His contribution to hockey, especially to Mumbai hockey is humongous. The kind of imprint he has left on Mumbai hockey over the last three decades leaves no one in doubt why Marzban Patel, more famously known as ‘Bawa’ in Mumbai hockey circles, is such a revered hockey coach. And when the 69-year-old Bombay Republicans Club coach was bestowed with the coveted Dronacharya Award this year, there was a feeling all around that it was an honour he so richly deserved it. “I’m lucky to be honoured with the Dronacharya Award on my first attempt itself as there are times when people don’t get it even after applying for three-four times,” says Bawa in a freewheeling chat.
The soft-spoken hockey coach walks down the memory lane and reminisces how he got in touch with Bombay Republicans Club founder Balramakrishna Mohite. The club was formed on January 26, 1963 and in line with the ‘significance of that day’ it came to be named as Bombay Republicans Club. “I used to stay in Byculla Railway quarters in Mumbai then, where I got connected to Munir Khan, who used to be a good player for GIP Railway in the seventies. I used to see his two sons – Nasir Khan and Shoaib Khan play hockey in those days at Nayagam Police Ground and that’s where I first met up with Mohite saab.”
Bawa may have scaled many new heights as a hockey coach, but even today, he remains ever grateful to Balramakrishna Mohite. Effusive in praise of the club founder, Bawa said:
Self-effacing to the core, Bawa concedes he can never brag about being a good player or a fancy coaching certificate, but had other attributes that made him such a good hockey coach. He lends his perspective:
Bawa’s stint with his wards was not just limited to coaching alone. “I treated my trainees like a family – even after practice, I will look to inculcate strong values in them and take an interest in their academics. The objective was to create a strong value system around the players.”
Under the tutelage of Bawa, Indian hockey have reaped rich dividends with Mumbai churning out as many as five Olympians - Gavin Ferreira (1996), Jude Menezes (2000), Viren Rasquinha (2004), Adrian D’Souza (2004) and Devindar Walmiki (2016). World-Cupper Yuvraj Walmiki and 2018 World Cup standby goalkeeper Suraj Karkera are also proud products of the Bombay Republicans Club. There are many who have gone on to play for India as well at the state level after training under Bawa. “Not all can play for India. Even players who have played at the state level went on to land jobs for their hockey skills and are today earning a livelihood because of hockey,” he says.
With age catching up, Bawa is easing some of the club’s workload on his former student Conroy Remedios, who used to play for Air India, Western Railway, Mumbai Customs as well as Maharashtra. “I’m 69 now and cannot carry out all coaching responsibilities alone. I train the under-16 boys, while Conroy takes charge of the seniors, says Bawa, who also set up hockey at the Children’s Academy (Malad) as well as Our Lady of Dolours (Marine Lines)."
Bawa was literally married to hockey and that explains why he remained free from responsibilities associated with a marriage. “Hockey coaching takes a lot of my time and I don’t think I could have become a hockey coach if I had family responsibilities,” he says bluntly.
The rich cupboard of hockey talent Mumbai once produced has given way to oblivion. Bawa explains why. “Look, there is good talent in Mumbai but after they reach eight or ninth or tenth standard, they shift their focus on academics. It’s a miracle that Mumbai hockey is still alive,” he touches upon a reality that is hard to overlook.
The reputed hockey coach believes football has more craze than hockey in Mumbai and the lack of infrastructure hasn’t helped. “At the inter-school tourneys in Mumbai, there are around 350 teams for football and only nine teams for hockey – just tells why hockey popularity is dwindling over the years. Look at Delhi, Punjab and Bengaluru, they have good residential academies unlike Mumbai,” he signs off.