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A date with heroes

ACE FOOTBALL hero Bhaichung Bhutia, cricketers Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad and badminton champ Pullela Gopichand in Chennai? Well, yes. Not just that, they were all seen together. And what were they doing? Promoting health care among children.

Imagine 3,000 children interacting with some of their sporting heroes, eyes filled with admiration and excitement! "I love Srinath," cooed one of the tiny tots who had come with his parents to see his idol, while another could not take his eyes off Bhaichung.

As for the sportsmen, it was a day of fun. Like Srinath commented, "It was like going back to school days."

The four sportsmen were in Chennai as part of the "My Colgate, My Superstar" programme, organised by the oral care multinational. The promotion, which kicked off in June, was aimed at educating children about the importance of health and hygiene. Srinath pointed out, "We have a tendency to ignore health, very often. I think it is important to create awareness among children about the importance of health. Also, in the process, the sport is propagated."

The day-long session saw children, who for once did not have to don their uniforms, getting to play their favourite game with their heroes.

Yes, it was a Herculean task for the organisers to keep some sort of discipline going... but kids can be disciplined easily. In fact, during a short question-answer session, all hell broke loose and one actually saw Srinath in a different role... as school teacher. "Please sit down... please ask questions one by one... quiet please...". Of course, he could succeed only up to a point. Children will be children and they could not contain their joy.

"These children are lucky. They get a chance to meet some of their heroes. I never got such an opportunity to meet my heroes such as Kapil Dev or G.R. Vishwanath till I actually started playing first class cricket," says Srinath with regret. Adds Bhaichung, "These are opportunities where one can spot new talent."

During the morning session, the sportsmen played their respective games. It was indeed heartening to watch Bhaichung allow the children to score goals (he was goalkeeper). Then after a short break, they were back, this time round, Bhaichung and Gopichand played cricket, Prasad played badminton and Srinath... football. It was quite a sight. Each one was enjoying the game.

For Bhaichung, the first Indian to play for the English league, cricket comes as easily as football. "While in England, I played a cricket match against an English county, and in fact, was the highest scorer! We beat that team twice," he says with obvious pride.

Charming and friendly, Bhaichung speaks six languages (Sikkimese, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Nepali and a little bit of Punjabi), loves hip hop music and enjoys watching movies, when he is not thinking hard about whether to join Mohan Bagan or East Bengal.

Gopichand, the all-England badminton champ, loves to meditate, and do yoga and, of course, loves music.

Ask Srinath about his recent decision to retire from Test cricket, and prompt comes the reply, "Please don't ask me anything about cricket. I have said it all." The fast-pace bowler feasts on the music of S.P.Balasubramanium ("He's a very good friend of mine") and Kishore Kumar, when he's not thinking about his next match, which he will play for Karnataka.

As for the children, while many of them were satisfied, there were quite a few who complained that they could not get "close" to the sportsmen. But, there's always a next time!

SAVITHA GAUTAM

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