Gaurav Khanna is a coach with a difference – the badminton player, who excelled at the national level in the late 1980s, happened to observe a group of hearing-impaired individuals attempting their serves and smashes on a nearby court. Moved by their efforts, he tried his hand at training them to improve their game by a few notches, and began to do so ever so frequently.
A noble endeavor was thus launched, which gradually developed into a full-fledged mission and Khanna eventually achieved what many believed was impossible. A passion grew into a full-time profession which saw hearing-impaired novices reap the benefits of the coaching program and transform themselves into international champions on both the Asian and World stage.
The results were so consistent that Khanna was requested to spread his wings wider and shoulder the responsibility of grooming India's Para Badminton players – and eventually he was also at the helm when a combined Asian team beat their European counterparts in a tournament in Korea.
In an interview with The Bridge, the celebrated coach who has devoted a lifetime towards assisting the physically and intellectually challenged achieve their dreams on the badminton courts takes us through his unique and awe-inspiring journey.
Gaurav Khanna has no hesitation whatsoever in bestowing a lot of the credit to his mother who, he says, is extremely religious - and who thereby helped inculcate values which have shaped the kind of individual that he is today.
"My mother was a very religious person. Hearing impaired individuals started frequenting my home often and they used to play badminton in the RDSO (Research Design and Standards Organization) courts in Alambagh near Lucknow."
"A few of them used to try and wield a badminton racquet in the court nearby – others failed to even hold the racquet well but it felt nice to help them be engaged in a sport of some kind."
Khanna was a successful badminton player at the National level and after his commando training, found time to first start coaching.
"I was the head coach of the hearing impaired badminton players of India for many years. We took part in the 2009 Summer Deaflympics in Chinese Taipei, and the Asia-Pacific Badminton Championship for the hearing impaired in 2010 which was held in Indonesia where we won the bronze."
"This was followed by the World Championships in Korea. There was a continental match between Asia and Europe and I was designated as the coach for the Asian team back then. We won that match."
India may not exactly be a sporting paradise but Gaurav has a philosophical way of analyzing the ground realities of a country that is faced with a plethora of challenges.
"We have children who are malnourished. We have a lot of poverty in this country," says Khanna as he goes on laud the efforts of the government in promoting the kind of sport that cannot be categorized as mainstream.
"We have nothing much to complain about. The government is doing its bit. I have travelled around the world and I know that India is wonderful country – we are fortunate to part of a great country."
He is one the few coaches in this land who is adept at using sign language, and has managed to guide his wards to the Deaflympics on more than one occasion.
"The 2013 Deaflympics was held in the Bulgarian capital Sofia and since I was delivering results, I was then asked to take over as coach of the Para Badminton team as well."
"Some of the players received scholarships and have Government jobs now. After 2014, the game became a part of the Olympics and since then it has been rather demanding for me as a coach."
"The schedule is hectic but the players are not leaving any stone unturned when it comes to delivering results."
Khanna is the recipient of the most prestigious award instituted by the Government of Uttar Pradesh - the Yash Bharati award, which was conferred upon him in 2016 for his contribution towards promoting badminton for the physically challenged.
The accolades are well-deserved indeed, as Khanna admits that a lot of the time he and the players have to bear a lot of the expenses themselves.
Yet, more than funding and finances, the biggest challenge is to communicate with his wards – something that requires a great deal of patience and perseverance.
"It is extremely difficult to pass on skills to the hearing impaired as you cannot talk to them – therefore sign language is the only way forward."
"I always felt pity for them as they are anxious – they have the ability to do things which are not allowed to."
Manoj Sarkar and Pramod Bhagat are two of his successful pupils who have done the country proud at several international events - but it is not so much the nature of the result that galvanizes Khanna.
"At the Asian Games, the Indian contingent performed remarkably winning 9 medals including 3 gold medals, and our Prime Minister Mr. Modi had invited us to have tea with him."
"At the end of the day, we are helping people achieve their potential – and there is a lot of joy in doing so."
So, what more is there to achieve?
"Oh, it's high time we started preparing for 2024 and 2028 – there is a lot of work to be done, and we need help of the media too."Indeed, no matter how many aspirations are fulfilled, the hunger to help more of the lesser privileged is something that will remain with Gaurav Khanna forever.