The Squash Factory

Hira Bahadur Thapa has been defeated. The single person dominance in squash, for two decades, has ended. Depending upon whether you like the sport or not, you could take it negatively or positively.

And his nemesis this time, taking away the title of national champion, was his own son, his protégé, Amrit Thapa. Amrit won the NSRA National Squash Championship  beating his father 3-11, 12-10, 11-4, 11-7. The coach – the bronze medalist from 9th South Asian Games – fell to the power of his student, his understudy. Hira might have lost a bit of shine himself, but title remains in the family.

The title may have changed hands, but one thing you can’t challenge is this man’s endurance. It was for the first time in National championship, in 19 years, that this five-foot something man tasted defeat. Only twice in past 18 years, he had lost a set – in 1994 and 2012 – in the national championships.

When yours truly asked him what it feels to be beaten, he said, “I am happy that my own student had defeated me.”

You need to focus on the word. He does not use the term ‘son’, but the term ‘student’. Modesty, maybe yes. Honesty, definitely… One thing you cannot doubt about this man is his honesty and integrity. Many who visit the Squash Academy in the capital valley, might have seen him mopping the floor himself. Yes, Hira Bahadur Thapa – the national squash champion for 18 years and Assistant coach at National Sports Council – mopping the floor. If you haven’t seen him do that, watch out next time you visit the place.

You might have seen longevity in sports – though very few match a streak this long – but dominance in the field that he has shown is rare. And now he has produced national champions (his daughter Krishna Thapa also took the ladies’ title).

Hira Bahadur Thapa, in talks with yours truly, in 2012. Photo: Binod Pandey, via yours truly's mobile device
Hira Bahadur Thapa, in talks with yours truly, in 2012. Photo: Binod Pandey, via yours truly’s mobile device

Reigning a particular sport is one thing. Producing next generation of champions is another. So what makes Thapa household a squash factory? Ask senior Thapa, he says, “Despite being students, they spend extra time playing squash. They work hard.”

Simple enough. Great players will tell you, success comes when you keep things simple. And perhaps, despite all modesty you see in his behavior, Hira Bahadur Thapa has learnt it well. In an age where you see more and more players taking the route of sophistication, Thapa household wants to maintain simplicity.

Ask him how does he coach his children, and he reminds you that he is coaching some 15-16 youngster. He tells you, “I try not to coach them. I guide them. In fact, I spend less time with them than other students.”

Does he see potential in others? He tells you, “I have seen some great potential in some U-13 and U-14 players. They can be champion one day. In fact I want more of my students to become like my son.”

Last year, after he won the national title for the 18th time, yours truly had asked him, if he felt good about being an unchallenged champion for so long. The answer: “I feel sad. There should be competition which makes us work hard. Sometimes, I feel as if the sport is not developing as much as it should.”

That was when he had predicted that his son might beat him to the national title. And he did, his son, his protégé. Yet, he tells you that he is not ready to hang up his boots. Not quite yet. “Despite defeat, I’ve not thought of retiring yet.”

You might think that this person is lying. But you’d think so, only if you haven’t seen him in action. For you could have seen him, all these years, without fail, hitting the ball in the court, with regularity unseen in Nepali sports scene. As if he was a slot machine, or an assembly line production device, which churns out products one after other, with amazing regularity. Work ethic? Definitely.

And now the man from Bakrang VDC in Gorkha has given us two new champions, to take the squash dynasty forward. If that is not squash factory, what is?

PS: This write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column at The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE, on 17th August 2013.

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