At full throttle
Mumbai residents Mudassar and Kainat Khatri, whose seven-year-old son Raheesh is the world’s youngest drag racer, are exemplars for parents everywhere, says Roshni Nair
His first words were ‘vroom, vroom’ and his father, professional racer Mudassar Khatri, bought him his first bike when he was just six months old. With the tracks so clearly laid out, it was little wonder that seven-year-old Raheesh Khatri would go on to become India’s youngest motocross racer.
“Of course Raheesh couldn’t ride it then,” laughs his mother Kainat Khatri, as she remembers that first bike. “But the love for bikes was ingrained in him from the outset.”
Motocross isn’t the only sport in which Raheesh — who rides a Yamaha PW-80 — has etched his name. In 2014, he became the world’s youngest drag racer at age six, surpassing UK native Amber Bell, who’d set the record when she was eight. Contrary to popular belief, motocross and drag racing aren’t the same thing, says Kainat. “In motocross, you’re required to perform jumps on a specially-designed dirt track, while drag racing is a straight tarmac of 400m…”
“No ma, it’s 600m,” says Raheesh.
“Okay, 600m,” she laughs.
We’re on the terrace of the Khatris’ fourth floor apartment in Kotwal Mansion near Grant Road station. The conversation veers to Raheesh’s appearance at the India Bike Week in Goa and his best tricks. “My favourite is the ‘wheelie’,” he says enthusiastically. “I like doing it on my cycle.”
“Not the cycle beta, didi wants to know about your bike tricks,” says a doting Kainat as she straightens her son’s hair. There’s a slight pause in the conversation as the muezzin at the Grant Road Masjid issues a call for the evening azaan. “Just a few minutes,” requests Kainat, before closing her eyes in prayer.
The Khatris may be grateful for divine help, but their resilience in the face of several challenges is a lesson for many parents who balk at the thought of their children pursuing ‘alternative’ interests. Mudassar was already racing professionally when Kainat met him, and she was his only support since both their families were against him devoting his life to racing. There was no encouragement.
“Even now, people ask me ‘How can you allow your child to do this? Aren’t you afraid of losing him?’,” says Kainat. Both are far removed from the ‘irresponsible road racing’ template the majority associate with them, she adds.
As with any pro sport, there are licences, rules and regulations. You can’t get on a dirt bike without protective gear, says Mudassar, who oversees a superbike showroom in Navi Mumbai. “Motor sports gets a bad rep because of irresponsible drivers on our roads who have no concern for safety,” he says. “Street racing is illegal.”
Perceptions apart, there’s the hurdle of expenses. Racing kits can cost upwards of Rs60,000-70,000, while some helmets cost Rs25,000. “The best bikes are imported from Japan or the US, so even spares have to be shipped from abroad since they’re not available here,” adds Mudassar.
But for the Khatris, these are small cogs in the wheel that’s their son’s potential. Raheesh doesn’t just want to be like his idols Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, CS Santhosh and Aravind KP. He wants to surpass them. To ensure he gets adequate training, his parents take him to Wadala’s I-Land Racing Academy every weekend, where he practices under coach Rustom Patel, or ‘Rustom chachu’, as Raheesh calls him. “I get support from my teachers also,” he beams.
“Yes, but academics is first,” says Kainat as Raheesh looks on, chuckling. “We’ve made it clear that he’ll have to quit racing if his studies get affected.”
On Mudassar’s agenda is giving his son a platform to represent India at the Asia Cup and Moto GP, by the time he’s 15-16 years old — something no Indian’s ever done.
Both Kainat and Mudassar believe that children must be allowed to do what they enjoy and grow up to be whatever they want, even if there’s no immediate scope for it. “Because when you go all out to support your child, you help them bring out the best in themselves,” says Mudassar.