Kashmiri boy ready with racquet skills in international squash

By Aamir Nowshahri, IANS,

New Delhi : Many of his contemporaries back home in Jammu and Kashmir would be using their after-school hours preparing for stone-pelting, a regular feature in the troubled state. But Junaid Muzaffar Thoker, 12, has a different agenda on his mind – representing India at two international junior squash tournaments.

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Muzaffar, a Class 8 student at Hamdard Public School in New Delhi, originally hails from Chakoora village in Shopian district of Kashmir. He is one of 15 Indian players chosen in the under-13 category at the Penang International Junior Squash Championship and the Milo Junior Open Squash Championship.

The events will take place in Malaysia in June, and Muzaffar is practising hard. “I practice every morning from 6.30 to 9 and then again in the evening from 5.30 to 6,” Muzaffar told IANS.

His tryst with squash began in 2006, one year after he joined Hamdard school. His father brought Muzaffar to the Indian capital many years ago to give him a better education, even though his mother still lives in their native place.

“I became interested in the sport after I saw a selection trial in our school,” Muzaffar said.

He turned out to be talented and a fast-learner, according to Amjad Khan, the squash coach at the school. “I gave him a racquet and told him to hit the ball and after seeing him play, thought the boy could go a long way if guided properly,” Khan told IANS.

But longer hours on the court meant a decline in academic performance, much to the dismay of Muzaffar’s father Muzaffar Ahmad Thoker.

“I tried to stop him from playing because of the loss in academics, but he kept insisting that he would make up for it,” Ahmad told IANS.

After years of practise and hard work, Muzaffar’s efforts bore fruit and he was runner-up at the Sprite ISP Open Squash Tournament held in Delhi in August 2009.

He also secured the fifth position in the Junior National Championship at Indore in October 2009 and was runner-up again at the DDA Open Squash Championship at Delhi in December 2009.

Muzaffar’s perseverance paid off when he won the DDA Inter School Open Squash Championship in early 2010. “He had the potential. It was just a matter of time before he started winning,” an ecstatic Khan said about Muzaffar’s achievement.

Muzaffar has been a national level player for three years now and is currently ranked number five in the national under-13 rankings. Though his father is still worried about his results, he has accepted his son’s talent as a gift from god.

Ahmad is confident that his son will come up with a good performance. “In the last two years, he has spent only 20 days in Kashmir because he wants to be on the practice court all the time. I pray that the Almighty will reward his dedication,” an optimistic Ahmad said.

And Muzaffar has set high goals for himself.

“I feel inspired by Shah Faesal,” he said, referring to the Kashmiri doctor who has topped the civil services this year. “I also want to sit for the IAS exam in future.”