The rugby version of Shahrukh Khan’s Chak De will feature a former English diplomat, Paul Walsh. Though the central character of the soon-to-be-released movie–Jungle Cry—is Rudraksha Jena, a coach from Odisha’s Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, it was Walsh who helped script a rare Indian story of sporting inspiration and joy.
In 2007, Walsh, who had served in the British High Commission before starting his own foundation, Jungle Crows, in 2004, was invited to take a team to London to play rugby, part of an initiative by the UK charity, TourAid. They were to play in the Nations Cup, an under-14 tournament for teams from disadvantaged backgrounds. No one expected much from the KISS-Jungle Crows, rank outsiders in the twelve-team championship.
“I’d to fight to get them included, everyone thought we were mad. Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences agreed we could send a team made up entirely of adivasi children from their school. When they went on to win the tournament by beating Langa Lions from South Africa 19-5 in the final, it was something incredibly special,” says Walsh. And this is the story of Jungle Cry. Abhay Deol plays the coach Rudra while British actor Stewart Wright is Walsh.
Rugby and Calcutta go a long way. Although the game has spread wide and deep in India, rugby continues to have an emotional and historical attachment with the city. Every year, England and Scotland contest for the ceremonial Calcutta Cup, introduced in the 1870s by the British patrons at Calcutta Rugby Football Club. As the story goes, the cup was made by melting 270 silver rupees! The original trophy, that has cobras for handles and an elephant perched on top, lies in the Museum of Rugby in Twickenham, England.
Two Britons—Walsh and Tim Grandage—have kept the rugby tradition going in Calcutta, not only as a sport but as a catalyst for social change. Grandage, a former banker with HSBC, was Walsh’s inspiration. Both had a unique mission, to change the lives of the underprivileged, specifically street and slum children. In 2016, PM Narendra Modi conferred ‘The Amazing Indians—Indian at Heart Award’ to Grandage.
Walsh’s Khelo Rugby is a “Spirit of Rugby” partner of the international federation. It has penetrated 35 locations in Calcutta, seven villages in and around Saraswatipur in north Bengal, nine locations in Bangalore and villages in Jarmundi block in Jharkhand. Saraswatipur, a village amidst tea gardens of north Bengal, has made headlines with its girls, after braving rampaging elephants and poor sanitation, going on to play for India in the Paris World Games, Olympic qualifiers and Asian 7s in Hong Kong.
“The journey has been incredible, taken over my life really, you could say. There have been many challenges along the way, but it’s important to keep these challenges in context. Compared to the youngsters, I am so privileged and to be able to support the children is a great thing,” said Walsh.