From the time he can remember, he has had one mission in life — lift his family out of poverty. As a 10-year-old, Sumit would be up before dawn to clean the floor of a restaurant in exchange for food, to ensure his family of five had breakfast. After work, he would rush home to drop the food packet before reaching the ground at 5.30am.
Poverty was a companion for the boy, now a key India midfielder at the World Cup. Going to bed hungry or after having just plain bread — family couldn’t even afford milk — travelling ticketless on trains to save money for fruits or a meal at inter-district hockey competitions were the norm.
Son of a dalit landless labourer, Sumit is now the hero of the predominantly Jat village of Kurad in Sonipat district, Haryana. Sonipat, the Mecca of Indian wrestling, can now boast of a World Cup hockey player as well.
Sumit too initially tried his hand in wrestling before switching to hockey, and the 23-year-old is among the players carrying the nation’s dream of ending the 43-year wait for a World Cup win.
Sumit’s house at Kurad village in Sonepat. His mother with elder brother Jai Singh.
On Saturday, in the 5-1 win over Canada, Sumit was the architect of two goals.
“Poverty is the biggest curse. My childhood and even my youth, till four years ago, was spent in poverty. My parents have worked as labourers. All these hardships have made me mentally strong. There is no room for fear and pressure in my life. Whenever I take the field, my only promise is I have to give 100 percent in each game, and thankfully I am keeping my promise,” says Sumit, who was also part of the 2016 Junior World Cup-winning team.
Sumit, who made his senior debut last year, was left out for the Commonwealth Games but made a comeback in the Asian Champions Trophy.
“After being dropped, Harendra sir told me I must work on my attacking game and that helped me in get back,” says Sumit, who earned his 50th India cap in the first match of the World Cup.
Switching from wrestling wasn’t a hard decision as his poor family couldn’t afford the rich diet needed to pursue the sport. At the same time, a hockey academy came up in the village and he found it easier to try his hand at it.
“My elder brother Amit was playing hockey, so I joined hockey. I figured out that if I have to grow in hockey, at least a decent diet is a must. For this I am thankful to my Kurad village. In my formative years, on rotation the villagers used to take care of my milk intake.”
Sumit recalls an episode from those days. “It was about 10 years ago. I used to train at Sports Authority of India centre, Bhalgarh, about 10km from my village. I didn’t have a cycle, so I used to take a lift to commute. One evening, after training I felt very tired, so I thought of taking a nap. By the time I woke up it was very late, so I decided to stay at the ground for the night. The groundsman saw me sleeping and took me to his room and gave me dinner. Now, whenever I visit SAI centre, I make it a point to meet him and present some gift. My mother always makes me remember that I shouldn’t forget my tough times and must always be thankful to those who helped me in my hour of need.”
Sumit’s success has encouraged 10-15 Dalit children in his village to go to the ground for training. The player is grateful for the Hockey India League for boosting his finances. “At times my father still works as a labourer. When I stop him, he says it’s his work. I am planning to build a house for the family by next year, we still live in a kutcha house (without plaster),” says Sumit, who is now working with ONGC.
First Published: Dec 11, 2018 17:12 IST
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