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Saturday, June 13, 2015

An innings to remember

Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine April 2015: 

It was an unusual cricket match, between a young team captained by a 16 year-old, pitted against a silver team captained by a 60 year-old. Appropriately, it was called 16 vs. 60.

The youngsters were very confident. This should be easy, they thought. After all, they were competing against silvers! The elders, on the other hand, were a tad uneasy. Stepping onto the field to clash with youngsters made the cricket team of Dada Dadi Park in Mumbai's Borivali, very nervous. But what the silvers lacked in energy, they made up for in experience, daily practice and determination. Their strategy in any game, as team member Jimmy Dordi reveals, is simple: to win.

And long before the match was over, the silvers were indeed winning. "They were overconfident, I think," says captain Bhaskar Joshi about the young team. "Towards the end of their innings, they became careless and we grew even more alert."

The silvers were "super-amazing", confesses Pritesh, the 27 year-old manager of Silver Innings FC, the football club of the Mira Road-based Silver Innings Foundation that had organised the match. "They were not prepared to lose a single wicket and won by seven wickets with three overs to go," he adds.

Although the competitive element turned the event into an edge-of-the-seat thriller, the real aim of the event was to facilitate the NGO's goal to bring about an elder-friendly society. Silver Innings FC is a football club started by the NGO in 2013. In the short time it has been a part of the Mumbai Football League, it has earned a reputation for being the only club that has qualified for the second division straight after the first season.

"It seems silvers think the youth are not very respectful," observes Sailesh Mishra, founder of the Silver Innings Foundation. Believing this perception can be altered only by changing the attitude of the youth, he uses sports as a means to achieve the change.

The cricket team of Dada Dadi Park
with the Silver Innings FC
The players, aged between 15 and 27, go through a unique selection process that tests their temperament to make sure their sensibilities match the club's cause. They often involve themselves in intergenerational activities like the 16 vs. 60 cricket match. At league matches, they wear jerseys with the message, 'Stop Elder Abuse'. The jerseys are distributed by silvers associated with the foundation. There is a sense of ownership and belonging created among the silvers, and the players in turn sense that they have a certain responsibility when they step onto the football field. As Pritesh proudly proclaims, "Silver Innings FC is the only club in the world that stands for silvers."

Mishra says, "Through sports, we can do anything," adding that he wants to use sports to bring about a silver revolution. But what is a silver revolution without the participation of silvers themselves? So, while in one part of Mumbai, Mishra sensitises youth to the needs of silvers, in another part of the city there's a group of elders rediscovering long-lost passions. Members of Dada Dadi Park in Borivali meet for a couple of hours every morning and evening to indulge in all the activities they were too busy for during their working lives. "The senior citizens of Borivali have greatly benefited from this organisation," says 67 year-old Bhaskar Joshi. "From chess and carom to music, computer classes, cricket and tennis, everyone has their pick."

Funded by the Pushpa 'Maa' Foundation, there are now three Dada Dadi Park units in Borivali, covering 5,000-odd silver members. A lifetime membership fee of  102 ( 100 for a magnetic identification card and  2 as admission fee) is all it takes to sign up.

Musical evenings, birthday celebrations, national and religious celebrations, IQ competitions and sports tournaments are just some of the special activities and occasions the silver members organise throughout the year. And they are an ambitious lot. Says 76 year-old Jimmy Dordi, a member of the Managing Committee of Dada Dadi Park, "We have two Limca records to our credit—a laughter record with the largest number of senior citizens, and the record for the maximum number of senior citizens singing the National Anthem in one spot."

It was Dordi, who is closely associated with Sailesh Mishra, who proposed the 16 vs. 60 match. "Our members were very enthusiastic but also a little hesitant. This was going to be the first time we were playing against young sportsmen," Dordi confesses.

So they practised every day and they practised hard. The rest, as they say, is history. But that's not where they stop. Having tasted first blood, the silvers are on the lookout for more teams to test their skills. "Even if we fail, that will not stop us," says a determined Dordi.

Indeed, the match was insightful for players of both teams. The young members of Silver Innings FC learnt a valuable lesson in their training towards becoming discerning citizens: not to underestimate age, which is a deadly combination of experience, stubbornness and humility. And the old-timers learnt to have more confidence in their abilities.

There will be a rematch between the Silver Innings FC and the cricket team of Dada Dadi Park this month. This time, they will walk onto the field as equals, each bringing their A-game, now more educated about the other's strengths and weaknesses. Game on!
Natasha Rego

Photographs courtesy Silver Innings


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