How Was Your Day … Mumbai Ball Boy?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
Umesh, Age 12
I get to the courts around 7 in the morning and stay until noon for the morning classes, and then come back for four hours in the evening. I live in the slum next to the courts so I used to come every day to watch the people practicing and eventually the coaches hired me. I really like the coaches — whenever they don’t have other students, they coach the ball boys. Sometimes we play doubles with the coaches. I’m not very good yet and I don’t have my own racquet but I want to become a coach when I grow up.
I stopped going to school after grade five because I hated it. My parents were upset at first but my father agreed if I promised to go to work. He didn’t want me wandering around all day and getting into trouble. He works as a day laborer every day and my mother stays home and takes care of us. I think she is more upset that I left school but I was not learning anything. I went to the local government school and you won’t be able to imagine how many students were in each classroom. I used to get bored and not pay attention and then the teachers would hit me. I thought there was no point.
During the big matches, I go and watch on the screens that are on display in the windows at Croma, the big electronics shop.
I know I should study. The coaches also tell me to go to school during the day and then come and work for them in the evenings but I really like being here. My two older brothers also left school and work as ball boys so we all come here in shifts and then help out at home. We make good money on the courts; I make about 3,500 rupees ($55) a month. Men and women from all over Mumbai come to learn with Babu Sir, the head coach. Even some foreigners play here.
I love living in Mumbai. I get to see people I would never see otherwise. We moved here from Uttar Pradesh (a state in North India) because my parents thought they would make more money in Mumbai. I don’t know how long we’ve been living here. You would have to ask my mother that, but for me, Mumbai is home. All my friends are here.
I wish I could watch more tennis but we don’t have a television at home. During the big matches, I go and watch on the screens that are on display in the windows at Croma, the big electronics shop. I like it when they show the ball boys on camera. Maybe that will be me someday.
— As told to Diksha Basu and translated from Hindi.