But for the entourage, Tim Henman could have easily been mistaken for a tourist who had stumbled into Tughlakabad village by accident after exploring the fort nearby.
When the former British tennis player — sporting a stoic demeanour and a spotless white tracksuit — wasn’t getting distracted by the stray cows and goats, he listened intently to the residents.
It wasn’t until he reached the large dusty ground at the government school nearby that Henman bore semblance to the former world No. 4 who had reached the semi-finals of a Grand Slam on six occasions, including four times at his home slam of Wimbledon. An hour of mini-tennis and fun fitness drills followed, during which the 41-year-old from Oxfordshire chased every loose ball, showed deft football skills and chatted with enthusiastic kids.
“Have you heard of Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic?” Henman asked a group of kids, who merely shook their heads. It was a far cry from the Road to Wimbledon final Henman had attended merely hours ago at the DLTA complex.
“I have been to India many times before, but this truly was a humbling experience,” said Henman.
That’s the magic bit in ‘Magic Bus’, a non-profit organisation running a sport-based youth development program. The initiative supports the overall development of 2,000 children from marginalised backgrounds living in the Govindpuri and Tughlakabad villages.
“Through sports, we make sure that every child accesses education, finishes school and moves towards a sustainable livelihood option,” explains Jaideep Bhatia, an official from Magic Bus.
With the Wimbledon Foundation as partner, Magic Bus is also introducing tennis at the grassroots. Roping in the foundation — and brand ambassador Henman — was a major coup too, as the school playground was a welcome break from sessions on “garbage land, dumping land or cremation land”; the star-struck school principal only asked Henman to address an impromptu assembly.
As he left, this correspondent feigned ignorance and asked a young one what the ruckus was all about.
Pat came the reply, “Bada tennis player aaya tha. Tim.”