Pankaj Mahajan, an international football coach, was once addicted to alcohol. His story has a strong motivational message for people who want to quit alcohol.
Pankaj Mahajan, of Maharashtra, was 17- year-old when he cried uncontrollably as he saw blood coming out from his mother’s head. He sat useless instead of contacting an ambulance due to his inebriation.
Pankaj, who is not become an international football coach, says, “Had it not been for my neighbors, my mother would have died in front of my eyes, all because I had been drinking since the morning. During an altercation, my father beat her on the head with a rod, and there was nothing I could do to defend her. That encounter altered the course of my life.”
He became addicted to alcohol and tobacco in Class 4 as a resident of Maharashtra’s Godhani village, and the lack of parental guidance further exacerbated the situation.
Pankaj dropped out of school to earn a living since his father was an alcoholic and his mother was disabled.
He didn’t envision a future for himself until his mother suffered a serious injury in 2011.
Pankaj’s father had a little shop that sold everyday products such as tobacco. After witnessing his father and other village elders proudly chew tobacco, a young Pankaj believed it would be ‘cool’ to follow in their footsteps.
When no one was around, Pankaj tasted beedi (mini-cigar loaded with tobacco flake) while working at the business one day. He hid the beedi and took another drag the next day. He had devoured an entire packet before he realized it.
“The unfortunate thing was that my father once discovered me smoking and turned a blind eye. He didn’t stop me, nor did my mother. This made me think that beedi wasn’t such a bad thing. Alcohol soon entered the picture,” Pankaj says.
Parents in the village began to advise their children to stay away from Pankaj. He found himself beating an autorickshaw driver one day.
If his social life was harmed, his health and finances were not far behind. He continues, “I couldn’t run and was exhausted all the time.”
Pankaj sought more booze and cigarettes to avoid the beatings. It had been a vicious cycle until Slum Soccer NGO stepped in.
The NGO, founded by Vijay Barse, works with homeless children to empower them via football. The NGO learned of Pankaj’s plight from the villagers and decided to step in.
He was given free football training and a little stipend, and he was able to return to school.
He didn’t feel the need to smoke a beedi or binge drink every time he stepped onto the pitch.
Receiving instruction in sports and lifestyle habits was also a first. Pankaj, on the other hand, mistook this for an attempt by the NGO to separate him from the things that gave him consolation. He withdrew from the program.
But, an incident in 2011 compelled him to re-enlist.
“Along with the game’s clever strategies, I was learning about gender equality, health, kindness, sympathy, education, and other topics. It was unquestionably a crash course in life.”
Pankaj’s dedication and focus paid off, as he quickly found himself playing at the state and national levels.
In 2013, he travelled to Poland to compete in the Homeless World Cup for the first time. He was the team’s captain.
His father felt proud of him for the first time when he was featured in various regional publications. The villagers who had formerly shunned him were now screaming his praises.
People looked up to me, especially children.
Pankaj says, “I wanted to help kids like me who were going through a family catastrophe. I enrolled in numerous NGO programs for leadership and coaching possibilities. I also finished my bachelor’s degree in physical education.”
His father made efforts to repair their relationship and even recognized that his lifestyle choices were problematic.
Pankaj, as a coach, has also propagated social messages among the girls in 25 villages as part of the ‘Shakti Girls’ project. He uses football workouts and tactics to teach the girls about menstrual hygiene, education, gender equality, and other topics that he only learned a few years ago.
“They also learn life skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, open communication, and cooperation,” Pankaj adds.
He is also studying sign language in order to train hearing-impaired coaches who would then teach deaf children.
Pankaj is now the project manager for Slum Soccer and is in charge of their social media pages.
“There was a period when my English was really weak, but I’m learning a lot owing to this job,” he says.
Pankaj has come a long way from battling addiction to now making a difference in the lives of other youngsters.
He is now a Bachelor of Arts student of Indira Gandhi National Open University and will attempt to write the paper in English for the first time.
“I planned, worked hard, and stayed focused on my goals,” he continues.