Ramendra Kumar, author of Against All Odds, on the JLF Outreach programme he was part of.
“Among the girls who plays football?” I scanned the crowd of more than 400 children at SV Public School, Jaipur. It was the afternoon of Jaipur Litfest Outreach organized by Pratham Books and Team Work Arts.
I was sharing with the kids the story behind the writing of my latest book Against All Odds. The novel, centres on ‘The Beautiful Game’ and is about a differently abled youngster who wants to become a football champion. Against All Odds is basically a tale of fun, football and friendship. The protagonist Kartik shouldn’t play football because he is one-armed. His friend Siba can’t play because he has to earn a living. His classmate Tina cannot be effective because her mentor is differently abled. The book is about three individuals, three obstacles and one passion – football.
As I scanned the young and vibrant faces finally a little girl raised her hand. “Girls do not have any scope for playing football in school. But I play football at home with my brother and his friends.”
“That’s fantastic,” I said. I looked at the school principal and added, “I hope by the time I come next there will be a football team of girls ready to take on the best in the game.” Everyone cheered and I went back to talking about the book.
I had three sessions at St. Wilfred’s School, MTM Public School and of course SV Public School. The kids were mainly from grades 6 to 8. I talked about my favourite genre of writing – sports stories. I found all kids, irrespective of race and gender, loved hearing sports stories and I was besieged with questions about Against All Odds.
After my session at St. Wilfred’s the administrator told me, “Sir, this is the first time I have seen the naughtiest kid in our school sitting in rapt attention for an hour without unleashing his mad capers or pranks.” I thought this was a great compliment.
My most challenging session was in MTM school. When I entered the hall I found that of the more than 100 kids, 60 were girls and all of them were in hijab. I knew, to connect really well, I had to speak in Urdu – which I had never, ever done before. I took a deep breath, sought the blessings of my dad from whom I learnt whatever Urdu I know, and started off. The response from the students was electric. By the time I finished the session I knew I had touched a chord in their minds and hearts.