Mission Delhi – Raffaele Bergamasco, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He coaches India’s women boxing team. He has trained boxing champion Mary Kom. He’s famous.
But these days, Raffaele Bergamasco, 49, is holed up in a very basic room of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Along with the team, the coach landed in Delhi from a work trip to Jordan in mid-March, and has been in a mandatory self-quarantine since then. The boxers have gone to their respective homes, scattered across the country, while he remains very far from his home—which is in Assisi, in central Italy.
“I don’t feel alone though,” the gentleman says in a remarkably cheery voice, charmfully tinted of Italian accent. The flow of his speech is full of an affectionate sing-song melody, not unlike the Bhojpuri accent of people in Bihar. Mr Bergamasco is chatting on WhatsApp — the photos are taken through the phone screen that connects him to The Delhi Walla. He says that the boxers call him “coach” but “they were very amused for some reason when I told them that my nickname in Italy is Lello.”
The coach is marooned in a large complex, almost empty, but it doesn’t feel to him like a lonely planet. His world is teeming with people who adore him. He daily talks to the boxers. He chats to his wife on WhatsApp many times a day, as well as to his two daughters — the three of them are safe in self-isolation in Italy.
“And I have made new friends—chocolates, biscuits and coke that I bought as reserves just before the lockdown”, he says, laughing heartily, as if celebrating his new bonds with junk food.
Since he cannot train the 45 athletes physically for the time being, the coach regularly e-mails them exercise routines, conduct video-conferencing with them and keeps a tab of the fitness updates he asks them to send him.
Indeed, if there were no virus, he and about a dozen select boxers would be in hectic preparation of the Tokyo Olympics, which already have been postponed to next year. “We were to go to the US and Japan for training in the next few months.” All the plans had to be cancelled but the coach is saying this matter-of-factly, without any hint of deep disappointment, as if reconciled to circumstances beyond one’s control.
Mr Bergamasco now looks out of the window, and with child-like delight he gushes that “in my two years in Delhi, it’s the first time I’m able to see the sky as it truly is.”
He feels even giddier with the sight of the stadium’s building, clearly visible through the window. “After all, I have the heart of a sportsman!”
Now he gets out of the room, walk through the empty corridors of the residential block, passes by a young man in track suit—“he is a archer”—and goes out into the backyard where he gathers about a couple of stray dogs and starts chatting to them.
Mr Bergamasco loves dogs. In the place where he was earlier living in Delhi, he would daily feed rotis to about 42 strays. But his most beloved doggie is Pongo, the four-year-old brown mixed-breed back home in Assisi with his wife and daughters. “He is the son I never had,” says the coach, laughing heartily.
Mr Bergamasco has no photograph of his daughters here in Delhi, but they do spring up on his laptop screen as the desktop image. Just as Pongo’s cuddly photo springs up on the mobile phone screen each time anybody calls him on WhatsApp.
[This is the 290th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Lello in quarantine