With a number of boxing titles in his kitty, Farooq Ahmad Khan shuffles between odd jobs like gardening in sports complex and coaching to keep his pot burning. Irfan Tramboo meets Kashmir’s forgotten boxing icon who struggles to stay sane under an indifferent system
Everyday forty-year-old Farooq Ahmad Khan wishes for a miracle to happen so that babu dominated sports authority wakes up to fix the dismal sports scenario in Kashmir. A resident of Natipora in Srinagar, Farooq is a former boxer and a coach who survives by working as a class 4th employee in sports department which he once made proud by bringing three gold medals. Farooq, a passionate boxer started his career in 1988 when boxing was in its infancy in Kashmir. His personal achievements apart Farooq has trained many boxers including the gold medalist Hilal Ahmad Rather.
During his initial years, Farooq trained under a non-local coach from Punjab, who left Kashmir as militancy started in 1989. With no other coach available locally Farooq honed his boxing skills on his own. “It was my passion for boxing that kept me going,” says Farooq.
In his long boxing career, Farooq managed to participate in three national championships in 1989, 1991 and 1994. His performances brought laurels to the state. During his career as a boxer, Farooq won gold and silver medals at various levels of events held across India.
After a decade of boxing actively at district, state and national level Farooq bid adieu to boxing and started training youngsters on his own at Sher-i-Kashmir indoor stadium Srinagar. But nobody came forward to help him in his endeavour. “I travelled to Jammu and started coaching youngsters there too. But due to lack of interest from authorities in improving the sporting infrastructure in Kashmir, I couldn’t carry on for long,” says Farooq.
During his coaching stint, Farooq travelled extensively across Kashmir to hunt raw boxing talent and coach them. “With whatever limited resources I have I tried my best to make this game popular in Kashmir.”
As a coach Farooq has trained many youngsters who went on to compete at various levels including international platforms. Some of his students are well-established boxers now. A number of his students were recognized by the state sports authority and given honorary jobs in the sports department. But ironically, the same sports department failed to recognize Farooq’s efforts.
In order to keep his passion for boxing alive and help youngsters pursue it professionally, Farooq approached sports authorities with a request to appoint him as a coach. But he got cold shoulders from everywhere. Then in 2004, he finally received an offer from the sports department who offered him gardener’s job instead. It was the most difficult decision for Farooq as he has always dreamed of uplifting the status of boxing in Kashmir. “You have to make compromises when your survival is at stake. I had to feed my family,” says Farooq. He finally took groundsman’s job and started assisting gardener in taking care of the field. “It was heartbreaking for me as I had to face youngsters whom I had trained in the same field where I was working as a gardener. It is a class 4th job.”
When his students saw Farooq working in the ground with gardeners they were shocked. To save himself from embarrassment Farooq told his students that gardening is part of his course as a coach!
With no boxing coach available to train youngsters Farooq was asked by authorities to double as a trainer, but unofficially. “I am officially a ground man staff and unofficially a coach. This is the kind of setup we have here,” rues Farooq.
In order to feed his family, Farooq works as a blacksmith in his free time. “It is just for the love of boxing that I am training youngsters free of cost. I train students from 3 to 7 PM every day which leaves me exhausted.”
Despite official apathy, Farooq is quite hopeful that boxers from Kashmir have a bright future. “I don’t understand if I am capable to train youngsters then why authorities can’t appoint me as a coach. I cannot survive forever like this. Neither does boxing!”