“Papa was a farmer and would barely make Rs 250, Mumma was a housewife and took care of us 7 siblings at home– we all studied in a government school. I was just 11 years old when I realized how important it was for me to provide for my family, but I had an ‘unrealistic’ dream– I wanted to play hockey.
Mumma was a football player when she was young and encouraged us to take up sports, but the nearest hockey academy was 84 kilometres away from where we lived. The cost to travel there was more than Papa’s daily income.
Still, I convinced my parents to allow me to train and live in the academy. They honestly told me, ‘We don’t have the money.’ But I found out that the academy gave education to players and didn’t charge any hostel fees! Only after that did my parents agree to take me.
I passed the trials and was selected by the academy; whilst leaving, Papa said, ‘Enjoy doing what you love!’ Living without my family was difficult and I only met them during the Christmas holidays every year. But it was tougher on them; back home, people would tell my family, ‘Your daughter could have stayed back and provided for the family!’ and ‘She has no future.’
My family never said anything, but I felt terrible. I promised them, ‘One day I’m going to wear that blue jersey and give you everything!’ That made me train harder at the academy! And my parents went above and beyond for me; I once needed Papa’s signature on a document to play a tournament. He was 45 kilometres away and would have had to spend all his daily earnings to reach me. But he still came; Papa was my hero! And as I got recognised for my skills, I got an opportunity to train at an academy that had formal equipment.
The members there told me, ‘You only have 3 months to prove yourself.’ I knew it was now or never and that made me train harder–as a result I got selected to participate in state and national competitions.
And as my game improved, I was moved to Delhi to be part of the junior national team. I kept to myself there; I was conscious of my Hindi. But my teammates encouraged me to speak during team meetings. I gained confidence and was able to express myself on the field too; I broke into the senior national side and helped India win the Asia Cup!
But, my toughest days were ahead of me. Last year, just a day before India’s semi final match versus Chile, Papa passed away; I was devastated and wanted to go home. But I decided to stay back and play–I know that’s what Papa would have wanted. I gave it my all and helped India win the tournament!
My emotions took over after the final whistle and I started crying; my teammates gathered around me and said, ‘Aapke Papa bahut khush hote!’ All I ever wanted was to make him proud of me. My biggest regret in life is that I couldn’t say goodbye to my biggest supporter. But an even bigger regret will be to not make him proud– so as the Tokyo Olympics nears, I have my eye set on the goal. I know Papa will be looking out for me on that field when I score the winning goal… for him, for my team, for my India!”