Somaiya Sports Academy - Eklavya


28th March 2024

My mother always wanted me to play a sport.  She never did, but her brother, my मामा, played Badminton.  And so my mother would make me go to our club - The Willingdon Sports Club and enroll me for coaching.  I liked Badminton, but not so much.  And then one day when I was 14,  I started playing Squash and I continue to do so today - 42 years after I played it the first time.

My grandfather Padmabhushan Shri K. J. Somaiya was 90 years old when he visited Cornell University for attending my graduation when I completed my Masters degree in Chemical Engineering.  The ceremony was held in the Athletic field.  My grandfather was shown the place sitting on a wheelchair.  At that age - he would not have been able to walk so much.

When he returned home, he sent me a letter with a drawing of an athletic track and a small indoor sports facility on the side.  He called me and said that he thought about this after seeing the facilities at Cornell.

The image of a 90 year old man on a wheelchair, dreaming of creating a 400 m running track with an indoor facility has stayed with me till today.  Much like the image of an old gardener planting a tree that he will never live to see mature and give fruit.

At Cornell, knowledge of swimming was necessary to get the Undergraduate degree.  After the receipt of an ID card, the first thing a student was supposed to do was to undergo a swim test.  Cornell believed that swimming was a life skill all graduates should have.

We were supposed to do two semesters of any sport.  And we could do more.  I learned many sports this way and represented Cornell for Squash.

I dreamt of building a world class sports facility.  Better than that I experienced as a young boy at the Willingdon Club in Mumbai.  Why should access to world class facilities and coaching be restricted to a few clubs where membership could only be inherited or otherwise be too expensive.

And could we provide our students with the sports experience that I had at Cornell.

So we refused to make this a 'club'' even though many asked whether they could become members.  The idea is for this to be an athletic facility.  Sports for health, sports for teamwork, sports for competition, sports to understand what sportsman spirit is.  To play to win, and to also take defeat gracefully.  To become champions.

I started managing the Somaiya institutions in 2010 when my father passed away.  I planned to build the track as envisaged by my grandfather.  People told me not to build a running track.  'Who runs in Mumbai?' They asked.  'Build a Cricket ground' - they said.

I stood my ground.  For two reasons.  One was the image of my grandfather (sitting on a wheelchair) at my graduation imagining a running track was too strong, and secondly, I thought that if we built a track, we would somehow cater to more sports and so much was being done for Cricket anyway (I have to confess - i like Cricket much more than running and football).

Looking back, the sports facility has evolved into a Somaiya Sports Academy.  There is running, athletics, football, basketball, squash, badminton, yoga, climbing, taekwondo, judo, cricket nets and so much more.  Seeing the short movie made on our sports facility made me reflect on the past.  My mother wanting her child to learn sports, my grandfather dreaming of a world class facility and my own thoughts of making those two dreams a lived reality.

I have named the facility Eklavya.  Much imagery behind the choice of that name.  

We will continue to build super sports facilities. On the Ayurvihar campus, at our rural school.campuses and one large rural sports facility near Shirdi - in a place called Lakshmiwadi.

Here is the video:

Do watch it.  Become a part of it.


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