Brothers, hawkers, top ice skaters: For this Delhi duo, lack of funds hurdle in way of dream career

Andrew Amsan
Rajkumar, Manjesh at their stall in Sadar Bazar. (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)

It’s a busy Sunday morning for the Tiwari brothers - Rajkumar and Manjesh - at Old Delhi's Sadar Bazar. With Holi around the corner and the wedding season not far, business is brisk for the two young roadside hawkers of imitation jewellery.

Their eyes are on the lookout for anti-encroachment teams. But their minds are far away - on an ice-skating rink in Gurgaon, and a tournament coming up in Australia in two months.

The brothers are among the country's top ice figure skaters and their journey from a two-room rented house in congested Paharganj to the glitzy world of ice-skating can easily inspire a Bollywood script.

But on the ground, the reality is grim. Struggling for funds, they stumble from one tournament to the next. And without a coach, most of what they initially learned about the sport was from the Internet.

Rajkumar, 26, suffers from a hyperactivity disorder, but won a Special Olympics gold in 2013 and now competes in the open category; Manjesh is just 11. The two have already won a bagful of medals at various national meets. But then, says Rajkumar, "If we spend our time here at the stall, how will we perfect our art? We have no choice because the money we earn here helps us run our family."

Their immediate concern is to scrape together enough to send Manjesh to the Oceania International Novice figure skating competition in Melbourne this May. "Manjesh has qualified, he is more talented than me. He picks up moves much quicker and is a natural. But we should be training now," says Rajkumar.

Manjesh won his first national medal on borrowed skates and went on to win medals at all ice figure skating nationals from 2014-17. But the brothers say they were forced to skip three international meets last year.

The Tiwaris, a family of eight, migrated from UP's Gorakhpur so that Rajkumar could get access to better medical facilities. But soon, he started hawking on the streets along with his father, Ramkesh. It was then that he was introduced to sports by an NGO, Prabha Institute of Fine Arts Culture and Crafts for Handicapped and Disabled Persons. Special Olympics Bharat, the national federation for development of sports for persons with intellectual disabilities, guided him to the skating rink.

"We moved to Delhi with just Rs 150… It's a very expensive sport but when you see your child on the TV or in the papers, you feel so proud," says Lilavati, their mother. Since moving to the general category, Rajkumar has bagged three national silvers and eight gold medals at the All India Open Challenge tournaments. "They are both really good… In skating, you need to start young and I think Manjesh is at the proper age. If he continues to train with the same dedication, he can reach the Olympics," says Crystal Araujo, who has guided US champion Karen Chen, and is a coach at the Peninsula Skating Club in Fremont, California.