’s Championship as part of the Delhi University.
- Amjad Ali Khan: Highest National Ranking (Men’s) – 6; Gold Medal, National Inter-State Team Championship; Multiple Times Winner of the Uttar Pradesh State Championship.
- Sajid Hussain: Represented India in the Qatar Team Games; Represented Delhi State at Nationals and won Gold. Won Haryana State Championship; 2 times medalist at All India Inter-University Games.
- Diwaker Singh: Highest India Ranking (Juniors) – 2. He has represented India twice – during matches in Britain and Tamil Nadu.
- Khushboo: Represented India in 2018 in Asian Junior Individual Championship in Chennai, Highest India Ranking (Girls Under 13) – 2, Asia Ranking (Under 11) – 5.
Many of these players have gone on to set up their own academies that have trained current and upcoming champions. An example would that be of Amjad Khan who was a top-level player himself and returned to Dhampur as a coach and also helped set up the academy in Delhi.
All these initiatives have been instrumental in bringing out talent and preparing players to compete at the national and international levels.
In sum, Goel’s attention has helped Squash develop an entire eco-system in India over the decades, a rarity for a sport that is not Cricket, Football or Hockey. And it is incredible to think, it all began in a sugar mill!
(Story By: Akhil Kishore. Edited by Vinayak Hegde)